I grew up asking questions and found real joy in the learning. Our parents so encouraged us to explore the urban world where we lived that we built hot air balloons out of colorful tissue paper and released them from the top of our brownstone on the lower east side of the city. We excitedly learned that hot air rises. We kept various unique pets, some of which our mother referred to as “giant white mice.” We taught these gentle creatures to run mazes my brother and I built out of wooden blocks, and we would time their runs through the maze with our father’s stopwatch.

We eventually learned that these “mice” were actually lab rats, but because the city was home to many unwanted feral rats, not so clean and certainly carriers of disease, our mother insisted that we not tell others of our pet rats and we simply called them giant white mice. We came to learn
that our white rodent pets were wonderfully inquisitive creatures.

Then, as we raised our own children, the adventures in learning continued. We built wooden mazes for our hamsters and gerbils. We fashioned a model Sterling engine out of coffee cans so we could understand that the difference between hot and cold water could power a piston, and we all learned how to scuba dive and explore the underwater world.

I fondly remember that when the children were little, we had an ancient bound dictionary that sat on top of a rolling stand in the front hallway. On shelves under the dictionary sat the A to Z volumes of an equally ancient encyclopedia. I remember how when we would sit around the dining room table and one child would ask a question, that another perhaps older child would rush to the hallway to look up the answer. We all learned.

I suppose I wish that we still had that dictionary and encyclopedia. When we packed up the city house to move to the creek, we asked our then-grown children which of the city things they wanted to keep, and those things that they wished to have but could not carry off then, we carefully stowed away in the barn.

The dictionary and encyclopedia, and even the stand, found a new home at what was assuredly one of the world’s largest yard sales. Our first home at the creek amounted to a cozy 388 square feet, and there was simply no room for most all of our city possessions.

And so, our world changed, but not our quest for learning. It is true, we may no longer find most of our answers within the printed corners of a page, but the answers to our questions are now far more readily at hand. We may well live off-grid, generating all of our own electricity from the sun
and the wind, but we are hardly disconnected from the world. We happily watch satellite television, peruse satellite internet and keep our cell phones close at hand. Granted, there are areas in the creek valley where we do not get any reception, but such areas are actually a welcome respite and a thankful excuse to disconnect as we walk the creek, do the animal chores
or bring in firewood.

So never having done before, most all of what we are doing now, we research, and dive on in. We have learned how to become to beekeepers and raise horses, beef cattle, goats, rabbits and chickens. We have figured out how to build our own home ourselves and live with solar energy. I have learned to identify and safely eat the creek valley’s wild edibles, start my garden from seed in my greenhouse float bed, and we have both learned how to plant and harvest corps from our farm’s nine tillable acres. And yes, we are still learning and still researching daily. Hopefully the ancient dictionary and encyclopedia still sit somewhere on their antique stand.

Perhaps, they are now loving conversation pieces in some larger home, but no matter what has become of them, their memory, and that of tissue paper hot air balloons, is very real and reminds me of how thankful I am for my continued adventure in learning.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in Ohio. Visit them at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.