Some have asked me and wondered why I have pivoted into the world of Self Reliance with all this emphasis on Aquaponics, Life Hacks, Herbalism, Wild Edibles and all that we can do to preserve what we have grown, cultivated, built, and made? All of it, along with the lessons learned from my grandparents, deals with our attempts to discover an older yet better way of living, and learn the values and skills that were normal before everything became cheap, fast and easily discarded. The practices that made life livable, lively and even luxurious in the self made world of the past. All of which to assist those coming after my generation to not only have a resource for such knowledge but a practitioner of all that we have nearly forgotten.
Thus, I study and remember the past to see what worked better. Believe it or not, there was a great many things that were better before the modern age got ahold of it. When people lived and grew up without electricity, cars or mass media, and I see how different their “village culture” was from our own frantic and lonely society. I read diaries and letters from a century or two ago, and see a complexity of thought and language that gives college students trouble in their complexities today. The writers — in colonial America, Victorian Britain or any era that upheld true critical thought — might have been farmers, but they often grew up reading the same classics as their forebears — Homer and Sophocles, Galileo and Seneca, Byron, Emerson, Thoreau among many others. This upcoming generation will be the most info rich, reading poor generation since words were written down. For that matter, we all need to learn how to genuinely read again, and not just scan text on a screen.
Learning the Ways of Yonder Years
We try to learn the ways people used to provide for their own basic needs rather than relying entirely on conglomerates and governments, so we can build our own chicken coop, get bees and beehives, grow a garden, and learn to forage wild plants and mushrooms. We can make our own pickles, sauerkraut, juices, bread, cheese and jam, and collected the resources (books from yesteryear) in tree grafting for orchards, oven building indoor and out, blacksmithing and metallurgy, wood caretaking and carving, and so on. We fail a lot, but we have fun learning.
Sometimes, though, I hear from someone who doesn’t just want to gain ideas for their own cooking or skills development, but wants to escape the rat race and live a truly independent life. They tell me about their meaningless office job, their tedious commute, the destruction of the landscape and the horrors of the news fed to them daily. They yearn to simplify, seen the pictures of what may be possible, and they want to find a place just like what they envisioned. I sympathize with them, but I have to enlighten them to a very real fact.
See, everyone starts with some common mistaken assumptions. First off, many people seem to crave a sudden jumping off point and absolute abandonment of the modern daily grind, the way others fantasize about a Garden of Eden type of existence. Their descriptions seem to resemble what we usually see in advertisements and movies, where someone runs joyfully out of their cubicle throwing resignation letters in their boss’s face, their old life falls away like petals, and they stage-dive into Self Reliance without any forethought or preparation. In reality, almost no one simply moves to the country and starts over, or if they do, succeeds for very long without a lot of pain through trial and error. No one realizes that it can take years in crafting, building and creating that Eden they’d envisioned and many don’t ever come close to reaching their ideal.
The Garden of Eden is BACK BREAKING YEARS of HARD WORK! People generally need homes, food, sterilized water, heat and other necessities, and will sooner or later need medical assistance as they age. You have to make everything you will try to take care of and possess. Sometimes you even have to make those elemental things first before you can make what you truly are in need of. All of us nowadays are used to driving a car when we turn over the key, having electricity, broadband, and mobile phone reception at the touch of the ON button, and many, many other amenities we never give a second thought about, because we have never been without them. We’ve never put in the hard work to make it so. Every new convenience has a price, not just for the machine itself, but for maintenance, power, and the infrastructure to make it work for you.
Could we, as we now stand, go a week or a month or a year without the miraculous knowledge and know-how of plumbing, electrical, insulation, water heating? It sounds self-evident, but the more of the modern world you take with you, the less you will be getting away from that modern world, and the more you get away from everything, the more you have to learn to do and make – or do without.
A Foot in Both Worlds
Many of us yearn to be completely unencumbered from the expectations of modern societal life. Me, I have worked one of those marketing office jobs for the last 20 years, and my wife works another. Our daily commute alone is a total time waster — but that’s where I have practiced my art of persuasion for client companies, something that doesn’t hardly pay a living wage anymore. For the likes of you and me, as we are unwinding our intertwined web of car payments, mortgage installments, and monthly bills have little to nearly no extra time to move in the direction of that independent life, developing skills for Self Reliance. Whether it is taking care of a garden and animals, and practice all those crafts I named a few paragraphs ago. We strive to live more independently each year, but it takes time and work, and it’s a life lived inside the cracks of a boring normal one.
Often this migration from one place to the other also involves some chance. If it so happens that you can get on more than a quarter of an acre and accept the cost of living far from friends and family, along with the benefits of owning land and having neighbors to learn from, take it! People ask me how they can do just that, but it always involves a bit of chance and being ready to move on the opportunity once it arises.
Secondly, a great many of us want to wash our hands of the world’s idiots and be “unmolested” in our own pursuits of happiness — defined in the “self” in self-sufficient. We like growing and making more of our own belongings, but a life of isolation is never the answer; if anything — modern people live lonely enough lives as it is – it is contrary to the overriding purpose of wanting to be Self Reliant. We want to build a community that has similar or the same values you have and that they can create alongside you. When you look at a city today and you see millions of people alone in their apartments, cars, absorbed in screens and cocooned in a bubble of smart-phones and earbuds, unaccustomed to making mental or physical space for anyone else. In such isolated states of being, we grow ever-more self-absorbed.
I say, as we are “learning to be more self-sufficient” in the same way that one can learn to be healthier or kinder, is the goal we all should have in mind. Total and utter self-sufficiency is barely possible and not necessarily desirable. And is certainly lonely. Humans are social creatures, and tend to feel better with company of their own choosing — and many tasks require a group of people cooperating anyway. Even Thoreau, who wrote so beautifully about living in the woods, lived near town and had a mother to do cooking and laundry. The mythology of the self-sufficient man came about in our own era by people who lived with the surplus of fossil fuels.
In each case, as we seek to be more self-reliant, we will also need to build around us a group of those who value what you do. Under each individual’s circumstance, we need to keep in mind and make accommodations for where they are (physically and in mindset) and what their needs may be right now. Out of genuine concern and love for your neighbor, whether he be friend or family… or a future friend in any case.
Thirdly and lastly, I find, people’s yearning to get away from it all rarely comes with a map or plan to get there from here. For “there” is often not a place but an imagined state or feeling. In this world, though, presently if we can dream it, work smartly about going and getting it, we can make it a reality. But we first have to have a more clear way in getting to that destination.
The Art of the Zig and the Timing of the Zag
Before we can make that picture in our minds a reality, we have to deal in the reality that is around us currently. With the general goal in mind, we need to navigate through all that is our present situation. The McDonalds and strip malls, the cheap and tawdry along with those attention-grabbing and time-wasting items as “rabbit hole” scrolling dumping dopamine into our systems. Wherever you go, and whichever you look, people will be human, and some actions (even your very own) will be unpleasant.
Weigh your options, think things through and then start on that path to achieve that goal all the while not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. Start your Zigging! I began my Zig 6 years ago, and although the transition hasn’t been the smoothest, I can always say I am farther along today than I was yesterday, and will be that much so tomorrow.
A more independent life need not be a distant redoubt to purchase but an ideal to baby-step toward — in a zig zag kind of way. With the right sources, begin learning and putting into practice what you are learning. This can be done in ways that are fulfilling and not overly complicated. Take preserving food, for example: when you have the produce (grown or bought) you can take the easy steps in doing a wash bath seal of that vegetable or fruit with a Bottling Recipe from those trusted sources. By the actual doing you learn to do things yourself, stronger bonds of confidence grow, and you can use this as a stepping stone to learn more recipes, methods of preservation and a myriad of other things. Even if you do fail here and there, it just doesn’t have to be that complicated.
The development of other skills are the same way, know when you have become self sufficient, and when to begin another. Zig and Zag towards that ultimate goal that you have in mind, whether they involve growing a family’s produce, making baskets, erecting a sturdy shed, making grandma’s jam recipe, fermenting cabbage into sauerkraut, homeschooling your kids or grandkids, learning a musical instrument, or keeping healthy those animals in that sturdy shed. To actually live a self-reliant life it is the acquiring those skills over a lifetime, and learning some of them can take a lifetime. Luckily, you have one, or at least part of one left.
Such actions and activities can be fun, allow your family to eat when someone loses their job, gives you barter material in case of future emergencies in parallel economies; offers an opportunity for learning (to yourself, to your loved-ones and to neighbors), cost little money to begin, and have almost no disadvantages. Do this long enough, and soon you will look back to the path you have taken, seeing perhaps that Zig Zag pattern and knowing how far you have come.
You see, almost no one ever genuinely starts a new life WITHOUT taking the first steps; they might say they’ve tried, but if they don’t practice it, they will certainly lose it, and they remain who they are. The life you want will not necessarily be a location to which you can drive, but definitely a state you can work to attain. You will not be able to change anything but yourself and your surroundings, and then only in tiny increments, Big changes require big events, and while these haven’t quite happened yet to us in the general public, you can move now to make sure that if or when it does, the distance won’t be as wide as it otherwise would be.