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“What Are You Even Doing?” 

Wow! You guys are really doing it! You’re living the way people lived back in the pioneer days!
I’ve heard that, and similar sentiments, several times over the last few years. I never know how to react.

What I want to say is “No, actually, we’re really not. We have comfy vehicles and snowmobiles with heated hand grips, we have a tele-handler, chainsaws, electricity and the internet. It’s nothing like ‘the pioneer days’”. But that would be rude.

I guess to most people, growing a bunch of food, raising animals for meat and butchering them yourself, foraging for income, and getting snowed in during the winter is rustic enough for them to simply consider it the same thing.

While the ultimate goal may actually be something like ‘the pioneer days’, it’ll be many years yet before we don’t need ‘modern conveniences’. Would we be okay if the world as we know it ended tomorrow? Yeah, probably. It’d be rough, but we’d be okay. But the goal is to be more than okay; to have an abundance not just for today, but for future years, and enough to share abundantly with others in need. Both materialistically and in the realm of knowledge.

I’m guessing you have some kind of religious affliation if you’re trying to live without technology…

Well, no. Religion has absolutely nothing to do with it, and we’re not exactly trying to live without technological advancement. Perhaps the ultimate goal, aside from creating abundant provision to share, is to formally exit the cycle of consumerism. And honestly that’s not possible unless you have a dedicated die-hard community of like-minded and skilled individuals (do feel free to inquire if that applies to you!). To truly shun consumer- ism (without the convenience of dumpster diving, which is a luxury we lack on the mountain, alas), we’d need to produce everything ourselves. But that’s the irony of “self sufficiency”. One person can’t do it all. It’s impossible to provide everything you need to live (at least in our ecosystem) from the natural world around you without help.

Who will be growing vegetables, roots, and spices all season long?
Who will be preserving each year’s harvest so there is enough food available over winter for the community?
Who will be gathering the firewood?
Who will be foraging for hundreds of pounds of wild fruit and vegetables each year?
Who will be hunting and butchering?
Who will maintain hunting equipment and create needed ammunition?
Who will tan the hides and make shoes and equipment?
Who will build and run a forge for making and mending tools and fasteners?
Who will mine and refine the ore for the forge?
Who will grow and harvest all of the feed needed for the animals over winter?
Who will be milking, and turning hundreds of gallons of milk into cheese each year?
Who will set bones, mend wounds, heal lungs, and pull teeth when needed?
Who will harvest fiber and spin yarn and make and mend garments for everyone?
Who will be building and repairing infrastructure, and gathering the materials to build with?

Without a coordinated and dedicated group effort, true self suffciency is not possible. It’s enough for one person to handle procuring their own food for a year, stockpiling fuel for the winter, and maintaining their home. at right there will eat up most of your days in a year.  There are alternatives and crutches though; we buy used when at all possible, salvage and forage for food and materials when available, we opt to support small producers, crafters, and locally and independently owned businesses, and we refuse to buy direct from some of the biggest corporate giants (amazon, for example).

But other quandaries remain. Here’s one most of us can appreciate these days; if we want to live rustic and refuse consumerism, what will we do in lieu of toilet paper? For those who don’t mind a little “TMI”, we officially switched to bidets this year and haven’t looked back. But an electric pump powers that water pressure, which is delivered through manufactured hoses. Batteries and solar panels power that pump. Copper piping and plastic drums hold our water. Hardly rustic, if you ask me!

I think the best any of us can hope for, without a radical shift in our lifestyles, is to minimize our consumption, buy only what we need (and salvage what we can), buy it mindfully, and limit our modern luxuries.

You’re like a hipster… except you’re not a hipster?
I laughed when I heard that one. But really- why even do any of this in the first place? It all sounds ‘cool’, but pursuing a life relatively void of modern comforts comes down to a matter of good old fashioned passion. We’ve seen it a few times now; someone starry-eyed about living o -grid and working for their food and fuel comes to live with us and within 3 or 4 months they realize it’s not for them. I’d venture to suggest that the hurtle they stumble on is the mental work involved, not actually the physical work. Critical thinking is a make-or-break skill, and the ability and willingness to learn is paramount. Without them, it doesn’t matter how strong you are or how good your gear is, you will fail. And if you don’t love ‘roughing it’ and having to work for yourself and your own quality of life, you’re going to hate it.

Since I could articulate my first thoughts about what I wanted from life, my goals haven’t changed much. A school counselor once sat me down when I was 11 (long story) and asked “Jen, if you could have any three wishes, what would they be?” to which I replied rather quickly “Lots of animals. Enough land to support the animals. Enough money to support all of that.”. My vision has better articulated itself over the years and become vastly more elaborate, but the principles remain the same; be as close to nature as possible, submerge myself in it, and cast aside the idea of career and wealth.

You can’t take it with you when you die, so why spend life accumulating material comforts? Care for yourself, yes. Be comfortable, yes. But it doesn’t need to be the paramount focus of life. Making an impact (hopefully a positive one!) on the world and lives around you is the only thing that will out-live your mortal body. And that’s worth living for!