Returning Home   12 comments

Monday evening, I returned home.

In literal terms, this only entailed pulling up the farm’s gravel driveway in my car, coming back from about a week and a half spent in Portland celebrating the holidays with family and friends. Yet, it was more than that. Stepping out of the car, I heard the creek from which we drink and noticed its volume had increased. It was louder, yes, but also surely held more water. While I was away, a few storms had descended on the farm after an unusually dry December. The creek no longer was a whisper but instead a chorus, infusing the quiet night air, and that chorus immediately caught my attention and bound me to the land. I listened to it a moment and marveled that I even noticed the difference. It was a small epiphany.

After that moment, I walked to my yurt. Entering, I noticed the sharp scent of firewood and stood again—another small moment of wonder—letting that wonderful smell wrap itself around me. Mingled with the sound of the creek, the smell brought back memories of camping, of those necessary moments in which the natural world asserted itself as a dominant element in my life. Knowing that this was my life, my home, I felt a certain joy then that I had managed to grab hold of that particular happiness and integrate it into my daily life. The smell of firewood was typical now, rather than a brief, annual-at-best escape from work and the mundane happenings of a life too far removed from trees and dirt and creeks and rivers, lakes and hiking trails and a forest floor carpeted in fallen pine needles and twigs and leaves and billions upon billions of microscopic critters.

Somehow I had found that and made a home in the midst of it.

Thinking about all this in the vague terms of the meditative mind, I settled into my yurt for the evening only to have M, one of the farm’s cats, show up at my door. I let her in and she jumped into bed with me, kneading my chest and purring loud, occasionally gnawing on my hands in her particular way. She, too, felt like home. I was there for her birth—the only person there, as a matter of fact—and so she is a definite tie to my time here. Her presence is a constant reminder that while I do not own this farm and my place here is temporary, I am a part of it. For now, I have a home here.

While my time here on the farm will necessarily end in a few months, that doesn’t negate my sense of home. I may not live here on the farm come spring, but I plan to live nearby on another farm—assuming my plan works out—and certainly I am staying in the area, regardless. My ability to do this lies in large part with another element of that night I returned home: the anticipation, lying there in bed with M, of the new job I would be starting the next day. I have been working for a few months now for Meadow Harvest, a farm down the road that raises grass-fed beef and lamb. But that night, I was anticipating the start of my second job in the area, with a farm further down the road which also raises animals: cows, sheep, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and even a couple goats. With that second job, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of security and know that it would work for me to stay in the area.

I’ve only been here ten months, so it may not seem like a big deal for me to plan to stay for at least another season. But since I started farming in 2009, I’ve lived a transitory life. Each year, as the season has wound to a close, I’ve ended up leaving to go back to Portland, hang out for the winter while considering my next move, and then start at a new farm in the spring. Granted, in 2010 that meant staying in Portland to farm, but even that felt transitory. I found a new place to live toward the start of the season and I never knew if I would stay in Portland beyond that, despite the fact that a large part of me wanted to. And, indeed, I didn’t. I came here instead. I moved to this farm in March and have been here since, uncertain of where I would be in 2012.

For awhile, I figured I would likely move on, just as I had before. But I also didn’t want to do that forever. At some point, I wanted to settle. My ideal would be to settle on my own farm, but I haven’t felt quite ready for that yet and—more importantly—haven’t had the means or the opportunity to make that happen. But then came a moment earlier this season in which I started to think about staying on here at R-evolution Gardens into next year, though in a different capacity. There was talk of my integrating more into the farm, becoming not a partner, but someone perhaps more permanent. I could teach homesteading classes and figure out a way to eek out a living while helping to build the farm’s educational components.

That idea faded. I didn’t necessarily feel prepared to take on that role and as plans for the farm’s future changed, my ability to stay here long term looked less likely. But something else started happening during all those changes. I began to integrate more into this community, through small conversations and simple asides. When the opportunity arose, I started to work at Meadow Harvest. Then Lance and Tammi, owners of the farm I just began working at, asked if I might be interested in picking up some work with them after their then-current employee made her planned move to a different town. I said yes, and yesterday that work began.

I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but somehow I made a life here. I’m beginning to integrate into a community in a more permanent and sustainable way than I have been able to elsewhere in recent times. Somehow, ten months after first moving here, I came home to an evening when everything seemed right—when stepping out of the car and settling in for the evening assured me that I had found a place where I could say I would be for the foreseeable future. I’m not saying I’ll never move again. I suspect I will. But for the time being, there’s no deadline for transience in my future. I’ve found a place here on the Oregon coast. I have good work, friends, a small social network, and a place to stay.

I even, in the last few weeks, have started to form a plan of action for the next year. It’s something of an ambitious plan for me, and I doubt all of it will play out exactly how I want, but I have high hopes and excitement for it. In the next couple days, as time permits, I’ll write about that plan here on the blog. Much of it will dovetail with my writings and form the basis of multiple posts. I plan some big steps this year in my ongoing attempts to craft a satisfying, creative, low-energy, low-money, rooted life. I’ll be writing about all of that as the year unfolds, as well as delving into a variety of related philosophical issues. Stay tuned.


Posted January 4, 2012 by Joel Caris in Farm Life, Place, Work

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12 responses to “Returning Home

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  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about how much you love the way you live!

  2. Awesome blog Joel, what wonderful surroundings you have, the peace and harmony you have within your life – more people should be so lucky to find their purpose in life as you have. I so look forward to hearing more from you.

    Donna Nanney-Marshall
    • Thank you, Donna! I’m incredibly lucky to be where I am. It’s a beautiful area filled with amazing and generous people. And I can’t stress enough how wonderful it is to have found good work. I think that’s so critical.

      Take a look around the blog as you have time. You’ll find plenty of waxings poetic and quite a few proclamations about the future that you may or may not think insane. Either way, it’ll hopefully be entertaining.

  3. I like that you used the term “craft” in regards to making, creating, building the type of life/lifestyle you want. Terms are so important – I like the sense this word brings to the whole concept. I’m eager to see/read about what big steps you take toward that end result. Meanwhile, congrats on finding a home!

  4. To go from enjoying that camping feeling yearly to daily is to come a long way. So glad you have found what sounds like a deeply satisfying life there on the coast. Can’t wait to hear your 2012 plans!

    • Jess! Thank you! Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. Admittedly, it doesn’t feel like camping all the time, but it’s pretty much always there in the background, if that makes sense. It’s amazing how much it just becomes part of life and how much I notice it’s gone when I’m elsewhere. I suppose that’s a piece of being rooted in place, which is something of a goal of mine.

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  7. Hi Joel. I enjoyed your blog post. Thanks for your kind words too. Maybe you could drop by someday on a down under WWOOF adventure. To find a place to put down roots and find some community is a precious thing. By the way, how does your yurt go in the Oregon winters? It’s 35 degrees (95 Fahrenheit) today in the shade here so I had to stop working outside by about 1pm and am hiding in the house like a wombat in her hole. Still everything is green so no complaints. Regards. Chris

    • Thanks, Chris. If I ever made it down under, I would most certainly go for some WWOOFing adventures at your place. I don’t imagine it’ll happen though, considering I’m a bit of a homebody, I don’t have much money, and I, at least partly, philosophically eschew long-range travel. Still, it’s not an impossibility. I’ve always wanted to visit Australia.

      The yurt works surprisingly well in the Oregon winters. It’s not well insulated, though, so it doesn’t hold the heat much at all. I can get it plenty hot with my little Jøtul stove—it’s pretty warm right now, despite all the snow outside!—but as soon as I stop burning, the heat disappears quickly. No matter, though. I just climb under the covers and go to sleep and if it’s freezing cold in the morning, as it often is . . . well, that’s what hot coffee is for (and the usually-much-warmer main house.) The real downside is that it’s getting fairly moldy. This is likely it’s last winter, at least for the canvas. Still, this thing is pretty old. It’s been through four winters now here on this farm, I think, and was many years old already when it was obtained from its previous owner. So it seems to me that it’s held up well in such a cold and damp climate, considering yurts seem more made for the drier climates.

      If everything’s green, then you’re doing good. As mentioned, it’s snowy here—about six inches—and has been pretty cold. I can hardly even imagine 95 degrees at the moment. We had a hot tub earlier tonight, though, and that was quite the luxury to be soaking outside in hot water with snow all around me. Hope you enjoyed the afternoon break. Emulating a wombat in her hole doesn’t sound like such a bad way to spend the day.

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