Out in the cold

Selling the family farm severs connection with place and past

  • Sale day at the Bair family farm.

    Courtesy Julene Bair
  • Life on the farm, c. 1980s.

    Courtesy Julene Bair
  • Life on the farm, c. 1980s.

    Courtesy Julene Bair
  • Life on the farm, c. 1980s.

    Courtesy Julene Bair
  • Life on the farm, c. 1980s.

    Courtesy Julene Bair
 

Page 4

As soon as the money from the sale hit my bank account, I talked the man I live with into going in together on a house and barn on a little under two acres on the Colorado Front Range. We were buying, I argued, a tiny fraction of connection, a bit of what I'd sold.

It was indeed pretty here on the plains below the mountains. But just owning 1.7 acres in exurbia seemed to satisfy nothing. That Felliniesque image, the auctioneer's wagon, rode through my subconscious all winter.

What was so compelling about owning, anyway? And what was it about not owning that could cause such sickness to arise in me? The word "property," it surprised me to discover, was first defined as a "bundle of rights." What we gave up in selling was not the thing itself, which will last far longer than us, but our rights over it.

This made sense to me. Land is one of the four traditional elements. Air, Fire, Water, Earth are nature, its essence. We naturally grasp onto land, the only solid thing among them, but land belongs to all life, not, ultimately, to any individual or family or species.

Tracts on property theory often quote the Enlightenment thinker John Locke, who proclaimed that what man "removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property." The idea that mixing with the soil makes it ours appealed to my body's reasoning. Farming is an intermingling of self and soil. My father mixed himself, his labor, into the soil he owned. To morally earn the farm, I would've had to do the same.

Another theory, "libertarian socialism," holds that owners lose their rights if they abandon property or try to reap benefit from it while not living on and working it. This also made emotional sense to me. As an absentee owner, I should have felt just as empty, if not emptier, than I did having sold. I had no moral right to that land.

Why did anyone have to own it? I would rather have liberated our property from the annual assaults waged on it by plows and irrigation pumps. The Nature Conservancy would not have been interested in our denuded fields but the law requires that it belong to someone. Had I the means, I could have held the deeds, paid the taxes and put my father's land all back to grass.

That romantic return to wilderness would have soothed my ache, but it would not have healed it. The cover of one book I ran across, The Philosophy of Property, featured an idyllic white clapboard house and red barn surrounded by golden wheatfields. I longed for what we'd had, the way we'd once had it, for how the land had nurtured us with the produce and livestock we grew. Right relationship.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.