Too bad I hate patchouli. But the rest is true.
I can’t remember how it all happened, but sometime earlier this year, I began to feel a bit of an internal crisis. I’ve always wanted a rural life on some land, but it was an amorphous desire with no real understanding of why. Several years ago, my husband and I made our first attempt, making an offer on 5 acres. We had a smart little contingency in our contract that if we didn’t get enough water when we drilled a well, we could back out of the deal. And lo and behold, we got 2 gallons per minute, which was nowhere near enough. Oregon is funky that way, its special geology making potable water a mystery. So we retreated, rather exhausted from the ordeal, and bought a house in town on very little land with no southern exposure and lots of shady trees where little to no gardening would happen for the next 5 years.
But then I had a lot to think about this year. And then I went to Costa Rica for my MovNat adventure. And while I was there, staying in a small bungalow with hammocks and outdoor showers in view of the black sand beach, I began to wonder what it is I really want to do with the rest of my life. Since going Paleo and plugging into the online world around it, I’ve spent too much time sitting on my ass in front of a screen. That involvement has been a net positive, and I’ve enjoyed being a part of the fun and making great friendships. But there have been some unpleasant side effects too, just enough to make me think that the real world might be more worthy of my attention.
Freshly home from Costa Rica, I told my husband I wanted a 5-year plan for moving onto a rural property. It didn’t have to be big or expensive, I just wanted out. And in true go-getter fashion, he made it happen in light speed.
We first laid eyes on our property in April and owned it by the end of June. It’s a smidge less than 20 acres, with about 5 of it sloping open to the south and east, and the rest of it arching back into oak savanna mixed with a few ponderosa pines, madrones, and manzanitas. It has at least one seasonal creek with the underlying granite exposed at a few points where waterfalls will flow once the rains get started again. There are bears, bobcats, cougars, deer, hawks, jays, and woodpeckers. There are scores of wild roses, and a few edible and medicinal plants like sheep sorrel and plantain leaf. But unlike our previous attempt, it has a good well producing 25 gallons per minute and it has 5 acres of irrigation rights, a detail that we overlooked before and now know to be absolutely crucial to our plans.
So what are those plans?
Sanity. I’m a sensitive introvert who likes to wander outside and get dirty. My husband has a stressful job that involves dealing with a lot of unhappy people, and he just wants a place where he can get away while sipping his morning latte in the sunshine. We want our daughter to grow up running free and learning about the natural world in a natural way, not through a book or because we tell her about it.
- Food Sovereignty/Security. Going Paleo has been the lynchpin for this. Despite my attention to local, organic, and seasonal food, I want more. I want to increase the intimacy between me and where I live by narrowing that gap. I plan to make this happen by learning permaculture principles, having signed up to take 6-weekends-worth of classes next spring at a farm right around the corner from mine. I’m hoping to design a system that respects my special spot on the earth, and in so doing, will feed me with little effort—my very own gatherer area, if you will. So many awesome edibles grow wild around here, like hazelnuts, mushrooms, and all sorts of wild greens. Many other cultivated plants love it here too, like apples, pears, other tree nuts, and almost anything you can grow in a garden. So I’ll have my permaculture food forest and I’ll also have some space for annuals like tomatoes, kale, lettuces, etc. I’d like to eventually build a root cellar for long term storage, and I need to learn more about food preservation methods like canning and dehydrating. As far as animals go, we’ll definitely have chickens for both meat and eggs. I like the idea of raising our own meat for the deep freezer, so perhaps a cow or lambs are in our future, though I don’t love the idea of going larger scale with animal husbandry and all that. I see no reason why we can’t raise our own Thanksgiving turkey each year. We have some CC&Rs that prohibit pigs and bees, but I’m hoping to figure out a way around those. Pigs would be so tasty after foraging on our acorns! But whatever we decide, we have lots of room, plenty of water, and loads of flexibility.
- Practicing What I Preach. When I got back from Costa Rica, I tried to solve the puzzle of what was keeping me from having the life I wanted. One thing that popped up was this idea that if you follow Paleo’s thread of logic, it takes you to some interesting places. And it’s great philosophy, but that and a nickel will get you a nice hot cup of JACK-SQUAT! It occurred to me that if we want healthier bodies, minds, families, communities, and futures, we have to make the changes necessary in our daily lives to support that endeavor. How we interpret this will differ for each of us. My direction may seem extreme to some and not enough to others. For example, fresh on my mind after Costa Rica was the observation that we’ve become a nation of chair sitters, and it shows on our physiology. We can’t expect to sit in a chair for 8+ hours a day and reverse that damage with 1 hour spent exercising—it just ain’t gonna work. I’d rather align my life with healthy principles from the outset rather than constantly trying to fight off the consequences of bad decisions. So my task is to build a life for me and my family that will demand constant activity and interaction. In a garden and doing work outside, there will be squatting, lifting, carrying, throwing, climbing, and more. This has the added effect of making our work tangible, real, generalized. So much of what we do today is virtual, abstract, and specialized, and I think this makes us unhappy when we privilege it over the real world. I’m deconstructing my life instead of trying to heap more onto the pile, which is something we all too often do, and then we wonder why our new perspective isn’t producing the desired results.
- Scaling Back. While the door hasn’t been slammed shut, my husband and I are pretty sure we’re done procreating and that we’re perfectly happy having one child. We currently live in a 3200-square-foot house, and while it’s an awesome house, we just don’t need this much. I like the idea of living in a way that doesn’t invite clutter, excess, and waste. While I doubt I’ll ever be able to truly call my family “minimalist”, I like the idea of moving that direction. I’m already fantasizing about the different types of composting methods I’ll be using. I’ve recently stepped up my efforts to reduce my consumerism, and when I do shop for something, I try to find it locally first. I find myself becoming ever more disdainful of packaging, so I’m trying to figure out how to avoid it by, for example, getting better acquainted with my grocery co-op’s bulk bins. And in planning the house we’re going to build, we’re aiming for 1800 awesomely planned, smartly built square feet, nearly half what we’re living in now.
More Adventure. We’ll need a place to stay while we’re building, and we’ve decided to buy a yurt from Pacific Yurts and put it on our property back in the trees. It won’t have any electricity or running water, and the only access to it is a short hike on trail. It will be rustic living, yet glamorous camping, and it will be quite the adventure. Lest you think we’ll be totally roughing it, we have access to my husband’s parents’ house here in town, where we’ll be going occasionally for showers and grabbing food out of the freezer. After we move into the house, the yurt will serve as guest quarters for anyone hearty enough for the challenge. Looking at the longer term, permaculture and mini-farm life demand a lot of learning and experimenting, and that unpredictability will definitely keep me engaged and active for years to come. And I’m excited about the opportunities my daughter will have to roam and explore, a feature of childhood that is becoming unfortunately endangered.
So here’s to new adventures. New directions. A new lease on life. A chance at sanity, purpose, at a hand-crafted way of being. And of course, I’m sure to be documenting the journey. Stay tuned.