A MORE SIMPLE LIFE

Recently, I met a family living a more simple life.  Not by necessity, but
by choice.  He is an artist and she is an herbalist and homeschooling mother.  The couple, along with their three young children, live in a two-room 19th Century schoolhouse.  Wood burning stoves for heat, no indoor plumbing, and outside of an Internet connection, very few signs of modern life.  They spend their days maintaining their existence—gathering wood and food from the forest, collecting water from the spring-fed creek, homeschooling the children, making foods and creating fine art pottery.  

The day I visited, I was welcomed into their home and hearts.  I was given hot, fresh-from-the-oven flat bread.  It was rich and full of life, just like the family who baked it.  The family also make their own beer, canned foods, breads…  Meet the Smiths living a simple life somewhere out there in-between Belgrade and Sullivan, Missouri.  

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My name is Colleen Zane Smith. The two room schoolhouse we live in is owned by my grandma, Minnie Turnbough.  She is an active 90-year-old who still mows her own grass.  She attributes her good health to growing up in the Ozark Hills Country.  She takes pride in being from Courtois, Missouri.  She and my grandfather went to school here at Pleasant Point Schoolhouse when it was just one room. The first addition (room) was built in the 1890’s and the second one was built in the 1930’s.  My grandfather bought the old, rundown schoolhouse at a community auction in the ‘60’s.

I grew up visiting my grandparents in Courtois from St. Louis County.  I never wanted to leave at the end of a great, adventurous weekend.  I told my grandfather that I wanted to move “down there” after college.  He said I couldn’t move there by myself.  Well, I am not by myself anymore.  My husband and I made the move in 2009 and slowly have been doing work on the building since.  Some of the flowers my grandfather planted still bloom every spring.  When people say, “Go to your happy spot,” I come here.  Why not just live your happy spot?

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I can still remember being in the garden with my grandpa. He told stories of growing up in The Ozarks. He had a way of making it all seem magical. He taught me how to pick “poke greens.” When those greens came up, folks where happy to have them on the table in those days. Grandpa grew up during the Great Depression and didn’t even know he was considered poor. Because of my grandpa’s encouragement and my love of plants, I went to Meramec Community College and earned a degree in Horticulture.

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When Jamie and I first met we had instant chemistry.  We talked about our love of The Ozark Woods that night.  I noticed our shoes were equally as dirty.  We both loved the outdoors, art, music and mud.  Jamie asked me to marry him less than a year later in Mexican Hat, Utah, during a road trip west. We moved to Silver City, New Mexico, two weeks later.  Jamie studied ceramics at Western New Mexico University and I apprenticed with natural healers at Bear Creek Herbs.  I also underwent a field study course called “Voyage Botanica.” Two years later our first daughter was born.  We had her at home and Jamie caught her! After Jamie got his BFA, we moved to Wyandotte, Oklahoma, for an apprenticeship with his uncle.  This experience changed Jamie’s career.  After a year in Oklahoma, we moved to the Schoolhouse and had plans to build on my grandmother’s land.  That winter we had our second daughter, Violet Song-Bird, by the roaring fire.  Jamie caught her as well!  We started giving the Schoolhouse a face lift and moving stuff around.   In our third year, we took a sabbatical from Ozark living and moved up to Godfrey, Illinois, to work with our best friends on an organic CSA farm.  The year was grand and we learned a lot about growing, processing and marketing food.  We started missing the rocks and tranquility of the creek bank, so we moved back that winter.  Our third daughter, Leonora Hazel, was born the following summer, right before our birthdays.  Jamie didn’t catch her; he was holding my hand.

We have always strived to live a simple life and stay debt free.  Part of the reason why comes from knowing “stuff” like money doesn’t equal happiness.  We’ve always had this theory: if we don’t owe anyone any money, we are free to do what we want with our lives. The Schoolhouse doesn’t have running water.  We have been working on rain water catchment systems for the past two years. Before that, we were hauling all of wash water from the creek and our drinking water from a neighbor’s well.  Hauling water seems to slow down the pace of life a bit.  It isn’t always a bowl of cherries.  Now we have a hand pump from the rainwater tank going up to our sink.  My daughter calls it “crawling” water.  We use significantly less water than most Americans.  Taking a kettle bath can be humbling and more work but you still get clean.  We also have composting toilet. I love it!  We have two, great big potbelly wood stoves that heat the building in the winter.  Jamie cuts and splits all of the wood by hand.  It takes a mountain of wood to pull us through the winter.  We do have electricity and high speed Internet.  Jamie uses this for his work.  Without it, it would be difficult to be a studio artist in the middle of nowhere.  We enjoy watching a good movie on our laptop during cold winter nights.  I actually really love my kitchen “power tools” (electronic appliances).  Jamie has this joke: “When she’s got her bra on and her power tools working, watch out!”

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Our children are our lives.  We live and breathe kids all day, every day.  We home-school and love having our meals together.  We think it’s good for our children to see us in our work and know they are a part of it.   We are hoping to make an impression on our children and that they will learn family values and what it means to be truly happy in real life.  We don’t have to wonder what happened in our children’s lives, because we were there.  Life can be crazy with or without kids.  They are our biggest teachers when it comes to patience, compassion, and love.  They sing a lot and entertain us, even when we are being crabby adults.  I’ve nursed all of the girls until they were two years old without using a bottle or pumping.  I’ve been a full-time momma for eight and a half years now.  I am thankful for their presence.  I am also very thankful for my husband who puts his family first always.

Every year we grow a big garden and try to can and/or freeze as much as possible. I also make most of our medicine from local plants. With a growing family, we struggle to truly be sustainable with our food.  We are networking with other farmers and local families as much as possible. We love doing work trades or pottery trades with our neighbors.  We feel we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to sustainability.  How can we achieve bliss and take responsibility for sustainable earth stewardship?  How can we live most simply yet be a part of today’s society?  How can we grow/wild craft more food for seasons to come? These are all questions we are trying to answer and grow with.  It is our time to understand what it means to be human.

I have a desire to promote wild food and medicine of The Ozark region.  I also want people to have a sense of pride and gratitude for where they come from.  I have been doing plant walks and medicine making workshops for local people. This year I am starting my business called Ozark Schoolhouse Herbs and More.  I will be selling specialty tea blends, natural body care products and art work.  I will also offer plant walks for all ages during the growing season and private land owner consultations.  All this will start off slowly, as my main priority will always be to be there for my family.  As I homeschool my children, they inspire me to keep learning and researching what I love.  I am digging in the earth and planting seeds this spring.  I am at peace with life.  I am in awe with the woodland forest that surrounds us.  Each year I feel more connected and in tune with the changing of the seasons.

Meet Jamie Zane Smith, the pop
I am a Wyandot Potter.   I am a descendent of the Wyandot Indians, a creative tribe still here today.  Wyandot Pottery is made of small hand rolled natural clay which I quarry myself.  I stack the coils as my ancestors did in prehistoric times and then paint and fire the piece.  Some of my pots take on an appearance of woven baskets until you look more closely and realize you are holding a clay pot. 
 
The most important thing about my work is retaining a sense of form inspired by ancients, yet the piece must still speak to today’s world.   I try to use the same ancient aesthetics that reflect my indigenous roots.  The way my family and I live, and the way my art is created is from a time when there was no dualism between people and nature.

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I have vivid childhood memories of my uncle, Richard Zane Smith, making traditional Wyandot pottery in his studio outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I always dreamed of working in the craft like him. I grew up helping my father with the family concrete business. It was there that I learned to appreciate the beauty of form. I also grew up going to the family farm outside of Fredericktown. To me, this provided a balance—a contrast to my inner-city home in St. Louis. 

I am interested in symbolism that helps to tell our story and connect us to our origins. The ceramic vessel forms reference ancient culinary utensils.  The big pots represent kettles and storage jars that would feed multiple families living in close community.  The kettles of ancient times helped provide cultural nourishment by outputting an abundance of food and enhancing the environment. 

My process includes collecting native clays and carving wooden stamps from local hardwoods. The clay forms the vessels and is used as the base for the fired-on slip paints. The carvings on the stamps contain imagery that is impressed in a serial fashion on the surface of the pots. Each individual stamp detail is the result of a vertical block printing in clay. The action involved in the transfer of the design from the stamp to the clay corrugates the surface. It also increases the strength and expands the form of the vessel. The paint on the surface enhances the visual effect by sorting the elements embedded in the stamp and relating them to the whole.  The resulting is fine art pottery symbolic of a people, a culture, and a tradition.

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