I mentioned in my previous post about those who have failed and those who have succeeded in homesteading. While we may learn best from our own experiences, sometimes we could learn a lot from watching others and taking caution.
A Plain friend of mine years ago lived on a twenty acre homestead – pasture, garden, woods. They had a small log cabin with wood heat, a hand pump inside, and off-grid. It was a beautiful setting, very private, and they started out with the best of intentions. Two things defeated their efforts. One was lack of planning and budgetting. They acquired materials for a barn but took too long to build it, and when they were away, thieves drove up to their lovely isolated site and took all the lumber. They ended up with a shanty barn made out of salvaged wood. They put their sheep in a plywood sided pen because they didn’t have enough room in the barn, and a bear took two of them by reaching over the walls. They drove old vehicles that broke down a lot; second hand equipment that ceased running got left in the yard, cluttering the place and harboring vermin. The other pitfall was that my friend’s husband was not committed to living the Plain life, and was more than a little bit of a hoarder; soon the cabin was full of things “for later” but the things for now – a sink, a better woodstove, a functional vehicle for her – didn’t materialize. He was away working most of the time, and while she and the children were quite good at keeping the farm going, it was hard on her when he came home and didn’t want to help with the things she couldn’t do like fix the propane refrigerator or cut wood with the chainsaw. He had a physically demanding job off the homestead, and they were both worked past exhaustion because they had not provided for the things they needed to make the effort easier – a log splitter, sheds for firewood and animals, storage for the food they grew. The homestead failed and their relationship broke down.
Our own previous off-grid experience was more accidental than planned, and after heavy rains saturated everything, flooded our little home, and pneumonia took three of the sheep in short order, we had to call it quits. A little more money and planning would have put us and the animals in better living circumstances. My own developing pneumonia could have killed me, and sapped all my energy. Nicholas was gone to work most days, and most of my time was spent cutting firewood, caring for animals, and trying to stem the rising tide in our two small rooms. Thankfully, a nearby friend invited us to live in his house, the sheep went to a friend’s farm, and I recovered gradually in a warm, dry place. We hadn’t meant to land on the property for an extended period without a better plan, but weather and circumstances overwhelmed us. Just a couple of thousand dollars would have seen us through, but we had no way to raise it, and for want of a nail that horseshoe, and the whole battle, were lost.
Recollections of homesteaders from the sixties and seventies are a bit vague; I was a child and a teenager then, but Maine was full of people living off-grid on old farms, getting back to the land. Some of them lived “alternative” lifestyles in small communes, hippies turned farmers. Some were genuinely interested in forming a new way of life; others were just growing pot. Some stayed on as artists, teachers, and animal breeders. Those who were involved in the underground economy often wasted their health and their means of living by sampling their own wares too much. Some got tired of the hard work, the long winters, the lack of stimulating culture. There were no first-run movies or rock concerts. Art galleries were unknown. It was the antithesis of a city and for those used to cultural activities of an enlightened sort, the local Baptist church hymn sing and the Kiwanis’ beanhole bean supper were a poor substitute. People and politics were seriously conservative. Multi-culturalism was French-language square dance calling and ployes suppers at the sugaring camp. (Things may not have changed much in the north.)
Those who came to homestead looking for a better life and who left when they didn’t find it may look back with nostalgia or pain. The reality of northern winters knocks the romance out of living in the woods for many newcomers.