EDITOR’S NOTE: The Armchair Mayor News is pleased to welcome a brand new column to our pages. Dan and Jody Spark will write every other Monday about their experiences living on a small acreage at McLure.
By DAN SPARK
THE RURAL LIFE (COLUMN) — Nobody said getting back to the land was easy; in fact, as anyone who has grown up reading the Little House books has learned, living off the land, or as close as one can, is a test of patience, endurance and determination.
As members of the Ingalls’ family would no doubt attest to if they were here today, there is nothing romantic about their brushes with droughts, grasshopper plagues, grassfires, floods, poverty, starvation and debt. Indeed, even Laura Ingalls Wilder, the iconic author of those beautifully written books, questioned the sanity of life on the farm.
While we would never call ourselves farmers — a label we could only hope to achieve one day — it’s that pursuit of the back-to-the-land dream that keeps our family of six (three girls, one boy and another on the way) happily settled at our tiny acreage nestled on the North Thompson River in McLure. The farm life is still a far-off dream, but little by little we are finding out what it takes, and finding out what we’re made of, to make that dream a reality.
So what have we learned so far? Basically, two very messy truths.
The first is that there is no escaping death on a farm, no matter how small it is. If you have animals, they’re going to die. Everything from mice to songbirds, and from chickens to turkeys, have died on our property — some by our choice, some not — which at times makes for an unpleasant knot in the pit of our stomachs. Watching the life drain away from a chicken after slitting its throat is something we never really get used to. Nor do we hope to.
But knowing how that chicken died, where it came from, how it lived and what it ate gives us assurance that as much as death sucks, eating chickens we raised is better than the Styrofoam-packaged alternative.
The second truth may not be as morbid, but it’s certainly just as messy — poo. Yes, life with animals means there’s going to be a lot of waste, which makes itself especially evident this time of year when the spring melting creates ankle-deep pools of brown, smelly sludge that never seems to seep into the ground.
On our property, we have several piles of manure that will one day become food for our plants. There’s the nutrient-rich but weedy horse manure; the potent, nitrogen-laden chicken droppings; benign goat pellets; cow patties (some mushy, others so rock hard you practically need a pry bar to get it off the ground); and the turkey crap that can even be found caked on the roof of our barn. It can also be found in the barn, on the front porch and, more than anywhere else it seems, on the bottom of our children’s shoes.
It can be quite depressing to realize that after trudging off with yet another wheelbarrow of feces, there seems to be another two wheelbarrows’ worth of manure waiting when you get back. It’s no wonder you hardly ever see farmers without their rubber boots.
Life can be messy, and farming may be messier, but man, we wouldn’t trade our new lifestyle for anything. It may not be romantic, but as Laura Ingalls Wilder once said, “I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”
Of course, rural living may not mean simple living, but it sure is sweet.
Dan and Jody Spark are in their fourth year of living their back-to-the-land dream and they are having the time of their life.