sustainability

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Yesterday was somehow both full and relaxed, the way that homegrown living can be. Work feels like life, less a job and more a flow of pressing and non-pressing tasks that help us to build a homestead and sleep hard at night.

Sundays are especially full as we begin the week anew and catch up from a Sabbath that didn’t see any dish-washing or garden work. It is our Monday and after a full day of rest I feel up to the task of trying to tame that beast of disorder. It feels good somehow to wake up to chaos on the counter and, at one point in the day at least, see fewer dishes and more flat surfaces.

But these days are still a little hot so we take them slow as we prepare for winter despite the confusion of seasons. Insulation and walls are going up. Wood stoves need moving and polishing. Firewood needs to be piled, stacked, split.

Morning and evening are the heavier work times during the summer. Breakfast, dishes, lunch, more dishes, chasing and kissing on these little ones in between. All the while Annie is following Daddy around as he moves from putting up insulation and walls to spreading hay and manure for the coming fall garden. Those little bare feet walking in her daddy’s footprints is about all I need to remind me of how grateful I am for this at-home life we all share.

I know that this life is not possible for everyone right at this very moment and that it’s a blessing not to be taken for granted. I’ve been there, wanting to do something but having to wait until the time was right. That time was full of angst and things to learn and possibilities, though, and it was all just part of the bigger journey. It was right for us to take the plunge when we’d paid off our student loans and could buy two acres without debt. Not everyone’s right will look like that, though.

Looking back we could have stayed where we were a bit longer, held onto the job that would have given us more of a cushion, kept living in those 900 square feet until we felt like we had “enough” to get started more comfortably. But it didn’t seem right.

When Elijah was born in 2006 we were already deeply desirous of the country life.We knew we wanted to homestead. We knew how we wanted to raise our children. But there was that debt, a complete lack of knowledge or skill, and never a location that made it right. From the time Elijah was born we hoped and prayed that we could make the jump by the time he was five.

The path was made for us, to me that is clear. Now that I’m watching barefooted children become invested in this life, this land, and this community, I’m so glad we didn’t wait any longer than we did.

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In the Spring of 2011 we paid off those student loans. By October we had everything we owned in a van and trailer and we hauled these little boys, my pregnant belly, and us two neophyte homesteaders down south.

Elijah had turned five just two weeks earlier.

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On a warm August day painted with the picture-perfect blue sky, the children all congregated behind the cabin. The eldest, nearly eight now, assisted in washing laundry while he encouraged his younger brother, six, in the garden fence he was putting up. His little sister squatted down in the mud nearby, the way toddlers seem to defy physics, and she covered her feet and legs and hands and (recently washed) dress in mud. The baby sat in her seat kicking and smiling and squealing.

It was all so beautiful; one of those moments, if captured, that would take your breath away. A Mama surrounded by her children, all happily helping her and getting along perfectly with one another as they set their hands to the proverbial plow before them.

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I sat there, staring at that blue sky, smiling back at that sweet baby, congratulating Abram on his new garden, and thanking Elijah for the help he so often gives. I soaked up every last second of those five minutes… and then all heck broke loose and we plummeted back into reality.

We were all sweating like beasts on that 100 degree day. My back ached from bending over a table to scrub the laundry. It was seven p.m. on a Friday night and I didn’t even know yet what I’d be throwing down the family’s gullets for the evening meal. I had spent a good part of the week gardening, writing, and canning and so every thing was a mess. Everyone was tired, everyone was hungry, and there was still more work to do.

Now, as you can imagine, the toddler is the first to crumble. This is shortly followed by little boys whose appetites are only surpassed by their ability to whine or squabble when said appetite kicks up. And by this point the baby is fussing, screaming really, while I hastily throw the laundry basket on my hip and make a beeline for the clothesline to finish up the last of the week’s laundry.

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Did I mention it’s 100 degrees?

Someone’s screaming, someone’s crying, someone’s hungry, and someone is sitting in a laundry barrel fully clothed because washing the girl and the dress simultaneously makes the most sense, right? And then I throw together beans and tortillas for the fifth time that week and we all fall into a heap of sweating can’t-sleepers.

It’s days like this that I wonder “Is this is the simple life people tell me they always wanted in those emails I get?”

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In his book Up Tunket Road, Philip Ackerman-Leist explains why the homesteader’s life is not as “simple” as it seems. He says it is filled with hard decisions, different paths taken towards the same end, and more complications than you can shake a stick at. He says it is hard, these dilemmas of time-money and sustainability and standard of living that we must all weigh when we carve our days out from scratch, no blueprint in sight. He, of course, says it all much more comprehensively than I, all while telling of his family’s journey to the homestead they now run.

I really enjoyed his honest, raw, and non-romanticized look at homesteading. It is so real and I can relate to much of what he said. Also, he pooped in a bucket for years and in that way we might understand each other, if I ever met the guy. But if the 5-gallon latrine is not something that binds us, at least we’d agree on one thing…

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The simple life is a misnomer. This life is beautiful and blessed and wonderful, but it is also hot and cold and dirty and stinky and long and hard and complicated. It is filled with some of the most intense and raw and beautiful moments you can imagine, and some of the most difficult decisions that we have had to make. I say that as a fact, not a complaint, because I love it… all of it.

Yes, this life has given us a rich seedbed for all of the things that matter to us and I wouldn’t want to give up any of its many blessings. But it is not just growing some food and living off the land.

It is much, much fuller than that.