A Lesson in History and Gratitude

| 7/5/2011 1:26:12 PM

We recently enjoyed our yearly visit with Ken and Madeline Snider. They were in this neck of the woods for a family party and so they stopped in for a quick visit. Ken was born in our house about 85 years ago, and Madeline boarded here about 65 years ago when she taught at a one-room schoolhouse several miles from here on the California Road. The coincidence of how we know Ken and Madeline is a pretty amazing story, and is well-described by Michelle in our upcoming book “Little House Off The Grid.”


Ken’s visits are always very enlightening for me, and make me extremely grateful to live with the modern tools I have at my disposal. Farmland in this part of the world was hacked out of the bush starting in the late 1800’s and to the settlers’ disappointment came the realization that the sandy soil left by the retreating glaciers was not good. Hay was one of the few things that would grow well here, which is why the agriculture of the area is primarily livestock-based.

When Ken was 14 his dad got sick. His doctor told him that he was working himself to death, and if he didn’t leave the farm, he wouldn’t last long. So Ken’s dad moved to Kingston to work in construction and Ken became the man of the house and worked the farm. And “worked” is a deceptive word, especially by our modern definition. Every ounce of energy in Ken’s being would have been poured into this farm, and not with the idea of getting ahead but more of just survival. He sold milk to the small cheese factory down the California Road and traded eggs and chickens, but this was basically to just buy other supplies. There was no retirement nest egg being built up here, just the basic goal of surviving. This is the way many people on this planet still live today, but we in the west have lost sight of this. Many people aren’t concerned about personal growth and self-actualization as they are just making enough to put dinner on the table tonight.

So Ken would have worked from dawn ‘til dusk every day doing just that. They had 12 to 14 cows to milk, some pigs, lots of chickens, and a huge garden. It took me a couple of years of living here to be logical enough to situate my vegetable garden near the barn foundation. As we stood in the old barn foundation on Saturday Ken showed me where the stalls for the 4 plow horses would have been. Then he pointed out the section for the pigs and explained that the bulk of the space was for the cows. As Ken said, the horse manure went out that window, the pig manure out that window, and cow manure out that door.

His day would have been a blur of getting hay to the animals for feeding, to milking, to moving animals in and out, to growing food to bringing in hay or cutting firewood. We live in a forest which Ken points out used to be cleared and growing hay. When I worry about the planet I often find solace in this fact, how quickly nature will reclaim man’s efforts. He also brought in hay from some of the many marshes in the area. The horses had special “shoes” that were strapped to their feet, basically one-foot square boards to keep their hooves from getting buried in the mud. They would have to learn how to walk with these. Picture a horse walking with small snowshoes. The hay would be cut, and collected and placed by backbreaking work in huge stacks. Then in winter he would take a horse and sleigh in to retrieve a load everyday. It was poor quality feed so the animals would burn through huge quantities of it to get their required protein, which made the scale of his efforts even larger.

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