Friday, April 12, 2013

Wisdom Gained Far from Walden's Pond

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than to be crowded unto a velvet cushion.          Thoreau
Above are two quotes I put up prominently in my room as a youth. Since my “Henry David Thoreau period” stretched through a long summer, into the fall and winter—and perhaps never really ended—I have gone through life with these musings permanently stuck in my brain. Only now that I have passed middle-age do I realized how significant an effect they have had on me.

Obviously (or not) mine is a cautionary tale illustrating the importance of taking care what you read every single day for a year or more. You might suppose that since I did not become an anarchist, nor even a tax-evader, my over-immersion in Thoreau at a highly impressionable age did me no lasting harm. You would be wrong. My fingernails are ragged and broken, most of my muscles ache, I have a welt on my arm where I was bitten yesterday by an angry mother duck, the sweet fragrance of spring (manure) wafts into my room as I write—and I have Henry to thank for it all!

I am finally living the life I’ve spent my whole life craving. Before moving to my “airy castle” here in rural Dewey, Arizona, I built its foundation by reading dozens (hundreds?) of books on homesteading, self-reliance, beekeeping, goat-raising, square-foot gardening, horse training, chicken farming, water reclamation, cheese-making, soil testing, heritage seeds, heritage poultry . . . the list goes on and on. (And on!) I’ve subscribed to Urban Farming, Small Farm, Mother Earth News, Mary Jane’s Farm, Countryside and Small Stock Journal, and am a member-in-good-standing of and similar sites.  If I were to lay out, side-by-side, the books and periodicals I’ve perused of a homespun variety, they would almost certainly cover our entire acre—two volumes deep. (Hmm. This gives me an idea how to decrease the weeds in the paddock this year.)

Thus, armed with way too much information and not nearly enough common sense, this aging city girl (with MS) convinced her husband to buy a farmlette where I could pass blissful days sitting on pumpkins with contented critters gamboling around me. Thus, this is me, living the dream: I have a dozen chickens who think I’m their mother; I can’t walk to the water faucet without tripping over an Americauna and/or bending down to pick up a needy Rhode Island Red. I have been bitten, kicked and bumped by a moody filly with more attitude than manners. I have retrieved goats from the laundry room, the top of my brother’s car, and the roof of the house. I have taken a goose to a perplexed veterinarian, and turkeys on walks in an attempt to decrease their weight and improve their cardiovascular function. (Yes, really.) I acquire half my food through a co-op and pick it up in a park very early every Saturday morning. (Okay, my husband does. It’s so fast and furtive in nature he feels like a desperate vegan making a score.) I live across the highway from a working farm and farmers’ market. I sell eggs. I quilt. I get my water from a well. I keep a gerbil cage set up as a nursery for abandoned hatchlings. I grow more zucchini in a season than is legal in 48 states. I sun-dry my own tomatoes. I bake my own bread, and sometimes make my own cheese. I know the name of the bird my home teacher recently ate for Sunday dinner.

Sound romantic? Then you, too, have read too much Thoreau. Much of it is fulfilling, some of it is fun, but all of it is work.  This last fact is conspicuous only in its absence from all the books, journals, and Pinterest boards I’ve consulted. Either I’m doing it all wrong, or here in the real world weeds grow better than broccoli, animals aren’t half as endearing as Disney would have us believe, and people who routinely spend all day turning goat milk into stuff they can get at Family Dollar for four or five quarters have way too much time on their hands.

Today my husband has a rare day off. Movie? Day trip to Jerome? Relaxing around the picnic table and benches we built ourselves out of old wood pallets? Nope. We’re spending a fun day making firewood from the massive tree branch that recently took out our front fence, and then clearing tumbleweeds out of the quarter-acre I have not yet put to any good use.
Turns out this “sitting on private a private pumpkin” thing is so much fun some days that all you really, really want is a week or two on a crowded velvet cushion.


Mindi Battraw said...

Kerry- you need to come here to my little velvet cushion and we can quilt for the day! (Or two, three...)

Karlene said...

About 10 years ago, I told my mother that I wanted to have a farm with animals and a big garden. She laughed so hard she fell on the floor and had big tears rolling down her face. I thought we might have to take her to the doctor.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Well said, Kerry, by both you, and Thoreau. ;)

Jennie said...

I grew up on a farm and loved it at the time, but I'm so glad I don't have to milk cows, weed beans, pick potatoes, or outrun belligerent geese, rams, or bulls any more. Life isn't exactly a velvet cushion, but I'm so glad I'm not left sitting on a stinkin' pumpkin either.

Kari Pike said...

You are living one of my dreams. Well, at least last night's dream -- I was trying to herd baby ducks across a road and into a barn. I just ended up with duck muck all over me. haha! Love this essay...and I love you! thanks for this. hugs~

Kerry Blair said...

Mindi: Yes, please.

Kari & Karlene: Thanks for making me laugh! (And for visiting our blog.) Alas, my mother too was a city girl. She watched "Little House on the Prairie" but never aspired to live in one!

Marlene Austin said...

And it's even Friday! I still have my lovely dreams of living on a farm from being raised on a farm. Baby chicks, warm strawberries, cream off the top of the milk can, wild flowers in the pasture and all, but I've found it much nicer to write the into a manuscript then go into the kitchen and microwave a chicken breast with a baked potato then split open a bag of salad mix and pour milk from a carton. Best of both worlds? You better believe it!