It is now just over two years since we moved to our Indiana homestead next door to my parents. With the sale of six acres to our neighbors on the other side comes an official re-appraisal of our home and time to take stock.
We are extraordinarily lucky to be here: our buying 21 acres, a house and barn was financially unlikely. Acquiring this place came together through an uncanny confluence of events.
And we took immediate steps to make our home more sustainable. We insulated every inch, with emphasis on attic and crawl space. We put on a metal roof, which will last longer (no asphalt shingles in the landfill every time it hails) and reflect heat in the summer. Our new carpet was made from recycled bottles, our new wood floor was sustainably-harvested bamboo.
The triumph of 2012 was installing a geothermal heating and cooling system. This meant goodbye to propane altogether, and ahead of schedule!
The problem with making such progress so quickly is that you eventually slow down. The beginning runner knows improvement like the experienced runner will never see again ("I cut my time in half!"). Now we are running out of money and what we have won't go toward solar or wind energy, like I dream about, but to necessary maintenance on the house. Fixing the old and rotting windows and the damaged gutters--these are also investments, but more about preservation than cosmic improvements. I always raced like that in cross-country--no sense of pacing, I shot out in front of everyone for the first mile, then watched everyone pass me and dragged myself to the finish line.
But we are lucky. My dad (here he is, above, in plaid in 1979, teaching me to rake leaves) had a stroke that grounded him from flying a year ago. He was a test pilot who dreamed his whole life of farming. He recovered marvelously, is in great health and now has time to grow more food, help me with projects, play guitar and even write songs! My mom sews--clothes, curtains, pillows, purses, lampshades, cloth napkins--and we reap the benefits. The "family-share model" I envisioned works well. There is far less commuting (fewer fossil fuel emissions!) when one family can pick up groceries at the store for the other. And of course there is sharing the fruits and vegetables of our labor.
So this year, lacking sufficient funds for ambitious plans, we will nevertheless continue to put hard work into the place. There will be plenty of greenhouse, gardening, and landscaping projects. We will get those chickens we meant to get two years ago. Yes, chickens--who inhabit more and more urban backyards--will finally have a place on this homestead. It's back-to-basics, and that was always part of the plan.
Another thing: One watches the weather differently from a rural county road. When I first described the move here, we were experiencing a once-in-a-generation winter, punctuated by a treacherous but breathtaking ice storm. Since then, in the summer of 2012, we have seen a drought that rivals the 1930s, with more days over 90 degrees and less rainfall than 1936.
Drought-ravaged corn along County Road 200 West, July 2012.
It's hard to know for sure how the native grass and wildflower field of 7 acres, planted summer 2011, fared in the 2012 dry spell. The grasses are drought-tolerant, but they take several years to establish themselves above ground. I have my fingers crossed that they were busy building deep root systems this past summer. I suppose that's exactly where I stand: with the grasses. It's hard for me to tell whether I'm going to thrive here or not, and I'm just hoping that I've been building an impressive root system. As an Air Force Brat, I was never practiced at putting down deep roots. I came here with an admittedly romantic notion of the hyper-local: that I would take a small piece of land, care for it, leave it better than I found it, and through my actions feel a deep sense of connection to it. For the grasses, we hope for summer rain. For me, it's less clear. I wrote before that the move here was sudden and yet it had been building for years. I'd like to trust those seemingly contradictory circumstances that brought us here, so that finally, being here will be like the end of a good poem as my mentor Tom Andrews defined it: both surprising and inevitable.