By Jenna Kelly-Landes
Recently, I sat in the pasture, my back leaning against a gnarled cedar elm whose newly unfurled leaves barely cast shadows across the grass. I blinked up into the sky as it transitioned from day to dusk—the last rays of sun cracking through spaces in the forest and blanketing the hills in sepia. At that moment, my original goat, Pearlsnaps, ambled slowly toward me. Her long beard rubbed against my cheek as she inspected my nose and then pawed at the ground before easing her heavy body down beside me. I placed one hand on her belly full of kids, who kicked against her taut sides, and I placed my other hand on my own belly full of kids, also punching and turning. We sighed in solidarity and watched the sky smudge from blue, to salmon, to purple—two future mamas lying in a pasture hushed into the silence of night.
Sometime in early summer I will have two babies, our first children—one boy and one girl. Their arrival is the source of nightly insomnia as I ponder exactly what the lives of my children will look like out here in this secluded corner of the county, and how their youth will sharply contrast with my own. My husband Jeremy and I both grew up in a small town just north of Austin—the sort of place where childhood looks vaguely like a Norman Rockwell painting.
Against the backdrop of suburban utopia, our lives were filled with typical childhood activities. I was a card-carrying member of the neighborhood bicycle gang—a benign pack of fourth-graders who pedaled furiously to the park, commandeered the swing sets and gossiped about weekend slumber parties. Because my best friends lived within two blocks of my house, I could reach them, independently of my parents, between those precious hours of just-after-school-lets-out and dinner. Jeremy lived on the other side of town and kicked a soccer ball all the way from age four through college. His entire life was structured around the game he loved—shaping his childhood into a blur of practices, tournaments and a close-knit group of friends that naturally sprung up around that sport. For all intents and purposes, we grew up in a conventional (nearly idyllic) setting. It’s probably one of the greatest gifts our parents gave each of us.
So…I wonder—as my hands rest across my belly and my back rests against a tree that grows from the feral space we claimed only six years ago—I wonder about the childhood of these two little creatures who won’t have sidewalks connecting them to best friends. Before purchasing this land, Jeremy and I engaged in sweaty-palmed conversations about the pros and cons of this particular leap of faith. We had no children, but the possibility of them certainly factored into those frantic discussions. Although isolated, the land was situated half a mile from a 200-acre park with sidewalks, swing sets, soccer fields. And even though our plot wasn’t surrounded by a neighborhood, it contained a vibrant community of forest and creeks and promised unobstructed views of vast blue sky. Surely that counted for some intangible something? So we gulped hard, signed papers, rolled dice.
Six years later, I am no closer to articulating the intangible something that this space may fill, where the convenience, activities and culture of the city end about 17 miles west. I am no more certain whether a childhood here may be somehow less complete, more difficult or more truly solitary than one that occurs within the grid-work of the suburbs, amid the bustle of pavement and lights. But I know this much is true: Here, I can provide a poetry of place, an eternal promise that the seasons will change. For my kids, these changes will be visceral in a way not felt within the confines of city living. From the beginning, my kids will participate in each beautiful, gory, painful phase of the inevitably turning life cycle. They will untangle twisted animals, medicate the sick, rejoice in the recovered and plunge deep into the sadness of loss—a fundamental component of this very wild life. They will know that sometimes only moonlight and stubbornness will see them through the most difficult task, that the smallest victories can be the most powerful. Out here, I cannot secure for them attendance at a Blue Ribbon school, the proximity of a movie theater or the safety of a privacy fence—things we exchanged for a more physical education, gritty entertainment and the bravery to run through fenceless fields…to fall…to stand up again. What I waited 30 years to discover about myself will be instilled in them at birth. Their own strength, capability and confidence will grow with them, as it has to on a farm. While I accept that their ultimate choices may take them deep into the city and far from this jumble of dirt and leaves, there’s a legacy here that we’ve already carved. It will wait, sleepily, for their return, and will remind them—if they should need reminding—of what can be created from dirt, patience and passion.
I sat with Pearl until the whip-poor-wills called out from the woods—the mournful lead performers in a bucolic symphony. They were soon accompanied by the otherworldly howl of a prowling coyote, the rumbling baritone of distant thunder, the frantic bleating of a baby goat, the guttural moo of a new mama cow. How can I worry that life for my children will be solitary or dull when, in fact, it will be a sensory explosion from this blur of life that is constant? Next year, it won’t just be me and Pearl and the whip-poor-wills, but the babies too, against that tree, watching a Technicolor sunset, hopefully falling in love with their wild kingdom just as we have.