A recent conversation at Milky Way Farm started with a tally of loss.
Three years ago, Smoky was ill for the first time in her life; three days later she was gone. Velvet was killed by a bear last summer. Gandur died this winter for reasons unknown. Smoky and Velvet were miniature ponies, Gandur an Icelandic pony. Plus, a marten got into the chickens last winter and killed every last hen.
And so, the Weishahn property at 40 Mile, once a haven for goats, peacocks, horses, chickens, ducks, geese, dogs, ring-necked pheasants, cats and people, awakened to spring quietly this year, with 17-year-old miniature horse Shadow, 13-year-old Icelandic pony Vindajarna, 13-year-old Maltese mix Rosie, and a few, “senior citizen” cats slipping from A-frame to A-frame to take advantage of days of lengthening sun.
As for owner Ron Weishahn, he’s not giving his age. “I am ancient, actually, but I have been youthing. I typically don’t tell my age because I don’t believe in it. When I make (it to) 110, I will be bragging.”
If he makes it to 110 it may be because of the self-healing Weishahn practices every day. It combines meditation, movement, visualization and mantras. He will only admit to two illnesses in the past 25 years. “I had one, 10-minute flu about 15 years ago. After a concentrated self-healing, it was gone.”
Ron and Cary Weishahn first came to Alaska in 1974, when they accepted teaching positions in Ketchikan. They bought their first seven acres of land close to the border in 1978 and moved onto the property in 1981.
It’s now Milky Way Farm, 135 acres of home to Ron, Cary, their daughters Amy and Clara, and a menagerie of critters.
“It was a wonderful place to raise kids,” Cary said, “and a dangerous place, too. Bears, (being) out in the middle of the wilderness, ice and snow, roof-shedding, extreme cold...” The land, the gardens and the animals, both wild and domestic, were the center of the homeschool education Cary gave their girls.
Their garden crops include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, snap peas, snow peas, potatoes, chard, kale and lettuce. Weishahn also grows fruit trees. “I set my expectations very low. I said that if I ever got one apple that would be success. One year I got one apple. Success!”
Ron and Cary have been vegetarians since 1979, and haven’t touched dairy for over ten years. “Dairy cheese is a death knell for one’s heart,” he said.
Now, 30 years later, a few of the horses are still ambling around but the daughters have grown and left to pursue their dreams. “Our daughters are kind of amazed that after they grew up and were gone, that we still have the animals, but it is not about using the animals. We enjoy them. They are our friends,” Ron said.
Both girls graduated summa cum laude from Lower 48 colleges. Amy is a teacher of art and French language. Clara is a theater actress.
Years before the Weishahns arrived in Alaska, they sent away for the U.S. government industrial surveys that mapped out census information. After poring over the data, they chose Haines for its small population and “gardenable” climate.
When they arrived in Haines, they moved into an unfinished cabin with no electricity and plenty of daylight showing through the walls. “That first winter we dressed Amy in a snow suit (all day) because water would freeze on the floor.”
They started out clearing the snow – more than 30 feet some winters – by hand. They upgraded to a snow blower and these days use a diesel Cat with a heated cabin.
A love of animals combined with philosophical bent have been a part of Weishahn’s makeup for as long as he can remember. Growing up in rural California, Ron raised rabbits, cats and dogs.
His parents came from large farms in North Dakota, but his father moved to California during the Dust Bowl, looking for work. He rose through the ranks at the local rice mills, from bucking sacks of rice, to working as foreman and miller.
Weishahn takes pride that his father, with only an eighth-grade education, rose to the top of his profession. “In North Dakota in those days, 10, 11 kids in a family, the father had passed away, everybody had to work.”
After finishing a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at UC-Davis, Weishahn decided to take an extra year to get a teaching certificate.
During this year he met Cary. “I noticed her in the room. She noticed me. The next day we met. Three weeks later we decided to get married. Of course, we are not sure if it is going to work, it will be 43 years next August... Well, look at Al and Tipper Gore. Of course they were married (only) 40 years, (and) we’ve made it past that critical hump.”
In regard to a long marriage, thoughtfulness is important, he said. “Change is everything. If you have an ideal and you are rigid in it you are going to suffer. Impermanence is something to embrace.”
Together Ron and Cary taught their way up the coast, from California to Ketchikan to Mosquito Lake. When they arrived in Haines, they decided that Cary would homeschool the girls despite Ron working as principal teacher at nearby Mosquito Lake School.
“Mosquito Lake School, however superior I felt that school was, didn’t have the one-on-one that my wife, in her decision to homeschool, could provide (for our children).”
Reflecting on the state of education today, Ron has high hopes that technology will help to reverse a trend toward larger classrooms. “I like the idea of home schools and I like the idea of smaller schools: calmer atmosphere, more responsibility” and more parent involvement.
“It is a nice place for teachers and students to be. Kids packed into a room with 28, 30 or even 40 students, I think that’s bad, that’s downright bad.”
After 30 years of teaching, Weishahn is retired, “deeply retired,” or, as he prefers, “graduated.” This means that he spends his life in a more contemplative mode: walking in the morning, taking care of his animals, dowsing, writing poetry, meditating and continuing to be a “practitioner of philosophy.” He rarely comes in to town and even more rarely leaves Alaska. “We only have to take care of the animals 365 days a year. Then we’re done.”
Cary is in her second year as the Home School coordinator for the Haines district and works part time at the Mosquito Lake school as a special education teacher.
The Weishahns have kept detailed weather records for the 30 years they have lived at Milky Way Farm. As of mid-March, this winter looked to be the third lowest snowfall since 1981, at around 13 inches. The highest? Thirty-two feet and one inch in the winter of 85-86. “That was the year that Clara was born,” recounted Cary with a laugh. “All that snow and a new baby. It was a real challenge.”