Caleb, Marci, & Abel Larsen – 2013. Photo by Andrew Ranville
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
– Henry David Thoreau
I wouldn’t call what we are doing homesteading. In fact when we started this cabin project we planned it to be a getaway place – a second home (despite lacking a first home). We expected to be done in a year or so. We are now midway into our second year of ‘cabining’ and recently celebrated our one-year anniversary of living here full-time. Being off the grid, our life is necessarily more self-sufficient than most. We generate all of our electricity, supply our own water, harvest our own firewood, and deal with our own waste. In the last few months we have taken a keener interest in doing even more ourselves. Last summer we raised Guinea fowl for food (far from the most cost-effective meat bird), we had a small vegetable garden, and were a part of a small pig co-op and we now have a pile of pork stashed away. From that pig I’ve been making my own Pancetta, I’ve got some Lardo and Jamon curing, and soon we will be making loads of sausage. Marci bakes all of our bread (an amazing no knead dutch oven bread that makes PERFECT crust and crumb with hardly any effort, just time), I’ve been making Kefir, and recently started salt curing egg yolks. This summer we plan to raise a flock of Muscovy Ducks.
I think one thing that has pushed me to become increasingly self-sufficient, besides the economy of it, is the satisfaction is provides. Not just looking at something and saying “hey I made that”, but the deeper satisfaction knowing that if there is something in my life that I find lacking, it is possible to do the research, gather the tools and supplies, and make it happen – be it culturing milk or building a building.
This goes beyond some DIY trend or a stylized hipster new-frontierism fetishization, this really is about deliberately living. When we lived in Tulum, Mexico, it was beach life. And it was easy: do a little work, head to the beach, bake in the sun, eat a taco, drink a beer, then repeat. Seven days a week. It sounds nice, and it was, but Marci and I both settled into an ennui. In the end, it was relaxing, decadent, boring and unfulfilling.
After Mexico we were itinerant for about a year. During that time we spent time with family in suburban Kalamazoo. We quickly found that boring as well. We enjoyed the time with friends and family, but basically all we did was drive in a car between air-conditioned places and sit on comfy sofas. Both were lives of leisure. Both were easy.
We never meant to own land or live in a cabin. This all started on a whim. We saw land, it was cheap, we bought it. And since the only sensible thing to do with 20 acres of thick swampy woods is to put a cabin on it, we decided to build one.
While this whole adventure started spontaneously, we have fallen deeply love with it. We long for the city and everything it entails, but we love our life in the woods in the middle of nowhere. I love heating with firewood that I cut. I love eating food that I produced. I love being able to walk for a mile and still be on my own land (admittedly I need to walk in a circle for that to happen, but still, it’s a big circle). I love knowing that my whole world is plastic and that I can build it, change it, break it, fix it, design it, and develop it as I see fit. There is an immeasurable freedom found in seeing the world as something infinitely mutable. The only boundaries are geographic and the only limitations are self-imposed.
To live this life I’ve found that you need to bend to the weather (you can’t battle it), relax some inhibitions, be ready to get dirty, find satisfaction is the most unusual places, eschew the easy for the deliberate, and be prepared to face challenges with gusto…oh and enjoy working hard. Despite being off the grid, in the middle of the woods down a long road and far from even the nearest gas station – our life is quite civilized and not at all rustic. We did not come here to escape the world, but to live in one of our own making.