If you live long enough you gain an appreciation for those who came before you.
When COVID-19 hit and everyone was advised to practice “social distancing,” I was indifferent. “Social distancing?” I invented it. Been practicing it for years.
Then came “shelter in place” and “work from home.”
Unlike most, I could not have been happier. Stay home? Well “please don’t throw me in the briar patch Br’er Fox.” I packed my possibles and headed to our farm.
I take liberties with the word “farm.” Not the image the word conjures. Really just woods and a few open acres. The crops are trees and wildlife, not corn and livestock.
Finally, a chance for the good life. The life of my ancestors. A life for which I was surely born.
Now to be clear, I do not have an upper-class pedigree. I did the research. My kin were Irish immigrants and poor white sharecroppers. No royal sap in the family tree. Mostly poor folks who eked out a living with whatever they had on hand.
But I had more. The pandemic did not take me by surprise. The farmhouse was fully stocked before the initial panic hit. While many rushed to the stores, I just sat back and watched from a distance. I am, after all, a smart man (just ask the Redhead and she will tell you “oh yes, he certainly thinks he’s a smart man”). I am forward-looking. A visionary even. I was never a Boy Scout, but I lived their motto — “Be prepared.”
I had food. I had medicine. I had gas and diesel. Masks, antibacterial wipes, and toilet paper to spare.
I might have even had a gun or two.
I also had creeks for water, trees for firewood, and wild animals for meat.
But most importantly of all, I had seeds for a garden.
I was dug-in like an Alabama tick. Ready for the long haul.
The first three weeks were blissful. I was finally able to get my work done. Almost no calls, no emails, and no visits from anyone to break my chain of thought.
My plan was executed to perfection. I put in my office hours, then headed outside to take leisurely walks and tend my tomato plants.
On a gorgeous Saturday morning I climbed aboard the big John Deere and plowed and planted my garden. It was the same kind of worn-out rocky ground that my ancestors plowed with mules, but no matter. I could coax that sorry dirt to yield more than they ever dared to dream.
Then came Sunday morning. The storms hit at sunrise. Hail. High winds. Rain by the bucket-load. The lights flickered, then went out.
No worries. I had candles and flashlights with extra batteries. Who needs television or the internet? I had shelves of good books and plenty of paper and pens with which to write.
That night I laid down in sweet solitude. The bedroom windows were open, and the light breeze and the dripping rain the only sounds. My sleep was deep and filled with contented, peaceful dreams.
Monday morning, I decided to take a stroll to survey my kingdom.
Trees down. Trails blocked. Garden mostly washed away. Creeks out of the banks. Dead battery on the Deere.
Rugged independence? Gone.
That night I blew out the candles and lay in the darkness again. You know you really cannot appreciate true darkness until you are way back in the woods with no lights on a cloudy night. I struggled to find sleep with my troubled thoughts.
As my mind raced through the stillness of that long night it finally hit me. There was nothing romantic about the way my ancestors lived. They could not run to the grocery store when the crops washed away. No cash to buy more seed or supplies or even pay back their shares. No hiding from a pandemic. If the Spanish flu did not kill their children, then cholera just might.
I understand them now. Why they left the “good life” for jobs in the cotton mill towns. Why they traded idyllic farm living for a hot, dusty job where a man might lose a hand in a second or his lungs to the lint in a matter of a few years.
I have no worries. I can start again. I have the means to replant the garden, and the grocery store is only five miles away. I still have my masks and wipes, so I will probably stay untouched by the virus, at least for a while.
I added something to my supplies. Respect for my ancestors.
The “good life” is all high cotton and buttermilk cornbread when you are playing a role in the theater of your mind. But when you live off the land to survive it is not all it is cracked-up to be.
13 thoughts on “The Good Life”
So it just took one storm to end your idyllic life of leisure in the woods? I am disappointed.Well, perhaps not. You’ve got a John Deere? I hope you’re talking about a real tractor and not a fancy lawn mower.
Is that a photo of your “farm”? I hope so. It looks quite nice.
No, the lifestyle continues.
The photo was taken in the “front yard,” and the Deere is full grown.
Ray, I so appreciate reading your stories of rural Alabama living. I can smell your freshly turned soil in your plotted garden spot. I can hear the dripping of the night rain off of the roof making puddles of water below the window. A warm and humid breeze stirs the thin curtains of the sleeping room. ….. Wait!! See what you did? You put words in my mind now on paper. You give a fine salute to your ancestors who attempted to live in harmony with Mother Nature. Carry on, I too am appreciating this solitude.
Thank you Leisa. I always appreciate your encouragement.
About time for you to use some of your solitude to dust off YOUR keyboard.
Leisa, that is beautiful writing as well, I am so envious of you writers. It makes me a little embarrassed to even leave a reply, but I just have too !
This was really good, Cliff. Yup. If the farm life had been so awesome, people wouldn’t have rejected it. How depressing to realize this. Awful to think that what we have now (minus covid) is the best life human beings have ever experienced…and it is kinda killing ecosystems and animal species and possibly heating up the planet to uninhabitable. This pandemic gives me too much time to think.
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We are having a realty check. But don’t spend too much time thinking about things like that. It’s out of our control. Just stay focused on churning out your stories. We need the words now more than ever.
I’m enjoying your writing! Thank you for sharing!
That you Shawn. Good to hear from you.
Thank God for a cool night and dripping rain because it wont be long before we can bake biscuits on the kitchen table! Don’t worry about the tractor, you can jump it off with the red and black Firebird.
Oh yeah, the heat is on the way. That will really be a test. I’ve managed to handle the cool with some quilts, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand the heat without the AC.
The tractor problem turned out to be a safety switch. Cost me $400 to have it hauled in and $100 to have it fixed. Couldn’t get it on my trailer.
I let go of the old red and black about 10 years ago. Man that bought it and completely restored it. I see it around town every now and then. Brings back memories…
I’m very grateful for my electricity! Hope you are staying healthy.
I missed it too after four days. Still don’t have the cable, so I’m at the mercy of my cell signal. When the wind blows just right I can send an email.
All is well. You two youngsters be safe too.