Sunday, December 18, 2005


Self-Education


During the years of waiting after we had purchased the farm we had ample time to study and plan. Now, I’m one who doesn’t care for going to school, never did like it. In fact I loathed going to school as a boy. I used to plead with my mother to not make me go. She’d say, “Russell, if you didn’t go to school that would be illegal, and they’d throw your Dad and I in jail” Imaging both my folks dressed in stripes and staring out through bars with sad and emaciated looks on their faces was enough to make me submit to the loathsome task of dragging myself there everyday. For me it was like a sacrifice. Like a martyr, I’d endure my prison sentence so that they wouldn’t have to. And it seemed like a prison sentence, when in 1st grade I asked my Mom how many years I had till I would get out. I found out I’d be 18 years old! To a 1st grader it was indeed, a life sentence. Ug! Fortunately when I am interested in something, I do love to learn. I just don’t like going to school to do it. When I want to learn something I usually turn to books. And if books don’t provide me the information I need then I start asking around and in general just keep my eyes open and do a lot of pondering to find the answers to my questions. That’s how it was during the waiting years.

For many years I corresponded with my Uncle Glenn. He and his wife Jean and two of his grown children settled in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee where my Grandma Jessie grew up. For Uncle Glenn it was returning home, since as a boy he spent much time at his Grandpa's farm, the one mentioned previously. This was the family who tried to start a communal living arrangement in Arkansas. Well, Uncle Glenn had pretty much given up on trying to homestead in a group environment so he and the family decided to just do it on their own. I learned a lot from their experiences. Uncle Glenn was a philosopher farmer. He had his own philosophy of life and how to live more simplified. For him the ideal life would be that of a goat herder. He was quite angry with the commercial farming practices of Big Agriculture and blamed that kind of farming for many of societies present ill’s. But to him goat herding was about as pure as it could get.

He had his own idea’s of what this type of life would be like. Uncle Glenn also hated fences. His ideal goat herding situation would put him in a place without fences and with goats being the browsing opportunists that they are, would pretty much fend for themselves. All Uncle Glenn would have to do was sit under a tree with a good book and watch over his beloved flock moving them from fertile field, to fertile field. To him that would be the good life.

He never would live to see that particular dream before he passed away but, he and Aunt Jean did wind up with quite a homestead, with a lot of goats and other hearty farm animals. They never fenced in their goats. The only fences they had were what surrounded their lush and ample raised bed gardens to keep the goats out. Aunt Jennie ( posing in garden above ) has always had a green thumb and their raised beds have always been the envy of the county. Actually her and their son Bob still continue the same lifestyle even though Uncle Glenn has been gone for quite some time now.

Their idea is to raise animals that are very hearty and have a high
reproduction rate. Their homestead livestock of choice are, number one goats, then pigs (they raise pot belly pigs), chickens and rabbit's. Bob ( pictured at right ) got himself a Lama a couple years back and gets animals like that for the novelty once in awhile. But, they still adhere to this simple formula of hearty livestock with a high reproduction rate for the basics of survival. It works for them.

One thing I almost forgot to mention. Even though the goats are not fenced they are so tame they never run off. I suppose if they did have one that was prone to wander then it would simply wind up on the dinner table. To my Uncle, goats were the ultimate survival animal. The right kind are hearty and they can pretty much fend off the land for their own sustenance. Uncle Glenn had a saying, “one goat feeds one man and the rest is just B.S.” . His idea was that no matter what, if you had to, you could always live off of the milk. Then when the milking goat out lives it’s usefulness you just eat her. To him it was that simple. One word of caution, if you ever go to their homestead be sure to park your car out at the road. Otherwise you will find your self with half dozen curious goats perched atop your vehicle.

I have to admit I learned alot from my Uncle Glenn. He epitomized simplicity. Even in his and Aunt Jeannie’s approach to gardening. Just use ample amounts of compost and manure, that’s it. Glenn used to tell me how he liked to sit at the local diner and shoot the breeze with the area farmers. One time they all were having an intense discussion of what is the best way to grow a garden. Uncle glenn said they were coming up with all these sophisticated and scientific approaches to producing a good crop and one of them turned to him and said “ Glenn, how do you and Jean do it. You all have such nice vegetables coming out of those raised beds.” Uncle Glenn said, “ just lots of compost and manure, that‘s all”. A silence went out across the diner and it was pretty much the end of the conversation. He used to get quite irritated at the how those old farmers would make life so complicated for themselves when to him it was so simple. Actually he had quite a grudge against people who he considered workaholics. In his mind that was half the problem to begin with, all those workaholics coming with all those ways to make life more complicate than it needed to be. Needless to say, Uncle Glenn was quite happy with himself for having hushed, what to him, was such a nonsensical conversation. “Just lots of compost and manure, that it!”

After Uncle Glenns death, cousin Bob my Uncles oldest son, took up the torch of corresponding with me. Bob sent me a Countryside magazine, a publication I had never seen before that time. Before that I used to occasionally look at Mother Earth magazines but I never did like their yuppyish New Agey approach to going back to the land. Since then I have nary turned the page of a Mother Earth. Oh, once in a great while I will see a cover at the news stand with an article that might peak my interest and I’ll break down and buy it. But, for the most part Countryside has been my publication of choice. Kelli and I fell in love with that first issue Bob had sent. When we saw it we said, “this is it” “This is how we are wanting to live”. Also we noticed within the pages that there was a lot more of a Christian influence given by many of the writers. Reading Countryside magazine took us even deeper into our self-education of what it would take to make a go of it in Northern Wisconsin.

Then finally my cousin Bob said to me, “ in order to do what we do, you’ll have to lower your standards”. I new exactly what he meant and for me at that time it was like one of those light bulb moments. It finally occurred to me that all along I was trying to make things too perfect. I was trying to get it all figured out before we went. To have a clear and concise plan and not a momment before I had that, were we going to move. I mean after all I was supposed to be the bread winner. I was the man of the house I had to have it all figured out. Really, I was wrestling with fear most of those years. I was afraid to go before I had a guarantee of success. I reckon that was the standard that I was holding up too high. What I really lacked, was the element of faith. Once I finally got that settled I was able to then, muster the courage to go.

God has blessed me with a wonderful wife and she is generally supportive in everything I’ve ever wanted to do. So it didn’t take much to convince her it was time. It must have all been meant to be because she was more than ready herself and from that moment on it was time to go. Our Spring finally came. ...Until Next Time

2 Comments:

Blogger Jeff said...

I just found your blog via Herrick Kimball.

We visit my in-laws land near St. Germain every summer so I am somewhat familiar with the area. It is beautiful country.

12:50 PM  
Blogger RL said...

Hi Jeff,

Yes, it is beautiful here. I came to the conclusion some time ago, that I like tree's and this area certainly has those.

I also like the varying topography which keeps things interesting. In Illinois where I'm from, the majority of the State is flat. That can get kind of boring especially when you are driving.

Nevertheless I like being where I've got some elbow room and this area suits me fine.

Welcome to my blog.

Russ

4:58 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home