Thursday, March 25, 2010

after you've bought ten swampy acres of cutover forest in Michigan, and the idyllic version we often imagine (yours is not a country background; most people's isn't)

“In our imaginations, as well as in our literature, we often carry an image of life in the country that is a conglomeration of our favorite fantasies. We see a 'little place in the country' as the best reward for a life of city labor in 'commerce,' and as the realization of our deeply-felt hopes for what a pleasant life should be. Somehow we regard country life as more complete than city life, its pleasures more natural and its rhythms more in tune with the seasons and with the earth. Country vs. city has been a standard literary conflict for hundreds of years; and almost always it is country life that wins the tussle....

“Today as we look at our cities we really do find an appalling situation. In older, more established places like Philadelphia we find an inner city area where murder is commonplace and where huge blocks of buildings stand abandoned and condemned. In more 'futuristic' cities such as Los Angeles the inhabitants have escaped the concentration of a central area, but the result is that they move about enclosed in small glass and steel cubicles, isolated from a polluted sky, from the earth and from each other. The great freeways, built to promote speedy transport, developed traffic jams that often return the traveler to something slower than the speed of grandpa's horse and buggy.

“The effect of this urban deterioration is to disenchant us with city life, and to bolster our image of the country as an escape--as an ideal, 'natural' way of life. Removed as most of us are from the realities of rural living, we cling to a fantasy version of 'life on the land,' even embellishing the benefits of the country to the level of poetry. The dirt and dangers of city life take a poor second place to the imagined pleasures of the white farmhouse on a country lane....

“How To Tell If Homesteading Is For You

Try to look at yourself objectively. If you grew up in Paramus, New Jersey and have had no experience with country living, ask yourself: Why do I want to leave the kind of life I am living? What am I really looking for in the country? Make a list of the rewards you expect. Especially, tote up what talents or interests you have that you think will enable you to live happily in the new and foreign environment.

“Answering difficult questions like these (and others discussed later) is important, and doing so early on in your thinking may save you misery and money later on. Many city people do need a change or move, but they don't necessarily need to move to rural Maine or British Columbia. If, on the one hand, yours is not a country background (and most people's isn't), you will have much to learn, and to give up. You have, in other words, every reason to assume that you would not be happy as a homesteader.

“On the other hand, you may discover you are genuinely frustrated by not being a homesteader (which you probably knew long ago). In any case, take a very long look at your motives. Look at your skills, your ability with tools, your preferences for entertainment, and your opinion on weeding gardens. The best time for having second thoughts is while you're still contemplating the trade-in value of your green Cadillac, not after you've bought ten swampy acres of cutover forest in Michigan....

“This chapter has emphasized not the pleasures and rewards of homesteading, but the hard work and care required in beginning this kind of country life. The reason is this: It is very easy to drive through the country and find the white farmhouse and red barn that seem the epitome of country life. It is far better to realize that this quaint country place likely has no plumbing, no central heating, has sagging floors and rotted sills, poor insulation, and a damp cellar. It is likely to have no adequate water supply. The land around it may be eroded or pocked with rusty farm machinery hidden in the weeds. Out back may be a rotted and sagging barn and the remains of an old fruit orchard. This bleak picture probably is an exaggeration, but it is no more extreme than the idyllic version we often imagine.”

--David E. Robinson, The Complete Homesteading Book: Proven Methods for Self-Sufficient Living, 1974, illustrated by Paula Savastano

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