Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A 2-night homestead tour (Marblemount, WA)

First, a major life update: We’re pregnant! Well, at least one of us is. Not sure yet if standard English accepts usage of the word "pregnant" to describe both parents, not merely the one incubating the life form. Anyhow…

A couple weekends ago, we took another step towards our goal of raising our children and spending the rest of our lives in a remote countryside. Looking for things to do, we discovered that the Marblemount Homestead, who run one of the most prominent homesteading blogs on the internet, was hosting a weekend retreat. We took two of the last spots in the 8-person group and made the drive about an hour south and 90 minutes east of Vancouver. 

The five acres that the homestead sat upon was beautifully laid out, a perfect vision of what we want our future to be. The house — fully constructed by the owners Steve and Corina — sits behind a dirt road driveway. The rear of the house faces the open grass where a large vegetable garden is featured front and centre. Their hree children played for hours in the yard, riding bikes through the grass. The chickens and ducks pecked their way freely throughout the wide open space. The goats were around the side, either covered in the barn or gnawing on tree bark behind it. The fig and plum trees were blooming with fresh fruit, on which I would gorge regularly. The tent we were provided had an open roof enabling us to sleep under the huge expanse of stars undisturbed by a single beam of artificial light.

MFing cold lake, even in August
The two days were filled with courses. I took cheese making, wilderness skills, goat raising, and archery courses. Of course, as a complete city boy with no ability whatsoever to work with my hands, these 2-hour courses were hardly sufficient in terms of teaching me actual skills. But I took away something better than the actual skills themselves: an understanding of what goes into the process. For most of my life, cheese and meat were just things that are tightly bound in plastic wrap. Vegetables came from the supermarket. I can’t make fire, chop wood, nor do I have any confidence distinguishing a delicious wild berry from a potentially murderous one. 

And after this weekend, I still can’t.

But what I do come away with is an appreciation that it can be done. By regular people who do not have appreciable experience in this field. That it will be hard and there will be many inglorious and unpalatable parts of it. 

I also come away with the idea that it is worth it. Not just for the nutritional value of a home-grown carrot vis-a-vis a store-bought one, but for the satisfaction of it. If nothing else, even a placebo effect of the home-grown carrot might alone be worth it. The appreciation of having meat on the dinner table that you remember being born and raised by its mother, and that lived a happy life before its death. A building that you built with hammer and nails.

Chickens eat figs. Then they poop.
Then new trees grow.
But probably most relevant to me is the desire for my future child(ren) to live in this environment. My inner health nut wants to provide my incoming infant with the health benefits of pristine water and farm dirt on their grubby little hands. But more than that, I want my children to learn in this environment. The children we met on this trip (aged 14, 12, and 8) are remarkable. The elder boys could build a shelter out of twigs and sticks, build a chicken coop, cook an excellent lasagna, assist in the delivery — or the slaughter — of a farm animal, and much more. And yes, they can probably also build statistical models in Excel, discuss the fall of the Roman Empire, and know their periodic table far better than their peers, though I have no direct evidence of it. The two teen boys were kind and sweet to their extraverted, precocious little sister.

Getting to goat second base
What I did see from the children, furthermore, was how thrilled they were to be outside for hours at a time. Before I had met these boys (and yes, I’m aware of the bias involved with this one meeting), I thought there was a good chance that children raised in the country and home-schooled might quickly get bored with such a lifestyle. I even thought they would rebel against it. But these children played outside for hours on end, patiently as peers (even the 4-year-old!) and in a tremendously well-behaved, respectful manner. When they retreated indoors it was for chores, or an actual book. Their time is devoid of Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, television, or screens in general. In a world where many grown adults are failing on their resolutions to turn their screens off an hour before bedtime, these children have turned screens off almost entirely.

If I had to chose a word of inspiration from my time at Marblemount Homestead, it would be mindfulness. Living off the land has given these people tremendous mindfulness, whether they are playing on bikes, milking goats, planting vegetables, stalking deer, or starting a fire. And with that mindfulness clearly comes true contentedness. They have what they need, and they are happy with what they have. They live fulfilled, enriched lives with amazing food, play, and social bonds. I’m not sure how many more things you can check off the list of the good life.