To Live Under the Care of Mother Cedar
It wasn't long ago, we lived in a new construction house with hundreds of neighboring houses stacked incredibly close together, each looking remarkably similar to the next. It was a house that worked well for us for several years as we built our family, and gave us many wonderful memories. But, as our lives evolved, our children grew, and our neighborhood continued to grow and change, we were yearning for something different. For something more.
And so our search began.
We dreamed of a home that would honor a way of life more simple than what we were living at that time. One that would allow us to have one foot in our home and the other in nature. To be more connected to the earth and less connected to materialistic influences. We searched for two years, almost gave up a couple times, and then it happened. We found it.
It was a big cedar house in the woods, nestled atop a mountain and hidden back at the end of a private dirt road. It was in desperate need of renovation and love, but oh the bones were so good! It was strong and sturdy, and I felt safe the moment I walked through its threshold. It was as if this place, with its circa 1988 lake lodge décor, was giving me a big hug. Yes, we were ready to hang our hats. As we walked the land admiring the old growth cedars and firs and maples, the kids running ahead to explore, we fell more deeply in love with this place. And that was it. We would do whatever we could to make it our home. It was our time to rise to the call of a simpler life and live under the care of Mother Cedar.
With visions for what it could be and the keys to unlock her door, we mustered up all our courage and began breathing new life into the house, transforming it into a home that welcomes you in to stay a while. Don’t get me wrong, we were met with resistance and judgment from those who didn’t understand our longing for land and a different lifestyle. A lot of people scratched their heads. But the older we get, the easier it becomes to follow our inner voices. To let it guide our choices and actions because it has proven to be our most trusted asset on this life’s journey. Don't you agree?
You see, in life, we happen upon forks in our paths. The choices we make when we reach these forks play integral roles in both our futures and our identities, both which continue to evolve as we move through life. This was a fork and we had unequivocally chosen the path less traveled.
We moved into the old cedar house on the hill about a month before the pandemic took the world by storm. While the country shut down, we ramped up and begin building the homestead of our dreams. After some initial renovations in the home, we had a comfortable place to lay our heads and cook our meals. But, let me be clear. Our home is not magazine worthy. There isn’t a lot of bling or fancy finishings. But it’s welcoming. It’s comfortable. It's perfect for our family. This home, made of a warm, fragrant, light-weight decay-resistant wood, is a place where you can come as you are and just be. As I write this, I can barely remember a time when we didn’t live here. It’s as if it’s always been home.
Before long, we shifted our focus to the land. We built a chicken coop and converted an old woodshed into a barn. Baby chicks followed and not long after that baby Holland Lop bunnies and Babydoll Southdown lambs. And finally, Duke, our Bernese Mountain dog, joined our family and our farm was complete. Did we come from a family of farmers? Did we have farming experience? Carpentry experience? Had we ever renovated a home before? Did it matter? No to all of it. But we had each other and a dream and, thanks to the pandemic, more time at home than we knew what to do with. We wanted to raise our children around animals, to understand responsibility, and to feel compassion for all living things. You see, a growth mindset is about having the courage to try something that interests you, even if it’s new territory, and to simply enjoy the growing and learning involved in the experience.
The following winter, my husband built me the garden I'd always dreamed of. With no construction background, he took my sketch and turned it into reality. Every square inch was made with his two hands. Without the luxury of heavy machinery, this project was truly a labor of love. We have learned that making things with our hands and hearts makes them not only custom, but significantly more valuable to us far beyond the cost of materials. It is about the time, talent and care taken. I now spend my winters planning the next year’s garden and sowing hundreds of seeds in my old greenhouse (which has also since been renovated.) With each seed, I lay roots on our land, creating backyard garden memories for our children, and a quiet place of solitude to gather my thoughts. To feel truly rooted in your home takes time, I know. But we are well on our way.
I often wonder about the original owners of our house. The husband, a carpenter, and his wife were bluegrass singers, this much I’ve learned from chatting with those rooted in this small town. They bought this land, chopped down the trees, milled the logs, hung the lumber to dry for a year right here on the property, and then used it to build this big cedar house we now call home. It is truly remarkable, really. They documented every step through snapshots lovingly compiled into an album which has been left in our care.
I can tell they took great pride in this homestead. I like to believe the wife had a green thumb and that the three original garden beds and the old greenhouse were made for her. They created beautiful pathways that we walk each day, lined with azaleas, rhododendrons and other flowering fragrant perennials. They planted an orchard that produces more apples, pears and plums each year than we know what to do with. And, perhaps my favorite surprise that they unknowingly gifted us, are the three mature peony bushes that produce a bounty of beautiful blooms every year. Their buds, beautiful red asparagus-like spears popping through the slush, are always the first sign of the seasonal shift to spring on our land.
What an abundance of blessings they’ve left here for us. I feel as though our stories are linked together in a small way through this land, these blooms, this house, and their vision and homesteading dreams that have become the root of our own. Our initial year on the land, I grew half flowers and half veggies and herbs in my garden. By year two, I was growing 75% flowers and 25% herbs and vegetables. I enjoyed it immensely more because I realized that what I fill my garden with should be the plants that make me and my family the happiest. This summer, my garden is officially an English-cottage-inspired potage garden, overflowing with flowers and herbs all summer long. After all, it seems only fitting for my garden to develop alongside me as I embark on a new journey in herbalism and floral design. Like me, my garden, will continue to grow and evolve on this land.
Our new homestead continued to gift us with its safety and security as the new schoolyear began in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and presented a new set of challenges. Quite frankly, remote learning was a disaster. We ended up pulling our children from the district and traditionally homeschooling them and it was such a blessing. Do I have a teaching degree? No. Did I ever dream of homeschooling my children. Nope. But we embraced the opportunity and I embraced the role of homeschool mama. I converted an extra bedroom in the basement to a classroom and gave it everything I had for an entire year. I gave myself grace when I needed it and our family took breaks to the coast at our leisure. It was rewarding, challenging, and humbling all at the same time. That year of homeschool was invaluable. It taught my family many lessons that could have never been learned within the walls of a school. And for it all, I’m grateful.
This cedar house and the land that surrounds it has allowed me to quiet my mind, slow down my physical restlessness, and focus on what is really important to me. This house changed me. It made me want to lay down roots. To give those roots room to stretch. To let those roots reach more deeply into the earth than I’ve ever allowed them to before. It has been so nourishing for my mind, body, and soul.
There are no shortcuts in this lifestyle. It can’t be rushed. It comes in due time and not a moment before. But when it finally happened for us, it felt perfectly right. All the pieces fit. They still do. This move and lifestyle change shifted many other facets of who I am. It gave me new forks in the road and new paths to consider.
This land taught be something else. It taught me that slow living is not necessarily about doing things slowly. Not at all. It’s about being intentional with your time, energy, and resources. It’s about seeking out joy in the small moments, whatever they may be for your family. It’s about nurturing, making, creating, loving and giving. It’s about words of encouragement, small acts of kindness, and being more self-sufficient. It’s a lifestyle shift that doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes hard work and a leap of faith, but, goodness, is it ever rewarding.
So here I am. A continuous work of progress. I am learning. I am constantly evolving and developing. And I am becoming wiser to the fact that it is okay embrace new things. To follow your heart’s path. To let your inner self lead you. To be okay with changing something within you when you no longer feel like your best self. To realize you don’t need a background in the subject but that you can educate yourself. In fact, you don’t even have to know your final destination. Simply allow yourself to follow your heart and evolve with intention.
There has never been a better time than now to become a better version of you.
This article was originally published in OBAHHIMA, print and digital magazine, Vol 3 pp 14-23 Rooted Under Mother Cedar.