There goes the neighborhood

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If you’re not reading Cold Antler Farm, you should. It’s the story of Jenna Woginrich’s attempt to set up a small farm in the small village of Sandgate, Vermont. Jenna’s intrepid, and scrappy, and smart, and her blog is a pleasure to read.

Last week, she wrote a post called “Never Looked Worse,” in which she recounted some of the trouble she’d gotten into with her neighbors, and with the village, in the course of acquiring animals and growing food:

I went to a few of the neighbors to talk to them in person, and see if they felt I was in the wrong trying to start a small diversified farm in their village. I asked one woman her opinion and she sighed, looked off into the distance, and said “Well, you know Jenna. The property has never looked worse…”

That response floored her, as she saw beauty in the “sagging fences, the chicken poo on a stepping stone, the bags of feed behind the garage, the hay stacked on the porch.” She makes the point that farms are picturesque in our collective imagination, but much grittier up close.

As I read this, all I could think about was how glad I am that nobody can see our house from the road. Our property is piled with crap. There are the half-completed projects like the base for the wood-fired oven and the lettuce-in-the-cold-frame experiment we’ve got set to go on the next sunny day. There are branches that have come down in storms that have yet to be gathered into a brush pile. There is the brush pile, large even without those branches. There is the trailer chassis (trailer trash!) piled high with lobster traps. There is a very large boat, covered with a canvas tarp. There is ice. There is mud. And there is firewood. Piles and piles of firewood.

I know this is the look of a functional property, but I don’t see in it the bucolic beauty of Cold Antler Farm. I see piles of crap amid ice and mud. I can’t help thinking that the rusting carcass of a 1969 GTO would feel right at home here. Then all we need is a porch, a dog to go under it, and a still made out of an old washtub.

Jenna, tell your neighbors they have a standing invitation to come visit us. They’ll never complain about you again.

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Comments

  1. Most of the crap around our place was left by the previous owner, and I haven’t gotten around to separating the treasure (read: stuff I could re-purpose somewhere) from the trash and throwing it all out. I have a house, garage, and yard full of unfinished projects, and have finally decided that I must, MUST at least keep the living room clean. Thank goodness for a patient husband and privacy fences.

    And I do read Jenna’s blog- she writes with her heart on her sleeve, and her story’s a good one.

  2. Wow, that’s a February post! You are in the doldrums of winter, Tamar, when there is more time to think and notice and you’re more critical of everything. It’s messy business, what you’re doing, but think of your kitchen when you’re really cooking. Steamy and messy with apples peels and flour or onion skins and herbs scattered on counters. The February blahs led me to notice that the green on my walls would be better suited to a sanitarium than my living room, which of course, led to my repainting everything. Two weeks of chaos later all is back in place and I’ve scraped the paint out of my eyebrows and I’m content again. Sometimes you need to have a mess to make something wonderful. It’s almost March, spring is coming, I promise.

  3. I read that post too, & could relate. There are always projects in the works on our homestead. I don’t see us finishing all we’ve got planned for many years, if ever. Even then, I suspect there will be piles of manure, sand, compost, firewood, brush…. I’ll admit, at times I find it challenging. But, every year, I plant a little more beauty to offset the rest.

  4. I cringed when I read that comment from Jenna’s neighbor too. We have machinery covered in tarps in our yard, and hay bales and log piles, and a week’s worth of rain has turned our lawn into a mudbath.

    That’s the problem with the reality vs the romanticism of country life: real country life is messy, busy, unorganised by-the-seat-of-you-pants existence. It’s not a magazine layout. That’s why so many people’s dreams of life in the country fail: no one is truly prepared for the sometimes harsh realities and endless hard work. You have to find beauty in the intrisic value of that life, not the trappings.

    (this btw doesn’t preclude me obsessing about the visual state everything in my yard…)

  5. It seems to me that this attitude is so short-sighted. Here in Wellfleet, we have people from the big city who complain about shellfishermen leaving their gear out on a lawn. As Jen wrote, real country life is messy, not magazine-layout.

  6. Paula — I, too, have the oasis mentality about the living room. I try to keep it decent. Now, if only the cat would stop puking on the rug …

    Susan — I love that you took your doldrums by the horns and managed to get something constructive done. I sure hope you’re right about spring.

    Laurie — It’s comforting to know that everyone has piles. And my husband keeps reminding me of exactly what you point out — this is going to take years.

    Jen — I think you can safely count me as one of those who wasn’t prepared for the reality. Fortunately, I have a high tolerance for mess in my life. It’s usually only when we’re having guests that I start seeing the projects and stockpiles and tools as what they are — piles of crap!

    Alexandra — As a small-scale recreational shellfisherman, I can attest to the volume of gear! You’d think in Wellfleet, famous for its oysters, that wouldn’t be a problem.