Well, it happened. The elk made it into my vegetable garden. We had planned a big fence project, lots and lots of fencing — put in correctly, of course — to solve a whole set of fencing problems. But as so often happens to us, when we’re a bit overworked and a bit short on resources, we looked at our big, elaborate, ideal fencing plan…and made strawberry jam and a chicken hotel instead.

To clarify what I mean by overworked and short on resources: as a whole that isn’t our reality. As a whole we’re pretty comfortable, especially compared to three years ago. But in the sense that Nick is building a whole house by himself while also keeping a job, and I’m raising the children and looking after the animals and cooking from scratch and turning in line edits for a book that I wrote, and we’re always trying to build systems that work but are alternative to the systems our broken society has to offer us…overworked and short on resources is always part of the puzzle.

The sum? No fence at all. No foraging space for the goats, no extra protection for would-be garden spaces around the yurt, and no perimeter fence to keep the elk from breaking the tops off our young sunflower stalks. It was all too hard — all too much — so we didn’t do any of it.

So then the elk came. In the night, as they always do. I went to water the garden in the morning and they had trampled the rows, broken down the onions, kicked straw over the tops of our just-barely-poking up carrot greens. The good news is that they only devastated one third of the garden, not making their way past the sugar snap peas to the tomatoes, or finding what they really probably wanted, which is all my lettuces.

That very evening, with things he had squirreled away and maybe an hour or two of work, Nick put in a temporary solution right around the targeted place. It’s a field fence floating off the ground. It isn’t really elk proof — if they wanted through it bad enough they could push it over — and it isn’t what we planned. But the garden hasn’t been trampled by anyone but my children since. (This was exactly one week ago.)

Of course, we could have done that anytime. We could have done the small thing, anytime. But we had bigger plans, and then we intimidated ourselves by our own big plans. And then we just took a nap instead.

I wanted to write today in defense of tiny things. And going slowly. And being very much in process all the time. Especially now that we have a lot of people watching us on YouTube I really want to be able to say I have it all figured out. I really want to say, sure, my homestead is all done and it all works, and I know everything I need to know and I can just tell you.

{{ Insert hysterical laughter here. }}

But I thought about it, and I really think that’s dead wrong. It’s not true. But also I think it’s wrong. If I always focus on the things we’ve finished, I don’t show you the most important part, where the real miracle is, which is right in the middle, at the point of transformation. I’ve come a long way to where I am. As an eating disorder person (ten years of bulimia and anorexia) who refused to cook at all for years and years and never grew even a houseplant until I was in my 30’s, the point here is not that I have a great or very successful garden. The point is that I have a garden.

The point is that I am still showing up.

We’re so trained to judge everything by accomplishments. Even in the field of “natural things,” we still want to be the best at things. So there can be a kind of Pinterest competitive natural homemaking. Which maybe is not the worst thing in the world. Beeswax-cloth food wraps and homemade vanilla are sweet things. But the one single thing that is making our children so healthy right now is none of these. The one single thing that is making our family’s love for one another so palpable is our daily practice to undermine that old system of evaluation … and replace it with wonder, and amazement, and joy.

The garden the elk got into already wasn’t an amazing food producing garden. Don’t misunderstand me; I do love that garden, which is the second one I’ve planted in that spot after clearing the land right down from brush. I love it and I love the work I’ve put into it. But it really is a child’s garden. It’s a teaching garden. We experiment there. We grow weeds as well as vegetables, and often I can’t really decide which ones I want to pull. It isn’t a finished garden or a “successful” garden. But it does the most important work I can think of, which is to teach us all to believe that growing plants to feed ourselves is a healing, happy, healthy thing to do, and not just a miserable, bound-to-fail horrible lot of dirty work.

I’m writing today in defense of a somewhat unkempt garden with a temporary fence, that is a nice space where kids can play and taste things. I’m writing, too, in defense of listening to and accepting what the wild world has to offer, instead of always focusing on our own accomplishments.

It’s a hard world out there, and likely getting harder. I still haven’t gotten over the shooting in Orlando — will we ever? — and then the M.P. shot down in Britain and a hundred other things. I’ve been thinking about how healing comes in, to people. And it’s a bit, for me, in the spirit of the wild … which we can tell ourselves is far, far away, but really is present in every single weed.

It’s a bit for me in letting the wild plants nourish me, instead of thinking always that I am the mom and they are all the children.

I’m not giving up a bit on gardening. We’ll replant where the elk trampled things, and eventually we’ll put up all that fence. But we’ll also recognize the healing and transformation already taking place. We’ll also learn the names of the weeds and foster feelings of belonging and let ourselves grow healthy, if a little unkempt around the edges.

Wishing you each appreciation for what you’ve done and what you have and who you are RIGHT NOW, even when it seems too small to count. 


Love, from the yurt.
Esther and family.