A man who has spent much time and money
in dreary restaurants moodily chewing
filet of sole on the special luncheon
is bound to become unmanageable
when he discovers that he can
produce the main fish course directly,
at the edge of his own pasture,
by a bit of trickery on a fine morning.
One Man’s Meat
Lifestyle is the things we do, which comes from our needs and wants, our values and the influence of our place. In Chapter 4-Who are you?, we began to explore needs and values. First on our criteria worksheet is preferred activities. What we wish to do may dictate where we do it. Gardening in the desert, skiing on the plains, golfing on a mountain peak are unreasonable expectations.
Country lifestyle is the result of needs, wants, habits, values, the land’s influence, the size of the place, the tools and the skills we have.
In the country we get our exercise preparing soil, planting, tending animals, harvesting crops, making firewood, building stone walls, walking, playing. In the city exercise is accomplished at “fitness centers” where the fitness seekers pay for the privilege of using machines to work muscles. What a waste. Why hasn’t someone developed a way to convert all that running, climbing, pedaling, lifting into electricity? Maybe public utilities should own those places and pay exercisers for expending their calories to generate Btus.
The fact that you are considering moving to the country means that you want to change at least some of your activities. The ideal life includes doing those things we most enjoy. Being in control. Having maximum free choice and maximum independence.
Besides your vocation, what do you do?
Identify all of your preferred activities that require certain conditions: weather, water, snow, space, mountains, woods, facilities, equipment, etc.
Here is a list of place-related activities to bump your brain: swimming, diving, fishing, floating, boating, water skiing; hunting, trapping; snow skiing, ice skating, making snowpeople, having white Christmases; golfing; attending the symphony, concerts, music shows, plays, opera, ballet, baseball, football, basketball; hang gliding; rock climbing; bird watching; beekeeping. Some activities may be practiced nearly anywhere, but climate, topography, raw materials or local conditions may make them more enjoyable in certain places. These include gardening, hiking, horseback riding, running, woodworking, nature photography, camping.
To thine own self be true
One ridge to the north of us lived a lady who brought a fur opera jacket with her when she and her husband moved from the city. Each year she took the jacket out of its protective case, shook it, aired it and brushed it. But only once did she and her husband make the many-hour round trip to attend the opera. Just before they moved, in the midst of explaining why they were leaving, she showed me the coat and spoke of how important opera was to her. She explained that their modest budget did not allow the expense of a long drive, overnight accommodations, meals and tickets.
If part of you will die if you can’t attend musical or sports events, then your ideal place criteria list will include easy driving distance to those facilities.
A noun, homestead is a home, outbuildings and the adjoining land. A verb, homestead is to settle on a property and to gain sustenance from it. In this country the concept evolved from the Pilgrims’ early subsistence patches. The phrase came into public usage with the Homestead Act of 1862, which gave 160 acres of public land to any adult who could live on it for five years. By 1900 about 600,000 had said yes. Considering conditions in the late 1800s, today’s option of buying land may be easier.
Some feel that homesteading is synonymous with family farming. It once may have been but in current usage it is not. Homesteading implies that substantial sustenance comes from one’s land. Many modern family farmers grow cash crops only, then buy their food at the supermarket. Use of the word nowadays is pretty loose-anyone who moves from city to country and grows a garden is in peril of being labeled a homesteader. There are worse things. It’s a great tradition and can be a high-quality lifestyle.
In The Owner-Built Homestead Barbara and Ken Kern offer: “Reduced to its simplest terms, a homestead is an ecosystem in which humans evolve in mutual association and coexistence with plants, animals, and other life forces. In this cohabitation the various components of the homestead germinate, develop, and mature at varying rates for varying purposes, all interdependent and individually supportive of life therein.”
Most modern homesteaders have these things in common: they believe that life is better in the country; they believe that self-sufficiency is a right goal; they believe that humans are destroying Earth; they want to make the transition from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. Modern homesteaders striving for self-sufficiency are working environmentalists, not only committed to being part of the solution, but living their truth. They walk their talk. They are value fueled.
Self-relianceThere is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction
that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself
for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good,
no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil
bestowed on that plot of ground which is given him to till.
The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he
knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know, until he has tried.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Self reliance. There is a resonance to it-it evokes security, holds hands with words like home and harvest and wood heat. It implies working with, instead of against nature.
It can indeed provide security. Available information and technology allow substantial self-control of one’s basic needs. Wind or photovoltaic generation of electricity now allows use of a full array of tools and appliances independent of an electric company. Good soil and an adequate growing season can produce a large percentage of a family’s food needs. With a tight house and a wood stove, a woodlot can provide heat. Five Acres and Independence has evolved from a book title to a dream, a challenge, a rallying cry, a reality.
Yes, five good acres is enough. My parents, brother, sister and I ate very well from a bountiful one acre until we moved to our farm. But more land provides pasture, cropland, firewood, wild game if you want it, less chance of bothering your neighbors or your neighbors annoying you, and a condition to allow part of the world to heal itself.
Having it all
The ideal life includes access to what we value. It is now reasonably possible to live in a rural place, surrounded by nature, and use and enjoy the latest creations of technology. More easily than ever we can have the peace of the country and the products of the city. We can live, work, and grow our food in the midst of nature, using space-age tools, and access knowledge and entertainment at will through the magic of technology.
We have portable culture. With tapes and CDs we have the world’s finest music. With satellite antennas we receive news and programming from around the globe. After a dinner of homegrown food we can watch the latest movie, then take a safe moon-and-starlit walk in the parklike setting of our own property.Reflections
I often think today of what a difference it would make
if children believed they were contributing
to a family’s survival and happiness.
In the transformation from a rural to an urban society,
children are robbed of the opportunity
to do genuinely responsible work.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Politicians, sociologists and writers spout infobytes on what is wrong with our lives and how we might be “fixed.” What they rarely suggest is the importance of consciously choosing lifestyle based on current conditions. The Information Age both allows and requires lifestyle adjustment. We have enormous opportunity to transcend the mundane. To stay in place is to reject the gift, to deny our heritage.
Way back in 1970, in The Greening of America, Charles A. Reich noted: “What is the central idea of America, unless each man’s ability to create his own life? The dream was deferred for many generations in order to create a technology that could raise life to a higher level.” That technology arrived yesterday. Embrace it.
For each of us, our individual life is our most creative endeavor. Rooted in the soil of our genetic heritage, shaped by our experiences, nourished by our values, directed by our dreams, we choose from all and make ourselves the best we can.
We create our lifestyle, changing it to fit our experiences. Knowledge, experience, success give us the courage to evolve, to grow beyond yesterday. We take ourselves with us no matter where we go, but moving to a new place allows reevaluation of our values. Our lifestyle, as a reflection of our evolving values, must often change for us to grow. For some, city activities become vague country memories. For others, rural barriers to social and cultural activities can be intolerable.
Where you decide to plant yourself will come partly from how you want to live each day. Living in a small town allows you to walk to the coffee shop to compare sage observations with cronies. Living just outside of town probably dictates a bicycle or car trip. Living in the boonies means sipping coffee on the front porch with yourself, your partner or your cat or dog for company.
Old bad habits are easier to break in the country. New habits, true to your values, will give you greater pleasure. They will also make you healthier.
A helpful technique is to make a list of all the things you most like to do and then add those things you don’t or can’t do now that you really want to do. Then go back and rate the items. Do this in private so you will not be inhibited in writing down anything. You can burn the list later if you like.
So now, after lifestyle on your criteria worksheet, write those activities you wish to keep and new ones you wish to adopt. Your ideal place will have appropriate weather, enough space and will be close enough to needed facilities for you to enjoy those activities.You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die.
You can decide how you’re going to live now.