The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Living in paradise

View from inside the peach tree

I posted a few days ago about realizing that now wasn't the time to go out of town for a long weekend, and I know that many of you were thinking "Too bad they can't get away!"  The truth is that we live in paradise and would vastly prefer not to leave the farm about 95% of the time.

BroccoliMy mother(s) sometimes worry that I'm becoming a shut-in, afraid to leave the farm, but the truth is more complicated.  The further we dissolve our lives into deep ecology, the more the outside world becomes a fast, startling place that leaves us drained.  Watching TV, commuting to work every day, sitting beside strangers on the subway --- all of these facets of modern American life dull the senses and make the outside world bearable.  Without distractions to build up mental walls, we're honestly interested in the lives of the lady at the post office, are a bit wounded by angry couple sitting beside us in the restaurant, and soon our heads are whirling with the lives of scores of strangers.  Mark has taken over the shopping because I've discovered that even an afternoon trip to the big city for supplies can require a full evening of quiet time to counteract the ads blaring from billboards and the dose of world news that inescapably finds its way to our ears through the TV at the hardware store.

Lately, we've realized there's very little we want or need from the outside world.  The one exception is visiting our family and friends, but as the farm becomes a more and more restful place, it becomes easier and easier to make those people come to us.  In Five Acres and Independence, Maurice Gains devoted a whole section to tips for fending off hungry city-dwellers who want to visit during the growing season, and my experience has been similar (although more positive.)  "I have three gallons of strawberries that need a home," I say, and two hours later my mother and sister are pounding on my door.  When you live in paradise, not only do you not want to leave, other people are willing to come to you.

Our chicken waterer turns the pasture into a paradise for our flock.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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very well said, young one.

I know of many people who live long lives and for some reason they never find their paradise.

perhaps they go on a journy without their true purpose? and maybe they go astray with all the hoop la, billboards of the outside world. maybe like a lot of things our paradise is hidding in plain sight, and you have the peace and knowledge to know that. thanks for sharing

Comment by roseanell Sun May 29 09:53:48 2011

At the Holy Scrap Homestead in New Mexico we have similar feelings. Sometimes I feel that if I don't get out I'll go totally crazy. Then I get out and after a few days I realize that I can not wait to get home again. These needs for reminders get fewer as time passes.

We're also inundated with visitors who read the blog, are passing through NM and found us on a google search about area, and the like. They get really offended if we don't let them in, chat, give tours. It's hard to convey to them that there's nothing in it for us. They leave us tired and depleted of energy. They are on vacation, not us. There's also the tourist factor. We remain part of a memory of a vacation. While we invest time into someone we'll never see again. Sigh. . . .

We're still seeking balance on this particular issue. We seek ways to open our place up from time to time. In the right context and for the right length of time it can work. Meanwhile though, lots of people get offended when they can not come over. Oh well .

Be well! Wendy (and Mikey too)

Comment by wendy tremayne Sun May 29 11:28:33 2011
True but dangerous to say our dwellers far outnumber you and they are able to do things like lobby to change zoning laws, make stricter compost use safety regulations, make building codes stricter, target you for inspections, etc. The unbearable and sensory assault experiences you describe are reality for many people. You're not more sensitve, you're just lucky to have had the gumption to take action to move yourself away. And actually, there isn't really enough space for all city-dwellers to take up on 58 isolated acres. I would say you're no longer small enough in terms of web presense to express these thoughts with impunity. Caution!~ Believe me, it can be dangerous to be openly grateful for abundance.
Comment by J Sun May 29 11:34:33 2011

Rosenell --- That's a good point, that we should all be seeking our own paradise!

Wendy --- I've added your blog to my reading list because I couldn't agree more with everything you say! It's interesting that you feel the same way about strangers coming to the farm and leaving you drained --- that's one of the big reasons we are vague about our location. Mark's hypothesis is that we have so much peace from our lifestyle that when people visit, they're like unintentional vampires, sucking us dry. (That's a pretty strong picture --- he didn't say it quite that way. And we certainly don't feel that way about our friends and family, just people we don't know.)

It's hard to find the right screening process for folks who merit a visit to the farm. I tend to meet people I've corresponded with over the blog somewhere else first, so that if they turn out to be energy vampires, our relationship can just naturally fade away. :-) That said, I'd really like to meet more local likeminded people and am tossing around the idea of having a Walden Effect get together at a park nearby. Still pondering a way to build that community without being so drained by strangers tromping around on the farm.

J --- People often say that, about there not being enough land to go around, but I'm not sure that's really true. There are about 57,500,000 square miles of land on earth (including places like Antarctica where we can't live), and about 6.9 billion people on earth. That would give us each about 5.3 acres. A couple like me and Mark would have at least ten acres, which is really enough space to do everything we do and much more! (We probably use about 1 to 2 acres of our land for growing space, then maybe another few acres for firewood. The rest is buffer and room for me to play in the woods.)

Now, granted, there are a lot of places on earth, even outside Antarctica, that are tough to live in. But I've seen some pretty amazing things happen in deserts using permaculture, so I wouldn't delete them from "homesteadable" acreages. So, sure, everyone can't have 58 acres, but if we can each have even two or three, I think we can build our own peace there.

Comment by anna Sun May 29 12:05:04 2011

For the first year and a half that we moved out to our farm, I went into town maybe once or twice a week and I just couldn't stand it. I stayed home most of the week with my little boy and our animals and the plants and the "vision," and I felt overwhelmed to do anything different-- even visiting family, because I just wanted so much to be at MY home where I'm comfortable.

Lately I've found a way to make my small town an extension of my home. I still avoid shopping most of the time, and instead I only go out to places where I have the opportunity to become familiar with the people there and form relationships-- like one of our local restaurants, the land trust office where I work and the university or the downtown area that have kind of a "scene" and a personality, not so abrasive and commercial. I'm really much happier to get out and meet people, and through those people I have started to feel this growing sense of community. When I was spending every day at home I found that it was easy, very easy, for me to become suspicious and judgemental of others, and oh-so paranoid. Now I get to know people in more comfortable situations, and then if I end up at the grocery store for something, I am more likely to see people I that I already know instead of a wave of strangers.

This is not a criticism, because I still absolutely share your feelings. I was just pleased to find a community outlet (it didn't really take off until about March this year). I hope that you can find a comfortable sense of community where you are. Someday, when it's appropriate.

It's interesting that J mentions the political power of urban folks. I don't think anything you said is necessarily insulting to city-residents, but you mention things that quite a few of urbanites are probably already familiar with, maybe even more acutely affected because they don't have "paradise". That's why you get continuous sprawl out of cities by people of means. Even so, the political power that gets concentrated in cities is a bit irksome and in regard to the potential for zoning, etc, there is definitely a need for rural residents to keep up with those developments if they can. Around here, it isn't the average person that you meet in the grocery store that is out there lobbying to undermine rural livelihoods, but it's the developers and corporate leaders who have the time and resources to attend all these government meetings and really influence things beyond the boundaries of the city.

Comment by Sara Sun May 29 17:54:22 2011

You make an excellent point about the value of small towns in preventing sensory overload. I was thinking of mentioning that, but I figured my post was already too long....

The truth is that dropping by our neighbors' houses a mile or so down the road doesn't trigger my overload buttons, and even going into the two closest towns often doesn't (although the grocery store does.) We know the post office workers by name in our three closest towns and the librarians recognize our voices on the phone. I do feel a bit like these people are part of our community, and I know it helps outsiders like us be more accepted to keep our shopping closer to home. When Mark was offered a stool one day in the hardware store, he knew he'd "arrived." :-)

That said, most of our closer friends and family live in cities (or far enough away that we have to pass through cities to reach them.) It makes it tough to keep up connections with folks like that when you have to run the gauntlet to visit. Even though I know I would have felt stifled in an earlier age, I can't help thinking that there were definite benefits to a time when people settled close to home and didn't have to travel so far to keep up with their loved ones.

Comment by anna Sun May 29 19:02:43 2011
I know what you mean about traveling distances to visit people. My husband's mother lives about an hour away from us, and it's not through a city but down a hellish interstate that we have to travel. I hate traveling by car and her "town" is simply a commercial strip, so there is nothing even remotely pleasing about being there. I feel like a snob, but I have just gotten used to declining visits a lot of times. Plus, it's the kind of household where the TV is on all the time and all of the drinks that are offered are loaded with sugar. It's sad that the whole thing creates this awkward guilt/tension between me and a person who I would otherwise love to be with.
Comment by Sara Sun May 29 20:15:59 2011
Mark's family and I have come to an understanding about things like that (aided in great part by the fact that I sucked Mark into my world-view. :-) ) Our visits used to be full of televisions blaring, but Mark's mom extremely sweetly turns off the tube when we visit. (Thank you, Rose Nell!!) I think that it is possible to come to compromises for family that might not be worth making for the rest of the world.
Comment by anna Sun May 29 20:32:27 2011

Finally, someone who described exactly how I feel. I find that even a quick trip to purchase groceries early in the moring before most others are up and about leaves me numb and nearly exhausted. Unfortunately those trips are still necessary on a weekly basis but they do provide motivation for further self reliance.

Thank you for your blog, folks. I have learned so much and look forward to reading each morning.

Comment by Aaron Wed Jun 1 06:56:11 2011
I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way! I would happily never leave the farm for weeks on end....
Comment by anna Wed Jun 1 07:10:07 2011

According to a UN inventory in 2008, only 11% of all land is arable; 1,380,515,270 hectare. (1 hectare = 2.471 acres). Divided over 6.9 billion people that would be 1/2 acre per person. Quite a difference from your 5.3! If you want more arable land, you'd have to do things like build desalination plants (which are mostly fossil fueled) or cut down existing rainforest (also not a very good idea).

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Jun 1 13:01:20 2011

I suspect they wouldn't call most of our land arable, though. Taking a quick peek at that spreadsheet it appears that "arable land" = "land currently in annual production" because in the US in 2008, they list 170.5 million ha of arable land, but 238 million ha of pasture --- clearly, pastures aren't even being factored in. If you add up all of the land in annuals, perennials, and pastures in the world in 2008, you get 4.9 billion hectares, which would split up to 1.75 acres per person.

Then you have to start to consider land that's not currently being cultivated, but could be lightly used with permaculture techniques. For example, most of the Amazonian rainforest is at least somewhat anthropogenic, and in the tropics in general, you can grow lots of food underneath an existing rainforest canopy. Steep hillsides like ours can be grazed lightly by animals while doing only moderate harm (well, locals graze them heavily all the time, but that's not very sustainable), and the you can easily take a tree here and there for firewood without hurting much.

I suspect that when it comes down to it, we could each have an acre and a half or so of prime land along with another acre and a half of sub-prime land. Although I'd hate to see my neighbors, Mark and I would have no problems getting by on 6 acres between us, especially if we had that extra 4.6 acres of "unusable" land as a buffer.

Comment by anna Wed Jun 1 13:36:40 2011

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