I am reading a book called Back from the Land: How Young Americans Went to Nature in the 1970s, and Why They Came Back by Eleanor Agnew. I am glad to have found this book at the beginning of my homesteading research. Many of the reasons hippies started a “back-to-the-land movement” are the same reasons I have for being drawn to that kind of life in this decade. I, too, am fed up with capitalism, the technologically-driven status quo, agri-business, election politics and the failure of progressive promises. I have the desire for freedom, natural good health, self-sufficiency, community, sustainable living and a gentle relationship with the land. If these motivators moved more than one million Americans in the 70s from urban lifestyles into homesteads, communes and small farms, why aren’t they still there? “A study by the Stanford Research Institute estimated that ‘from four to five million adults were wholeheartedly committed to leading a simple life and that double that number adhered to and acted on some but not all of its basic tenets.” Economic uncertainly fueled some survivalist rationales in that decade and could certainly be applicable today, right? What happened in the “Me Generation” that brought these people back into the consumerist culture?
I’m only on Chapter 5, but I’m beginning to see the pendulum of privilege to poverty coming into play. The homesteading hippies were largely white middle class folk who had no family experience of farming or living on the land. The longer they stayed out there, the more “improvements” they began to incorporate into their lives. The authors writes that she and her husband spent all of the capital they had on land ($1,000 for 62 acres in Maine!) and planned to heat their cabin with wood. Their house in the city didn’t sell until late November, so it was December when they moved into the 34 x 24 foot log cabin heated with one wood stove. The temperature inside the house was largely unaffected by the one stove, so they bought another stove and stayed with neighbors for 10 days until the thermometer hit 60 inside.
You could say that most of these folks were naive about the realities of nature. Living more closely with natural surroundings means living more closely to natural processes. Weather. Change. Unpredictable events. Death. I suppose being realistic would be to decide well in advance how you would prepare for certain conditions and how you would accept conditions for which you were not prepared. And then to do the preparing you could do. Am I prepared to be cold or injured or repulsed by sights, smells and sensations? Am I prepared to be afraid? Am I prepared to experience failures and setbacks on many levels? Do I want the freedom of danger?
There are also pages and pages of first hand accounts that assert that the years spent homesteading were the best years of life. For many, the positives far outweighed any negative memories. So the question for our next Summit Meeting is: How do you want to live? And I want details as well as values. Do we have electricity? Plumbing? Do we slaughter animals? How will we use money? How will we build community?
I don’t want to say that somewhere out there is a perfect way of life. I’m not sure that is true. I want to say instead that in the discussions and efforts and experiences of this process, we will find ourselves living. Let that be the epiphany we celebrate.