Spending time on Ardunan farm was like holding a crystal ball. Look deeply. Contemplate this possible future. What can be learned? Use the glimpses of this alternative universe to help you decide what’s possible and what’s desired, what’s a romantic notion and what’s a true, deep calling that can withstand the difficulties inherent in any undertaking. I suspect WWOOFers are often in this mode- volunteering not just to learn skills, but to look at how things are done and see what they themselves might want to do. Most of them are young, in their twenties and thirties. I’m pushing 50. My evaluating criteria is likely different. The process is the same. Put your toe in the water and test the temperature before flinging your whole body into the loch!
Not consciously, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I was always thinking, thinking, thinking. The gears of my mind were working. Do I like this animal or that one? Could I do this alone? How much time, money, energy would be needed to get to this point? How much money is needed to start? What would I be working toward – in other words, what would be the point of it all?!?!) Could I raise animals for slaughter? Could I stand working in the heat, the muck, the everyday tyranny of feeding and watering? Would I want to be tied down to a farm and animals and not be able to travel easily? Could I do the double-time marathon of work and farm keeping until the second got on its feet? Why would I want to? Are there any really good reasons to do such a thing?
I did not see the owners of this smallholding express much joy in their undertaking. Pride, yes. And statements about “it’s a great lifestyle”. But much of the time what I saw was frustration – with the process, with each other, with the requirements of running the farm. And they had substantial income before becoming farmers. Far more than I could hope to have. And their farm still was not financially self-supporting. And they really needed the help of WWOOFers to make it work. Somehow things seemed not quite balanced.
What about simply care taking of someone else’s farm? What about sharing a farm with other people? What about abandoning the idea altogether and recognizing that you can keep a few chickens and rabbits in town and not have to do any of this? What about living somewhere rural without having to have a farm at all? Just be out of town and enjoy it. And drive in to work. Lots of people do it every day. You were going to do that just a few months ago. Does starting anew mean you really have to change the entire structure of your life?
What if I was already doing what I want to do?
I was living somewhere beautiful, in a location that allowed me to closely interact with and constantly see the beauty of the landscape around me. I was creating a home that would be comfortable for myself and welcoming to others. I was preparing to start a business that would draw upon my strongest skills and involve me with folks making wonderful things. I had employment that allowed me to support myself, have time for creative pursuits and was with a wonderful collection of human beings. I was basking in the love and affection of friends and family. I was keeping a home base for two kids heading off into adulthood. I was enjoying a few animals. I kept a garden. I was living in a location I’ve specifically chosen (despite its cost of living).
Looking at smallholding life and all it would take from me to do, I can’t imagine it would be as satisfying as what I’ve built for myself over these last many years in Santa Fe. And sure, my life has difficulties and drawbacks. Every path does. But getting a glimpse of an alternate future, one in which I head off to somewhere more remote, start a farm and strive to bring it into fruitful production before my own years of fruitful work draw to a close just doesn’t seem like a good idea. But more importantly, I don’t want to do it. Maybe if I was thirty. Or maybe even if I was forty. But not at fifty. Not alone. And not without the financial resources to make things happen at the rate and quality level I’d require.
So, I am starting over in some respects, after having my husband of many years leave me. And for a good long while I’ve been in shock. What should my life look like now???? I was going in this direction and then someone dropped a big bomb. There was a giant explosion! The road was destroyed and I was wounded! Woah! Everything stopped! And I thought ,”Okay. When the dust settles, you can get up and head out on a different road, one that hasn’t been completely gutted.” But really, now that the dust has cleared, I see that the road picks up again just beyond that huge gash in the ground. I can make my way over the rubble. I don’t need to find a whole new road or start a whole new life. In fact, I quite liked my life. I think I’ll return to it. With a few adjustments.
In the meantime, it is rather fun to pet a piglet.