River to Farm

In a matter of 24 hours, Hutch broke his leg and we bought a farm. Life is feeling… bittersweet. I type this sitting in a hospital recliner getting an IV iron infusion for my pregnant and anemic body. I sit in a space where the other patients are older, here for their fifth or fiftieth time for mostly cancer.. I assume this by the conversations I overhear and the fact that they have all come with a chest port (a long term IV access device implanted in their chest).

As a nurse, I am around this kind of thing all the time. Being a part of someone’s illness, pain, life-changing moments, and hard conversations are parts of my daily routine; ones that I hold sacred.

This week everything feels a bit more sensitive and meaningful- personally sacred. It could be the fact that Hutch and I were both the patients this week. It could be the increased sensitivity I have to Hutch’s pain and courage and adaptability and the knowing that soon, he will not be the only baby that I give all my love to.

It could be that my patients this week remind me of my own family- a young man with a multi-month hospitalization under his belt and a baby due soon and another man who is near my dad’s age who is nonverbal now but has a list of likes written on his board which include Diet Mountain Dew, 80s rock, and chopping wood.

(pic of my dad below)

My sensitivity could be coming from pregnancy hormones or the multiple days of gloomy clouds. It could be that my sister will delivering her baby any day now and the anticipation and gratitude I have in knowing I get to be with her when she meets her daughter (as long as I get there in time).

Finally, it might be the bittersweet transition we are making from living on the boathouse we built and love to buying and living in my grandparent’s house on the farm where my mom grew up and where I also spent much of my vibrant childhood.

When we built the boathouse, we moved into it just two days before Hutch’s due date. Once again, we make this transition of place just two months before bringing our baby girl into the world. It all feels very… soulful.

So yes, a lot is going on. It is mostly good things except for that one little limping leg.

I skimmed over some details in that fairly brief but definitely tangential life update; I’ll provide more context here now…

We’ll start with Hutch’s injury as I’m sure you’re wondering how on the list of 101 ways did this two-year-old break his leg. As most injuries go, it happened unexpectedly…not to mention in the presence of 4 adults. We were hustling to get to my dad’s birthday dinner. While moving the car seat with Hutch in it, in search of a seat belt so we could all ride together, Hutch’s foot got caught and twisted between his seat and the seat in front of him resulting in a nondisplaced low tibia fracture. We never made it to dad’s birthday dinner. Instead, the Urgent Care provider told us we would be carrying our 26 pound toddler around for six weeks- the prescribed time that Hutch would need to be non-weight bearing.

I suppose you could say that our timing in purchasing a more accessible home was somewhat serendipitous. The morning after Hutch broke his leg, we met with my parents and aunt and uncle to sign for the purchase of my grandparent’s homestead and 20 acres. Suddenly, after seven years of living on the water, we were land dwellers again.

After meeting with Orthopedics a couple days later, Hutch’s leg was casted and we were told that he could now walk on it. This was a huge relief. We could see our toddler play on his own two feet again and his pregnant mom wouldn’t have to carry around a toddler on top of her bowling ball tummy for the final two months of pregnancy. Whew.

Now, I’ll reflect on the reasons why our move feels both bittersweet and soulful…

Of course, you know that we love the river. The title of this blog might give you some indication. We have also loved living in our small spaces (142 square feet in the houseboat and 576 square feet in the boathouse). The perks of a small space include minimal stuff, quick cleaning time, and lots of togetherness.

We value being off the grid on the boathouse; that has felt meaningful.

Being on the river has also brought interconnectedness to nature and its cycles and changes. There is a humility in having your home and travel to your home be directly affected by the climate much like the birds and the beavers that live so closely among us.

The river is a magical place. If you watch the sun set on a calm night or marvel at the beauty of birds during migration, you’ll understand.

Lastly and maybe mostly, we have loved our communities. At both Watergate Marina in Saint Paul and Latsch Island in Winona, we have known and loved people that live purposefully, simply, and with joy, humor, and grit. They include the rebel, the recluse, the scholar, and the artist. They are as kind as they are eclectic. These people feel like kindred spirits and have become like family.

We will continue to keep the boathouse. I love it too much. Michael knows that I plan to spend my dying days there. Michael has plotted his final days to be at our cabin up north, so we’ll see how this all turns out…

When people ask about raising kids on the boathouse, I can say that it was the perfect place to spend our first two years of Hutch’s life. We were together, undisturbed, and so very alive.

Now, as Hutch gains independence and can wander on his own a bit, I recognize that Hutch has two options in playing outside. On one side of our boathouse is a moving river and on the other side is an island full of poison ivy. You could say that these are not the most toddler-friendly settings. As a young child, I once used poison ivy as toilet paper so I’m well aware of its consequences.

So, that was the gist of the bitter and the sweet in my whirlwind of emotions this week. I will now elaborate on the soulful part of this transition.

When Michael and I got married, we had a vague but incredibly aligned idea of what our life together might include. To live a life in harmony with the earth was one of our biggest ideals. This can be practiced in many forms- buying local food, using solar energy, conserving water use, buying less, disposing of less, etc. These are practical ways to respect the earth but there is a spiritual aspect as well. The spiritual connection happens when you put your hands in the dirt, make something grow, watch the animals and learn the purpose of their patterns, or when you base your activities around the wind, temperature, or rain.

I grew up around farming. Both of my grandparents had dairy farms. They also crop farmed as my dad currently does on a smaller scale. He’s always loved the land and is the happiest outside, a trait I’ve also inherited.

(pic of my dad and me below)

It is hard to write about my family because it is such a deep and important part of me. Words seem to do no justice.

(pic of my mom below)

I grew up within three miles of most of my relatives, the majority of those were within a single mile. On many days, I would see both sets of my grandparents at each of their farms, and sometimes my great-grandparents who were also next door.

My best friends were my cousins, and two of them were just a gravel road bike ride away. I spent my days riding bikes, doing chores, playing in the woods, visiting the animals, making hay forts, jumping in the feed, swimming in the creek, milking cows, or playing hide and seek in the cornfield.

Now, of course, with a little life experience under my belt, I realize my fortune in growing up like this. I was so free and in touch with the land and the people who love me. Growing up is a funny thing in that you gain so much wisdom and insight but you are still that curious and sensitive person with all the wonder still in there. I think that many of us strive to return to that wonder but don’t know how to fit it into our adult lives with work and schedules and responsibilities and the many societal expectations that we are expected to adhere to.

By the way, our inner child would probably care less about societal expectations, mine would anyway.

I say all this as buying this 20 acre slice of my Grandma and Grandpa Johnson’s farm is like returning to my inner child and bringing my own kids and husband there with me. It feels like the most soulful thing I’ve ever done.

I do want to talk about my four grandparents a little more. While words will never do them justice, it might be fun to give you a little snapshot of who these people are to me.

Grandpa Johnson was very smart. He was serious but witty. He was curious but afraid to fly so he did all his learning through books or conversation. He raised beautiful Brown Swiss cows; they were even featured on the cover of a national farming magazine. He was a ruthless card shark and went to play cards frequently with his brother, Ray. Grandpa knew every answer to every question on Jeopardy. He read encyclopedias for fun. I often wish I could talk to him now- about history or land use or any of the other million topics he was so well-versed in. As an adult, I think I would understand and appreciate him a little more. I think we’d be really good friends, and if I could, I’d try to get him to go on a plane with me. His parents, “Grandpa Art and Grandma Dorothy” were also next door. We spent many afternoons and evenings there reading books with them and eating all of their Fig Newtons.

Grandma Johnson is always calm and full of love. For multiple years, she took care of her four and sometimes five grandchildren day in and day out. I marvel at the ease in which she fed us, kept us behaved enough, and still allowed us to be free and curious throughout the farm or down by the creek. Grandma J did all the most nurturing things for us- she rocked us on her lap for hours, crocheted afghans for each of us, made cakes for all our birthdays and each of our weddings, and always always always stepped outside to blow us kisses and give us a wave when we drove away. Grandma J may sound overwhelmingly gentle, and she is, but she is also very strong and resilient. Grandma took care of Grandpa for multiple years. She kept her house and her garden and yard beautifully cared for. She was and is a true caretaker and role model. I adore her for her coexisting grace and strength. Also, she was a beautiful pianist and singer- two qualities I definitely did not have the honor to inherit.

Grandpa Larson or “Papa” has the kind of qualities that everyone in the world could use a little more of. Papa is patient, kind, playful, and hard working. He started his own farm as a young man and continues to keep a beautiful homestead complete with gardens and a basketball hoop for anyone who dares to challenge him to a game of horse. He has mastered the art of tinkering in his shed. Hutch will always say, “Papa will fix it” whenever a toy gets broken. Papa is often the only person I know that would give an old toy the patience and time needed to bring it back to life. I’ve watched Papa take care of his animals and play with his great-grandchildren with the same kind of love and undivided attention. He will watch birds or play in the sandbox for hours with Hutch. I remember him doing this for me too. My heart knows true goodness because of Papa. I am so grateful that my kids get to know Papa like I have; it is one of my greatest blessings.

Grandma Larson is dynamic. “Dynamic” is one of my favorite adjectives and one that I use sparingly for a person or experience that can be described in no other adequate way. I am certain that I get my deep feelings from Grandma. She can be passionate, sensitive, and even fiery. I love this about her. Grandma is the ultimate people person. She welcomes everyone into her home and will show them love and a good time until the moment they leave. She taught me how to set a table and that you should always greet your guests at the door and walk them out when they leave. She served Michael shots of Drambuie the first time he visited. Smart lady- booze will make the boyfriends talk. Grandma has been there for my every milestone- athletic games, spelling bees, graduations, proms. She traveled 3 hours to watch my nurse pinning ceremony and showed up at my first hospital job when I was surprised with a DAISY award. Grandma had ambitions to be a nurse, and in every step of my experience to become one, she has been right there in my corner. Grandma likes a party, but she also likes to spend days with her hands in the dirt pulling weeds or planting flowers. She works hard, always has, and she makes it look easy. She is the perfect example of living life to the very fullest.

In describing my grandparents, I hope you can understand why this move is incredibly soulful. It is a return to my heritage, to the wonder of my inner child, and to the land that my grandparents chose for us. These are the spaces that raised my parents and later raised me. Within three miles of the farm we’ve now bought, my parents and Grandma and Grandpa Larson remain along with my aunt and uncle, my mom’s cousin and his family, and my great aunt. The roots run deep and wide around here, like Garvin Brook after a spring flood.

In a world of distraction where we could be anywhere doing anything, returning here and digging deeper into our roots and ourselves feels exactly… perfect.