Wildfire worries, Eira’s first day of daycare, and more hemlock dug in the dark – here’s our September at the farm.
If our first two weeks at the farm felt like an eternity, the next four passed in the blink of an eye.
Gone were the lingering fears of mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and bears (oh my!). The Wi-Fi now worked. The wasps were now out of sight. And the early morning “chill” that crept through our poorly insulated house didn’t even feel cold anymore. There was just one thing that still weighed on us – well actually, maybe two or three or six.
Hemlock dug in the dark
"Double, double, toil and trouble,
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches' mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark ..."
- Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1
The poison hemlock that flooded our yard was perhaps the first and most pressing problem to tackle. Being surrounded by an invasive plant romantically known for its death toll in the Shakespearian era made us uneasy, to say the least. Our kittens, who had just become acquainted with the great outdoors before we knew of the poisonous plant’s presence, were now permanently locked inside – and they were not too pleased.
But after having lived in the woods for over 30 years and likely having seen far more dangerous things than a measly weed, our property owners didn’t seem to share the same sense of fear as us. So, we took matters into our own hands.
One Saturday afternoon, Daniel covered himself head to toe in a Monsanto suit and spent 5 hours weeding the toxic plant from the ground while I sheltered Eira away indoors. We were told by my father, the botanist, that inhalation of vapors could cause a slow, painful death, so rather than burn the weed, Daniel moved it (with a 10-foot pole) into a giant plastic trash bag and waited for it to dry out before disposing of the weed. This seemed to take care of the problem, but do I worry about lingering weeds and their seeds? Of course.
Even more so as Blue seemed to get a taste of the plant one day when she began foaming green from the mouth after returning to the deck from our yard. After spitting up the green foam, Blue seemed fine – aside from being a bit nauseous and shaken – but she hasn’t had the desire to eat anything from the yard since.
Blue vs. wild
Coming out to live in nature was actually supposed to be fun for Blue, and I envisioned her prancing around the big, open woods in peace before arriving. But sadly, she’s been more of a homebody since coming to the woods. If it’s not the toxic plants and predators she has to worry about, it’s the hunters.
On one recent occasion, I lost track of Blue’s whereabouts while working on the deck. One minute, she was lying beside me, and the next, I was on the phone with Randy, who greeted me with a stern, “Do you know where your dog is?”
Minutes later, she arrived at our door ahead of Randy, who came to warn us not to let her loose again because of course, the few people who live around here (namely, him plus Neal Young and family) would not hesitate to pull a gun on her if she’s mistaken for a feral dog.
But what’s more concerning than the toxic weeds, hunters, and predators – or at least more annoying to say the least – is the unpredictable power outages. During 5 out of the 6 weeks we’ve lived here, we’ve lost power at least once for anywhere from 24 hours to 5 days. Usually, these outages happen on the weekends, but they sometimes occur randomly and sporadically. Thankfully, we have a generator, but it’s not a long-term solution to this issue.
What’s worse, our Wi-Fi is tethered to Randy’s home, so if his generator AND our generator are not both simultaneously running during an outage, there’s no Wi-Fi in our home. In these cases, we are truly off the grid since there’s no cell service (and no way to use cell data) in our neck of the woods.
“In my 30 years of living here, I’ve never seen this!” Randy has told us about the power outages, the wasp nests, the temperature spikes, and the coyotes being active during the day. What’s the reason for the sudden shift in homeostasis? I’m not sure, but I have a feeling it has to do with climate change.
The outages are only occurring as prevention for wildfires, which have been more frequent and catastrophic in recent years, according to the locals. The fear of fire is palpable – signs at our closest market read, “Are YOU ready for a wildfire?”, and pamphlets in our mailbox urge us to submit our home safety information to the local fire brigade – just in case. And all this makes me wonder, is it really safe to live here anymore? Will it be in 5 years? 10 years? Or will the climate drive us back to civilization before then?
Growing up is hard to do
Despite the power outages, I held myself to a deadline of being “settled” by September 10th, snowpea’s first day of daycare. But what no one tells you about daycare is that it can be extremely unsettling – at least to start.
When I first dropped her off, I cried. Eira’s initial enthusiasm to play wore off quickly when she realized playing also meant saying goodbye. Giving your child away to a total stranger when they are bawling their eyes out and calling your name tugs at your heart in a way I can barely put into words except to say this:
For 15 months, Eira had been an extension of myself. Letting her go – even if it’s just for the workday – made me question everything.
Is she happy? Will she get hurt? Are we doing the right thing? Should I feel guilty for enjoying my work? Or for feeling at ease when I can make coffee or shower without chasing a toddler around? Is my work more important than being with my daughter? Am I a failure of a mother because I can’t care for her on my own? My mother could do it without help, so why can’t I? Am I selfish? Am I overdramatic? But is she happy?
It will get easier, they say. But maybe this is just the beginning of a lifetime of holding onto the things you love – and learning to let go.
“¿Dónde está el bebé?” Leo, the farmhand, asked me every day I wandered to the stables to pet the horses and drop off the chicken scraps before breaking for lunch.
“En la ciudad,” I would reply in what limited Spanish I could conjure up.
“¿Otra vez?!” He would ask, perhaps wondering if I really was the mom.
“Si…yo trabajo aquí por el Internet y ella está en daycare,” I would remind him, failing to project all my emotions about the subject into my third language.
“She’s pretty young to be in daycare,” Randy interjected on one occasion, leaving me to guess what his opinion on working moms may be.
“Yeah…” my voice trailed off, failing me to express myself in my native language this time.
Living in the wilderness was never my dream, but it was one I warmed up to when I began fantasizing about the horse rides I would take, the outdoor yoga classes I would host, and the wine grapes and many flowers I would grow. So far, I’ve only unpacked my bags and made a compost pile.
I don’t feel that I’ve given country life a fair chance yet, but I do feel that took for granted many, many things about city life. Reliable electricity, running trails that aren’t mountains, being able to walk to coffee shops, waking up to smell the baguettes… There is so much within city limits that has already been built, tried, and tested. But here? I wouldn’t be surprised if Daniel told me next we are literally going to reinvent the wheel.
Living “off the grid” will get easier, I repeat to myself each day. And if it doesn’t? I give it a year. Then, Paris, here we come.