Becoming Country

words & Images: Jessica Sowards

You will never really understand how city you are until your life shifts and you find yourself removed from suburbia. I’ve harbored a homestead dream for as long as my memory can reach. At the age of twelve, my cousin walked me through his Texas back yard, showing me the neat rows of vegetables and how to feed chickens. Then he introduced me to the pig.

“This is Bacon,” he said.

“Why’s he called Bacon?” I asked.

“Because. We’re gonna eat him,” he replied nonchalantly. Seeing my alarm, he added “But we’re good to him, see. It’s kinder this way. Better than how factories raise them up like they don’t matter.”

“Cool.” I said. And I meant it.

That evening, my sister sat at the table and downright refused her dinner that we learned came from their last pig, Porkchop. I, on the other hand, decided then and there. One day I would have a pig named Bacon, too.

The dream didn’t die. While my peers pledged sororities, I read books on goat husbandry and growing things. While they purchased starter homes, my pile of books grew, books on beekeeping and chicken care and living off the land. For years I have perused seed catalogs with prayers on my lips and buried deep in my heart. Please, God, could I have this?

He answered in the most unplanned timing, when I had finally chosen to be content. I had just agreed to wait until the kids were older and money was less scarce when my dream came true by way of a vandalized foreclosure on four acres. It was the kind of deal people could hardly believe. “This is God,” I told them, “He, who hears my prayers.” They all awed at the house, and the potential for equity. But it was the land that captivated me. To my homesteader’s heart, just the idea of four acres caused a flutter of disbelief. It ignited my imagination.

Four acres. Do you feel it?

If you are like me, you hear four acres and you instantly see the gentle glow of an orange bell pepper lit up in the Arkansas sun. You can almost feel the skin of a freshly picked berry bursting warm against your teeth and hear the sound of chickens clucking around your imaginary muck boots. Four acres is no farm. It will never pay the bills. But coming from a sleepy suburban neighborhood, a stack of books, and a far off dream, four acres is everything I’ve ever wanted.

I would have been content to leave the house packed until October, instead spending the summer elbow deep in the earth, but reason won out. I suppose it’s a good thing. It would have been a long few months with five children at home and only a garden to entertain them. We worked through the spring and now the inside of our home is functional. The walls are painted and the boxes are unpacked. And I am the proud owner of a big pile of wood that my husband assures me will take the form of raised beds and a chicken coop in the coming months.

Patience has never been my strong suit. I like to think I live with abandon because that somehow seems more admirable, but you could call me reckless and you wouldn’t be lying. This is a trait that I fight. Recklessness usually yields regret. So while I stand at the brink of breaking ground on the homestead of my dreams, I am repeatedly reminding myself of something. Waiting rooms are great classrooms. These transitions between the before and the after are often the places that require stillness the most, or else we risk missing out on valuable lessons from our wise and patient Teacher.

While I wait, I am learning to become country.

Surely, you think, the difference between city dwellers and country folks is merely one of geographical location. But you would be wrong. I was wrong. I thought that because I so ardently desired to build a life outside the city limits, and because I was so well read on the process of doing this, that there wouldn’t be many necessary adjustments. I was born for this life.

It doesn’t matter how badly you want it, adjustments are going to be necessary.

Being twenty-five minutes from town makes a difference. I thought it would just alter how I plan my days and eliminate late night Kroger-runs for ice cream. But now I’m finding myself with this mindset of my comfort zone, which is home, and the rest of the world, which takes almost half an hour and three dollars in gas to reach. I never imagined that I would feel like I’d moved so far and that things had changed so much. Home is where I want to be.

It’s not the drive that makes me feel this way either. I enjoy the drive. I expected to hate the extra time spent in the car just to do things like go to church and buy groceries. Instead, I’ve found it so incredibly peaceful. I make the rural trek to town, admiring the explosion of wildflowers on the roadside, and am in awe. I get to live here. Before, in all my years of being city, I had never seen a horse play, running full bore down a hillside and rolling in the grass with hooves aloft. Now, thanks to my drive, I have seen it many times. I have stopped on the side of the road to look into the doleful eyes of a heifer nursing a newborn calf. “I know how you feel,” I told her. Under blue skies and toiling dark ones, I have talked to God in the very midst of His creation. This drive is good for me.

There is something about the country that just makes me feel so completely alive and small, and so undeniably created. It’s easy to become so submerged into a manmade world that we are blinded to that which God made. Now, even though the land and creatures around me are divided by our fences and cultivated by our tools, I am overwhelmed by the inexplicable wildness of it all.

The winged things that get trapped on our screened porch are the stuff of nightmares. I couldn’t name them if I tried, and it amazes me that they have been living so near for so long. They are as foreign to me as if they were from Africa. The ivy and the honeysuckle and every form of plant grows like maybe they know how greatly they outnumber us and our weed whackers. They stretch out with ferocity, glorious victors of a revolution. There is never a moment without some noise, some chirp or hum or buzz.

Oh, and the stars. How have I gone my whole life without being able to see these stars every night? Of course, they are direction for the lost with how brightly they shine. They are diamonds, artwork, with marvelous constellations. How many nights did we waste with our darkness lit by streetlights and a TV screen while these very stars burned on past the light pollution and our range of view? Such a shame.

I have watched my sons take to this new ground like transplanted tomato plants. Tobias, the toddler, has been in the creek as often as the dog. As soon as his eyes open in the morning, the first word he shouts is “Milk!” and the second is “Outside!” Mud seems to run in his veins. Ezra, the baby, is fearless, toddling through the grass, giggling as he grabs for fireflies. Jackson and Asher, my second and third-grade sons, are less sure. They were a little root bound where they were planted, with their sidewalks and after-school Baskin Robbins. It was all they knew, and this new life seemed to offer much less at first glance. Then they learned to climb trees. We explored the woods and found blackberries. They caught a blue-tailed lizard and started to believe that they, deep down, were country too.

When this house and it’s impossibly cheap price tag, which was all we could afford, fell into our laps, I kept coming back to Ephesians 3:20. “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” I just thought He was giving me my homestead dream. But I have realized in this short time of waiting that God didn’t give me this house just so I could make my own pickles and eat fresh eggs every morning. He was handing me a tool to raise our kids in a different world, a world where we can easily teach them hard work because there is so much of it to do. He was enabling us to teach them quiet in a generation that was born into noise and screens and distractions. It is a home to raise our family, not just a house.

He gave us four acres, a little bit of this earth He crafted, a little living piece of His creative wonder.

Four acres.

Do you feel it?

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