Wrapped in a woolen blanket, I’m hunkered down in my caravan after a morning and a half afternoon of sawing and chopping wood. Because it’s been raining steadily all day, we agreed for me to do something sheltered, and that seems to have been it. Unfortunately, the propane is not installed, or else I could have a hot cup of tea next to me while the rain pounds on the tin roof above. Tea today simply isn’t enticing enough to put back on my waterproof stuff and walk to the barn to make some. So I’ll make do by listening to the rhythmic beats of the rain fall and ponder my recent activity and my Wales family. Seems lately like making do is really making enough, and enough is actually a lot.
Earlier that morning I selected 30 tall, straight willow branches from a pile laying on the ground by the yurt and fire pit which P. will use offer the bean stalks a vertical support. I stripped the bark a foot from the end to ensure the willow branch won’t sprout and root while supporting the beans. It’s a different type of willow from the weeping willow; apparently, there are many varieties and these produce sturdy rods. It was a pleasant, undemanding job which gave me a seat in the unexpected sun that now burst through the breaking clouds; the repetitive process of peeling back the bark with a sharp knife until the rod was smooth and white provided me the time to peel back and smooth out my thoughts.
The children are an interesting subject. Although initially I was given to believe that they were homeschooled, M. admits they are “unschooled” – a more familiar term nowadays. Unschooling allows a child complete freedom from a curriculum or structure; kids decide for themselves when and what they want to learn. E. is 12. She draws with attention to detail and shadow in pencil, paint, pens…her subjects are perfectly realistic and she has a wonderful talent for capturing the light and perspective. She also enjoys pressing wildflowers, and keeps them labeled in a book. She crochets and knits – she makes hats and sweaters that look like they come from a Land’s End catalogue. Often she will sit through dinner with pen in hand and practice her alphabet, and then practice it again with her left hand. Both children talk about X and Y chromosomes with their dad, and phases of the moon, and eventually slaughtering their kid goats, which they are truly fond of, without any emotional afterthoughts. F. is the nine year old boy, with a set of hair that rivals his sister’s in length and wave. With F.’s vivacious hair I mistook him at first for a girl: M. asked me when I first arrived if I had “passed the boys” on the way up here so I assumed they would be along shortly when I would meet the rest of her family that night at dinner. But only two of the alleged four children showed up for dinner, so it dawned on me after being introduced to him that he indeed was a boy and that by boys, M. must have meant him and his friend. His clothes reveal a romping good time out in the garden or muck, full of hay bits and smears of compost. The whole lot of them, parents and children, represent a unified unit, as they have to be, living in a tiny house and walking over each other’s handiwork, projects, scythes, legos, and embroidery yarns spilling from the container. I have another image for you: assemble what you remember of Captain America, Little House on the Prairie, The Swiss Family Robinson and Old Yeller. You’re getting closer now to my reality. A few things provide a sharp contrast to the 1800’s living, which is (no shock) modern technology. Underneath the mason jars full of… well, I thought they were spices, but after the absence of such in the food, came to conclude were seeds, underneath of which sits a lap top computer connected to WiFi no less, and from where M. will conduct the scythe business twice a week (and from where the children will access educational videos, lectures and the newest Minecraft). She’ll receive the orders, do some billing, and spend the rest of the day packing up the scythes in boxes, ready for pick up and delivery to booming scythe handlers all over England and Wales. Soon we’ll see men and women doing the scythe dance all over fields in the UK. P. talks about the increase in sales with such satisfaction, you’d think Wales is minting a new coin with a scythe on it at this very moment. The adults each have their own smart phones, but apart from needing them for business I never see them using them. This afternoon, M. is busy creating a flyer for a wind turbine workshop they’ll be hosting in October, which will conveniently allow the participants to learn while building the family a wind turbine for more electricity. Phillip conceded the other night during dinner that the extension they’re building onto their one room house will not only be a bathroom, but also a place for a washer and dryer. To me it seemed an abrupt departure from bare bones living, but they may have been waiting anxiously for this convenience for years now. An anachronistic image, for sure, in this house of dried cow jerky vying for space with drying clothes from roof beams. Part of our dinner that night was my first experience with that preserved meat, shriveled to half its original size. We had buckwheat again on the bottom of the bowl, topped with a stewed vegetable medley, topped with salted, shredded mutton. Taken in small bites, and mixed with the rest, it provided the salt that I craved, but it was a bit too salty, too muttony, too fatty and indeed, quite dry. I took my leave after pudding, and retreated to the stillness and the evening birds, watching the ducks and the magpies from my caravan windows.