We have sold our farm and are moving back into the city.
It’s the end of a dream that Katie and I had had since the beginning of our marriage. We wanted to have land, grow food, raise animals, and hopefully build a Catholic community in an agrarian setting.
A few months ago I told Katie: “I can do two out of three things well:
1. Provide for my family well
2. Be a good husband and father
3. Be a good farmer
But I can’t do all three well, so which two do we choose?”
The farm requires constant work. I still have eight big oak trees we had to fell last summer that need bucking with the chainsaw, hauling, then splitting. I never got to it. We had nine cows by the end of our time, which require more grass than our land produces, so I needed to buy and get hay to feed them. Also every other day I would move them to a new paddock of grass…thirty minutes to do that right there.
Berms need building, plants need watering, trees need bucking, barn needs fixing, cow needs milking, weeds need shredding, the list goes on forever. But with a full-time job as a software developer, I did not have time to get to everything. Along the way, I injured my lower back, and then re-injured it two months ago. That put into sharp focus whether the farm, which produced very little for us, should be jeopardizing my ability to provide for my family in my regular job.
God made things easy: after fourteen years He made it clear I needed to leave my current company and find a new job. That was an unexpected change in direction. My old job had allowed me to work from home three days per week, enabling us to live far out in the country. My new job was flexible but not that flexible. So suddenly I was faced with a daily commute of an hour each way, decreasing the time I could spend with my children. Unacceptable.
This is usually the way God works in my life: He guides events to where the next step is clear, even if it was completely unexpected just a few days ago. When I got the offer from my new company, Katie and I discussed what we should do for just one day before deciding we would sell our farm immediately and move into town.
I am not sad at all about this, because I believe we are following our Lord’s direction. Sure, we thought we were being called to be new agrarians and build a rural Catholic community. And maybe we will be one day. But that day is not today. We will go back to being suburban middle-class people again. Not so bad.
The truth is that the culture of rural areas has been gutted. Read some of Wendell Berry’s fiction and non-fiction books and you’ll understand how it happened. We drive by all the fields on the way into town: GMO corn, sprayed with herbicides, fields of pure grass stands attained through constant application of Grazon (broad leaf herbicide), no rotational grazing of cows at all, slow desertification happening before our eyes. I don’t say global warming is happening; I say global desertification is happening, and deserts are hotter in the summer/daytime and colder at night and in the winter. Less vegetation and cover are there to stabilize the weather from extremes.
The rural culture is in shambles, because its root is agri-culture, and as I just described agriculture is in a sad place. We met some good friends out in the country, friends we plan to keep in touch with, but nothing near enough to begin to build a Catholic community. Our efforts to invite traditional Catholic religious orders to the diocese all came to naught as well.
I didn’t have time to write the past year and a half, out on the farm. My book came out, but that was because my editor and I had already finished it over the previous year. Blog posts have been scarce, not because I don’t have anything to write, but because I have had higher priorities to take care of. I thought those would settle down at some point, but I realized that out on the farm they would never settle down. It would be one thing if I could have earned a living from the farm, but that is hard to do and was never one of my goals in any case.
I look forward to being back in town, going to the coffee shop an evening each week and writing. I signed another book contract with Catholic Answers; the first draft of the manuscript I wrote three years ago, but life has been so full that I have only now had time to talk with Catholic Answers and agree on doing the book together.
It has been nice, though, not having time to write. I’ve watched with interest and concern as the blogosphere and social media worlds have changed over the past year or two. I see less of a need for my voice to chime in on most issues–others are handling it fine, or the din is so loud no one is listening anyway. Best to focus on the few things that I can offer real insight into and write about those things.
We had ten-plus acres of land out here, but our children are small and can’t just wander about on their own (we have rattlesnakes and copperheads in the area). So ironically the only thing our children will miss in the big pile of dirt we had by the pond after our friend cleaned it up. They just loved to climb on it and run down it and throw dirt clods off it, simple stuff. In our new place we are going to have several cubic yards of dirt delivered and dumped in the back yard just to simulate the farm dirt mound.
So our children won’t miss it too much. Edmund has grown in his knowledge of nature and critters and will continue in that. I’ll take him hunting and camping and things like that. He already knows more than most grown-ups and can name trees or plants on sight. No lie, ask his God-father who took him on a train ride and said he named everything they passed, flora and fauna.
Katie, for her part, is especially ready to move back into town. We are moving into the same neighborhood as our parish, St. William’s, which is one of the best ones in the entire Austin diocese. Friends live nearby; we can go to adoration and daily Mass easily; my commute will be cut in half.
I hope to get involved in the parish and teach classes, give talks, etc. I also hope to give talks at local parishes, and to do so for free. Our Lord has provided for us generously through my regular work so I am able to do this.
The next chapter is opening up! We don’t know where it will lead, but we grateful to Christ and hopeful for the future.