It’s 24 degrees outside. The snow is falling, and I have meatball and chicken broth soup slow cooking in my little country home. I can smell the onions and garlic, the carrots and celery, the chicken broth and thyme. I’m totally alone, and I’m happy.
I have a beer in my hand, a cigarette burning in the ash tray beside my laptop, and 80’s music playing on Pandora. Two small pencil Christmas Trees are lit on either side of the propane fireplace that are adorned with primitive Christmas ornaments. The presents around and beneath the trees are nearly all handmade. I’ve been moving closer to a homestead lifestyle for several years now. This year, I realized, that I’ve made significant strides in that direction. The switch away from a commercial, store-bought Christmas, made me realize just how much I’ve changed.
What began as a healing process when my 15 year-old daughter died six years ago has become a lifestyle and a passion. I admit, in the beginning, I was hiding. Hiding from a world that didn’t understand and the constant reminders of the life my daughter wouldn’t be able to live. But, I was also insulating myself with her memories, her pictures, her scent, her essence. It was as if I was hold up on a mountain in a stand off with reality, refusing to give up on the life I so dearly loved with my children. But, my daughter was gone and my son had grown and moved away. It was just me, now, in the little house on the hill.
Eventually, I found a true contentment in my solitude; it took several years. My time alone with nature was, not only, healing, but also, educational, inspiring and spiritual. Though my children and I had lived in the country for many years prior to my daughter’s death, we had been caught up in the demands and necessities of our lives. As a single mom, work, school, sports and friends filled much of our time. Now, alone on the hill, I had nothing but empty time. I began spending more time working in the yard and started a small herb and vegetable garden out of free wood pallets I gathered from local businesses that were going to throw them away. I immediately enjoyed tending to the little garden and cooking with the fresh herbs and vegetables. Putting my hands in the earth and nurturing the plants that would, ultimately, go into my cook pot, was (and still is) one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. The physical labor was good for my body and my mind. I found that while I was working, I didn’t have time to think. I was in that moment – in that work. For that moment, the experience was all that existed. The fact that I could grow my own food and medicine and be self-sufficient, was something that answered a deep hollowness inside me that I still cannot fully describe. I just know it has surpassed a hobby and become a necessity in my life.
By the second summer of gardening, I was drying and storing herbs and hot peppers for winter. I was using my crops to make tonics that would actually ease cold and flu symptoms and keep the dreaded sinus and ear infections at bay. The time spent outdoors encouraged me to study nature, to start identifying plants that were already growing on my property. Culinary herbs led to medicinal herbs and herbs led to berries and barks. My kitchen started filling up with mason jars full of dried goods, tinctures and decoctions. What I couldn’t grow or forage, I purchased online. I started losing weight and feeling more energetic. I felt as if I had a purpose for the first time in a long, long while. I researched everything as if I was practicing for a test. Maybe, I was; maybe, I still am. Who knows? But, I am driven to keep traveling this road, to keep exploring and learning. The plants and herbs have not only healed my body, but the process has healed my mind and spirit. I wake up excited to go outside and see what is growing in the garden in the summer. In the winter, I’m excited to check on my tinctures or make a salve or candle, to make gifts for my family.
I’m fortunate to be able to work at home most of the time, but my work has become secondary to this new passion. I find myself working, now, in order to pay off bills that will allow me to move closer to being completely off grid one day. My ultimate goal is to sell my produce and remedies and make a living doing what I love to do. The work that I currently perform isn’t very secure. It is, and always will be, in the hands of another person. I’ve come to realize part of the drive to live off the land is driven by a desire for a security that can only come from self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
As I take stock of the close of another year, I feel pride and satisfaction — contentment – neigh happiness. The world around me may not entirely understand my drive and transformation, nor do I, but I know I must travel this road.
The aroma of the soup is calling me. I’ll finish this beer, smoke another cigarette, and ladle some soup in a bowl. I’ll savor the flavors of my hand-grown herbs in the soup and let whatever chaos is going on in the world simmer in its own pot—far removed from my soup. Some day the two broths may have to blend, but it won’t be this day.