Monday, September 4, 2017

We Bought An Old Farmhouse

It is the first day on our new farm. Actually, it is an old farm originally subdivided in the early 1800s. The farm house was built in 1900 and this will be my first night in a home that has lovingly provided shelter for many hard working farmers. I am not sure how it will take to having an urban farm girl under its roof.

This new adventure in my life is dedicated to all of you with an aching heart to follow your passion. Young or old, it is never too late. Hold the dream close, think about it often, and there will come a time when it is your reality. Destiny brought two people together that longed for farm living since they were small children. Our new journey awaits us.

We arrive eight minutes past my projected ETA for a trip that has brought me 1500 miles across the country.  When we left Arizona it was just under 110 degrees F. When we arrive in Wisconsin, it is in the mid-70s. After three days of driving and pulling a U-Haul trailer, we are anxious to see our first sunset.

"This road doesn't look right," I complain turning down another country road.  "But the sign says McMillen, that's our street."
 Joe continues to argue with me."Google Maps says we're on the right road."  It has been many hours of driving and my bladder longs to try out the plumbing in my old farm house.
"I would have been on time if you knew how to follow directions. Why don't we know where we're going?"

Through a series of wrong turns, we end up at the right house. Our first lesson in this new community is that there are two streets named Mcmillen less than half a mile apart.  The wrong one is spelled, McMillin with an "i". Not only that but McMillen turns into McIntyre. I drive by a farm named McCollough. There must have been a lot of Scottish farmers that settled here.

Our little farm house is a white, two story with green trim and a red brick chimney. It sits on seven acres and is surrounded by several "out buildings" and 72 acres of prime farmland. I have seen it in a dream. I know this sounds ridiculous, but over 15 years ago I dreamed I stood in a grassy yard looking at this very home. I never forgot the dream because I was so happy. It was more than happy, I was content and fulfilled. My eyes welled up with tears as the truck came to a stop. I look at the house and it is the same image that has remained in my mind for over a decade. Was I there before or was the dream a premonition of what was to come? All possibilities were on the table, but I was brought back to reality by my very human need to find a toilet.

The house from my dream
I am scared and eye the toilet with great suspicion.  The toilet looks modern as does the remodeled bathroom. Still, I don't know what will happen when I flush. I take my chances standing back in case something goes terribly wrong. There is a loud gurgle, a large gush, but the outcome, should I say outflow, is successful. Something needs tweaking but that is the plumber's problem. Later I would find out that it wasn't until the 1950s that an indoor bathroom was added to this farm house.  To the farmer's credit, he did have boys and girls outhouses to accommodate his family.

"We're going to miss the sunset," Joe whines. We bolt out the door following the farmer's tractor tracks that lead to the back forty acres. Topping the second hill where the last tree stands we are rewarded with a beautiful view and acres of fuzzy soybeans or just beans, as the farmers say. It has been a day of wonder as the solar eclipse took place earlier today. Astrologers believe eclipses bring change. I have a feeling they are right.

I had been advised that the mosquitos attack 20 minutes before sunset and 20 minutes before dawn.  Obviously, they were aware of this rule as the assault begin immediately. I learned that the rumor was true: Wisconsin mosquitoes are larger and slower than those in Arizona. This made them easier to swat and murder with great joy on my part.

On return, I approach the screen door.  "There's a frog on our door," I state, trying to sound calm like this is an everyday occurrence. He is bright green and adorable. "Is it normal for them to cling sideways like that?" Our Sonoran desert toads do not climb things.  They lay in my garden and snuggle in the mud. Joe does not answer me. His mind is somewhere else and I have grown accustomed to this behavior.

I turn on the faucet to wash my hands. "There isn't any water pressure," I state again, but this time with more anxiety in my voice.  "And no hot water. Didn't you turn on the pump in the barn?"  The well that supplies our little farm has a pump switch in the old dairy barn out back. It is dark and the first time Joe went out there something or someone was not happy at being disturbed. Racoon? Badger? Possum? Wild, rabid farm dog? There are so many choices.

"I can check in the morning but I really don't want to go out there now."
I can't blame him.  Sadly, my hot shower is put on hold. The survivalist in me formulates a new plan.
"You can pee outside.  I just won't flush. We have bottled water from the trip. 'Long as I can make coffee in the morning, we'll be fine." 

Time for sleep. I try to make my "nest" but there are cobwebs, live and dead bugs and spiders everywhere. I hand him a flyswatter.  "Kill everything that moves," I command. So much for live and let live. "And close the bedroom door in case someone wants in. And leave a light on so I can see them coming." My demands have been made. 

Our furniture if you can call it that, is all portable and must be stored in the basement when we leave. It is our hope that we can rent the farm house until our return next summer. For now, we must make a few cosmetic changes and prepare for new occupants. My bed is a twin mattress and a metal trundle frame brought from our cabin. His bed is a futon pad that sits on the floor. This will be home sweet home for the next few weeks.

Things are always better in the daylight. Joe discovers he really didn't turn on the well pump yesterday. He flipped a switch belonging an old light that didn't even exist anymore. Wires and cords wander everywhere from generations of remodeling. The old is never removed, evident by many farms with collapsed out buildings.

My house will be filled with contractors for the next week. The first new visitor is our electrician, Jody and his assistant, Rob. Like all Wisconsin folks, he is so nice. They actually have a name for this behavior, "Wisconsin Nice." Clean air and happy people. It is nice. My peace is short-lived.  I make my way down to the stone basement. Halfway down the stairs I stop and call out, "Joe! Can you come get this dead mouse?" I can't be sure but it looks like he/she has not been there long. Again, I am ignored.  I leave the mouse and back out of the basement.
Old wiring and light fixtures that were replaced.

Later I hear Jody call out to Rob. "Can you come down here and get this snake?" I make eye contact with Rob trying to keep a poker face. "He hates snakes," he explains. I can feel my skin getting thicker. Spiders, dead mice and now a snake.  I may be getting used to this lifestyle but I am not happy about it. No one answers Jody's call. I take pity.

"What kind is it?" I call down, thinking of my friendly rattlesnakes at home in Arizona. I had relocated one last summer, sunning himself on my cabin porch.  I grab a plastic tub and meet Rob in the basement. Jody stands in a corner. I note the dead mouse is only a few feet from the snake. The little, mottled snake is shoveled into the tub and I carry him to daylight.

I must familiarize myself with this new environment. They say there are no dangerous predators in this land. I approach my locksmith, Brandt. "Do you know what this is?" He looks in the tub.  How would I have known that he was a snake afficionado?
"Oh sure, that's called a milk snake, member of the king family, they are constrictors, harmless.  Farmers thought they would milk the cows." I was right, the mouse was a fresh kill and IJody had interrupted the snake's lunch. But how and why was he in my basement?

Before the day is over Jody discovers one of our supporting walls is weakening in our stone basement. "You can actually move the stones," he tells Joe. What else would I expect after 117 years? This explains why the kitchen floor tilts several inches toward the back deck and the refrigerator door closes automatically. 

"Tomorrow the basement contractor comes," Joe tells me. I send out positive thoughts that this is not a serious issue. 

When I wake on my second day I take my coffee outside and sit on the front porch. Around me, the world comes to life. I hear bird calls that are unfamiliar. Down the street, Moose the burro, is singing his morning hee-haw. Dairy cows bellow in the distance and somewhere a train whistle blows. The rumble of a tractor announces its passage as farmers race to collect and bale alfalfa. Trees that have stood for more than a hundred years rustle in the breeze. Our plan to rent this house, build, and live in a new one is on the verge of change. I wander to the back where Joe is standing. "I feel like I'm waking up in a park," I say. 
My Victorian style porch

"I know, if we build on a new plot we won't have these trees."
"And this house has such-- character," I add. Despite yesterday's issues I still feel good energy from this house. "Maybe we can work out the kinks, add our own style." Neither one of us commits either way.

When the realtor calls on the third morning to see how we are doing, I meet his question with honesty and sarcasm, my usual style. "Well, the first day there was the dead rodent and the live snake in the basement and we found a crumbling foundation wall so I wanted to leave." Pete is the epitome of Wisconsin Nice. There is a long pause on the other end and I worry he is feeling guilty for selling us this land. I continue. "But then we killed all the spiders and wasps, Joe figured out how to turn on the well pump so we have running water and I can shower. And then there are these beautiful trees. So now I think I want to stay. But it's early in the morning.  I'll let you know how the third day goes."  I hand the phone to Joe and prepare to meet another day.

When I was in nursing school the instructors warned us about the challenges we would face over the next two years.  They had a special mantra, "Every day, a new beginning, many times." Stepping outside, I repeat the familiar mantra out-loud knowing I can get through this adventure and may even come to enjoy it.

Next: Exploration