Wednesday, September 24, 2008

the long view

The road to Vermont was a long one. And none of it happened on purpose. A lot of my addresses and jobs have all fallen into place by luck, or chance, or a random job search online with resumes emailed on whims. But for those of you interested, here is the abridged version of the last few years. And how a Pennsylvanian college grad ended up on six rented acres in Vermont with her current menagerie.

I went to college for design, and that's what I still do today as my day job. I don't think it's a secret that I'm not exactly rich. Like most Americans, I live paycheck to paycheck and try to budget a life around bills and college loans. I save what I can, but I'm not about to buy a house or a new car anytime soon. So I am (and probably will be for quite some time) a 9-5 working middle class American. Which I assume most of you are too. We definitely have that in common.

In 2005, I graduated from Kutztown University, a small state school in southeastern Pennsylvania. I spent four years studying graphic design, antiquing with close friends, taking trips to New York to putz around Chelsea galleries, and spent too many late nights in diners talking about our 'big plans'. I loved college. And it was a bittersweet time for me, full of saturated memories and friends I am still in touch with today. However, when graduation came I knew everything would change. My friends were splattered all over the country in random design jobs. I thought I'd end up where many of them did, in Philadelphia, DC, New York, or possibly even around my homeland of Carbon County (my favorite town in America, Jim Thorpe, is in said county) But what happened instead was I got an email from They wanted to hire me as a web designer for them down in Knoxville.

Holy crap. Tennessee.

I knew nothing about Tennessee. I had never been to the South. I only had the worst Yankee-imposed stereotypes about it. But what did I have to lose? I didn't have a boyfriend. My family was supportive. The job was great. So I did it. I moved 800 miles south to the smoky mountains. It was the greatest decision I ever made.

Tennessee was nearly two years of falling in love. I scrambled over wet mossy streams and smashed mountains. I learned to play the dulcimer. I adopted my two beautiful dogs from Tennessee Sleddog Rescue. I made amazing friends who worked in letterpress shops or hiked barefoot through the hills. I drove on beaten old southern roads to amazing places like Hot Springs NC, Asheville, and the like. I learned to love my city neighborhood, and escaped every weekend to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I loved, loved that I resided in a place where you could by a plasma tv screen and be eaten by a bear in the same hour. I fell hard for the food, the music, the whole damn romatic state. Tennessee has become a magical place in my heart. A place I miss horribly. I blogged about Tennessee fervently, on a site much like this called Dogcoffin (named after a little wooden box I found on the side of the road in PA that I took with me to Tennessee). That blog is now a private blog for friends and family. But sometimes long-time readers will mention Dogcoffin here, and that's what they are referring too. Mystery solved.

But by my second Autumn in Knoxville I was barking for a real fall. I loved the southern mountains so much, but missed crisp hooded sweatshirt mornings and 30-degree October nights of PA. When I went home for my sisters wedding in the fall of 2007, I visited a small family farm I grew up going to every Halloween. Being on a hayride in the personal correctness of a North East got my restless self stirring again. So when a job was posted online for a web designer in Sandpoint Idaho, my mind bugged me till I applied. Within days of clicking 'send' on my resume, I was setting up an interview in the small mountain town in Northern Idaho. I got the job. Packed up my Urban life and moved into a retired cattle farm off Highway 95. And that, is how all this farm business got started.

In Sandpoint, at that new job (designing emails for Coldwater Creek) I came to meet a women named Diana who was a part time farmer. She had a day job but also had a small herd of cattle, laying hens up the wazoo, and her husband made his own homebrewed wines. They became mentors and friends, and with Diana's help I was able to get my own chickens, rabbits, hive of bees and so on. My year in Idaho learning to farm is what the book is about. Basically a year of learning about the good (and bad) things the simple life teaches. It mentions Tennessee and Kutztown in some respects, but largely Made From Scratch is about that magical year in the Rocky Mountains. I miss Idaho often. Mostly because of the people. I didn't fall in love with the wilderness of the west like I did with the mountains of the south, but the people and friends I made in that little town on a big lake are so sorely missed it could crack a rib. I bet if you x-rayed me you'd see a little Gem-State-Shaped scar.

So one state left me jonesing for it's landscape, another one left me pining for it's people. Life is mean like that. Sometimes happiness is dissected around the whole world, in people or memories thousands of miles away all at the same time. A beautiful horrible thing to know.

I left Idaho because of job security. There was none. The company I worked for had downsized, a lot, and in a scared and worried attempt to find stability I found a new job in Southern Vermont. I still do the same thing, design for the web. I aslo still do everything I did on the Idaho farmstead (and more!) I've grown more confident in my abilities in gardening and animal husbandry and expanded my chicken-and-kitchen farm to a full blown poultry and shepherd-in-training life here in the Green Mountains. And That pretty much catches you up to this blog.

The story from here will hopefully include the struggle to change careers, to learn to herd with a working dog, to somehow buy my own land and start my own farm business. The long view is to be self-employed and work my ass off to become a full-time shepherd (here in VT or back in Carbon County with my family.) If I'm lucky a man and some kids will trickle into my life in the decade ahead. If I'm really lucky, a man, some kids, and some open trialing border collies. I don't want to be rich. I don't want to be famous. I don't want to want anything all that fancy. I just want to wake up, feed the sheep, send my dog away to them, and come inside and write to you. The one thing I really want to accomplish besides my farm is publish a novel I've been woriking on for over three years, and if the world lets me do this, I will be beside myself with gratitude.


Blogger The Old Man and His Dog said...

I'm patiently awaiting that novel.....until then the blog will suffice.

Funny how fate becomes our chauffeur. Sometimes we yell out directions, but ultimately fate takes us where it wants us to be...where we should be. Best wishes.

September 24, 2008 at 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for about a month now and I can't stop.
My name is Scott and have been married for 10 years. We have 2 kids. I really like how you described how you got where you are.
What surprised me is where you went to college. I live in Spring Township just down the road where you went to school. I was just at the Lyons fiddle festival this Sunday. This was the first time I was there and they had 38 contestants there. I was wondering if you played there when you went to college.
I can't wait until you write a book. I know it will be spectacular. My favorite book is My Fathers Cabin. By Mark Philip
Have a great day and keep up the great blog.

September 24, 2008 at 4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been wondering how your travels have evolved. It sounds like you have had some memorable experiences all along the way. I am looking forward to your novel.

September 25, 2008 at 10:57 AM  
Blogger P~ said...

Jenna, I just found your blog today through your writing at Mother Earth. I like reading a little background on your journey, it really puts you in perspective. We all have our own journeys don't we? I look forward to reading more from you.

October 7, 2008 at 2:21 AM  
Blogger Susannah of Cricklewood Farm said...

I'm catching up on four years of your blog posts and reading Made From Scratch. I'm working towards the same goal of self-sufficiency, homesteading and someday owning a small flock of sheep (I spin and knit, felt and weave).

I started this year with 11 laying hens and a front yard full of veggies. I rent, will always rent, and up until discovering your blog thought I would never be able to find a farm to rent. You've given me hope.


August 21, 2011 at 6:48 PM  
Blogger Nushi said...

Aha!!! HERE IT IS!!! I discovered your blog a couple weeks back because my neighbour (/part time job boss) (/farmer) sent me a link to vlog episode 15, harnessing a draft... and I'm HOOKED!!! I've been looking / hoping / waiting for this post and here it is!!

I am so happy to read these posts, knowing what I do from watching the more recent vlog episodes.... I feel so much inspiration seeing how you've punched your goals in the face, sticking it out... I can't wait to keep reading!!

(not to shamelessly plug, but if you come over to hopefully 5 years from now you'll see me having as much success with my current farming dreams too!!!)

January 30, 2015 at 10:11 PM  

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