When the news came last autumn that the government had taken over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, our decision to chuck the standard suburban lifestyle to head for the woods and off-grid—to live on the edge, in other words—made more sense than ever.
When we moved from Juneau, one of Alaska’s larger towns (a truly relative term) to come to live on our “homestead” just over three years ago, we had a notion that something like this might happen. With relatives in the computer industry, we’d heard long before the year 2000 about the potential problems of Y2K. We realized that we in the United States are totally unprepared for the unexpected, whether that be a technology malfunction, like the narrowly-avoided Y2K scenario, an unthinkable event such as the World Trade Center collapse, a severe economic downturn like the current one, or a natural catastrophe: a hurricane, fire, or earthquake. We all like to think that things will be okay, that whatever comes, our elected and appointed officials will handle it for us. And, when catastrophes like Y2K are averted through incredible effort and expense, the public dismisses it as a hyped event that never presented a true threat at all! Such “wisdom” allows us to go blindly back to our usual routines, confident that the next chicken-little scenario will be just as anticlimactic. Our family at least recognizes the potential such events have to disrupt society, and do not intend to trust that someone else will fix it for us.
Not that we made the move because of this . . . at least not entirely. The homestead fulfills our childhood dreams. As a bonus, it improves our family’s situation should problems arise. We had far less access to good gardening, firewood, hunting, or fishing in our little Juneau suburb than we do here.
We quit our jobs and moved here to try our hands at living on the edge. We wanted to live closer to the land, growing or gathering what produce we can, hunting and fishing for the majority of our meat, maybe raising a few chickens now and then. We are not completely independent by any means. Much of our food will always come from a store—after all, we can’t grow our own coffee or black tea. We still have to pay taxes; we can’t make most of our necessities as cheaply as they can be purchased elsewhere. We have a few monthly bills, insurance, Internet and the like. Even so, our need for cash has been greatly reduced by these new circumstances. We earn a little from various micro-incomes, and I design Web pages, using our satellite Internet connection.
There’s a fair amount of risk involved with this lifestyle. The local fire department can’t and won’t come to our rescue should the cabin burn. Catastrophic illness would be just that. If we get injured, it’s a long hike out for help.
On the other hand, stress is largely removed from our lives. As long as we focus on what we have rather than worrying about what we don’t have, we are healthier. When we eat natural, unprocessed, homegrown foods, we are healthier. When we work and play as a family, and when those two concepts are intermingled, we are healthier. As we spend our days in activity and physical exertion, we are healthier. Also, good-hearted, educated, knowledgeable people surround us. Our neighborhood is comprised of people we trust.
As for the life of the mind, this has been a self-educator’s dream! In the last three years we’ve learned more about electricity, fishing, hunting, gardening, water management, and myriad other topics than in the rest of our years combined. The learning curve is a steep one; class is always in session, and no one sleeps through the period or watches the clock! We are, in Thoreau’s words, living deliberately.
So, while wars rage and the economy tumbles, we are—all of us—living on the edge. Some of us, a little closer to it, may just have a better foothold.
You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in the ebook, Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger. The ebook version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.