change part I

Like so many stories, it’s hard to tell when this one starts. I want to start at the beginning, but the beginning keeps getting pulled further and further back in time. What seems to begin with us moving to this farmstead really includes the two months we worked in New Zealand. But we never would have gone to New Zealand if we hadn’t lived in Thailand. There are ripples in my life that I’m still feeling the effects of now. Forks in a road that are retraceable. Decisions that have changed the course of my life.

This is part I of a two part series of how The Kirk Estate came to be, how it has evolved, and how it continues to change and shift -just like everything in life.

The Kirk Estate, fittingly, started organically. Eric and I moved home from teaching in Thailand where we’d choked our way through the smog for a year. My asthma got worse, we blew black soot out of our nostrils each morning and night. The only greenery we saw were the potted plants whose names I did not know, growing on our well-to-do neighbors porticos, and the random mango tree and plumeria -which you could smell even before you saw them. These trees were the land equivalents of the lotus flowers who blossomed out of green algae. Scuzzy stagnant pools with crumpled water bottles, plastic bags, and iridescent wrappers floating among them. The mango tree and the star fruit tree, the tamarind tree, the plumeria, and that bright pink one that seemed to flower all year long -they jutted out from the concrete, took hold in the cracks and melting hot asphalt the way catalpa trees do here, and trees of heaven, and goldenrod and thistle.

When it was tamarind season (and it always seemed to be tamarind season) you’d have to be careful to avoid the fallen gooey pods that landed on the street below. If you were too busy talking while you walked around the corner to the 7-11 or around the other corner to our job at the University, you were liable to step on them, your sandals coated with sticky sweet brown goo. Smelling better than dog shit, but just as impossible to remove. As tenacious as bubble gum but more relentless after being heated by Bangkok’s soaring 100+ temperatures and humidity, exacerbated by asphalt like a hot oven.

As an aside, we were grateful this week to be surrounded by friends we spent a year with in Muu Baan Pri Char, Bangkok, Thailand. The somewhat impromptu get together felt serendipitous while we did our best to reach a Zen-like state of acceptance of Upstate NY’s soaring heat. Reminding ourselves that it would have been a cool day in Bangkok. We breakfasted on kow man gai and talked about the boys trapped in a cave and the tragic capsizing of the boat off the west coast. We reminisced about our visits to these parts of Thailand among other trips and recounted our own brushes with death… among them, the time Woody nearly drowned in Brown River, our frightening motorcycle accident, and the trip where Eric and I were on a boat with my family and it was mere degrees from capsizing -a story that sounded eerily like the boat in Phuket last week, apart from the death toll. We remembered traumatic bus trips and dangerous motorcycle taxi rides. Every day was a new dangerous adventure. But the people there are some of the most loving, selfless people I have ever come across -and the world is seeing that now too.

It was a year of challenge and beauty -living in a country whose laws and rules and safety regulations and environmental awareness isn’t quite there. Which made it both a beautiful challenge as well as a difficult one. Every day felt like an effort, every outing a brush with death. In the midst of the 102 days and 80+% humidity, Eric and I did a lot of day-dreaming about a trip to New Zealand we decided to take on our summer break. We would spend two months driving around the North and South Islands WWOOFing. Finally getting back to the earth, putting our hands and feet in the dirt on an island surrounded by clear, clean water. Bangkok’s heat and concrete meant we no longer took green for granted.

It was in New Zealand that we learned the rudimentary skills of running a farm, growing your own food, building compost. We were inspired by B&Bs who grew the produce for the food they served. We repotted herbs and weeded spinach. We tended bees, we were house painters and fence makers. We did glory-filled jobs like arranging flowers for tables, and the jobs the owners didn’t want -like moving boulders and building sheep fences and eradicating entire hillsides of some horrible weed whose name escapes me but I will never forget its sharp prickers that pierced through gloves and jeans.

We returned to the States with passion and found ourselves in the best possible place to put this passion to work. We were armed with the motivation to use every muscle in our body after wilting for a year in the Thai heat. We were equipped with savings from teaching in a place where the cost of living was incredibly low and the new-found Buddhist frugality to make that savings last even longer. Our brains had become accustomed to overstimulation in a society where we had gotten used to speaking a different language with ease. Where we were unable to read signs, where the food and the smells and the plants and the history and the weather and the people and the culture were all different but this difference had become normal. When we came home our brains craved that state of over-stimulus. And because of the reverse culture shock we experienced -in this place where people drove inside the lines and wore seat-belts, where things were neat and orderly and clean and organized -our brains needed chaos again. We welcomed the discomfort of starting a farm without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into, because for us, this didn’t feel like a risk at all. Looking back on it now I realize that it was one. But coming from the place of life after Thailand this felt safe and mundane. So we kept searching for more ways to make this new adventure more adventurous….

to be continued.

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