Taking my public splurges off-grid with the rest of my life. More to come…
Water. Can’t live without it. Astonishing that we humans have managed and allowed to turn this life source into a commodity. It is bought and sold and stolen and made inaccessible to so many. In many places of mass-capitalistic consumption, you can buy soda for less than potable water… What I find most insane is the notion that it is more potable, more “clean”, to drink water bought in a plastic, therefore toxic, container than to drink water that is gurgling out of the earth itself. Now, I assure you that I know first-hand the risk of catching such awful parasites as Giardia. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. However, at least the side effects are honest and upfront. The slow illnesses and unknown effects of ingesting debatably cancerous toxins leached from plastic bottles that may then pass on to the mouth of breastfeeding babes…? Let the scientists and CEO’s duke it out, I will stick to clean fresh water in the meantime, thank you very much.
I was quite eager to ensure a sustaining source of fresh water as soon as I moved to our peace of Peacham last spring. At first, I was hauling water from a nearby stream. I didn’t mind that haul, it made me feel like a real bad ass, actually. But, a few months in and looking toward winter, I wanted the luxury of running water in the house. Plus, the risks of bacterias and parasites had my mother and the father of my children nervous… So I set out to find a spring.
Much hiking and poking and head scratching ensued…I researched types of springs and wells, pumps and such…felt daunted and skeptical that I’d ever figure it out. But then, people have been doing this for centuries, right? I was determined to prove to myself I could do this. Besides, summer was getting on and we humans and our co-habitant beasts were all going to need water to survive the long winter.
I found a spot that seemed to be at a higher altitude than the house, and the water, crystal clear and crisp-cold was coming straight out of the side of a hill from underground. X marks the spot… Now what?
Digging a trench. Thank my lucky stars for bio-diesel guzzling machinery. I put my new tractor to work! A week of digging, first the back hoe, then me with a hand pick in a 3.5-4 ft ditch. For days…long days. All the while swatting at the devilish critic in my head trying to squelch my determination with constant doubt that this plan would ever work.
Next, how to build the spring box? Luckily I was given the name of a very knowledgeable man in Marshfield, VT who could sell me a 6 ft tall piece of culvert and consult with me upon delivery. His instructions were simple enough, but there were also so many variables and ways to go wrong…again, I was skeptical. But, now we had a giant ditch, and $450 into a piece of culvert. No turning back now!
Another week of digging at the site of our spring. This proved difficult as the ground became saturated with water anytime I dug more than a foot down. Great sign of a good water source, not so good for getting that new tractor good and stuck! After days of digging a 6 ft hole in wet mud, and freezing cold water…I hit bed rock and that crystal clear water gurgling out of all the nooks and crannies! Time to insert that culvert!
More days of filling in wet mucky dirt all around to bury that culvert, then laying the pipelines in that trench…then…the moment of truth. Would the spring be able to provide enough pressure to get water into the basement of the house and then come upstairs and out of the faucet? Ladies and Gents, Friends and Family, I cannot begin to express the glee and triumph felt when that water poured out from the faucet of our temporary make-shift sink. And with such pressure! The simple act of turning on a faucet, something I have taken for granted my whole life, has become an action of magnitude, and gratitude, and splendor!
What is more life-giving than the gravity fed supply of free water is the incredible feeling of revitalization and rejuvenation I feel from drinking this water. I have not been a very good water drinker, honestly. I tend to opt for coffee first, water only when my lips are cracking and I have a headache. But, I find now that I crave this water. It’s refreshing, thirst quenching and purifying magic. It is like a tonic. Really, I am not making this up or exaggerating. When I am in town, at a restaurant, a place with municipal water supply, the taste of a glass of water makes me pine for our spring. I get home and greedily drink a tall glass as if to detoxify from the chemically treated water… I had the funny thought as I was drinking and relishing this water: “you could bottle this and sell it!” Ha, ha, funny we humans of the western capital…
A toast to all: “Let all our cups be filled to the brim with water that is FREE, pure and freshly filtered by the earth!”
Our little peace in Peacham is about a half mile up a dirt road, then another half mile beyond that, past the houses and the cow pastures, through the woods, around the bend…then, eventually…you are there. The town doesn’t plow that last half a mile, because…who’d be crazy enough to live there in the winter time anyway?! I have gotten several raised eyebrows when I have nodded my head in the affirmative to say “yes, I will be living there this winter”. Who knows, they may know more than I do. I mean after all, I am just a flat-lander who grew up in cities her whole life (and none of them in particularly cold climates either!). So… why?
I discovered Vermont when I was 17 and landed at Marlboro College to study Theatre and Sociology. I remember my constant awe at this new world. Vermont was like the land of all my childhood imaginings, where Hobbits lived and fairies danced amongst the fallen leaves. My dog Schnookle and I would take long meandering walks through those woods around Marlboro, lost in a reverie collecting techni-colored fallen leaves that I kept pressed in my school books. By the end of my four years there, I was sure that Vermont was where I would return to “settle down”. True to my word, once pregnant with my twins some seven years later, I set right to work to find a home in Vermont.
As a new family starting out, we opted for the affordable “starter home” that happened to be located in Barre, VT. We lived in that home for nine whole years…started a downtown business, raised kids, ran the business, wore down the marriage, closed the business…all incredible experiences. Worthy of their own writings and ruminations. But, none of those recalled what had captured my heart about Vermont and those magical woods and mountains. So a few years ago, I set out to find that again, and started looking at land…
It is important to me to create a lifestyle that is the least damaging to the environment, and the most nurturing to the land and its inhabitants. Therefore, I opted for “Off-Grid”. So much so, that I wanted the land to be far enough from any source of potential power as to alleviate even the temptation to “plug-in”. I drove up many dirt roads and looked at some incredible places…but it wasn’t until this place, this peace of Peacham, that I knew I had found it.
This 40.5 acres had been logged some years back. It was clearly prime for regrowth, rebirth, like the phoenix from the ashes. I think that was how I felt. I had been a bit beat up and bruised, worn down, but I was far from giving up. I was really only just beginning, as it turns out. It was clear to me that this land and I could help nurture each other to full and new health.
The first couple of years after purchasing the land, we came and camped out. Walked the land discovering its many personalities, secret nooks and treasures. Began harvesting the acres and acres of wild raspberries and blackberries, filling our freezers and sharing with friends and family. Already the land was giving, feeding, and inspiring us!
Then came time to make the transition, literally up-root and un-plug from our urban home and establish a homestead in this place. Again, many gave me a quizzical eye, others responded with the envious “I’ve always wanted to do that, but…” No matter the reactions from others, I don’t recall ever faltering from my determination and complete certainty that this was my truest intention. This was the move I had been meaning to make for a long time.
In fact, once I moved here to stay, now eight months ago already, I realized that this was not only the fruition of an adulthood dream to be sustainable and “get back to the land”. This has actually been where I imagined myself as a little girl. When I played in the hay stacks in the barn at the farm in France where I spent many summers, when I learned with awe how food was grown and harvested and prepared, when I read obsessively about different breeds of animals for food, fibers and land maintenance, when I admired and hung on every word of all the farmers and radical homesteaders as they shared their experiences… Indeed, I had always intended to ‘land’ here, to live this way. So those first weeks of being here in this place, day in and day out, I felt as if I were dreaming. I kept smiling and audibly gasping for joy because I could not really believe my good fortune. I mean, how many people really get to live out their most inner childhood fantasy?
So, that is why here. Here I combine dreams with life, and life with dreams. I am more isolated and alone that any other place I have ever lived before, and yet I am more whole and feel less lonely than I ever have before. Every minute I see the wonder and beauty, the magnitude of nature. I am humbled. I am moved. I cannot imagine where else I would want to be.
I live in a poem.
Since purchasing this piece of Peacham land that was ravaged by loggers some years back, the new growth of brambles and young sapling trees was clearly going to need to be managed. Somehow. I loathe the idea of burning fuel to brush hog and till it, so this past spring we brought in some goats to get to work munching. And munch they do!
We started with these three: 2 Cashmere and 1 milking Nubian.
Rather than raising or rearing, I would call it wrestling goats. Suits us as a family. Goats are smart, savvy, conniving and STUBBORN! They keep us busy and entertained, for sure. With acres of free foraging all around them, the goats only give us trouble for the sake of a laugh, it would seem. They are plenty contended to graze and lounge at their leisure most of the time.
Milking goats is an easy and quick job when there is only one or two to tend, and this seems to keep us supplied with plenty of milk for our home with extra bottles to give away each week to a few other households. I know the cost of grains to entice the goats to behave and obey doesn’t quite make up for the savings in milk cost, but once we have a couple more milkers and can add yogurt, cheese and the like to our list of homegrown groceries…perhaps? I’ll wait and do the math later!
This lovely doe is modeling the nifty mobile milk stand that I built. She gave birth about a month ago to her first kid. That was an exciting morning for sure! That’s Gus holding little “Herc Jr” his very first day of life! Being such a novice at all this, and allowing for these creatures to “do as they will” without too much managing, I wasn’t quite expecting her to birth for another couple months…yes, a slight oversight. Luckily, she managed quite well all on her own. When I went to tend to the goats that morning, I noticed she wasn’t there fighting for grain. I searched the brush behind their mobile barn and spotted her fairly quickly up the hillside. As I made my way up to her, a tiny face peeked out from between her legs. All cleaned and ready to brave the world. Kid and mom are still doing great!
The goats are great teachers. I have had to come to grips with my own temperament and impatience thanks to them. As a dairy farmer friend once shared with me, these creatures act as mirrors for us if we can just take the time to see our reflections in our interactions with them. It doesn’t take too long to recognize our own human shortsightedness and selfishness. One stare down from a goat is enough to remind me that I am the freak who is trying to twist nature’s way by insisting I need her sweet milk for my fridge. For my part, I am trying to find a balanced approach to providing them space and freedom to care for themselves, while nurturing them well enough that they will happily provide for us…so far, so good…as long as we keep learning from one another, I trust we will do alright.
This past spring, I took the leap and decided to bring two piglets back to our piece of Peacham. The impetus was really that the goats had cleared an area of land of brush, and I wanted to see if pigs would really till it over to save me the tractor work and shoveling. I had always been a bit skeptical about rearing pigs. They seem rather large, dangerous and, well, just too much to handle. But, as my mode of operand um has been to plunge in by the skin of my teeth, I went for it.
What a surprise. A pleasant surprise. The pigs have frankly been the easiest and most enjoyable co-inhabitants yet. And the most affordable! I have been lucky to find free food scraps for them from various commercial and residential kitchens in the area. So feeding has been practically free (I have purchased 3 bags of feed in 6 months for a total of around $55). I built their earth dugout hut myself using scrap materials, so again, free. And, they are so amenable! They mind the electric fence, keep to themselves, and are rather sweet.
Then, most recently came the time to turn one of those dear-hearts into food to sustain us and others. This part had also worried me initially. However, getting to know these creatures, it was clear to me that their main goal from moment to moment is to fill their bellies. If it came down to it, and I wasn’t bringing them slop anymore, and they were hungry…they’d surely have no compunction about taking a bite out of me. So…c’est la vie! Or la mort, as would be the case here…
I decided to hire someone to do the actual killing. He came highly recommended and, again, it seemed too much to handle for my first experience. Oh, and besides, we don’t own a gun! No need to go into gory detail (that might be a post of it’s own), I’ll just say that it was a very quick, albeit intense, significant and moving experience. All that I had read proved true. The boys and I all took it to heart deeply that we had taken life from this creature whom we had shared land and life with for the past six months.
What has also proved to be truer than I could have ever even imagined is the flavor of this meat. It defies verbiage. I have never had pork like this before…Was it her free ranging and foraging lifestyle? Her romping games running around the hillside with her sister? The wholesome food scraps and whey in her diet? Probably a combination thereof…She has already in just 2 short weeks provided delicious and wholesome meals to upwards of 30 people and the freezer is full! To this beast, we give thanks…
A morning meditation meander through the woods…