making the way by walking

Space to think (Utila, Honduras)In a few short weeks, Anne and I will be relocating, once again.  But this time, chances are good that it will be for the long term.  We are in the final stages of buying a house, and I don't think we could be more excited . . .

It's amazing that this has come to pass.  Starting about four years ago, I began laying awake at night, scrolling through the real estate listings on my iPhone, dreaming of moving back to western Massachusetts.  But I couldn't see the path to getting there.  We had good jobs in NYC, but we hadn't really been saving.  For 15 years, I had been in love with New York, and because real estate prices are insane there, we never really put much effort into thinking about, never mind saving for, a future home.  I figured we'd just rent forever.

But then, all of a sudden, I was done with "the city."  I needed to move, but couldn't figure out how to make that happen; to complicate matters, Anne was pretty happy with our life as it was. There was quite a bit of anxious paralysis as I tried to figure out everything in advance.  Eventually I learned that I just had to take a step, and trust the path to unfold before me.

I've written before about a trip we took in early 2009 to Utila, Honduras, and how I had an awakening about myself, the Earth, and the cosmos.  As if that wasn't huge enough, during that same trip I met a bunch of expats whose life stories made plain that it is possible to radically change one's life.  I loved talking with Ed, a man in his 70s who had worked in the midwest in radio and in the insurance industry, until one day a friend took him sailing.  He realized that all he wanted to do was sail, and so he did.  He gave away all his suits, quit his job, and took a job chartering trips in Florida.  That was 40 years ago.  And I learned so much from the example of Dave, a successful architect from Los Angeles, who one day decided he had had enough.  Now he lives cheaply and happily, building structures for himself and friends near Rio Dulce, Guatemala.  These expats showed me that it is possible to just walk out the existing structures and narratives of your life, and do something different.  You can't plan out each step, you have to make the way as you go.

Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace el camino al andar.
(Searcher, there is no road. We make the road by walking.)

--  Antonio Machado, Selected Poems ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982)

Given our particular circumstances, Anne and I have made the way slowly, transitioning one step at a time, rather than leaping forward.  First, I quit a job in which I was finding little satisfaction, and moved to Bluestone Farm.  Anne and I adjusted to living on half the income we were accustomed to.  We started living more simply, and got used to seeing each other only on the weekends.  In the summer of 2010, Anne began spending more and more time at the farm, until she was mostly commuting into the city for work, rather than out of the city.  We happily readjusted to seeing each other every day.  Then, in early 2011, I took another step, finding a position at Open View Farm, here in Massachusetts.  As the months passed, Anne's weekend commuting got a bit tiring, and she began to work a few days a week from the farm.  Then, just a few months ago, she was able to find a great opportunity in Amherst, a new job with enticing challenges.  On February 20, we moved out of NYC--almost exactly 3 years after that fateful trip to Utila.

Our plan was to stay here at Open View Farm for another long while, saving money and eventually finding a place of our own.  I'd long dreamt of having my own farm, maybe even a small business.  Maybe in another year, we thought.  In preparation, in March I signed up to take a month-long course for first-time home buyers; Anne was scheduled to take it in May.  We had plenty of time to learn the ropes, we thought.  But you never know what's around the corner.

On March 17, we went to pick up some farm supplies in Belchertown, just south of Amherst.  I was feeling a bit under the weather, and was impatient to get back home, but Anne wanted to take the scenic route home.  A few minutes down the road, Anne saw a sign for an Open House.  I wasn't that interested, and rejected the idea.  But Anne was insistent; "What's the harm?  I've never been to an Open House.  It'll be fun!" she said.  So I turned the truck around and we went back.  Having no expectations, we were pleasantly suprised by everything we saw: a small grove of young fruit trees, well-established raised beds, a good-sized raspberry stand...a flat sunny 1-acre yard with lots of possibilities for small-scale farming.  A solidly built, clean, barn-red, 1500 sq ft Cape.  We could immediately imagine living there--it felt just right. Best of all, the house is right off the bike path to Amherst; 30 minutes ride to town.  Anne's commute would be just 10 minutes by car, or half an hour on the bike.

We chatted with the listing agent, and left with a bit of excitement.  And the more we thought about it, the better it seemed.  Although I had been imagining something more remote, and with more land, we couldn't stop thinking about the benefits of the bike path, and of the proximity to Anne's work.  We had been assuming that she'd need to drive 30 minutes each way, in order for us to find something reasonable in cost.  It felt like a really good spot for us, surprisingly.  And because the house is in such good condition, with a newer roof, replacement windows, boiler, and septic system, we would be able to start investing in the garden, rather than in repairs.

Over the next two days, Sunday and Monday, we talked about the house non-stop.  We drew pictures.  We searched the internet for any information we could find about life in Belchertown.  We applied to be preapproved for a mortgage.  We went to see the house again, with our realtor.  And on Tuesday we got a phone call from our realtor that two other offers had been made on the house--did we want to make an offer?

And we did, and our offer was accepted, and now here we are, a few weeks from closing.  We've done all the steps: the home inspection, the various water and termite tests, securing a lawyer, paying deposits, getting the appraisal.  We're waiting on the bank to approve the mortgage, and hope to hear from them in the next week or so.  The closing is scheduled for May 31.  I've already got someone booked to sand the floors in a couple of the rooms on June 1.

All that's left to do is wait, and try to be patient.  I'm not very good at being patient.  But I just keep reminding myself that soon we get to start putting down roots.  This has been my deep longing--to commit to some land, to settle into a home, to be in a place for the long-term.  I want to plant a tree, and be there when it begins to bear fruit.  Our lives have been in transition for so long, with so much uncertainty.  We've been moving, moving, moving, making the way one step at a time, and now, we will stop crossing distances and, instead, go deep.  I can sense that it will be a different kind of "making the way", and I can't wait.

It's been an amazing couple of years, and I'm so grateful to the sisters at Bluestone Farm and to Emmy Howe and all the folks at Open View Farm for holding me so well during these years of transition.  I'm incredibly thankful for all the learning I've gotten to engage in over the last few years.  I had never gardened before visiting Bluestone Farm in 2009; now I've got dreams of starting my own little farm business, and I feel confident that I can successfully grow vegetables, and raise chickens, and perhaps even goats and bees. 

And beyond all the practical gardening and livestock experience that I've gained, I've learned so much about myself--my strengths, my weaknesses, my true desires.  Here's what I know: I'm determined, strong-willed, and I've got a lot of physical stamina.  I can envision things in detail, making concrete snapshots of plans in my mind.  I can research a great deal of information quickly, sift and process it, and make decisions swiftly.  I learn fast.  I also am stubborn, unwilling to admit fatigue, prone to procrastination, and incredibly impatient.  I have very little mechanical or engineering smarts, and I get quickly frustrated in such situations.  I have a hard time slowing down enough to explain things to other people; I am overly independent.  And I want to create something of my own, something beautiful, something complex, something that lives and evolves, something I can grow with.

Knowing all this, in the visceral, embodied way that I do now, is powerful.  I feel like I'm coming into my own, and I have a level of confidence in myself that I don't think I've ever really felt before.  The anticipation that I'm feeling right now is about much more than just buying a house--it's an eagerness to get started on this new chapter of my life, it's knowing in my core that I'm ready to start.  Maybe this is part of being in my 40s: having a deeper sense of self-knowledge, and feeling the assurance and empowerment that comes with such knowledge.

I don't know yet, for sure, if I'm going to start a farm business, but I am leaning in that direction.  I've been researching a couple of possibilities (goat milk? specialty peppers? seedlings?), and will be writing more about that in the future.  For now, for this summer, I'm planning only on planting as much as I can as soon as we move in, building garden beds for fall crops, and designing a permaculture garden plan for the longer term.  I'm reading two great books:  Gaia's Garden and Edible Forest Gardens.  (For the home-scale gardener, I'd highly recommend Gaia's Garden; for those interested in landscape design and professional work in permaculture, Edible Forest Gardens is indispensible.)

Stay tuned--I hope to be updating this blog much more frequently as I continue making the way, diving into this new creation.