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Attempting some kind of something at homestead
From the Valley
CHASCA’S COWS like the scratches they get from Em on the couple’s hillbilly homestead. Staying home more than usual during a global health pandemic means the little family has been able to pay a lot of attention to becoming as self-sufficient as possible.

RISING SUN - If you read about my antics giving a pig a shot or any number of my other columns you may have realized I’m attempting some kind of something in this little homesteader life. 

It seems like there are many like me, young folks either escaping the wilds of the concrete jungle for the romance of the homestead in the Driftless, or perhaps following in the footsteps of what they’ve always known, but with a modern twist. Back to the land, farmers, movers and shakers-what better place to scratch out such a life than pocketed in these rolling hills? 

Once again, I was flicking through old issues of the Crawford County Independent, this time from 1959, trying to find some kind of inspiration for this weeks ‘From the Valley.’ 

I came across one of my favorites, Pearl Swiggum’s Kaffee column. 

This one made me laugh a little, because she starts talking about lard soap. A project I have plans to undertake, but I’m missing some fancy gadgets, like an immersion blender. It’s something I feel I need, that Pearl probably didn’t have in 1959. However, that doesn't mean that life, albeit simpler, didn’t have its struggles with modern technology. 

She writes, “Grandma’s lye soap is playing hob with the newer synthetic fabrics in our laundry. An overabundance of lard prompted us to make some homemade soap. Pure cotton articles come off the line snowy white. Disciplined cottons, anything that contains a little nylon- and you would be surprised how many things do- all pick up a grimy curd. And pure nylon articles attract all the lard in the soap and become greasy and gray. How lucky are we that inventions keep step with each other. New fabrics and preparations to give them modern care.” 

She goes on to write about how she has utilized the bartering system with her neighbor. This is something I’ve begun to love about having a little farmstead. I’ve traded baby clothes for wool dryer balls, eggs and pork for beef, bacon for books, seeds, beef and pork for a birthday cake, and lard for homemade tamales. 

I have a friend who really hit the jackpot when she traded two piglets for a gorgeous handmade wool sweater of the highest quality. It’s locally made I believe from the wool of her own flock. And it is simply stunning. I hope to be at that level of barter success someday. 

For Pearl, it happened like this. “One of our favorite neighbors is partnering us in a little old-fashioned barter and trade. We trade lard (we have seven gallons left from the two hogs we butchered before Christmas) for eggs. This farm hasn’t known poultry since the old hen crowed last fall and we ate her.” 

There is also the joy of the world around us. We were all treated to quite a sight last week as Rime Ice/Hoar Frost crusted everything as far as the eye could see. 

“I drove to Viroqua and over each hill and around every curve I audibly gasped,” shared Chasca’s Grandpa Mark of the incredible beauty of the crystallized wonderland.  

Pearl too, captured the beauty of January in our fair area. 

“Nature sings a lullaby for a Wisconsin January,” Pearl wrote. “All things sleep that look to the earth for sustenance. Trees, so deep in slumber they are unaware of tiny feet of birds and squirrels as they skitter over rough bark, searching for stashed food. Flowers rest in the arms of Morpheus; daffodils, with alarm clocks set for early wakening; and roses, slower to bed and slower to rise. Honey, made through a long hot summer, now gives creature comfort to lethargic bees. Black ants, inert in tunneled chunks of firewood, awake to false spring in the warm wood box behind the kitchen stove. Snoozing under a deep snow coverlet, strawberries and horseradish dream of warm days. Though both draw life from the same rich soil ‘tis fate that one’s dreams are sweet, the other’s bitter. Wrapped tightly in her frigid blanket, the winter-shrunken creek sleeps and murmurs in her sleep. Dozing fitfully, fall sown rye keeps one green eye open, peeking through the snow, watching for spring.” 

How fortunate are we to live this kind of life. Even those of us who are not homesteading, or farming. Those of us who are lucky to wake up, loved and cared for, such a privilege to have.  Whether it be by chance, inherited or drastic change. We are luckier than many, tucked away safely in the soft earth of our little slices of paradise. 

It can feel like when we turn our eyes away from the beauty of our life and onto the horrors beyond our front door that the world things feel frightening. It seems like a common theme anymore–terror, hate, abuse, absurd, unfathomable things. These are things we must continue to recognize and continue to change, for the better. 

Choosing while tucked under the blanket of winter to dream sweet dreams of more peaceful and harmonious days–for change is on the horizon. And like spring, it comes around to the homestead and new plants burst forward and sweet new life takes its first gulp of air, so will we, collectively as humans. Because hate cannot sustain us, hate will not help us thrive. And we too, must continue to be moving forward.