Life for a suburban teenager is a whole other world when moving to the country.
PHOTO: COURTESY CORRIE RYDER
A teenager shares her story about leaving the suburbs and moving to the country.
When her high school English teacher asked the class to write about their passions, 17-year-old Corrie Ryder submitted this report. It chronicles her choice to abandon her routine life in the suburbs and moving to the country for the challenges and rewards of country living.
At my house, deep in the woods outside of Parsonsfield, Maine, we don't stay up very late. We don't watch television much either, or spend useless hours glued to a computer screen. It's probably been a few months since I've heard the ching! of a toaster telling me my toast is done, or the annoying beep of a microwave after it pops my popcorn.
In fact, the only sounds you'll usually ever hear around my house might he the sound of chickens crowing, my brother and I bickering, or occasionally, the coyotes singing their hearts out under the dazzling starlight. It's amazing how quiet and calm things become when you live without on demand electricity and spend your days hidden like a secret, miles into the woods. It makes you realize how really chaotic and impatient modern life can be, and how wonderful and peaceful nature is.
The summer I learned to live without electricity, pavement and nothing but my family in a 16x16-foot house marked the beginning of many astounding discoveries and experiences for me. First, I found that living off the grid wasn't very hard; it was actually quite fun. I also discovered the magic and power in nature, an inspiring experience I will never forget. Last, I learned the love, support and comfort of having your family become your best friends, a bond not broken, but woven tighter, even after small — or big — arguments.
My creative, tenacious mother certainly had aimed for the "old style" of living when it came to finishing her house. Its character seeps from the walls and floor, revealing the story of a life created with love, talent and amazing imagination. The house itself is tucked safely away, sunken deep into the belly of the forest.
At first glance, the house I moved into from my suburban environment didn't, to say the least, seem to offer much for your average teenager, but it certainly was a new and challenging adventure I was willing to try. I had briefly visited a few times, and I assumed I knew what I was in for. I expected the daily chores and responsibilities, and I thought I was fully prepared for absolute isolation — so far from the world that you enter another: one of babbling brooks, leafy giants and their mysterious inhabitants.
A few weeks into my new adventure, I was slapped in the face with the realization that I needed to learn how to live all over again. Most of the day we live without electricity and do just fine with our gas refrigerator, gas stove, grill and six 1-gallon milk jugs tilled each morning with water we pump when the generator is running. We turn the generator on in the morning and evening for one hour to charge the batteries and run the water pump so we can have showers and wash dishes. When it is running, we can watch our satellite TV, use our computer and turn on lights.
The old-fashioned tools, lanterns, routines and daily habits of the family were all a pan of the puzzle I struggled to piece together. The crude machines used in everyday life here were puzzling, frustrating and interesting all at the same time. I didn't know my way around very well, and was rummaging through the tool shed one morning looking for a shovel. The dim light pulled color from any familiar shapes; my fingers meandered around, finally landing upon something in a dark corner that felt like a shovel handle. When I drew the shovel into the light, to my disappointment, I realized that it wasn't a shovel at all. There was no spade at the end of this handle, just a jagged row of teeth staggered along each side of a 2-inch-wide, 12-inch-long metal blade. Its purpose was simple, though at the time I was somewhat irritated with my seemingly never-ending ignorance of tools. It was a weed-whacker, frilly functioning (despite its obvious age). I weed-whacked that yard until it was completely whacked naked! It was delightfully fun, giving me such a proud feeling that I had accomplished something that day. No electricity? Who needs it! Tomorrow another discovery is waiting for me outside.
But the glimmer of the new adventure began to fade as I became more familiar with the house and its tools. I found myself missing things from time to time: a toaster, microwave, vacuum, washer/dryer, and definitely the instant and magical luminescence of flicking on a light switch. Really, I only missed practical appliances; I never have missed television, computers or video games. Possibly I never lamented the lack of electronic entertainment because being outside was much more interesting. There, I absorbed energy from the movement of the forest around me, which gave me an amazing feeling of peace and purpose. Alone with the trees, I never felt more alive. The nature that surrounded me improved my mood and outlook on life.
I experience more nature in one week than most people experience in a year. It was only yesterday my mother and I were having a bubbly conversation alongside our shed under the shade of a few oak saplings. Suddenly our conversation came to an abrupt halt, our breath caught in our throats and our mouths hung open with astonishment.
She landed only a few short feet away; her beautiful feathers danced with flecks of light filtering through the leaves above. Her entrance hadn't been subtle, but very friendly. The partridge stretched her feathered body up and she held us in her confident gaze. I almost expected her to speak. It was as if she had wanted to join in on the conversation, her little partridge sounds an attempt to communicate. After a few long minutes she flew off, leaving my mother and me both grateful and excited. The visit from the partridge was such a gift; many people never are privileged to see such a sight. Here, though, we live right in the heart of such magic and witness endless wonders.
The partridge was only one small strand of the myriad ties that ended up binding our family more closely together. My mom, her boyfriend Dave, my brother and I are like four peas in a pod. When you live with three other people and live as far in the hills as we do, you tend to learn everybody's secrets and become quite equal. Sure we argue sometimes, but with the circumstances and the calm spell the forest casts over all of us, we forgive and we forget. We all have developed ways to get along. I've learned to always ask, say please — and pay for my own gas.
Someday, if I leave, I know I will never forget the proud mommy partridge, the weed whacker, the coyotes, the crickets, the geese or the chickens. I'll especially remember those sleepy mornings, waking to the dry warmth and comforting smell of the woodstove as Mom rustled coals and fed it a breakfast of pine and oak, bringing it to life. If you asked me to move back to suburbia today, I would probably refuse — toaster or not! The woods provide enough excitement for me, for now.
What's YOUR story? Tell us your story of self-sufficiency, and if it's chosen for publication, we'll pay you $100. We'd especially like reports on how you harvest and store rainwater for your homestead. Submit your Report of about 1,000 words, along with several photos, to: Firsthand Reports; MOTHER EARTH News; Topeka, KS — MOTHER