It Takes a Village


(Looking Back, Looking Beyond; Realizing Everyday we are Blessed)

Today is Saturday and we are going to belatedly celebrate Enzo’s, my oldest son, 23rd birthday.

It is not only a moment to revel in the fact that my first boy has become an amazing young man, but likewise prompts me to reflect, as well as look ahead to the next 23 years.

Our youngest, Olivia, is 8, and admittedly, this past week has been a rough one, because at the end of it I couldn’t help but think about, hope really, the day she turns 18.

By then, everyone should be out of the house, on their own or in college. I’ll be 63 and hopefully, then I’ll have time to do all things I want to do that are not constantly interrupted otherwise, by my obligations to my family and a stream of unexpected interactions with others.

A good example of what happens often, on most days of the week, was how this past Thursday afternoon went down.

After performing my corporate job for much of the morning starting at 7 AM here in New Mexico and 9 in NYC, as well as dabbling in farm and hacienda administrative tasks throughout the day, at 2:30 PM I had to drop all that, because I had to go and pick up the kids at school.

And although I do this everyday Tuesday-Thursday, for me, at that time, it feels like the day is just getting started. So, I’m eager to “get back to work,” as soon as we get back home.

However, it almost never goes that way. Either, I pick up the kids and then we have to go into town from there to go shopping, because we’re running out of food or need chicken feed or something else for the farm or family.

Or, as it happened on jueves, we actually did leave the school at 3:15 with intentions just go straight home.

However, a mere turn away from the last leg back to Ithaca, I remembered I had to stop by the roadside mailbox. For unlike the convenient life we once led, neither mail or packages are delivered directly to our doorstep at home.

So, occasionally, I have to check the mailbox or delivery box, and occasionally, we receive a long yellow card with our home address written on it, which means I’ve got to pick it up at the post office, which is a mile away. And if I don’t pick it up within seven days, well, they send it back.

So, instead of turning left onto the dirt road to home, I got back on Route 14 continuing south, with the kids in the back seat saying “I’m thirsty” or “I’m hungry” for most of the way.

We got the package, which was a thoughtful Easter card from my mother that she inadvertently did not put enough postage on, because they apparently charge $2 extra for anything that bulges from the envelope, and require I pick it up and pay for it. In this case, the bulge was the Easter bunny’s cute, but wholly inconvenient, cotton tail.

So, by 3:45 we’re back home, but being that it is Thursday, that means I’ve got to take Olivia back down the hill at 3:55 for her weekly piano lesson at one of our neighbor’s homes at 4 PM.

Back at the homestead at 4:15, I check my office and homestead enterprise email and then begin dinner prep. While something is cooking on the stove or in the oven, around 4:40 I had ten minutes to punch out a chess game with Milo before I had to go retrieve Olivia at 4:55.

This day, however, grandma and grandpa graciously offered to bring Olivia home. However, they also brought along their friends who were visiting from Canada for a tour of our home and our hilltop views, which meant I wasn’t getting back to work as I had hoped.

I’m always happy to meet new people, especially if they are friends of the family, so I did my best to serve as a gracious host.

By 5:30ish I was back at my desk, doing my best to get something accomplished. All the while, I often feel guilty that I am neglecting the kids somehow, because I’m up in my office tower alone trying to pay bills or learn a new payroll system or renew our home insurance policy or apply for a government agricultural grant, while the kids do whatever they do when unattended.

By six, I know I’ve got to go check on them and continue making dinner and tidying up the house before doctor-mom gets home from her own relentless day at work, which for her often begins at 5 AM at home and presses on through until 7 PM after seeing 20-plus patients each and every day at 20-minute intervals, even though she gnawingly-knows that they all need far more time.

Thus, I’ve also got to remind the kids to go take care of the ducks and chickens, put away the clothes they’ve simply dropped on the floor when they got home, and quite a bit lately (twice this past week) I have drop everything and get in the truck to go get our “free range” dogs that have run down the hill, because they are barking at our neighbors’ tied-up dogs and I’m receiving texts about it every couple of minutes.

To make this rather long example of a typical day for me, for us, only slightly shorter, after we all clean up after dinner, and the kids are in bed around 8:30, I’m back up in the office and will plug away until midnight or so trying to catch up on all that needs to be done.

But here’s the thing. The next day, I began reading “Good Farmers: traditional agriculture resource management in Mexico and Central America,” in particular Chapter 6: Slope Management.

As I started reading, I became very excited because the book details exactly what we need to do ourselves upon our 5% slopes at the Hacienda, which we are planning to create berm and trench infrastructure fortified with agave plants, a system of land erosion and soil health mitigation that they have been using for centuries in Mexico called “zanja y bordos.”

Although they gave the exact specifications I had been seeking for the work we need to do, what truly enthralled me the most was the reminder to “slow down,” be patient and to accept, realize and revel in the aspiration that we are building something magical over time.

And it is not only a homestead that we’re taking about, this old country philosophy also applies to how you build and strengthen both your community and family.

The book pointed out that there’s a sharp contrast between western society that demands that Rome be built in a day, as opposed to the land and farming infrastructure that has been built all around the “developing” world for decades, centuries, if not millennia.

One foot note explains, “Many Old World terrace systems are products of centuries, even millennia, of effort. For example, the famous terraces of northern Luzon were most likely built over a period of perhaps 2000 years.”

And another notes that antithetical to the all-American model of independence modeled by the Horatio Alger myth, real world examples of sustainability take a village: “Many villages in Mexico adhere to the ancient custom of comunidad, in which one day each week is devoted to community projects. All adult males not otherwise occupied are expected to participate.

Much of what is built takes years because it is done by hand, because it is done every once in a while when the community can come together to do it collectively, or after the environment pitches and turns the landscape over time - dictating what needs to be done or adjusted in order for man to continue living in harmony with nature.

In other words, what I learned or was simply reminded about is that all our endeavors here at Hacienda Dominguez & Chelenzo Farms will take time and patience and flexibility over the next fifty years, and hopefully far beyond, long after I am gone.

Since we arrived here just eleven months ago, we have had to constantly wage a battle between our former desire to have instant gratification (e.g., a bodega conveniently around the corner and Amazon packages that were miraculously being delivered overnight) to the ultimately far more satisfying lifestyle that requires that we accept that deferred gratification is par for the course, because in the enchanted Land of Mañana we are building something especially meaningful and everlasting.

Thus, everyday, much like this past Thursday, my patience and ability to simply “let go” and try again tomorrow is put to the test.

It is a test that all members of our family are subject to, as we build our homestead together. My day is merely a reflection of everyone else’s day and the incredible amount of work we are accomplishing as one.

Hence, likewise, everyday, we are reminded that - we are blessed.