A Glimpse at the Good Life
A true exposition of a convivial lifestyle.
I’m driving up the center of New Hampshire as the sun rises on a Saturday morning. Father M has been asking me to come visit his farm for a while now and it’s about time I take him up on it. I figure this will be a good getaway weekend.
The drive up is typical New Hampshire: unassuming (once you’ve got used to the baseline beauty of the Granite State). I turn right off of the back road I’ve been blindly following — my standalone GPS has not worked for a bit of the trip and I’m still using my flip phone — and pull into the property gate.
I park between the house and the barn. More correctly, I might say between the two barns. As I get out, the only sounds I hear are the wildlife: birdsong, crickets, and frogs. The buildings are in the middle of a massive (well, at least by New Hampshire standards) clearing mostly planted with what I realize are blueberries, recently cut back.
Presented with three different entrances, I enter the garage and open the door. Beyond the smell of oil and machinery, there is a strong waft of incense. This must be Father’s fabled oratory!
Sure enough, our Blessed Lord rests upon the altar, in a chapel that could only be Father’s: stained glass windows, vestments of all sorts on a coat rack, palm trees in the back, a humble Roman altar, Byzantine fans behind it, and icons littered around the room. A humble retreat for a bi-ritual country priest.
It’s a lazy morning and I feel like an intruder as I holler around trying to find them, since there’s no doorbell. I suspect I entered the wrong way.
“Oh, you scared me!” says Father as I come down the hallway I found eventually. He still receives me warmly. His interning college student and he are just about to make breakfast. On the menu: onions, toast, bacon, and a dozen eggs from the neighbors (who possess both generous hearts and generous chickens). The eggs are small for local eggs (at least, compared to my Illinois benchmark), but better than any I’ve encountered thus far in New Hampshire.
As we make breakfast, Father eagerly shows me around.
The house is off-grid: there’s a small windmill and solar panel on the roof, which charge a small battery bank. It doesn’t seem like a lot of electricity, and it isn’t. Most appliances are propane-powered: even the fridge, which is some sort of devilish invention to me. How do you use combustion to remove heat? The electricity doesn’t go towards much: a few lights, a coffee grinder, and a television/stereo setup.
Less is more here.
The house itself is humble. When you examine its structure, it’s merely a steel barn on a concrete pad, containing wooden structure inside — the actual living space — and an enclosed porch. It’s effectively a house within a house.
This structure is accidental and incremental, but genius: he’s effectively built a house that withstands both the 90 degree July days and the -1 February nights. With 8 feet of air gap as insulation on 3 sides, the center stays livable — as long as you keep the doors shut. No need for AC, no need for even cross-flow. The concrete floor, which was tiled directly on top, helps. I wonder how Father handles this aspect when winter comes. Slippers, maybe.
Nothing is wasted. We use paper plates for dishes, but they go into the wood stove for fuel when it gets colder.
I pick up a book the student has. Lingua Latina. It’s a Latin textbook entirely in Latin.
“I’ve heard of this! I love the idea, but wish there was one for Greek.”
“There is! Well, sortof.” he replies. He returns with a copy of Athenaze for me to borrow. Brilliant! Now I’ll have something better than Mounce to study with.
Two turkeys stroll by and start making themselves a nuisance in the freshly-planted garden. We run out and shoos them off. Maybe we could’ve had dinner, but we’ll let them go — for now.
Breakfast is served on the porch. Father serves us coffee, and we put in butter and maple syrup. It doesn’t make me want to have coffee regularly, but it’s a lovely treat.
We have excellent conversation. Father has so many stories and tells them well. He’s the ornery and instigating type. He points over behind me to a large chair, two smaller chairs, and a small altar. They’re from a Masonic temple.
Father, why do you have these?
A friend offered them from a lodge being torn down, and it was just too good of an offer to pass up. I sat in the Grand Mason’s chair. It’s quite “grand” — and I feel the same.
Father apparently would have these in his office at the school - when students would come for counseling. By the time they sat in the chair, there wasn’t much need for more counseling! There’s something ego-boosting about a grand chair. It’s a good reminder — we are both body and soul. One feeds into the other. This is just one of the many oddities around the house; it’s by no means minimalist. Father has led a well-traveled life.
We finish up breakfast, and the student and I head out to hike around the property. First down to the pond - there’s plenty tadpoles and frogs. Then up through the blueberry fields and into the mountain. During the week, they tend for these and other things around the farm. There’s not many berries since they’ve been cut, but there are a few.
Fresh blueberries - they’re good. And I don’t normally like blueberries.
By the time we return, the neighbors and fellow parishioners who provided the eggs have arrived — with two chickens they killed that morning, marinaded and ready for the grill.
If you’ve only bought chicken from the big box store, stop. It’s not worth it. Get pasture-raised chicken. It’s actually worth eating. This, in particular, is the best I’ve had. Praise be to God for making such delicious creatures.
That’s not the real reason they’ve come, though: they brought some M1s that need sighted in. We set up targets at 25 and 100 yards. We spend probably a hundred, maybe two hundred rounds.
“That ain’t nothing. We’ve got way more ammunition back home,” they say. “It’s a good investment.”
We sit after dinner and rejoice in each other’s company — and bemoan the state of the world at large. What an insane world, where people march around for their ‘right’ to kill children. Where men are women, and women aren’t supposed to be any different than men. One of Father’s students, now working at Catholic Familyland (yes, that’s a real place; it’s in Ohio), sent a song that encapsulates this mood: “Send Us Thine Asteroid, O Lord”
Yet, there’s still cause to be joyful. We’re here, living this moment. God is in control. If this humble place can exist and exude such joy, He will always win.
We go back outside to enjoy the last remaining bits of the day. The student brings down his bag full of juggling clubs. I’m terrible at juggling. Unexpectedly, he is vastly superior with several weeks in the summer to get back into the practice. He’s juggling 5, 6 at a time. I’m trying to get the basic mechanism for just one. I start to do two for a few cycles, but that’s short-lived.
It’s getting late, and we retire to the living room. Father has queued up on reel-to-reel The Magic Flute. There’s a particular rendition section he loves and wants to share. He loves to share it especially with college students that come up for field trips. It’s a rare one; the singer has such fantastic range.
By now, the sun has set and the stars are out. The moon is waning, and there’s no pole light — but there’s so little light pollution, so you can still see.
I don’t want to leave. This is it. This is the Pareto principle in action. This is technology behaving with creation. Here - things make sense. Limitation. Living within means. Not having too much ambition. Yet, generosity and thankfulness.
Life doesn’t have to be so damn hard. “My yoke is easy…”
I’m comforted by the realization: this doesn’t have to be the only place. The principles I see embodied here, I will take back and embody myself. While there is something particularly special about this place, the underlying attitude can be embodied without 100+ acres of beautiful mountainside property just as easily as you can squander those same acres.
It isn’t that what has been built here is materially beautiful (exposed 2x4s are not the peak of beauty). Rather, what exists here was built out of love for what God created, and for the nourishment of soul and body. Both the structure, and the rhythm of life Father has created for himself here. Together — a beautiful melody.
I hum that melody as I drive back down to my abode in the city.
The kingdom of God is within you.