Have you ever been on a path, moving along, digging yourself deeper into a rut … and all the time thinking you have made a wrong turn somewhere? I have. In fact, if I can be honest, that feeling has been increasing for a while.
Some time ago, I wrote a post called When Bad Becomes Normal, and the truth is that it’s time to take my own advice.
Last summer (2015), my brother came out to visit.
I warned him to call me before he headed up the mountain road, but the GPS on his car showed him a clear route to our cabin. However, there was misleading information in the GPS system and the “road” it showed had long ago degenerated into an ATV trail.
He told me later that he had a few misgivings, but kept bravely pushing ahead.
After all, he could see a clear road to my place.
When the path narrowed so badly that branches were scratching his car windows, he decided that no amount of pushing forward would get him where he was going. He backed out and … the GPS recalculated the route to take him safely to our place, although with a very badly scratched car.
Right now, I feel as though we’ve been pushing through on that ATV trail, ignoring the scratched paint job and certain that anytime now it’ll just open up and be a real road. We do that, don’t we? We go into a situation and think “Uh oh, this doesn’t feel quite right.” But we push aside the misgivings and bravely push forward. After all, we argue with ourselves, we can see the path clearly and maybe if we just push through a bit more, a bit harder, then the way will clear and it will be okay.
My brother would never have reached our cabin if he had kept on that road, and he would have damaged his car badly. There was no shame in backing up slowly and reassessing where he needed to be.
When we moved out to our mountain cabin, there were a number of things that I took for granted were true and would continue:
a) we had people who were interested in helping out regularly and would be building a cabin here and joining us,
b) EJ would enjoy the lifestyle out here,
c) I would remain healthy …
d) the cabin was in good shape and could be renovated or expanded to fit our needs
e) we had a working well, acceptable sewer and other necessities
All important things, right? In the end, none of those things are true. (As a note – I wrote this in the summer of 2016. A lot has changed since then)
Solitude Is Good to a Point
Essentially, we’re alone out here on the mountain.
We travel ten miles of bad dirt road to get to neighbours, and my nearest family is more than thirty miles away. In some ways that’s good. I do enjoy the quiet and solitude, and I love stepping out on my front step at night to hear nothing except crickets. A fall evening out here, just before the sun sets, is the most peaceful place I’ve ever been. Honest – 90% of the time, it’s a wonderful thing.
However, if you’ve read the Little House on the Prairie books, you’ll know that Charles had difficulty doing minor things like oh, building a new house, when he only had Caroline’s help and at one point they almost died because there was no one nearby who knew they were ill.
In fact, the Ingalls eventually moved into town to be closer to people.
There are many times that multiple people are needed, and the person who is looking after little children can’t reliably be one of them. (Small children, left unsupervised for even brief periods of time, have an unfortunate habit of severely injuring themselves and sometimes dying.)
Since moving here, I’ve often warned my readers not be lone wolves. Homesteading really needs to be done in a community. It can be a small community, but you do need a community of people who are supporting each other. My Mennonite friends, when they settle a new community, send between ten and twenty families with people of all ages, with different skill sets, too. I would recommend that anyone looking to move off-grid did it in a small community of at LEAST three or four other families.
We don’t have that. We overestimated the willingness of people to come out this bad dirt road (and it didn’t help that the Roads department lied to us about the condition of the road before we bought it!). Those who spoke of joining us quickly had their romantic visions dashed and drifted out of our lives, and I honestly can’t blame them. It’s a difficult life out here.
My father grew up on a small Cape Breton farm. He installed my grandmother’s first indoor plumbing and electric stove when I was a baby, so he knows what it’s like to live this life.
Last week I said to him , “There are a lot of people who have rural retreats and figure that they’d come out to them and live in the event of some big disaster.” Dad was fixing the blades on the tiller, didn’t even look up and said,
They’d die in their first year. Only reason you’re alive is you could still access town.
Yea. So …. there’s that. Let’s call it lesson one. I’ll expand on that much more in a future post, probably called something like Why Your Bug Out Plan Will Kill You.
You Need Your Spouse On Board. For Real.
As for EJ, he is a hard working man. Currently he works ten hour shifts at a gravel yard, with a one hour drive each way. He comes home filthy, top to bottom, and I can’t put my hands around his biceps at all. He enjoys being a firefighter and medical first responder, and he has learned to chop wood by hand, dig fences and put up buildings. Definitely a hard worker and I’ve very proud of everything he does for us.
The problem is that he really does not enjoy this ultra-rural life. It wasn’t his dream and he came along grudgingly. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that he didn’t have enough experience of rural living to make an informed decision.
For three years, I’ve known that he is here because I’m here. Where I am, he will be … even if he hates every minute of it. (And yes, I recognize how lucky I am to have that kind of love.)
So it’s really rough on him to spend his very limited free time, especially since he’s tired, working on things here. I’ve known this from the beginning, but thought that time would make him enjoy it more.
Because … it was my dream and my vision. It’s time for me to stop being so selfish and recognize that. The children, too, need more access to friends, other people and, more importantly, a church family that supports and loves them. It’s not fair for me to make five people unhappy. It’s just not, especially when compromises are definitely possible.
There’s another future post. Lesson two. How to Rip Your Marriage Apart in Three Easy Steps. Or something like that.
(I will take a moment to note that we have not split up and have no plans to do so – so far I’ve had three people assume that we have !)
As for my health – this is a big one.
Shortly after we moved here, I was unexpectedly pregnant, giving us two little girls eighteen months apart. Two babies so close together is hard on anyone, but I’m in my mid-forties. Complications ensued, surgery followed, and I’m still dealing with the aftermath of all that. Unfortunately, surgery sometimes stirs up new problems as it fixes the old ones.
Sinus-triggered migraines returned, too, which provide their own set of problems and for quite a while we were concerned that they meant a new brain tumour. (I had a tumor – stage 2 with some glioma cells – removed by surgery in 2008). All while raising two little girls, a hyperactive boy and a boy with autism.
Recently I’ve been tentatively diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, as well. People have warned me that one can trigger others, so I need to nip this in the bud now before it gets worse.
Regular readers know that I also frequently hit with incredible fatigue. The reason for that, I think (and hope) is in the next point.
So we’ll call that Lesson three. If You Ain’t Got Your Health, You Ain’t Got Nuttin’
A Good House Is Important
This one is probably the most important, though. I could have managed the others, except this one makes that impossible. It aggravates all of the other problems.
This cabin was never meant to be lived in full time. The roof is sinking in spots. We’ve come to discover that the attic has no ventilation. There is green mold throughout the attic and black mold in the walls. One outer wall in particular is full of it. I can see it in the corners, both at floor level and roof level, and now it’s starting to appear in other rooms.
This past spring, our baby had a bout of pneumonia that came on terrifying fast and strong. Since then we have all started developing breathing and cough issues.
For the past several months, I’ve had a low-grade constant “chest cold” that won’t let up, too. About fifteen years ago, I lived in a house that had black mold in the basement. Back then I had the same issues of breathing problems, sore ears and chronic fatigue, which slowly let up after I moved away from there.
In addition, as we have dug into the plumbing and electrical and framing of the cabin to try and see how we could fix it up …. well, I often suspect that the people who put this place together were half-drunk. I mean, gee, who needs a building code, right?
It was not built well enough to renovate. I’ve now had three extremely competent contractors look at it and say it’s impossible to renovate this place without having it come down around our ears. At any rate, the time has come to admit that we cannot live in this cabin, not with the discovery of black mold throughout the walls. We would need to tear it down and build another, and it’s literally impossible to get a mortgage to build a house on an off-grid property, especially one as far out in the woods as we are.
Should that be Lesson four? Sow’s Ears Don’t Make Silk Purses, No Matter How Hard You Try
Water and Sewage
Readers who have followed for a while will be aware of my problems with our sewage system. While we have a very nice septic tank now, water remains a major issue so we can’t have a flush toilet. The composting toilet is … disgusting. I truly loathe this thing. It belongs in an outhouse, not inside a dwelling.
The dug well that we have has been barely sufficient most of the time. Recently it went completely dry and our best efforts (including using an air compressor to try to clean out the pipe) have been unsuccessful at getting it going again even though there is now water in it. Plumbers won’t come all the way out here with their large equipment, so we’re limited in what we can do.
Not having hot water is something that can be managed. A lack of any running water, though, is unsanitary and an unbearable amount of hard work. (EJ rigged up a very awesome cistern for me right outside the front door and is keeping it filled with clean mountain spring water, but it’s still not nearly as easy as running water)
Lesson five …. The Bare Necessities of Life … Really Are Necessary
When Enough Is Enough
Most of these things are pretty minor or can be handled if they were isolated (except that toxic black mold), but added all together and I’ve had enough.
Before we moved here, a reader asked me “Do you ever stop?” and my mother used to tease me about all the things I do. I made cheese and cured my own meat. I did all the things. Now I feel like Alice.
My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.
I have been running as fast as I can now for over three years and I am beyond exhausted.
I’m worn out.
This property needs to be relegated to Rural Retreat – our bug out location, summer camp, blueberry field – and we need a full-time livable home that is closer to people and doctors. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop homesteading, nor does it mean that we’re moving back to a city. However, it does mean we’ll be on-grid for a while.