Sometimes when I tell folks, especially city-dwellers engaged in the fast-paced 9 to 5 ditty, that my husband and I live on a farm in the middle of nowhere and try to live sustainably, homestead, raise our own food, homeschool our kids, and basically do as much as we can for ourselves, I often see a glazed over expression take hold and hear utterances of “ahhhhh, the simple life.”
heh heh heh I think to myself.
I’m not exactly sure how on earth bucolic living ever could be described as simple, unless you engage in the scene as a mere pastime and therefore aren’t really living it. As far as my limited amount of experience will testify, homesteading is a heck of a lot of work. (I sometimes feel like a hypocrite even calling myself a homesteader. I don’t have the slightest clue, really. I engage in internet commerce, bop on over to the local dollar store for toilet paper, and zip into the gas station to “fill ‘er up”. Geez.)
So. Just in case you were wondering, here’s a few things I’ve taken note of lately that challenge the idea that this homesteading way of life could be viewed as simple. Here goes:
1. I’m pretty sure a bag of dogfood from the feed store trumps cutting open a dead lamb as sustenance for the livestock guardian dog in terms of simplicity. You tell me, what would you rather do?
2. Walking over to the thermostat on the wall and fiddling a bit seems far simpler than heading into the woods with a chainsaw.
4. What time does the school bus come again? I’ve forgotten. Oh, right… school is right here. And I am the teacher. And the cafeteria-lady. And the janitor. Simple?
5. When a dozen eggs from the grocery store costs a mere few dollars, why exactly have I spent several hundred on chicks, several hundred more on feed, and several hundred more on fencing? Tack on all of the hours spent raising the chicks, feeding them, protecting them from predators, and moving their fence around the pasture every few days… well, wheeling the shopping cart to the refrigerated section of the grocery store seems downright easy.
6. The laundromat is my friend. Following a night of my little girl puking on every single heavy blanket on her bed, the “simple” task of hand-washing all of those loads felt daunting. I caved. My simple life was made even simpler by cramming some quarters into a machine.
7. Last year we planted a few hundred strawberry plants. We unrolled big heavy bales of wheat straw to mulch the plants and keep the weeds at bay. But the straw still had many, many wheat berries in it which sprouted so nicely that the strawberry plants were shaded and the task of plucking that fine carpet of wheat grass was completely overwhelming. Then the deer moved in on them. They love strawberry plants, you know. Now that the wheat grass has been weeded out of what plants remain, a freeze arrived just when the plants were blooming for their first big crop. The heavy piece of 10′ x 150′ row cover didn’t just magically decide on it’s own that those tender blooms needed protection. Who do you think was left to do it? And we haven’t even arrived at the picking part of this equation. The fact exists that this is just one crop. We grow dozens of different crops each year. You see where I’m going… not so simple.
8. Can’t we, just this once, call the plumber to remove the giant hairball that is clogging the bathtub drain?
9. A cow’s gestation is about ten months. A good grass-finished beef animal requires about two years to mature and finish. You’re looking at three years before that first bite of hamburger. Calving season is about to unfold here very soon. Want to come over in about three years for a cookout?
10. When you build your own house, and the front door is framed in a slightly cock-eyed fashion, and you look at it sideways each time you go in and out, there isn’t anyone to blame for that detail but yourself. (In this case I could slightly nudge Eric in the ribs. But we’re a team and I’ve done many more half-cocked things than he has!) Best just smile and tilt your head. The door works just fine anyhow.
Carving out a life is not simple, no matter what style of life you live. The reality is that each day is far from simple. Not just for me and this way of life that I have chosen (for I did happily choose this), but for all of us. Some of us pay electric bills, some of us adjust solar panels. Some of us drive big trucks, some of us drive horses and buggies, some of us walk. Even the monk who has rejected all earthly possessions and sits for hours each day in meditation has a hard row to hoe… sitting still with a clear mind? Now that is hard work. I just can’t do it. Despite the heft and magnitude of each decision we make, it doesn’t really matter how big or small. Every little decision requires a human at the helm to decide what path feels right. Life is complex. We are complex creatures with the amazing knack for adding complexity to just about everything we do. I know we all feel this way, in our own way, each and every day: Fully living life is not so simple.
For me, I think the simplicity comes with the unambiguous nature of my work. Nothing is ambiguous around here. My actions have direct consequences: Forget to water the greenhouse? Dead plants. Tend the garden well? Full bellies. No firewood for the stove? Cold house. Love my children despite totally obnoxious behavior? Watch them grow and flourish. And on and on. Hmmmmmm. When I look at things in that light, maybe I am living the simple life after all.