The sheep were sheared. It was a very interesting process to watch. The shearer, Steve, who we found via Craigslist, was good folk. He put himself through college shearing sheep. As we were watching him I was amazed at how much work it is. The sheep do not want to be sheared, so one must dominate the sheep. Not in a mean way, just in a controlling way. So first you have to hold it down, then you have to shave it. He started under the front legs, moved down the belly and the rear legs, then he swept up to the head and back, the whole time these thick clumps of wool were falling to the ground. I think I could shear a sheep, but I don’t think I could fight to hold it down the whole time, animals are strong. I picked up the wool, after Steve was done, and put it in a bag. There was a subtle oil quality, a silky fluffiness. So now we have two bags (I was hoping to get three bags) of wool; one white, one black, and we don’t know what to do with them. I was considering trying to make wool socks, but I can neither spin wool nor knit. Also the sheep are a lot smaller than I thought they were, they don’t look all big and bad now, just scared little sheep.
It's way too beautiful of a day outside. Humans aren’t meant to spend such pleasant days inside; it’s time to frolic, play and go for a picnic. Or put in some hard hours behind the plow, satisfying and sunburnt. We turned the compost again Saturday, it’s amazing how fast the time goes while we work, and before I know it we’ve been at it for three hours. Ed and I take turns at pitch forking all the compost out of the bin, and rearranging the piles back again. Three piles condensed down to two, and we think the oldest pile is completely done, because it’s not heating up past 85°. We had thrown three dead Koi from Grant’s koi pond, into the pile, and we were both very excited to see how much they had decomposed. They were 99% gone, we came across a little bit of the fish skin, but nothing close to a half-rotten fish head I was expecting to find. The compost is still Ed’s baby. (Until we get our Jack Russell, of course, which Ed said we can once I’m back home full time, (one week to go, one week to go…) We are amazed at how much waste we can recycle in this manner. To join the earth in creating the perfect circle of death, which begets life, which will inevitably result in death. For everything that is living must die. I hope when I die, that they throw me into a big compost pile. Or into the ocean. I was thinking about modern burial practices, that the plot is lined with cement and the body is laid in a steal box that’s not going to decompose any time soon. Is that how far human’s have tried to remove themselves from the natural cycle? We don’t even want our bodies, after our soul has left them, to return to the earth? We want to preserve them, but we’ll never do as good a job as the ancient Egyptians did. And I was thinking about the archaeologist who might be excavating some graveyards hundreds of years from now, and what sort of explanation they will come up with on why humans buried each other this way. I was also thinking that if all people, from all time and space had buried their dead in this fashion, there would be no usable land left, as it would all be used up for graves. But for now, sitting at my desk, contemplating the future, I am just waiting, till the end of the day, when I can run out of the office and through the fields. That’s where I’m supposed to be. Running through the fields.
We were driving back from Tucson and as soon as we hit the Oregon border I realized that I was already dreading going back to work. As nerve-racking as it is, I’d rather be broke than become suicidal going to a job I hate. So I walked into the office, first thing Tuesday morning and said. “I’m giving my two weeks notice, I thank you for the opportunity but I came to the conclusion that I am neither doing myself or the corporation any good by remaining in your employment.” I had my hand shaken and was on my way. I didn’t say this to them, but I understand part of this decision was based on my philosophical disagreement with the financial institutions and the monetary based society that we operate in. I was a receptionist at a Brokerage firm and I realized I can’t work to support a system I disagree with. I can say no thank you in good conscience. The probationary period of any employment is not only a time for the company to decide if they like the person, but also for the person to decide if they like the company. We somehow overlook the last half of that equation, bogged down in the thought that we ‘need’ a company to employ us. But it is not only about looking to someone else to give you opportunity, it is also about looking to create your own opportunity. Not to deny the instability of the current economic crisis, but where there is great risk, there is also great room for growth and reward. So, I don’t feel I need the stability of a bi-monthly paycheck. I think what Ed and I want to accomplish on the farm is worth it, worth the hard work, worth the instability. It is much more personally satisfying than sitting at a desk, waiting for the phone to ring. It felt like a bad Friday night in High School all over again.
It was a lot of hours in the car, probably more time in the car than not. But that’s okay, and at the road weary end of the day, it was well worth it. Number one reason: It was the first time we had seen Hannah (Ed’s 16 year old daughter) since we left LA. Number two reason: My mom was hosting the family reunion and we had promised months ago, before the job loss and consequential chaos, that we would be there. So we headed to the homestead in Tucson, Arizona. It was a trip down memory lane, at times soul-searching, nostalgic and pensive, it took me to a lot of places. And most of them were good. The first driving stint from here to Stockton, CA where we crashed for a few hours in a Motel 6, had me staring out the window looking at the giant metal women stoically carrying the wires that connect all of us. All of a sudden I was a little girl again, and my folks had thrown us in the car for some 14 hour drive to grandma’s house. Being a child, with limitless dreams and potential, and an imagination as varied as the landscapes we would drive past. Being a child, just riding in a car, wondering where you will go when it is your turn to drive. And I say to that child, that neither in your wildest dreams or worst nightmares, can you ever truly imagine what lies in store for you down the road of life. The only thing you can control is your reaction to life. I had a good childhood, some turbulence in my teens, as well as when I walked away from certain beliefs, but I think I’ve made peace with my past, at least momentarily. It was really good to see my family, both nuclear and extended. My dad showed us around his garden, pointing out his new almond tree. He gave us some watermelon and sunflower seeds. My mama gave us a painting of a mama bird and her seven little birds sitting in a tree. We talked up our family farm, and everyone loved the name, and had advice about chicken keeping and gardening. Family are good people. We are putting Hannah in charge of creating our logo, she wants to go into graphic design so we said get to work. I was pleasantly surprised at how agreeable Hannah was during the event, and how she took to participating with my family. She just turned 16 so we took her out driving around my old neighborhood. It’s nerve-wracking and wonderful to see her coming into adulthood with the milestones along the way. And she almost totalled the car only once or twice. Much of the trip was spent in discussions of the farm, and my job that I’m still not liking. Weighing the Pros and Cons of being miserable to earn money. The Cons won, so I came in today and gave my two weeks notice. It would be too hard for Ed to try to get the farm business running all by himself, and we figured that now is the time to follow our dreams. Make it work, people. Ed says I’m a silly girl. And I say, I am a silly girl. But I want to hold your hand and play in the dirt. And once you’ve said that, there is nothing left to say.
It’s been growing, gradually, in thought and in the ground. Shall we say ‘called’? Maybe, but the answer has been right in front of us, it is disturbing that it took us so long to say it. We’ve been talking around the subject for months, years really, and are now realizing both our histories have brought us here. Ed said, “Once you figure out what you want to do, not doing it is a waste of your time.” I’ve been denying what I want to do, although I’ve been saying it all along, which is write. Well, not denying, but not focusing on it. Farming will be an extension of writing, or more precisely, what I write about. Ed, more so than I, has been taking this time to ask the question: what do I do with my life? I’m in a different position than him; I can take an entry level job. While it’s a slight step down, it’s appropriate for me to be a receptionist. Ed is at the other end of the scale, he has been a partner in his last two companies. He’s not going to get a job at a front desk making $25k, and that’s not the point. Where is the heart? So, we are going to incorporate, market the family farm. There’s a lot of work to be done here, the place has been falling apart, and there is five years of dust in parts of the barn. But we are cleaning up, taking inventory and being imaginative. It’s just the more we read, and the more we listen to the undercurrent of society, that there has been a whisper that has been growing louder these past 40 years, and it has filled our little valley here and lifted our spirits. Where does our food come from? What is this process, of living and growing and dying, transferring life from one form to the next? We have attempted to remove ourselves from the cycle, to our own detriment. Just another organism crawling around the surface. We need to re-immerse ourselves in nature, to work harmoniously with it, not in our arrogance, fight against it, or try to control it. All animal life lives by eating other life forms. I want to live, therefore I must eat. Okay. What we choose to eat, and how we choose to eat it, are the next questions. Questions questions, or really, options options. When I was a little girl, we ate dinner every night around the table, the whole lot of us. And I liked it, the kitchen table. A kitchen table was one of the things I insisted upon when Ed and I were establishing our home in Los Angeles. He, in his adult life never had a kitchen table, and I said ‘Where do you eat breakfast?’ and he said, ‘I don’t eat breakfast’. I’m filing this one under: What’s wrong with the world today? Unfortunately, our dinner table doesn’t fit in the Airstream. Eating, especially around camp fires and dinner tables, are things our ancestors had been doing for ages. We’re out of touch and out of balance, time to go back to what we know and trust, the ground. But we need to act fast, because we are losing knowledge, along with cultivation traditions. But not too fast, because things need time to grow. Like our garden, our family farm. As we learn more, about eating locally and seasonally and ethically, the more sense it all makes, and the more peaceful we feel. It’s an excited peace, excited about making this, our dream and our goals, reality. Plans have been laid, now they must be set into motion. Full-steam ahead.
Okay. So that’s what I’m going to be doing here, I better just resign myself. What is life all about, you know? Why do we spend our time and our days chasing someone else’s dream? Why did I turn myself in? And who are the authorities anyway? We agree to such laws and by-laws, even if it’s just a tacit agreement: being born into it. Can you help but be obliged by the society you are born into? The one we inhabit is a monetary-based system, and I don’t know if I agree with that. But how do you opt out? I mean what are the opting out options? First, you have to live somewhere; if you’re breathing your physical body exists in space somewhere. And to carve a living off the land you must have some claim to land which you can cultivate. Well, if all the land that is possible to live on, is owned by someone else, then one must have enough resources and enough participation in the system in order to purchase it. That means money. The thing that gets me is that there is no new land just to be had. I can’t go exploring and set up a homestead somewhere. Any land there is to be had, is already held by private individuals or the government. So as much as I would like to go set up camp somewhere in Yosemite, or Yellowstone, well I can’t, it’s illegal. And if I squat on someone’s private land and they find me doing this, I could be evicted or shot. So where is a person to go? The family homestead passed down from one generation to the next, passed me up, or has been divided so many ways that there is not a big enough plot for me to sleep on. Something’s got to give: the current system, culture and/or society. People have it figured all wrong. We have, as a species, slowly moved away from the earth and the environment which we inhabit and which provides us life. And it’s the only earth we have. The funny thing to me, is that even if we kill ourselves off, which is what we are doing, the earth will still be here, spinning in space, and life will still be growing on it. It just won’t be human life. Well, maybe some humans, in far off corners of the globe who live off the grid and off the beaten path, might survive. I don’t care if I’m one of them to be honest. I’d just as soon keel over, really. I mean, what is so great about living? It is neither honorable nor noble; in fact, humans can be the lowest of the low when it comes to how we treat each other. What happened to live and let live? Instead we lie, cheat and steal from each other, our own community, and our neighbors just to feel a little better about ourselves for having more possessions, or a bigger house. But you know what? Our kids will still grow up to be drug addicts, your spouse will cheat on you, and no-one will come to your funeral. So what was it worth? Did you enjoy your time? Or were you too busy to notice if you enjoyed it or not? Think your thoughts for yourself. Well, here is where I’m going to stop. I’ll think some more about some different things.
I survived my second week of work; it’ll probably end up being okay. Some of my friends were teasing me for complaining that I’m getting paid to sit there and answer the phone when it rings. Actually, I was told that I can read a book, as long as I am getting all the work done. So Ed and I decided that I should use the time to research sustainable living. I finished reading Animal, Vegetable… and it changed my life. Well, it might, if I can implement some of the ideas. I’ve come to this many times before, but it breaks down: the more we can produce for our own consumption, the less we have to obtain to sustain ourselves. And in the book, Barbra breaks down the act, baking bread and making cheese and canning enough tomatoes to last all winter. Ed and I are getting excited and thinking more and more precisely about how to utilize this land. At the same time we are looking into the local food movement and decided that the ultimate would be for both of us to be full-time farmers. To be able to offer a little bit of everything, veggies and eggs for sale, compost and goat cheese, soap and pork tenderloin. We think we’ll name our farm ‘The Bird’s Nest’, and I’ll continue to work away from the farm, until we feel we can compensate for that loss of income. That’s when we agreed to get my dog, a Jack Russell terrier. At least that’s what Ed said. I was trying to hit up my mom for her book on canning and some canning equipment, but she told me to scram. Actually, we are driving down to Arizona on Wednesday for my family reunion. We’ll want to check out my dad’s garden, pick his brain. We ordered our chicks. They will be arriving around April 20th. We chose 2 breeds, Dominique and New Hampshire Reds. They are dual purpose, for eggs and meat, and we plan to use them for both purposes, as well as breed them. The grass is growing, the days are getting warmer, and the plans are falling into place. Ed and I walk around the property, and feel that we are where we should be.
My name is Leah Bird, I'm 28 and recently married. My husband and I worked in Beverly Hills. I was a financial manager and he worked in life settlements. We were having fun and making our way up the ladder. Until the bombshell dropped. Ed's company which depended on heavy capital flow to operate started to feel the pain of the credit crunch, and he, although a partner, was quickly ousted, with no warning and no severance. I did not earn enough to maintain us in LA, so Ed's parents who own a 5-arce farm in southern Oregon, said "come live here with us, get back on your feet." So we bought ourselves a '74 Airstream trailer on Craigslist, and thus starts our tale from Beverly Hills to Hillbilles....