Was it it difficult to get started?
This is a question people often pose to me. The short answer: yes! But I was too driven to notice at the time. I was 23 years old when I set out on this journey. I was highly focused; motivated by the prospects of self sufficiency. I can say in hindsight, I went through tremendous turmoil and hardship at the outset. Most of my battles were psychological. Intense loneliness and doubt overshadowed those early days. The sound of reason, encouragement and self worth was all too often muffled deep below these shadows. But I didn’t stop.
One failure after another tarnished my days, and I was all but wrecked by an over time construction job. My home was little more than a plywood box at the time. I can’t count the number of days I woke with my sleeping bag frozen to the floor. I’d plunge my aching feet into a pair of icy work boots and run to my car, before I lost all feeling from the ankle down. About half way through my morning commute, the feeling would begin to creep back into my extremities. From December to February, my commute was the warmest I would be all day. The first year I ate out of dumpsters…YES dumpster! I was happy just to have something to eat and money to put towards mortgage and materials.
My first summer was equally hellacious. I had cleared all the pines from my building sight and was left with no shade. I also learned how dry my microclimate was in this first year. A southwest facing hill with little rainfall in the southeast = hell on earth. I hadn’t secured a rainwater harvesting system yet, so I was not only stifled by heat, but sweat and grime. I was hot, dirty, bug bitten and covered in poison ivy that first summer…lord have mercy! Yeah, it was tough, but I didn’t notice at the time.
Somewhere in my second year things began to shape up a bit. I finally got a wood stove installed (wow, heat, what a novel idea!) and developed some pretty legit rain water harvesting infrastructure. While I was still failing to produce much food, I was no longer feeling completely defeated by crushing discomfort. A tinge of hope was beginning to grow. Not long after, I met Amelia, and out the window with loneliness! It was also around this time that neighbors really started taking me seriously. They were beginning to view me less and less as a transient, destitute, freak show, and beginning to regard me as a community member. They didn’t think I would last long on that hillside…time was telling a different story, and they were starting to listen.
Inch by inch Amelia and I worked the hillside. And day by day, it felt more like home. We learned how to stop fighting, and work with the land. Bending the land to meet our needs became a fruitless prospect as we learned to open our ears and listen to what the land had to offer. The soil, water, and sun, speak a language all of their own; through gardening we learn how to translate these stories into subtle, fruitful actions.
In the beginning, I was all about doing, doing, doing. Now, the joyful pursuit of listening fills most of my days.
Looking back, I can say my biggest mistake was living under the presumption that we must battle the forces of nature to survive. I now see myself as an extension of my environment. The forces I once waged war on, are the same forces that drive photosynthesis, fuel the hydrosphere, and grant me this fleeting gift of consciousness. To live well, we must learn to bend with the wind like a culm of bamboo. If we resist too hard, we will snap. Everything we need is all around us…we just need to learn how to listen.
Yeah, those early days were hell, but I didn’t notice.