The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Idyllic farm life

Trailer homestead
I love that you are almost always smiling in your pictures. You make life look so idealistic.

-- Kathleen

To be honest, farm life has been less than idyllic lately.  First there's been the crazy hot summer with temperatures five to ten degrees above average, which means we can only work outside for limited periods.  Then there's the fall garden, only about 20% of which survived cat scratching, dog rolling, deer nibbling, and (worst of all) intense heat.  Finally, there's the relentless march of the deer, eating up our hard work.  We try to keep this blog positive, but in my personal life, I've had two meltdowns in the last few weeks, and poor Mark has had to do a lot of wife propping.

Mark tells me that my problem is lack of perspective --- that never having worked a relentless 9 to 5 job in a field I hate, I can't tell how good even our worst days are.  He says that even when I wake him up early to herd chickens out of the garden after Lucy breaks into the pasture at 6 am looking for food scraps...even when the day involves the minisledge breaking in half and barely missing his nose...even when the heat is so intense his brain turns off but he has to keep on going...he's still happier than he was working at the spring factory.

One year on the farm

"Okay," he says, clambering down into my emotional pit of despair, "I'll come down here so I can talk to you.  But this isn't what our life really looks like!  Do you remember how we started five years ago with nothing?  Do you remember how bad the deer were the first few years?  We're making progress, and soon we might look back on this time the way we talk about hauling water in the red bucket."

Second year on the farm

"Look out in the garden!" he continues, and I take his hand as he helps me up out of the mud at the bottom of my emotional pit.  "See all that mulch, those beautiful beds of buckwheat, the paucity of weeds?  Last year at this time, the weeds were winning the battle and you were just barely starting to understand cover crops.  Our farm is becoming more fertile every day!"

Fifth year on the farm

By now, without realizing it, I've followed my husband up far enough that a metaphorical breeze cools my face.  "All of these problems are the price we pay for freedom," Mark says.  "Yes, it tears at your soul when the deer eat the garden, because that garden is like an appendage of our bodies.  But we're spending our hours building our own world.  Despite minor setbacks, the farm is improving every minute, every week, every year, and it's all ours."

Squash vines

Perspective can be hard to find on a late summer farm when you have to run as fast as you can just to stay where you are.  But when I sit outside with a book to enjoy the cool evening and a woodcock flutters down nearly at my feet from his mating flight...dragonflies skim the garden like fighter pilots...and a lightning bug lands in my hand, I remember why we're here.  I take the last step out of my emotional pit to join Mark on his tree-shaded hilltop and we revel in the farm.

Our chicken waterer makes chicken chores so easy, I'm tempted to bite off more than I can chew elsewhere.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Thank you for sharing this, Anna. You aren't the only one who periodically needs a little change of perspective. Even if the problems and frustrations aren't the same, the reminder that it's all in how you look at things was just what I needed this morning! :)
Comment by Ikwig Mon Sep 5 11:03:48 2011

Yeah, I work so many hours at the computer that I strain my eyes and can't read books any more... spend 6-8 hours on the phone each day... all on spec, in hopes that my job will start paying commission in a few months. At home, I have very little garden space and no real place to let my chickens browse, so I feed them "chicken dog food."

But I have a paid-for house, a good husband with a decent job, and food in my belly.

The grass is always greener. You're living my dream (painful as it seems to you), and I am living someone's dream, too. Last week I met a lovely, intelligent young woman who couldn't find a job and was homeless, bouncing between Asheville and Savannah and probably very worried about the future. Her plight made me realize how very lucky I am. I'm not worried about where I'm going to lay my head tonight, and I know where my next meal will come from.

I go to a very conservative, old-fashioned church in one of the poorest parts of the South. Lots of people look down on folks like this, but my fellow church-members know better than to feel sorry for themselves. No matter how poor they are, they practice saying "thank you" to God for all that they have, and they give to one another and help one another. It's a lost art in this modern world, and I am grateful to learn from them.

Comment by Faith T Mon Sep 5 11:26:59 2011
Bravo, Mark. Bravo.
Comment by Brandy Mon Sep 5 14:32:47 2011

Brandy --- I know! Doesn't he deserve a medal?!

Ikwig --- I'm glad the post helped! I'm always a little leery about posting the darker side, but I know that I get the most out of blogs where the writers are truthful and tell how they worked through the bad stuff rather than just focusing on the flowers and sunny days. I hope you got out of any pit you were in too!

Faith --- You're totally right about taking the time to be grateful for what you have. Mark has been a wonderful influence in my life because he reminds me to be grateful for paradise every day rather than dwelling on the problematic 5% of our lives. That said, I hope you can tweak your own life so that the problematic portions are minimized --- that's always our goal!

Comment by anna Mon Sep 5 15:16:41 2011

I've found "I should be grateful" doesn't work. Now, if you take a vacation some time soon, spend some time stuck in an airport, deal with security guards, people in big cities, some expensive bad food, cranky service, cars blasting their horns, people walking around with ear buds in and oblivious to everyone around them, asphalt roads, concrete buildings with the odd patche of grass here and there (strewn with cigarette buts and bits of garbage), waiting for buses that are late and/or packed and smelly... Spend two weeks in THAT and then gratitude will emerge naturally :-)

I lived/worked/served at a remote meditation centre for a year and the city people (coming for courses) were forever telling me how they envied my life and how grateful I should be. But when I had to work from 5AM to midnight every day of a 7 day course with 50 people, planning meals, prepping hundreds of pounds of veggies/day, cooking, baking, cleaning all while there was this expectation that staff were saintly, ever-compassionate, ever smiling and positive -- bleh! If only they knew! It was only when I went into the city for supplies and getting away that gratitude came back. "should" is a such a counter-productive concept.

I am envious of your ability to be continually improving your soil and conduct these medium term and multi-year experiments you do. Very cool to have a space to do that. That's such a unique offering.

Comment by J Mon Sep 5 16:11:19 2011

The spring factory was a place called TWIST in Xenia Ohio.

It was during my temp phase where I worked for an agency that sent me to all sorts of fun jobs.

The spring factory made small metal springs and my job was to use a hoist to lift large vats of springs from one chemical bath to another. The noise level was so high you had to wear ear protection, which made casual conversation with the person next to you impossible. The job never changed......hoist....soak....move down the line....hoist....move more....soak....repeat for 8 hours.

I've had jobs that demanded harder work, but none that was so soul crushing as the TWIST corporation. When things get bad I just close my eyes and I can easily imagine what it was like to be there in that lonely noise vacuum and instantly feel lucky to be where I am now.

Comment by mark Mon Sep 5 16:30:38 2011

J --- I know what you mean about your experience in "paradise." Whenever I tell people that I spent the year after college doing a fellowship that paid my way to travel abroad, camp, and draw plants for twelve months, they would say, "That must have been amazing!" I always told them that any experience is what you make of it. Yes, I had a ball about 80% of the time, but I like to spend time with myself and even I got lonely eventually. I suspect that had my questioners experienced the same year I did, most of them would have hated it!

That said, I think the trick to being grateful is not to say "I should be grateful" but to simply live in the moment and be. If you're truly in the moment (very tough for me), you'll naturally find the beauty (and problems) and be grateful for the former (and change the latter.)

"No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try," says Yoda.

Comment by anna Mon Sep 5 16:33:40 2011
Any day you can use a Yoda quote is a good day. And yes, Anna, Mark deserves a medal!
Comment by Brandy Mon Sep 5 17:05:04 2011

Its difficult, stressful, sometimes its all on the Verge of feeling like its going to break you. That was me, cleaning bathrooms, scrubbing toilets(people are disgusting btw!) paying for school, to go and scrub crap someplace else! lol A vicious incomprehensible loop!

Than, today, I was switching out chickens to go to pasture, I had to clean the cages. 3 Hours of shoveling..... Crap! Haha Ironic, yes......... But so different, so :)

Mark for POTUS!! I suppose you've seen the bad, and how good you can make it to...... Be.........

And You know Anna, I not sure what to type, as there's no wisdom in it, or even, possibly, logic... I may be just starting out, and in my mind it may be so much better, than what I was working towards before, but its all to easy to see(and be)where your coming from.... Its been one hell of a year to try and kick start the means to your own sovereignty... Its been a dark year here in Fl for that, drought; going from severe, to "what the.....!! The cactus are actually wilting!!"(I didn't even know they did that!) And the bugs, munching, and sucking out every bit of precious water, as fast a I could spay it on....... And the new birds not being able to take the heat.

A miraculous thing happened last week though! See, I'm a foodie, I love food!(Good thing I now chase goats around;) For years, I have been trying, failing to "do", to get my Elder trees to fruit! Well it seems every darn tree within ten miles of my house is related! But finally, after planting "seabring", and elder tree I found in Seabring............ I got berries! I have never eaten elderberries before, in fact never even seen them. Long story short, I made a pie! Something nobody could have given me, Something I had to agonize over. The heat/drought/ some new caterpillar nearly destroying them, It was worth it though..... Ive barely scratched an inkling? of what you and Mark have, but if there's the chance of pie.............. Its gotta worth it my Dear..

(Very, very, good pie;)

Comment by T: All for peace on the brain Tue Sep 6 03:26:53 2011
T --- Your elderberry pie sounds like it made it all worthwhile! I do have to admit that, reading various homesteading blogs this summer, I can tell that our growing conditions could have been a lot worse. Hopefully next year will be better for everyone!
Comment by anna Tue Sep 6 07:54:53 2011

Love, love, love these glimpses. And the drawings. I have one of my dream backyard from ten years ago, and surprisingly enough, I'm pretty close to it now! Anyway, I noticed on one drawing it says, "perfect renovated kitchen" or something like that, and although I get the sense that it might be a little too private for you to show the blogosphere, would love to see the domestics/homekeeping face of TWE as well.

Sarah in Boulder Creek CA

Comment by Sarah Tue Sep 6 18:45:32 2011
Thank you for sharing. I, too, like all the smiling photos :-) but I also appreciate hearing about the down times and the fails. Those are just as important to know about as the good times and successes. Maybe an annual trip to the city in late August will cure any future mid-summer exhaustion? And before you know it, revenge/hunting season will be here ;-)
Comment by De Tue Sep 6 19:22:02 2011
De --- Ah, revenge hunting season, my favorite. :-)
Comment by anna Tue Sep 6 19:51:39 2011

"It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way, if we'll keep on the sunny side of life." Thanks for sharing the lows and well as the smiles.

Comment by Paula B. Tue Sep 6 20:31:52 2011
I'm glad you enjoy hearing the lows as well as the highs of farm life. I feel like it's essential to post about them both to keep the blog honest!
Comment by anna Wed Sep 7 15:42:17 2011
I also live on a small farm and I can empathize. I get sick of living in the country 25 miles from town and trying to wrest a living from the earth. I get tired of the dirt and shit that are an inevitable part of country living. We are lucky to have resources but if we had to be self-sufficient, we would be up a creek. We've been here about 6 or 7 years now, and every year we take some steps forward, but progress is very slow for two English majors who grew up in So. Cal...I'm not really cut out for this, but I wouldn't go back to the corporate world for anything. Mark's job at SCREW (: sounds like it was punitive and soul-destroying. No one should have to do work like that.
Comment by Annie Wed Sep 7 19:24:15 2011

Ah, yes, you can tell the good homesteader moods from the bad homesteader moods by vocabulary. Usually, manure is "biomass", said with a grin, but during my worst days, I actually think of it as "shit." :-) Good thing I soon remember that "shit" turns into delicious tomatoes!

Good luck with your homestead!

Comment by anna Wed Sep 7 20:02:32 2011

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