Simply Living

02

Editor’s note: We’re excited to introduce Palmer Gregg, Director of Storytellers (a title we all want) at CrossRoads Missions, photojournalist, enjoyer of pipes, and appreciator of handcrafted things. As you might expect from a director of storytellers, he’s a wonderful fellow for standing around under a tree and talking at length during a lovely afternoon. Also, he has a beard—the surefire mark of a spinner of tales.

Simply Living is a personal photo project I took up seven years ago after leaving the demanding and busy world of newspaper journalism. A simple life is intrinsically beautiful in its intentional focus and devotion to a small set of internally coherent ideals. It was, and is, something that I greatly desire for my family.

My intention at the time I began the project was to continue following and photographing this family every few years as they raised their children, grew their vineyard and lived out their intentionally simple life in a world where multitasking and constant distractions are the norm.

A young family: Brian Smith, Allie Willenbrink, and their daughter Sadie, in 2008. The young couple begins their family, their farm, a vineyard, and a winery: Oyster River Winegrowers, in Warren, Maine—all at the same time. Even with so many big life changes, they intend to maintain a simple life.

I haven’t been back since.

Each year, my wife and I talk about travelling back to Maine to continue the project, but each year I find myself too busy with other projects and responsibilities. There seem to be even greater demands on my time and attention. I can’t help but recognize that I’m falling prey to the fiction that being busy is somehow the same as being fruitful.

While I was in college I wrote this poem to remind myself of what I truly consider important in life:

Hearth and Wood

 

I hear the call of easy life,

a simple home and humble wife,

hearth and wood, floors of stone,

a little cabin to call my own.

No city lights that block the night,

robbing the stars of their light,

but distant mountains with lofty peaks,

kids with auburn hair and rosy cheeks,

who laugh all day and call me ‘Paps.’

Of flannel shirts and stocking caps,

shallow lakes and babbling brooks,

a pen in hand for writing books.

But where to start, where to start—

beginning again is the hardest part.

So remember,

Every decision that you make is neither bad nor good,

But choose the paths that will take

you to your dreams of hearth and wood.

That poem that I wrote to myself, as well as these photos, constantly weigh on my mind and in my heart as an embodiment of the life I wish to live, and the legacy I wish to leave my son.

I often tell others that a man spends the first twenty years of his life trying to get off the farm, and the next twenty trying to get back. It may be too late for me to return to Maine and finish the project I started, but all is never lost. I still have a couple years to get back to the farm, and I can still choose the paths that will take me to my dream of hearth and wood.

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