Since the day we met on a rutabaga farm eleven years ago, my husband and I have nurtured the dream of an off-grid life. One May, when we were finally ready, we packed up the trusty ol’ station wagon with what we owned: two boxes of books, a few tools, clothes, pots and pans, a handful of keepsakes, and we set off to build a cabin. We wanted to hone our skills as creative people on a path of intentional living as defined by us. “Neo-Thoreau,” a friend called it.
What do you do when one day you pull up to five undeveloped acres in one of the highest and largest alpine valleys in the world with nothing more than a carload of belongings and a desire to pursue some version of the homesteading life?
First, you unpack the guitar and sing! (Yes, we did.)
Next, you look around at country so massive, so unpeopled and so seemingly content with itself that you feel a pang of fear at what you’ve chosen to do. You notice then that before you actually feel the gust of spring-filled wind swirling off the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the north, you first see it. You watch the wind bend the piñons and junipers in the far-off field as it sweeps its voice across the sage-filled flat to where you stand. And that’s exactly what you do: you stand there, still, aware of the coming gust, and that for a moment is enough.
It’s funny to think that building a cabin despite all of its straight edges, exact calculations, precise measurements and so on is actually more inclined towards fluidity than rigidity and squareness. We may have had our intentions when we came to this land, but bit by bit, one nail at a time, the 120-square foot cabin we built exerted its own ideas—sometimes fussy, unyielding ones. Our cabin, we’ve learned, in spite of its wee-little size, has a damned big mouth. Two years later we’re still trying to figure out its language. And it’s not just the cabin that has something to say, but everything around us. The wind made this clear the day we arrived: “Put down your guitar,” it may have been saying, “hear, instead, my song.” No doubt, there are lessons here. Here, where this great, big valley meets even greater, bigger mountains. A hard day’s work is learning to hear them.