self sufficiency

Worth Its Weight in Gold

good as gold

 

Self-sustainability, individualism, independence; these concepts have analogies in the empirical world: eating, working, and learning respectively.  Homesteading takes the concepts and their analogies and reminds us that they are inexplicably woven together.  There is a logical, a philosophical beauty to these three concepts that is brought together by realizing that relationship that we all have to the world around us.

This is not “our” world, but it is the world in which we live in.  When we lose sight of this simple fact we lose the ability to be self-sustaining.  It is at that very moment that we are no longer independent individuals; it is at that moment that we cease to work and learn. What we eat is of no consequence, or so we think.  But, without realizing it (perhaps) we eat what we are given.  Think about this the next trip to the grocery store.

The adventure of homesteading is like all adventures, however: it is wrought with confusion, conflict, contrivances, and frustration.  Homesteading is a true adventure because it is defined by the world in which we live, and not by us or our desires.  The goal of homesteading is to learn to work, and to work to eat.  Nature (as usual) had it right all along.

Homesteading is a political statement as well.  To truly be an individual we must be independent and to to be independent we must be self-sustaining.  If in the act of learning to work in order to eat we can remember that in doing so we are also creating our individualism by independently being self-sustaining, we will have come a long way in becoming a person rather than simply a human being.  And that, my friend, is worth its weight in gold.

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Learning How to Read

snow-forst

Many of us love to read books, great articles in good magazines, and perhaps less and less the news.  But after years of reading I am learning how to read…yet again.  There are certain topics that are difficult such as philosophy (a love of mine), and scientific books, even layman science is difficult to me.  However, having recently purchased a property that I intended to make a farm, I am learning how to read again.

In the crisp, New England mornings I walk my dog through the months old snow and the half-century old forest that I own.  I’ve done the walk twice a day for some time now and every day the land teaches something new.  A crevice here, a creek that is burrowing a new furrow; hills and dales, and the trees: oak, birch, red and white pine, hickory, poplar.

Farmers, I think, know what they want, but few know what the land needs; only the good ones, and to know this they need to know how to read.  Walking the land envisioning a field but the land won’t have it.  Perhaps a fruit tree grove there, but the land has started one here.  We own land, but we don’t control land.

Land seems pliable and passive, but don’t let it fool you.  It is the master of its own fate.  We are ego-filled and short-sighted.  The land is wise and counts eons, not seconds.  It is in no hurry as its age is endless.  It knows that we are of it, and by it.  we see land as potential, but it is full of the past.

I am learning how to read the land, and it is a difficult lesson.  I am impatient and the alphabet is foreign.  But the land is patience, and its alphabet it created.  The words ooze out of the fog of my ignorance…slowly.  But as I learn to read I realize that even the choice to learn is an illusion.

Work, Rest, Repeat

stress

There’s only so many hours in a day.  That is the lesson to learn if one is to try to take a self-sufficient idea to a self-sufficient reality.  Some of those hours are better spent resting and some are better spent working.  There is a balance and I notice it when I swing by (thanks to J. Mellencamp for that bit of word play).  This week was to be the week where both the greenhouse and the woodshed were to be started (not started) as well as my wife’s desk (started), and the cabinet doors and closet door for a new built in finished (done).  I did mention to catch a bad head cold.

I don’t believe I’m lazy, but looking back over the week the projects fell short.  But is that really the case?  There must be time for rest and relaxation; we all know that.  Taking time, however, is a different story.  Work defines us to a great extent and there is nothing wrong with that, but the guilt of not getting all the projects going is ridiculous.  There are those out there that feel this way and know what the importance of rest and relaxation are.  They also know how difficult it is to do when there is a list of things to be done.

Self-employment carries the weight of work rather than the joy of work, but this is unfortunate.  Often those self-employed become that for the simple reason of making decisions for themselves.  However, the reality is often the opposite: the projects needing to be finished make the decisions for them.  There is nothing wrong with having to work until late in the evening or even “crazy” hours, but there is something skewed to the thought that one must do this.

I, like many, enjoy working and the feeling that comes with finishing a job, doing it correctly and being able to look upon something built with my own hands.  This is a craft-less world that needs more time, not more things.  This is, perhaps, a good thing to remember when we wake up in the morning with a list of unfinished projects or unfinished business. The business of rest is equally important and (as I am finding) equally difficult as business as usual.

New-Old Lifestyles

Image result for old farm tools

When talking to people, especially older people who sometimes don’t understand why anyone would want to “go back” to raising and slaughtering your own meat, growing your own food and working your own land, they often point out that they are “fine” eating the modern products and processed foods of our current world.  They are right, of course; at least sometimes, or partially.

But the real point is lost on them; the point is not just the healthy aspect, but also the moral aspect.  We humans have somehow lost the necessary respect that life deserves and demands.  It is not just for health reasons that we till our own gardens and raise and slaughter our own meat.  It is healthier and better (lacking the additives and antibiotics) but is most certainly a more moral choice (respect for life and the living): a better choice.

A respect for life is the cornerstone of the agrarian lifestyle.  This does not preclude, but does not necessarily include, a religious adoration of life, but it is a necessary moral choice that does much to define who we are at the end of the day.  People that were raised on farms eighty years ago seem to remember the drudgery and forget the community.  They seem to remember the hardships and forget the rewards.  I’m not sure why and perhaps I will too at some point, but I hope not.

The irony of talking to older people who have had such “lifestyles” is that they seem to look upon the new crop of self-sufficient people as being a bit spoiled, but I would argue that the new farmers of old ideas are not spoiled, but curious and willing to do the work.  Although many people will fail at these new old endeavors (because the physicality and harshness of the work have not changed) there are many who have found solace and education in pursuing  “non-progressive” ways of life.

I think that when an honest lifestyle is dismissed so easily by others that it is because those that dismiss it have never really thought about their own life.  To do so, like the new agrarians will find, is physically and morally demanding; no less than the new- life that they have chosen to lead.

My Own Mistakes

I continue to be taught by my tools and the wood and earth that I now work with on a day to day basis.  It is a wonder how much a table saw can teach us if only we listen.  My bandsaw lays in waiting for the lesson to be taught.  A piece of lumber is a particularly harsh professor.  Lacquer is a nun with a ruler.

The oak that I saw lures me into the comfort of knowledge only to take it away again, leaving me in the darkness of ignorance; but there is always a light at the end of that educational tunnel.  The maple slabs never let me slack nor do they allow me to rest my weary head.  I lay my well-worn sander on them only to find a new lesson.

My jack plane is a peculiar teacher.  The razor sharp iron lures me into comfort and laughs at me again and again as its paper thin slices suddenly turn to chunks of precious wood.  I cry and it offers no solace and so I am angered and it is entertained.

My shop lays in wait at night for me to wake and try my luck again at learning a trade that I thought I knew.  It proves me wrong and I still fight.  There is no “first place” or empathy; there is no participation points.  I am learning from the best teacher that I know of: my own mistakes; and teach they will, one way or another as long as I keep trying.

Sustain Sufficiency

sustainability

The fall has come here at our new forest/farm.  The renovation on the bathrooms is almost finished and the months past have flown by.  The question still remains: is self sufficiency a pipe dream, is it possible?  This discussion, I’m sure, is common in households that have decided to turn their backs on the supermarkets, the food-consumer concentration of non-sustainability, and suburbs that offer comfort and the all-consuming security.

First, self-sufficiency.  The problem, it seems, is energy.  How to sufficiently produce and continue to produce the energy that it takes.  There are two possibilities: add to the energy production or take away from the energy consumption.  Alone, there is no option: we must take away our need for energy to be self sufficient.  So, self-sufficiency becomes a community approach to living at some point, which (in order to be moral, to be healthy and to be virtuous) must be sustainable.

Second, sustainability.  The problem is energy.  How to continue to sufficiently produce the energy that it takes to be self sufficient.  There are two possibilities…

So while self-sufficiency and sustainability are not the same they are reliant upon one another: to sustain self-sufficiency we must have sustainable energy sources.  This is the catch and the secret.  This is the unending education that I am reminded of as a look out over my new acreage  and feel the damp coolness seep in, watching the golden leaves fall.

I throw another log on the fire and sip my hot coffee.

Renovation

renovate

Starting anew with self-sufficiency means renovation.  First, the old habits need renovating.  We don’t notice the habits that we have; the expectations are built in.  Easy is easy for a reason and it is an unnoticeable slide into the acceptance of habits.  Being self-sufficient starts with renovating the habits we have.

Secondly, your body needs renovating.  Our modern society has softened us and no gym or workout schedule will change that.  My father-in-law put in seven day workweeks up until a few years ago (he’s 75).  Now he puts in the normal forty to fifty hours a week.  I’ve always respected his ability to work.  Being self-sufficient leads to the acceptance of soreness, aches and pains and the occasional smashed finger or two.

Third, your mind needs renovation.  Starting any adventure is an education and like all other educations your mind needs to be made up.  Plans and dreams are one thing, planning a 1/2 acre garden, a day of forestry work, running electric for the back up generator or cabinets for a mudroom is another.  Daily schedules change and decision need to be made, sometimes quickly.

Fourth, renovating your skill set is almost inevitable.  If self-sufficiency is your goal then learning how to be self-sufficient becomes your daily task.  Self-sufficiency is the other end of the stick from dependency.  But remember, dependency includes dependency on skill sets that people have, not people.

Whatever renovation you are doing in your life it is important to be ready to change habits, to be ready to work hard, to learn, and not be afraid of trying new things.  We are, after all, human beings with a mind that has evolved to be, well, renovated.

 

The Community of the Self Sufficient

self_sufficient

To be self sufficient is a personal thing, not unlike so many who just want to “get away” and have everyone leave them alone.  I am, and was one of those.  However, things often must change, and do.  NOFA puts on event up here in New England, and I went to a hog butchering class today.  There I realized that to be self sufficient, there must be a community.

It does sound strange, but it is, and always has been, true.  In the cities we often forget this fact of independence.  Often we can live around millions of people and be completely alone.  This is sad, true, but it is only because there are communities of self sufficient communities of people that support such lifestyles.

Aloneness is important.  Being alone we can often find our “true self”, and what we find is often a bit disconcerting.  But the self sufficient ought to be able look that self in the eye every morning and meet it head to head on those nights when we wake up feeling so alone and vulnerable.  One way to do this, is to realize our dependence on healthy communities.

Unfortunately, self sufficiency is often correlated with those who have opted out and see survival as a pile of rations and guns.  This is a misconstrued view of self sufficiency.  Self sufficiency is an education and there are many great teachers out there that are willing and often able to teach those willing to learn.  To realize that the community of the self sufficient are not these radical outliers one only has to reach out to learn, well, to be self sufficient.

At the class, there were seven of us, we each took turns learning to cut the 1/2 hog in such a way that would do justice to the animal, and to those who had, and will continue to create a community of the self sufficient.

The Birth of Dreams

 

beer

Since the dream has died, it is time to make new ones and so it is time to brew beer.  Beer is one of the few possible proofs that there is a god in the universe, but brewing your own beer reminds you that really god is not needed; just clean water.  And so new dreams start again, this time with the help of some well water, yeast, malt and hops.

Brewing beer gives us a break from building other things and gives us a chance to remember what counts: time.  This because brewing beer takes time.  If you are not cleaning, then you are waiting.  The smells waft from the kettles and there is time to dream new dreams.

After Death

life-afte-deathAfter years of living in cities, longing for the country; perhaps some peace and quiet, I look out over twenty two acres of forest and a half acre of tilled earth to become garden next year.

A dream come real is no longer a dream; a reality in the form of work, wood and wonder.  Reality offers it all and reminds us with the birth of reality comes the death of a dream.
Simple needs become clear and concise.  They are many reminding me that a simple life does indeed necessitate complication.  Work is the key word, the kind of work that goes beyond a scotch in the evening listening to music and imagining and composing wishes.
Happiness, the quality of contentedness that so few find is possible, but the road is long, and comparisons begin to take the joy away from the reality.
For those who wish to live their dream do not compare, do not wish for more.  The dream as reality will not be what you think, but it will be life as it is, not as we wish it to be.
The future is still clear, the present is all encompassing and the past is full of memories, if not regrets and happy times.  Perhaps it is age, but most likely it is the realization that a dream come true is the death of the dream.
Self sufficiency has been and will continue to be the goal, it is now only a daily endeavor, a clarity of mind and a soreness of the body.  The dream perhaps lives more clearly now…after death is the life that I have dreamed of.