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Michael Perry: Finding fulfillment in a failing farmhouse

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Our old farmhouse continues to age out.

Just this week I noticed a fresh gap between the porch and the main foundation. Either we had a small earthquake or it’s just more entropy. I assume and prefer the latter.

The gradual decline into disorder is a form of reverse poetics, in which the carefully structured stanzas slowly slide into free verse and slant rhyme.

This artful take does not go over well at the family meeting, especially if that meeting takes place in a basement that was dug by hand prior to rural electrification and, despite twin dehumidifiers set above the wet floor on pallets, hasn’t really been brought up to speed over the interim.

In this year alone there have been issues with the plumbing, and the well wiring, and shingles, and a mysterious odor that kinda smelled like cats but not quite and it’s the “but not quite” that puts a pinch in your rictus.

Then there are the ongoing issues of mice, and ice dams, and the leak in the laundry room, and the bathroom door that traps unsuspecting guests, and let’s just table the rest of the list on the table that sits at a slight slant because so does the floor.

With an 1880s-vintage log cabin heart enclosed by several generations worth of additions, cobble-ups, and tack-ons, the house was never going to be a candidate for remodeling. At least not on our budget.

Once when I was fixing up an old truck a local farmer suggested it would make more sense to jack up the radiator cap and drive a new truck in under it; in the case of our house, the same line of thinking applies.

All of these things could be cured with a bulldozer and a construction loan. We’ve been planning for that since we moved in.

Then one day 14 years had passed and here we sit, still planning, still wearing a circle in the rug of pros and cons, including — now that one child has left the roost — whether this is really where we’ll be for any given future.

Our dead end road is becoming less dead. Hammer blows and nail guns echo through the wintry woods. The city is creeping closer. I don’t dread it any more.

Reverse entropy, I guess.

Everybody moved here sometime. We are susceptible to thinking time stops moving when we do. Here in our old farmhouse we have options. This puts us in the privileged percentile, period.

Something will need to be done. The poetics of entropy don’t stack up against a cracked pipe in a sketchy crawl space.

But last week when the straight-line winds roared over the hill and we took our blankets downstairs and slept against the foot-thick logs hand-squared by some long-gone settler, we sure weren’t longing for drywall.

Last night when we gathered on the creaking floorboards around the wood stove with family from out of town and sang Christmas carols accompanied by our daughter playing guitar, we weren’t coveting a fully wired basement entertainment center.

And while triple-pane windows would be sweet, this morning at dawn my view to the day was obscured by a windowpane swabbed in illuminated frost through which the sun busted into a thousand sparkles.

As obstructed views go, I’ll take it.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” ( Read more from Michael Perry at


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