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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Come Hell or High Water

By Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton

Tags: homestead inspiration, humor, goats, Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton, Virginia,

Crossing a creek on a logThe most amusing events on our farm have all revolved around our so-called driveway. The reason I was able to buy this land so cheap is that there's really no easy way to get motorized vehicles within about a third of a mile of our core homestead. In between the two points lies a usually mild-mannered creek...that spreads out across an area about 600 feet wide during high water.

Then there's the quicksand-like mud that makes it impossible to drive along the route except during the driest days of summer or the coldest days of winter. The result is a very secluded homestead that I enjoy 99 percent of the time...but that makes bringing in supplies and unwary people a hassle.

The result has been (to quote Lemony Snicket) a series of unfortunate events. There was the time, during our first nine months on the farm before the phone company braved our swamp and hooked us up, that a neighbor was called upon to tell us about Mark's father's heart attack. The creek was in full flood, and I only barely heard Frankie hollering from the other side of the raging waters.

"" he called. My trusty dog and I donned muck boots and rushed down to greet our unexpected visitor, hoping he'd wait the ten minutes for us to arrive. Sure enough, Frankie was still there when I reached the closer bank and he passed the news verbally from one side of the raging creek to the other. But there was one problem — Frankie needed to give us the hospital phone number and didn't want to wait while I trotted home for pencil and paper.

At first, we considered sending the dog across. She'd already swum the creek twice just to show us how it was done, and I thought the phone number might still be legible by the time it reached me if tucked beneath her collar. But when my 60-plus-year-old neighbor thought it would be a better idea for him to traipse across a fallen tree currently being buffeted by flood waters, I had to cut that notion off at the pass.

I shed my shoes and walked across instead, heart in my throat the whole way. If the log had been sitting on the ground, it wouldn't have been all that scary, but I wasn't so sure I'd survive if I fell into the water below. Luckily, I made it across (and back) safely, Frankie became a good friend, and Mark's father pulled through okay.

A loaded golf cart

Of course, that wasn't the end of the creek's efforts to drive us away. During the next nine years, we've had to rush home early to beat floods, have watched a trio of intrepid roofers carrying metal panels across a high creek because the only day they had to work was during high water, and have accidentally dropped a journalist in what we fondly refer to as the alligator swamp when she bounced off the back of the golf cart and landed in the muck.

Later, my father sank up to his knees in the same part of the alligator swamp and (to hear him tell it) almost didn't make it out alive, and we've yet to see a single trick-or-treater.

Goats in the woods

But, on the plus side, my daily walks are more joyful every time I hear the rush of water. We use the copious moisture in the summer to irrigate our garden and provide wash water. And there's a very special two-acre parcel surrounded on all four sides by swamp or creek, with only a little footbridge allowing access for our cat-like goats. They wouldn't dream of getting their feet wet by crossing either creek or swamp, so can I take our mini herd and a book down to the pasture on summer evenings and let them munch while I read in the dappled shade of riverine forest — all without spending a penny on fencing.

I guess that creek is good for something after all!

Anna Hess is the author of Trailersteading, which provides other tales of unconventional homesteading on the cheap. She and her husband also share their adventures on their blog, Walden Effect. Read all of Anna's and Mark's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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