Back in Arkansas, Chelsea and I had a lot to discuss. Cornelius had yet to send an official offer, but of course I told Chelsea everything Cornelius had told me. It sounded a bit risky, but promising.
Chelsea was a Special Ed teacher at the time. She had been teaching within the Harrison Public School System for years, but she loathed it. Chels holds a Master’s Degree in Education from Arkansas Tech and by this time in her career she felt she had philosophically outgrown the public education system and was searching for something a little more dynamic and challenging. She had always wanted to be an attorney and was beginning to study for the LSAT.
What was I doing? Well, you might say I was running an experiment…
Chelsea and I had cashed in our chips and left modern society to live in the wild. Well, as wild as we could get in the Arkansas Ozarks. I bought a 3800 square-foot log cabin sitting on 15 acres of secluded paradise just a stone’s throw from the Buffalo National River:
The front 5 acres was cleared and covered in lush wild grasses I kept manicured with my John Deere Zero-Turn Mower. In the summer months The Front 5 looked like a park.
Near the cabin I had trimmed some of the large oak trees to expose views to the south of Boat Mountain and the Buffalo River Valley. The southern breezes coming up from the valley always kept my land cool and a tad less humid.
Check this out – here’s a look at our lives at the cabin taken from one of our game cameras:
I also had a large workshop where I could store all my tools and equipment I needed to manage the land, including The Back 10 acres which was heavily wooded with oaks and pines. I had a seasonal pond that was fed by a seasonal spring. I built a road near the fence line that took visitors from The Front 5 through a shaded canopy of trees that then opened to a clearing where the kids and I built a large fire pit. From there we could observe the pond, the stars above, the deer in the tree line across the pond. The road skirted the pond’s embankment and went up the hill, deep into the woods to our back fence line. That was a project made possible by my John Deere 5200 Tractor – the road was just perfect for my John Deere Gator, which was in constant use as I improved the property.
The resources on my land were vital to our survival out there. It was perfect hunting land and the white-tailed deer were plentiful.
The cabin was heated by wood – we used an outdoor Hardy wood-heated furnace. I spent a lot of time out in The Back 10 with a chainsaw and a lot of time splitting wood with an axe at my woodshed. Kept me in shape, that’s for sure.
Chelsea maintained a large organic garden that kept her and the kids busy throughout the seasons and kept us fed with tasty fruits and vegetables and later, sauces and salsas and jams and chutnies all year long. They also took care of the chickens, which were great layers. That is to say, we ate a lot of eggs.
We had hopes of getting goats and pigs soon and ultimately becoming a self-sustaining small hobby farm.
I had the toys, too. Canoes, kayaks, SUPs, mountain bikes, all kinds of camping equipment were kept organized in a brand-new shed behind my workshop. And then there was our
15-foot Wolf Pup camp trailer I kept parked in my workshop.
All to say, we had a life out there. A lifestyle. A big one. A fun one.
Our oldest daughter Indy was attending school in sixth grade. Cooper had just started being homeschooled by me. I was already at the cabin raising our youngest daughter Aspen, which was another experiment.
When Chels got pregnant with Aspen in 2016, we decided to do something different. We did extensive research and discovered interesting statistics about children who spend their very early years (0-5 years) in close contact and interaction with their fathers. The children tend
to have advanced emotional regulation, they are confident, assertive, and have an increased sense of self-worth and personhood that follows them throughout adulthood. The research and results go much deeper than that but suffice to say we were sold.
And since I was already convinced that one of the major problems in our society is a pandemic of fatherlessness, and because I had my own Father Wounds to heal and recover from, I wanted – more than anything in life – to be a good dad.
So Chels and I decided I was going to close my publishing business of nine years and stay home to raise Aspen. Five years later and all I have to do is take one look at that sweet girl and I am reminded that it was the best decision of my life and the happiest 2 ½ years of it. Aspen and I continue to have a bond I did not know was even possible between two humans. It’s a beautiful thing.
So . . . you might be wondering why we left.
We were ready for a change. We were ready to do something different. And the mountains were calling me.
I’m not talking about the Ozark Mountains, I’m talking about real mountains with snow-capped peaks. I’m talking about The Rockies. Prior to Arkansas, I lived in Boulder and Denver, Colorado, for seven years. Since I left, the mountains never stopped calling me back.
Don’t get me wrong, the Arkansas Ozarks has a rugged beauty of its own and Buffalo River Country is one of America’s hidden gems. I spent a lot of time on the Buffalo National River – I even paddled the entire length of it in a canoe over the course of nine days. Alone. It was a spiritual experience. Click below to read about it on page 36 of Paddle Arkansas:
For Chelsea’s birthday in 2018, I took her on a float trip from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing. It’s the most picturesque ten miles of the entire river. I documented that trip in a video titled Paddling the Buffalo:
The colors of Buffalo River Country in the Fall are a canvas man could never recreate, that magic only belongs to nature and it is expressed so majestically along the blufflines and river bends in that wilderness (click for full-res):
But Colorado was just a 12-hour drive away and I kept finding myself hitting the road west. I had taken the wife and kids on trips to and through Colorado several times and Chelsea had fallen in love with Pagosa Springs. As we sat down to write down our goals for the future, we discussed moving to Colorado in ten years.
That seemed like an awful long time to wait.
This opportunity in Oregon might accelerate some things a bit, I thought. Plus I’d get mountains and the ocean. Chels and the kids love the ocean, too.
As well, there were some things about our lives in Arkansas that stood in direct contrast to the natural beauty we were surrounded by. It’s a complicated story, but let’s just say it had something to do with The Culture. Chels and I were concerned The Culture would affect the children. We didn’t want them to be a part of it, we wanted to protect them from it.
We considered our experiment in the wild might protect the children while they were young, but we knew we couldn’t protect them forever. They would soon enter their world and what world would that be? What world would we introduce them to? We were also beginning to have concerns about better opportunities for their futures.
That’s around the time I saw Cornelius’ post on Facebook about the hemp farm. We were ready for a change.
So, about a week after my visit to Oregon, I got the call from Cornelius.
“Hey, uh, I’ve got an offer for you,” he said. “The guys reviewed your resume, they’re super stoked to have you on board, brother. It’s going to be like family. But just one hiccup, the board was hesitant about the salary.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“They thought $75,000 was a little high. Starting out. I mean, we typically start our Farm Managers at $40,000 a year.”
“That’s quite the difference, dude.”
“Well, since you have a college degree, the board says we can start you at $50,000. But what I’m going to do is make sure the other $25,000 is met through bonuses at the end of the year,” he said. “Even if they don’t agree to that, I’ll take it out of my own personal bonus.”
“Mmm-hmm,” I said.
“And that’s just starting out, brother. They just want to be sure they know what you’re made of. Get through year one, get through your first harvest, and we’ll increase your salary, no problem,” he said.
“I’ll talk it over with Chelsea and get back to you.”
“Hey, but first, they want you to come out for a week in the beginning of May. It’s just a couple weeks away. We need you to drive a tractor for some farm prep contracts we’ve got. Can you do it?”
“Hell yeah, let’s do it.”
The next few weeks in Arkansas were intense. On top of the lengthy discussions between Chelsea and I about pulling up our stakes and migrating thousands of miles to the West Coast along The Oregon Trail, we were swarmed with activities. Chelsea’s younger sister Nikki gave birth to her first child, Jolene. There were Easter activities spent with Chelsea’s parents and grandparents and the extended Sutterfield Clan. I went camping with Cooper for the annual Scouts Camping Trip at Camp Orr on the Buffalo National River.
Then it was time to fly back to Oregon.
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