Not to downplay anyone else’s efforts to unclutter, uncomplicate or otherwise de-stress their own existence. And not to complain: unlike many homesteaders & back-to-landers, I knew what I was in for (having lived in the country to age 12) and didn’t delude myself that any of it would be easy. Finally, of all, on the very worst day in 22 years that I can recall (let’s see, that would be during the ice storm of ’03 when our palomino mare Sunny miscarried of twin foals) I have never for a moment wished to be in a City or suburban home, holding down a “real job.” This is my life, this is my place on Earth.
No, I guess it’s just to say to anyone who envies “simplicity” in someone else’s life: There’s a choice. You can have it simple, and hard: or easy, but complicated.
Wendell Berry says it better than I, in Culture and Agriculture: The Unsettling of American. He points out how, over the past 60 or 70 years, people have been persuaded that life should be easy and convenient. And in the name of making it so, they have been induced to quit relying on their traditional knowhow in food growing and preparation, as well as the making of clothing and shelter, one’s own motive power for work or transport, and instead to focus on making enough money to hire all these things done.
That’s where life gets complicated. A straightforward example: since I don’t work a 40-hour job, I have time and daylight in Winter to gather firewood. We don’t rely on it completely, just as I can’t realistically grow all our own food. But when an ice storm wipes out electric power for three to four days, we keep pretty comfortable without the furnace, which is oil fired but has an electric starter.
Whereas it may be “easier” to work a paying job and rely on the experts to supply warmth, that introduces complexity. Winters like this (not to mention that ’10 is looking kinda seismic so far) remind us that we do not and cannot control Nature. That’s fine, as long as we don’t introduce so much complexity into our systems that we make them totally vulnerable at the limits of our control.
(Don’t start me off on whether we’re already done this with our food supply~!)
Well, enough theorizing. My day so far: up at 6:30, rebuild fire from good locust coals in woodstove, put coffee on, dress and “suit up” for outdoors. Viz: pull wool socks up over jeans cuffs, tuck turtleneck into jeans, sweatshirt over turtleneck, snow pants over jeans, pull hoodie on over sweatshirt, down jacket over hoodie. Hood over wool hat and barn boots over socks and snowpants. Empty the kettle of hot water on top of the woodstove into 3 mud buckets, refill the kettle with ice brought from the barn last night, put on insulated gloves and head for the barn.
Break ice in horses’ trough and pour in one bucket of hot water: then use a leaky bucket to dip out the ice chunks. Pitch hay to horses.
Break ice in goats’ waterers and repeat: pitch hay to goats. The stock are all outside for now: 20’s at night is comfortable for them, as long as they’re well-fed and dry.
Carry buckets of ice back to the house, add them to the kettle on the wood stove… what? Wouldn’t it be easier to have running water at the barn? Sure: and the time I save could be devoted to making money (probably doing something a lot more boring than this) to pay the plumber, and the water bill.
And rather than keep goats for milk, meat and cash, and horses to supply organic fertilizer, I could buy all those things too. Hope you see my point.
There’s just no way to express the satisfaction of seeing creatures under your care, bounding up to the fence and nuzzling into their flake of hay or slurping their warmed water. Multiply that sense of accomplishment by a factor of 10 or 12: the warmth that fills the room when an armload of kindling catches: the taste of soup from home-grown, hand-shelled black turtle beans: harvesting pawpaws from the wild trees we released with such scratchy, sweated labor from a tangle of vines and briars:
In my next post, I hope to report about kidding. About that list of satisfactions: breeding is always uncertain till there are live kids scampering around. This morning, checking them for general health and progress, I notice that the youngest and smallest, Jonquil, is “bagging” – has a distended udder – which pretty much confirms that all 4 will be kidding within 2 to 3 weeks. It’s a miraculous business. Hope you’ll follow it with me.

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