Fumbling Toward Independence


| 1/19/2016 9:23:00 AM


Tags: self sufficiency, gardens, Ireland, independence, homestead, Brian Kaller,

Brian KallerFoggy road

Some blogs focus on single-word subjects like knitting or superheroes. This one wanders a bit; one week I might write about our neighbors here in rural Ireland, the next about our garden, then about old black-and-white movies or reading with my daughter. All of it, though, deals with our attempts to discover an older and better way of living, and learn the values and skills that were normal before everything became cheap, fast and easily discarded.

Thus, I study the past to see what worked better. Our elderly neighbors grew up without electricity, cars or mass media, and I see how different their village culture was from our own frantic and lonely society. I read diaries and letters from a century of two ago, and see a complexity of thought and language that gives college students trouble today. The writers — in colonial America, Victorian Britain or 20th-century Ireland — might have been farmers, but they often grew up reading the same classics as their forebears — Hesiod and Sophocles, Livy and Marcus Aurelius, Aquinas and Dante. Now I’m reading these works one by one, and teaching what bits I can to my daughter. For that matter, I’m learning how to genuinely read again, and not just scan text on a screen.

We try to learn the ways people used to provide for their own basic needs rather than relying entirely on companies and governments, so we built a chicken coop, got bees, grow a garden, and learned to forage wild plants and mushrooms. We have make our own pickles, sauerkraut, beer, bread, wine and jam, and have taken courses in tree grafting, oven building, black-smithing, wood carving, and so on. We fail a lot, but we have fun learning.

Sometimes, though, I hear from someone who doesn’t just want to gain ideas for their own cooking or home-schooling, but wants to escape to a new life. They tell me about their meaningless office job, their tedious commute, the destruction of the landscape and the horrors of the news feed. They have read my blog, seen the pictures, and they want to find a place just like this. I sympathize and write back, but that usually means disillusioning them.

See, everyone starts with some common misapprehensions. Firstly, many people seem to crave a sudden and absolute abandonment of the daily grind, the way others fantasize about the Zombie Apocalypse or the Rapture. Their descriptions seem to resemble what we usually see in advertisements, where someone runs joyfully out of their cubicle throwing papers, their old life falls away like petals, and they stage-dive into The Environment. In reality, almost no one simply moves to the country and starts over, or if they do, succeeds for very long.




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