Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Deer Isle got walloped by an early and unexpected winter storm this past weekend. Snow heavy spruces snapped or got uprooted, tearing down power lines and telephone poles as they blocked roads and driveways. In our off-the-grid, solar-powered cabin we enjoyed lights and a movie on our laptop all through the storm and the next day we salvaged several great blown down logs from around the neighborhood. I mustn't have read the forecast very carefully, since our plans for this stormy day initially were to continue laying the pipes in our new grey water system and washing the windows in our house. Well, being a homesteader and living off the land often means being subjected to natural conditions beyond our control. Most of our work is closely connected to nature and we have to act and react accordingly to what's put in front of us – sometimes predictable changes of seasons and temperatures, other times curve balls such as unseen pest pressure, hard frosts in late May or heavy snow in early November. It's hard to plan projects that involve nature by looking at the calendar, rather, it requires observation, a keen mind and light feet that can quickly change direction when needed.
For each passing year as a homesteader I more and more came to appreciate the premises nature so often sets in our daily life. I'm working alongside a much greater force that I can either fight and make more work for myself, like by planting seedlings in a dry weather spell and having to water them or comply and have it work in my favor, by planting just before rain. We can also take advantage of these conditions by, for example, doing our laundry in the morning on a sunny day for maximum solar power gain and utilizing the afternoon breeze for the clothes to dry on the line. Season and weather will also aid in things like the most efficient processing and drying of both firewood and lumber.
A lifestyle where these natural circumstances is the main determining factor for what gets done when is getting increasingly rarer – humans have gained what some consider an advantage by manipulating the world into a state where we can remain unaffected from the forces of nature in many ways. We've developed vehicles that can traverse distances in almost any weather and indoor work areas where heating, cooling, light, air and humidity is totally independent of outside conditions. Fertilizers, greenhouses and infrastructure allow us to eat anything everywhere at all times and we're able to manufacture all the goods we want thanks to finite resources without considering the supply of local, natural material such as wood.
This manipulation has led to an illusion-like concept that we can sustain ourselves largely independent of nature. Hence, humans' actions in the natural world are also disconnected from it and too often carried out without consideration for what impact they may have or the long term sustainability. These actions lead to the depletion of resources, such as land, water and fossil fuel and when we do see the consequences of those actions, such as large scale crop failure, water shortage and devastated urban infrastructure in the wake of severe weather, the initial reaction is rarely one of reflection over the link between lifestyle choices and the outcome we now see. Rather, the more common reaction is one of surprise over water companies that can't provide usable water, outrage over air lines that can't keep on schedule and the government, unable to protect us from these forces. Since they have all been able to gain control over nature, they should, with this logic, also be able to keep that control. The next step in this line of reasoning is to push for even greater manipulation of the natural world in order to gain even greater independence, another loop in challenging spiral.
Here at the homestead, most days come as a reminder that we will gain the most by working with nature rather than attempting to stay in control over it. If the leeks need to be picked on a Sunday, I pick the leeks on a Sunday even if I'd planned on a day off. When I see the winter apples fall to the ground I put other projects on hold and secure the apple harvest, and when spruce logs seem to present themselves right in front of us, well, then we better get them. Some days it feels as if all I do is trying to catch up, other days the wind and the weather do the work for me, and do it even better still. One year the miserable cold June killed all of my tomato plants but next winter the miserable cold January killed most all of the squash bugs that would have eaten my pumpkins next summer. After a long stretch of sunny days there's usually a gray one coming, just as we needed some rest. I live in nature and with nature. Some days we get socked by unexpected weather and some days we can reap what the weather gave us. It's all a part of the same great picture.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.