The Perfect Solstice Gift

hay mission

This farmer received the most perfect solstice gift this year. It’s no secret I’d been struggling with car troubles for the last few months. I was really pushing the envelope with my old Subaru Forester, so my boyfriend loaned me his old minivan to get by with til I could get newer wheels. When both vehicles died on the same day, I was left stranded─quite literally─with no means to replace the thing. This is the story of my 2020 car woes, and how it all ended with the most perfect solstice gift a girl could have asked for.

Car Troubles

The mechanic told me back in 2019 that I should think about replacing Runamuk’s Subaru Forester. Like most older Subarus, mine was becoming increasingly rusty, prone to muffler issues, and things were beginning to get worn out on the 20 year-old vehicle. Doing the kind of work that I do, I’m pretty rough on my vehicles. Yet, these Subarus are wicked rugged and have always done the job for me. That old Forester and I have been through quite a lot in the 3 years I drove it. I’m so grateful she held out as long as she did.

This summer, though, the old Forester began overheating. She was rapidly burning through water. I had to stop every twenty miles to put more in the radiator. I knew her days were numbered, but I did not have the funds to replace her. The farm is doing well. My finances are stable─as in, I am managing to keep the lights on, water running, phone and internet working, and the insurances paid. I am even managing to keep this big house heated, and my menagerie of pets and livestock are always fed and healthy─even on a shoestring budget.

But I have zero savings.

Runamuk's old Subaru Forester
Cattle panel mission 2020 with the Runamuk Forester!

Deron’s Minivan

To help me get by a little longer, Deron (remember my sweetheart boyfriend?) loaned me his old minivan. It was pretty beat-up and at about the same stage in it’s life as my Forester. Unfortunately, after driving it just a couple of months, this one began overheating too! (insert facepalm here)

I managed to maintain it for a while, adding water to the radiator every twenty miles or so. Then, one Thursday back in November, I was heading toward Kingfield for Runamuk’s weekly delivery run, when the van began overheating and water was suddenly spurting out of the engine with a horrible racket! With my heart in my throat, I pulled the van off the road onto the first place I could find, turned off the engine and sat there flustered and dumbfounded.

my sweetheart
My sweetheart, Deron.

Farmers are supposed to be the jack of all trades, and while I have a fairly diverse skillset, I fully admit that anything mechanically-related is way over my head lol. I didn’t know what to do. I knew the van had previously had issues with it’s water pump, and obviously it had something going on with it’s radiator. And I knew, too, that I couldn’t just leave the thing sitting there on the side of the road, especially since it wasn’t even mine. But should I try to drive it back to the farm? Or should I call a tow-truck?

For 10 minutes or so I waited for the engine to cool down. I was anxiously trembling and sweating, aware of the fact that one of my customers was coming down from Carrabasset Valley to meet me in Kingfield to pickup his order. Cell-service being one of those expenses I’ve chosen to forego in favor of farming fulltime, I could not call him to let him know what was happening on my end. Nor could I call someone for advice or assistance.

Eventually, I decided to see if I could get the van back to the farm. I was only a few miles down the road. I could pull off the road again to let it cool down if needed. Hopefully the engine wouldn’t blow up on me…

I held my breath all the way back to 344 School Street in New Portland, then parked the van with relief. There was still time to catch my customer for his delivery, so I decided to take the Forester to Kingfield. I’d driven it on some shorter trips and the radiator held up fine─so long as I took care to put water in it.

The Forester

For months, I’d been using the Forester only to cart water and supplies back and forth to the livestock on the field. Before I could go to Kingfield with it, I had to top off the radiator and put more air in all four tires. I was so flustered and panicked, trying to hurry my little air compressor to fill the tires, that I didn’t realize that instead of topping off the radiator, I was putting the water in the wiper fluid reservoir!

Um………………..I wasn’t kidding when I said I lack mechanical abilities…. Under normal circumstances, though, I can at least manage to put the fluids in the correct place!

Needless to say, the Forester only made it halfway to Kingfield before it was seriously overheated. Once again I had to pull off the road. At this point, I didn’t realize that I’d put the water in the wrong reservoir, so I thought the Forester had finally died altogether. Now what was I going to do?

Like so many other situations I’ve found myself in, I would have to be my own hero.

From the farm to Kingfield it’s only 7.5 miles. I was maybe a little closer to Kingfield than the farm as I considered my options. The way I saw it, I could either walk or hitchhike back to the farm─take or leave the groceries I’d been trying to deliver─and come back for the car later. OR, I could walk or hitchhike to Kingfield, make my deliveries, and worry about the car later.

Hitchhiking

It was a bitterly cold November day, overcast and almost dreary. Though I am accustomed to working outside in all forms of weather, and I was dressed appropriately with leggings under my jeans, fingerless gloves and a hunter-orange knit-hat on my head, I was not exactly prepared to be hiking that day.

Still, my customers were expecting their groceries, and I felt pretty strongly about fulfilling my commitment to those households. Opting to continue on to Kingfield to make the deliveries, I shouldered one of the reusable shopping bags filled with bagged carrots, potatoes, squashes, and breads. In my hands, I carried 2 more shopping bags. I figured I was brave enough to catch a ride if I could and practiced shuffling the bags to one hand to free up my thumb.

bigelow mountain range
The view of the mountains from the hill overlooking Kingfield, Maine.

That long and winding road doesn’t seem so empty and desolate from inside your car. Once I got out there, however, I realized it’s a pretty lonely place to be. In this part of Maine, where the densely forested wilderness hugs the road for long stretches between towns, it can also be a dangerous place to be. Encounters with wildlife could go badly and I could end up injured or worse, alone on the side of the road. Luckily, I only had to walk a couple of miles (mostly uphill, of course) before someone stopped to pick me up.

That compassionate soul was a young man named Gabe, who worked in Kingfield at Mainely Provisions (formerly Tranten’s). His family have a homestead on the West Kingfield Road. We chatted a little about farming as he drove me to town. He was kind enough to wait while I dropped my wares off at the local pharmacy, where one of my CSA members receives her deliveries.

Western Maine Pharmacy

Audrey Parks is the owner of Western Maine Pharmacy in Kingfield. Shes also one of Runamuk’s regular CSA members, with a young daughter who loves . Since door-to-door delivery was not possible, I hoped to leave all of the orders at this one central location. Then, I could send the other CSA members there to retrieve their groceries for the week.

The ladies at Western Maine Pharmacy were only too happy to help. What a relief it was to unload those bags of groceries knowing that I’d fulfilled my obligations even in the face of calamity. What a blessing for this farmer to have the kind of built-in support system that CSA members provide. Every one of these households has a vested interest in the long-term sustainability of this small farm. They want to see me succeed, and that’s a very powerful motivator for this farmer.

My BFF

A=adventures in the old Subaru Forester
I hauled everything from trees, sheep and bees, to manure, lumber, and cement blocks with that old Forester! Mischief managed. RIP old girl.

Gabe was heading to work at Mainely Provisions, so I caught a ride there and thanked the young man with a loaf of my farm-fresh multigrain bread. He seemed surprised, and received the bread enthusiastically. I was glad to give him some kind of reward for his charitable act of kindness.

Unsure of my next move, I loitered outside the grocery store for a few minutes. I was just about to set out for home under the power of my own two feet, when it occurred to me that my bff, Carolyn Bachelder, had recently taken a job at Mainely Provisions. It was possible that she was in the area and I might be able to beg a ride from her.

Logging into the free wi-fi provided by grocery store, I sent Carolyn a message. “What are you doing right now?”

Just as I sent the message, I watched Carolyn’s shiny black minivan pull into a parking spot directly in front of me. Someone up there was watching out for me.

Carolyn and her husband Chris gave me a ride back to my car, where Chris took a quick look under the hood for me. He pointed out that the radiator was bone-dry. It was then I realized that in my panicked haste, I’d put the water in the wiper fluid reservoir rather than the radiator. Didn’t I feel like the biggest idiot in the world!

2 Broken-Down Vehicles

I still feel like a big dummy for that mistake, but once we put water in the actual radiator, the car ran again….but only for another week or so…

When that old Subaru finally died, she had the courtesy to do it less than a mile from the farm. I had BraeTek and both dogs with me too, which made me super thankful we weren’t stranded miles from home in the dark of night with no way to call for help. Later that evening my sweet man, Deron, came to tow my pitiful car back to the farm, and there she’s sat ever since.

So there I was with a delivery-based farm-business, 2 broken-down vehicles in my dooryard, no wheels to get anywhere, and no money to buy them.

“What are you going to do?” asked Deron’s father, David, later that week as he chauffeured this farmer around to make her deliveries.

Options

I sure didn’t have many options in that moment. As far as cash goes, I could either hope for a second stimulus check or wait 2 months for my tax return. Getting a loan wasn’t an option because I already know I can’t afford a payment. What’s more, following my bankruptcy filing, I am committed to avoiding such debts. No more loans, and no credit cards ever again. Period.

As a farmer, though, I’ve learned to leverage my own productivity to the farm’s advantage. Runamuk is offering a fairly wide array of products at this point─mostly food─and all high-quality, fresh, and locally produced by yours truly. That’s a valuable trading commodity, and bartering has become the Ace up my sleeve.

I’ve learned, too, that it’s OK to ask for help, though it is still a difficult thing for a proud person to do. The community this farm serves, has proven to be one of the greatest assets Runamuk has. When all else fails, this proud farmer will post to Instagram and Facebook, email CSA members with an update, or write about whatever the latest BIG problem might be. Humbly, I dare to ask for help, offering up up the only thing I have to give: FOOD.

Bartered refrigerator
The refrigerator I bartered for!

Runamuk has recruited volunteers for work parties in this way, sourced a refrigerator for the farmstand-on-the-porch, secured livestock, soil amendments and more. I always offer fair value for the goods or services I need. Sometimes I can make the trade right there on the spot. Other times I’ll offer a credit with the farm, and induct the person I am trading with into my CSA program. Then, they’ll receive Runamuk’s weekly email and availability list, and they can place orders every week for pickup or delivery.

In most instances, the folks I barter with become dedicated CSA members. They like the program and value my food so much, that even once we’ve exhausted the initial credit, they usually add more funds to their account. I’ve gained a number of loyal customers this way.

And so, I posted to Instagram and Facebook, lamenting the death of my Subaru Forester. I shared with my community the plight of my car-less, penniless self, and offered up to the Universe a potential payment arrangement or a trade of goods for wheels. I knew full-well it was a long shot, yet I hoped against hope that someone out there might be willing to work with me.

Steve’s Old Truck

In the meanwhile, I continued with my regular chores and workload, bumming rides and walking back and forth to the post office to mail holiday packages. As 2 days became 2 weeks, I began to feel pretty burdensome. Facing another delivery day without my own wheels, I decided to trek across town to attempt an offer on a pickup truck.

The truck belonged to old Steve Rogers, Murphy’s most favorite person in the world (next to myself, of course). Steve is another resident of New Portland, and has been stopping by the farm since I landed here. This kindly older fellow buys eggs, or bread, or cucumbers, insists on paying top dollar, and always has a biscuit in his pocket for Murphy.

Steve has worked for Bob’s Cash Fuel for years, even into his retirement, and has serviced the boiler here in the farmhouse─free of charge─made repairs to my furnace, and generally been a helping hand and supportive friend as I work to grow this farm. This year, Steve bought himself a shiny new Subaru. He began using the truck less and less, until it seemed to be sitting there untouched.

It was late December, and bitterly cold in the first light of morning as I walked the mile across town. I’d been trying to call his phone for days, but the cell-signal in New Portland is notoriously spotty, and I hadn’t been able to raise Steve. It was delivery day again, and I desperately wanted to catch the man before he left for work.

When I knocked on his door, red-cheeked and out of breath, Steve’s new Subaru was warming up outside. He peeked out the window of his front door to see who could possibly be knocking on his door at 7:30 in the morning. I grinned like an idiot standing there in the cold. “Sammy!” he said in surprise.

A Good Deal

It sure was a hard thing to ask. I admit I beat about the bush a bit─trying to feel it out before broaching the subject. I know how fond Steve is of the old truck. First I told Steve of my car troubles. Then, I asked about borrowing the truck for the day to make my deliveries. Eventually, I came out and asked the old timer if he’d consider selling it.

He hesitated only a moment before saying “Yes.” And I know he wouldn’t have parted with it for just anyone.

Steve's Old Truck
Steve’s beat-up old truck is beautiful to ME!

In return for the last years the old truck had to offer, I only have to provide Steve with enough space at Runamuk to raise a few pigs and turkeys, and raise his Big Moose Pumpkins for the deer. It seemed like a good deal to me and I was super grateful.

However, being fairly old, the 2000 Chevy Silverado’s days are numbered. It wasn’t the answer to my prayers, but a good temporary solution. I’d bought myself some time.

Donation

And then, something miraculous happened….

Even as I type this now, it’s still hard to fathom, and yet, wonder of wonders, damned if it didn’t work! Somehow─by the grace of whatever Gods might be─someone out there heard me. Something about my story resonated with that soul, and some wonderful, compassionate, caring person saw fit to DONATE $5000 to the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm to aid in the purchase of a reliable vehicle. Can you believe it!?

When the notification of payment received came through on my phone, I looked at it with disbelief. I was sitting at the kitchen table at David’s house. Deron and I, with his kids gather there every Friday evening for supper. My heart was in my throat and tears stung my eyes as I held the phone out, waving at Deron to look at the screen. I needed to know if what I was seeing was really real, or if I was just delusional.

“What?” asked David. “What is it?”

“I think someone just sent me $5000!” I choked out, sounding a little hysterical. “Am I seeing that right?”

Deron finished reading the note attached to the transaction and confirmed it, “Yup, they said they admire your determination and want you to have a reliable car.”

“You’re shittin’ me!?” exclaimed David incredulously.

NOTE: The wonderful, marvelous soul who donated these funds to Runamuk wished to remain anonymous to the public. They suggested, though, that I share how others might donate to the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm as well. With this in mind, I’ve created a Donate page with information on how to Volunteer, a Wish List of items we are in need of, and a PayPal button for monetary donations. Every small or large contribution is a help and greatly appreciated.

Click here to go to the new Donate page and see how you might help Runamuk too!

Anson Auto

It seemed fitting that it was the day of the Winter Solstice, that Monday, as I took myself over to Anson Auto (formerly known as North Anson Auto). I’d stopped at this used-car dealership 2 weeks before, to take a closer look at an ’06 Subaru Forester I’d been eyeing. When I discovered that it had a standard transmission, I wanted it bad lol. I’d been watching it ever since.

Deron’s father, a former machinist for Solon Manufacturing, met me at the dealership with his trained eye, as I have fully demonstrated that I lack mechanical-know-how.

I love that it was this same place that I bought my first car at 22 years ago. I love even more that I was able to establish a valuable relationship with the new owner, Dana Perkins, through this transaction.

“Don’t show him you want it!” David cautioned me, like any father would.

“I know, I know,” I said with a smile. “I’ll do my best.”

Dana Perkins is one hellova saleman, with a wealth of experience at some big-name central Maine dealerships. He’s recently bought this small-town local car dealership and automotive garage, with it’s accompanying junkyard of available spare parts. Like me, Dana is working hard to build his business, support his local community, and live a life of meaning and purpose. I wanted to give him the value of the car, but there were a few other pressing issues about the farm that could use a little cash too─like heating fuel.

In the end, Mr. Perkins and I reached a mutually agreeable deal. Mostly I paid him in cash, but he accepted $500 of the purchase in the form of a CSA membership with the farm. Each of us gained a valuable new customer that day.

The Perfect Solstice Gift

Later that afternoon, when I drove that nice, clean, new-to-me Subaru Forester home to the farm, I offered up prayers of thanks to the Universe. With tears in my eyes, I marveled that I should be so lucky…so blessed…that my hard work and perseverance would be noticed and rewarded with such a perfect solstice gift! To go from hitchhiking with 2 broken-down vehicles in the yard, to suddenly having the truck for hauling that I’ve long-needed, as well as the car for deliveries, was nothing short of miraculous.

The Perfect Solstice Gift_Subaru Forester
Runamuk’s Subaru Forester─take two!

After such a long, hard road as the one I have traveled to make this farm a reality, it is a wonder to me, to be here now. When so many people thought I should give up, get a real job, and accept my place in society like everybody else…I could not. Somehow, my path is continually reaffirmed for me. At every obstacle, I have found a way forward. Every time I think I’ve exhausted all of my good graces, when the darkness seems like it’s closing in─when I think, “surely this is the end of the road for Runamuk”─something amazing happens, and the path is illuminated once more.

In this way, I have learned to have faith. Faith in myself and my community, but, most of all, faith in my journey. It is that affirmation which made for the perfect solstice gift, and that which this farmer will carry in her heart, into 2021. Come what may.

Thank you so very much for following along with the story of this #femalefarmer! It truly is a privilege to be able to live this life, serve my community, and protect this scrappy patch of Earth through wildlife conservation. Check back soon for more stories from Runamuk Acres, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love my friend!!

2 thoughts on “The Perfect Solstice Gift

  1. Congrats! I’ve been in similar situations, and have been blessed to have friends and some family help me out just enough to help me get by a few times. It completely restores your faith in humanity, doesn’t it? Hard work, bartering, and paying it forward when possible makes all the difference.

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