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
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Type: Permanent, fulltime Reports to: Executive Director Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state and out-of-state required Compensation (beginning): $44,000 to 46,500/yr., DOE plus excellent benefits...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.