Wednesday, May 4, 2011


In yesterday's post, I talked about why Deus Ex Machina and I have chosen to use hand-tools in most cases rather than gasoline-powered tools. For us, having used both, the hand-tools are easier to use. That's not true for everyone, and I wanted to reiterate what I've said many times, I'm not saying do what I do, because it's the only way. I share the details of my family's lifestyle as an example of a lower impact life, but not as the only way, and I only suggest that we all be mindful of our choices. If *you* choose to use gas-powered tools or your dryer, that's fine. I won't (and don't) judge, but it should be a choice, one that you've thought about, and not simply something you do because you believe it is *the* way it's done. There's that saying about cats and skinning them, and that there's more than one way. Such is true with most things.

I also wanted to reiterate one more point that I make in yesterday's post, because it's an important one, and I wouldn't want it to get lost in the words.

It is inevitable that what we're doing today be compared to the 1970s back-to-the-land movement, and that's okay. I think there are a lot of us who are looking to the Earth and asking, what can we do better. We're also wishing for some degree of self-sufficiency, and many of us are hoping to step outside of the bonds of the money-economy, in that we would like to work for ourselves, at our own pace, and not just to earn money. The new term is 'unjobbing'. Basically, what we want is what the 1970s back-to-the-landers wanted, and that's freedom.

But there's a difference, and that difference is key to how we're approaching this transition. With the back-to-the-landers, the ideal was to move out of "civilization" to some remote piece of rural paradise and build a self-sufficient community. The members of these communes agreed to give up everything about modern culture to live a subsistence life. In fact, I mentioned Stephen Gaskin, who was the founder of the Farm, a commune in Tennessee, and one of the requirements of the people who lived on their 1500 acre spread was that they take a vow of poverty. The goal, I think, was to make everyone equal, at least economically, and to eschew the accouterments of the capitalistic society from which they were trying to escape.

But they got to the land in their vans, and then, wanted more permanent homes, and so they started building houses. They wanted hot water for baths, and so they set up a bath house and used propane to heat the water. They boot-legged a phone connection and electricity by tapping into the lines that ran along the roads near their property. They had radios, and, even, eventually, brought in a television. In short, for as much as they tried to leave society, they worked really hard to bring it back, and the more they accepted modern amenities back into their peaceful existence, the more it began to fray.

I'm not criticizing what they did, because, for more than two decades, they were completely successful in their endeavors. More than a thousand people moved in and out of the Farm, and it stands, today, as an example of a large-scale, completely organic farm.

In addition, Ina May Gaskin, the founder's wife, was a midwife, and her amazing book, Spiritual Midwifery, is a valuable tool for those who believe that the words "birth" and "industry" should never go into the same sentence when we're talking about living, breathing things being born, but the fact is that our society has created an "industry" for everything, including birth. The astounding success rate of Ina May and her fellow midwives of safely assisting the women of the Farm in childbirth is both enlightening and heartening ... and proof that the assumption we "need" hospitals or doctors to give birth safely is just another lie told by the establishment in an attempt to enslave us in fear.

What I am saying, though, is that for the bulk of American society, the very lofty goals and ideals of such great experiments as the Farm are too rigid and extreme, and that we need to start smaller and work our way back. We need to be able to take two steps forward, but have the ability to step back, once and a while to catch our balance. We need to have the freedom from guilt that was stripped away with everything else for those who chose to live on cooperatives, like the Farm, because it wasn't about the individual, it was about the group. We need to be able to make individual choices in our individual households and see what works for us, and what doesn't.

So, for most of us, instead of leaving everything and working to rebuild, I think a better option is to start where we are with all we have and work backwards, figuring out what we really need and just what we have that's shiny.

And ask the question: Do I need the shiny thing? And if not, chuck it out the door.

I have complete respect for the 1970s back-to-the-landers. Without them, I'm not sure that I would even have thought to do what I'm doing, and really, I think on the very bottom of it all that we have a very similar philosophy. They, like I, were sick of the inequities of our modern capitalistic society. They, like I, were tired of being fed lies from the tablecloth*. They, like I, wanted to find a better way to live that didn't strip the Earth of her treasures. They, like I, were sick of being manipulated and patronized, and when neither of those things worked, threatened through fear-mongering tactics to do was we were (are) being told.

For me, the goal is to streamline, to pare down, to take the best of what our modern society has to offer, to slough off those things that are actually impediments rather than assests to a good life, to give up what bogs me down and build up what enriches me. In short, my goal is to make very conscious choices about how I choose to live, and to try to find the balance that is enough, because all research shows that there is too little and there is too much, and to find happiness (and as Deus Ex Machina continually points out virtue) we have to find that middle - **In Medio stat Virtus**

Are we both guilty of being over-sanctimonius in our views and recommendations? Perhaps, and if so, like them, I will eventually give up my quest for self-sufficiency, and I will find myself right back where I started so many years ago - looking forward to Thursday night so that I can watch Survivor.

I wonder if Jeff Probst will still be the host.

*From the song B.Y.O.B. by System of a Down.


  1. Well said, Wendy. We all have our reasons for the changes we are bringing into our way of life. For us, it is to improve the quality of our life, through better food, better outlook (mentally and spiritually), to simplify our needs, and to become more self-sufficent - without becoming martyrs;)

    Just as you talked about in yesterday's post, our family often does "menial" work or chores in small chunks, for the very reasons you mentioned. Periods of physical exertion stimulate us on many levels. Too many people are happy to pay expensive club memberships (guilty about 10 years ago;), and yet will not consider walking a few blocks to the next store when shopping. There are so many hidden benefits to doing things the "old fashioned" way - many of them are remembered/realized only once we give up the "easy" way...

  2. Is my family at your level of preparedness, do we posess the skills you and your husband are teaching your daughters? Nope, but we are trying in our own ways to make small changes. We just simply aren't "you", nor do I think we ever will be.

    Have I EVER, for one second, felt like you were judging others??? Not even once! To me, this blog is your memoir of what you are doing, with lots of thought-provoking and conversation-starting topics thrown in for good measure.

    Frankly, the posts where you feel you need to justify your position on something you have said make me a little sad. I certainly respect you for addressing comments that question your motives or message, and people are right to ask these questions in a respectful manner. I just find it odd when it feels like your motive has been questioned.