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It’s always something

“We won’t go.”

“Oh, no? Where will you live?”

“In a tent in the park.”

When I told our 15-year-old twin daughters we were moving from Washington, D.C., to a farm on a dirt road in rural Vermont, they were not pleased. To say the least.

Our 17-year-old son was less defiant but equally disquieted. Only our 12-year old was excited. She loved the animals, having already nursed a runt piglet, played with kittens and collected eggs at the farm on a scouting trip we took together before deciding to purchase the property. She liked Hollister Hill Farm.

So did my wife, Catherine, and I. We visited 12 years previous when the kids were little, and we thought of it like a small Eden in an ever-digitized and polarized world, a place where the Earth and its animals meet in happy union. We weren’t wrong. And we didn’t kid ourselves about the work. We knew the farm’s previous owners, Bob and Lee Light, worked hard to make the farm what it was, often at the expense of their bodies and, of course, their savings.

The farm is a lot of work. I like to say everything weighs at least 50 pounds and costs at least $50 and you have to handle both multiple times a day. And when you think things might ease up for at least a day, there’s always something. The work’s hard on your body and on your wallet. What it isn’t, though, is hard on your mind.

There’s a peace and contentment that comes with working with your hands and dealing with animals — animals that depend on you to never take a day off and are happy with a clean stall, food and fresh water. They don’t exude much, but we interpret their calm as gratitude for the security of a good home. It’s a balm for your soul. Which is why, I think, we get so many visitors to the farm, some who spend an hour just gazing in quiet contemplation at the pigs, donkeys, cows and chickens. And, of course, the kittens, which are socialized by our kids from birth and are universally friendly and playful. They’re a huge draw.

We have several regular solitary visitors who merely stand in the barn quietly soaking it in.

I don’t want to make too much of a place full of manure smells, animal grunts and enough death to make it a regular, but thankfully not a daily, occurrence. We were warned about death on the farm being part of the deal and, indeed, we have experienced enough of it, including a few animals I euthanized myself. The most disturbing of which was a malformed piglet that trusted me enough to let me lead him to the barnyard and put a rifle muzzle against his head. Poor little guy.

We like to say all our animals have a good life and one really bad day. We heard that from someone recently, but we can’t recall who so we can’t provide proper credit. If you’re reading this, thank you.

I don’t feel badly when we take the animals to the slaughterhouse. That’s the deal. I have to admit, though, the pigs are so difficult to get in the trailer I can’t manage to muster any sympathy at all. “Don’t worry, we’ll bring you back,” goes our gallows humor with the “shrink-wrapped” left off the end of the sentence.

We tell our kids not to name any animals that we will have to sell for meat. I can take anonymous animals for “processing,” but it’s a different deal when you know them as Harry or Delilah. Travis, a friend who helps out on the farm regularly, tells his animals they’re going to the hairdresser.

We moved to Vermont from D.C. on a bleak day late last November. There were no leaves on the trees, it was cold and the sky was the color of dishwater. The driveway was muddy and chocked with puddles. Not a great moving day or cheery welcome to a new life. We did some renovations, and the kids and we were crammed into tight spaces with construction debris underfoot and workers in the house all the time. The twins and our son were not warming to our new life. In D.C., their friends were sending photos of fun times continuing without them. Catherine and I wanted even less of the crappy internet service we had to stop the images from loading.

Our youngest discovered the Hallmark Channel and she and I watched every sappy holiday movie on the schedule, feet pulled up off the cold floor onto the sofa we wedged in the kitchen in front of the TV propped up on an old cabinet.

Once spring came and the renovations were complete, our teens thawed with the ground. They met great new friends and often visited the barn for a little animal therapy, attending the births of piglets and calves. In D.C., I worked in public relations and was always traveling. One year, I took over 100 flights. I was never home. Now that I ran a farm and the pandemic grounded me, I was always home. And because the kids were doing school remotely, we had a lot of free time together. The twins often came with me on errands to Troy, Newport, White River Junction and other places around the state. We ate at diners and talked. A lot. For me, it was fantastic and a huge benefit of our move. I like to think they loved it, too. Modern lives don’t provide enough opportunity for quality time with our kids.

Our son took to bucking wood and other farm chores. He went turkey hunting with a friend and loved it. He hit every fishing hole within 30 minutes of the farm.

One by one, each of them told me at some private moment they were glad we moved. They like Vermont. So do we.

See the original article, published on The Barre Montpelier Times Argus.

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