You’ve read the stories of people who decided to drop out of the corporate buzzsaw. Cheering these slow-life pioneers from the sidelines, you may think, I’d like to do that too, but I can’t because . . . .
So, what happens when the cheering stops, and the new life begins? In 2007, about the same time I started RDR, I heard from a friend that Martha Stewart’s one-time, girl-of-all-trades, Margaret Roach, had chucked it all and gone to live in the woods. Not only that, she was blogging about it and with grace. I visited, enjoyed her writing and commented never expecting to hear back from her. I mean, after all, she was the former Editorial Director of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. I was surprised when she came by and left a comment or two on my blog when the occasion merited it. On Twitter, she also gave me the great tip to plant Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ instead of ‘Aureola,’ and she was right. ‘All Gold’ is much more beautiful in all seasons.
Margaret’s new book reflects on why she left the corporate world and went to live in the woods, and it wasn’t because she and Martha had a falling out. They are still good friends. In fact, Martha wrote an eloquent blurb for the back of And I Shall Have Some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Lane for My Own Dirt Road, and Margaret was on Martha’s show last week. So, don’t buy the book expecting a bit of the tawdry scandal which fills our media these days. It’s not there.
One part naturalist’s notebook and one part expository memoir, I found much of her story very familiar because I had similar feelings when I left the corporate world sixteen years ago.
Who are you when you’re no longer email@example.com, or dnash@crowe_dunlevy.com? That sense of spinning like a whirling Dervish, or as Margaret puts it, feeling like the agitator in a washing machine, was all too familiar. She sat and stared out her window for a long, long time. I sat, folded clothes and watched Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Series before I could string two thoughts together. I think Margaret had the better part. In fact, I know she did.
We had other things in common too right down to our asthma (something which never came up on Twitter) and a fear of getting hurt or dying alone. I worked blocks from the Oklahoma City Murrah Bombing. She lived through 9-11. Now, we both reside in the country about twenty minutes from anything resembling a town and blog about our gardens and our lives. She lives on the side of a mountain and can’t get out of her driveway when it snows. I live between the two towns of Edmond and Guthrie. I go to town quite frequently because I have children, but if I didn’t, you wouldn’t see me for weeks.
Margaret is a keen observer of her environment. Remember, she spent a great deal of time looking out that window over her laptop. She gives detailed information about the animal inhabitants of her home, from the many birds she is constantly rescuing from mating season window crashes to the frogboys who hang out in her ponds. There is also Jack, her once feral cat, who now reigns supreme from his pillow on the chair next to her.
Her climate is a harsh one especially in winter, and as I read those pages of the book set in winter, I kept thinking of George Harrison’s “Little darlin’, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter . . .” I actually shivered some of the time. While the last two years in Oklahoma have had record breaking snowfall, that’s just a norm where she lives. I’m glad I live further south even if we do contend with late freezes and intense heat.
Margaret is brutally honest about her fears of lightning, asthma, storms and above all, snakes. She has two very different guides who help her see that her dreams of snakes are all about transformation.
Finally, spring comes, and she finally feels like she is both at home and shedding her corporate skin. I especially enjoyed those places where she discussed the environment around her. One section in particular sums up what I like most about Margaret when yet another bird, a male scarlet tanager crashes and burns.
“‘No you’re not, no you’re not,’ I am saying to the reddest bird of all, his color as surprising as when I’ve come upon the cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, in the shade of the woods here . . . . He is so limp, even I am not certain, but it is what I want people to say to me on the bad days, when I grow afraid, and what I tell myself. Birds of a feather; do unto others.”
It shows her depth of understanding, her innate kindness and self-effacing manner all in one.
Perhaps, one day, Margaret will be on a book tour somewhere within three states, and I’ll get to meet her face-to-face. That would be fun, but after reading And I Shall Have Some Peace There, I feel like I know her already.
If you’d like to know more, there is also a really good Q&A interview with her on Rural Intelligence.