When I was little, I always wondered why I was born into a family that had enough to eat, rather than into a starving family. I certainly got the message that others did not have as much as I had, and that I should give of myself. But no one ever said how much to give, and how much was OK to keep for myself. My father, a minister, didn’t like it that we had a summer house on Chappaquiddick when other people didn’t even have one house. How much did I deserve? Not much, I think, based on how unworthy I felt. No one said that the long game of doing for others begins with taking care of yourself. No one said we are all in this together, that we can accept help as well as give it. Certainly no one said the world is an abundant place.
When I first made Chappy my home, in the early 1970s, I believed I had to do everything for myself — I wanted to do that. My goal was to be self-sufficient and grow all my own food. I started building myself a house, and after my husband-to-be joined me, we did all the work ourselves. We always liked to joke about the one time we hired someone — to do wiring — and how he put the fridge on the same circuit with all the other outlets, and left one lone outlet across the room on its own circuit. After that my husband did the wiring.
Back then I didn’t want anyone I didn’t know to know where I lived. The world was a scary place. I figured if I could be self-sufficient and live at the end of a dead-end road on an island off an island, I might be safe. Back before the building boom, when the Chappy roads still had no street signs, we got someone to come and service our cookstove. When he finally found our house, buried way back in the woods, he said, “Are you part of the witness protection plan?” I always loved that.
All that self-sufficiency is tiring, though. For the past few years I’ve been in recovery from a lifetime of being self-sufficient. As much as I love eating the food that I grow, I’m tired of growing it. Gardening seems like a lot of work. I’ve become more interested in acquiring good vegetables and fruit other ways.
There is so much food growing wild, available for picking or digging, with no effort on my part in the cultivation. I’ve always picked the wild fruit on Chappy: blueberries, beach plums, grapes, apples, wild cherries, and, more recently, autumn olives as they’ve spread here in their invasive way. I grew up learning the names of flowers and trees on the island, so I have a good foundation for my growing interest in eating weeds and using wild plants for food, tea, and medicine. A couple of summers ago, after we’d moved our goat pen, an edible weed field exploded where the hay had seeded itself. There were plants I hadn’t seen in the yard before, like seaside plantain, chicory, burdock, winter cress, and pokeweed. It was fun learning how to prepare them in their various stages, and they were right there for the picking.
These days, there is so much great food being grown by Island farmers who are dedicating their whole lives to growing it. Slip Away Farm is right over the hill from our house on Chappy (which is how we came up with Over the Hill Farm as a name for our place — that, and feeling the effects of getting older). Farm stands have cropped up all over the place. It seems a shame not to support their efforts.
Also, I’ve found gardening with other people is more fun and energizing than doing it all myself. The past few years I’ve helped a friend grow sweet potatoes, cultivated a garden with my daughter, and been part of the community garden at the FARM Institute. I’ve also been a gleaner for a few years with Island Grown Gleaning. That’s a program that can make you feel the abundance of the plant kingdom. We pick or dig from Island farms and yards what’s extra, what’s more than they can use or sell. As well as helping to distribute the food to people who need it, we take home what we can use ourselves.
After high school, when I first went off on my own, I felt homeless for many years, even when I had a place to live. I thought I’d end up a bag lady when I got old. Now, after 40 years of living in my house, raising a family, growing our food, and eating from the abundance of the island, I am rooted here. I have a home to live in, and I have an island that feels like a home. I am a part of Chappy’s land and ocean; they are part of me. My cells are made from the very elements that have been part of Chappy’s plants, air, and water. I guess I could still become a bag lady, but I don’t worry about it anymore.