Friday, January 6, 2017

Twenty Years of Learning

"archived" artwork from Mama's old calendar
-courtesy of Amanda
circa 2000
Twenty years ago today, we became “official” residents of the Shenandoah Valley. As we woke that first morning in Mt. Solon, we were filled with anticipation of the adventure that was about to unfold. We had spent the past year planning and prioritizing and making down-sizing decisions. We were debt-free and ready to take control of our own destiny. We had a plan and it was well on the way to becoming a reality.(for the record, our plan did not involve a covered wagon)  It was more than a little exciting to know that we were embarking on a journey to live out what others only dreamed of. 

Little did we know that a short six weeks later it would all blow up in our faces. There was no way to know how we would question our decision and wonder if we had truly seen a vision of the pit as life suddenly went “to hell in a handbasket”.  When we made the move to Middlebrook, it was with broken hearts and dreams and without any sort of nestegg for the future. And, that in some way that experience would dog us every step of the way. But, that is not the story here. The story is more about all that has happened in the ensuing twenty years. 

Twenty years. Much has changed in those twenty years. And, I can prove it. I don't have many photos of the early days, but I do have my planning calendars. They tell quite a tale.

In the midst of our annual planning meeting seed orders, I started looking for old garden notes for comparison. So, I dug out my planner stash. My daybook calendars date back to 1997, when we first started this adventure. 20 years ago today. They are full of penciled notes, bits of paper and the odd and random doodle. Those old calendars bear record of far more than just planting schedules and menus. There’s a lot of living, learning and growing and even some dying in those pages. Stories of great successes and dark, dismal failures. With a little effort, you can see some pretty amazing progress.

20 years of calendars
a treasure trove of farm facts

The things we’ve had to learn are myriad. Building this place from scratch on a shoe-string budget required a great deal of ingenuity. There are notes about construction, animal husbandry, weather prognostication, pest management, marketing and varietal choices.  Dates for planting, harvesting and breeding were tracked. Animal births and deaths are in among the birthday reminders. Amounts of food preserved for winter and the menus utilizing all that bounty were duly noted. It’s not unlike a time capsule. More than one person has suggested a book.  

I agree. There is definitely a book in all those cryptic notes and old receipts. And, I honestly thought that I would have it completed for our twentieth anniversary here on the hill (hasn’t happened yet, but the year is young...) However, I’m certain it isn’t what anyone might expect. While we’ve garnered copious amounts of knowledge regarding homesteading, small-scale farming...the farmers market, and countless other topics, I just don’t see an instructional guide in the future.

Surely there's a book in here somewhere
maybe Remy can find it!

You see, I can’t write a “how-to” book as that would imply this was our plan all along. That we actually knew what we were doing and hadn’t spent the past twenty years “flying by the seat of our pants” while doing our best to make what looked like an impossible situation work into some sort of viable enterprise.

I am incredibly proud of our accomplishments in the past twenty years.  It might not be what we thought it was going to be…strike is absolutely NOTHING like we expected and planned…but, we made it work.  Although, I would be hard pressed to tell you WHAT I expected of my life at this point, I can assure you it didn’t include midnight trips to the barn, over 600 Saturday Farmers’ markets and no promise of any sort of stability for our old age. But, that's okay. It's all good. We took a bad situation and can honestly say we are successful.

In some ways, it’s been exciting to be a pioneer, forging a life out of nothing. On the other hand, it has been truly terrifying as we (I, in particular) wondered if we weren’t screwing up royally and saddling our children with awful “baggage” that could potentially affect future generations.

all sorts of things have been memorialized

There among the garden notes and the bovine heat cycles, between the amounts of food preserved for winter and the lamb birthdates is the story of our lives. Those little penciled notes are the only record of some tremendous life lessons. There’s a lot of living wrapped up in that stack of old calendars.

No, I don’t think you’ll find a “how-to” book in my old daybooks, but there is a story of faith and hard work, of endurance through the pain and disappointments and the joy that living brings. And, honestly, that’s what life is all about. Even if it doesn’t go according to plan. That's something we can pass on to the next generation.

things have certainly changed
I'm a shepherd with grandbabies!

Another change...
at the PARK!

As I start filling out calendar #21, I’m looking forward to seeing what changes it will detail and the lessons it will chronicle. The notes I make today will serve as guidance (and perhaps amusement) sometime in the future.

Because another twenty years will fly by before we know it.


  1. Congratulations on 20 years! A milestone for sure. You can be proud no matter what. You did it! Through thick and thin, weather problems, sheep problems - you have persevered! Congrats!

  2. I'm sure there is a lifetime of knowledge in those calendars. You may not think there is a book there, but as a gardener (very small scale) I know that I read lots of different gardening books, some of them over and over. Maybe that's a retirement project? -Jenn

    1. Tell me, what IS this retirement of which you speak? haha

  3. Congratulations on your 20th Anniversary. How far you have come, and how much you have learnt is a credit to your tenacity and perseverance when the odds where stacked against you. Well done! You certainly are a success and a farming couple that I admire greatly.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
      Your kind words mean the world to me.

  4. Such a heartening post Barbara - Triumph over adversity if ever I heard it.
    It is wonderful how you have flourished through sheer hard work. Don't stop telling us about it - I love your weekly walkabouts.