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October 28, 2012: Friends Visit

We are nothing but witness to our own lives.
                                                                        --Jon Katz

“When people come over and visit, we give them a tour.” This is what I say when attempting to make the point that we have a lot going on here at Squalor Holler. I add that I don’t mean quasi-tours where you half-jokingly show people the upstairs bathroom, but rather, real tours, focusing on the animals, the garden, the alternative energy system, or all three. Of course, I never know what’s going to draw people’s interest. Sometimes, like today, it ends up being a bit of everything tour. We do this one for those who, like Greg and Brit Lively, are more inquisitive than most.

It’s interesting how we came to know the pair. A year ago, I wrote an article about our community’s refusal to embrace the comprehensive plan that I

Even the goats won't live forever

spearheaded. After reading it, Frontiersman Editor Heather Resz put me in touch with her friend Patty Roznell. I met Patty, and she put me in touch with Brit.

After, Brit and I had a lengthy email correspondence. Melinda’s horses running amuck was, finally, what brought us together. I’m still awed when I think of it – Brit and Greg were ready to take on Melinda’s mare and foal. Anyhow, last Sunday I went to their place and met Greg. And this Sunday they came out to our place and Greg met Pete.

I slipped into tour guide mode as soon as they got out of their truck. Both were very obliging. Then, finally, Pete and Greg forged ahead, and checked out the solar set up. And Brit and I hung back and checked out my cabin. All the while I continued to rattle on. Then, the most amazing thing happened when we got to the goat pen. This was that I shut up. There was at first no reason for this. But once I grew quiet, I really began to listen to what Brit was saying.

The goats prompted Brit to first tell me about her daughter’s sheep raising experiences – she was actually named sheepherder of the year. Then the chickens prompted her to tell me about her other daughter’s raising chickens. Brit said that she was very attached to them. For this reason, she had a hard time dealing with their later demise. “And,” said Brit “she was not able to eat chicken for twenty years after that.” We both stood quietly, thinking about this. Finally, Brit said, “It’s just too bad that children have to learn that there’s this other side to raising animals.”

What went unsaid was something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately – that love and loss are intertwined. The majority of us get to spend time in the presence of these incredible creatures, but sad to say, we outlive most of them. Brit’s story drove it home for me – that we have many animals around here on the verge of growing old – so now, enjoy their company.

My subsequent realization about story telling is that stories beget stories. Furthermore, it’s important to encourage people to tell stories because this enables us to connect with one another. And connecting with others is what gives all our lives meaning. I mean, think about it – spending time in the company of horses, ruminants, and chickens brings most of us great joy. However, animals aren’t story tellers. Rather, we tell stories about them and this gives their lives meaning. Our being able to tell one another stories about them and everything else is a gift. But being recipients of other’s stories is a greater gift. Narratives are treasures of sorts, something to draw upon when we’re alone, either sitting quietly, moving about, or doing mundane tasks.

Brit and I rejoined Greg and Pete in the house. And the stories continued as we all ate lunch—Pete’s potato leek soup and homemade bread. All the while, I kept thinking: how is it that I got so lucky, to live in such an incredible place, that is one which prompts visitors to hang out, and share their ideas and insights? I could trace my steps back, and most likely account for the decisions that brought me here. But it’s far more fun to remain both grateful for what I have, and who I now know.

Next: 323. 10/29/12: Bushwacking