EFFINGHAM, S.C. – On display at Francis Marion University’s Hyman Fine Arts Center this summer are dozens of handmade arrowheads, skins, bowls and firemaking tools.
Encased in glass and sitting on bare white surfaces, the primitive pieces look wholly out of place. They do, however, hint to the lifestyle of their creator, Greg Pryor.
He lives on a 100-acre parcel of land in Effingham with his wife, Tamatha Barbeau. Both are biology professors at Francis Marion.
“I teach biology, I have the homestead, and I do artwork,” Pryor said in between sips of wine made on the property. “All of it is connected to nature.”
The couple bought their land from a timber company, and most of it remains forested. Corn covers 20 to 30 acres. Their house, gardens, grape vines, fruit trees and outbuildings sit on a small remainder of cleared land.
“You cannot see streetlights or neighbors’ houses from where we are sitting,” said Pryor, wearing a long beard and overalls.
The couple is committed to growing much of their own food.
Jessie, one of their six goats, is milked twice a day. In the summer, their garden yields a variety of vegetables and herbs. Bee colonies – using pollen from the couple’s gardens and flowers – produce honey.
“I hunt deer for red meat,” Pryor said. “We have the chickens for white meat, and we go fishing for fish.”
Leftovers are canned or frozen and saved for later. In the height of the growing season, Pryor estimates they go out to eat once a month. During the winter, once a week.
Pryor and Barbeau aren’t uncompromising back-to-the-landers, though. A bag of Doritos is a welcome indulgence every once in a while. Their modern house contains many of the luxuries of living, including a refrigerator and air conditioning.
But they do go without a computer hooked up to the Internet.
“We knew what would happen if we got it: We’d be on the Internet instead of being out here,” Barbeau said. “We made a conscious decision: This is our oasis; this is our refuge; this is our time to get away from that.”
Netflix by mail will just have to do.
Outdoor chores are their exercise. Barbeau and Pryor like that their physical activity bears tangible fruit. At their house, there’s no exercising for the sole purpose of getting in shape.
Equally prized, though, is the opportunity to be still and take in their surroundings. Animals have a way of getting close if you’re quiet and a familiar presence.
“If you’re out and immersed in it, you get to see those wonderful little glimpses of nature that’s all around you all the time, but most of us don’t slow down enough for that nature to come in and for you to witness it,” Barbeau said. “(If) you’re always hustling and bustling and making noises, they’re not going to come anywhere near you. But if you’re quiet and you’re sitting in your garden, all kinds of things. It’s a treat. It’s a privilege.”
The romanticism attached to Pryor and Barbeau’s lifestyle quickly runs up against the realities of repetitive physical labor and the property’s near-constant upkeep. Minimal use of pesticides means bugs are a regular enemy in the gardens and grape vines.
Neither Pryor nor Barbeau grew up on a farm. They learned as they went, with many failures and questions along the way. Pryor recalls a tobacco crop that didn’t shape up as intended. Keeping (and birthing) goats – even for Barbeau, who has a veterinary background – requires one to get over personal queasiness quickly.
Barbeau and Pryor met in upstate New York, where they were both raised. They went to graduate school together at the University of Florida and were fortunate enough to both be offered professor positions at Francis Marion University.
“It’s really unusual for a married couple (to be) in the same department teaching,” Pryor said.
Professorship lets them devote much of their summers to the regular needs of their gardens and animals.
“I love the professor gig,” Pryor said. “It gives you a lot of free time. You can bring your work home. I just like teaching – I like communicating.”
The couple has used their land for scientific research, often with help from students.
“When we came out here and bought this property, large swaths of it were destroyed by logging,” Barbeau said. “And some parts of the property were undisturbed. We had this wonderful opportunity to examine how animals handle habitat disruption and how quickly they recover.”
The fact that Pryor and Barbeau chose this lifestyle might be confusing to some, too.
“It’s really hard to tell somebody why you’re out in 100-degree heat for days and days and days on end, sweating and maybe getting sore, really exerting yourself,” Pryor said. “It’s hard to explain, other than the feeling of complete satisfaction you get at the end of the day.”
Like many rural residents and farm families, the couple likes the strong relationships – personal, natural, spiritual – that such a setting nurtures.
“I love this,” Barbeau said. “I wouldn’t want anything else. This is the best life ever.”