Feral, Creative Things I Learned As a Country Child

July 25, 2018

I grew up as part of a family of four on a sixteen-acre farmstead. The Gaterud family home, which my parents have owned for 37 years and I’ve called home my entire life, is snuggled into a forest on the edge of a small southern Minnesota lake. Statistically speaking, each family member occupied four acres of land on a per capita basis. What I’m trying to say is: I grew up with a lot of extra space and quiet.

The farm currently features, among other things: a gigantic house; shady walking trails; a horse barn, currently home to some very cute bats; lovely gardens; an abundance of birds and small mammals and an old, deaf dog named Molly. The nearest neighbor is a half-mile away. There is a very peaceful pet cemetery somewhere on the property. (Don’t tell the neighbors.)

It also features two delightful 65-year-olds I call mom and dad, and having recently retired, they’re selling the farm and moving to a small town in eastern Oregon. Next week, my childhood home is going to become someone else’s, and boy howdy, are there some emotions happening.

Above all, I’m excited for my parents — having seen them work very hard the past few years to care for their parents, sell a business and get through some medical issues, I’m ready for them to relax. And since the old farm is going to a family with three young children, I’m happy to know that a new generation gets the chance to grow up out in the country like I did.

Here are some things I learned out on the edge of the field:

If you’re bored, you better figure out something to do. Fact: There are very few sources of town-type entertainment going on out on Waseca County Road 54. There are no baseball games, no movies, no convenience stores, no yoga in the park. If you want to be entertained, you have to figure it out. My parents were encouraging when I’d seek new hobbies, even if I promptly dropped them — a cycle of trial and failure that prepped me well for a career as a creative.

“Sailboat burn” is an acceptable form of entertainment in the country.

Walk about it. Stuck on something? Take a spin around the field, the longer the better. If you can’t find a field, a few city blocks will do.

Projects are good, within reason. It’s cool to be like, “I’m gonna start a food blog,” or “I found a broken motorcycle on Craigslist,” or “I know this boat has a leak but I’ll get it fixed someday.” Being curious and excited is great! It’s only a problem when you over-commit and can’t follow through on your work. Then you wind up with a property full of stuff that your adult son has to haul around when you decide to move. Not speaking from experience or anything.

Start over. Great news: Nothing is permanent. The metaphorical/literal farm has a ton of space to experiment and develop over time. The garden you planted 10 years ago doesn’t have to be in that spot forever — just do the work to move it. The sledding chute you cut into the hill in the forest can change paths. And your skills and passions can grow and mutate — it’s 100 percent fine!

This was not our best sledding hill.

Pets make everything better. Nothing really work-related here — it’s just a fact.

Even as an adult, my favorite activity is still sitting on the ground near dogs. Also, I miss that hat.

Make noise while you can. If the mood strikes, light off fireworks. Take up the drums. Bang and clatter and clunk your way through building a new deck. In creative work, use concepting and brainstorming to propose ideas that challenge you and piss off your neighbors. Take advantage of those wide-open spaces while you have them! My high-school grad party involved a concert behind the garage in which we covered several Smiths and Nine Inch Nails songs, a particularly leaden version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac,” along with a barn cupola stuffed with fireworks for the finale. No one batted an eye.

In the country, you can have a cigarette boat that looks like a jazz cup.

Don’t take good water pressure for granted. Someday, after you’ve moved to the city and have experienced normal water that isn’t pumped in from a well, you will return home and discover that filling a glass of water or taking a shower is a glacial process. You realize that everything you thought was normal growing up was, in fact, wildly inconvenient. It gives you a nice immersive historical experience, like colonial Williamsburg or the Renaissance Festival, about the development of plumbing in ancient Rome. If you have good water pressure, savor it.

Bonus: The real masters of the farm: Molly and the dearly missed Chubby.