So here's the thing.
Homesteading looks romantic and pastoral and magical from the other side of the monitor. And some days it looks like that from here, too. But the bigger truth is that homesteading – like most things – is messier than it looks from afar.
Messier in manure and work hours and broken down tractors, but in other ways, too.
For example: what happens when we have a trip planned (a 14th Birthday Wilderness Paddle Family Fun Extravaganza) and a calf develops a cough? And what if after that cough comes a sheep down in the pasture with bottle jaw (a swelling indicative of parasites) and two others are showing signs of the same? And then let's say that a flood comes and wipes out all the fences and… you get the idea.
No, homesteading isn't all magic and soft light on the hills. Sometime's it's far more more train-wreck than romance.
And so just a few days before we departed for the boundary waters – as we packed our dehydrated soups and stews and sauces into labeled zip bags and put the last coat of car wax on the canoe – everything fell apart.
Pete and I sat outside on the steps and had a difficult, whispered conversation. If we all were to leave on our paddling trip we were confident that we'd come home to dead animals. And while I'm pretty loosey-goosey on some things, I am not when it comes to the life we hold in our hands. We knew we couldn't risk it.
We called the farm sitter and cancelled, and the four of us gathered around the table. We broke the news to our kids. The trip was off.
And then the most beautiful thing happened.
There was so much grace.
Our kids rose up and showed us compassion, understanding and grace beyond anything I could have mustered at 9 or 14.
And instead of sulking we set to work on making a list of plan-B adventures we might be able to manage instead. It was a proper anything-goes brainstorm and I scribbled our ideas on a scrap of paper. (Because this moment was not the time for a homeschooling spelling lesson.)
Ideas like a weekend trip for the four of us to the City Museum in Saint Louis; a quick jaunt to my parent's cabin in Northern Wisconsin; an epic road trip for the three of us, like we took last fall. We put it all on the table.
And in the end we gravitated toward something we've done so many times before. A simple one week road trip up to the shore. A week on Lake Superior, just an hour or two from the lakes we intended to paddle in the Boundary Waters. And because of a late cancellation at a state park on the shore there was one campsite available. It was meant to be. We were in.
The kayaks we loaded onto the roof of the camper, we transferred dehydrated camp food from our backpacks to the camper pantry and we set off.
And – short of Pete joining us for the journey – it was all we could have wished for.
Eight days of playing in the Big Lake, kayaking into "sea" caves, searching for agates, and hiking through the forest to waterfalls along the shore. Eight days – just the three of us – exploring, living, and road-schooling once again, while Pete (our hero/road trip enabler) stayed home to tend to the homestead.
During that week some of our friends had their first day of school, and we joked that our first day of school curriculum involved a kayaking trip and a waterfall in the woods. We celebrated Sage's birthday with marshmallows around the campfire beneath the cedar trees.
It was lovely. Perfect? Of course not. (What is?) But a perfect plan B when our plan A unraveled.
Indeed, it was so lovely that it was hard for the kids to aim our rig toward home at the end of the week. Because there was still more to see and more to do! One more paddle. One more visit with friends. One more swim.
And then, at last, we found our way back to Pete, back to the farm, back to the animals (none of which had to die for the sake of our vacation, thank goodness/thanks to Pete).
We still have a Boundary Waters trip on the table for next year, and with luck we'll pull it off then. But if not we know that there is still joy to be found, even if it isn't what we were expecting.
Because, as it turns out, when you go into an adventure with the right attitude it can still be glorious. Even if it isn't the adventure you had planned.