The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Homestead Delusions

You think you're going to move out to the country and be totally self-sufficient? That is not going to happen. We do many things that decrease our reliance on the 'things from the world' but we cannot do it all. Here is a reality check.


So you're going to move out into the woods and build you a cabin. You're going to trap that fresh spring water. Hunt and live off of the land. What a great life! It is if you're on a Hollywood set somewhere. I'm sorry. Hate to burst anybody's bubble. But it's just not going to happen.


Most of us have seen the older movie, Jeremiah Johnson. It's a great movie about a man that is not happy with the way life was and, "It should have been different." Like I said, great movie,
beautiful scenery, good story line, but that's the Hollywood version of it. The book version, Mountain Man, by Vardis Fisher goes into more detail about the story. In the book, on occasion, he has contact with and trades with the Indians. He goes to a town for items like flour, tobacco, whiskey, black powder and the whole gamut of things that a person cannot make for themselves.

When I say cannot make for themselves, yes, most things can be made. An axe head, for example, can be manufactured. But it's one of those skills that takes years to acquire, and you're not going to carry the equipment
necessary to forge an axe head on the back of a horse heading up the side of a mountain. Don't get me wrong, it would be nice to be totally self-sufficient, but man has been trading with other men since the times of Cain and Able. 

So. I think a person could do it for a couple of years. But it's still going to be real, real difficult. You have to have vegetables. What I mean by that is a lot of us tend to think that man lives by meat alone, and I happen to
be one of them. But I remember reading an account of Lewis and Clark when they were just shy of the Pacific Ocean and were holed up for a winter. The men complained about only having elk meat to eat. In our time right now, elk is considered one of the finer meats of the deer family. But can you imagine eating it for every meal for weeks and weeks? These guys weren't a bunch of little, sissy boys. The Lewis and Clark team were veteran, experienced outdoorsmen.

A number of years back, we were camping with another couple in an extremely remote part of Alaska. This guy was a biologist with the Federal Fish and Game in the area. I was about to drink from a fresh stream flowing from the melting snow when he advised me, "I wouldn't do that if I were you." It seems that most wild animals have been exposed to man and the viruses and parasites that he carries, and that there are very, very few safe streams to drink out of anywhere. So I took his advice and filtered my water.


Now what about that log cabin you're going to build? Do we even need to talk about nails, screws, windows, doors, flooring? So, let's say you don't build a cabin and you have a nice little homestead. Do you know how to garden? I know it seems that you stick a seed in the ground and when it grows up it will feed you. But did you know that rabbits like squash? And so do deer. And I'm not sure, but probably even elk like a nice, tasty squash. Not to mention the gazillion bugs that also like squash. Okay. So. Too much water. Too little water. Too hot. Too cold. Give it some thought. What kind of fertilizer are you going
to use? Are you going to buy it by the ton at the local co-op? Are you going to scrape it out of your chicken house? Oh, by the way, chicken manure has a very high nitrogen content and you can't apply it directly to your future squash plant, it will burn it. That's assuming you have a chicken house and you have chickens and you have chicken feed. 

Yesterday I doctored a chicken's hiney. There is a gland right at the top of the tail of a chicken's hiney. And for some reason, I don't know why, chickens like to peck this area. Occasionally, when pulling out a feather
there will be a little blood spot. The color red to a chicken is similar to a matador's cape to a bull. Which is the reason you don't see ranchers wearing red shirts, but that's a different story. I just made that up about the rancher. But the chicken blood, is real. Chickens will obsessively peck at the color red until they eat that chicken. So, do you have Pick No More in your pocket to treat that chicken's hiney? Didn't think so. What are you going to do?

Okay, but, back to the chicken manure that you can't put in the garden because it will burn the seed. What are you going to use? Compost?
Yep, compost will work. I'll just get me one of those little green barrels and fill it up with organic matter and twirl it around once a week. Through the magic of mother nature and decomposition, you have compost. But you open up your little plastic barrel and it looks just like it did when you put it in there. Well, gee willickers! I guess mother nature is smarter than I am. I have tried to compost unsuccessfully for decades. I know the guy on the TV gardening show makes it looks easy, but remember they have the ability to edit, I don't. Could I learn how to compost? Probably. Have I ever been successful? No. 

That squash looks a little tougher to grow all the time, doesn't it? When I'm spending all day long trying to forge that ax head, I'm probably not going to have a lot of time for that squash seed. And I'm getting real tired of eating elk meat, but by golly, I'm going to get that ax head made if it's the last thing I ever do. And it might be the last thing you ever do.

Okay. So we decide to give up and we're going to drive down the hill in the car where the gasoline came from the Middle East, transported in a
super tanker made somewhere in Greece, with an electronics navigation system made by a Japanese company outsourced to China. And what about the tires on that car? The good Lord only knows where the tires were manufactured, but the rubber for the tire came from somewhere in some jungle that I can't say. Gettin' hungry yet? By the way, the Lewis and Clark expedition was complaining about eating boiled elk, not barbecued. So, how is that squash seed doing?

You want to be self-sufficient? Are you going to develop a photovoltaic cell for your solar panel? Okay. So you don't have a photovoltaic cell for your solar panel, and you're going to eat off of a wood burning stove. Where are you going to get the wood? I know, I know! You're going to chop the tree down with that imaginary ax head that you never got forged. Then you're going to cook boiled elk and squash for dinner.

Now what I've done here is taken two items, a squash seed and an axe head. Do you know how many hundreds of thousands of items that are in our houses and cars everyday that we take for granted? Nuts, bolts, thread, wires, metal, plastic, wood, and the list is endless. If you want to read a good series, read Laura Ingalls Wilder - about seven or eight little books. It will give you a pretty good idea and perspective about a self-sustaining type of living. These were tough, tough people.

Okay. So. Let's say you have a house, a chicken pen, you've got some goats, your garden's growing, you've had some water wells dug and they're producing. Now you've got a chicken pen for your chickens. For your goats you've got a barn, corral and adequate fencing. And you're good at repairing your fence that your neighbors cut during deer season. Life is good. 

Then one day here comes walking up the tax man. You will never, ever be totally self-sufficient. Not to mention all of the items that you use every day of your life. At some time or another, most will need to be replaced. And that is if you have good health, no problems, you never need to go to a dentist or doctor or a psychiatrist. Okay.


But I want to let you know that it is fun trying to be self-sufficient. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

We'll talk more later. Frank

26 comments:

  1. What a great realistic post!!

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  2. Very true, but it sure is fun to think about it!

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    1. Yep. We think about it 24/7. Sure wish I was 30 years younger and 50 lbs. less. Otherwise, we are getting a mild ice storm today. Thanks for reading. Have a good day!

      Frank

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  3. A real look at back to the land. Years ago I was a Range rider on a large ranch. I had to pack ll my supplies in on horses. No refrigeration, no power, no plumbing. I was in my late 20's and even then this was a challenge. A wolverine destroyed the interior of the sod roofed cabin I lived in. Bears climbed on the roof, I had to sleep with a tarp over me because the sod roof dropped ...well sod bits into the bed when a bear stomped around. I lived on canned goods and was lucky enough to have some knowledge of wild edibles. I had to carry water from a spring, about a quarter mile from the cabin. I loved my job and I thrived on the lifestyle. However I did not have to winter at the cabin. We brought the cattle out of the high forest and wintered at the main Ranch. It taught me a lot. Thanks Frank, people need to know its not a glamorous lifestyle and requires hard work. I think the best way to explain it to people is No luxurious bath or shower everyday, no basic plumbing and no refrigeration!

    Bless both of you.

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    1. Fiona, the experiences I've read that you talk about, the vast majority of people will never be able to experience, and that has it's pros and cons. Fern and I have had some very unusual experiences in life. We've also carried water, taken numerous sponge baths, and it's a tough life. But I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.

      Now that I'm older, I would not be able to live that lifestyle. I don't consider myself to be clairvoyant, but I do believe that most of us are going to age. This is something that a lot of people don't figure in to their long-term plans. We are not always going to be 25 years old and at our peak physical condition. I see lots of young people that fail to figure in this part of the equation. Today, may not be today tomorrow. I really enjoy reading your comments. Sorry I didn't answer this back in November, but I guess that age thing caused me to miss it.

      Frank

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    2. fiona!
      how interesting! completely beyond my ken.
      going to look up 'range riding' to see if there sre any books about it.
      thanks.
      deb harvey

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  4. I'm glad SOMEONE sees it like it is!!! I've heard so many people say they were going to be self sufficient and live off the land yet all of their how to books are on their e reader. Lol..

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    1. We all have dreams. You know, if and when times get bad, who knows, I may be the first one to go. I don't agree with the e-reader concept either, but then again, if my house was burning down, that e-reader might look pretty good at the time. Thank you for the comment.

      Frank

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  5. No man is an island. So true. And thanks for the Jeremiah Johnson trailer. That movie made a big impression on me way back when, but real life does have a way of quickly showing you how things truly work.

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    1. Thank you for reading. I know this is going to sound childish, but I believe the Jeremiah Johnson movie was an influence for my dream to live in Alaska. I got lucky and actually got to live there for a number of years. I still like that movie.

      Yes, it is nice to get reality checks on a regular basis.

      Frank

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  6. If you have the opportunity, watch the TV series "Alaska - The Last Frontier" on the Discovery channel. It shows what it is really like to be self-sufficient in a harsh climate. It is about an extended family who have been living that way for 80 years, and it doesn't pretty anything up.

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    1. Hi Mary. Sorry I missed commenting on this post when it was published. When we lived in Alaska I had the opportunity to meet a few people that only came into town once every couple of months. Very strong willed people.

      Mary I would love to watch this series, but I haven't owned a TV in a number of years. The only time I get to experience TV is at a relative's house, normally around a holiday. And then, it's too loud, and everybody in the room is sitting around staring at the big box.

      I've had other people comment about the Alaska series you're talking about. Sarah Palin and her husband, I understand, did an outdoorsy show for a while. Did I ever mention that Governor Sarah Palin appointed Fern to an educational council? I never met the governor, but Fern did. I don't always agree with Sarah Palin's politics, but she and her family, especially her husband, are very tough, outdoors type people. She and her husband used to fish and hunt, and probably still do, up the same river that Fern had the opportunity to harvest a moose on her birthday.

      Life is good.

      Frank

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  7. On the tax thing...I live in Oklahoma and yes we are pretty self sufficient compared to many...we don't owe taxes on our 18 acres and here's why...When you live in Oklahoma on 10 acres or more and its farm land your taxes are 1.00 +/- a few cents an acre. We are poor so we get double homestead exemption and owe nothing...While your scenario is 'real' for many its not 'real' for all of us...we are pretty self sufficient for todays world...and yes we even grown squash, have lived off grid and even lived without running water(no well) for 18 months in a storage building turned cabin...tough? Yes! It can be done in todays world but it is not for the faint of heart!

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    1. Thank you for the comment. You are correct, it is very tough. It's tough mentally, it's physically challenging, and you're right, it's not for the faint of heart. Fern and I have had a somewhat similar experience. We built a garage, 24 x 40, and we lived in a small portion of it. It had a shower tub combination and a stool in one teeny corner. But it can be done. People have to have the same dream for this to happen. Living in small, tight quarters can sometimes be very challenging for personal relationships. Not to mention, we were also building a house at that time. Not having it built, but building it ourselves.

      Just yesterday we were taking a side route home from the big city, which is normally a lot more fun. We ran across a piece of property that someone had cleared out a small space and had put a small travel trailer on it. You could tell that this was not temporary quarters, by all the assorted items outside very near the trailer. Some people can do this, and people do it every day. We often are out someplace and notice someone is living in a small storage building, and we comment to each other, "I could live in that." Yep. Life is fun. Keep up the good work.

      Frank

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  8. I really liked this post.

    I've made this comment on other blogs, but it seems appropriate here. Years ago, my brother wondered out loud if anyone could produce a wool sweater solely from their own hands.

    It became kind of a game with us, because we kept thinking of some tool you would need to finish the task: A shears, an ax (to fell the tree needed for the fire to forge the shears, oh wait, you don't have an ax yet either...maybe you have to mine for some iron first), cards to comb the wool....a spindle of some kind to make yarn...knives to carve knitting needles...

    And we haven't even talked about procuring, feeding and housing the sheep.

    We always concluded that it couldn't be done. Without a lot of help.

    Just Me

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    1. I concur. It can't be done. I've had comments earlier that they are 100% self-reliant, or they think they are anyway. I think your point is a good one. For me to make an ax, I would have to have some kind of mining equipment to mine the ore to make the steel. This is impossible. To make a light switch, that little plastic thing you flip back and forth for on and off, is made from hydrocarbon, or oil. For me to make that little plastic switch, I'm going to have to drill an oil well. And the process just continues from there.

      If this sounds hard, it probably is. We tried spinning wool earlier in our lives. We raised the sheep, sheared the animals, cleaned the wool, carded the wool, and did our very best to try to spin a strand of wool yarn. That is not going to happen without somebody making the metal for the barn, the metal for the shears and all the specialized equipment just to make that little strand of wool. That little strand of wool we made, had big lumps and little skinny places, it was terrible, but that was the best we could do at the time.

      I think people can live very comfortably if there is a type of collapse, if they have prepared ahead of time. Comfortable may not be the appropriate word. Small example: very recently I had a medical procedure performed on my back. In a grid down situation, this would be impossible. So let's all do the best we can with what we've got, and be prepared for the best and the worst.

      It's neat that you made a game out of it, but there is a likelihood someday, we will all experience a collapse of some type or another. Thank you for your comment.

      Frank

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  9. It certainly isn't easy...so many lost skills in the recent generations...I applaud your frank appraisal!

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    1. My father was a transplant from the country. They were very poor, and the only thing that got him out was World War II. We lived in a big, big metropolitan area, and on occasion he would grow a little garden. His idea of success was how many commas there were after a dollar sign, and I don't blame him, that's just the way that generation was. He was raised during a depression, and the big war was his ticket out.

      That's funny. I now strive to accomplish what he was trying to escape. Funny how those generational things work. I admire driving around my countryside, seeing daddies and grandpas with their kids sitting in their laps, plowing a field. So, I guess my daddy did teach me his skills, but somewhere along the way I escaped. This is where we are today. Thank you for your comment.

      Happy Memorial Day. My daddy served in World War II, and he did pass that along to me. He hated to see me join the service, but he was very proud that I did. So I guess you can pass honor from one generation to the next. Take care.

      Frank

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  10. Every season teaching us something valuable about being homesteaders off the grid. The winters are especially instructive.

    Expect the unexpected.

    Just the other day, the seals on our pump went out. It was bad timing as we hadn't topped off our water tank. In fact, it was quite low. Animals and plants need water, not to mention humans. The wife and I had to pull 240' of PVC pipe and that's no small task to ensure we didn't lose the whole line in a slip of the hand, etc., while taking off each section of pipe and sucker rod.

    I suppose if all goes well, we'll have our water back by the end of the week. Thankfully, we have good neighbors who have an electric well. We'll have to return the favor when their power goes out one day.

    One thing I have to admit is the learning curve to self-sufficiency is HUGE. You just don't walk out and do it. We don't have the skills of years past as a knowledge base to just git er done. And anyone who thinks so is utterly naive.

    This is my second homestead over the years. This one has solar power, alternative fuels, lots of redundancy and still there are unexpected setbacks.

    A current challenge is transitioning from feeds to natural alternatives for our equine, chickens, goats, rabbits and other animals. Rotational grazing just goes so far and one day the feed store just won't be there.

    As usual, this spring I bit off more than I could chew with four bee hive additions. Our regular local supplier of raw honey lost his hives last season. Pesticides and all the trapping of "modern" life continues to take its toll in more ways than one. It was sad.

    One big necessity is certain. You must LOVE to do this as a way of life or you will hate it and yourself. It is a lot of labor, but a labor of love. One that needs to be practiced every day.

    As the scriptures ask, "Does a man build a house without first counting the cost?" Make sure you know what you are getting into long before you are forced to make that move without choice.

    Agape.

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    1. Sorry about your pump. That's a lot of PVC. I have found it's easier to put the PVC in the well, I have never had to pull one yet. Just tug and smile.

      You are correct, it is a tremendous amount of work every day. Feed in the morning, feed in the evening, and all the other associated things with feeding. Example. Last night we were coming in from feeding and we were going to finish off with the chickens. We have some new birds that are about 11 weeks old, some we hatched, some came from the hatchery, but they're all the same age. Well, we now have a pecking problem. Last night we had a couple dead. This morning when we went out to address the issue we had a couple more dead. I'm just one of those kind of people that, even if it's a big healthy bird that just died, I will not eat it unless it's passing came from my choosing. And that's the same with all of our animals that we butcher. So, this morning, we're separating chickens, males from females. Had to do a little bit of gate and fence work. Tomorrow I have a doctor's appointment, but Wednesday morning, the plan is to butcher 10 to 15 of the 11 week old roosters. I would have butchered them in about two weeks anyway, but we're going to try to stop this pecking problem. Not a good day to be a male chicken.

      So, you're right, it never ends and you do have to have a certain mindset that work is good and it's just part of life. Thanks for the comment, thanks for reading and I hope you have a happy Memorial Day.

      Frank

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  11. I actually read this back when you originally posted it but didn't comment. I re-read it today after Patrice referenced it. It is so true, we can (and should) all work toward more self-reliance, but we can not be completely self-sufficient. It takes a group effort to get it all done and different people have different talents. Some people are great with animals, others not. Some folks just seem to have a green thumb and others can't grow much. We plug away and have come a long way over the last roughly 8 years. We have chickens, turkeys, goats and pigs, have had decent success at gardening, but still have a ways to go.
    I agree whole-heartedly with you about not butchering/eating an animal, that I didn't decide to butcher and eat. We had one goat get it's horns caught in the fence and it fought and injured itself badly. I tried to nurse her back to health for 48 hours until it became apparent that she was worsening and my husband put her down. I had someone tell me that it was hypocritical to raise meat goats and not eat her. Excuse me, she had been through 48 hrs. of shots of very strong pain meds and how was I to know that her internal injuries had not caused some type of organ problem that could have affected her entire body. Same with a hen recently who suddenly developed a bad leg problem and got to the point where one leg was so swollen she couldn't stand. We put her down too, I suspect she may have been bit by a snake, no we didn't eat her either.
    Anyway, I absolutely love your blog, thanks for all of the great information!

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    1. As far as the hypocritical comment, little things like that really bother me. Fortunately, my wife gets me back on track and reminds me it's not important what somebody else thinks. I generally refer to them as idiots, but I do so privately.

      About eating animals that I don't butcher. It's not really a spiritual thing, but something inside me just tells me not to do it. I don't know what it is, but I just don't do it. Now, if I were starving to death, that would be a different story.

      I'm just pulled to this style of life. But right now if something breaks or doesn't work, I can hop in the pickup, drive 30 miles, and get whatever I need to fix it. I sometimes wonder, seriously what things will be like when I don't have the option of a 30 mile drive.

      Glad you enjoy the posts.

      Frank

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  12. Thank you, Frank and Fern for your down to earth, honest assessment of 'living off the land'. I lived on my in-law's farm/ranch for 7 years, and it was interesting. We did butcher chickens, my husband had an awesome garden, we raised sheep and had lamb to eat, and we heated with a wood stove. There is always one chore or another that you need to do out in the country: chop wood and make a pile, pick and weed the garden, break the ice off the water tank so the sheep can drink--lambing was an especially taxing time, especially since husband was an OTR trucker at the time---yes, he had a job outside the farm! I cooked a meal once on the wood stove when we lost power. When a snow storm was on the way, I filled up 5 gallon buckets with water, and every pitcher I could come across in case the storm took the electric lines down. TV reception stunk, so I read a lot and sewed. We weren't self-sufficient: went to town once every week or so. I did use skills that I had seen my mother use who was raised on a farm, but those useful skills are being lost as so many don't want to learn them or see no need. I often refer to my husband as 'Mr. Perseverance', he's very resourceful, as he was also raised on the farm. We both are nearing retirement and would like to get out of town and not live within hearing distance of neighbors. Don't know if that will happen.

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    1. Fern and I have always had outside teaching jobs. If something failed, we'd try again next time. But there will come a day when failure will not be an option.

      You know we live out in the middle of nowhere, but I still have neighbors I can hear. I'm not necessarily sure I would want to live so far out that if something bad happened, there wouldn't be some kind of neighbor around. But, I'm really glad that I don't live in a city.

      As far as having farming and homestead type skills, everything that I've learned over the years, either came from asking somebody how to do it, or reading it in a book. Right now, there are a million things you can learn from the internet, especially YouTube. I'll miss the internet someday, and dental floss. I will really miss dental floss. Guess I'd better stock up now while the stocking is good.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences.

      Frank

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