For the last two months, I have lived in an RV belonging to Ben Pfeffer, founder of Raisin’ Roots farm in Fort Collins, CO. I have worked about 250 hours at the farm, during which I have learned countless skills that will last me the rest of my life. When I first arrived, I felt frightened to enter a coop with eighty chickens. By the end, I fed them and move about them in comfort, picking them up with no hesitation. I now know the difference between annuals and perennials, between hoeing and feathering, between nightshades and brassicas.
What the folks do here is nothing short of incredible. With just over two acres of land, they have been able to harvest over 35,000 pounds of produce over the course of the season, last April until the end of October. They sell a great deal of that produce each week at the Farmer’s Market, they sell measured-out portions to at least six restaurants in town, and they sell 25 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares to members of the Fort Collins community who want both to help local organic farming efforts and enjoy those farms’ returns.
Throughout these two months, I have been offered as much of this produce as I desire. Never in my life have I eaten such fresh arugula, lettuce, turnips, beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes, collards, chard, kale, cucumber, and squash. Even as the chickens struggled with a mite infestation and thus laid less frequently than desired, Ben and Sam Jones (Ben’s second hand man) always offered the eggs to me, saying they’d rather I have them than make $6-$7 a dozen. Thus, nearly every morning, I have eaten two eggs of the yellowest yolks I’ve ever seen laid about fifty yards from where I sleep.
I now understand why organic produce is so important. I have tasted the difference. I feel I cannot go back to the cheap, pesticide-bearing produce I’ve purchased through my adult life. Organics are more expensive. Thus, I have focused on eating less. I have found I need less food than I have become accustomed to eating. Toward the end of my time here, I fasted for 40 hours, consuming only water and herbal tea. Through the hunger pains that arose, I felt liberating energy and realized that my hunger need not dictate my mood. I have gotten used to satisfying every urge to eat that arises. Sometimes cravings ought not be satisfied. Sometimes our body simply needs to process what’s already been put in it. Then, once digestion finds a moment to pause, it can use its energy to heal other wounded parts of ourselves, both physical and non.
No longer do I drink coffee every day as I have for many, many years. In fact, I’ve drank only about four or five cups since moving out here August 29th. I realize it makes me anxious. It makes me stressed. It distances me from my spirit. I do not need it. Then, on the rare occasion that I do indulge, it becomes a nice treat, rather than a dependency.
Above all, I am grateful to Ben and Sam for so willingly taking me in. I had no farming experience coming in. I’d been working in a classroom for three years, meaning the only time I used my hands was to type stuff and write things on a board. Still they brought me in and never used my lack of experience against me. Instead, they thoroughly explained every part of the process about which I inquired, patiently ensuring I was equipped to perform the necessary tasks. Continually they reached out to make sure I was doing well, physically, mentally, and spiritually. If they were having a bad day, they did all they could to keep it distinct from their interactions with me and the volunteers. They are two of the most mindful people I have met who have worked their butts off to bring a vision to be. That vision now exists in a physical form on W Vine St. in Fort Collins.
That’s one of the many things I have taken from this experience: building a vision takes time, focused effort, and extreme dedication. You have to show up each day, whether that vision is a business, a novel, or a relationship. We have to trust our visions, but we cannot expect them to come on a silver platter. Rather, we have to work every day to define what reachable, practical steps we need take to continue building that reality. We are capable of so much more than we know.
Much on the horizon! Too early to report on what it will be! Regardless, I’m stoked to be staying in Fort Collins and moving ever deeper into this amazing community.
As I prepared to move to Colorado, basically everyone, including the voice of doubt inside my head, said the same thing, which boiled down to: Good luck affording it!
How many versions of this did I hear?
It’s expensive as hell out there!
Hope you have a job lined up!
Good luck paying for rent, bud!
It freaked me out, especially because my jaunts through Craigslist indicated veracity to these claims. Yes, property values are extremely high along the Front Range, and unless the mountains suddenly crumble, that’s only going to increase. I saw rent in Boulder going for $800 with like seven people living in a two-bedroom place. I figured I’d be lucky to find a closet I could afford. Needless to say, this caused a lot of stress.
But this moment, two days before my final day at Raisin’ Roots Farm, I am pleased that I have found a place to live in Fort Collins.
It’s about three miles from Raisin’ Roots farm, west of town, where horses graze in large fields new developments have not invaded. It’s about as close to the Front Range as places get in this town. What that means is every time I walk outside, I will simply have to turn right and I will be staring at the old Rocky Mountains. Every day, I will let them remind me how freaking incredible this place is.
To top off the location, I will not be living in a closet. In fact, I will have my own bedroom. There’s a very big kitchen. There is heating. The electricity and plumbing work. And you know how much it’ll cost?
$275 a month.
That’s over three times cheaper than what I paid for three years in Kansas City.
But I had my own space in KC. And now I will be living with people. But as it turns out, the people I’m living with are fantastic.We’ve explored Rocky Mountain National Park, done archery, and wandered aimlessly together. I’m living with a great young couple with very open minds and endless enthusiasm for exploration, and recently, we brought in a dude who WWOOFed at Raisin’ Roots, meaning that in May, he slept in the very same bed where I’ve slept that past two months. The thing is, the couple we’re living with–who had the place lined up–met us independently of each other. Some strange cosmic stuff seems to be going on. How wild!
Things work out in such funny ways. This all just sort of happened. Here’s how.
My first Saturday in Fort Collins, I strolled to the Farmer’s Market to check out Raisin’ Roots’ stand. The market was bumping with music and activity. I got drawn in to a few stands but didn’t feel strong connections to the folks. One stand, however, attracted me with its highly energetic people working. I got to talking with a short, strong brunette girl at the booth about podcasting, and it turned out she was looking to start one quite similar to the new one I’m starting, which will be called—Surprise!—”Alternate Pathways”.
Amid our spontaneous and exuberant convo, I told her I was new to town with no plans beyond my two months at Raisin’ Roots. Moments later, a sweet blonde girl who also worked at the stand popped out of nowhere and said, “Are you looking for a place to live?”
“Yeah,” I said.
She replied, “My boyfriend and I may be looking for a new roommate! Let’s exchange contact info.” We stayed in touch, hung out several times over the last month and a half, and voila! They liked me, I liked them, and now with the addition of the final ex-Raisin’-Roots-WWOOFer to complete the Quantum loop, we now have a complete housing unit in a fantastic location. No Craigslist. No hosteling. Just meeting people and letting something organic grow.
Here’s a bit of advice. If you’re ever looking to live in a small place shared with three other people, live in an RV for two months. Make sure there are several nights below freezing where you wake up with a numb nose. Then, the new situation is going to sound like a palace.
I couldn’t be more stoked. I can hardly believe how well it’s worked out. Another good bit of news is that I got a job as well.
It took three rounds of interviews to get the gig. I will elaborate on it more soon as things become embedded.
Once again, the lesson is clear:
Don’t define your future by expectations set by others.
That includes popular opinion, as reflected through the media or those closest to you. Your future is yours to define. Express what you want from life with confidence, and be open to surprising developments. Unexpected realities will come to be. All you have to do is recognize them and embrace them.
It’s amazing how quickly things become familiar. I was having an average night cooking in this RV when I suddenly realized that cooking in this RV is not an average night at all. Rather, it’s a remarkably new experience that six months ago I never could have foreseen. I remembered that I am living in an RV on a farm in Fort Collins when six months ago I was teaching English at an all-boys Catholic high school in Kansas City dreaming about moving to Colorado. Lately I’ve been struck by these sudden moments that seem to gleam in mystical light. The novelty of everything around me is revealed. I realize that the people I am spending time with and laughing with and debating with and growing with are people I never knew existed a month and a half ago. The bed on which I sleep is not my own. Each realization is a beautiful experience, for it makes me feel profoundly grateful, and when I feel grateful, I am really stoked to be alive.
Familiarization must be the mind’s way of feeling at home in the world. So quickly it turns an unfamiliar environment into something familiar, something we can categorize. It’s when we are experiencing something that the mind can’t categorize that tension enters. The mind can’t become familiar in moments that are too uncomfortable, cause the mind’s established limits are threatened. Then the ego might break. So we cling. We try to hold it together. We search for a place of comfort in our minds. Go to your happy place! they say.
But we must continually embrace discomfort. Cause when we do, we open to letting go of our illusory identity.
When we let go, we open ourselves into a new environment, and the mind finds room to explore territories it previously did not know existed. Those territories can be very frightening. But so much possibility exists in them, and we open to evolution.
So the mind creates something familiar amidst the unfamiliar. I am sure our ancestors did the same thing. It’s the only way we can feel home in a world that is still unpredictable and not always safe. It’s amazing how many places we’re able to find comfort in today’s world.
This summer I took several road trips. The first was with my good friend Ryan, whom I hadn’t seen in some time. Ryan drove us through the Great Plains, exploring the open space of Nebraska, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. At one point we stopped in Ogallala, NE to grab a burger and a beer. We sat in an old saloon and ordered from a waiter who seemed he’d never left the small area. Within minutes of sitting down I had filtered away all the novelty of the situation. I was just thinking, I wonder what burger I’m gonna get? At one point I looked around and recognized I had never seen any of this before. Suddenly the world illuminated in possibility.
That keeps happening. I know it’s going to continue to keep happening, because my next steps in life are developing beyond this farming experience, and these steps will once again be very new.
I keep thinking this is paralleled with our minds. What I mean is as we establish these patterns of comfort in our external circumstances that can lead to a decreased sense of the novelty of each moment, so we reside in comfortable patterns of the mind. What’s interesting about the mind though is that sometimes these “comfortable” patterns are actually very uncomfortable. For instance, for many years, I resided in the mental pattern that I am a very rotten person at the core of my being. (I theorize this has something to do with the embedded notion of Original Sin.) It alway felt terrible thinking that, yet it seemed it was the only perception available. It’s taken listening to new perspectives and pausing to hear deeper internal voices to recognize that these notions are false.
For some reason, our mind creates this limited perception of ourselves that so often veers toward the negative. These thoughts become so familiar that they convince us of their absolute truth. It’s really hard to break away from these. It might be a lifelong journey. There is no shame in seeking help—therapy helped me get the ball rolling with this ongoing path to open my mind to give and receive love. I mess up all the freaking time. I get angry for stupid reasons. I convince myself of stories about myself and my surroundings that don’t correspond to truth. But I always strive to question my current state of mind, especially if I notice my external habits getting out of whack. That’s when I know there’s something internal in need of addressing, because external habits and internal habits work in conjunction with one another. It’s helped me a lot to recognize that these limiting, self-defeating thoughts are simply habits. When I have grown accustomed to feeding the wolf of fear and doubt, I focus on feeding the wolf of confidence and self-love.
It can be very hard to change an external habit. Internal ones are even more difficult. But because they are connected, changing the external is one of the best ways to change the internal. Haven’t you ever cleaned a room and felt like in the process you cleaned your mind as well? (1)
So sitting in this RV and recalling the novelty of this entire journey helps me realize that it’s time to keep letting go of these overly-familiar habits. Everything around me is unfamiliar. Everything is new. In this newness, this space outside the limits of perception, there’s a whole lot of energy and love.
1: This idea is beautifully explored in Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Through fixing his motorcycle, Pirsig is really fixing himself.)
The chickens here at the farm where I’m living have a mite issue. Apparently it’s because several of them were purchased from a place that didn’t take good care of them. What this means is the mites have now spread to many chickens, preventing them from consistently laying eggs. The mites suck the chickens’ blood, and slowly the chickens’ feathers fall off.
This has been an issue since I arrived, and we have done many things to try and rid of these nasty little buggers. The most memorable thing has been to “dust” the chickens. We first did this about three weeks ago. Sam, Farmer Ben’s apprentice, had me and Nora, the RV dwellers, join him at the coop at sundown. We brought headlamps, and Sam provided masks and rubber gloves. Our task was to grab each of the eighty chickens, restrain their ecstatic flapping, maneuver through their feathers, and cover the skin with diatomaceous earth (D.E.). Theoretically, D.E. should suffocate the mites, finally ridding of their pesky presence.
The chickens were all roosting in the coop. Apparently they were in some dream-like state, despite still making strange noises and looking around. Nora and I watched Sam as he grabbed one, held her upside-down by her feet, brought her outside, and spread the D.E. beneath all her bottom feathers. Once done, Sam flipped her over and did his best to restrain her suddenly-flapping wings. He then spread D.E. under her top feathers, walked her back to the outside chicken run, and dropped her off. This was our task for all eighty.
It took a long time.
I had never held a chicken before. I always got a little freaked at the sight of their crazy flapping wings. Now they were flapping their wings all up in my face. Amazingly, once one grabs their feet and straightens their body upside-down, they just sort of hang there. It was the flipping over part that led to the frenzy of flaps. As they’d flap, they’d grip my hand with their talons, and soon enough they shredded my rubber gloves. Nora whispered and apologized to each chicken she handled. Sam insisted we were helping them, not hurting them. It became a struggle to breathe beneath the mask. When we finally finished, Nora booked it back to the RV without saying another word.
I write this three weeks after that event. There is still a mite issue.
So last night we went back into the coop. This time we had two extra helpers, Mecie and Kaitlin, who live on the property and own fifteen of the birds. This time we tried a new powder that is apparently more effective in killing the mites. And this time, we did not have to take each one outside. Instead, we sidled up to the wooden beams on which they were roosting and moved through their feathers right there.
Several hens were very peeved at me as I did this. One who wore a continual scowl pecked at my hand every time I got within a few inches. Others just seemed confused. The poor rooster was missing a large chunk of his neck feathers and seemed existentially defeated. One hen pushed out her butt at me, and when I lifted the feathers, I found myself staring into her oscillating butthole. It was disturbing, and now I will never forget it. Minutes later, one of the hens roosting on the high beams pooped on me.
Nevertheless, we finished far earlier than the time before. I walked to the RV thinking, Man. So many new and interesting experiences in these parts. Just then, a chill dude/chef named Cameron who lives on the property pulled up in his car, popped out, and said, “Hey. Want to watch me skin a rabbit?”
No one had ever asked me that before. I said, “Sure.”
Thus, an hour after staring into the asshole of a chicken, I watched a kind and compassionate man pull out the organs and cut off the skin of a jackrabbit his friend had shot that morning. I stared at the body behind the fur, which was not cute at all but looked like a blood-soaked version of the mink I once dissected in Biology class. At the end, he held up the pelt with pride, cut off the rabbit’s head, and put the head outside to join the two cow’s heads he’d previously procured to let nature eat away what remains outside the skull. He told me he’d let me know when he cooks up the de-skinned rabbit tomorrow and treats the skinned fur appropriately. I helped him clean the blood from the table.
I felt emotionally unaffected by the treatment of the animal. I do not think this makes me a sociopath, as many a vegan would certainly suggest. It just makes me a carnivore. These are things I wish to learn how to do. I went back to my RV and looked into getting a small-game hunting license. Not quite there, but seems like a good place to start.
Then I went to sleep.
(I’ll save you the potential trauma of seeing pictures of the skinning. If you’d like to see one, though, shoot me a message and I’ll be glad to grant you insight.)
It’s toward the end of September, and I’m sitting beneath the covers in this unheated RV, nursing a hot green tea. We pushed start time back thirty minutes because, contrary to the morning forecast of 52 degrees, it’s a chilling 38 outside. Things will change when that beautiful sun rises.
I’m reading through a book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, a spiritual healer from Mexico. He was talking about the conflict between the “Inner Judge” and the “Inner Victim.” The two energies feed each other and create so much unnecessary inner chatter. He writes:
“Ninety-five percent of the beliefs we have stored in our minds are nothing but lies, and we suffer because we believe all these lies.”
That’s one of those truths I’ve known for years now yet need reminding of every day. Lately these inner energies have gotten out of whack. This morning, I wake up thinking, Man, it’s so cold outside. That’s in that 5% of fact. Then, however, when I think, This stinks. It’s gonna suck to open the roadside stand and feel my fingers scream in pain as I try to open the impossible lids of those cucumber buckets—Victim. Then what happens is Judge comes in. Judge says, Come on, you wimp. Buck up. Quit your complaining. You’re always whining, never appreciating what’s going on.
Then the two fight and cause me to forget they can only speak in untruths.
I’ve let this inner conflict accelerate too much lately. I’ve been looking too much at the clock, awaiting the end of the work day. I’ve been thinking too much about all I need to do in the sense of lack—I’m not trying hard enough to find a job, I’m not writing enough, I’ve let my novel take the backseat…
What I’ve come to realize is that these thinking patterns can be cured, but their cure does not come through a new thought. I cannot rationalize my way out of the conundrum they pose.
Viktor Frankl once said,
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
These voices of Judge/Victim aren’t my response. They are simply disguised that way. Instead, they are more stimuli, albeit of the internal variety. So correcting them is a matter of finding that space between their arising and my response and relating to that space with intention. Only then do I open to growth, transformation, and freedom.
Thus, the way out begins with calm awareness. Through engaging in activities that deepen internal awareness, through tuning into the heart, I glimpse the illusory nature of the conflict.
How do you tune into your heart? We should all be able to answer this. If we roll our eyes at the question, something is probably missing in our lives. I tune into my heart through both stillness and physical activity. I’ll close my eyes and focus my breath, and within minutes, it’s as if I’m watching this Judge/Victim conflict on a screen. I see the way it’s playing out. Conversely, when I exercise—hiking, running, lifting weights—I often feel the conflict play out and accelerate. But by continuing to exert myself, by getting all this great oxygen to my brain. I am left in the end with a grounded, physical connection to body and earth, and the pleasant sensations this yields evaporates the majority of that age-old conflict.