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Friday, March 12, 2010

Suburban idyll

Risa's feeling a bit under the weather (it's storming out and she's fighting an ear infection). Not much is doing, so some more flashback may be in order.

Here is Beloved, at her teacher's desk in The Little Country School, about 1982. In 1983 the Bears left the Coast Range for a brief stint in Pennsylvania, where Risa apprenticed herself to a master letterpress printer and Beloved kept house. The situation became economically untenable, and they returned after ten months, with help from friends, to the Willamette Valley, and although Risa's body was no longer really up to it, she went back to what she knew: contract forestry -- specifically timber cruising.

They bought a tiny old farmhouse on a quarter-acre lot around which the suburbs had sprung up. The house had fruit trees, a free-standing garage-shop, and just enough space for a flock of ducks and a generous-sized garden. Almost their first act was to create a small attached greenhouse for vegetable starts.

Their previous flock of ducks had been Muscovies. For increased egg production and less emphasis on meat, this time they chose Khaki Campbells.

Home educators at this time, the family was careful to include animal husbandry, orcharding ...

... and gardening in the curriculum.

As devotees of Colin Fletcher's The Complete Walker, they also taught a years-long home-ed course in wilderness backpacking and camping.

Pressures mounted, however. Beloved became a librarian and Risa worked first in the woods, then in printing and bindery, and finally went back to school full-time, to secure access to work less physically demanding (which led to a 22-year career as a university employee). Their homesteading skills became increasingly rusty, everyone was watching more and more television, and the neighborhood became dangerous. There were knife fights. Rapes. A murder. Their garage was twice burglarized, with the evidence pointing to people across the street. The understaffed and overburdened city police did not seem very interested.

Risa looked out the living-room window one afternoon, to see the house across the street surrounded by two dozen police officers with guns drawn, who seemed to have their own reasons for taking an interest in the occupants this time. She bade the children lie on the floor in the back bedroom until she gave the all-clear.

Some people face this kind of thing by becoming neighborhood activists. Risa admires them, but there are times when, if you think you can afford to, you do what seems likely to benefit those closest to you in the relatively short term. This might, she thought, be one of those times.

When Beloved came home from work, Risa called a meeting.

"What say we try to get back to the country?"

Mostly, two miles an hour is good going. -- Colin Fletcher


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