I often write about the development of the rustic homestead and gardens that feature heavily in the blog. The process is indeed newsworthy, as it never ceases to remind me, and Autumn has come with many signs that point towards the synergy of several parts that constitute the whole. For example, the established plants have not needed very much watering during the past weeks, dare I say a month; this is not true of the transplanted and in-situ seedlings though, which get watered from a watering-can often containing seeped-manure nutrients. The majority of plants, trees and vegetables are getting their thirsts quenched by the fairly regular rainy days; the moisture remains in the mulched, raised beds for quite some time after the rains.
Of late, however, the impact that this project has had on my life in general has been gaining my attention. I often get lost with the logistics of projects, especially considering that until recently every project has been a crucial system component – a room in which to live, an outdoor kitchen, a work area, gardens, watering systems, compost toilet,shower, etc. But 22 months later, these basics are done and a relatively comfortable home-base has unfolded, and the lost-in-logistics me has had a chance to take a look around. Sure, it’s still a home that requires a lot of physical labour to keep running – there are few switches; no fridge; no stove; no boiler/geyser; etc. This was the plan from the start – to become functional, but to do so with simple and rustic systems that do not require too many resources to establish or run. Now that such functionality has been achieved and the day-to-day running of the place has become habit, it is clear that my life has become something of a permaculture project.
As said, what has been done has been done over a 22 month period, during which time both Emma and I have worked part-time for an income. For the most part we had the good fortune to find work in our fields of expertise, both in the academic world, where pay has not been terrible. The money would not be sufficient to pay for rent of a small townhouse, all food, large electric and water bills, insurance, etc., but our choices to live as we do mean that we don’t have those outgoings. Indeed, my stomach turns at the thought of it! We do pay a relatively small rent, petrol is a big expense as it is for so many people, and we do buy some groceries, but this has proven to be easily affordable for 2 people working part-time ‘professional’ jobs.
Of course, the paid work must be part-time, because the unpaid work that is required to live as we do ‘on the plot’ is considerable, even if it were all we did. The days spent entirely on the plot are ‘sunrise-to-sunset’ days; i.e. we’re busy from dawn until dusk – at very least. Then dinner starts, which requires the lighting of the rocket stove and the fun of cooking on only that flame. Busy busy busy. But this is where I’ve recently noticed how this lifestyle has impacted my life: The academic work can demand my attention for sometimes long periods of hours, weeks or days, but suddenly I’ll have met a commitment and I’ll have a few days where I can choose what task to focus on at home. The chores still need to be done (manually, of course), the compost still needs to be dealt with, etc., but I’ll choose to do the compost on a cool and comfortable day, the dishes in the heat of the day, the tree-trimming in the cooler morning or evening, same with the digging… and the building tasks get done in shorter or longer spurts under my own time limits. This is not like life in a full-time job, where there never seemed to be time for anything but the paid work, and where I never felt like I was choosing tasks but instead following orders.
There is nobody to give orders anymore. The compost pile calls for turning, the manure bags anticipate emptying, proper cupboards and a desk in the corner of ‘the shack’ need to be built. None of this is urgent – I may get to none of it tomorrow, but I’ll be busy from dawn till dusk, dealing with some academic commitments between the hours of 1:30 and 5 a.m. – the advantage of being a polyphasic sleeper, though admittedly I’m sleeping monophasically too some nights due to the serious difficulty of getting out of bed in the serious cold. But even in this regard I don’t feel like I’m not accomplishing something, because the mix of part-time work and full-time living ‘the rustic permaculture homestead way’ ensures that something productive is always being done.
It must be pointed out that we do not own the land that we stay on, so we are removed from some of the scary and serious things like mortgages. But it must be stressed that we actively made the decision to abandon the full-time work-for-money-to-pay-the-bills lifestyle. Maybe it would have taken a year or two longer to get to where we are now if excellent friends had not offered for us to do what we do on their land, a generosity for which I am eternally grateful. But we would have made it there eventually; already, now, after less than two years of working part-time, a future is foreseeable where a cheap piece of land could be financed if it absolutely had to be; or the network of friends that has developed could be the source of a similar offer, or alternative arrangements could be made through it. These are examples – I’m happy to be where I’m at, but alternative options are available for people to achieve alternative lifestyles.
So as I get used to the permaculture project taking things in its stride, so do I see myself getting used to taking things in my own stride. It’s been a wonderful and sometimes difficult journey, but one that makes me smile with the sense of being part of a sublime synergy. I could not entertain such a point of view while in the rat-race; there I sang the tune of industrial ‘progress’ without knowing it, thoroughly conditioned to need an authority of some kind (mostly in the full-time work sense) to give my life direction. I still find myself occasionally feeling like I should be doing something differently, like I should be focused on some deadline even if its days away, but then I realise it’s a hangover from 30 years of living largely as per the dominant go-go-go ideology of consumer-capitalism. Then I smile and continue with whatever it was that I was busy with!
Luckily such a weird thought occurs very infrequently; it draws attention to an old and new me. The new one has been grown alongside the simple and rustic permaculture system that is my home, a place that is proverbially cheap and cheerful. The money we earn is not all spent on bills and petrol and rent; we even save some most months. I stay busy, being one of two people needed to keep the homestead going, but this is a healthy and sustainable process – dare I say it is a necessary alternative lifestyle choice considering the massive ecological disaster that is the consumer-capitalist system. It is likely that many people in the rat race feel like they have no alternative, but they do; it requires planning, patience, imagination and hard work – these are some of the resources available for achieving sustainability on a personal level.