A chronicle of Mike and Julia's adventures creating a home on the Missouri range...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Big Questions

     Each month, I start writing a blog post by reflecting on what has been going on in the last month at our homestead in Missouri. But this past month we have mostly been away from our homestead. We have been traveling far and wide, visiting friends, family and attending a wedding. So I have been puzzling about what to write this post about instead. To be honest, when I leave our homestead life in Missouri and step into other people’s homes and lifestyles, I tend to reflect on our choices. The perspective gives me a chance to zoom out on our life and think about what has been working and not working, where we are going next with it all, and how it fits into both our ethos and the bigger picture of our lives and the world we live in. I know… it is a lot to take on. My brain hurts a little from trying to work it all out, but I thought I would write about the big picture nonetheless!

     Contributing to this mental taking-of-stock have been several losses that have further made us consider our lifestyle and consumption choices: within two days we had our computer and car die, leaving us in a bit of a technology lurch. These two machines have been our techno-crutches as we have transitioned into the simple life. We found ourselves asking whether we should replace them or not, and with what? We had always assumed that by the time our old car died we might be at a place where we wouldn’t need a full time vehicle… maybe there would be a community car cooperative we could join or something. Owning and driving a vehicle has always felt like an icky but necessary component in our lives as we haul building materials and possessions too and fro and transport ourselves seasonally. Many of our friends and neighbors don’t own vehicles at all, biking or carpooling instead, which furthers our sense of guilt about being gas-guzzlers. At the nearby ecovillage, Dancing Rabbit, there are several car-sharing coops where you pay per mile to use a truck or solar-charged electric car. Sounds great! We would sign up if we didn’t live 45 miles away. Our community has talked about starting something similar… But right now? Were we ready to either start a car cooperative in our community or take the carless plunge?

     And what about a new laptop? Again, we have many friends who don’t have one at all and use library computers if any. We also have a neighbor who uses her computer quite a bit—online craft sales, blogging and networking are crucial to her and her husband’s livelihoods. We fall somewhere in-between with our computer use, going online a few times a week when in town, and otherwise using it mostly to write with and store photos and other downloads. It can be an amazing tool, but not without a cost! We had gotten around the ethical question of a computer’s production footprint (heavy metal mining, Foxconn factory working conditions, etc.) by buying a used one and sharing it. But now? Were we ready to deal with that ethical can of worms again, on top of the car dilemma?

     This question—how much technology do we want to be consumers of?—kicked off a series of questions in my mind about how I want to live, and I began looking around for answers as we traveled. Other questions that I have been ruminating on are as follows-

  •      Is the simple life really simple? Or is it more work and more complication? What would make for more simplicity in both lifestyle and process, and therefore more peace and ease? 
  •      Are our choices making a difference in the world? Or are we actually distracting ourselves from making real change in a different way—by engaging at a policy level, a macro level, working within the mainstream?
  •      What does a right livelihood look like for us? We need at least some amount of money to live off of to supplement the cost-saving benefits of homestead living and building your own house, but what would both fit into our unconventional life and feel just? 
  •      What kind of community do we want to help create here? How much interdependence and how much space is most sustainable? (Underlying this question is a bit of unease brought on by some of our neighbors considering moving elsewhere…)
  •      And lastly, how do we want to bring up our daughter? How do we want to educate her and how do we fit that education into our homesteading and working lives? 

     Oh lordy! I have contemplated these questions all over the place! On quiet country lanes strolling our baby amidst crickets and wildflowers. In a hip city neighborhood while peering into a mommy-and-baby yoga class. In the houses of old friends. In hotel rooms. At truck stops. In cars and trains. Surrounded by extended family. And alone, at night, watching our baby sleep. I have thought about other intentional community models: the Amish, the ecovillages, the co-houses, where we know other people trying to live out their answers to similar questions. I have thought about what our lives might look like if we lived in the various places we have been visiting, mentally trying on each one. I am sorry to say that I haven’t  come up with any stellar definitive answers. Just for-the-time-being answers. Mike, my partner, pointed out that nobody has these things totally figured out… that we just keep living with the questions, along with the best of intentions. Which is probably true, (sigh).

     So for now, we acquired a “patch” car. One that some family friends were wanting to let go of for a price we could afford. It will see us through until we can make the car cooperative a reality and we can quit private car ownership for good. But we have started the conversation with our neighbors and are looking into the nitty gritty of joint insurance and ownership. And we did buy another computer—a refurbished laptop, which feels a little like saving a less than perfect computer from the scrap heap. I guess we aren’t quite ready to go computer-free, though I wish computers were made to last longer and were more fixable.

     As for our homestead return, we pulled into our driveway this morning and unloaded our luggage back into our quietly waiting house. The weeds have grown monstrous in our absence, as has the vegetable garden—beans spilling over their trellis, tomato plants flopping over their cages, sweet potatoes vines climbing into the pathways. Our to-do list floods back into memory, a hundred projects await. Big questions seem like a luxury suddenly! In the morning we will awake and dig into our land and community once again. And it occurs to me that maybe these are questions better asked and brainstormed in a community. Or perhaps while weeding a garden…

Summer's bounty, foraged and grown!