Tag Archives: country living

Looking for the Idyllic Life

This is one of my very first posts and the one that deserves credit for giving me the impetus to start Brown Road Chronicles.  It is one of my favorites and if you have not read it yet I hope you enjoy it.  I have updated it slightly from its original state and added some images. I will let you all know that although I can’t claim to have “found the idyllic life,” I believe the writing of this blog and the soul-searching that has entailed, has brought me several steps closer to whatever I will ultimately discover that it is. Thank you all for reading.

I‘m looking for the idyllic life.  You know, like the people in “Country Living” magazine? There are always folks in that magazine who live in these great old houses out in the country. Houses that they’ve beautifully restored to their former glory. Seems often they are people who spent some years in the rat race of life and decided to get out, and now they are self-employed working from their home, or they’re writers, or furniture makers, or beekeepers or they’re doing something else that none of us other less fortunate, dim-witted people would be able to make a living doing. Occasionally they’re older folks, but sometimes not. Just as often they’re people like me, middle-aged, with kids that they’ll eventually have to put through college, and sometimes (probably in higher proportion than the general populace) they’re same-sex couples. But regardless, it all looks so glorious in the glossy pages of the magazines; the rustic antique furniture; the beautiful, manicured gardens of fresh veggies and flowers; the dining room table all decorated in fancy holiday display; the pet dog sleeping peacefully on the wraparound porch. Can you envision it? That’s what I want… not this working my ass off lifestyle, toiling away every day, only to someday eventually be able to retire once I’m too old for it really to matter anymore. That’s what I want… the idyllic life… straight from the pages of “Country Living” magazine!

Many of you know I have an old farm-house out in the country, 120 years old roughly. I’ve even renovated a bunch of it, so much so that I actually got sick of it for a while and have taken several years off. But there’s still a million things to do. My 10-year-old son’s bedroom has nursery wallpaper in it, leftover from the previous owners. The three season porch (uh… storage room) is loaded with lead paint and windows that let plenty of cold air in… and the list goes on and on. We’ve even got some nice antiques, they’re hard to see sometime because they have all of our stuff stacked on top of them, or they’re covered in clothes like some kind of pseudo clothing rack. We planted a garden several years in a row. It went from about 100 ft. to 50 ft. to 25 ft to zero feet as we realized how much effort it took to keep it maintained. We have the pets too, a dog, cats, a couple of goats and even a horse that we are currently boarding at another farm while we work on getting our horse stalls and pasture fences repaired. There’s enough pet hair in the house to knit sweaters with.  Ahhhh, maybe that’s the idyllic career… cat and dog hair sweaters… but alas, too many people are allergic. Then there’s the overflowing laundry, the broken dishwasher, the……

The glossy, magazine-delivered illusion is that somehow these people have simplified. They have time… free time, and apparently loads of it.  Yet they still have all the monetary and commercial needs that the rest of us indulge in. There’s an imbalance there that I can’t quite grasp my hands around. Is it just some rogue scheme to get us to read the magazine? I suspect that I can’t really make a decent living as a beekeeper, yet still be able to throw lavish champagne brunches in my backyard with fancy tablecloths and fresh picked greens from the garden. Damn you, “Country Living” for teasing me into believing this can be a reality.

There is a great book that I like to read called “A Country Year” by Sue Hubbell. I don’t think I’ve ever read it straight through, but have easily read the whole thing several times over in bits and pieces. Ms. Hubbell (who it turns out was born and raised near me) was at one time a librarian at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. She was married to a professor and was living what any of us would likely consider a wonderful, upscale lifestyle. When the grind eventually got to them, they left their jobs, bought a farm in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and started a beekeeping and honey producing operation. Soon after, her husband left her, but she continued to run the business, living what can only be described as an “idyllic” and simplified life in this stunningly beautiful area of the country. The book is broken down into small essays describing her days in this rural community throughout the four seasons of the year; her interactions with nature; her challenges surviving through brutal winters; her relationships with her Ozark neighbors; her developing self-sufficiency. Over time she nurtures the business into one of the largest honey producers in that area of the country, yet it still never drives enough revenue to eliminate her money worries and she describes her income as “below the poverty level.” Now in reality that’s what I would call “Country Living”, it’s just not the glossy magazine kind!

So, I’m now searching for the “idyllic life.” As I look closely the infrastructure is all there for me; a beautiful, loving family, the great old house in the country, the antiques, the pet dog. So, why isn’t it idyllic, like the magazine says it could, or should be? What is missing? I don’t know! What really is the idyllic life? Is it living as a beekeeper with an income below the poverty level, but “stopping to smell the flowers” and living a mostly stress free lifestyle? Or is it sitting hunched in an office cubicle 40-80 hours a week, working towards the weekends and those elusive days off when you can throw those champagne brunches. Or is it having a house filled with stuff… flat screens, WII’s, iPODs… stuff that in the long-term really doesn’t provide anything other than a temporary feeling of satisfaction and success. It’s one of those questions that if you asked one hundred people, I am sure you’d get one hundred different answers. I for one – as the clock of my life rapidly tick-tocks along, as my wife and I watch our children growing up faster than we could have ever imagined, as we see the older generations of our family passing on, as I grapple with the short time we have on this earth – am starting to lean toward the bees.

Problem is… I’m afraid of bees.

… and maybe we better cancel the “Country Living” subscription.


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LOST… Goat Style!


After 16 years of living in our house, this past Sunday, we’ve officially become part of the neighborhood… and how exciting a milestone is that? When I say the neighborhood, of course, I don’t mean a neighborhood where the houses sit right next to each other. Our closest neighbors are about ½ mile away. I mean the ten or so square mile area where everyone seems to know each other. It’s funny how people who live in a rural community still call it a neighborhood. I don’t know how else you’d describe it, though, so I guess I don’t blame them.

So how, you ask, did we officially become part of our neighborhood?

Well the answer is simple of course… you officially become part of the neighborhood when you have a farm animal… in our case, goats… discovered wandering far from your home, and through a phone-chain, the neighbors are able to figure out who the farm animal… in our case, goats… belongs to. Yes, you heard it hear first… Naughty and Heath the now world-famous Brown Road Goats in Coats, who had not once, in five months of living with us, ever left the property, roamed away and were discovered about three miles away by a nice lady who was able to round them up, lock them in her fenced pasture, and wait until their delinquent owners came to retrieve them. Being concerned country folk, she asked her husband to start making phone calls and after several links in the phone chain it was determined that they belonged to us.

This particular Sunday was one of those lazy days when not a lot was accomplished around our house. About 5:00 p.m. after having already taken one nap during the day, I went upstairs to lie down in our room. My son was in our bed watching a movie and I figured I’d just relax there with him. Just as I was falling asleep for nap #2, my wife comes running upstairs and says “we have to go get the goats, a couple of neighbors just stopped by and they are over at a farm on the corner of Buckhorn and Cotherman Lake roads.” “What?” I replied, “how in the hell can they be all the way over there?”

We got in our van, drove over to this farm and saw Naughty and Heath grazing in one of their fields. We parked along the side of the road, got out and the moment they recognized us, they started bleating like crazy and running towards us. Yes, apparently goats are quite smart and can recognize their owners.  I suspect they were saying something like “oh, thank god you guys found us, we got lost and we couldn’t find our way back home and we thought we were going the right direction but we just kept getting more lost and then there were cars flying by us and then this lady came out of her house and locked us in this fenced area and we thought we were going to have to move again.” A frightening moment in the life of a goat for sure! We threw them in the back of the van, drove up to the beautiful old farm house on the property, knocked on the door and a very nice, sixty-ish woman answered.  We thanked her for rescuing our goats, chatted for a few minutes, then left and drove back home.

That’s the nice thing about living where we do… people are friendly and look out for each other. If we had been living in say, Chicago and our goats had roamed away from our apartment building, perhaps gotten on a subway, or started walking down Lake Shore Drive… boy, I hesitate to think what might have happened to them! Surely we would never have seen or heard from them again… and that would have been a sad day. But no, we live in a place where farm animals can roam away and neighborly folks will figure out who they belong to and how to get them back home. We have not been able to determine how exactly they were able to walk that far away. Our initial theory is that they got through a small opening in the fencing that lines the back side of our property, and not being able to figure out how to get back in they continued to roam in the opposite direction. One of our neighbors suspects maybe they followed a guy that was jogging in the area, and once they got far enough away they could no longer find their way back. Since our goats don’t speak, I guess we’ll never know.

In any case, we are happy our goats were found and safely retrieved and all is well again in the neighborhood. The shiny new I.D. tags for their collars are on the way!


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Dear Deer

Dear Deer,

Hello, you’ve probably seen me around the neighborhood but you don’t know me personally so I would like to introduce myself to you. My name is Steve and my family and I live in the house on Brown Road.  You live around me and I see you and your deer friend’s everyday around the area.  Sometimes I see dozens of you, hundreds even, standing gracefully in the farm fields around us, just eating, and sticking your little white-tailed deer butts perkily into the air.  Sometimes I see you in my yard, especially in the summertime when you and your deer friends like to come and eat the apples out of our apples trees. I enjoy watching you rear-up on your hind legs to reach those apples that are on the upper branches.  You are very beautiful, Deer, and I still remember the first time my wife and I drove down to look at our house, coming around a curve in the road, to find you and a deer friend standing in the road staring at us.  It was a very peaceful and idyllic scene and we knew at that time that we wanted to live in this place we now call our home. I will always remember the time, just recently, that I navigated a turn in the road to come face to face with a huge deer friend of yours, an elusive buck with a large set of full-grown antlers, worthy of royalty, standing face to face with me and blocking the road.  As I pulled out my blackberry to try to snap a photo, he ran into the woods.  I will especially never forget your young deer friend that used to come right up onto our property and play with our dog Clio.  They would jump around and frolic together right in our gravel driveway.  I suspect that deer friend of yours, being a little too comfortable around people and probably not on the top of Darwin’s survival list, may have been sacrificed during this latest hunting season.  Sad… we enjoyed her company.

Even though living in unity with you, Deer, can be very peaceful and rewarding, sometimes it can also be very challenging.  Even so, Deer, we still appreciate you choosing to reside near us.  I have learned not to get angry when I get stuck driving 5 mph behind the cars full of little old ladies and they’re white-haired husbands who are puttering around and staring at you, as if you are some kind of rare creature on an African Safari.  I remember when we used to plant a garden and how you would, under cover of night, eat and destroy all of the vegetables that we had worked so hard to cultivate and although it made us frustrated we were happy we were helping to feed you.  I was told by someone that I should urinate around the garden and that the smell would keep you away, but I thought that was weird and I didn’t want the neighbors to call the police so I decided not to do that.  I distinctly remember the winter, about ten years ago that was so frigidly cold, with so many days of temperatures dipping below zero degrees, and months of heavily snow-covered ground, that you and your deer friends came up all the way to our house and stripped our shrubbery completely clean of every single green needle.  Although that made us angry also, we knew, Deer, that you were hungry and that all of the food sources you usually ate from were covered and frozen.  So we were happy to sacrifice our shrubs for you.  We never liked those shrubs much anyhow.  And I will always remember the first time I heard you snorting at me on a pitch black night as I was traversing the yard.  I couldn’t see you, I could only hear the loud snorting noises you were making, and although it literally almost scared the crap out of me, I understood that you were a gentle creature and we’re only trying to stake out your territory and frighten me away.

I have also come to understand, Deer, that you don’t come from the brightest lot and I have learned to work around that shortfall of yours.  I remember the day, many years ago, that one of your deer friends jumped out into the road as I was driving briskly by and hit the back-end of my truck.  I think that deer friend was okay that day because she just brushed up against the area where my tail-lights are and only left a small trace of deer hair sticking out from the corner of my bumper.  It made me realize, at that point, that maybe you and your deer friends are not that smart and that, as responsible neighbors, maybe we should be more concerned about your safety.  Then just a few years later, one of your younger deer friends literally jumped right in front of my truck.  I remember hitting the poor fellow head on and his little body just flying right up in the air and over onto the side of the road.  I stopped to try to find him, but it was dark and I wasn’t able to locate his body.  Even recently, one evening last week I had to slam my brakes and swerve, on icy roads, to avoid smashing head on into one of your large deer friends.  She, like the others, just leaped right out in front of my truck as I was driving.  In fact, Deer, that happens so frequently now that it really has just become part of my daily routine and I have adjusted to those circumstances and it has improved my driving skills. Sometimes though, Deer, I wonder if I should just keep driving straight ahead and hit your deer friends, so as to not risk myself careening off the road and crashing into a tree.  But I am an animal lover and my instinct just reacts in a way that risks my life instead of yours.  I hope you appreciate that concern that I have for you.

So, Deer, now that we have gotten the introductions and formalities out-of-the-way, I hope we can continue to live peacefully together.  Although I approve of hunting to help thin down the number of your deer friends that are all too frequently leaping in front of my truck, I personally am not a hunter.  Therefore, you don’t need to be concerned about me chasing you around the woods with a shotgun during those frightening two weeks of firearms hunting season in November.  In fact, during those days I prefer to stay in close proximity to my own home so as not to get shot myself.  I reckon that is something we have in common, not wanting to be shot by a guy in an orange camo jumpsuit.  With that in mind, Deer, maybe in return for me not trying to hunt you, you could try a little harder not to run in front of my truck.  I know that sometimes I may drive a little too fast, but I believe if you could just hang tight on the side of the road for just a few extra seconds and let me pass, that we would both be better off in the long run.  If we could agree on that, Deer, I’d also be okay with you continuing to eat my apples and other things around the property, assuming there is anything left once that goats get to it all.

Thank you, Deer, for your continued partnership in living a peaceful, country life.  I look forward to many more years of our mutually beneficial relationship.




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