The driveway climbs sharp and slow, gravel crunching beneath the tires. For some reason my heart is pounding as the realtor says in his nasally drawl, I think you’ll like this one. It’s not for sale but we’re looking anyway.
We are looking for our family home. We don’t know how we lost it but all of us can remember a time before this life when we ate together by a wood stove, the dogs laying round, fish drying over the fire, babies sleeping with rosy cheeks. We remember making grass forts in the summer, eating tomatoes till we burst, sinking our bare toes into rich earth and slipping into a cold languid river when the work is done. We remember feeling full and whole most days.
My mother, brother and I step out of the truck. The barren moonscape of Easter weekend northern grasslands surrounds us, grass laid over and yellowed pale like a massive dog’s crimped coat. A small blueish log house sticks out stoic and awkward, a garden bed sits empty.
As we walk out onto the land my mother ‘s eyes are wide. I’m going to die here, she whispers low. I feel charged up and alert, my body an origami fortune teller unfolding each limb to reveal another secret. Unfolding again, and again. We lay on the earth, ringed by distant snow peaks and immersed in silence. The land, it holds us. It asks us to stay.
Three days later we are back in the south and my mother calls to tell me we’ve bought it. She made the offer we discussed on the trip home, and the Jacobsons, offsite owners who had been debating whether to list it or not, liked our spunk, apparently.
I’m in shock. I am sweeping the floor and crying, laughing, reminding myself to breathe, crying some more. It feels like my entire life has led up to this point.
I have spent twenty-six years yearning, keening for a home I’ve never known. Twenty-six years dreaming fiercely, planning minute details and visioning the land that I have always known is waiting for me and my loved ones. Years spent in cities or on the move, wondering when and if and how in all hell it will ever happen, working a slew of part-time jobs to make money for gas and horse board, spending every moment I can that I’m not sleeping, working, or singing with the herd, musing about the ethics of marrying a wealthy and elderly bachelor… And dreaming, planning, talking, learning, searching, gathering, watching for the moment where the next move toward The Land will make itself evident.
It’s been years but it still feels instantaneous – we’ve done it. The entire universe, with lots of help from my powerful mama’s actions and the ethereal and practical visioning I call dreaming, has conspired to bring us to this vast, sleepy land. Through some kind of magic (life is half magic and half planning, says my mother) and through many hoops, negotiations and a shared family mortgage we have secured more land than we’ve ever imagined of pasture, bush and grazing lands, and a little log house with modest out-buildings. Mr Jacobson has decided we should have the generator and the wood stove, gratis. Bless him. Did I mention all the fences are busy returning to the earth?
Plans move quickly. After considering our options, I decide I don’t want to do one more wet coastal winter with the horses, when they spent last winter under tarps in the woods, 80 kilometre winds howling over the water. And my mother can’t imagine spending one second longer than she has to in the strain and hustle of the city. We take possession – and move in – July 1, and the horses are coming.
I have no idea what actually awaits us – just hopes, fears, infinite possibilities. It is by no means a free ride, despite our incredible fortune. Each of us carries part of the mortgage, a responsibility I didn’t expect so soon but am more than game to take on. In addition to the years of labour needed to get the farm running well, we’ll have all the usual and mundane bills and expenses to cover. I also know that entering into a new community, with its layers of ownership, colonialism, social dynamics, and loyalties and customs is a complicated and sensitive thing.
Then there is the particular horror when dreams become reality, become something concrete that require action and engagement on a whole new level, carrying with them the possibility of failure and the vulnerability of mortality.
But I’m still honeymooning. I am most keenly awaiting the moment when the horses step off the trailer and realize the sheer extent of their new home. The endless exploration waiting for us, through bush and pasture, between and over rivers that run full of fat salmon, over crown land and endless space until you reach the Yukon – the chance to live as wild as possible in our cramped and heavy human world.
I have spent the last 7 years of horse ownership (or whatever you want to call it) moving my little herd in search of greener pastures. In an ongoing attempt to keep them as “naturally” as possible, to keep the project financially sustainable, and to live my own life integrated with their care and companionship, we have boarded in more places than I can count on two hands. Our latest stop has been on a small island in the South-Western Canadian Pacific, where they live with an ocean view a short bike ride from my family cottage. I ensure that they always have each other, 24/7 access to appropriate forage and water, and lots of room to be themselves. But this is a whole new level.
I am so interested to see what happens to their feet, their teeth, their coats and body composition when they settle into the landscape and live closer to how they evolved to. Ranging far to forage on wild bits and pieces, the land left fallow for so long it has recreated its ecosystems. And I’m really, really excited not to pick poo every single day of my life.
At least for a week or two.
Horses as a Critical Resource
Then it won’t be about removing it from the pastures, it will be about collecting it, hoarding it even, to compost gorgeous rich soil for our market garden. As we work towards self-sustainability, the horses will be integrated members of our cultivated ecosystem where wild and domestic meet, where we utilize our species’ creative gifts to help the land express itself as fully as she can. When I consider the changing nature of our relationship to horses from tools to pets, friends and companions, I am quietly delighted to say that as grazing animals who turn forage indigestible to us into nutrient-rich manure that will feed our garden beds, the horses will also be absolutely essential to the health and well-being of our farm, and therefore to us. I’ve seen Baby Fly chase off otters and geese, so maybe she’ll help the dogs with guarding the farm, too!
I just keep telling them, we’re going home. And they, being the wise and affable beings that they are, don’t seem to care – as long as they have each other, grass and water, they don’t complain much. But I can feel them growing more expansive, seeking beyond the pasture fences, up into the imagined back and beyond. Or maybe that’s me that I’m feeling.
Click here for Part 2 of this series