JERUSALEM, Ohio – When I went to bed that first night in our new country house, I could barely choke back the tears.
This wasn’t how I thought it would be to finally realize a dream of living on a farm.
Gone was the romantic vision of sharing a bottle of champagne and christening this new chapter in our lives. The champagne stayed in the fridge for over a month and I lay on the edge of the bed that night, overcome by sadness.
It started with a horse. Like most horse owners, I dreamed of having my own farm. Instead, I was a city dweller, driving an hour to go to the stables where I boarded.
Unable to afford farmland around the city, we settled on a small Italiante house in an inner city neighborhood, full of other young, first-time homeowners like us. Our goal? Fix up the house and make enough of a profit to step up to that elusive farm.
More hammers than horses. Thus began seven years of depravation and hard work. The horses eventually had to be sold, as all the money we had went into our renovations.
I watched with dismay as the farms along the outer belt were demolished for subdivisions. Would there be any farms left when the time came for us to buy?
While our friends and family were going on vacations and taking out second mortgages to finance their renovations, we slogged away at our house, making advances only when we had the money in hand, and doing all the work ourselves.
Had enough. In the eighth year of city dwelling, I felt like my head and heart would explode if we didn’t make the move to the country. I was nearing 40 and if we waited too much longer, I wouldn’t have the energy to tackle a farm.
I contacted a friend who was a realtor and asked if he thought it would sell “as is.” The house was on the market only four days before we had a buyer.
Now we were looking at farms for real. Unfortunately, we were not able to find a property before our move-out date, so we crammed everything we owned into a 20-by-10 foot storage locker, packed our two 85-pound Airedales into the Suburban with our camping gear.
Taking a backpack each, we hit the road for a cross-country adventure. After two months on the road, we decided to come back to Ohio because of the diversity of the landscape, affordability and, most importantly, grass!
Eureka! We stayed at my parent’s summer cottage while farm hunting, despite my mother’s aversion to big dogs who tracked dirt onto her white-on-white decor. After a month of Internet searches and visiting every corner of the state, we found a 15-acre property in southeastern Ohio, about 20 miles from the Ohio River.
It was the most beautiful landscape we had seen in all of Ohio: gently rolling hills, lakes, woods, pastures and very rural.
We later learned the whole county has less than 15,000 people. We hailed from the 15th largest city in the United States.
Two things sold us on the property: the price and the neighbors. This 15 acres with a barn, outbuilding, garage and modest 1930s house was well within the profit we had made off our city property. The low asking price would allow us to have money for a tractor, trailers, a couple of good horses and money left over to make repairs to the rundown property.
The final deciding factor were the neighbors. The only house visible from ours was the original farm from which our property was carved, and it was owned by an Amish family.
Despite the dilapidated state of our property, when we looked across our pasture of brambles to their farm, we could see the potential – fresh white buildings and livestock turned out in well-maintained pastures.
It was worlds away from the blaring car alarms, thumping bass beats that rattled your windows, and constant crime.
Handyman’s special. When the designated move-in date arrived, I was dismayed to see the former owner had not moved out.
Even worse, when we went down to the barn, we found the stalls had been stripped, leaving loosely hanging boards.
The house, barn and outbuildings were full of trash and it was obvious that this person was not going to come back and clean them out.
We set up our bed in the dining room downstairs and started making the place livable.
Ah, this is why. When I woke up that first morning after a long night of wondering “what have we gotten ourselves into,” I went down to the barn with the dogs.
There amid the manure, trash, empty feed bags and missing stalls was a hummingbird living in the rafters. I smiled.
We left the barn and walked into the neglected pasture. There, the dogs scared a flock of bluebirds and a pileated woodpecker flew over our heads.
By the time I made my way back to the house, I felt more optimistic. Never underestimate the healing power of nature.
Grab a pitchfork. The first job of many was to make the barn ready for the horses, due the next day. The only thing we could do was clean all of the trash out of the barn, strip the 2-foot layer of manure off the dirt floor, put down fresh bedding and make an open run.
We also had to make a sweep of the pasture to clean all the broken glass and trash thrown in it over the years. Clayton got to break out his “new” tractor, a 1948 Ford 8N, and brush hog the pasture closest to the barn.
I have never seen a happier man.
This is home? The next task was cleaning the house so we could move our belongings out of storage.
Never have I seen so many derelict appliances or a house so infested with rats (a problem we are still battling because of the bags of trash dumped in the basement).
We had 32 bags of trash for the first week’s pick up. The next week we had 28 bags, hauled numerous truck loads to the hazardous waste drop-off, and had still not made a dent. We gave up and ordered a 30-yard dumpster, which we filled to capacity.
Talk of the town. Around that time, the neighbors began dropping by, their curiosity getting the better of them.
We found out we were the talk of the local hangout, a combination gas station/convenient store/coffee shop where the locals hang out in the morning to catch up on gossip.
We learned more of the history of the house from them, and found out the last 14 years had not been happy ones for our little farm.
We also became friends with our Amish neighbors and I have never had better neighbors. When we needed to drag telephone poles across a marsh to build a bridge, they came right over with their big draft horse Barney, and made short work of it.
When my Thoroughbred got loose and went running down the highway, I was beside myself, chasing after him in flip flops, up and down the road like a crazy person.
If it hadn’t been for the two Amish girls next door who saw my plight and came running over with grain to help corner him, I am sure he would have been hit by a logging truck.
I find that being slowed down on the roads when I am behind one of their horse-drawn buggies is not an inconvenience, but a reminder that I moved out here to slow down.
We have made several friends with the local “English” as well and I am surprised at how open and friendly people are.
Our neighbor across the street is the former county extension agent. He has become our lifeline for farm knowledge and helped make the transition from the city easier for us.
We are lucky to have found both a good country vet and farrier, who does great work and keeps us entertained with his stories.
Work in progress. Slowly our little farm has blossomed. We added goats and chickens to our family. Put fresh coats of paint on the barn and outbuildings, repaired downed fence and put up new.
It is still a work in progress. We need stalls in the barn, the arena needs fenced, the garage is tilting at an odd angle and the house hasn’t been touched inside or out, other than a coat of paint over the hideous wallpaper.
After eight months, the house is now a happy place, and I have not felt a moment of moroseness since that first night.
Sometimes when I am up in the far pasture listening to the Amish girls singing, and watching my dogs hunting for critters in the underbrush, I feel the house embracing me, thanking me, and I feel like I have finally come home.
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