We spent much of the summer trying to secure ourselves some farmland for next season; I don't think I mentioned that much here. (I don't think I mentioned much of anything here, this summer, and the overwhelmingness of that search is part of why.)
One place we looked at was in New Hampshire, which turned out to be the deal-breaking blow against its otherwise near-perfectness. The near-perfectness included some good garden space, established orchard and berries, pastureland and run-in shelter, a sugarbush and well-kept sugaring house, a barn with a pottery studio and two - two! - woodworking shops, a blacksmith's shop full of old horse implements, a pond, a truck, and a woodlot. All for free -- or rather, all in exchange for our work to keep it up.
It should be some measure of our love for Vermont (and its state-run comprehensive no-cost-to-us health care program) that we aren't there right now, picking apples and looking into baby Clydesdales instead of baby tractors.
The other strike against it was that we'd be living in a one-room log cabin without electricity or running water, half an hour from the nearest country store and even farther from anywhere that might sell -- much less serve -- a good Belgian beer. The electricity I figured we could deal with alright, with a woodstove and some lamps. The outhouse across the field, however, while inconvenient but alright in the summer... well, let's just say I didn't relish the thought of February mornings.
So the short of it is that we're staying here, in our current house just minutes out of town, planning to work land ten minutes away, and I like this house and it's good land and a good arrangement and I can't stop thinking about that cabin.
At the time, and in previous conversations we've had about where and how we want to farm, I said that I do not want to be so far away from the world. Do not want to be so far from town that we go only once a week at best. I want internet access. I want to be able to get take-out on a whim. Want a hot shower on demand. Etc.
And I'll stick by that part about the shower. But the rest, I'm not so sure. For about three days that place in New Hampshire was at the top of our list, New Hampshire or no, and in that time I tried to imagine as fully as I could what it would be like to live there.
I have a good imagination.
And here's what I saw: It could be crushingly lonely. We knew there were a few couples approximately our age in the area, and if we didn't get along, we'd be likely to be alone a lot of the time. But if we did get along? I saw evenings by the woodstove with home-brewed beer and a lot of stringed instruments. I saw giant pancake breakfasts in the sugarhouse. I saw the little cabin stuffed with books, its cold cellar stuffed with a winter's worth of food. I saw an attached shed we could turn into a sauna and perhaps solve that shower problem altogether.
I still saw harrowing February mornings in the outhouse. But I also saw us farming full-time, or near to it -- and since I've been working six days a week off-farm lately, that seemed pretty appealing indeed.
But it isn't the specifics of that place I meant to write about. It's the yearning for the back-of-beyond, which surprised me and hasn't let me go. I think it is the same part of me that wanted to be a monk, or almost the same. To be apart from this society that so often leaves me alienated and drained. But this isn't renunciation, exactly. This is reclamation. In a movie
we watched last night, a character said, "Everyone makes their own fun; otherwise, it's entertainment." I want to reduce the entertainment in my life and increase the fun. I want to practice my guitar or play cards instead of watching a movie. I want to cook even when I'd rather get take-out. I want horses instead of tractors. I want to create community, real interdependent and self-reliant community, instead of just knowing some people I can drink a beer with on Friday nights.
And I know, of course I know, that you don't have to be fifty miles out in the woods to live that life. We are
building community here, and that's a large part of why we decided to stay. And just because town's right here doesn't mean I have to go. I could be planting spinach instead of writing this, right now. But the body is weak, and the spirit sometimes is weak as well, even when willing. On Wednesday I harvested for the CSA, filled big baskets to overflowing with good vegetables that we grew, and that night we got Chinese food because we were too exhausted to cook. And that's okay, but it's also a little ridiculous and sad. And householders can reach enlightenment too, of course, but everyone agrees its easier if you're a monk.
So next year won't be perfect. But I have a clearer sense of what perfect might look like, and I think it's farther out of town than I'd originally thought.