Countless times over the years I’ve been asked variations of the question, “Why would you want to live that way?” Truthfully, my first unspoken response is “Because we can” but there’s much more to it than that.
As I pointed out in my last post A Homesteader’s Tale I’ve been less than fascinated by modern life since earliest childhood. When I first learned to read my favorite book was “We Were Tired Of Living In A House.”
We were tired of living in a house.
So we packed our bag with sweaters
And we moved to a tree.
We liked our tree.
In retrospect, I blame ancestral hardwiring for the beginnings of my proclivities. Until the time of my parents’ adulthood my family had been people of the land. My dad was plowing with a pair of mules when he got the word about Pearl Harbor, handed the reins to Grandpa and went to war. In studying my genealogy I’ve discovered that his people were at the forefront of every migration from the time they landed in Virginia in the 1600’s. In every old census I’ve viewed his family was involved in agriculture. My mother’s ancestors were sturdy Czech farmers. She remembered during the Depression never once being hungry or feeling deprived. When the government came to school with fruit to hand out Grandpa Duffek told her “No. We don’t take charity.” Before I had any other reason to want to, I just thought living on the land would be cool and that it’s better to do for yourself when you can.
Another point I touched just briefly on in A Homesteader’s Tale was the fact that I’ve always had a distrust of the sustainability of the system, kind of like Grandpa Duffek. What started out 30 years ago as a nagging suspicion that things weren’t quite right has blossomed into a full blown gut wrenching certainty. I am a prepper by virtue of the fact that I self-identify as an agrarian. Agrarians have always been preppers. There were no Wal-marts on the plains in 1880 and I try to live today as if there wasn’t one 20 miles away. The difference between me and most preppers is that if TSHTF I wouldn’t really care if it ever got back to normal. I suspect that casts a bit of suspicion on me in their eyes.
Infrastructure on a homestead takes money, but once that’s in place living is cheap when you’re concentrating on being a producer instead of a consumer. Our income is well below poverty level, despite the fact that I’m an experienced Registered Nurse and David is only about 17 hours away from a master’s degree and is a skilled welder/pipefitter. We live well on about 15% of what we could make at our regular jobs and less than 10% of what we could make if we were hard-charging Type A success seekers.
This one makes people uncomfortable and though that isn’t my intention I must speak the truth as it pertains to my life. I understand that everyone’s circumstances are different. There are people with health conditions that must depend on “reliable” grid electricity to live. There are those have absolutely no desire to live like we do and that’s OK with me as well. And there are those who would give their eyeteeth to escape the city but for whatever reason they are stuck. I truly empathize with and am saddened for those people and I hold none of them in judgment.
When I worked full time outside the home and lived a more “normal” life, I was a slave. A very convincing case can be made that industrialism and the power grid turned a nation of independent farmers into a nation of predominantly wage and debt slaves. I see my own life as an escape from a vicious cycle: Go to work to make money to buy stuff that you don’t have time to make (and to make better) yourself and pay people to do the things that you don’t have time to do for yourself because you’re spending most of your time away from home making money. Spend a good portion of the rest of the money you make on the things you have to have to go to work to make that money – clothes, vehicles, fuel, eating out, day care. Pay increasingly oppressive taxes on all the money that costs you money to go out and make in the first place. Take an antidepressant, go to bed, get up the next day and repeat, day in and day out, for years then retire and die. I’m not interested in a life like that. Some might say, “But you don’t have any money for nice things like vacations.” I say to them, “And you aren’t free to take a vacation unless your employer gives you permission.” Yes, I understand that our world’s system revolves around people going to work and making money. That game just doesn’t work for me.
Consider this. Utility bills are perpetual debt. Every single month we go into debt, sometimes to the tune of several hundred dollars, in order to be able to casually flip a switch for light or climate control, to take long hot showers and to not have to deal with poop. I remember waiting anxiously for the monthly bill which, even with being conservative, I really never felt in control of. Imagine the “company store”. In certain situations the company store was the only source people in some areas and occupations had for the things they needed or thought they needed. They made their selections on credit and at the end of the month the debt was taken out of their pay. The company could charge whatever price they wanted to. Even if workers wanted to shop somewhere else there was never enough paycheck left after paying the company. The electric grid and it’s associated conveniences are simply the company store revisited and it permeates every aspect of modern life. Some say, “Oh no, it’s not like that.” The same people are those who will squeal loudest when the power goes out.
You load 16 tons and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go. . .
I owe my soul to the company store.
(16 Tons, made famous by Tennessee Earnie Ford)
An off-grid homestead lifestyle works differently. I choose daily how to spend my “utilities” (electricity, fuel and water) based on what’s available. I own my resources free and clear. I am never in debt for a utility bill. I understand that if the spring is low water must be conserved, that if there’s been a stretch of cloudy days we may have to read in the evenings instead of watching a movie and that if I light 3 kerosene lanterns every night just for ambiance my stored fuel supply will only last 1/3 as long as it could have.
The life we’ve chosen – a life of off-grid agrarianism and voluntary “poverty” and distance from worldliness – gives us choices that we would never have otherwise. For us freedom is being able to enjoy these choices and accepting both the joys and discomforts inherent to them. In that we are rich.
This one’s easy – daily fresh air and sunshine, regular exercise, decreased stress, wholesome food. Who can argue with that?
Recently I got an interesting variation on the “Why?” question when I was asked why we continue to live as we do when we’ve already proven that we can. This person was most likely viewing our life choice from a prepper’s standpoint but it’s a good question as well in light of the fact that we’re getting older. It made me think and the answer came crystal clear – Lianna and Oran, my grandbabies. These children have never know us not living like this. Even if we had no other reason to do the things we do, we would do it for them – to teach them skills and values, to set an example of hard work and independence, to show them that you can set your own path. You don’t have to follow the crowd.
Along with each of the motivations I’ve outlined my faith has been evolving during my years on the land and the longer I live as an agrarian the stronger that faith becomes. I can find personal satisfaction in the Bible for each of the points I’ve touched on that tells me that God has called me to this and I pray that He will sustain me in it for as long as He wills. The prophet Jeremiah pegged it:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16