A Very Big Change
by Alina Arnold of Moscow, ID
Parents. The very word is enough to evoke memories that can strike terror, nostalgia, tears and smiles. Being a plural noun, it is assumed that more than one person is responsible for these memories. Yes, it takes two people to be parents, and in my case, no two finer people are to be had. Oh, we had the regular spats and disagreements, but in these two people I have found the definition of devotion, the meaning of work, the absolute and complete knowledge that life is about responsibility and commitment. In short, from my parents I found out why farming is a way of life, not just another job.
When we moved to Kentucky to begin our lives as off-the-grid small farmers, I was a young teenager with more energy then brains. In any other circumstance, I would have been beating the bushes to find enough to keep me busy. I soon learned that it was not a wise thing to announce boredom. I spent so many hours swinging a hoe, machete, and axe that I would have sworn my arms lengthened. A new farm is something that does not always come with manicured lawns or picture-perfect fencerows. When the brush was down to a minimum, there were weeds in the crops. Then there were the crops themselves. There was wood for the winter and, well; you get the idea — the list never ended. At times it must be confessed that I wondered what my non-farm friends were doing. Were they at the mall? Had they enjoyed their trip to the beach? Most of the time, though, I was just plain too busy to wonder. And this was all because my parents bought a run-down farm in the middle of no-where Kentucky!
As I worked, sweated and blistered my way through the most difficult years in life — teens! — I became more aware of some startling facts: I knew how to work. I knew what responsibility meant. I knew what it meant to roll up your sleeves and pull in there with all you had. I knew what the sweat and blisters added up to. I knew what the little things in life counted for. Yes, I knew I had it better than many of my former peers, for as I looked around, I realized they did not have a clue what life was really all about. And all of this — well, I also knew it was only a result of two people who occasionally drove me crazy.
With my parents there were no in-betweens. When we moved, they devoted everything to making our farm into what it now is — a well-ordered piece of real estate that has made it possible for us to live self-sufficiently, quietly, and simply. It is not simply a piece of real estate, though. It is a living, breathing organism involving animals, people, soil and intense moods. It is not just a job. It is completely a way of life.
Farming, a way of life? Small farming, real, possible? Thanks to my parents who took this rather out-dated view of agriculture, I became completely bitten with the bug. How could I ever leave this way of life that I had come to admire, love, and live?
There comes a time in everyone’s life when you feel the need to stretch your wings, to explore new horizons. This time surfaced for me this spring when I moved to Northern Idaho. My move was centered around finishing up my Soil Science degree, pursuing a research project for my Masters that related to organic farming, and continuing my way of life. No. It was not easy. Yes. I did feel very guilty. But, because I do not view farming as a job, because I view it as a complete way of life, I can step out and embrace this new adventure on the road in my life with faith that I will be able to realize my ambitions and continue practicing my way of life.
In answer to those who thought my move away from “the farm” would include a thorough hand-washing, I would like to point out that I am continuing my way of life in a very practical sense. I have been training riding horses all summer. Okay, so I have not plowed, disked or planted with them (yet) — but you never know what one girl can do with 40 head of Paint Horses! I have helped a rancher with 3000 bales of hay. I discovered how much an Idaho alfalfa bale weighed, and then surprised everyone, myself included, by standing up and bucking them all day. I have my own, albeit small, garden in my back yard from which I have been eating more green beans than I ever thought would fit in a human stomach. When late summer/early fall brought the changing seasons, I felt such a primal need to store and preserve that I started looking over my shoulder to see if my mom was lurking! This was a way of life that was not going to leave without serious kicking. And so, I canned fruit. “What on earth are you doing NOW???” my housemates wanted to know. Well, I plan on eating this winter! The house that I live in has a large fireplace, and so I decided that we needed some wood. Solution? I heard my dad somewhere in the back of my head: CUT SOME! I found an old guy who had a large wood lot and a lack of physical ability, grabbed a chain saw and axe and had the time of my life. My housemates all went rafting, and could not see why on earth someone would cut wood instead of having fun on the river. Well, to me, it’s fairly simple: I was having fun. I was also fulfilling the inborn need to prepare for winter. More importantly, I was continuing my way of life.
Thanks to some very unique, dedicated individuals, I have been able to further my historical knowledge of the manner in which people lived their lives here on the Palouse one hundred years ago. Perhaps some of you might be familiar with the Appaloosa legend, George Hatley? I was fortunate enough to bump into Mr. Hatley through some work I was doing for the University on his ranch. Mr. Hatley, who is an avid reader of SFJ, owns a Belgian team, and it was the sight of those two hulking beauties in his pasture that motivated my interest in this gentleman. I was honored this fall when Mr. Hatley let me drive his team in his annual Harness Club drive at his ranch. Mr. Hatley is an incredible source of practical and historical knowledge, and I have freely “picked his brain” on the area that I now call home.
My housemates are also learning to adjust to my odd behavior. Overheard one weekend: Did you hear that noise at 4:30 this morning? I could have sworn I smelled someone making pancakes! And, I have been told in no uncertain terms that if I am going to continue living in this house, with four very nice, very respectable, very clean, very anti-dirt girls, I will take my boots off before I even open the door. Of course — I would never think otherwise!
And, of course, I have my job at the University, where I am getting dirty — no pun intended — everyday. I have been involved in three projects this summer and have enjoyed meeting some of the farmers in the area. I have found that, while my dislike for academia’s hoop-jumping has not diminished, I can still learn about the awesome intricacies of a resource that means so much to me and anyone else concerned with farming.
And so, I confidently and purposely continue my life here in Idaho. Without my parent’s emotional support, this would have been a very difficult move. More important than their emotional support, though, are the years of practical application of activities that will be beneficial to me for the rest of my life. Yes, I did get some funny looks from the people at the fruit orchards when I came to pick. Why? Come to think of it, I guess I did not see any other single, twenty-something girls in the vicinity. Now that I think of it, there were not too many people my age at the Harness Club drive, either. Where are these people from my generation? Unfortunately, they did not have “weird” parents who have so indoctrinated their kids that they feel the pull of the seasons as intimately as if it were an actual rope!
As hard as it has been, my parents have realized that life moves on and that change is inevitable. Because of them, I know for a certainty what I will be doing in the (hopefully not-so-distant) future. For anyone concerned or curious: no, my goals have not changed. They have just become a little more tangible and a little more real — a little closer to the dirt I love.