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I profess not to be any great writer.

These are the ponderings

of a poor man's mind.

  • Nate Barker

Try...and fail

Updated: May 2

"Never start something you can't finish."

I hate that saying. It reeks of self righteousness and is right up there with "pull yourself up by your own boot straps". Both come from some machoistic self-importance that the male of our species seems to radiate and uphold like some tribal rite. In the world I grew up in, this sentiment of success through self, was drilled into us by our Protestant work ethic 1950's era baby boomer elders.

For your consideration I'd like to point to the supreme project that I started and didn't finish. Better yet, the largest project I started and it finished completely different than I planned it.

The year was 2010 and my wife and I had decided to make the northern woods of New York our home. We were living in a small neighborhood in a small house at the time, but we wanted more room to garden, build and do our own thing. Goats, Community Supported Agriculture, chickens, solar panels, wind turbines, bees, maple syrup making....yep we wanted to be homesteaders.

Of course a key part of the word homesteader is "home" and we needed one that would suit our needs. We knew we wanted it to be a green building technique (after all we were rehabilitated Gen X earth lovers) so we searched and searched for the right one for us.

Haybale construction....we didn't really like the adobe look and feel.

Rammed earth...too many tires and heavy work.

Cob construction...seemed to icky and gross to build.

Cordwood...ah...this seemed right. We had bought land with plenty of quaking aspens on it and they were the only hardwood you could use in cordwood construction. We also had lots of white pine which you could use for timber framing. We liked timber framing.

Thus began the journey to build...and to fail.

Failing hurts. The journey on the way to failing hurts. The memory of the failing hurts, but like most bruises and cuts we receive, the wounds turn into scars and the scars into stories and lessons.

I've already told the whole story here in our blog that we kept throughout the adventure:

Looking back on it years later I see all the smiling faces and hard work. There is the laughter of friends and family as we peeled logs. The gracious groups of people that volunteered their time to help us. The fun pictures of the kids doing goofy things. But just like most online accounts of a person's life...the underbelly is never shown.

No one sees the late night sweats as you wonder if this project is going to kill you.

No one hears the kids saying, "Do we have to go up there and work again?" or "I don't want to move up there. I like it here."

No one sees the time you hurt yourself so bad you threw your tape measure across the yard and swore like a pirate.

No one experiences the stress of bleeding money and time and cursing your lack of know-how to finish a certain job right.

No one feels the literal blood, sweat and tears that slowly broke you.

And no one, except the person who has broken and failed, can reflect and learn from the hardships.

The thing about building our own home and starting our own little homestead is that it turned out completely different than what we set out to make it...and that's okay. We did start something we couldn't finish. We did try to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps and the straps broke. But, after the changed course and the brokenness (a long time after in some cases) I can see that the lessons learned could only be learned in the doing.

In the trying and failing I learned what brings life and what scrapes it away. I learned my limits as well as the limits I didn't know I could surpass. Would I wish the mental breakdown, the loss of money and the family stress on my worst enemy? No. Yet, over time those wounds have become scars and the scars have become stories.

Stories bring life.

When I started out on this adventure plenty of people warned me about how hard it would be. They shared their stories of triumph and grief and I listened with doe-like eyes imagining my journey superseding theirs.

"I wouldn't make the same mistakes" I promised myself.

And now on the far side of trying and failing I see that their stories weren't for me. They were for them, just as my story is for me. In the telling of their stories they were finding healing. They were continuing to unpack their experiences that molded them. Did they want others to learn from the road they had traveled? Sure. But do we truly learn from others experiences? No, I don't think we can fully. We can really only learn from our own.

The stories of our lives are not for others...they are for ourselves. They remind us of where we have been. What built us and what broke us. What we regret and what we have learned from. Hopefully we can hear the internal dialogue we speak to ourselves and light a path forward into the dark. If we listen closely enough we'll hear the words of wisdom that come from experience and this time, maybe this time, we won't stub our toe quite as hard on the next obstacle.

So, please, listen to my story and read our blog. It's not there for's there for me. If you learn one or two things I guess that's okay too.

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