When Pagans Get Old

I wrote this back in 2012 just as we had sold the house in Ohio and were moving back to Pennsylvania.  While it was written with a note of regret, it was a contemplation of the good things we had learned and realizing the limits of our abilities.  A person has to know their limits.   This is a musing on what we were dreaming, and what we realized was the reality of it all. 

I hobbled around the house yet again, victim of my own stupidity.  I contemplated, yet again, the move my husband and I were making, and wondered if the doctors who had lately become dependent on our old age accidents would be able to continue making a living once we were gone.

See, we had spent the past 12 years in the house of our pagan dreams, complete with sustainable 5 acres for food and we were giving it up and returning to urban America.  We finally figured out that the keeping of the land, of being stewards of the land is for the young and foolish, not the older and wiser.

That is not to say we weren’t young and foolish once.   When we bought this house, we were young.  OK, we were younger.  Well, we were younger than we are now, by about 12 years.  We had this pagan dream: to live on the land, to live with it and sustain ourselves on our very own “homestead.”  We had a lot of work to do those first years, and I was pretty glad we were still capable of doing lots of heavy work back then.

We had dreams of living on our own foods, living in a small footprint, recycling and reusing what we could to be as “earth friendly” as we could.  Looking back now, that was pretty damn ambitious for a couple of middle aged city kids.  We got jobs, we cleaned up the property, we went to bed exhausted each and every night.  We spent a lot of time working on this place.  Looking back now, I remember what a mess it looked like when we moved in.  Now we can call it “park like” in the property description for the sales brochure for this place.  See, as we got older, we thought we could take it easier and eventually retire with little or no effort on our part.  NOT!  We may want to retire, but the land does not. 

It keeps going, no matter what you do.  Don’t weed it for a month or two and it returns to its original state.  It is now time to leave this place to the next generation.

My hubby has learned to swing an ax, use a chain saw, and a wood splitter.  He has also ripped his rotator cuffs.  His arms are not as limber as they used to be.  He has taken a couple of “spills” as well, and he aches from time to time when he has overdone it or the weather changes.  But the fireplace is not going to burn if we don’t have wood.  And to heat this house, while it’s not entirely without insulation, still costs more than two retired pagans could afford.  Retirement means less income, and in an area where jobs are few and far between, we need to take what Mother Nature gives us and cut it up and burn it.  And this author is not very good at using a chain saw. 

I’ve broken my foot twice, ripped up my knee in ice falls, and am hobbling around with an injured foot again.  No, mine isn’t work related… I just keep falling down the damn stairs in the house, due to my own stupidity.  Yes, stairs can be just as dangerous as a falling tree limb.  Then again, I am not known for doing graceful well.

As both of us are approaching 60, these injuries are becoming a concern.  We can’t afford more injuries like this.  There comes a time in everyone’s life when we have to say - we have done all we can, it’s time to move on.

There is a lot of work for a two story house and 5 acres of property.  While it doesn’t sound like much, most of it is trees, grass and wet.  It requires constant landscaping - cutting grass, trimming, tree maintenance and water maintenance.  We have a river, a creek and a pond.  Yes, those need maintenance as well.  And for those of you who want to keep it natural, there is a price to pay for that.  Mosquitoes are a major issue here, as are ticks.  With all the diseases here from these two sources alone, we made a decision long ago to reduce that risk factor.  That takes work.  Oh, and by the way, none of what we do has discouraged any of the wild life here.  We have deer, turkey, coyote, eagles, hawks, heron, raccoon, possum and more.  They all seem to settle into the property here and rest when passing through.  None of them seems to mind our landscaping.  Rather, it seems to signal a rest stop for them, and we appreciate seeing them come to relax on their journeys through our space.

We have put up with the forces of nature over the years.  We had a “wind” event a few years ago.   It took down some massive, old trees all over the property.  Mother Nature takes out the old to make way for the new.  And in the process, we got firewood for a couple of winter seasons.  We were very fortunate that none of these trees landed on our house.  So, hubby takes to cutting the downed trees and in the process, as he moved one piece out of the way to cut further - thwap!  A branch that had been bent back and held down by that piece of tree sprung back, hitting my poor hubby in the face.  Thank goodness he was wearing safety glasses, or it could have been worse.  He did suffer a broken nose, which sprouted the bonus black eye.  He could have lost his eye, or worse.  We laugh about it now.  And we consider it lucky it wasn’t worse.  But if that happened now, it could result in more serious injuries.  He just isn’t as fast as he was then.

Moving rocks used to be so easy.  Well, the rocks are now getting bigger, heavier and impossible to move - just because we are not as agile as we used to be.  And even after 12 years, the land still has rocks.  They will range from small and annoying to huge and unmovable.  And the unmovable ones will always be in the middle of whatever project you want to do. 

As for our gardens, that has been a learning process as well.  Heck, we live in the middle of farm country, this had to be an ideal place for gardening.  Our first gardens were failures, as we moved them from place to place around the property.  Either not enough sun, too much sun and no available water to irrigate, or animals.  I remember my first lettuce patch.  It sprouted up, all the tender green shoots, and the day I went to pick my first salad, some animals had a buffet the night before.  It was picked clean.  We ended up converting a flower bed at the house edge into our garden.  Close to the house, the deer did not venture.  We at least get veggies from it now.

We learned the value of rotating crops.  We learned that not everything will grow everywhere.  And we learned to identify poison ivy, which will grow anywhere.  Digging out weeds requires a careful eye or you end up with a terrible case of poison ivy.  Trust me; I have had first-hand experience.

We didn’t want to use insecticides.  That was a major concern with us.  So we deal with bugs.  Tobacco worms, Japanese beetles, grubs.  And weeds.  Bending over the garden daily results in visits to the chiropractor.  But in the end, it has been satisfying.  We have our own food on our table.  Nothing is more satisfying.

Digging soil every spring is not something we can continue to do.  And no, rototiller is not the answer.  Remember my mentioning the rocks?  I will allow you to use your imagination in regards to the one and only rototiller we rented.  Not pretty.

And then there is the wildlife.  I mentioned the deer.  They tend to wander the property and relax.  And munch on what they can get into when you are not looking.  Wild turkeys are interesting when they are not chasing the cats.  Coyote are dangerous.  And yes, we have coyote here.  Raccoons are just plain nasty.  But the worst?  Skunk!  Young skunks are unpredictable.  We have not had a direct run in with them, but it is only a matter of time.  We have had 5 young skunks and their mom running around the property and that is just scary.  One wrong move and you can have a stink bomb of massive proportions.  The wildlife is wonderful here, but we have a great respect for it all.  I think, however, I would like to move to an area where we do not have to keep that as a major concern. 

The house is a topic all on its own.  From scrambling up to the roof to clear debris and check the shingles, to making repairs on the exterior porches and gutters, we have done it all.  We have even had bees move into the walls and find a way into the house one year.  Bee stings were common that year.  Thank goodness we are not allergic.

It isn’t realistic to expect that you can continue to be superman or superwoman.  We come home from work, work on the property or house, and fall asleep waiting for dinner to cook.  And we use a microwave!  I really want to retire in a few years and have no intention of handing over my paycheck each week to contractors to do the work.  Or spend weekends with hammer and hoe.

So, as we were painting downstairs, yet again standing on a stool to reach the upper part of the wall, I stretched the muscle in my foot a bit too far and now am limping.  At least last time I did it dancing around on St. Paddy’s Day.  No such great excuse this time.

We are also not close to the city, but about 20 minutes out.  And we are not exactly close to our neighbors in any way, shape or form.  I took a dive on the ice last winter and ended up on crutches.  But I was home alone at that point, and there was no one to help me once I fell.  I will not discuss how I managed to make it back to the house, but I will not go through that again.  I laugh about it now, it wasn’t funny then.

The dream house has been a learning experiment, and one that I am glad I have had the opportunity to live for the past 12 years.  I have had the best time with my husband doing what we have done. We are leaving this place better than we found it.  It is beautiful, and the property is still treed, but well-kept and natural.  But I am, at heart, a city girl.  And husband is somewhere between the country and the city.  I would like to walk sidewalks again; I still want a green backyard but with less maintenance. 

As I slowly pack up all our belongings, I contemplate what it means to be pagan, and to be getting old.   While I really want to continue this lifestyle, one that we are both deeply in love with, we need to be realistic.  There comes a point when we need to realize that it is time to let go.  Time to start walking that path again and move on.  Time to take inventory of health and the benefits of living on the land as an older person.  There is no shame in moving on.  I will cherish the tomatoes as they will be the last ones from this garden.  I have zucchinis and beans, and basil.  I will not be canning any of this, but will stuff myself or give away what we do not use.  Next year, patio tomatoes on my back porch will be my garden.  And a pot of basil. 

Copyright © 2012 Boudica Foster


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Boudica Foster is the pen name for Margaret Foster. All website material written, drawn or photographed is the work of Margaret Foster.