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Strong Determination: Building Muscle and Patience in Pursuit of Farming Dream

A-photo-of-Colleen-NewquistI love being strong. I have spent the better part of this weekend knocking a fence down, board by board, patiently removing every nail and stacking the lumber for reuse. I have made friends with a mini sledgehammer, and it is such a satisfying relationship. Whack, whack, whack, down go the boards, one by one.

To remove nails, I use a beat-up old hammer that I vaguely recall belonging to my dad. Even if it didn’t, I feel a connection to him as I work across two sawhorses, tapping nails back out through each board, flipping the board to pull them out, and dropping the spent nails into an old enamel pitcher. I develop a sure and steady flow to my work. My dad was a patient man who methodically worked his way through a project, whether it was refinishing furniture, building a porch with my husband, or doing a crossword puzzle.

I understand the satisfaction that comes with such patience as I take apart the fence. It is a very zen activity for me, unhurried, immensely pleasurable in its rhythm and repetition. It’s also immensely pleasurable because I can do it without struggle—and without being sore. In the past, this type of activity would have deeply fatigued me and left me hobbling and hurting the next day, to the point where I pretty much have left the physical stuff to my husband.

But when I decided that I seriously want to pursue a rural lifestyle and farm, I realized that means getting serious about increasing my physical capabilities. So I started a strength-training program a couple months ago at Quality Classic fitness center, a gym in my town of Park Forest, run by former competitive weight lifters Earl and Alia Davis, who are the nicest people in the world. It’s a very “country” kind of place—everybody knows everybody, and everybody helps you out or leaves you alone as desired. It’s incredibly friendly and supportive. And it’s making me strong.

I’m still fat, still way overweight, but damn, I can swing a four-pound sledgehammer with gusto, and I’ve got stamina I never knew existed. In the past few weeks, I’ve knocked screws out of the wood from two decks—one 10’ X 10’, the other 8’ X 14’—hauled and stacked every plank of lumber, and, in the past two days, single-handedly deconstructed a 35-feet long, 6-feet tall, board-on-board fence. To an almost-50-year-old woman who has been sedentary for the past several years, this feels like an accomplishment.

Colleen Newquist 

I love the confidence that comes with physical labor. This weekend, I have lived exactly as I want to live—with a good part of my day physically immersed in my work. That’s not how I live most days—I spend hours on my butt, in the car, in front of a computer, in endless meetings—but we’re working to change that. All this deconstruction is being done to accommodate the crew and machines that will demolish our concrete pool. I’m sure we’ll mourn its demise on the first 90 degree day, but I’m hoping the sadness will be offset by something I’ve been missing for the past nearly six years: A GARDEN.

The pool has occupied the only spot in this forested yard that gets decent sun. Now, instead of baking myself with those rays, I’ll be raising and cooking up organic produce to feed both body and soul. I’ve so missed getting my hands dirty. This weekend, they got filthy. And I loved it.

Next up will be serious consideration of adding a few hens to the homestead. Homegrown tomatoes in a fresh-egg frittata … I can’t imagine what might be better! Except for fresh goat cheese to go in it. But I’ll have to wait for a real farm for that.

In the meantime, I’ll build a garden and maybe a chicken coop, channeling my dad’s patience with each swing of the hammer as I work surely and steadily toward the dream.

Colleen Newquist 2