What new parents move house with a 6-week-old baby to a remote area far from family? Besides the pioneers. You can’t see me, but I’m raising my hand. My former husband and I, with our tiny baby, left good city jobs and moved onto 31 acres of forested, mountainous land in Arkansas, miles from the nearest town. We wanted an authentic back-to-the-land experience (and a few chickens).
The potency of our decision didn’t really hit us until we were there for a few weeks. That’s when our well went dry.
We all go through stages where we open more fully to life. I’ve come to realize that beginning anew – whether a new job, your children reaching a milestone or opening to a new way of moving through life is also about endings and death. With significant changes, we all face the death of who we thought we were before.
With no other choice, we haul water in gallon jugs from a tap at the rest area down at the highway. Baths are absolutely minimal. Laundry is done at the washeteria. Low on funds, we sell our extra car so I am home alone with my baby six days a week. I live for Saturday when we could drive to town for groceries and to join the world for a few hours.
That first winter is pretty lonely. We really should have expected snow and bought a truck. The road is often too slippery for our little red car and we can’t get to the water spigot. A nearby stream has water unreliable for drinking, but with a bucketful we could flush the toilet.
So down to the stream I tromp. Mindy, in her blue snowsuit I’d scrounged from somewhere, pats and tastes the snow. She trails behind me as I slide down to the stream, fill the bucket and haul it up the bank. Overwhelmed by the difficulties, it’s hard not to cry. But when I look up I am awed by the profound beauty that lured us to this mountain. Beyond the steep hillside I can see a narrow valley, bright with new snow. Bare oak branches glisten with icy crystals, sparking rainbows everywhere. The stream dances over bedrocks, singing of spring melt. I could not ignore this beauty. It spills into my heart and melts the loneliness and sorrow I feel at not knowing my own self.
The years I spent up there on that mountainside were like sandpaper, rubbing the rough edges off my personality. I’d grown up in a large, loud family. There was very little privacy and almost no time alone. To get away, I’d walk the soybean fields that surrounded my childhood home. The dark green plants were soft and yielding, tall enough to hide a child. Sunsets were often nourishing times of quiet too.
Now, in the wilds of Arkansas, in the long days of solitude, I began the long process of getting to know who I was. Walking through those dark days, with shortages everywhere, I learned to find nourishment in the abundance of nature. Every spring, hundreds of colorful birds migrated through our woods on their way north. A huge pileated woodpecker loved the pokeberry bush outside the kitchen windows. I found fossils of seashells high on the mountainside in sandstone. A kitchen garden became a source of food for body and soul.
And I had an abundance of time. I wrote songs for my daughter, I journaled my complicated feelings, I baked bread and put up vegetables. I drew and painted, I walked with my child in the woods. We sat for hours in the stream, making mud pies and dams.
Death to the smaller self, the old patterns, was painful much of the time. Tearing off flesh to find shining bone, the deeper structure of who I truly am.
I begin the birth of myself as a parent and a whole and stronger self.