Over the years, I have shared with you my love of country living. And over the years as I have matured, the things I love most about country living seem to have changed. As another season of gardening and harvesting matures, I thought it might be a good time to chronicle the timeline along which I have traveled.
As a boy I loved visiting relatives in the country. I loved the buzz of insects, which I could hear clearly once away from the pesticide-sprayed, well-kept lawns of suburbia. I loved the breezes, the big shade trees and the wide vistas over faraway fields. Those experiences contrasted clearly in my youthful mind with the world where I lived the rest of the year, where breezes could not blow through rows of brick houses only a few feet apart, where the only trees in the yard were the diameter of ball bats held In place by guide wires, and the farthest vista I could see from my house was through the screen door of the house across the street.
As a teen I took full advantage of my driver’s license to take long rides in the country, exploring new routes that wound along creek beds, climbing high toward a rocky ridge and meandering along the Ohio River. I took the opportunity that this new freedom gave me to pull over alongside the road and hike up valleys to pastures and hay fields unable to be seen from the highway.
As I got older, I began to travel farther, discovering the Red River Gorge in the early ’70s, backpacking into the woods for a week or more at a time, long before modern day trekking was so popular.
If I met a guy whose uncle or grandfather had a farm, when the weather cooled I couldn’t wait to get invited to hunt rabbit or squirrel. In those days there were no deer or turkey and so autumns in my world were filled with long hikes over unfamiliar farms kicking the brush as the colorful leaves rained down around me.
Eventually I heard that Kentucky had opened a deer season and was invited by some friends to go “scouting,” which brought me back to the country in mid-August amidst the buzzing dragonflies and the scrambling squirrels to places such as Owen County, where old abandoned postal routes meandered along the creek beds, separated from the overgrown fields of a long-forgotten farm by moss covered rock walls, harkening back to a time that painted pictures in my mind.
It was those first few deer seasons, split into two weekends, one in November the other in December, that rekindled in me a love of the country and introduced me to my farm.
At first I took to country living with an unbridled passion to learn everything I could. It didn’t take me long to realize that my neighbors, who had been farming for decades, had a lot of knowledge I never dreamed existed.
I had to learn how to drive a tractor, how to repair a diesel engine in the dead of winter, how much hay I would need to feed cattle, how to break ice on a pond so the cattle could drink in the winter. I had to learn how to plow, how to disc the fields, when to plant, how to control weeds, how to install and repair fences, how to do carpentry, electrical work and a host of other skills necessary to live as a self-reliant human being.
I would work all day, rush home at night and in the summers farm until midnight. I got every pamphlet and book published by the UK Extension office and studied them with a lust for learning like never before.
When we got horses, I had to learn to doctor them, feed them, care for them, saddle them and ride them. We had cattle and I had to develop the skills of a cattleman. We had chickens and built ponds and harvested a garden and game and fish. I had to learn how to clean and preserve those things to feed my family and because I wanted to learn.
We planted an orchard and took time to care for our trees, pick the fruit and enjoy God’s bounty in ways even an autumn trip to a farmer’s market could not compare.
Over the past 30 years I learned a lot of things, and they all kept me very busy.
But as we begin the process this season of canning our tomatoes and beans and freezing our corn, our apples and local peaches, I’m beginning to think that now might be the time for me to learn something else.
I need to learn how to not work so hard. I need to learn how to spend more time sitting outside as the sun goes down, how to hold my bride’s hand longer, how to get to bed earlier, how to check in on friends more often, and how to recognize that as the seasons begin to change, so too another year has passed.
There are tremendous joys to the homesteading lifestyle, and work is one of them. But there also comes a time when you should learn to enjoy the bounty of life. After all, why shouldn’t you? If everything you did was a labor of love, then love will be the fruit of your labor.
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com, is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a regular commentary for KyForward.