Wednesday, August 06, 2014

When True Simplicity Is Gained: part 3: Humble Stumble


I am shocked to be living on a fifty-acre farm in Indiana. I planned in living in a condominium downtown in some big city. Specifically in Indianapolis. Specifically about fourteen years ago. But for the past eleven years I’ve been living in a house nestled back against the woods overlooking the West Branch of White Lick Creek.

This is not a piece of land I’d scraped and saved for. Nope. My wife Nancy’s a farm girl and this land was part of her family’s farm one day. It came to us a part of her inheritance, albeit a bit before her father’s passing. And it has taught me more than a few lessons in simplicity.

The first was in what kind of house to build. What could we do in building that expressed our Quaker faith? Like I said earlier, the Quaker understandings of peace, simplicity, care for the earth, and all the others are all part of the Gospel as we understand it and are interrelated. We lived into that in new ways as we were faced with how and what to build.

A few years before we’d fallen in love with our friends’ post and beam house. Phil and Esther had built one of the first Yankee Barn Homes in Indiana. When we found out that the home used timbers reclaimed from old factories and the like, was super-insulated and energy efficient, we were sold. We designed a place that was open for hosting groups, with guest rooms for travelers, that used geo-thermal heating and cooling, and which could accommodate us as we aged – wide doorways through which a wheelchair would fit and a one level floor plan for us (other levels for grandkids, guests, care-givers, etc.)

It was not inexpensive. Which was hard for me – for as bad as I am, I do think about such things. And yet, given my income at the time, our levels of giving, and so forth, it was the right thing to do. Our footprint on the ecology was going to be lower than a traditional, though less expensive to build, stick-built home.

Besides, I told myself, a house like this sitting on fifty acres would be a gold mine when we decided to sell it. It’s on one of the last undeveloped sections of our county. Richness, here we come.

Then something weird happened to me. I was asked to serve on the storm water commission for our county. At the same time I began to see erosion along the banks of our little creek which was becoming a big creek. And then beginning to flood. I started seeing the occasional deer and raccoon and beaver.

My dreams of big money from some land developer began to fade.


Instead, I found myself pondering big questions. I don’t like big questions. I like small, simple ones – what do you want for dinner, does this tie go with this shirt, Mary Ann or Ginger?

Now, I found myself in a house based on my badly lived out Quaker values. We’d called it Ploughshares Farm because we wanted it to be a place of peace. And, with the idea of simplicity and care for the earth, I began pondering what it meant for me to “own” this land. As if land could ever be owned by a human being.

I’ve always hated Stewardship Sunday at church. It always meant someone was going to try to guilt me into giving more than I wanted to. Though the usual disclaimer was always given about how stewardship was about more than money (“it’s about your time and talents, too”) it was really about money. And then I heard someone say that stewardship meant “activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something.”

Protecting. Being Responsible. We had been given this land. And the house (yes, we had paid for the house, but it felt like a gift). A shopping center or grocery store or even a gravel pit didn’t seem like either protecting or being responsible. It certainly didn’t feel like living up to a notion of a simple lifestyle. The more I pondered, the more I watched the hundred dollar bills take wing like redwing blackbirds in the field I was contemplating.

So we contacted various agencies and drew up some plans. We began planting fruit and nut bushes and trees for wildlife. We put in 10 acres of tall grass prairie. We planted thousands of Indiana hardwoods. I learned to drive a tractor, operate chain saws, split wood, make trails, and a whole buncha stuff that still surprises me. And the biggest surprise is that I’ve become – if not one with – part of the land and it’s part of me. This is home. And, other than the houses I grew up in, is the place where I’ve lived the longest.

Tending this land feels like a spiritual calling. Albeit I could really do without the mosquitoes, biting flies, ticks and poison ivy.

We’ve paid down our debt. I’ve moved to a less demanding (and less paying!) job. I have more time to work the land when it needs worked. I have more time to write when the land is resting. We’re living more frugally, in spite of all the equipment it takes to run the place. We bought much of it used. And loan it to neighbors and family. We welcome lots of travelers (especially those traveling in ministry) to the farm. And a worship group has been meeting here on Sunday evenings for almost ten years now.

It’s been complex learning to live simply. And the above is what it means for us. It may mean something completely different to you – and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t. But if it doesn’t, there’s 30 acres for sale right next door!


Barb said...

The half acre I tend is about right for me (unless the purchaser of the 30 acre parcel is male, unattached, and interested in a 65+ year old female partner...)

Brent Bill said...


Yvette said...

Living simply is difficult. I really have to put all my faith in me, my faith has been put to the test more times than I care for. God makes everything work out.