Home is where the heart is

Written by Ted Waddell

LIVINGSTON MANOR, NY – Wild Roots Farm hosts Amy and Wes Gillingham reside in a hand-hewn, solar-powered Swedish-style log house lovingly built over the years on Wes’s father’s old house.

The house is located at the end of a half-mile trail, which is not for the faint of heart (especially in the depths of winter). It winds quietly through hordes of native trees and fern fields, before the scene reveals – like illusionary magic – the unique timber house and several hand-built outbuildings.

“It’s like a tree museum,” Amy Gillingham said, describing the entrance to the property.

Known as Wild Roots Farm, over time it has grown from the property purchased by Charles Wesley Gillingham and his wife in 1957 to today’s 100 acres, all of which are cherished and cared for by the current homeowners.

As she listened to her husband describe the history of their off-the-grid home, Amy said it was like living in the legendary Hundred Acre Wood, the fantasy land inhabited by Winnie the Pooh and his friends.

The house was built in the Swedish style of log houses, using half-matched green split wood which, over time, holds everything together as the logs are cured.

“The weight of the building is on the corners and stacked logs,” Gillingham said. “When the logs dry, they buckle together. They are very strong and we did not use any nails except for the floors.

This style of log home dates back to the time when Swedish immigrants moved to the Delaware Valley. Early settlers had easy access to local timber and a building history dating back ages.

As they sat in their living room as it transitioned into the kitchen, Wes noticed that the color of the peeled logs supporting the second floor varied depending on the seasons they were harvested—as well as the species.

These differences are the hallmark of the construction lead time of a few years.

Speaking of species, their habitat is made of white pine, red pine, spruce, hemlock, and “a few cherry bunches,” all of which rest on black locust sill logs — the bottom timbers of each wall.

Their home has a large, highly efficient, counterflow, wood-burning Finnish stone stove. It’s a bit like a modern version of a Mesoamerican shrine and can warm an entire house for hours, even on the coldest days.

The kitchen has many fitted cupboards in pastel colours. Amy opens some drawers, proudly displaying glass jars, large and small, filled with herbs, while a wall in the living room features a display of guitars.

“This house will outlive all of us,” Amy said. Before they took on the task of rebuilding the original house, “we lived in a 1930s and 1940s cabin on a property made of scrap wood,” she noted.

In earlier days, Wes Gillingham worked for several years at the National Audubon Society’s Expeditions Institute, mostly out west or in the southern Appalachians, and was a seasonal ranger with the National Park Service and a local farmer. Most recently, he helped found Catskill Mountainkeeper.

Amy interned on several off-grid farms, both remote and close to home, for college credit, learning “how to sustain ourselves…I wanted that deeper connection, rather than going to the local grocery store.”

At first, the Gillinghams jumped in with both feet and began farming, amassing a long list of organic vegetables until a 2006 flood wiped out their rented fields in the Youngsville Apartments.

These days, the Gillinghams live right at home where they run Wild Roots Farm, while their 23-year-old daughter, Iris Fen, across the road, is busy with her own business, Gael Roots Farm.

But back to Wild Roots Farm: Over the seasons, the Gillinghams have hosted nearly 30 apprentices, who have learned about independent living at a place called Wilding Village. In Amy’s words, “They want to get out and get wild… It’s like glorified camping, with four pods and a big tent platform.

“I feel like this land has made me wilder; it’s a wilder place here,” she said. After a bit of our wide-ranging conversation, Amy explained: “Physically, emotionally and spiritually, being wild is more grounded… We loved being hermits here.” But we felt the call to educate, make an impact, and transform some of those belief systems that are not beneficial to society and the people in it… It is like planting a seed.”

When asked what he thought about living the off-grid lifestyle in a hand-hewn log home set on 100 wild acres, Wes Gillingham replied: “It’s intentional; It’s the opposite of the American way of life. There’s no Siri, and the environmental impact is the carbon footprint of millions of lazy people.

Amy Gillingham said, quoting Gandhi: “It’s all about living simply, so that others can live simply.”

(Tags for translation)Amy Gillingham

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