sustainability

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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.

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I’ve now read more books than I can count on the topics of gardening, permaculture, orchardry err fruit-growing (see, no clue), and general homesteading. And I still fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to just about everything around here.

I bounce around garden areas, watering, fertigating, thinning, side-dressing with comfrey, and saying things like “We really should prune those fruit trees this winter” and “We could grow a ton of this stuff to feed goats!” As if I know anything about any of that stuff.

We’re in the on-the-job training program around here, and one of the educators we’ve had is a collection of books on sustainability. Every time I crack open the pages to a new book on gardening, sustainability, permaculture, or land management; I think it’ll just be the same-old, same-old. But I am happy to continue to be proved wrong with books like Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist.

I think this books is great for folks like me who need someone to simplify the basics of permaculture with doable small steps.

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