Sunday, January 15, 2006

the reality of the "simple" life

The short answer: It's anything but simple. It ain't pretty. And what I wouldn't give for a hot bath and a dishwasher right now.

The Hermit is away for a few days pursuing a job opportunity at a location disclosed only to one of my blogging friends. Too much explaining to do otherwise. So I have been living something like the Zen proverb of "chop wood, carry water". The Hermit chopped enough wood before he left that I should be spared the first part, but I'm getting my fill of carrying water, to critters and to fulfill my very hedonistic needs of personal cleanliness. Oh yeah. Add to the first paragraph, A drain, and some very luxurious water-holding fixtures. And some plumbing to fill them. Except a toilet, I still think I don't need to waste water on crap.

I have already decided I'm not cut out to raise animals, other than cats and dogs, for food and/or pleasure. Okay, maybe a FEW chickens for eggs, but I don't want to try to feed anyone else. And don't get me started on horses...

I'm rethinking this whole homesteading thing. Actually, I'd like to be a rich heiress who lives out in the woods by choice, and strives to leave a smaller ecological footprint while enriching the world with my music and writing, but at the same time having the (carefully chosen for their impact) modern conveniences. I don't mind tending a garden, just for the reason that homegrown tastes better and I know where it's coming from, but...and this is the big revelation: I don't think I can be totally self sufficient, nor do I want to strive to be. I would rather have a network of local growers and animal farmers who I can trust to supply my food. That is not a reality here, unfortunately. But it is a nice vision.

Meanwhile, I'm just trying to get through the daily grind here. I hate to sound like I'm complaining, but it definitely has me thinking.

p.s. I want to be in my new house so bad right now. Can you tell?


lené said...

You know what I appreciate most about your blog, Deb? You offer us a full picture--and you don't apologize for it. It allows us to trust you in the joy and to sit with you in the struggle. Thank you for sharing the honest life you live. That's the richness here--the truth that we all grapple with our choices.

Jim said...

Exactly Deb, like Lene said, you are so honest, and all of us who are struggling with life as it is today, regardless of our circumstances, appreciate that.

I often feel lonely & isolated in trying to live simply, and without a car or a television, in this mess of a civilization we've created. We are often looked down upon, like paupers or something, and people like you, who are trying too, to make a difference, mean so much to me.

We are all struggling to find our way and sometimes I wish I didn't know the things I know, that I lived in ignorance & bliss, but I don't, and I can't.

Still, I've never really tried to be completely self-sufficient, as much as I'd like to, we can't all be Eleutheros.

Do what you can honey, play your music, and keep being honest, we love you for it.

Peter Pan said...

Sounds like a cry for help, doesn’t it? I am sorry for you. Maybe I have little more comfort; but I don’t be more comforted! I am playing the simple life. You apparently have to live it. That’s the great difference. I bake my own bread; grow my own green stuff (partially). But if it doesn’t work – I have the baker and the grocer next door. I wouldn’t know what to do if this would be otherwise.
Encircled by civilization and depending on it we have to endure the contradiction between our own visions and reality. Every book and every email, that’s invading into our »simplicity«, even the axe for chopping wood needs a rather high standard of »civilization«. Thus we are confronted with it - and feel the difference.
But a bath tub (»and some plumbing to fill them«) is a fine thing, I must confess.
But you still have your appreciating of beauty in art and nature! Nobody can steel it from you. And you have your Hermit and the three children. Maybe we hear soon how the story goes on.
Peter, Germany

madcapmum said...

I read your post last night just before I went to bed, and I couldn't sleep, so I kept thinking on it.

There's no way I could do what you do - work fulltime, AND take care of the needs of my family, AND pull off the homesteading stuff. Couldn't do it, not even a little bit.

Any chance of you being the house-hermit for a while, or even a half-time house-hermit?

Rurality said...

Living the "old-fashioned" way is a lot more work than people think!

I like having critters, but hesitate to get more because it's so hard to leave town as it is... in the old days we just asked the neighbor to feed the cats. But you have to have pretty close neighbors, to ask them to also do all the farm chores!

Floridacracker said...

There's a reason why societies move away from subsistence living as soon as they are able. It's constant hard work that confines you.
I work hard at my place and we play at farming and some self-sufficiency, but it's voluntary not mandatory. Raising livestock, even a pigs and chicks like we have will tie you down. Animals have to be fed and cared for, some chores can't be put off.

I have been in awe of you and the Hermit since the first click. Homesteading in one of the toughest climates in the USA? An the Minnesota? I would still be in awe if you had an indoor toilet.

I have compromised and just try to be a good steward. I know that my 10 acre homestead could easily have been divided into at least 40 homesites with 40 families x 3 people each x 2 cars each x 40 septic tanks...

Just by keeping it wild and natural I am doing a good thing.
You are too.

Jim said...

Hey Deb-

Just this minute I was down stoking the wood stove and your version of 'Early' came on the iPod and put a big smile on my face, it's playing right this second. ;~)

Anonymous said...

Chop wood bandage finger tote water chop wood haul water stoke stove tote wood stack wood haul water advil back drink beer rub feet and blog!

Anonymous said...

feed horses, feed chickens, feed kids, feed horses, feed chickens, feed kids and blog.

Deb said...

I think I have an anonymous Hermit commentator here, reveling in the fact that at last I understand what his life is like! :) Let's axe the meat chickens when you get home, okay?

Thanks for all the wonderful comments here. I really probably made it sound worse than it was, and I'm not looking for sympathy, but it is tiring at times keeping up! I'm just thankful for this warm winter; doing chores at 28 F is much more agreeable than at minus 20F.

It is a definite compromise, and you realize you do what you can. It is difficult having one foot in today's world and one foot in the kind of life I want to live. I am thankful for all the bloggers out there who I can relate to! :)

Deb said...

p.s. Jim--that is so cool, hearing that my music is being appreciated somewhere! I'll have to find a way to record and post more of it soon; we've added some great Irish stuff with me on flute, and a few more old-timey tunes. I did have a good practice session today. :)

Deb said...

Peter Pan--interesting you should mention about the axe. The Hermit just had to replace the handle on his splitting maul--the tool that splits the wood that keeps us warm. He had bought a cheap splitting maul two years ago, but it was just Poorly designed. So he bought a handle for his old one, and we're back in business. At least he is, I don't split wood...not that I would not do it if he did not; just a division of labor kind of thing. ;) Okay, so this comment probably deserves to be a post on its own, but since I've made the effort...

dragonfly183 said...

You reminded me of when we first moved to our new place. I was sooo not prepared for what was to come. I had never cut wood, never carried water long distances, never dragged or carried anything very heavy. i was a hiker, and could go long distances only carrying my own body weight, but never when the weather was hot.
If its any comfort you get used to it after a while. Time passes and the cold is not so cold anymore and the heat not so hot, the ax doesn't hurt your hands or back anymore and that bucket of water isn't so heavy, and then one day you go and get dressed and notice hmmmm, my clothes are a lot looser than they used to be.

Deb said...

dragonfly--that's the effect I'm hoping for. :) By my calculations, I should be sliding into my "skinny" jeans by the end of the week. Maybe i should continue to do chores when he's back!

the Contrary Goddess said...

Ah, you're just being a wimp. Buck up! [grin]

Truth be told, husband had to do something somewhere else not too long ago, and when he got home I said, "I couldn't do this by myself." He said he couldn't either, and that's true. The life we've carved out requires both of us.

But the being an heiress part, total shit. No credibility. It IS hard. But that is how important it is to do it. And in the end, how satisfying doing it is too.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Oh, and I object to cracker's tying you down concept. Subsistence takes only about four hours a day, even for the hunter gatherer. It is going for so much more than subsistence that ties people down.

Deb said...

Contrary Goddess, you're late to the party but thanks for chiming in! Actually I've been waiting for you or Eleutheros to beat some sense into me over this. :)

Yes, it definitely does take two. And it takes a lot of commitment and getting used to. By about the fifth day, I had a rhythm going and I was enjoying certain aspects of the rituality of chores.

Yes, the heiress comment was somewhat tongue in cheek. If I were one, and there is very little probability of that happening, I would live knowing that my money was made exploiting someone else. You don't just amass large quantities of money by treating everyone fairly.

I admire you for the life you live, but I'm not sure I could make such a commitment to it. At this point anyway. Ten years ago I never dreamed I'd be living this way!

Eleutheros said...

What! Did my keen Freeman's sense detect my name taken in vain somewhere!

First I want to echo what Dragonfly said, in time, in an amazingly short time, you will become work-hardened. Human beings were designed for this we are neither much happy nor healthy without it. It will put a spring in the step, a glow to the skin, a twinkle in the eye, and don't get me started about the rest of it. Yes indeed. Don't be surprised if you become legendary, don't be surprised if they start writing songs about you:

"Ol' Deb from Sand Creek
Was a two fist mountain cat
Weren't no log in that Sand Creek bottom
Could stand up to that woman's axe
She'd chop them logs up and down
Walk unafraid into any town
Beat five townies in the ground
And knock down twenty or more!"

So, hey, stow this Poor Deb business you are hearing. There's nothing in the world like a woman with an axe in her hands.

But two things:
1) It's hard to work full time and homestead. I've never done it. I last worked full time (for 'da man') back in the 80's. And here's why it's so hard: after you've chopped and piled enough wood for the winter, are you likely to chop some more? After you carry enough water for the day's chores, are you likely to head back to the well or creek for more? After you've baked enough bread for your family, how much motivation do you have to bake more? When you've laid out enough rows of corn that your family can possilby eat, why would you lay out some more?

On the homestead, we're not stupid. But at work? Dumb as a stump. We will keep going into work every day, sacrificing the rich center cut of our time on warm sunny days, EVEN IF we don't really need more money. Terribly inefficient way to live, terribly wasteful of our lives. But it's the nature of the beast one might say. Yes, but a damnable beast, no? That's why it is more than twice as hard to homestead and work full time as it is to do each separately.

2) We're in a house with running water now. Don't want central heat or a dishwasher, though. And a great, deep antique iron bathtub. But we lived close hauled like you in the beginning. Many was the time we packed in ourselves, groceries, laundry, and several small children on our backs up a steep mountainside in the freezing rain to come to a tiny, cold, drafty trailer that was built the same year I was born. It will affect you in a very good way. Ever notice that when a drawer or closet or outbuilding is heaped and junked and crowded, it's no good to go in and decide what to throw away. The only thing you can do is take everything out and then with a lot of though only put back what you really need and want to keep. That's you right now. By all means push toward that house with plumbing and a great vast bathtub, I HIGHLY recommend them. But having cleared all the junk out of your life, you can now put back only the things that have real meaning. Mandolin first, then husband, and then only the things that are real and important.

So few people have the opportunity to do this, a fewer still the courage.

Deb said...

"There's nothing in the world like a woman with an axe in her hands." I might have to incorporate that quote somewhere in my blog header!

What's nice about living without certain amenities is that, like you say, you can pick and choose which ones to incorporate back into your life. A big, antique iron bathtub is definitely on my list. A dishwasher? I grew up without one, and in my adult life I have lived mostly without one. I would have to work many hours to pay for one, many more hours than I spend doing dishes by hand. As soon as I have that kitchen with running water...that's what kids are for!

Mandolin first, then husband...sometimes he thinks that is my priority list. :)

the Contrary Goddess said...

Just wanting to chime in later still -- and disagree again -- but I don't think "it takes two" but that it is different with one.

Ever see the movie Cold Mountain? The old woman living on the mountain isolated with all her goats?

Children, however, require two parents, and as I've heard someone else say, there is no success in life that makes up for a failure in the home.