Retreating from the Retreat

For most of the century before I arrived, this old house hosted a parade of smoker-drinker-carnivores who poured Paris green arsenic on their potato plants and thought cleansing of any kind was weakening.

March 26, 2018 | | Fence Posts

This little plot I live on used to be a farm. I still feed a few sheep and a couple of cows, but at some point while I wasn’t paying attention the farm has slowly morphed into a retreat.

So has the neighbourhood. All of the view properties on the hill above us are inhabited by urban folk who flee the smog every Friday night and curl up in front of their gas fireplaces to watch the sunset. The farmers, too, have mostly retreated to condos and nursing homes in town. Those few who do live permanently on the sideroad are busy finding some way to cash in on the community’s new role as a haven for the weary urbanite. The landscape is now dotted with craft breweries, cideries, spas, yoga studios, rock-climbing gyms, all offering diversion and comfort away from the sodium glare of the city.

We might as well have our own statue of liberty on the way into town that says, “Give me your teeming huddled masses yearning to breathe free, de-stress, detoxify and declutter.”

Our children now bring their friends here to find restfulness, reclaim mindfulness, explore different ways of being and, most of all, eat me out of house and home. I wish I had their talent for living in the moment, but I am too busy cooking and cleaning to find that moment.

  • Story Continues Below Advertisements
  • We grow a lot of food here at the farm. I have pastured beef, pastured hut chickens, pastured pork. My potatoes are chemical-free and my eggs are omega-3. But increasingly there are no takers for any of it. Every second person who shows up at the dinner table is either vegan or has an allergy to eggs and dairy. There’s always someone going through a “cleanse” of some kind, whether it’s from sugar or gluten or oxidants. Spiritual cleansing is great and I’m happy to write out a list of negative things in my life and burn it ceremonially while someone bangs away on a Hang drum. But these juice cleanses give me a sugar high and attract a lot of fruit flies. I checked with my doctor about it and he advises me that I come equipped with two of the most efficient cleansers on the planet: my liver and kidneys. No one has come up with a more efficient system than that.

    “We are what we eat, Dad,” says my eldest son. He has decided to become a kale plant. I always thought kale was more useful as a roofing material than a food, but I gave him his own raised bed in the garden and encouraged him to have at it. It turns out the soil in my garden is just perfect for kale. Soon he had a three-foot-high hedge of it and we were eating kale salads, roasted kale, barbecued kale, kale sandwiches and kale ice cream. I assumed it would eventually bolt like a lettuce and go to seed, but kale doesn’t do that. It keeps growing bigger and tougher and more bitter until the snow flies. When the leaves finally turned brown and died, I assumed we would then dig up the roots and boil them too. But no, thankfully, it turns out the roots are poisonous. And so we are cleansed of kale until May.

    For most of the century before I arrived at Larkspur Farm, this old house hosted a parade of smoker-drinker-carnivores who poured Paris green arsenic on their potato plants and thought cleansing of any kind was weakening. Some of them died in bed, but a lot were killed by falling trees and kicking horses. They did not have the secret to eternal life either, but sometimes I think they had more fun.

    So the question remains: When you live in a place the rest of the world views as a retreat, where do you go yourself to retreat? We sometimes put the barn on self-feed for a couple of days, borrow an apartment in the city and drive south to soak up the smog. I mix a pitcher of martinis and order in Chinese with extra MSG. Then I run a hot bath and pour in a bag of oxidants, some gluten for the skin and a pinch of Roundup for overall health.

    After a couple of days of this I am re-toxified and ready to return to the fray.

    About the Author More by Dan Needles

    Author and playwright Dan Needles is a recipient of the Leacock Medal for Humour and the Order of Canada. He lives on a small farm in Nottawa.

    Related Stories

    Eat More Kale!

    Aug 15, 2013 | In The Hills | Food

    Not just because it’s good for you and the planet, but because it tastes great too.

    The Year of the Grape

    Jun 17, 2013 | Dan Needles | Fence Posts

    My son came home one weekend early last spring and asked, “Why don’t you plant some grapevines here on the farm, Dad?”

    Leave a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    By posting a comment you agree that IN THE HILLS magazine has the legal right to publish, edit or delete all comments for use both online or in print. You also agree that you bear sole legal responsibility for your comments, and that you will hold IN THE HILLS harmless from the legal consequences of your comment, including libel, copyright infringement and any other legal claims. Any comments posted on this site are NOT the opinion of IN THE HILLS magazine. Personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations are not allowed. Please report inappropriate comments to