A few of you have asked, so here’s an excerpt from the Introduction to Going to the Sea.
…So when Sam and I bought that fine, fertile piece of land in rural Texas that would support organic vegetables, Angus cattle and Quarter Horses, I thought “eureka!” I will shutter my insurance business and start organic farming. I will wear floppy hats and cotton skirts and aprons with vegetables falling out the pockets. I will not care that my feet are dirty, my arms are overtanned or that my t-shirt is wet of sweat. I will SIMPLIFY! and live the beautiful farm life our grandparents did. Then, of course, I’ll be too busy, as Gandhi famously said, “being the change” I’d like to see in the world, to climb aboard my soapbox and act like a jerk.
How romantic and naive we can be when surveying farm life from a distance. It didn’t take long to realize I was just another in a long line of Texas settlers destined to have her ass kicked by the ferocious Lone Star State.
Our second spring there, Sam and I evacuated the ranch twice in one week, for different reasons – once for fire and once for tornado. We’d have hit the trifecta had the predicted baseball-sized hail hit but it didn’t, it was only quarter-sized. That summer, grasshoppers descended on my garden like brown fog and ate every leaf on every plant, except the okra. Green worms the size of mini hot dogs camouflaged themselves so successfully on my tomato plants that, mystified, I finally asked my neighbor Durwood why my tomatoes had no leaves. I screamed when he pointed out dozens of them methodically chewing their way down my plants.
Then 2011 happened. The single driest year in the history of Texas turned our hayfields and everyone else’s, into grasshopper-infested, rice paper, leaving our cattle nothing to do but nose through the dirt and stare at us balefully.
But truly, all that I could handle. What I couldn’t handle was the surprise appearance of my chronically fearful, critical, angry self, stomping right though the real estate I purchased solely for the use of my best-self. I thought becoming the organic farm girl of my dreams, quietly humming in my vegetable beds, as birds and woodland creatures attended nearby, would make me sweeter and less critical, more loving. I hoped my new Texas ranch would clarify why my life felt like an amusing waste of time, and get busy setting it aright.
But it didn’t. And do you know why? Because Texas has no history of coddling people who need help finding themselves. She humiliates those people and sends them scurrying to kinder, gentler states. Look at her natives, especially those of the farming and ranching variety. She pounds them with chronic disaster, marinates them in her brutal economic vagaries and then throws them on the fire, until they are charred, leathery and proud of it. Certainly, that big, saucy broad, wasn’t going to fix anything for me, she just wanted to point out my flabby gut, punch it, crack open a Shinerbock and walk away laughing.
As I sniffled about that, the other problem with realizing my life dream came into sharp focus: When the dust settles, the dreamer is still present, bringing to the new geography whatever troubles existed in the old.
So as the wind whipped up the bone-colored sand into dust devils, in my town of 500 souls, I got to stare without distraction at my life with all its selfishness and sanctimony. Sure, I could quit my corporate job and dig vegetable gardens. I could become a yoga master, learn to bake bread and shoot feral hogs from my porch, but would that ever make me someone of depth and consequence like Mother Teresa? As in every other place I lived, in Texas I built myself a new Neverland. It was elaborate and distracting with all those safari animals and rides, but it was all about me and it still wasn’t enough.
Standing in the middle of everything I said I wanted, I was ashamed to admit that I am a selfish but well-meaning, indulged but starving, modern American woman, who just can’t figure out how to be something else….