"Oh my gosh! We bought an orchard! The seed for this dream was planted many years ago, but we didn't awake to it until just a few months back." - September 23, 2015
Those were the words I scratched into my pocket journal as John and I drove from the title company's office to our property.
"What did we just do?" John asked me, his voice half filled with excitement, half filled with disbelief
"Um, we just bought an orchard," I quipped.
Moments ago we signed the papers to 17.9 acres, complete with a cherry orchard, an apple orchard, and a 1901 farmhouse that was showing her age. Oh, and a tractor. The sellers threw that into the deal, for the orchard, but here's the kicker. We have zero, zilch, nada, no agricultural experience other than raising honeybees and planting a garden in the backyard of our current .15 acre lot.
Sill in some disbelief myself, I retraced the chain of events that had unfolded over the past four months. We went from having very little vision of what our future held, to barreling full-speed ahead into an adventure so big and so unexpected we had to ask each other if this was really happening.
Really, the beginning of our unexpected journey started long before we even set foot on the land. Long before we traveled to Door County that rainy day in May to see an 1880s log cabin that piqued our interest. Long before a random Zillow search of properties for sale in the area that caused us to ask in the first place, "What if?"
To get to the start of our "holy-crap-did-we-just-do-that" moment, we'd have to back up all the way to the previous fall. It was the last Sunday in October, the kind of fall day that made you want to spend every minute of it outdoors because you knew, at any moment, winter's icy grip was going to lock in you inside, its prisoner for months. My plans for that day included using every last drip of sunshine to explore the trails and do some letterboxing* around the Madison area. But "someone" forgot the backpack with all our gear, so that wasn't happening.
"Well this is pointless," I sighed. "We came all the way out here to an area we rarely get to letterbox and we don't have the bag."
I shifted in my seat, heavily and loudly to ensure the message "I am so incredibly annoyed with you at this moment" wasn't missed, and stared out the window.
Side note: As much as I want to be spontaneous, as much as I try to tell myself I am spontaneous, I am a not. Far from it. I love me a new planner more than anyone. I love penciling in my daily schedule and highlighting deadlines for upcoming projects. I could make a hobby of planning vacations and road trips -- the places we will visit, where we will stay, what we will see and eat and do. Something tells me this latest venture will strip me of that label forever more, but in that moment I wanted my day to go as planned. What's my 5 year plan, you ask? Pull up a chair, I've got that mapped out, too.
Or so I thought.
"We can take the back roads," John suggested after a few moments. "Just take a drive?"
I continued to gaze out at the passing landscape for a few more seconds (and I probably rolled my eyes, too) before I answered, "Yeah, that's fine."
We drove, the fall colors just past their peak, the cornfields a patchwork of harvested and unharvested crops.
We couldn't have known it, but, to take a line from writer Carl Sandburg, "nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me."
"Hey, do you want to follow that sign?" I asked John.
A few hundred feet behind us, an advertisement staked into the corner of the intersection read, "Earth, Wood and Fire Art Tour." A large arrow directed travelers to turn right. If we were looking for a sign about our next turn in life, it pretty much showed up right then.
"Sure," replied John, making a u-turn and heeding the sign's course.
That sign led us to one of several gallery stops throughout rural South-Central Wisconsin. I first noticed the old farmhouse, weathered with stories. John first noticed the large, brick, wood-fired kiln off to the side of it.
An anagama kiln is an ancient type of pottery kiln brought to Japan from China via Korea in the 5th century. There's your art history lesson for the day. Though this kiln wasn't a true anagama kiln, it shared many of the same properties, specifically the need to stoke the fire continuously over several days with wood in order to maintain the proper temperature for the complex interaction between flame, wood ash, and the minerals of the clay body to create a natural ash glaze. Needless to say, that process requires a lot of coffee or a lot of help. Many times both.
We walked toward the kiln where we were were greeted by the artist, Michael Schael, who talked with us about the kiln, his work, and the time-intensive firing process. Always eager to learn a new skill, when he mentioned he recruited friends and volunteers to help with the firing process, we told him to let us know if he ever needed a couple more. Come spring, we made good on that offer, and our original 6-hour shift turned into an entire afternoon and evening filled with learning the craft, talking with our new friends, eating delicious food dropped off by neighbors, and stoking the fire late into the night until John and I finally crashed in the farmhouse at 2 a.m.
We returned three weeks later, this time for the spring "Clay Collective Pottery Tour," to see the pots and vessels we helped Michael fire.
While driving the back roads to each gallery, the conversation sounded something like this:
"How do people do it?"
"What do you mean?" I asked John.
"I mean, how do they just decide to be a potter and then just do it? How do they find the land and the space. How do they make it happen?"
"You could always ask my folks if you can build a kiln out on the back 40.," I joked. "Dad's always up for a new project."
"Uh-uh," he answered. "If I'm going to build a kiln, I'm building it and it's staying where it is. I'm not taking it apart to rebuild it wherever we end up."
"Well, then I guess you have to decide where you want to be."
He gave me a look. This time I was serious.
"I meeeeaaan, I think you need to decide where you want to be first. Is it here, is it Asheville like we've talked about for years, or is it Door County? Tony and Rebecca are always telling us they need new and younger artists up there."
John tipped his head from side to side, as if weighing the options. Then, after a pause, "Door County might not be bad."
We had no way of knowing it, but between October and May we had been drawing the line from one dot to the next. And in that moment, driving the country roads between galleries, we connected the two.
*What the heck is letterboxing you ask? Don't worry. As you get to know us, I'm sure you'll hear plenty about our hobby that consists of looking for hand-carved stamps hidden in Tupperware containers in the woods. But in the meantime, you can get more information here.