August 28, 2011
It’s a little out of the way. We love our new home but the location is relatively remote. Not Montana prairie far, and not Desolation of Mordor far, but you have to drive for almost fifteen minutes to get a gallon of gas or milk. We’re twenty-five minutes from the Interstate, so for the first time in decades I cannot sit on my porch and hear the hum of highway traffic. Are these the metrics that define civilization? Do you choose isolation or insulation?
We are on a septic tank waste system but the house is supplied by an excellent regional municipal water system. Internet service is accessible through the phone line, and heating is provided by propane that is stored in a large horizontal steel sausage recumbent in the backyard. The cost-to-heat ratio is similar to taking the dollar bills used to purchase the fuel and burning them in a large iron kettle.
The horses love it here, too. After years of reasonable care at boarding facilities, they are happy to be home with us (at last!). These two middle-aged bachelors are more connected than ever to the human beings with whom they share their existence, and not surprisingly because their life is very good, more devoted to each other.
I never noticed the wind so much before but we now reside on something of a slightly elevated plateau. The same prevailing air currents that strip our flesh in the winter also carry the heat past us in summer and bring relief—until they whip themselves into sodden, tree-breaking, shingle-stealing fury. Or drop to an unexpected dead calm and we are poached in our own sweat.
An eight-acre lot is small by commercial farm standards, but still presents plenty of opportunities to engage the enthusiastic lawn care hobbyist. Grass and weeds keep growing out of the earth and we have to cut them every couple of hours. If we are not shearing or killing flora then we are servicing the arsenal of tools used to defend ourselves from the green menace. Fuel, as I mentioned, is a twenty minute round trip.
I grew up in a decaying inner city neighborhood. The glacial advance of violent crime overran the landscape and I was happy and sad to flee. Our new homestead overlooks pasturing cows and miles of weed-footed, wildflowered fences. The tree line frames our broad horizon; a color-shifting wall that defines the seasons. There are more guns around here than in Tripoli.
Our neighbors love to discharge firearms as often as possible. While working outside (cutting grass, most likely) you can hear the birds, cows, insects, and shotguns. Lots of handguns and somebody breaks out their fully automatic assault rifle from time to time, squeezing off a few quick bursts. I feel as if I brought a knife to an airstrike. We are surrounded. I need more guns.
I think there is a local ordinance: you are compelled to own a pack of dogs and keep them inside a large metal building, but cars, trucks, and tractors should be left in the yard. Where I come from, we used to do the opposite. In the evenings nowadays, when it’s too dark to mow grass or shoot anything, the dogs all around us begin to bark and howl their resonant, melancholy lament. It is the Ohio hinterlands’ lullaby.
Our border collie, in a blatant violation of community standards, does not reside in a hollow-sounding corrugated steel structure. When we walk the property at night—he to do his business and I to catch a whiff of the earth’s cooling crust—I gaze upward to see all the suns that were ever made, embedded as they are in the black gesso of the northern hemisphere sky. The Milky Way’s arc and glow press down. I look better in starlight.