When we first arrived at the barren tract of land which would become the Hermitage, we wanted to surround ourselves with animals. We wanted to bring the Hermitage to life as a New Eden or Peaceable Kingdom as based on the paintings of Quaker artist Edward Hicks.
Our nearly unconscious desire for animals overrode common sense and we had goats and sheep before we had appropriate fencing and food. We added oxen, pigs, cattle, dogs and farm cats that just wandered onto the property. Feeding and maintaining them consumed much of our time and led us on a hardscrabble path of heartbreak, labor and joy.
They became our family. We lived surrounded by animals, especially during our first two years when we lived on the main floor of the barn and the animals lived directly below us in the stable area. They surrounded us as we worked and even sat around us when we ate outdoors. We reached a pinnacle of harmony, not without hardship, maintaining a balance between our human species and the other species around us. They were like us, with similar emotions, thoughts, routines and needs. Unlike us, they lived solely in the moment, enduring or enjoying whatever weather, health or circumstances came their way.
They were born to meet their basic needs for food, shelter and companionship as if no humans existed. They were unaware of the outer world that impinged so much upon us. We became influenced by their primal innocence, oblivious to threats to life or security except in the immediate moment. Through them we became more than human as we moved further away from primarily human contact and interaction to be more a part of nature and her creatures.
We reached a spiritual awakening with them as we built the Hermitage and maintained our own difficult balance of life without modern conveniences, tools or power. We were finally overwhelmed by violent intrusions from the outside as we were unable to keep the world at bay. The uncontained freedom in which our animals lived could not be sustained as they went into adjacent fields of neighboring farmers looking for the food we could not supply. Our herds expanded but not the amount of food we could produce for them. We had to fence in and control our animals because the neighbors were understandably irate as our animals ate their crops. We moved the animals across the road, away from us and paradise was lost. They went feral, no longer responding to our calls and running away from us as we approached them. We were no longer part of their lives and they became livestock, not family.
We tried replacing them with a human family but it was never the same. Innocence was gone and humans disappointed. We became hermits, no longer needing or seeking other brothers. We sought new bonds with birds who could live among us without the demands of four-legged animals. We have surrounded ourselves with ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys, as well as dogs and cats. They provide a sense of wholeness to our solitary lives, a feeling of bonding with other creatures. They add a spiritual aspect as we realize we are part of a larger whole, connected now with a family of the earth itself.