Homesteading for the Single Gal
by muddy feet mama
My great uncle Guy and his wife Laura were homesteaders in Vermont. They were legends in their small world – acclaimed authors, wilderness heroes, backwoods aficionados. They moved to Vermont and built their tiny mountain home in the early 1970’s, inspired less by hippy culture than the pioneering couple Scott and Helen Nearing, whose book Living The Good Life was first published in 1954.
I knew nothing of Helen and Scott Nearing until I read Laura’s book Losing the Garden, the chronicle of her life with Guy (and his ultimate suicide after 30+ years in the woods). I ordered it immediately and began to see how substantially Laura and Guy had patterned their life after the Nearings. Guy was a staunch Republican, Scott clearly a Marxist, but other than those two distinctions what I read was – without a doubt – the How-To guide Guy and Laura had used to make their move. They even became vegetarians and moved to Vermont, just as the Nearings had. They signed everything jointly, with the wife’s name always first, just as the Nearings did. As stated in the first chapter of Living The Good Life, “We maintain that a couple, of any age from twenty to fifty, with a minimum of health, intelligence and capital, can adapt themselves to country living, learn its crafts, overcome its difficulties, and build up a life pattern rich in simple values and productive of personal and social good.” That’s exactly what Laura and Guy did for decades, but when Guy died Laura moved to town.
Therein lies the heart of my dilemma. First off, as appealing as leaving the urban center is to me, I am here now. I have a home in a City with sirens and litter and people cussing at the bus stop around the corner. In two years (when my mortgage modification allows) I may decide to live more remotely, but for now I am here, and it is here I am to homestead. Secondly, I am no longer part of a couple. And I have a 10 year old kid. The Nearing’s How-To guide – and the life that Guy and Laura exemplified – is dependent on the division of labor between two adults, the caring of children clearly absent from their roster of country chores. Even in the delightfully simplistic The “Have-More” Plan, by Ed and Carolyn Robinson – which showcases their success as homesteaders with a young son (and their decidedly 1940’s relationship!) – the weight is distributed across the shoulders of two adults.
The Nearings speak much about community-building but mostly for political ends, not their homesteading work. Laura and Guy’s writings focus largely on ethics and wilderness, and though known as the ultimate backwoods hosts, rarely relied on others for their livelihood once their home was built – and never wrote about it. The Robinsons, understanding that self-reliance can come in varying degrees, ironically stake out the most reasonable options for the majority of us – but still, the use of community is absent from their “plan.” Is it unreasonable to create greater networks of reliance among your neighbors? Is homesteading some kind of macho, separatist thing?
To my mind, homesteading is about meeting your family’s needs as independently from the money economy as possible. It is not about proving that you can do it alone. It is about simplifying things down to their most rewarding elements, and liberating ourselves from the monetary pressures that enslave us. My future is dependent on my figuring out how to do it without a partner, but I do not believe it is about doing it alone. So far no one has written the book Homesteading for the Single Gal. Maybe it’s up to me.
That’s it for now. Thanks for stopping by.