Chop Wood, Carry Water

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Chop Wood, Carry Water

Last week my husband Mark and I visited Ohio for our niece's high school graduation. It was a celebratory event with family and friends gathered to congratulate Nicole.

During this trip we also visited our friends Kelly and Denny. Five years ago they purchased an 11-acre farm and farmhouse outside of Marietta, Ohio. They are lovingly restoring the house, built in 1811. They have torn out the orange shag carpet, demolished walls to reveal original doorways and even discovered a room in their basement that may have been a hideaway in the Underground Railroad. In the process they are learning about the history of the home and their new community, and they are building strong relationships with their new neighbors and fellow farmers.

Kelly was interested in organic farming and living in harmony with nature long before it became popular. She is an artist and her creativity is exemplified in all aspects of her life. You won't find a television in her home, nor a computer. We were told that Denny has a radio so that he can listen to sports, but he does so with headphones so as not to disturb Kelly's peace. And yet, even without the electronic entertainment and computers that most of us take for granted, they get by just fine. In fact, they prosper.

On the farm is a barn. The current occupants include pigs: Roo, Spot, Tippy, Pinky and Casper; 8 newborn chicks, 9 medium sized chickens, eleven laying hens and one rooster. In the fields are three horses, three calves, four sheep and to round out the farm are "Smoky" the dog, young "Miss Kitty" and "Mistletoes," the six-toed, 20-year-old cat.

Kelly rescues animals that wouldn't otherwise make it. Little Roo was a runt of a pig that she rescued from a nearby pig farm. Barely breathing when Kelly brought him home, she nursed him back to health. She did the same with all of their pigs, calves, and sheep.

The latest of many projects is the purchase and transfer of a 100' by 35' greenhouse from across the river. They have leveled a spot in one of the fields and each piece of the greenhouse is being taken apart and transported to its new location. The glass panes are taken out one stainless steel screw at a time. I asked Kelly if it wouldn't be easier to just buy a new greenhouse. She said that would be more expensive. But, I suspect that I missed the point. She is rescuing this large, well-built and functional greenhouse and will put it to good use. She has plans to grow heritage vegetables and plants, trees, and food for the community. Her neighbor has a greenhouse that is too expensive to heat in the winter. On Kelly and Denny's land they have a natural gas well, so they will be able to help out their neighbor by keeping his plants alive during the winter with no heating bill.

The large vegetable garden is ready to be planted. Kelly has her seeds, seedlings, and string all ready to go. I suspect she would have been planting had we not been visiting. Instead, Kelly and Denny fed us and visited with us on the porch for hours. They seemed relaxed and not worried about all of the farm work to be done. We watched as they gathered fresh eggs and fed and watered the animals. We said "thank-you" to Ted, the calf, as we ate our steak dinner and to Suzie, the pig, when we enjoyed our farm breakfast of bacon, fresh eggs, grilled potatoes that had been canned from last summer's garden, and waffles with fresh strawberries from the garden. Dessert the previous evening was a freshly baked strawberry and rhubarb pie with fruit from the garden. The root cellar is filled with canning from recent garden harvests.

This is not a simple life. It is a full life of hard work, industriousness, creativity, community and pleasure. Kelly and Denny take time to laugh and play with their newest pig. They delight in the newborn birds nesting in one of the many birdhouses that dot their land. They take pleasure in cooking and eating the food they have grown. They designed a barn that is functional and beautiful. They painstakingly removed the paint from the kitchen cupboards to reveal the grain of the wood underneath. They fed a baby pig with an eyedropper and kept him warm in the bathtub indoors until he was ready to move to the baby pen and then eventually to the barn.

On most days, they do not see their work as a chore. They go about the daily rhythms of their lives paying attention and living in the moment. They really look at the sheep and notice their behavior. They see which pigs are eating the most and make sure the each get a fair share of the food. And they look for opportunities, like the greenhouse, that will enrich their own and the lives of their community. Is it a risk? Maybe, but they are willing to give it a try.

There is a Zen saying, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood carry water." Kelly and Denny embody this saying. They do their work every day; enjoy it most of the time, and just do it on other days. They take pleasure in the details and in the broad strokes. They respect their environment, each other, and their friends and neighbors.

They also make time for their many interests. Kelly has started oil painting. She pulled out perhaps 50 canvases she has painted in the past few years and asked us which one we would like. We chose a painting of graceful ginkgo leaves that I plan to hang above our piano. It will be a loving reminder of our 24 hours on Fernwood Farm.

© Sue Schleifer, June 2009

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