In comparing many of the different homesteading type forums out there, I've seen a lot of different kinds of people. Some are afraid of just about everything from the dad-gum guv'ment to dentists. Some are in hiding or just completely unsociable and full of hate, and some are afraid they might be abducted again and aren't eager for a second (or 6th) probing. I feel that the people on this forum are generally more like-minded and share a lot of the same values I do. We all have reasons for choosing this kind of life, I'd like to share mine.
My Father was brought up to Anchorage, Alaska as an infant in 1950. His father was a teamster and hauled on the Al-Can hwy. An interesting story my dad told me about him: He was driving his truck one day as part of a convoy (whether they worked for the same outfit or not, they would usually keep together for safety and companionship on their long routes.) They were on their way to Valdez. He was getting hungry and tired and pulled in to a lodge to eat and stay the night. A few of the other trucks joined him. The next morning they continued on down to Valdez when he had to stop, because there was no more road. Valdez was gone, along with all the trucks that made it there the previous evening. It was March 28, 1964. The day after the 1964 Earthquake. The town of Valdez today is not in the same place it was before that day.
My Grandparents split up when my dad was young. His dad went back to Utah and his mother would take off and leave him with family friends for months, even years at a time. One of the places he spent a few years at was an old homestead down in Sterling, AK on the Moose River. The folks there took him in and my dad has told me many stories of the time he spent on the homestead. Taking baths in a washtub and ice skating to school. When he was older, before joining the Army, he worked as a camp hunter for an Antimony Mine. He would go out and bring back moose and caribou for the miners to eat. When I was young he told me of how he would see and hear wolves in the distance when he would be dressing a kill. He always made sure to leave a decent amount of meat for the wolves in the hopes they wouldn't follow him and take him down for the meat he was hauling. Gradually over time, this pack of wolves followed him every time he was out hunting and they would get braver every day. He said the Alpha was a big beautiful solid black wolf. One morning when coming out of his tent, all of the wolves were lounging about his camp. They took off immediately, but he was sure from that point on that those wolves would never come after him, but he still always left them plenty to eat.
One time he got to go on a supply run, on the return trip the small plane he was in hit a pretty nasty storm. The pilot had to make an emergency landing, and told my dad to toss the blasting caps out the door. He quickly did as he was told. The pilot made a miraculous landing on a small mud puddle of a lake. They weathered out the storm inside the plane and flew the supplies in to the camp the next day. The pilot's name was Don Sheldon
They received a bunch of hamburger in with their supply shipment. The cook prepared everyone burgers for dinner that night as a surprise. When they all took a bite of their burger each and every one of them spat it out, it tasted awful! They had been living on moose and caribou for so long that the hamburger tasted wrong. At the end of the season they were all flown back to Anchortown and the miners went to eat (and drink) at one of the big hotels there. These men were unshaven, dirty and all carried pistols on their hips. The tourists flocked to the hotel to get a look at the real Alaskan sourdough miners. Their meal and room for the night was comped by the hotel manager.
I also grew up in Alaska, and count myself extremely fortunate to have been a part of that culture. My dad and I went fishing all the time, and we would always go visit the folks he lived with on the Moose river. They would tell me stories of when they came up to Alaska to homestead after WWII. They lived in a tent and built their homestead by hand. Their names were Cotton and Lorraine Moore. Cotton had a big white beard that looked like it was made out of cotton, for many years as a child I believed he was the real Santa Clause. Lorraine cooked on a wood stove until the day she died. (well into her 80s) I always envied these people and their wonderful life.
When I was 12 I could fillet a large salmon in 20- 30 seconds. As a teenager I used to make a few dollars in the summer filleting fish for the tourists. They would spend thousands of dollars to come up and go fishing and it would usually be the Mrs. that slipped me $20 to ensure they had fish to take back with them. I could take off with a friend on a 3-4 day hike through mountain passes and hitchhike home when we reached the trail head. One of my best friends used to run the Jr. Iditarod, and his dad would run the Iditarod. I would go out with them to remote cabins and help train the dogs. Another friend had a small airstrip in their backyard and his dad would fly us to a lodge across the inlet for a weekend of fishing. My Uncle Bob has a gold claim way out in the bush. I would spend a week or 2 in the summer up there running a loader. Dumping dirt into a large trommel barrel, sifting the large rocks out and washing all the black sand down the sluice into 5 gal buckets. We would spend the evening just panning the black sand for gold.
I am sorry that this post got a little long, but these are just some of the little things that have influenced my decision. I look back at these memories and I try to think about what kind of future my kids will have. What kind of stories will they be able to tell their kids? Are they going to tell my grand children of their courage when they killed a hooker in a video game to get their money back? That's what scares me the most. That all they will know when they grow up is TV and Video games. We got rid of the TV 2 years ago, since then my two oldest are straight A students, and they have developed a broad interest in different things. My daughter read all the Harry Potter and Lemony Snickett books last summer, when she was 9... my 7 year old son is reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Please tell me of your influences and memories, I love a good story.
I grew up in western NY on an old homestead my mother bought. It was a wonderful place with a raspberry patch, cherry and mulberry trees, a plenitude of apple trees, fence rows filled with nut and fruits bearing trees, bushes and good pasture.
We raised all our own meat and most of our other edibles. Mom was an RN at the local VA and was familiar with nutrition-far ahead of most people at the time. Her mother and grandmother were healing women in Kansas and helped deliver many a baby and set broken bones.
Great Grans' place was like magic for me. She lived in a modest hobbit house her husband had built when they first settled there. He planted the 40 acres around the homestead with various trees that would help feed his family. As a child it was an incredible place as the deer would eat of your hand, and the anoles would crawl on you. Great Gran had a barn owl that she would feed when it flew out to her to hand from the old barn.
Great Gran used both nut flour and grain flour from her own trees and fields. Helping baking was always fun on her old wood cook stove. She started her own tomatoes and peppers and saved seed. I still remember her salsa and pickles.Yum!
Both gran and great gran raised, collected their own healing herbs. They would carefully dry them and store them in their "herb" pantry.
Some things were a bit different for us as I worked cattle on foot for most of my youth. Trapping was a necessity if we wanted poultry and those coon, fox and weasel pelts helped buy the chicks to replace the ones lost to predication. If we raised something different then the big stock we were responsible for not only caring for it, but also the butchering. I still prefer to skin poultry!
Frog legs came about as way to reduce bull frogs in the pond and fishing provided plenty of brown catfish.
Learned to break horses at an early age as well as doctoring them. That doctoring went onto the other livestock and knowing when something wasn't right in the middle of the night with one of the critters.
Most of my adult life I've raised and kept various livestock and at minimum a garden. Have raised colored heifers for yearling and Amish markets, lambs for Easter and Christmas, and for the last 10 +years just enough for my family and a few friend's freezers. That and learning how to make the land healthy.
The one thing that was impressed on me over the years more than anything else was care of the land. If you cared for and loved the land it would do the same for you. It's learning what is best for the land that keeps me striving to learn/do more.
I like the idea of this thread, thanks for making it. It's true that everyone has different motivations and inspirations. Our upbringing certainly influences our decisions. Thank you for sharing your stories, and the stories of your ancestors. I believe we are nothing without those who brought us up, and who support and inspire our dreams.
I was mostly drawn to respond to this because I was also born in Alaska, though I can't quite claim to the title of "raised." My mother moved up to Kodiak Island when she was 18, to work at the fish canneries. She was mending nets on the docks when she met my dad. My father was a commercial fisherman, at work on ships for months at a time. He died at sea when I was not quite a year of age.
So began the simultaneous gift and taint of death on my life story. My mother moved back to the lower 48 and became a hair dresser, she's still chopping hair 20+ years later. We received a thousand dollars a month in social security money because of my dad's death until I was 18. This enabled my family (my mother is still married to a wonderful man who adopted me when I was 9, they had my little sister when I was 4 1/2) to have a higher quality of life. I was able to have orthodontics to fix my jaw problems, take private music lessons, I'm not really even sure what else exactly. I was too young to realize the importance of that money when we were getting it, of course.
My biological father's father was in the navy from the age of 18. I'm sure being moved around frequently as a youngster was a big influence in my dad's decision to try his hand at the "wild frontier" of Alaska and the dangerous occupation of a commercial fisherman. I only know him through stories of those who knew him, and they are fewer in number every year. My grandfather lived to experience the death of his two only children, and his wife. He died in a veteran's hospital in Seattle when I was 14. We never lived in the same state, unfortunately I can't say we had a very close relationship.
At 14, I was a freshman in a tiny public school in southern Colorado. I was smart enough to be thoroughly bored. I had friends who pursued illegal activities. So, to spare you the story, I was at home, serving a sentence of two weeks suspension (the rest of my friends had just been expelled from school because of the "event") when we got the letter informing us of my grandfather's death. Turns out, he managed to squirrel away money from his navy pay into investments. And, as a surprise decision, he decided to will the entirety of this nest egg to me - his only blood descendent. Now, I didn't get a million dollars. My mother said, I distinctly remember "well it's not enough money to ruin your life!" ha! But even at that young age, I understood that this money from my grandpa represented both an incredible opportunity, and the weight of our family legacy.
So at 14, I was in the weird position of suddenly having a significant inheritance that none of my immediate family shared. Luckily, they've only been supportive of me and my decisions, never any hostility (can't say the same about my extended family on my dad's side- I guess that's typical when people pass and money is involved). My parents were able to provide for my younger sister all the better because they no longer had my expenses to worry about. My mother's attitude toward my behavior changed dramatically, to say the least. I guess she figured that I could pay my own legal fees if I choose to continue down the path I had started to explore. But she was also instrumental in impressing upon me the responsibility that comes with money, especially money that represented so much of my family's pain. I am very fortunate and grateful for my mother's sound advice, she's the only financial adviser I've ever had.
She suggested I explore boarding schools, which seemed like a strange but welcome idea. I had no friends left at the rural public school I hated, so it seemed like the most wonderful thing in the world to be accepted to a fine-arts oriented high school (interlochen arts academy, in michigan), and move into a shared dorm room as a sophomore. Three years at that school changed me to the core. The incredibly high expectations of my teachers taught me to work HARD. It was there I realized my body was a tool for creation. I was also exposed to a wide range of people, kids from around the world. Kids who were waaaaay smarter and more talented than I will ever be. It was very healthy for me to realize that I was not the best and brightest, because my experience in public education had been too easy, and this school taught me to attempt the impossible - you might be surprised at the outcome.
After growing up in the "sticks", I wanted to live in the CITY, and I did just that after graduation. I thought I wanted to live in NYC, but September 11, 2001 changed my mind. I watched live TV in a dorm lobby as planes flew into the towers, on the first day of my senior year of highschool. Strange first day of school, to say the least. So, instead of the big apple, first Boston, then (after dropping out of art school) Philadelphia. Philly is such a cool place, despite what people have to say about it on the contrary. I started riding my bike year round, joined a community garden, learned about composting. My whole "tribe" went to the Rhizome Collective's Radical Urban Sustainability Training workshop in Auston, TX one summer in '06. I was so amazed that all the "problems" of the modern world could be solved through these simple solutions called "permaculture".
For a number of reasons (I'm no economic analyst but I also don't live under a rock) I decided that 2008 was the year I needed to get my inheritance out of the stock market and into some land. I still can't believe how lucky I was in that decision - I seriously considered buying what we all know now as an incredibly overvalued house in Philly. If I had waited one more month to liquidate my stocks, it would have been sucked back into the system from whence it came. But, as it is.....I knew had to spend this money responsibly, and soon, while it was still worth something. I searched the internet for land with natural springs, and here I am. This is the first and only place I looked at "in person." I hope to be as good a steward as this beautiful place deserves.
I struggle with the feeling that nothing I do is really "mine" because I haven't earned it. The amazing opportunities in my life were handed to me. Some people are born expecting to recieve the benefits of their forefathers, but I had my first official job when I was 12, stocking shelves at the local grocery store. Before that I helped my parents earn money mowing lawns and cleaning houses. We were far from rich, just barely hanging on to middle class for most of my childhood. I have the advantages of being instilled with a work ethic, and some money to back it. Money plus time plus energy - gets stuff done!
But still, there's a tendency for people to admire working hard for an end goal, and to resent people who arrive at that same goal with little effort on their own part. I try not worry about what people think of me too much. Giving the money back wasn't really an option, and feeling guilty about having more than other people (than all my friends, ever, for example) doesn't solve anything either.
In an odd way, the buying power of my inheritance pointed me towards permaculture ethics, because for me a purchase wasn't so much a question of "if I can afford it." With my relatively simple tastes I could afford whatever I wanted (if I had a different personality that money would have been gone in as long as it takes to buy about three really nice cars - or with yet a different personality, I could have been a millionaire several times over). I had to come up with other ways to decide how to spend my dollars. I came to understand that who we give our money to says a great deal about our character. I enjoy spending money on causes I feel improve my mind, or our world. Most of my recent purchases have been quality machines that will be useful for a long time, ideally indefinitely, without using a lot of unsustainable energy. I think a really nice bike is quite possibly the most useful few thousand dollars a person can spend on transportation. (my bike is more like $700 and has been a work in progress for years.....and I love to ride her...but I admit I also dream about getting a custom made frame from Rivendell Bicycle works....maybe....)
Now I'm at the point where my inheritance is nearly gone, and that's a psychological adjustment for me, as I've never been an adult without a financial cushion to fall back on. I'm in the process of creating a lifestyle where money is less important. I have no illusions that money is unnecessary. I feel that I'm in the best position possible to create a place that will feed myself and other people, and making a bit of money will happen as a side effect. I hope that we can figure out a way for other people to live here too, but that will take several more psychological adjustments before I'm fully comfortable giving up sole ownership of this land.
I suppose it's fitting that I see my work here as a gift to the next generation. The food forests we plant aren't going to be really amazing until I'm dead and gone. I'm devoting my life to creating a sustainable future. The children who grow up here will participate in creating their own tangible inheritance, and my only hope is that I turn my grandfather's wonderful gift into a much larger and more meaningful legacy than a chunk of change in a bank.
What wonderful stories guys, thank you very much for sharing them.
I joined the Army out of HS in 1995, and married my HS sweetheart. They were sending me to Germany for 3 years, so if we wanted to be together we had to get married. I was 19 and she was 17... our parents flipped out. Their friends and our friends all had plenty of comments. Needless to say there wasn't very much encouragement and everyone thought it was doomed to failure. We celebrated our 14th Anniversary last month and are still very much in love and best friends. Over the years we've received apologies from our friends and family and have been asked on more than one occasion what our secret is, because they're jealous of our relationship.
Now it's all starting up again. Our friends and family think we are nuts for wanting to homestead, live in a cabin off grid and be self sufficient. They think we've "bumped our heads". I told my wife, "the last time I've been this sure about something in my life was when we got married." My wife agrees with me, she wants this every bit as much as I do.
I guess our "secret", if you can call it that is: Have confidence in yourself. If you have a dream, have the courage and confidence in yourself to make it happen. Oh, and don't listen to the people who speak against you or your dreams. Chances are, they never had the courage to follow theirs or lacked the imagination to have one, and ended up settling for something much easier.
I agree - with out confidence an endeavor as all encompassing and demanding as our similar but unique journeys would be doomed for failure.
I'm sorry to hear your family is doubtful of your decision, Micheal. I've actually been shocked at the amount of support I've gotten, even from my most conservative relatives. My younger friends were the most confused. I think that they know it's time for people to change, and even if their support is motivated mostly out of fear of the future, they are rooting for our success. Maybe so that they can come live with us in a decade....ha! I will welcome them with open arms.
although I am certainly not a hard core homesteader and probablby never will be due to other choices and priorities, I fell into homesteading type lifestyle without much intention at first. I grew up a city girl but my mother always had a garden in our yard and I grew up hearing the stories of my grandfather plowing fields with horses and milking a dairy herd by hand as a boy. stories of my grandmother growing, hunting and canning every thing she could and buying and butchering "100 chickens a year" to put in the freezer to feed her family on their meager income living in a tiny town in south dakota. what they were able to do with so little was no doubt part of my inspiration. next to those stories, looking around my world it seemed insulting the things that people were taking for granted and disgusting to see the ridiculous priorities in their lives.
at first I mainly wanted acreage for a large garden and horses that were a major part of my life and the profession I lucked into. after a while it seemed that chickens would be an appropriate addition. why not right? 9/11 had an impact on me and my sights turned towards putting a bit more purposeful effort into self sufficiency. That turned into dairy goats and a bountiful garden fed through compost from chicken, goat and yard waste and created lots of extra vegies to preserve. I had accidentally started homesteading.
providing my child with this lifestyle and experiences was a huge factor also. my daughter fed chickens as a baby instead of being plopped in front of the tv. she ate fresh peas and tomatoes as her first solid foods not canned commercial mush. She spends time exploring the natural world instead playing video games. she collects eggs and milks goats and has an amazing repetoire of real life experiences to relate to people that people sometimes find striking when compared to the limited, shallow commercial/tv/computer/celebrity world that seem to be the only things that many other kids seem able to relate to. I am proud that instead of talking about her favorite cartoon she tells other kids what buck is the daddy to what goat kid or that she freaked out and almost started crying when one of her little freinds killed "a good bug" (lady bug) and she quickly educated the child on beneficial insects. I am proud that she has an understanding of the cycle of life. that the animals and vegetation will turn into dirt to feed the plants and more animals. Its beautiful to know she has learned these things not from the pages of a book but from her life. and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
You hit it on the head, Leah. I imagine raising my children here almost every day. Exactly the kind of experience kids need to have!
I was lucky to grow up in a variety of places, most of them fairly rural, even though my parents only "tried" to "homestead" themselves for about two years (bought some acreage and tried their hands at "ranching" - it didn't work out so well). My best memories are of catching frogs, swimming in cow ponds, chasing salamanders around (when I think of what's actually in a cow pond now.....good thing we had well developed immune systems), exploring abandoned homesteads with layers of newspaper on the walls... I feel at home whereever I go (always been fairly adaptable - maybe cause I had had 4 homes by the time I was 5), but there's a freeness and goodness to those simple experiences in your child's life that is absolutely priceless.
To the extent that I'm homesteading, I'm doing so because the place I feel most attached to is something of a wasteland. I believe patient work with a pioneering spirit can make it more homey and salutary.
That place happens to be an enormous metropolitan area, only shortly after the height of its power, and still very much a cultural, technological, and economic leader to the greatest superpower in human history...so the challenges I face have less to do with economic isolation and scarce human contact, than sclerotic property systems and interlocking systems of oppression.
I think some of the aspects of it that make it a wasteland will become more obvious as Shenzhen and Sacramento start making some painful adjustments that they've been putting off. I also think those changes, and others, may well de-populate my city in a way that resembles what happened in the rust belt. The challenges I face in the future might resemble those traditional homesteaders faced more and more, as time goes on.
I also think homesteading in other parts of the world often means negotiating urban-style problems, especially because so much of the suburban and even rural population recently lived in cities. If I'm right about my city, and the pattern holds elsewhere, moving people might cause urban and rural homesteading to converge and meet each other in the middle.
I learn a lot on this forum.
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