Saturday, January 05, 2008

Funny what a difference a day can make. Got up this morning still with some leg pain, but not too bad. Turned the computer on and discovered a new visitor: Slip. Of course all of you "old" visitors warm my heart, but I was curious to see who this Slip person was. When I checked out his blog, it sure looked like he might be somebody I know (maybe even a friend or neighbor). Or not. Anyway, Slip's enthusiasm for life and the road ahead began to tickle a bunch of memories, and before I knew it, I'd written a blog piece. Here it is, and probably the first of a short series on building a home in The North Country.

Nearing Home

The seventies sound like a long time ago. The Vietnam War officially ended, Nixon resigned and four of his major Administration officials were found guilty in the Watergate cover-up case, by January of 1974 the oil embargo by several OPEC members had gas pumps running dry, and we were all wearing hip-hugging bell-bottom pants.

The America I grew up believing in unquestionably had changed, or maybe my eyes had been opened. I lived in a condominium in a city then, had remarried, and we spent our evenings poring over the United Farm Agency real estate catalog and geography books. My husband and I were convinced that the country was going to Hell, and that the one feasible hedge against that was to go “back to the land” and become self-sufficient.

In 1932, some forty years before us, Helen and Scott Nearing had gone “back to the land” on a homestead near Stratton Mountain in Vermont, built a low-cost house of stone, and raised their own organic food, attaining an attractive (to us) measure of self-sufficiency. We read their book, Living the Good Life, and took their story to heart. Another book, How to Build A Low-cost House of Stone, bolstered our belief that this was something we could do, and in the summer of 1974 we made our first feeble attempt at growing some vegetables in a small plot in my parents’ yard.


After leaving Peace Corps service in South America, two good friends had taken up dairy farming in The North Country of New York State. We had visited them several times, always awed by the space and quiet and clear skies. We helped in the barn, probably adding to their actual workload, and the smell of cow manure was sweet to our senses.

In early 1975, it was time to make the move. We set out from Rochester on a planned exploratory journey to northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, southern Maine, and finally Massachusetts. We never went beyond the first stop. Our hearts had already been won there, and after a small bit of rationalizing about the other planned destinations being “too far” or otherwise unsuitable, we rented an apartment in an old house in the county seat, a small town of less than 4000 residents.

We weren’t the only ones. As we gradually became acquainted with the area, we found a sizable group of like-minded folks, people from cities following the real estate catalog to a place where a young family could still manage to buy enough land to farm. We formed a social network we called “The Rural Life Association,” periodically meeting at one homestead or another for a potluck supper or picnic and the chance to trade stories and ideas. We were homesteaders; we were college graduates from middle-class America, turning away from the path many of our parents had worked hard to put us on. We were poor, and we were happy.

Next: Almost Farmers

Friday, January 04, 2008

My Excuse

I often write of the beauty of the area in which I live. We still have space and woods and wildlife here, starry night skies unspoiled by city lights, relative peace and quiet. There is, however, a down side to "the North Country," and that is that we have very limited medical care.

There are several small hospitals that compete with each other rather than cooperate, and in their somewhat desperate efforts to survive, they struggle to attract competent medical personnel. In fact, these hospitals throw welcoming arms around some doctors who probably couldn't and shouldn't make a living in their chosen profession. Amidst the boneheads are a few dedicated and excellent doc's, but you have to know who's who.

The closest hospital recently expanded and now boasts bigger offices for it's staff and new operating suites. Paying for this depends in part on billing patients for surgeries performed, and so it was that one local orthopedic doc lost his hospital privileges: he wasn't doing enough surgery... A "new" orthopedic surgeon has replaced him.

I travel more than three hours (one way) to Burlington, Vermont, when I need medical care. Over the years that has saved me three organs and two unnecessary surgeries. A teaching hospital with plenty of patients doesn't have to ferret out patients to cut up. In most instances I feel that I've gotten excellent care there.

The down side of being 125 miles and a ferry-boat ride away from your doctor is the risk taken making the trip. A blizzard stopped me earlier this week, and there have been other times when it is no exageration to say I endangered my life driving to get there or back. Add to that the cost of a hotel if circumstances require more than a one-day stay.

On Halloween I did something to my back. For weeks I babied it and hoped for some healing, but by Thanksgiving it had only worsened. In addition, Husband hurt his back and was barely able to sit upright enough to drive. I gritted my teeth and somehow got myself to Burlington, had an x-ray and was referred to physical therapy (near home). That might have done it, but as I lowered myself into the bathtub for a soak, I sprained my hip. By now it was Christmas season, and doctors everywhere were on vacation.

Until early January I doctored by phone as best I could, convincing the on-call doc that she should prescribe the maximum pain meds and muscle-relaxants. My son-in-law drove me - lying flat in the back of his Subaru - to a chiropractor who eased the hip problem somewhat, but at times I sobbed in pain. Husband and I ate our meals lying on the living room floor, cooking as little as possible, me getting where I had to on crutches.

Eventually, time and rest improved things. I could walk again (albeit carefully), my doc returned from her Christmas holiday, and I made an appointment for last Tuesday. I was pretty certain I could manage the drive, but then the blizzard struck and the trip was off.

So to end this whine, Wednesday I was able to drive myself to Vermont. I stayed overnight in a motel, saw the doctor yesterday morning, then drove home. I'll be having an MRI close to home, and then will see what that shows. My toe is still numb, but the muscle spasms have stopped and I am comfortable (finally) sitting here at the computer.

If there's a point to all of this it is that I am feeling very far from inspired and creative right now. Even Wizards get the blues.

I hope to get out soon and take some photos. We're buried in beautiful snow right now, and I'm frustrated with being housebound. I did snap one on my way to Vermont: an Amish field of corn shocks (see below). Not a great photo (I took it from the car window), but a nice taste of our North Country winter.

Thanks to all of you who have stopped by and commented on my
(s)assy Christmas card. Your comments brightened my days, and I wish you all the best in the coming year. I'll be back. I'm just not sure how soon.