The Simple Life Ain't so Simple: The Complexities of Trying to Live More Simply
This week here on Shady Grove Farm, I had a ewe with a limp that was worrisome, so I isolated her, checked her for broken bones, gave her a 2 day course of anti-inflammatory shots, and just kept an eye on her. I had already checked her hooves and trimmed them up, determining that Mayme did not have any hoof related problems, but most likely slipped and pulled something. During the same week I also re-seeded the paddocks, washed tons of chicken and duck eggs for sale and for my own consumption, graded so many papers, taught classes and attended several meetings at work, cooked up several from scratch meals to use throughout the week, repaired fencing, replaced a latch on a farm gate, picked up poultry feed and barn lime at the feed store (heavy bags), worked on some primitive weaving using my sheep's raw fleece, made numerous calls to the shearer to get him scheduled, researched more on pasture grasses and the balance between warm season and cool season grasses to extend grazing, continued to work on a lease agreement for an extended pasture area, dealt with a clogged drain, made a batch of herbal tinctures from my own dried herbs, and of course the regular barn chores that I do twice each day. This wasn't a particularly busy or eventful week, just a week. But, a week in which I try, as I do every week, to live in a more simple, authentic way. But, what does that even mean, and is it really simple?
So many buzzwords around living a simple life, slow living, intentional living, authentic living, green living, seasonal living, connecting to the earth, connecting to the seasons, embracing where you are vs where you think you should be, etc.., etc..., etc...Its enough to make a nature-loving simple girl go crazy!
What do all these terms really mean, and does it even matter to your own life? These terms have become marketing tools used to popularize and sell everything from self-help books to online self-improvement courses. Don't get me wrong, there's lots of good information floating around out there on some very important topics (such as how to grow your own food and how to preserve your own food), but since the pandemic there has been an acceleration in presenting a romanticized view of what it means to slow down and start living a more intentional life.
I get it, the pandemic forced many people to "stand still" for awhile, and priorities got reorganized. Many folks now long for a slower pace of living, with less focus on what outsiders deem as "success" (i.e. he/she/they with the most toys/stuff/accumulation of wealth, in the end wins). This is a good thing, we all should periodically reexamine our life goals, and if more people are questioning the accumulation of '"stuff", the better. Also, the more people who are now concerned about our planet, and interested in learning ways to connect to nature and preserve what's left, the better.
But, getting back to basics and learning new skills takes time and resources. Cooking from scratch, planting a garden, keeping livestock, preserving some of your own food, all require more time, more physical labor, and tools that you may not have on hand.
So why do it?
Each one of us would probably answer that question differently, but its good to know your WHY before you start making any big changes in your life. Because, on the days it gets hard, on the days when you lose livestock to predators or difficult births, on the days when the unexpected frost kills all your new plant starts, on the days when your well pump stops working on your newly purchased rural property, you'll want to remember why you started down this path.
For me, it was more of a return to an authentic way of being, rather that something completely new. I was raised in a way that meant spending most of my time outside, we had a big garden, my father was a hunter and fisherman filling our big deep freezer, and my sister and I learned how to crochet, embroider, needlepoint and sew from my grandmother. We also learned how to build a fire (inside and outside), how to cook from scratch, and the names of the numerous wildflowers where we grew up in Michigan and where our grandparents lived in Northern Michigan. My mom was teaching us how to dye Easter eggs with onion skins and other natural plants way back in the 70s, before the internet and Instagram and Pinterest made it a thing. It was a beautiful way to grow up, and I wouldn't trade anything for the stories and (sometimes) tall tales that I was raised on. Listening to my grandparents talk about their lives "back home" in the Southern Appalachian mountains where they grew up gave us ghost stories, funny stories, and cautionary tales with life lessons embedded within.
I may not hunt, field dress, and butcher my own food as my dad, grandad and uncles did, but I like being as close to the process as I can. I like knowing where my food comes from, how it was raised, and how it was processed. I know that its hard physical work to raise even a flock of poultry, let alone sheep or cattle, but there's something about the reverence and acceptance of nature and life's cycles that comes from this process. Even planting a small garden, and praying those seeds take hold, praying the weather stays good, praying the pests don't decimate them, it makes you feel alive and a part of something so much bigger than the day to day concerns of emails, meetings, latest films, video games, fast food, and a fast culture.
I guess that's the "why", that's the simple life- paring down the unnecessary, in order to nurture something basic deep inside that cries out for sustenance. A deep need to put your hands in the soil, to notice the crisp cold night and that beautiful starry sky (at the same time that you might also be thinking, "will it freeze tonight, should I cover those plants?"). It IS hard to live a so-called simple life, complete with lots of physical labor, worry about your livestock, finding resources for that extra fencing or seed, etc... But, being completely in the moment while doing farm chores, focusing so completely on the task at hand, losing yourself in the process of the work, that is the reward. That, and those starry night skies, oh, and good healthy food too, let's not forget that!
Good luck out there creating your own version of your very own simple life, and don't forget to write down the "why", trust me, you'll need it. 😉