Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
When we lived in suburbia I ran our business, Aztext Electronic Publishing, out of our basement. I had started in an office, wore a tie to work, joined the Chamber of Commerce and did all the usual business stuff. But once the business got going and I was working crazy long hours, the office seemed irrelevant so I moved into the basement. It was great to be able to work from home and spend time with my daughters. We set up a craft table for them in the office, and they quickly learned to tone down the noise level whenever the phone rang and I needed to speak to a client.
The downside to locating my office in the basement was that the window looked out on to the driveway and most of the time I looked up at the underside of our car. Oh it was a beautiful undercarriage, but uninspiring. Okay I lied. Most of the time our car was rusting out as we put every penny into paying off our mortgage so we could escape to the woods.
And escape we did. And now it’s very rare that anyone who gets the tour of this place doesn’t comment on the amazing view from my office. And I must concur. It is a dream come true. I look out at trees that cover some of our 150 acres and it’s just an amazing place to work and write.
When we moved here there was a small depression near the house that had been left by earthmovers grabbing fill for the road when it was upgraded past our house. At that time the owners of this place lived in the city and so they didn’t mind some topsoil being scraped off. It breaks my heart to think of what little topsoil that was there being dumped in the road, but I did notice this depression tended to hold water longer in the spring. So I had backhoe in to dig it even deeper and now we have a pond to look at. In the spring it’s a small lake and we often have mergansers nesting in the boxes that Michelle’s dad built for us. We also have several muskrats that make their home here and I cannot help but sing The Captain and Tennille’s song “Muskrat Love.” Something must be going in their den.
In the winter the pond becomes the skating rink and as I’ve blogged about before, I take great joy in my skating rink. You can’t conveniently buy a skating rink, but each winter I get to enjoy skating on my own pond, which, as a Canadian, is deeply engrained in my DNA.
The view out of my office window has been upgraded over the years, a “continuous quality improvement” sort of endeavor. Our first solar tracker (the diagonal piece of steel at the bottom right) had two rounds of solar panel additions, and then we built the second tracker with room for more, which we eventually managed to fill up.
I can see our old wind turbine off to the east, but our new Bergey 1 Kilowatt turbine is perfectly framed in the window that I look out of while sitting in my chair. Knowing the myriad of places that we could have located it, I constantly shake my head at the idea that somehow it ended up just perfectly fitting in that space. And after the challenge of erecting it, it fills my heart with joy and contentment to look at it whirling away producing clean, green power for our home and business.
At this time of year the gardens are a huge source of contentment to look at out the window. Right now our 700 gladiola bulbs are in full bloom, and while we’re constantly harvesting and selling them, there is always a fantastic display. Both sides of the glad garden are framed with a row of huge sunflowers Michelle planted. We call this place “Sunflower Farm”, with a play on the “sun power” aspect of living off grid, but we both really love sunflowers. I can stand and stare at them for hours watching the bees come and go and realizing what a fantastic vertical ecosystem a sunflower is. Some of our sunflowers grow to be 10 feet high and the stalks are almost big enough to harvest and burn in the woodstove. All from a tiny seed and photosynthetic energy of the sun. Such a miracle.
Of equally great joy right now is the berry garden at the back of the property. For years I struggled with berries and wasn’t successful. I simply had too much on my plate with upgrading every system in the house and expanding the regular vegetable gardens. But several years ago I decided to take on berries again and do it right. I’ve been aggressive about weeding and watering and it’s been a huge investment in time, and money to buy the plants, but it’s finally paying off. The strawberry and raspberry harvests were fantastic this year. We ate them like crazy, froze a winter’s worth in the freezer and even got to sell some raspberries at our market in town. It was a dream come true. After years of picking berries at other U-pick farms, I finally had enough not only for myself but to sell. Some people take satisfaction in receiving their monthly retirement investment statements. I take far greater satisfaction in a freezer full of berries and the 8 pints of organic raspberries I sold this year, which will greatly increase next year.
In this photo you can also see lots of my latest haul of rotten hay round bales that I’ll use to expand the gardens. To me those are better than money in the bank!
And you can also see the latest additions to our family, Henrietta, Penelope (Henny & Penny) and Flora and Belle, scratching away in the dirt in their pen. They are of course chickens and this is what they do, and they seem to take great joy in it. They’re making quite a mess of the place so our yard will never end up in a magazine, but the area they are working will grow food next year and I think they’re doing a dandy job on it. Michelle and I are getting huge enjoyment out of the ladies’ antics and right now they are eating lots of garden leftovers like lettuce stalks and big zucchinis. While they’ll take out and eat any insect that comes near them, they are voracious vegetarian eaters right now.
One of my favorite albums (yes, a vinyl LP!) is “Déja Vu” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. It has amazing songs like “Carry On,” “Teach Your Children,” “Helpless,” “Woodstock,” and the “B” side includes the song “Our House.” That’s the song with the lyrics “Our house, is very, very, very fine house, with two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard, now everything is easy ‘cuz of you.” Our cats Lizzie and Cricket are indeed two cats that are outside much of the day. And they do like to roam the yard and can spend the day stalking grasshoppers and watching “chicken TV.”
Life in the suburbia was a grind, focused on earning an income. Life here at Sunflower Farm is a huge amount of work in terms of heating with wood, growing food for us and our vegetable stand in town, and the various other tasks that come with rural living. But every time I sit down at my computer to try and grind out a little income from our other sources I’m reminded that the view out my window makes it all completely worthwhile. Our house is indeed, a very, very, very fine house.
Photos by Cam Mather.