“We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” Joni Mitchell’s iconic anthem “Woodstock” played softly in the distance from the farmhouse. Time passed pleasantly under the August sun. My daughter Cara and I lugged heavy stones to build a makeshift wall for a flower garden. We chatted about our respective teaching jobs. It was the time of year to gear up for a new crop of students. Cara and I compared teaching assignments, class loads and staff changes.

Straining under the weight of a particularly bulky stone, I grinned and muttered, “Gotta love manual labor.” Having grown up on an Aroostook County potato farm, I was no stranger to back-breaking labor. In fact, I had enjoyed working in the fields, helping with the potato harvest, working side by side with friends, family and community.

I daydreamed as I hummed along with the song. Then I had an epiphany. In my next career I would go back to the garden. I loved working and helping out at Cara’s goat farm. When the time came to leave my teaching position, I’d be able to help out even more while pursuing my new career.

I was in no rush, but the idea had crystallized. “When I retire I’m going back to the garden! I’m going to be a farmer,” I told Cara. She gave me a knowing smile. “I bet you will,” she replied. And that – more or less – is what happened when, through a series of unanticipated events, I left my teaching position the following year.

It was an agonizing decision. I loved teaching science and had spent most of my life in educational institutions. But once the decision was made, I didn’t look back. I got my hands into the dirt immediately. I grew vegetables, attended agricultural conferences, provided CSA shares for six families, learned permaculture design and met fascinating people. In the process, I became stronger than I have been since my youth on the farm. Manual labor is great exercise.

So many dreams call us. Opportunities knock. Sometimes we are afraid to take the step and say goodbye to what seems safe and secure and familiar. We fear making a mistake. By taking the leap and starting over, I found out that change is good. I got myself back to the garden and I’m staying there – until it’s time to start over again.

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