Tag Archives: country

Weathered Barns and Corn Fields

I’ll take you to the city:

We’ll walk around cobbled sidewalks while pretending not to glance into the street level Brownstown apartments. We’ll stroll down busy streets and stare at the bright lights and neon signs. We’ll dress up in nice clothes, like we belong there, then we’ll go out to fancy restaurants and eat sophisticated, delectable food and drink martinis and expensive wine. We’ll visit museums and ride the elevators in skyscraper buildings and buy overpriced cups of coffee. We’ll go listen to the symphony or watch Broadway level theater productions or maybe see an opera.

I’ll take you to the mountains:

We’ll lace up our hiking boots over our thick wool socks and we’ll hike through beautiful wilderness and canoe on rapidly flowing rivers. We’ll swim in lakes and shower under flowing waterfalls. We’ll pitch a tent and sleep with the crickets and the coyotes and the bears, or maybe we’ll sleep underneath the stars if the weather permits. We’ll take photographs of bald eagles and rows of pine trees and epic rock formations. We’ll visit rustic buildings built from hand hewn logs. In the winter we’ll ski down crisp white slopes, or snowshoe through deep snow. We’ll take full breaths of the cleanest, most refreshing air and feel as if we’ve experienced the fountain of youth.

I’ll take you to the tropics:

We’ll stand under palm trees with their thick coconuts ready to be harvested. We’ll sit on sandy beaches and bathe in the warmth of the sun. We’ll let our skin turn from pale white to dark red to an appealing brown. We’ll float in the ocean surf for so long that when we lie in bed we’ll still feel that motion of the moving waves. We’ll eat tropical fruits and drink margaritas in front of a roaring beach bonfire. We’ll wade through the ocean surf in our bare feet with our khaki pants rolled up to our knees like the Kennedy’s. We’ll collect shells and beach glass and bring them home as souvenirs. We’ll watch evening sunsets and morning sunrises and not worry about whether we’re getting enough sleep.

Then when it’s time to come home.

When it’s time to leave the city or the mountains or the tropics.

I’ll take you back to weathered barns and corn fields.

We’ll walk out our door and stare across the dirt road at the latest crop that we’ve been given the honor and privilege to watch grow through another robust, Midwest summer. We’ll drive down a rural road and pull to the side and admire an old abandoned barn, long past its usefulness, with its damaged, weathered wood. We’ll imagine the many amazing lives of people just trying to survive, that have passed through those barn doors. We’ll roll down the car windows on a late summer day and listen to the soothing sound of rustling corn stalks as a warm breeze blows. We’ll hear the tsk, tsk, tsk sound of an irrigation system pumping water as it slowly creeps around a field of crops. We’ll smell the precious smell of manure spread as fertilizer on a growing field.

Because that’s what really soothes my soul.

And that’s where you and I are supposed to be.

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My house smiled at me today…

My house smiled at me today. I didn’t actually see her smile, but I know she did. We’ve just had her painted, and I know that she feels good when we take care of her. Her old bare and peeling soffits and trim and window frames and siding are tightly sealed up, caulked and primed and painted. Her wooden sections all match once again, the old and the new, the worn and the fresh, all the same cream color, subtly contrasting with her century old brick façade. A shiny new coat of green paint covers both of her outside doors, a splash of color worn like a spring scarf. Her roof is new as of last fall, the upside of an aggressive hail storm that ripped through our area, and resulted in a rash of insurance claims and a windfall of business to the local roofing contractors.

I stood in front of her today and I told her she looked beautiful and she smiled at me. I didn’t actually see her smile, but I know she did. She smiled because she now knows and trusts me as her caretaker of the last sixteen years. She smiled because she now knows that I have been willing to put my own blood and sweat and money into keeping her solid and beautiful. She smiled because she knows me now as she has known all of her caretakers before me, likely dozens of men and women and even children who have cared enough about her to keep her structurally strong and vibrant and standing proudly for over 120 years. She smiled at me because I told her she looked beautiful.

I do believe that I am her caretaker. Yes, she is the house that protects us from the elements. Yes, she is the place where my family has made sixteen years worth of incredible memories. Yes, she is the only home my two children have ever known and likely will know until they move out on their own. Yes, she is the place where my family has shared smiles and tears, hugs and fights, ups and downs. Yes, she is the place where we have celebrated the miracle of babies born and mourned the deaths of those who have left us. Yes, she is the place where birthdays and anniversaries and holidays have been celebrated. Yes, she is the place that has made us feel content and warm and safe for sixteen years and hopefully many more decades to come.

Yes, she is all of those things and for that I consider myself immensely blessed. But she is also so much more. She is a piece of history that harkens back to the days before automobiles and electricity and indoor plumbing were prevalent. She is a reminder of where we came from, a time when houses were built on the backs of strong men with a meager assortment of hand tools, yet possessing incredible craftsmanship skills. She is a reminder of a time when rural living and one room schoolhouses and fresh food and hard work reigned supreme. She is our personal museum and I am her caretaker and I take that responsibility seriously.

My house smiled at me today. I didn’t actually see her smile, but I know she did. Someday, she will have a new caretaker, and a new one after that and on and on and on. For now though, I am her caretaker and I will continue to do my part to make sure she is still standing proudly for many more wonderful years to come. If I am lucky, down the road, when my wife and I are old and gray and feeble, we will still be able to stand in front of her and tell her that she looks beautiful. I hope that she smiles at us then as well… and perhaps even says “thank you.”

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LOST… Goat Style!

FINALLY…

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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Looking for the idyllic life!

I’m looking for the idyllic life. You know, like the people in “Country Living” magazine? There’s always these folks in that magazine that 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 that spent some years in the rat race of life and decided to get the fuck 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. Occassionally 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 dogs sleeping peacefully on the wraparound porch. Damn… can you envision it? That’s what I want… not this fucking 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 is what I want… the idyllic life… straight from the pages of “Country Living” magazine!.

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 awhile and have taken a few years off. But there’s still a million things to do. My 10 year old son’s bedroom still has nursery wallpaper in it, 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 shit 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, dogs, cats, and recently even a couple of goats! There’s enough pet hair in the house to knit sweaters with… ah, maybe that’s the idyllic career… cat and dog hair sweaters… ah but too many people are allergic. Then there’s the overflowing laundry, the dishwasher that just broke, 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 in Kalamazoo, Michigan) 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 dogs. 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 100 people I am sure you’d get 100 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 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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