Originally published in 1973
I’m sure if I had to cultivate gardens ten hours a day every day for someone else, I’d think of it as work. But the beauty of the organic homestead is that “work” is self-willed, not commanded from on high or dictated by economic necessity. “Work” becomes creative, individualistic, done out of love, not someone else’s sense of duty.
But beyond the activities that might be termed play-work or work-play, the successful homestead provides opportunity for pursuits of a purely recreational nature. If your home schedule does not provide time for simple reverie in a fence corner, you’ve failed somewhere. If a hammock—well-used—is not among the accessories of your homestead, you’re doing something wrong.
If you have been brought up on a farm, you already know the many ways country people have to amuse themselves. And if you are originally from the city, you may know some hobbies new to country people. Here’s a list—far from complete—of both kinds:
1. Hunting Indian relics. I’ve found arrowheads in almost every locality I’ve looked for them. That includes Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. I find them in streams, along stream banks, and especially in fields bare of vegetation, such as corn fields after harvest or before spring plowing.
2. Bottle hunting in old trash piles and around abandoned farmsteads.
3. Collecting butterflies—or any bugs for that matter.
5. Ice skating, sledding, tobogganing. For delightful holiday fun, hitch a team of horses to a big wagon sled (if you can find one), and take a gang of friends for a ride over snowy hills.
6. Hayrides. And barn dances.
7. Swimming and fishing.
8. Hunting and trapping.
9. Whittling. Good for the soul.
10. Outdoor photography.
11. Landscape painting, if you’re up to it.
12. Gathering nuts, wild persimmons, pawpaws, or wild plums. Making cookies using some or all of these ingredients.
13. Picking wild grapes and making wine.
14. Starting a rock collection.
15. Building a canoe.
16. Exploring abandoned farmsteads (with permission). In the west, go “ghost-towning.” That’s what ranchers call visiting real ghost towns. In some areas, as southern Indiana, spelunking is a typical rural hobby, too. Lots of caves there.
17. Horseback riding.
18. Hunting antique insulators along telephone lines.
19. Collecting old barbed wire. Strands of about eighteen inches are bought and traded among collectors.
20. Hunting driftwood, dried weeds, and so on for table decorations.
21. Hiking, picnicking, camping out. You can pursue such pastimes right on your own farm. Some farmers build vacation cabins back in their woodlots or along their ponds and take restful vacations without leaving home.
22. Archery; target shooting.
23. Herb collecting in the wild.
24. Bicycling—a lot safer on country roads.
25. Recording folksongs, folktales, and other forms of rural, oral folklore.
The list could go on and on, depending upon your own interests. The point is, there is never a dull moment in the country. And that’s why you have chosen to live there.
But the organic homestead means something deeper than either the nobility of work or the pleasantness of leisure. What it must provide—if the homestead is to have true success—is a shrine to tranquility, an island of calm sanity to which you can retreat each day from the hectic outside world.
And what is tranquility?
Most visitors to our home become alarmed when we proudly point out a huge gray hornets’ nest hanging from the porch ceiling uncomfortably close to the entrance to the house. But when my sister visited us (she’s a country woman who knows a thing or two about hornets and such like), she made a different observation, which I consider the best compliment I’ve ever received. “You must have a peaceful environment around your home,” she mused, staring at the nest, “or those hornets wouldn’t have built a nest on your porch. They know there is not much fear or strife here.”
I would like to believe her observation is true. We certainly try hard enough to make it true. At least I can say the hornets have never been alarmed; we have never given them cause for alarm. Sometimes when we ring the dinner bell which is just a few feet from their nest, they become excited—or did at first. But they seem to have gotten used to that, too. We can stand right beneath the nest—I have climbed up and stared right into the entrance—and the winged stingers pay no attention. They do not fear us, because they know we do not fear them. We both know there is no good reason why we cannot share the porch.
Our hornets are a very small but significant example of the basic philosophy of the organic homesteader: accommodate yourself to nature when ever possible, don’t dominate nature when you don’t have to.
I am not suggesting that nature is free of strife and fear, or that the natural way is never the violent way. There is a kind of violence that forms the fiber of nature: all life feeds upon other life.
But man has made a science of violence. Evolving into a world where he had at least three strikes against him from birth (man is born the most helpless of all animals), the human animal, fearing for survival, learned cunning violence. He learned overkill.
The birds and the animals battle for territorial rights and for mates. Man, supposedly being smarter, recognized that such violence could be avoided by enforcing some kind of Law. But the same mind that conceives of law also invents lethal weapons that kill on a scale far beyond the natural limits of natural violence.
A culture built on fear and violence cannot acquire a true morality. Without peace with nature, there can be no tranquility among human beings. Men who can for economic gain bombard a forest or a field with a poison that can indiscriminently kill the insect life therein can easily be brainwashed into believing there is a necessity to drop bombs on other people. The man who will shoot wild animals for no reason other than to prove his skill at aiming a gun can readily be trained to shoot other people. The man who brags that he has worn out three farms in his lifetime is brother to the man who brags he has worn out three women in his lifetime.
This is why it becomes important to the organic homesteader what kind of fertilizer he uses on his beans. This is why he will risk ridicule of the worldly wise to ask: “What else will your new product do besides make profits for everyone?”
Recently a stone-age tribe of “uncivilized” people was discovered in the Phillipines. Surprisingly, these people are happy, content, peaceful—they live a completely organic life, in tune with their natural environment. They need protection only from the civilized people around them, say anthropologists, which is certainly the severest criticism civilized man has ever received.
The organic homestead is both a way back toward the innocence of these primitives and a way forward to a more intelligent use of what civilized man has learned. Man can live and let live to a much greater degree than he ever could before. Cunning violence, the violence of overkill, is obsolete. We can teach ourselves to walk our way through existence with a softer step and a gentler hand. Conviction begins on the organic homestead.
And what if there were millions of organic homesteads? A nation of them? Jefferson had such a utopian dream, so I guess its all right if I dream that way, too.
Also See: Gems From The Lives Of Contrary Farmers (Gene Logsdon)
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Gene is author ofThe Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land) and The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life
Excerpted from Homesteading: How To Find New Independence on the Land (1973)
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