Gen MacManemin (1916-2012) was in her early 60s when Nancy and I lived on her property. We spent a year living in a rustic apartment above her goat barn, beginning our transition toward rural life. The land sat atop a wooded mountain in Fall City, 30 miles east of Seattle. It was before Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks took claim of what it meant to be from the Northwest, and 30 miles away was “out there.” As my Uncle Wesley liked to say, “It isn’t the boondocks, but you can see it from there.” 

Years earlier, Gen and her husband were looking for a place to have a healthier life. She had battled with ill health and thought living in the country would help. In the country you could grow good food, drink good water, and breathe good air, three of the five things Gen said were critical to a healthy life. The other two were to keep your body moving and to have a good attitude. Those qualities she brought with her to the place. Gen had a particular fondness for the sky and said, “People don’t take the time anymore to stare at clouds. It’s good to stare at clouds.” 

Gen was a pioneering advocate of growing and eating healthy food. Some people called her an herbalist, but she didn’t like that, preferring the term “a student of herbal medicine.” Her garden looked like an unkempt weed patch, but she said that everything you need is within your reach if you bend over and pick it. She moved around her garden picking this or that, for tea, for dinner or as medicine. Her interests in nutrition lead her to design an easy-to-assemble, easy-to-use, food dehydrator. The virtue of dehydrating was preserving food without losing the nutrients in it. She wrote a small book about dehydrating food, Dry It – You’ll Like It! (Now in its 28th printing and with over 250,000 books sold! You could buy her book or a dehydrator, but her wisdom was free. She was a forceful sage sought out by many wanting to understand nature and life. She spent her days milking her goats, drying food, and concocting recipes for a sweet and healthy treats.

Gen knew a lot about health and not just long-term concerns. One time, I mishandled a large salmon for my fish smoking business (never pick up a salmon by its teeth, ouch!) and slashed open my thumb. It was a gaping and bloody mess: it looked like it would need six or seven stitches to bind the wound. Gen must have heard me let out a scream and came over. When she saw the wound, she said, “Clean it and pack it with cayenne.” You didn’t doubt Gen, so I packed it with cayenne. It fully healed within days! We still do a lot of things with cayenne, and visitors to our home often wonder why we have a LARGE supply of it.

A steady stream of people sought her out to speak of their lives, ask for guidance, or to have a cup of tea. Gen observed that people are born with innate gifts and knowledge. 

Gen was not some delicate flower sitting in the woods, contemplating the meaning of life. She was born in Oregon, and she had lived a lot of life and learned more than a few lessons while enrolled in the school of hard knocks. One of the goats was an aggressive male named Hezzy. Each day, Gen would milk the goats, and dealing with the aggression and disgusting stench of a male goat was not to her liking. One day we came home to Hezzy, skinned and hanging in the barn, and Gen explained calmly, “That damn goat butted me one time too many.” 

She was grounded, solid, and smart. She was strong of opinion and value. She lived to be 95, and her work lives on through her dehydrator business.

Thirty-five years later, Nancy and I often think of something Gen said. Especially during our isolation. We feel lucky to grow and eat healthy food, drink clean water, and breathe clean air. We keep our bodies in motion and commit to keeping our attitude centered. I won’t make any vows about life after COVID-19, but I know staring at clouds will be part of it.