We were married in a crusty old dancehall at the eastern edge of the county. The hall itself and adjoining restaurant and hotel appeared to be on their last legs. They all leaned together in a line along the only street in a town so desolate that a tumbleweed actually blew down the road on our first visit. Just above the small town a sagging Victorian farmhouse perched on a hill, encircled by pecan trees. Beyond that, there was nothing. We found this place after visiting all the usual wedding venues in the area. Most of them felt wrong. Inexplicably wrong. Too shiny, too floral, too forced. At the end of the day, and without knowing why, we were drawn to the drafty old dancehall in the middle of cow pastures. The place came equipped with a mechanical bull (which broke halfway through the reception), absolutely adequate barbeque, a cowboy filled country band, and creaking antique bar adorned with the painting of a naked woman. Five years ago, it was this place that captured our hearts and felt like the most appropriate spot to get married and have a party. Even as we set out centerpieces of wildflower-filled mason jars, we had yet to articulate why the place felt right
On Saturday, I had lots of time to myself at the land while Jer ferried 9 months worth of hay to and from the propane/hay store, to the land. We worked out an efficient system that involved loading three round bales at a time, bringing them to the land, and using the tractor (and a tree – long story) to remove them. Jer would climb back into Buster and head out again for another load, while I used Bambi to set each bale in its new resting place. Moving hay in the blazing sun becomes a meditative activity, especially if you don’t stay hydrated. Between loads I stretched out on Bambi’s seat, rested my legs on the front loader and spent lots of time gazing at the details of a summer day on 15 wild acres. Across the front pasture, and over the hills, I watched vultures make their lazy circles in search of dead meat. Around and around and around. I kept my eyes on the vultures and the trees and remembered dancing at the wedding to lots of slow country music and feeling absolutely at peace surrounded by cowboy hats and the smell of brisket. That night, we had no idea what was in store for us. We hadn’t yet had the conversation about this lifestyle – this life. I was working on grad school applications at the time and had my sights set on very different goals that loomed large and unattainable.
5 years later those boxes are checked. But now, sitting on a tractor resting between loads of hay delivery, there are new goals – also looming large. I see so much more sprawled out across the field. I see gardens and new fences. I see animals that haven’t even been born yet. Tall fruit trees that today aren’t even seeds. I see porches and jugs of sun tea set out to brew. A great pyrenees snoozing under the shed, resting up for his evening patrol of the perimeter. And underneath the large elm where I’ve parked Bambi, I can picture a fat rooster proudly prancing past, followed by his bevy of hens. He looks like Mr. Cluck. I see all that stirring somewhere underneath this cracked and dry earth. There’s days ahead of rain, and grass, and plenty. This will be a hell of a lot more difficult to attain than a two-year degree. It’ll require sweat and blood and many more tears than have already been shed. But it’s coming.
On Saturday, we stocked up on 9 months worth of hay. That amounts to 18 round bales of grass, 1,500 pounds each, wrapped tightly in twine. It’s a big investment, financially – yes, but also serves as a promise to ourselves that we’ll still be here plugging away and making things tick. In 9 months there’s still going to be life out here on this rough parcel. Almost 5 years ago we weren’t sure what drew us out to that old dancehall, but now I see how we’ve always been these people – the sort that deal just fine with a sacrificial Saturday for hay hoarding, stargazing, and dirt under our nails.
Pay attention to your natural inclinations – is what I’ve learned. I’ve been told they can lead you astray, but I’ve found that they lead you where you’re meant to be.