Thursday, March 31, 2016

{Insert Favorite Song Lyrics About Change Here}

In the time I have been away from this dusty old blog, we have had quite the... ahem... "adventure." I had so many appropriate titles for my first blog post back that I couldn't decide between them, so you can make up your own. Top three were:

There and Back Again
Things Fall Apart

But gosh, it could really have been anything.

To make a long and complex story short and to the point, I will say that we were really good at homesteading. We knew what needed to be done, and when we were able, we did it. We took good care of our animals and loved them a lot. We had amazing experiences and a lot of successes, punctuated with a few failures. We had really big, beautiful dreams for living off the land, as so many people do these days. And when it all began to unravel for reasons completely unrelated to homesteading, really, I felt the need to explain it to people. Explain what happened. But after a few weeks of settling in and telling the story (which I just did, again! Just now! To a total stranger!) I'm tired of telling the details and I will just say this: Evidently, we were meant to come back here. At least for awhile.

Back to "the ghetto." Back downtown. Back to the exact same house that never sold in our 2.5 years of trying to get rid of it. And while the idea at first seemed completely awful, after being down here for about two weeks, I can't tell you how incredible it feels to be back. Back with new ideas and new experience and new knowledge. When we last lived here, nothing seemed like "enough." We can't supply our own food! We don't have enough room! I can tell you with full honesty that I had more successful gardens, both in planting space and in growing luck, when I was living in this house. And coming back, we have all sorts of ideas and resources and experiences to make our gardening ventures tremendously prosperous. Aside from what we've brought back home with us, the area has boomed in our time away. We left amidst the economic downslide, when we lived across the street from a scary, empty warehouse. We returned to find some great new community spaces, new projects, and a revived love for the downtown area by it's inhabitants. There are neighborhoods pulling together and starting community gardens. The sidewalks are being made to look lovely. Everyone is so happy and friendly! This cool but somewhat shabby downtown area has exploded into being a hopping place, and we are so, so fortunate to be back here.

I've been playing music again. Through that, I've been reconnecting with old musician friends. People  I didn't even realize I missed! It feels so wonderful to pick up my instruments and walk to wherever I'm playing music. And to see my little family walk down later to join me. It's a kind of simplicity that I didn't realize we had the last time around. I took it completely for granted. How foolish I was!

In this life, we can walk to everything we need. If our car breaks down, there isn't a place we need to go throughout the week that a bike or our feet can't take us. And no matter our mode of transportation, there's hardly any travel time to consider! The minutes of my life devoted to buckling people into carseats has diminished considerably, I'm pleased to say.

My kids are really, really happy.  I don't know if it was the crammed living quarters at our last home, I don't know if it was because, as my oldest told me later, they just felt like they were on a long vacation, but the instant happiness that came over my girls when we came back to the old house was unmistakable. It pleases me so much to see them so cheerful again. When we came back to the downtown house with the initial idea that our stay was going to be temporary, it was amusing to watch the older two girls showing the younger two around, touring them through the house, telling stories about what happened in which little corner of the house. "This is where we hid and jumped out at Daddy when he came home from work!" Or, "This is where we had a bookshelf and we would dump the books out and play bunk beds!" In all my own struggles of living here, I never realized how happy the kids were. And now coming back, it just feels like home to them.

And of course, the whole reason we found ourselves back here was because of the problem most of us face: $$$. I'll tell you a little secret I've learned: When you want less, you need less. It's really shocking! And I'll tell you another secret: Having a farm isn't having less. Farm supplies is expensive, and you need a lot of it. It's so easy to think "I'll live in the country, where we'll never have to mow and we can just let our animals roam free and then eat them, and we'll never need to go to the store for anything, and my kids will never get sick, and it will all be a big blisstastic experience." That's what I thought. (Because I'm an idiot.) But then we actually moved to the country, and realized that if we didn't mow the lawn, the ticks were completely out of control, and I'd be picking ticks off my kids and dogs and cats constantly, and I will find them *in my bed* at night, and that is just gross. Gross! But do you know how much a mower costs, when you're looking at mowing the plural form of "acre?" It costs a lot of money! And unless your entire property is tightly fenced (or you live truly in the middle of nowhere,) you can't always let your animals roam free, because people driving by will call animal control and they will come and knock on your cabin door when your babies are naked and bathing in a washbasin because you don't have inside bathing equipment and they will tell you you have to do something about your goat getting out and while we're on the subject, how many cats do you have and are they all spayed and neutered? And after you get the goat back into the fenced area, the Animal Control officer will leave and you will spend a good week and a half just waiting for CPS to show up at  your door asking why you don't have a normal bathtub and why your kids aren't dressed, or in school. ASK ME HOW I KNOW THIS.

I miss my country life. Even with the fear of getting in trouble, the constant driving to town and the showering outside in December (or not showering for all of December because of frozen pipes, either one,) I miss it. But there is a line of simplicity and I feel like moving back downtown has allowed us to embrace a different kind of simple life. One in which friends drop by unannounced. (Sometimes they bring beer or freshly written songs!) I'm looking forward to walking down to the Farmers Market on Saturdays and getting anything I don't grow myself. I'm looking forward to the creative layout of our garden that we've planned and are going to start building this weekend. I already see the benefit being back here is to my songwriting and my playing gigs, and it's been really refreshing. Homeschooling is a whole lot easier when you can zip right across the street to the library. There are good things about living down here. With new eyes, I'm ready to embrace the simplicity of downtown life, again.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Everywhere Nature

One reason we moved to the country more than two years ago was because we desired to be among the natural world. Closer to nature. We wanted space where we could plant and grow things among only natural surroundings. And we did achieve a close to that ideal, though we didn't fully attain it. One of the most shocking things upon our move to the country was the distinct lack of wildlife. It was crazy. We thought for sure living in two-acre meadow surrounded by corn fields, we would have deer so plentiful they would be pests. Negative. We never, not once, saw a deer near our property. On our road alone, I only ever saw one deer, in the entire time we lived there. 

Living so far from any neighbors, with good oak and walnut trees all around the property, Martin looked forward to stepping outside and squirrel hunting in his underwear. Do you know how many squirrels we saw on our property? Zero. Not one. 

When we first moved in, about the second day we lived there, we saw a rabbit. After that, we never saw another rabbit again. 

We had absolutely no wildlife predators to endanger our chickens. We never locked them up, they were free range and roosted low to the ground in a coop whose door usually stood wide open. We didn't lose one chicken to natural predators. (We did, however, have our entire flock wiped out by one of our dogs. Very sad.) 

I'll tell you what we did have: We had thistle. They were so beautiful to look at and watch bloom. They were everywhere out there and even though they caused us to all get really good at remembering to wear shoes outside, I think we all loved them. 

We had dandelions. Plenty of dandelions. They were so gorgeous, growing all over, making our little cottage house look as if it were floating in a yellow sea. I love dandelions, and to live in a meadow full of them was a delight. 

We had birds. Boy, did we have birds! So many beautiful wild birds would perch along our pasture fence. Mostly those sweet little yellow things (I don't actually know my birds at all) and also sparrows and other songbirds. We had an eagle nearby that flew low over us in the driveway more than once. We had a buzzard in our driveway one day that we sat and watched for a long time until he flew off. They are so big! The birds were really lovely. It was charming to wake up in the morning and see them hopping all over the tall dried stalks of last year's ragweed in the unused portion of the pasture, singing their happy morning songs. 

The original Possum Cottage was such a beautiful place to live. The sunrise over the misty farm fields and the sunset over the wooded hill were outstanding. We spent so much time walking up and down the gravel driveway, the girls learning to ride bikes (and trikes, in Elka's case,) swinging on the swingset, playing in their secret fort, hidden among the pine trees. 

But as for an abundance of wild animals, the place was seriously lacking. Still, we were among nature and it was so special. 

When we moved to the new homestead, on the ponds, we thought "this is where we'll be able to hunt from our doorstep!" and, "This is the place that will provide our abundance of natural harvest!" I will admit that there was *slightly* more wildlife at the second homestead. We did have a deer in our yard... once. And there was one morning when Martin came running inside shouting that he had seen a squirrel on our property and he'd be back later. He sat on the porch of the big farmhouse for the longest time, but the squirrel never came back. 

We did have the ponds though, which provided more birds and small creatures like frogs and toads. We had a toad who came every night and sat underneath the hose spigot. In the morning, there would be a fresh indentation where he'd sat. I do know that there were natural predators around; after we moved out and took Ivy (our English Shepherd who was an almost-always outside dog, but especially at night) away but hadn't gotten our chickens to their new homes yet, we lost a few chickens to predators. But the neatest bit of wildlife at the ponds property was the osprey. We watched it all summer and found the tree where it nested. whenever one of us would see it, we would cry, "the osprey!" and all the family would run out to the porch to watch it catch it's meal. (Or try. He missed a lot.) 

Life at the ponds was full of it's own delights. The walks around the pond were wonderful. We had wild black raspberry bushes on our property, but they were also all around the pond in various places and in the evenings we would walk around with cups and gather them for a snack. We would walk to the creek just across the far road and brave the stinging nettles for a splash in the water. Even without the wild animals, there was so much nature to experience there. To be fair, that homestead greatly lacked the quiet of the original Possum Cottage, being situated right on a highly trafficked road, but still, it was full of natural beauty. 

After all of that, after years of country life in different settings, we are now back downtown. Away from nature. Away from all things natural. 

Is that so much true? That's what I thought when I came back. When we first decided to stay here, I was not at all on board. (Even though our situation didn't really care if I was on board or not; this was our only choice. Still, I was swinging!) I didn't want to be taken away from my sunrises and sunsets, my barefoot-all-the-time life of barnyard smells and bramble bushes. Not to live downtown. Downtown, where there are no flowers, no animals, no meadows. 

Okay, well there really aren't many meadows, BUT, look at the crocus we found in our yard, growing up underneath an empty gas can! Defying odds of survival, it's thriving in our urban yard! And we have a particular cat here now, whose favorite pastime is perching on the back of the big yellow chair in our bedroom and watching out the window as the squirrels play. So many squirrels! And rabbits too! We used to go on evening rabbit walks in the summertimes, all around the area here and see a tremendous amount of rabbits--we even found a nest of cute babies one year!

And let's talk about the bald eagles! Along the river here, the bald eagles are thriving. We have seen one, literally, every time we've crossed the river. They are beautiful and amazing, and EVERYWHERE.

Tonight we took a walk after dinner and found a tree stump. This was the first time my girls have counted the rings on a tree stump. It was not far from where we stopped one fall on our walk to my parents' house and watched a cicada hatching out of its shell. We saw the whole thing and it was completely amazing. Tonight we also observed lots of blooming crocuses of all different colors, and some daffodils. (The daffodils around here are mostly still just buds. It's been pretty cold and rainy so far this spring.)

Life in the city is different from life in the country. Even the nature is different. But it's still there, all around you, in either spot. Both areas are so full of goodness. Both spaces offer a beautiful, simple lifestyle. Sometimes I really miss the country. I miss my animals, I miss the cabin, I miss the grand potential the homesteads had. But I don't miss the simplicity, and I can't say I miss the nature either, because it's all around us here too.  Our life here is in most ways MORE simple than when we lived outside of town. We didn't change who we are by moving. We are just living our same life in a different spot. Martin will still hunt for our meat every fall, just as he has for the past six years. I will have a nice big garden, just like I did when we lived here before. (It will be bigger this time though, I have vertical plans!) And if we can't get backyard chickens legalized here, we'll eventually just move across the river, I guess, haha.

What I'm trying to say is, the natural world is everywhere. I might not watch the sun rise over misty cornfields here, but I can rely on that same sun to shine into my home and help my plants grow. And maybe I can't walk across my yard to the pond (which is actually a man-made pond, filled in as such after a building company finished using it as a gravel pit,) but I can walk down just a few blocks to the edge of the River. We can take our wagon on a walk and collect acorns to grind up and use for flour (which I've heard is actually disgusting, but hey, survivalism.) Or, we can just go around the corner where there are two big buckeye trees and find buckeyes in the fall and make buckeye necklaces. These are things we did when we lived here before. Because it might take a little more thought, but if you take a close look, you'll see that you are among the natural world, no matter where you are.