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Move? Or Stay Another Year
by Jon Remmerde
Amanda grew from two years old to eleven and Juniper from four to thirteen in Whitney Valley in Oregon's Blue Mountains, where I worked as caretaker of a hay and cattle ranch for eight and a half years. More than a year before we left the remote ranch, restlessness stirred through our family. We had lived rurally, and we had home schooled our daughters since they were quite small. Juniper particularly wanted to try a more urban existence. She wanted more activities involving other people.
Laura was our family's principal housekeeper and teacher. Sometimes she wished we had running water, electricity, and better access to church and other events. She said she would like to live closer to her mother and to her brothers and sister, who all lived in California. A friend told us of a place in northern California where we could live, rent free, for taking care of it.
We talked about a move. We followed our family's policy of involving our children in discussions about decisions that would effect the way they lived, and, at first, Juniper and Amanda gave their opinions about what changes we might make. The discussion evolved into adult concerns about bills, expenses, the logistics of moving, and the potential for jobs in Northern California, and Juniper said, "I don't know. We're kids. The adults will have to make the rest of the decision without us. We're going outside and play." They did, and Laura and I decided our family would travel to California, visit her family, and look at the place to live.
We packed enough of our possessions to start a household, fall of the year, and we drove to California in the sedan and the pickup. We visited Laura's mother and her brothers and sister.
We drove through dry manzanita brush on a winding dirt road to look at the place offered for our use. Somehow, the information about the place had become distorted on its way to us. The trailer was much too small. I said, "It doesn't matter. We couldn't live here even if the place were a palace. If all this dry brush ever caught fire, we'd be trapped in here."
Reasons for moving seemed more tenuous without a place to move to, but they still existed. Laura and our daughters would stay with her mother and investigate job and rental possibilities. Juniper and Amanda could stay with Laura's mother while Laura explored. Because injuries I received from a drunk driver years before left me partially disabled, we couldn't count on my earning abilities for our primary income. If Laura could find a job that would let us start in the area, I would try to find something that fit my abilities after we moved.
I left my family and the car there, unloaded the pickup into Laura's mother's garage, and drove the pickup back to Whitney Valley. I cut and sold firewood. Whether we moved or not, we would need money.
Laura drove the valley floor, usually in heavy traffic, Chico, Willows, Orland. She found she could readily get a job at minimum wage or a little above. Better paying jobs seemed scarce or non-existent. She looked at expensive houses and apartments.
Officials contacted Laura at her mother's house and threatened legal action if she didn't immediately enroll Amanda and Juniper in school. I'd already taken care of threats of legal action in Oregon. I had researched laws about education, and I had communicated with authorities until they understood that our home education was legal and out of their jurisdiction. If necessary, I could go through the process again in California, but I could cut firewood instead of talking to school principals, sheriffs and lawyers, and the money from selling the firewood would help us through winter, wherever we lived.
Our moods had all turned back toward Whitney Valley by then. Laura, Juniper, and Amanda packed what they could in the car and drove home. Eventually, we would leave Whitney Valley, to a place equally remote and equally free of closely settled people, but it wasn't time to do that yet. Hours after they arrived home, Amanda and Juniper heard Laura and me talking and Amanda asked, "Do you mean we're staying here? We're not moving to California?"
Laura had experienced some of the pressures of modern urban existence. She came back determined to really see and appreciate the mountain valley where we lived, the wildlife that shared the area peacefully with us, the quiet, and the opportunity to be a close family growing and learning toward our shared future and our individual futures.
It didn't work out for quite a while to go back to California to get what we had stored in Laura's mother's garage. For Christmas, Juniper and Amanda had to put together our nativity scene with substitutes for the parts stored in California. They were happy doing it. Understanding of the nativity came from inside them, if the shepherds were finely-carved, detailed pieces or small plastic cowboys proud to stand in for the stored-away shepherds.
Biographical information: Juniper enjoys living in a large city now. She works toward her teaching credential and toward a black belt in Karate. Amanda works at the library in Bend, Oregon and will soon move to the Willamette Valley to help Brian start a small organic farm. Laura teaches Kindergarten. Jon writes. Information about his books is available at his informative web site: www.remmerde.com.
Learn more about Relaxed Homeschooling and Unschooling at the 2003 New England Homeschool & Family Learning Conference: http://www.homeeducator.com/conferences.htm