On Borrowed Time…


Charles and I were discussing the decision of a friend to quit his job and and go to work in the family horse business, which he would eventually inherit. Their co-workers’ advice was to stay at his government job until he retired. “It’s ONLY 8 years away,” they said.

I guess his co-workers’ advice was sound, on the surface. If he could wait ONLY 8 years, he could retire with full military benefits. ONLY 8 years stood between him and a regular paycheck for the rest of his life. ONLY 8 years until he could claim a cushion for himself in the case of a drop in the economy or the family business failed. ONLY 8 years.

The word “ONLY” in the co-workers’ advice echoed in my head. The man in question is 40-something. In ONLY 8 years he will be somewhere in his 50s, leaving him plenty of time to then go into business with his parents – if he and his parents stay healthy and the proverbial bus doesn’t stop by. Whereas, ONLY 8 years will have Charles and me closer to 70 than 60.

I guess it is all our perspective. From where I stand, the year 2032 is a long time away, while 2016 was just the other day. It is the same number of years, but it doesn’t feel that way. In 8 years, my youngest grandsons will be thinking about graduating high school and going off to college. To them, that 8 years is a lifetime. To their parents, it is a blink. But, there is a chance Charles and I will not witness that milestone. We may never meet our grandchildren’s spouses or their children. We are aware that the trees we planted this fall will not have time to grow enough to provide us with the shade and protection we envisioned. We are both healthy right now and working to stay that way, but I believe each of us is granted by our Creator a certain number of days and heart beats. That doesn’t mean I can’t do something stupid and cut those numbers down. Conversely, if I’m smart and careful I may be granted a few more healthy days to my account.

Like Charles’ friend, I would like to do something different. I have a couple of book ideas and write when I can. I don’t have a family business to inherit, but I do live on a piece of inherited family land – an 8 acre spot we call Sugarberry Slope after the sugarberry trees that grow here and the not so gradual 30 degree drop toward the northeast.

In the past, a person who owned land had a way to support himself and his family. He could grow things and make things and eke out a living where he lived. Then commercial farms became a thing and, little by little, independent farmers were pushed out. Land values went up as Big Ag moved in, and soon small farmers had to sell their family land due to rising property taxes they could not pay. Food became less of the product of farming and more a product of manufacturing.

Most Americans waste more food than we eat, but our bodies are starving. We are obese, but malnourished. Even with all the medical advancements made, we are still sick. The goal of the food industry is to make money. It does not care much whether what they sell is good for me. As a result, it appears that for most grocery store offerings, there is no food in our food.

As bad as the commercial farming industry has become, the commercial meat industry is far worse. The life of an animal raised by a commercial meat producer is miserable. To me, to eat that animal is not only supporting the abuser, it is consuming the misery of the abused.

I have been a vegetarian for many years and moved to a nearly vegan diet after my heart valve replacement last fall. I do cook with the eggs my chickens produce, but they are happy chickens and I know what they eat. They aren’t, in any way, miserable. I also eat honey, which most vegans do not. They way I see it, if honey bees are miserable there is nothing stopping the queen from calling a swarm and moving on. Since I am the main cook in our home, Charles’ diet is also quasi-vegan. At home, he happily eats what I cook (his favorite is the “chicken fried” portobello mushroom with a side of mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy). But, the man does love “All You Can Eat Shrimp Night” at Red Lobster with his friends.

My new heart valve will last 20 years if I take care of it; which I plan to do. We are all living on borrowed time, of course, but I am staring 60 in the face. No matter how you slice it, the life behind me is longer than the life in front of me. Regardless what I do, what I eat or do not eat, I will not live forever. My life expectancy is 75. If I am to believe that, my new heart valve will outlive me. But, I plan to set the record for longest living heart valve recipient. I may lose, but I am not going down without a fight.

I have a day job. It is a good one, as day jobs go. The people I work with are fine people, the company I work for serves the underserved population in our community. It is not a bad gig and I will continue doing it as long as my doing so benefits me, the company, and the folks I work with. But, if I wait until retirement to do the things I want to do – grow things, improve my health and environment and the health and environment of those around me, promote a way of life that is supportive of Mother Earth, and ultimately write about all those things and more – then I may miss the opportunity all together.

Charles and I live here on Sugarberry Slope. We care for her and what grows here and we pay her property taxes (which went up about 30% this year), so I see no reason why she won’t support us if we ask nicely.

While it is cold and gross outside right now, spring is on its way. December through February are preparation months. There is winter sowing to do, honey bee hives to build, and native bee houses to clean and prepare for the season. There are fruit trees to plant and garden expansion plans to make.

Life on Sugarberry Slope is so peaceful and I love it here. It has some hardships, of course (tending chickens in negative windchills being one, battling stickers without herbicide being another), the benefits are far greater. Modern conveniences like electricity and being married to an engineer make things much easier than they were in my grandparents’ time. I understand Kroger now delivers AND carries the organic veggies and the vegan cheese I like. That may be cheating a little, but if the time I am living on is borrowed, I might as well pay the lowest possible interest rate.

I really hope Charles’ friend does not take the advice of those co-workers. I think they are wrong. Opportunity is knocking right now for him. He has a chance to live a life that includes horses and time with his aging parents, or bet on the sure thing with benefits in hopes the opportunity will still be there when he retires. He is not guaranteed 8 years. He is not guaranteed tomorrow. None of us are. Life is now.

A new blog “Life on Sugarberry Slope,” along with website and Facebook page, coming soon.

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