(If you need to read the preamble to the follow-up, or the reason why a follow-up is necessary, go ahead.)
After struggling with the History of the Entire World for the last ten years, I’ve come to two realizations.
First: I love what I do. I can’t not write.
Second: I moved back to the farm with my family because I loved working outdoors and keeping livestock. And in the last ten years, I’ve spent almost no time doing either. I am always working against a deadline, usually late, and I can’t spare the hours.
That’s what’s burning me out.
So we have a plan, which we’ve already set into motion and which I’ll be able to devote more time to as soon as the History of the Renaissance World goes to my editor.
About two years ago, the land next to our farm came up for sale. Long ago, it was part of the original Peace Hill property. So I bought it. This gave us (my husband, me, my parents) a total of a hundred acres combined. Plus, the new land had a gorgeous old house on it that had been used as a bed and breakfast. We found a wonderful hospitable couple to run it for us and turned it into the Bed & Breakfast at Peace Hill. (Website here. Have a look.)
We’ve decided to work towards adding an agrotourism slant to the farm. (Agrotourism: “Visiting a working farm or any agricultural operation for the purpose of enjoyment, education, or active involvement in the activities of the farm or operation.” Check it out here.)
More and more people want to know how to do small-scale agriculture–growing some of their own food, keeping a few chickens or a pig, planting and caring for a fruit tree or two–but have no idea where to start. All of these things, I grew up doing. And we still have the garden and trees…
and unused room for a lot more.
So over the next year, we’ll be working on a website for the farm business that will allow visitors to the B&B to come learn how do some of these things. We’ll also begin, very cautiously, expanding our reach…which means, I’m finally getting sheep! We’ll have a starter flock of Leicester Longwools (an endangered breed historically raised in this area) beginning in June. Here’s one of my lambs…still on her home farm until she’s weaned.
Wool-bearing sheep seem to make sense here; we’ve got Angora goats, and we’re currently growing cotton around the B&B, so expanding into different kinds of fiber is a logical direction.
I think that this is partly a mid-career writer thing. I have been startled recently by how many writers, fifteen or twenty years in, go and farm or raise livestock or start organic gardening or do SOMETHING that involves doing rather than writing about doing.
Or not rather than. “As well as.” I can’t imagine not writing. But there’s an increasing pull of the physical for any writer. E. B. White, who started working in the 1920s, had reached mid-career in the 1940s…when he started raising sheep and wrote.
For me, always looking for an excuse to put off work, a farm is the perfect answer, good for twenty-four hours of the day. I find it extremely difficult to combine manual labor with intellectual, so I compromise and just do the manual. Since coming to the country I have devoted myself increasingly to the immediate structural and surgical problems that present themselves to any farmer….I have drifted farther and farther from my muse, closer and closer to my post-hole digger.
I understand that. I spent most of today working outdoors. Weather (cool, clear, yellow and blue) and calendar (spring: fruit trees need spraying and mulching, goats de-worming and foot-trimming, horses picketing out on fresh grass) had their own demands. (On a farm, unlike in urban/suburban life, November and December are the months where you can arrange your schedule as you like without other agendas horning in.) At the end of the day, having poisoned various horrible grasses, surrounded trees with chipped wood-bark, attended to goats, and chased horses through three sets of neighboring fields (OK, that was kind of an accident having nothing to do with spring), I felt good. Better than I usually feel after a day of parking my bottom in my chair and cranking out word after laborious word.
So there is a distracting force to working on the farm. There’s an immediate payoff, for one thing: you can see exactly how much you’ve accomplished, which is very unlike spending six hours sweating out a page or so of prose which no one will read for at least another year.
But on the other hand, E. B. White wrote his best-loved books, including Charlotte’s Web, after he picked up his post-hole digger. He didn’t drift away from his muse; he opened up another channel of communication with her.
Which is what I’m hoping for. And thanks for sticking with this very long entry. Keep following the blog, and I’ll update you on the farm as well as on the writing.
Happy Easter, and good luck with your re-orientation!
So very excited to see how the farm continues to grow!
Susan, I will enjoy watching your and the farm/b&b’s transformation! I don’t spend the creative time you do at desk/computer, but after days at the computer I physically HURT. I leave on trips and 2-3 days of walking and moving and the joint pains are gone. So I think you’re taking a step for health that will pay dividends 20-30 years down the road. Good luck and God bless!
Last summer I heard of a small organic farm in town, and College Man spent his summer weeding by hand and harvesting for the local CSA and kinda “getting his Walden Pond on”. Need a 20-yr-old farm laborer for this summer? He works for minimum wage….(and you met him several years ago. The blond toothpick.) 😉
Farm work makes a nice break from Organic Chem. and Philosophy.
We just started an organic garden, and I had very ltitle idea how to go about doing it. Luckily, I had an organic farm (Ayshire Farms – certified organic and humane) with very generous folks willing to give me pointers. But if your B&B would have been open, we would have been there in a heartbeat with kids in tow! What a great idea. Good Luck but please please please don’t stop writing. Although you may not see it, you are changing so many lives with your words. My 8 year old daughter cried last week when we finished SOTW 1 and learned she would have to wait until September to start SOTW 2 (Mama needs a rest to refuel).
This post makes me *so happy*. As an introvert, I spend a fair amount of time reading, writing and thinking. In fact, it’s not a good day for me if I don’t get to do those things. But for the past few months I’ve felt a strong pull to *do* something, not just read, write and think about somethings. So, I’m container gardening and learning to sew and I want chickens quite badly. I’m not kidding. This whole post put a great big smile on my face.
I’m just sighing looking at your pictures…
Susan, Sounds like a great plan. My 11 year old daughter asked, “When may we go?” She also suggested having a camp for teens. She is very interested in farming and is heading to a week long camp at Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, NY this summer. I’m looking forward to your updates.
Writing can consume you and farming looks like the perfect distraction! I would love to have a farm with goats, chickens and blueberries, maybe one day.
When I finished with my master’s, I explained to one of my professors why I’d decided not to continue with the PhD program. My children were small, I had my fingers in a lot of volunteer pies, and, as I said to him, “There are so many ways to be. . . .” I floundered around for the right word. He replied, “There ARE so many ways to be, period.”
Your family’s plans for a new way of being sound exciting. Keep us updated!
Reminds me of the discussion of the healing properties of work from Shopclass as Soulcraft.
Blessings to all your endevours.
Susan, I too grew up on a farm. My father left his gas station business in Jersey circa 1960 and took on a NY dairy farm. It was a glorious aspect of my otherwise horrible childhood!
For 35 years I have lived and worked with my husband as a missionary in Port au Prince, Haiti. Not a farm but an entire agricultural society. This was my childhood dream to be a missionary but I thought I’d go to China as a nun. I did concede, “I will go where ever You want me to go but not Africa because of the snakes.” So He gave me Africa without the snakes.
I have a 50,000 word manuscript of our first ten years here. It details the faithful miraculous hand of God providing and guiding us to great soul winning victories. But I need help an editor, a literary agent, a voice to commend and correct me.
What sayest thou? Will you do it? Can you refer me to someone? Thanks and a blessing to find an educated woman who believes God can create and commission a woman to preach!
Wow! I have heard over and over that if you want something done ask a busy person. You definitely prove that true! Your ambition is inspiring!
My husband and I just moved to 72 acres. He’s been following a model farm (not far from you!) for setting up sustainable agriculture here. He wants us to travel there, and I’d love to visit the B&B, too! He’d enjoy the textiles, as he has his hopes set on alpacas. I look forward to more updates about your farm.
I can hardly begin to say how happy I was to find out about your work – or really, about your approach to life – just a few months ago. It has made homeschooling feel like a courageous exploration instead of a lonely attempt to cram ourselves into yet another mold that doesn’t fit. Thank you.