Over the years, David and I have collected an impressive array of homesteading books with titles like Build Your Own Castle with Materials You Find in the Woods and Getting Off the Grid by Using Bodily Waste for Fuel. We subscribed to The Mother Earth News for years and have wept and cheered our way through videos of Joel Salatin. You’d think that by now we’d live in a log cabin we built by hand and have a roof covered with solar panels. In actuality, we live in a typical tract house built by a bankrupt contractor and send an indecent portion of my paycheck to Progress Energy every month.
We are, however, ardent supporters of other people who homestead and try to enable them in any way our meager funds will allow, from buying their books to buying their eggs. Plus, we still read about homesteading, because we like to pretend that we will do this someday.
With that in mind, I patiently waited for my library copy of The Weekend Homesteader: A Twelve-Month Guide to Self-Sufficiency, by Anna Hess, since pretend homesteading two days a week seemed doable. This colorful, shiny paperback is divided up by the months of the year in the northern hemisphere, with the corresponding months “down under” in each chapter. Ms. Hess has truly packed a great deal of information into this volume, from finding a home site to composting, beekeeping, canning, and everything in between. She includes lovely, helpful pictures, charts, graphs, and a guide to how long each project will take and how much it will cost, so that you can bite off just as much as you think you can chew for a weekend. Whether you want to keep chickens or build your own fuel system, it’s all here.
This little tidbit in the beginning grabbed me, though. At the end of her introduction, Hess has a text box that asks the question: “What is homesteading?” Here’s part of her answer: “To folks over the age of fifty, I usually describe homesteading this way: ‘Remember the back-to-the-land movement of the sixties and seventies? Homesteading is the same thing… without the drugs and free love.’” Oh, thanks. I wouldn’t know that because I’ve been unconscious since the seventies, probably as a result of the drugs. According to Wikipedia (and you know they never lie), the term “homesteading” was first used in America in 1862. Even I was not alive then! Seriously, we’ve used this term since we were married in 1980.
Once you pass the half-century mark, it suddenly becomes clear that you only have one life to live, and it’s the one where you go to work so that you can keep living inside your house. Hopefully, you will love your work, as I do, but it does take up a lot of your time. Furthermore, you realize that some of those goals you had are things that you really wanted to have done by your other self. The perfect one. The one who eats organic all the time, meditates daily, works out enviably, and has a dozen or so very close friends who come over every week to sip wine in your lush backyard and carry on scintillating conversations. That one.
In reality, I am never going to be a homesteader for two major reasons:
1) I am way too lazy. Homesteading requires getting up early every day, especially if you have a rooster. You don’t have to have a rooster to get eggs, but the hens do lay better if one is around. However, we won’t get into such racy topics here. Furthermore, you may have noticed that homesteaders are really into shovels and sweating. I am into sofas and sitting. I love nature very much, but in a more observational role, as in, “Oh, look! A Rufous-sided Towhee!” I don’t have to go outside and try to touch it; I have binoculars, much to my neighbors’ concern. In addition, animals have to be cared for all the time! If you have anything that needs milking, you have to do this twice a day every day. No vacations, no sleeping in. Who can keep up with such a schedule? But I must confess another reason to avoid homesteading.
2) I am afraid of pretty much everything living. For example, I really love dogs, but I am afraid of big dogs. My mother tells me that I was badly bitten by our neighbor’s cocker spaniel when I was two years old, so that may explain it. But have you ever seen a cow or a horse up close? They’re so decorative in a pasture when I’m driving by, but at a foot away, they are gigantic, with hard hooves and big teeth! I am even afraid of chickens, especially the aforementioned alarm-clock roosters. They will peck a chunk out of your ankle just for meanness. When we lived in Georgia, we had some friends who were actual, not-pretend-type homesteaders, and they kept a flock of chickens in the backyard. They homeschooled, as we did, and one day the mom called me up and offered us a dissection field experience. It seems that her rooster had pecked her once too often, “and now he’s in the freezer,” she said. After the lab experiment, his next appearance involved dumplings. I am just not that tough, but I’m so glad she was.
So will I keep on reading homesteading books? Oh, yes; I enjoy fantasy literature. When I’m out digging around in my (organic!) vegetable boxes, I can have that virtuous feeling that I’m doing my little part to get back to the land, get closer to God, save the planet, and feed my little family healthy food. And then I’ll come in and download How to Disconnect Your Soul from the Internet and Reconnect to the Earth into my e-reader.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of Weekend Homesteader. My opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.