From Rhode Island to Maine

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Fresh air, chores and green acres. Couple chooses to live on a farm.

FARMINGTON – “Watch out. He’s such a sweetheart, he’ll kiss your lips off if you let him,” said Paul Ripa, squinting up into a hot noontime sun and smiling.

The “sweetheart,” a huge, 2,000-pound-plus draft horse named Mack, “for Mack Truck,” says Ripa, stood almost stock still in the barn, his back just a couple feet from the ceiling, mildly chewing a treat.

Batting flies away, mucking through manure, wandering into gardens-in-the-making and pointing out the barns he righted with a friend using some chains, a winch and patience, Ripa nearly gloated. And “just wait till you see the view – it’s perfect,” he said, surveying the land, laughing.

Ripa didn’t grow up on a farm. He was a city boy, moving from place to place as a child, once living in the projects in Providence as a teenager.

At the age of 40, he had never even really ridden a horse, other than those city kids get to ride every once in a while when the circus comes to town.

He was in his 40s and deputy fire chief in Newport, R.I., when a friend turned him on to team penning, a technique of steering cows into a pen using teams of horseback riders. Once he tried it, he fell in love with horses, with Maine, and with a woman named Melinda – who he met at her mother’s funeral – who loved the sport and the animals as much or more than he did.

Now 60 years old and married for a decade, Ripa isn’t letting age or relative inexperience stop him from accomplishing yet another feat: bringing his old farm back to life.

He and Melinda bought an old farmhouse, some outbuildings – many of which were literally falling down – and more than 40 acres on the end of Smiley Road in Farmington last year, looking for a place to settle down with their horses, sheep, peacocks, chickens, donkeys, goats and dogs.

They had settled upon Farmington after years of traveling the team penning circuit in Maine and finding the people from Western Mountains Team Penning to their liking.

Paul came up first to start the work of bringing the place back to life, righting some of the outbuildings, putting roofs and supports in the barns, and readying them for the horses. He knew what he was doing, having worked construction and contracting during his free time on the fire department.

He knew what he was doing with the animals, too. When he and Melinda married, they lived on a scrap of farmland, all that was left of the land her family settled hundreds of years ago off a boat from the British Isles. Melinda had experience on farms of a livelier sort as well, helping out summers on her grandparents’ Maine farm as a child.

Up at 5 a.m. or so every morning, the couple is hardly retired. They spend hours caring for their animals when they’re not putting up fences, finishing barns, roofing and painting their house, and repairing dormers and a porch.

Despite the long hours and hard work, they are deliriously happy, they say. “We fell in love with this area and this place.” They are astounded, every day, they say, by the kindness of the people around here, by the friends and neighbors coming by to offer support, by the beauty of the land and the ingenuity of the people that worked it before them. They point to the kitchen cabinets built by hand decades ago – a cook’s dream, with built in separators for pans, plates, and silverware – and to the greenhouse the former owner built and which is still in use.

“I traveled two thirds around the world – Japan, the Philippines, France,” Ripa said.

“I’ve seen the world, and still nothing matches living right here on Smiley Road in Farmington Maine.”

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