Category Archives: Small Town Life

A day in the life…

We are a family of six. That translates to two kids per parent. Factor in a dog, cat, and four alpacas, and meal planning/preparation, and you can see how a day goes by very quickly for our household. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love farming, but this kind of farming is unique for us. We do not live at the property and without electricity and running water, we have to make daily trips hauling materials in during the winter months over-top heavy snowfall and no matter the weather, and as often as two to three times daily.

photo 1Water is carried in three-gallon drums. We fill it at home and carry the water uphill through the snow because there is no way for our car to traverse the drive this time of the year. It’s good cardio, but not half as good as the 50lb bags of pellets or the even heavier dense hay we carry bale by bale.

A hay shortage this year meant we could not stock up as we had done previously, but thankfully we found a really good supplier just 12 miles from the farm. Today, we’ll haul in another load, bale by bale, through the snow, uphill the whole way. I’m just grateful it’s good grass hay (harder to find with such high demand fphoto 3or alfalfa mixed bales in our area).

Yesterday, was a straw day. We stack two bales on the Prius roof once a week for bedding. The straw is light and not as difficult to maneuver, but takes time, like anything, when traversing heavy snow.

The daily tasks at the farm include the removal of the evening dung-pile (it’s amazing what an alpaca bottom can produce in a day), watering of the animals, a daily ration of pellets (a treat and supplement), hay feed, and feeding the cat, who has taken up residence with the alpacas. They form a harmonious grouping. Cats and alpacas pair well together and the cat keeps the mice away from the feed and I often find the cat and the alpacas nestled together in the deep straw bedding.

Next comes the dumping of the collected dung outside of the barn, then a walk around the perimeter to ensure the fence is in good order. Usually a few nuzzles and snuggles are exchanged and that concludes the first round.

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Another aspect of having alpacas is the grooming. We do not groom their fiber, but we do keep their nails clipped, which is not a very pleasant process for the farmer, unaccustomed to wrestling a 200-lb animal during its routine foot-care.

This summer, I learned to administer both IM and SQ injections for vitamins and vaccines. Also not my favorite task, but part of the routine care of the animals. There’s the shearing, but that’s a biennial event for Suris, and thankfully one we can hire out (though we successfully sheared two on our own – I may be slightly stretching the use of the word “successful” in this instance).

Farming is not for the faint of heart. And farming in this fashion is reminiscent of something older. At times I am working in complete darkness, by feel, and other times I find myself breathing standing before the large looming barn with the feeling time has stopped in this place altogether. It’s a peaceful feeling and I am grateful this special place has been preserved for many future generations to experience and enjoy.


A Tribute to the Small Town Doctor

Growing up, I never knew anything about long waits or white coats when meeting with my doctor. His office, small brick building on River Street in Elk Rapids, held artifacts of medicine in cabinets and never changed in all the years I went there. It was comfortable, familiar. So was Doc Green, the son of a physician, who worked tirelessly to help those who needed him. I also remember his candid sense of humor – that I never left the office without a good laugh, even when feeling sick. Even as an adult my mother would call and say, “I spoke to Doc Green about this or that problem you’re having, and he said…” Free advice from someone who really cared about keeping me (and all of his patients) healthy.

Doctor Green was the idealized television doctor in small town America, only he was a real man and we were so fortunate to have him in our town. When we couldn’t afford medicine, he provided samples. If we couldn’t afford a visit, he saw us anyway and let us make payments, no matter how small.

I learned this morning that he passed away. The man practiced medicine for all of his adult life. Was humble, kind, and practiced medicine the old way – the way that valued patients and their well-being above all else. And I consider him one of the staple characters in my youth. So sorry he is gone, but as his obituary asks, let his memory remind us to practice kindness and compassion, the real medicine in this world.

Please click here for the full obituary.

The Gift Shop Dilemma

Lake Ann, Michigan is and isn’t like many other small towns in northern Michigan. It’s a sleepy hamlet of less than 300 and boasts a central park, the mercantile (a store whose motto is “If we don’t have it; you don’t need it“), a great coffee shop, library, town hall, a church, a bank, a small corner convenience store that hasn’t changed in decades, a pizza place with the best pizza in the five country region, and taking up residence in a formerly abandoned building is the new Lake Ann Brewery. lakeann

There’s something about the brewery that has breathed new life into Lake Ann. In the evenings, the locals gather and are greeted on a first name basis by the owner, who takes time to visit with each family and isn’t shy about his love of small town life. He said a small town is great until one thing creeps in.

“What’s that?” We inquired.

“Gift shops. That’s when you know it’s over.”

Like many of the local Lake Ann population, Matt isn’t eager to see the town explode into a tourist mecca. The man just wants to make good beer and, while he enjoys the out-of-towners who are accustomed to summering in Lake Ann, he’s equally as eager to keep things small batch, whether that be the brew or the re-purposing of existing LA structures, like the building he rehabed with the help of other local business owners, or the small town character of the little village on the lake.

To think we’ve spent so much time looking outside the area for community, when a bit of that utopia exists right in our own back yard.

We sat and observed people coming in for a pint or to try a few new ciders while waiting on a pizza order next door. The people who come in vary. They are the blue collar to the recently retired and everything outside and in between. One man caught my attention in particular. He didn’t look anything like me with his arms laced with tattoo and his heavy work garb, but I recognized something of myself in him. In his hands was a book, a worn and beloved novel boasting a narrow band of white, the property of the library. And he took that book along with his beer and sat down to read in the sunlight filtering through the canopy of trees lining the street. Is there anything better on a fall afternoon?

No gift shop here, but there are simple gifts. These gifts here are not tangible, but experienced in the day to day getting to know yous and the conversations that flow across car hoods, over table tops, at the swings, or in passing at the counter of the mercantile. It’s our little secret we hope will spread. An awareness that growing bigger isn’t always the necessary path to success for a small town. Sometimes it’s staying just the right size, but expanding in heart.