Sunday, September 7, 2008

My "Itching Foot"

I have a vision of what I want my life to look like. It involves foster-adopting two or three little ones and being a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, while living out in the country, close enough to family that my children build strong family relationships. Several acres of land, with poison ivy free woods. A few fruit trees and a nice big vegetable garden so that we could survive if the economy crashes. We'd have to be vegan, as animals do NOT fit the vision, but I've done that before, and I could handle it again.

I know, I know, it's a vision that is very unlikely to come to pass, and if it did come to pass, it probably wouldn't be as sweet and idyllic as it is in my mind. The kids would fight, I would despair of ever teaching them anything and would be desperate for some time to myself, and the deer would eat the garden. But it's fun to dream, isn't it?

The funny thing is, although I've been faced with challenge after challenge in trying to make my dream come to pass, I'm actually quite content with my life just the way it is. I'm still trying to fulfill some, if not all, of those dreams, but I'm not at all unhappy in the meantime.

But lately, as I search for the perfect house (or even the acceptable house!) to buy if this one ever sells, I'm beginning to understand a bit how Pa Ingalls felt when he experienced his "itching foot."

He was thin and tired from all the hard work he had done, in town and in the fields, and he was restless because people were settling the country so thickly.

"I would like to go West," he told Ma one day. "A fellow doesn't have room to breathe here any more." ....

Laura knew how he felt for she saw the look in his blue eyes as he gazed over the rolling prairie westward from the open door where he stood.

~Laura Ingalls Wilder, These Happy Golden Years

Laura expands on this in The First Four Years with a beautifully poetic analogy:

The incurable optimism of the farmer who throws his seed on the ground every spring, betting it and his time against the elements, seemed inextricably to blend with the creed of her pioneer forefathers that "it is better farther on" -- only instead of farther on in space, it was farther on in time, over the horizon of the years ahead instead of the far horizon of the west.

Lately, I've been feeling crowded in. Everywhere you go, there are houses, stores, people. Everything seems smaller and closer together than it used to.

Take my childhood home, for example. When I was a little girl, we had a big yard surrounded by woods. My grandparents lived just up the hill. There was only one other neighboring house visible from anywhere in either of our yards, and nothing but woods and empty land all around.

I considered buying the two acres of woods adjoining their property and building a home there. A log cabin, I visualized, dreaming of how lovely it would be to have my own little house in the big woods -- well, big house in the little woods, anyway. :) And with my parents' and grandparents' couple of acres adjoining it, it works out to be a pretty nice-sized lot all together, and my kids could definitely build those family ties that way!

But when I went to look over the land and actually think about living there, I realized something. The big yard with wide open spaces all around is gone. The yard is still the same size, of course, but it seems smaller to me now. The open spaces are all gone. Other than that two acres of woods I was considering buying, everything else is all built up. There are three houses now in front of my grandparents' home. Two more just across the road. Five houses where before there were none. And it feels crowded. And I don't want to live there.

I want to live in the country. I want room to breathe, without neighbors crowding in around me. And yet, I still need to live close enough to civilization that I don't spend a fortune in gas just getting to work each day. That used to be possible, but I'm beginning to wonder if such a thing exists anymore.

There exists in my mind an idyllic spot -- the farm where my grandmother grew up. We visited there earlier this summer, and while it would be a bit more of a drive than I'd like, it's manageable. The entire region is still very rural, with just a farmhouse scattered here and there along the creek and lots of empty land in between. And my roots are in that land. My ancestors lived there and farmed that land for generations. When I walked that land, I felt as if I belonged there.

And then the other day I made the innocent comment that I was going to drive out there and take a look around, and was faced with great consternation on the part of the older relatives at the very idea. "We'd never see you again!" they warned. "There are murders out there all the time! Drugs are rampant!"

What? In that sweet little farming community? I pictured nice salt-of-the-earth farm families, a place where everybody knew everyone else and looked out for them, the perfect place to raise a family. And to be told that instead, it's such a dangerous place that to even drive out there for a look around on my own would get me killed??

Pa thought it would be better farther west. Laura thought it would be better farther on in time.

I began to think to go back in time is the only way to make it better. To a time when the land was less crowded. When the people were friendlier. When it was safe to let your kids run around and play.

But I've decided that wouldn't work either, even if it were possible. Just like my vision of the future is idealistic, so are our visions of the past. The "good ole days" that weren't so good when people were living in them, but are treasured now that they're gone.

So maybe it IS better farther on, and maybe it's not. But despite its faults and occasional disappointments, I'm discovering that life is really pretty good right now.

So I'm going to enjoy each moment to the fullest, and if or when any part of the vision comes to pass, I'll enjoy those moments to their fullest too, instead of wasting them yearning for something better farther on that may never come to pass.

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