Friday, December 1, 2006

Welcome to Stop Sign Farm!

Welcome to Stop Sign Farm!

Today we learned that sheep do not like cats. That’s a bit of an understatement. We learned that sheep abhor cats and will not tolerate them anywhere remotely posing as a “sheep area.” Our poor heretofore King of the Hill cat was understandably surprised and took more than a moment to realize that these beasts thundering in his general direction were, in fact, hurtling through space purposefully directed at him exactly.

We’ve been in our house just over a year, having moved in despite not possessing the piece of paper in which the County has blessed our structure and deemed such an event legal just before Thanksgiving of 2005. Just before Thanksgiving. 48 hours before 12 people came to Thanksgiving.

It was the wettest winter anyone could remember and if you’ve ever seen a newly completed house, you’ll imagine correctly the state of our property and joy with which we embraced the record-breaking rain. We ran out of money before we could get any site work done, so from Thanksgiving through March, we carefully parked on the one 6X8 piece of gravel we’d built up enough with extra sand and straw to support our car and slither sideways til we got to the “path” of more straw that lead to the front door. Any deviation from this path meant sinking into mud up to ankle and in some areas, knee. Ditto the lean line of straw from our house the 40 feet to my mother’s yet-unfinished cottage.

But it was home. The past year had taught us how very much home meant to this small family and as we gazed through the freezing rain at the bleak nothingness that was one day going to be our farm, we looked past the mud and the muck and saw fencing, vineyards, fruit trees, chickens, and sheep.

Some days. Other days we just saw a towering To Do list threatening to swallow up all our new house joy and poop out turds of regret at so significantly underestimating what building a farm from scratch would really require from us all.

So, how did we get here?

Well, it probably started in a nice, leafy neighborhood in Seattle when we brought home our 2-day old son. The world had changed, because that’s what happens after you get home from the hospital with your first baby. You look up from gazing lovingly at every inch of his perfectness and you notice that absolutely everything in the universe is exactly not like it was just 2 days ago. Everything.

And for us, especially for me, one of the things that just wouldn’t go away, got bigger and bigger in fact, was a loss of interest in the advantages of city living. At first I thought it was just my city, because although Seattle is beautiful and relatively safe, it can be a frustrating place. With thousands of newcomers pouring in every day, several large bodies of water, and no mass transit system in place, Seattle is simply not an “easy” place to go about your business. I was getting tired of having to plan out every excursion for traffic and parking or bus schedule advantages. The noise grated on me, with sirens seeming to run constantly. And as Dylan went from an infant to a toddler to a young boy, I found myself reflecting on what was important to me about childhood.

I kept coming back to safety and freedom. When you raise children in the city, the only way you can keep them safe is to sacrifice their freedom. They just can’t have both. And so, we keep them in tiny back yards with high fences, we enroll them in gymboree for rainy days and that turns into after school care with many structured “educational” activities and the years roll by and your child never lies in a big field and watches the cloud animals slowly roll by. He never spends four hours at the beach just creating a unique universe with a couple of sticks and some yoghurt containers, he never takes his friends into the woods to chase the ghosts they’ve all convinced one another they saw last time. He’s never free to explore and contemplate and reflect.

I realized, finally, that I couldn’t bear that. I just couldn’t. I could stand to go to work and leave him, sort of. I could give up the things you give up so we could afford organic food and the best childcare we could find. I could change and mold myself from an individual to half of a couple to an intentional and committed parent. But I just could not bear to provide Dylan with a contained childhood. It ate at me.

So, over the course of several months, I did the long version of taking a deep breath, looking my husband in the eye, and saying, “Let’s get out of here.”

We didn’t arrive at the idea of farming right away, or even once we’d escaped Seattle for the life of our dreams, a beautiful light-filled view house on a small rural island a ferry commute away. But it wasn’t long before escaping the city seemed like a good start, but really just a half-solution. The uncontained childhood, it began to seem, was built of not just space but time, and time came at a cost. It was time for one of us to step off the career path and share in Dylan’s day and life more fully, support the household, and free up what could be free time but for 2-career parents, is more commonly errand and chore time: Dylan needed time and we needed our weekends back. So, the big house would have to go. Or, more accurately, it would stay and we would once again search for the perfect house – only now our parameters for “perfect” had changed.

Perhaps the most significant criteria was the need for a second living quarter. Life had marched on and my mom was older, now in her early 80s. What we really needed was a house for us, land to begin income-generating enterprises on, and a cottage for Nana. What I wanted, really, was a property that within five years would pay its own way. In my mind, this was our ticket to Choice – choice about jobs and work, commuting or not. If we could get the property to pay the mortgage, in effect supporting the housing needs of our existing nuclear family and my mom, then we could free ourselves to take a few more risks.

Only, it didn’t exist. We realized pretty quickly we were going to have to build it.