sustainability

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When I was eight months pregnant with Annabelle and Stewart had to do more of the water hauling for dishes, filtering, and laundry; he put a solar-powered pump into the old cabin. It was a sort of stopgap between having to haul water for everything in those months surrounding a birth and our plan to someday use good-old gravity to feed water to the places we needed it most.

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Two things I’ve found in living off-grid for nearly four years now is that domestic chores are possibly the most impacted by a move away from modern conveniences, and drainage is more important than running water. When we went cold turkey and moved to a nearly bare piece of land with no more than a camper and a water catchment system, we did that for many reasons and not one of them was because we were opposed to making life work in a practical way.

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We didn’t necessarily set out to make things as hard as they could be but in some ways we certainly made decisions that made them harder than they had to be. There were always things higher on the priority list that needed to come first and so we lived in our temporary structure with our temporary infrastructure for much longer than was originally planned.

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I probably don’t have to tell you that this is a huge step towards sustainability for us – both in utilizing a natural phenomenon to not rely on pumps or solar panels or electricity to bring water into our home, but also in making life livable and doable with a growing family, a dream of living off the land, and a reality of still very much living in an industrialized world.

So things have changed, certainly, and to a greater extent than I may even recognize myself, my day-to-day life has lost a great deal of struggle and frustration. But it doesn’t seem like the biggest thing right now.

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Off topic, but not really… today marks our tenth anniversary. The boys ask every year “Are we going to do anything on our anniversary?” which of course fills our hearts for it is our anniversary. I look around after ten years with this man (who surely must have forgotten himself on that fateful day, or rather the day four months prior when he actually asked me to marry him), the four beautiful, healthy children who surround us, their baby brother or sister who is now on the way (cat, meet out of the bag), and can you blame me if somehow running water is not the biggest miracle in the room?

But it is here, nonetheless, saving time and trips to the tank and requests for yet another pot of water from my little men. And I am grateful for it.

It kind of crept up on me, though. Somehow, after years of thinking and talking and waiting and praying, gravity-fed water made it to the top of the list. I wasn’t really expecting it and didn’t see it coming when Stewart laid out his plans weeks ago. I think I stared blankly at him for a minute the morning he told me this would be the day they poured the concrete inside of the frame surrounded by dirt-filled tires. That giant hole in the ground we dug for the underground house we may never build is now working very well as a huge pond for the gardens. And the dirt piles left behind – specifically the one directly behind our completely unplanned but nevertheless quite welcome house – have made for a great site to plop a water tank on top of.

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And so one morning when we were expecting highs in the upper 90s, Stewart and the boys set out quite early to mix and pour around 1200 pounds of concrete. The boys helped a great deal, as usual, and it was a sweet sight to work in the kitchen throughout the morning with these little ladies by my side while listening to Daddy and his boys working together just beyond the window.

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Elijah was quite serious about keeping the concrete damp as needed.

IMG_7698With the sun beating down in this very exposed spot, Stewart and the boys hustled to finish up the job before the noonday sun took hold.

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When I saw that they were nearly finished I was a bit dizzied; all of it came as a surprise to me. Of course, Stewart had mentioned it many times to me as he almost always runs ideas and projects of this nature by me and of course we had had it mind from the get-go, but I think somewhere along the way I learned to stop waiting. It is easy to always be in a state of waiting for the next thing on the list; the next job that precedes the next influx of cash that precedes the next infrastructure project that we’ve convinced ourselves that we need because somewhere at some point we decided there was a certain checklist of things that had to be done.

I find that state to be quite exhausting and am happy, instead, to be striving for a different state – one that completely opposes the state of waiting. It is the state of contentment that often eludes me, does not seem to coexist in my previous state of waiting, and therefore is a state I find myself in constant prayer of.

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Apparently the fun part of states such as this is that fun surprises sneak up on you. For just as we declared lunch ready, Daddy and the boys were finishing up sweaty and exhausted, but done before the heat of the day could consume them. And now all we had to do was wait for the concrete to cure.

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Later, after the concrete had cured, Stewart poured some sand in places to ensure a more level surface. He may have missed his calling as an abstract artist.

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And then, at the end of a day filled with happy surprises, Ruthie Bear pushed the 1500 gallon water tank up the hill all by herself with just one hand. Not really, but that expedition will have to be a post in and of itself.

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The zoom.

I have been trying to put together a number of blog posts lately. I wanted to share the chicks – some purchased, some hatched at home – that are running alongside our laying hens, increasing the flock. I have some garden photos filled with weeds and potatoes and some turnips I might pull and ferment in the coming days… and did I mention weeds? Oh, and there’s ongoing construction on the kitchen and some handmade kitchen cabinets that were designed and framed by Stewart and my talented Step-Dad while he and my Mom visited. Stewart’s nearly finished them with a few little helpers wielding a paint brush.

But every once in a while there is something that keeps me from getting to those happy things. More often than not I’ll write up those somethings and never publish them. Sometimes, though, they come through the editorial process and live amongst the gardens and the homestead construction that is only a part of the agrarian picture.

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The reality.

I’ve been sick, off and on, since November. I’ll spare you the details and simply say that now that I know what I was dealing with, I’m pretty sure I’ve had minor symptoms since I was a teenager. For whatever reason things came to a head in the fall and have sort of dragged on for months, pretty well draining me in the process.

So when I woke up this morning and made breakfast and cleaned off the wood stove and listened intently to my children with what felt like a clear head, I knew something had shifted. Mid-morning we all headed to the garden to plant beans and weed with Ruthie Bear by my side, Daddy working intently on construction in our absence. We made lunch and made beds and the girls and I laughed and danced and played.

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To be able to see that something needed to be done and to then do it was just lovely. To then have the energy to really be with my children showed me what I had been missing terribly for quite some time.

When Stewart was down with adrenal fatigue for some months, we often said that one of the most valuable physical resources on the homestead is an able body. Money and natural resources are nice, but if you can’t actually do something with them then what good are they? That sentiment has proven true once again.

I don’t know how I am going to feel when I wake up tomorrow, or if I even will. But there is something that continues to be brought before me through these years of agrarianism, its accompanying lack of comforts, and all that has gone on between the lines.

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It is the absence of some things that I have needed most, for it is through their hollow that truth and light shine brightest. This is the place where my own dirt is plain to see and those things I prop myself up with are laid bare. It is in this space that I see what I really cling to and how breakable everything is but Him. It is these times that reaffirm that doing this doesn’t make us righteous; it only shows us how deeply we are not.

There is always a carnal part of me that wants to turn away from this life and this hardship; that wants to mask it all with the distraction and ease that have long been my salve and bandage. The thing is, I don’t always handle these struggles gracefully. I am not always tough or content or gracious to everyone at all times through these trials.

Maybe that is why I continue to have them… maybe that is why I have come to appreciate them… maybe they’ve shown me enough to be terrified of where I would be without them.

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It is true that much of the work out here is physical, sometimes exhausting, and not always without frustration. Progress is often much slower than what we are used to in our culture, for better or for worse.

This work does not exist in a vacuum, however. There is a spiritual work that runs parallel with the digging and the dishes and the building and the dirt. Sometimes the gardens and the animals take a back seat to the struggle and the day-to-day of raising a family. Sometimes I’m doing well to keep the children fed and tucked in at night. Sometimes I look at Stewart and ask him if he too feels the magnification of our inadequacies through agrarianism.

Maybe that’s not the whole of the reason we’re here, but maybe it’s reason enough for me.