Rural Survival: Get To Know Your Neighbors

A farmhouse just isn’t a home until you know your neighbors.

Since moving to the farm, Mr. B and I have constantly had adrenaline running through our bodies, taking urgent action to get our home settled, maintain the land as best we can given our mid-season arrival, and brainstorm the first major projects we plan to tackle. While we’ve most certainly taken ownership of our new abode in every sense of the word, it hadn’t felt completely like home yet.

Part of what makes the place you live a home is the community that surrounds it. Although, when you live in a place that, compared to every home you’ve ever had, is the middle of nowhere, figuring out who that community is can be quite the challenge. Fortunately, we had a one-up on many others who have made the urban exodus thanks to the generosity of the couple we bought our farm from. Before they left, they made sure we got connected with the neighbors that had become their friends, so that we would be looked after as we started this journey down the road to rural living. That’s how we came to meet J&K.

Until earlier this week, I knew J&K as the people who owned the farm behind our lot and whose wood-burning stove resided in our basement. Because the outdoor chores are beginning to wind down for the season and our home is finally in a livable order, we decided to take them up on an offer for a visit they’d extended months ago.

As we traversed over our back fields, through the woods and up their hilly drive, a big burly man with a long beard and an unreadable gaze met us at the top. Assuming this was Jim, though still a little unsure, we introduced ourselves. We were greeted with silence. Apparently the look on my face gave away what was running through my head: “Where have we moved??”

J, as he told us later, got a kick out of this—as I’m sure he’ll enjoy much more of our exposed “greenness” over the coming years.

Over a home-cooked meal, K’s house cocktail and some banjo playing, the couple shared their experiences of becoming one with the land. About 40 years ago, they, much like us, felt the draw to leave the city but didn’t have a clue what they were getting into. They toughed it out more than we’ll ever have to, living for years without running water in the house and homesteading as a means of survival.

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“If you respect the land, it’ll take care of you,” J told us, rather cryptically. He told us the story of running his truck over a creek bed he’d traversed hundreds of times, but this time, it was raining hard. His truck got stuck and sunk down in, and that night there was a freeze. “I’d just gotten the truck paid off.” That’s just one of the many lessons the land taught him—and he may have put a bit of fear into me about what lessons lay in our path.

Even though Mr. B and I have the luxury of endeavoring the land as a hobby—not necessarily to keep afloat—we bonded with our new neighbors over the sacredness of the place we now call home, and I took comfort that people close by are willing to impart their wisdom to us.

Until this week, I’ve felt we’ve been “playing farm,” straddling the line between our day jobs in town and our dream life on the land. I haven’t felt legit—and frankly, I still don’t—and a sense of guilt has gone along with that. Do I even deserve to be here? But hearing that a couple started off their life here, just about as green as we are, and stuck around to tell us about it gives me hope. And it reminds me that there will always be something to learn—if we knew it all, there would be something wrong.

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