Back to the Land

My family narrative is all about travel to America, shrugging off the constraints of the old country and emerging in the new world as entrepreneurs and professionals. Among the things left behind is Yiddish, so while it is my grandfather’s first language my father knows only a smattering and I don’t speak it at all. My story has some parallels, I reject the traditions I have been taught, leave my home and make a new start in a new land. I am eager and hopeful as an immigrant, as wide-eyed and ambitious as my grandfather, just that my goals involve planting a garden in the woods. Just that I am soft and impractical.

After Karl and Caitlin and Benjamin and the cat and the geese and I leave the commune and set up housekeeping by the lake, we are rudderless. We’ve left our friends behind and are starting from scratch in the skill department. It takes a year for us to find our footing, learn a few basics, get to know people, a while to pick up the grammar of a new language. In the meantime we read Living the Good Life by Scott Nearing and Be Here Now by Ram Dass, and dream of a place of our own and self-sufficiency.

Some of our new friends are Rick and Nora and their little boy Nathan. Karl meets Rick when they both are janitors at the hospital. Our other new friends are John and Claudia who have a little girl Rebecca, John just bought a 50-acre parcel of land on the side of a mountain and teaches physics at the local college. We meet John when he runs over Susie’s dog in the road in front of the red house.

Rick is from down country, not Vermont, but Nora is a local Randolph girl.  Her father is a general practitioner back when doctors make house calls and and sit at your bedside. Unfortunately he dies young puffing on a cigarette, leaving a widow and four little children.  Rick and Nora and Karl and I decide to buy land from John and build houses, we pick out a 15 acre parcel of hillside with a tiny stream running though it.  The only access is an old logging road with a jog midway up.

Rick and Nora choose the acreage just below ours and we all move to the woods, everything we own fits in the back of our $100 pickup truck. Of course we don’t have enough money to build a house right away so we instead we put together two Quonset-type huts made out of saplings and polyethylene sheets, we find the design in an issue of Mother Earth News. It is simple, you cut down 15 young trees about an inch in diameter and take off all the branches.  Then you bury one end in the ground and curve the sapling over in a big arch.  You line up the arches and then staple the plastic over them and put more plastic on the floor of the hut.  We share a lean-to kitchen built out of scrap lumber.

Living in the woods is wonderful. The sunlight shines dappled through the trees, the plastic huts are snug and you can open up the ends to get a breeze. We have no electricity, no running water, no sounds but bird sounds. The idea is that we will live in these huts until we have some sort of semi-permanent structure and then we will live in that while we build our real houses. All of us work full-time and we know it won’t be so easy to actually construct our projects quickly but at least for now, at least for the moment, it is paradise.

About Karen To and Fro

Everything you didn't want to know about me!
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