Cheese-making and Pest Control (Making Space for Intuition)
Updated: May 1, 2019
This is a story of an adventure I stumbled upon as a result of trusting my intuition and saying “yes” to opportunities instead of sticking to my plans. As a lover of plans, organization and schedules, I'm sharing this both as a reminder to myself and encouragement for anyone reading: plans can be great, but when you leave room for whatever you feel inexplicably pulled to do or have a gut feeling about, happy coincidences tend to multiply.
Plans, plans, plans
I’m pacing again. I rarely notice when I’m doing it, unless I’m on a video call with someone and they ask me to stop because my background is making them dizzy. My list of To Dos for the week is overflowing, and I’m adding things faster than I can cross them off. I’ve always been like this, but some weeks are more extreme than others, like this one. I’ve filled my schedule with things I love to do - there are just a few too many items to be realistically possible without sacrificing things like sleep and meals. I compromised on home cooking and stocked up over the weekend on steam-in-the-bag veggie mixes, instant grains, freezer meals and pasta, since I knew I would otherwise end up at KFC sobbing into my chicken tenders and green beans (it’s happened before, but that’s another story). No matter how much I rearrange or reorder the tasks, I end up feeling like this:
I decide that I can remedy my anxiety by planning a camping trip for this weekend to Big Bend National Park; backpacking in the Chisos Mountains seems like a great way to recharge. I’ll just need to do a few extra preparations and get some backpacking gear I’m missing.
I know my plan doesn't make sense, so I let intuition lead
Wednesday. I see that it will be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Big Bend when I’m planning to be there, and I calculate that I will be driving for more time than the waking hours I would be spending in the park. It doesn’t seem worth it, but I have this feeling deep down that it's important for me to still get far away from the city and camp. So instead of Big Bend, I decide to go to Padre Island National Seashore on the Gulf of Mexico. This seems reasonable, since it is a couple of hours closer than Big Bend, and it doesn’t require backpacking gear. I’ll just need to pack the gear I already have and leave with enough time on Friday afternoon to make it to the beach before dark. Totally doable.
Thursday. I have some time blocked off to pack for camping. I lost my last pair of contacts last night, so I know part of the afternoon will be occupied by a last-minute optometrist appointment, but that still leaves some time at lunch. However, I end up skipping lunch to drive across town to my storage unit to get a piece of furniture, so that I can sell it to a Craigslist customer. Why did I do that instead of packing? Well, in between work meetings this morning, a woman texted me from Craigslist with a pickup time, and for no logical reason, I had a good feeling about this particular buyer. So even though I'd gotten messages from several other people about my furniture in the last few days and hadn't agreed to meet up with anyone yet, I decide to go out of my way to meet up with this woman. When she arrives, we get to talking as I show her the bedside table I’ve brought. It turns out she moved into an RV for a while to travel after her son left for college, so we discuss minimalism and tiny living, both of which I have a keen interest in. By the time she drives off, I’ve used up all of my packing time for the afternoon. We finish the chamber opera performance by 8pm. I know my former housemate attended, who I haven’t seen in a year or so, but she has disappeared before I can say hello to her after the performance. I do find another friend in the audience, so we chat after the show and make plans to hang out next week. Outside the theater, I see my former housemate meandering along the sidewalk with a friend. Even though I had intended to go home and pack, I'm delighted with my luck at running into my friend, and feel that I should take the opportunity to spend time with her. I jog over to meet them. She only left the performance so quickly because she was hungry, so we decide to go out for dinner and drinks to catch up. At dinner, she volunteers some tips about how to go about putting on a musical event I've been talking about presenting. In fact, she's exactly the person I had been meaning to ask about how to get started with the event, but I hadn't gotten around to getting in touch yet. How serendipitous that she brought it up unprompted, and that I ran into her at all!
Friday morning. This is my last chance to pack for camping. I have an hour-long window between work meetings and a matinee performance. If I can pack everything in the car early so that I can leave directly from the show, I’ll make it to the beach by sunset. The work meetings go smoothly, and I say to myself, “I’m just going to make myself a couple of tacos, eat, and then pack.” So I make myself a couple of tacos, and as I step outside to enjoy the sunshine while I eat, I hear my downstairs neighbor watering his plants. Suddenly, I feel like enjoying the weather a little longer and chatting with him. I bring my tacos downstairs and proceed to hang out with my neighbor for an hour and have a fascinating discussion on how limitations cultivate innovation and the merits of starting a venture without having a fully-mapped-out plan. These are subjects we've both been struggling with as we work on our individual business ventures, and we are both pleased with the validation we get from each other in the conversation. At this point I’m not going to make it to the beach before sunset. I've just been following my gut feelings about how to spend my time for most of the week, and packing hasn't made the cut! On my way home from the performance, I check in with myself - do I still feel like it makes sense to leave town today, or should I do the logical thing and wait until morning to drive to the beach? In response to my self-inquiry, I feel an overwhelming, illogical urge to get out of the city. I've listened to my intuition all the way to this point, so why stop now?
I book a tent site on a farm about an hour south of Austin and head out around 6pm.
A few miles after turning off the interstate, I breathe a sigh of relief as farm fields and the broad Texas sky spread out before me. Butterflies flutter along the roadside, and pretty soon I start seeing more hawks and vultures than convenience stores and gas stations. Thirty minutes later, I pull up to a robin’s egg blue gate on the side of the road with a small metal sign: “Habitable Spaces,” it reads, with a roof above the text and stylized tree roots extending below. A tree-lined gravel road stretches beyond the gate. I text my hosts to let them know I’ve arrived, then I get out of the car, unlatch the slide-bolt to let myself in, drive through and re-latch the gate behind me. Not far down the gravel drive, Shane is waiting near his red Chevy pickup to show me to my campsite.
Once Shane shows me the site, he offers to show me around the farm. We take his pickup down the trail a ways, pass a fenced pond of enthusiastic ducks and geese, and park next to the goat pen near one of the chicken coops. Alison, Shane’s wife and co-founder of the farm, is hanging out by the common house. I think to myself, I made it to the farm and I’m already feeling a little recharged from getting outside of the city, so I might as well hang out with these people for a while. I learn that the two of them are visual and performing artists who moved down from New York seven years ago and have been building out the property ever since as an artist residency and non profit space. They raise goats, ducks, geese, and chickens, have trails all around the property, and have constructed all sorts of structures from a wood shop to the common house with its grow roof full of greenery, an A-frame, a yurt, a bottle brick shower house, and a tiny house for themselves. The property is heavily forested and peppered with sculptures and art installations from previous artist residents. How serendipitous that I would find fellow artists in this forest in rural Texas! After answering a few of my questions, Alison offers me a glass of wine and a tour of all the structures and animal enclosures. I ask her all about the construction and differences between the structures during the tour - I’m especially fascinated by the yurt, since I’ve never been in one before, and there’s a circular skylight where the walls meet in the center of the ceiling. As we return to the common house, Alison asks me if I have any dinner plans. A neighbor and his son, who I met on the tour, are hanging out after helping maintain some of the trails, and it looks like I’m about to join a dinner party of 4.
Cheese-making and pest control
After my week of freezer meals, I’m thrilled as Alison puts me to work gathering swiss chard from the garden for dinner. Shane shows me how to choose the right leaves to trim, so that we’ll be allowing the ones beneath to benefit from their new opening to the sunlight. We bring in our haul of greens and I rinse them off in the sink while Alison heats some goat's milk to make cheese. We’ll be having farm fresh saag paneer! Alison tells me stories about former artists residents and volunteers while we work. “We had a vegetarian once, but he was open to eating meat that we slaughtered and butchered on the farm,” she says. “The one thing he would not do is squish the caterpillars. The best form of pest control is to kill them when you find them.”
There’s one now - a fuzzy yellow piece of pom-pom crawling around on the giant chard leaf I’m about to rinse. I picked it up gingerly. It’s already squishy. Nope, I cannot squash this little guy either, no matter how effective the form of pest control. I remember the popular local snack that I hadn’t been up for trying in Zimbabwe - mopane worms - and decide to revisit my squeamishness around eating and killing crawly things another day. I drop the caterpillar in the sink to drown. “Who wants to see how to make farmer’s cheese?” Alison announces as the neighbor’s son and I were finishing up chopping the chard. I hurry over and she spoons a little citric acid into the pot of hot goat’s milk. “You can use cow’s milk, too. Full fat is best. You can also substitute lemon juice for the citric acid.” Curds quickly started to form in the pot. The instant chemical reaction reminds me of soap making, except easier and way less dangerous. Ten minutes later, Alison strains the curds into a cheesecloth, creating a little ball of fresh farmer’s cheese! It’s the best meal I’ve had in awhile. I try to focus on savoring it while taking in the conversation at the table and asking all my questions - we discuss the intersection of art and sustainable living, and community in city and rural life. The whole experience is worth savoring, from the company to the food to the eight cats cats and three dogs lounging around the common house while we eat.
After dinner, the neighbors are heading out and I stand up to bring my dishes to the sink and head to my campsite. “You know, the yurt is free if you want to sleep in there,” Alison say offhand. It’s just the thing to top off my night of pleasant surprises!
Balancing intuition with planning
As I was writing about it, everything I did in this story seemed like ridiculous procrastination and stubbornness that was counter to what I meant to be doing. Somehow, though, it all led me to a really great place I might not have otherwise discovered. The outcome reminded me how letting my intuition give me hints on what I should do (go out to dinner with my friend, take a little extra time to talk to the person buying my furniture) can present surprising opportunities. If I had packed when I was supposed to, I wouldn’t have looked for a campsite other than the beach, and I wouldn’t have found Habitable Spaces. Many of the unplanned conversations I had this week provided insights into things I've been thinking and wondering about too. I told a friend of mine about dinner at Habitable Spaces and he shared that he, too, has the coolest camping experiences when things don’t go as planned. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should throw out planning altogether...or does it? I’d never be able to function without any plans, but seems like a different balance works for each individual. What works best for you?