A Hike with no View

Hello gentle readers!

I have been very wrapped up in the newness of my current situation for  the last few weeks.  We moved to a new town, started doing new work, and of course started looking for more work.  It’s amazing how nerve-wracking it is to be handed a chance to live the life you say you have always wanted.  But I am not one to bite the hand that feeds me, just one to worry I ate too much, or the wrong way.  But now that we have passed our final hurdle and it is official so I can confidently tell you where we will be until the new year at least.

Those of you who are friends with me on facebook know that Joey and I put up a seeking housing ad on Craig’s List directed at any and all people with available rooms in the Eugene Area.  We were rewarded with many responses but few options.  That is until Bonnie and Erin contacted us!  Bonnie reached out via email to say that she and her wife had recently bought a farm in Veneta (~15 miles from Eugene down OR-126) and wanted to find someone to live in the mini cabin (tiny house, perhaps) on the property and help out with the chickens and ducks a few days a week. They still both work full time and are bike commuters so sometimes they are not able to get back before dark and they feared for foxes fetching their fowl.  So we take care of them and put them safe in their coop when Bonnie and Erin are elsewhere.  We also have a list of projects that they hope to complete in the coming months.  As you know, once a task is set before us, there is very little that can be done to stop the inertia.  It pulls us forward through the checklist like Sisyphus’s boulder plowing back down the hill, fast, inevitable, and imminently creating more work we hadn’t anticipated. But we are pressing on!

While we are getting our feet wet with poultry and small farming, we are also looking for employment in the Eugene Area.  Luckily we do not have to pay rent because of our relationship with the chickens and ducks (they put in a good word for us), so we have been able to be more choosy about where we apply.  We are determined to not to fall off our goal-bandwagon and take a job only because it “pays the bills” (it helps that we have very few bills).  In Portland it was kind of easy to get caught in that boulder’s path and keep the rolling stone from gathering moss by taking that vegetation head on (aka getting ground into the dirt).  We made choices to keep the lights on not to make ourselves happy, and now that we have broken with that reality and pedaled 3,300 miles to get 121 miles from that life, Joey and I are determined to get to our bliss this time.  Or at least what we keep saying bliss is.

We have also been trying to learn our new home.  Last weekend, we took Ru for his first hike.  We went to the Eula Ridge trail, a punishing 3 mile trail to the top of Oak Ridge that gains 3,300 ft vertically over its modest length. For those of you not familiar with hiking/don’t know if that is hard, a standard hiking pace is 2 mph….or 1000 vertical feet/hour.  So it was a little over double as steep as the average trail.  This popular area for mountain bikers boasts some gorgeous creek beds, second growth trees (the ones not logged since that one time ~200 years ago when the whole world was clear cut), and lush, heavily-ferned ridges that look like the set for a mainland Jurassic Park.   Ru had a blast.  Hands down, the happiest I have seen him.  He ran his heart out, getting a dozen yards up the trail, bounding back to Joey and I struggling up the grade and then back out in front.  He probably added a couple miles to his odometer with his frantic frolicking and he couldn’t have cared less.  When we reached a stopping point to eat our sandwiches and take a breather it took him ~15 minutes to calm down and fall dead asleep.  This pup had never exerted this much energy continuously and couldn’t handle the hangover.

But what made this hike different from pretty much all others we have done and made it deviate from our traditional criteria of a “good” hike was one thing: there was no view.  There was no vista, no rock outcrop, no overlook, nada.  The fire tower at the top had long ago been razed to the ground and only the concrete pylons remain.  For the entire length of the precipitous path we stared into the lush thick forest, but were not rewarded with a glimpse of our context.  We couldn’t see the ridge rising to the peak in front of us.  Couldn’t see the target.  I kept thinking of the hikes we did in the White Mountains in college in New Hampshire.  The only time you couldn’t see the goal protruding from the rolling Appalachians around you was when your arrival was looming closer than the view would allow.  But in this hike, there was no view.  Nothing was imminent.  No goal was registered in the mind by the opening of trees around the bend.  The trees never opened, the forest only took you further into the depths.

And that is when I began to think about our time in Eugene and the beginning of this next chapter in the same way.  Not in some dire premonition of perpetual struggle but in having a crack at something, for the sake of the crack not of the something (if you’ll excuse my perversion of metaphor here).  We are not going toward a very specific goal.  We want to have some hand in making food worth eating.  We want to be healthier more well-rounded folk.  We want to know how to farm.  We want to be happy.  But why are all those goals still seemingly secondary in my mind to the proverbial “view?”

As an Ivy League grad I have been told that all doors are open to me, mostly by people closing doors.  Since leaving those hallowed halls I have learned the hard way what many if not most prestigious liberal arts graduates learn: there are a lot of us.  So many in fact that we are not as special as our parents, teachers, professors, and mentors have taught us.  We are not as special because there are millions of other people not as lucky or privileged as us but with clearer goals, more tangible motivation and just as much intelligence coming from every part of this country and the globe to fill those spots at the top.  My generation is the most educated in history.  More people have college degrees than ever before and we are all seeking to use them to some great end.  This constant praise that institutions of higher learning heap on their students creates a false sense of grandeur.  Not that we expect people will fall down in the street to praise your green college t-shirt but that we will have no problem entering a field you want to pursue.  This is true for a narrow set of dreams.  I cannot verify that from experience because my dreams of being close to the land, changing the way people think about food and farming, and becoming self-sustained do not come with a clear entry-level position.  You cannot apply to be a first year fellow at the farm down the street (if you are lucky enough to have a farm down the street).  So there is this feeling of helplessness that I (and people like me) feel when I realize I don’t want to go to med school, law school, into finance or out to the races.  We feel like all this education and all this praise and prep and preening were all for nothing.  The path we are on doesn’t end in our bliss.  When you get into a field where there is an actual field, no one cares about your senior seminar on Colonial Photography in the British Empire they care whether you know what end of the plow is up.  So for the hoards of well-educated, idealistic young folk walking out of those ivy-draped Georgian structures up and down the East Coast and out into the world thinking the world is your oyster, I would say yes, but only some parts of it.

I am fully aware of the whining in my tone and my privilege in being debt-free enough to throw away my degree to dig in the dirt.  But I want to make the point for people out there struggling with a choice between doing the traditionally successful thing and following their own path.  Traditional success breeds traditional success.  If I had wanted to live in a big city and live the fancy life of a marketing executive or the like I would have followed the path I took until I was 22.  And I think I would have had great success, as many of my friends and peers have had in San Francisco, Boston, New York, Chicago, yadda yadda yadda.  But for folks who come to the realization that we want to pursue dreams and goals outside the realm of promotions, pensions, and corporate structures, that degree can feel like it is holding you back.  It did not teach us how to build a chicken coop or how to catch a duck that’s wandered from its pond.  Although I am young and strong and willing, I cannot get a call back for farm hand jobs because my background makes me seem more fit for reading than raking.  Most of my institutional knowledge is useless, my credentials make me an outsider and my willingness to learn only belies how green I really am.

Many of my peers had the honor of growing up closer to the land than my suburban childhood brought me.  Of course I went hiking and learned the names of native trees in girl scouts but I guess what I am trying to say is that I am indignant that there are millions of people like me who essentially don’t have the ability to feed themselves because they were never taught when to plant.  This comes at no fault of their own, my own or my parent’s because they were shifting toward the American Dream.  That two car garage and a place on the board.  But I think people in my generation have realigned again.  People have been moving into cities and away from the land since the industrial revolution.  They have been removing themselves from the toil of existence to buy their food in a shop so their energy could be focused on more human pursuits; culture, invention, diplomacy, talking, talking, talking.  That is all well and good and has shaped the world we live in today and given us culture revered the world over (cough colonialism cough we don’t deserve it cough).  Now we hear so much about the farm to table movement, organic farming, and heirloom varieties that there must be a new tide of people like me rising to keep these ideas going.  All these people have been raised in the last set of values and are trying to push our society into the next.

But I am not despairing my choices, now.  I am who I am because of what I’ve done.  I have made wonderful friends and gotten a view of the world few can claim, but now I am starting over at the bottom like everyone else.  There are no get out of jail free cards, and I still can’t get through a USA jobs initial screening.  But for now as I hike with no anticipation of the top, at least I can see the forest for the trees.


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