omesteader’s of the Year!” That’s what they call us now. (Always with exclamation point, not an April Fools joke.) Yes, my doting gaggle of occasional readers, now sitting on bookstore shelves, grocery store checkout racks, and magazine turnstiles at farmer’s co-ops across this once great land–hot off of the presses–the April/May 2017 edition of Mother Earth News magazine carries our family story in a two-page spread. While our celebrity is minuscule, it is an interesting sensation to have people approach you on the street exclaiming, “Hey! I saw your family story in a magazine!” If you don’t subscribe, or cannot otherwise get your hands on one (should you, per chance, live under rock or suffer from some other such inconvenience), you can see the article by clicking here.
Your hungry minds now intractably fixed on “homesteading,” let us pause for a jot and tittle of further reflection on this sometimes illusory word. Indeed, some of you fine consumers of my monthly rantings have expressed confusion, even concern, over the very term as it is used for back-to-the-earth endeavors in this day and age, typically with a polite query like “What, in the name of Loki, exactly, are you doing as ‘homesteaders’?” Allow me to tackle the matter with all due brevity and, one would hope, alacrity herewith. (Along the journey, for your contemplative pleasure, please enjoy a few quotes from American essayist and novelist Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900).)
“To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds and watch, their renewal of life, this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do.”
First, realize that homesteading comes in many varieties; its artful practice falls along a continuum. If you live in a condo in downtown USA, but compost your food scraps on your balcony to put into your one tomato plant nearby, ferment foods (make your own yogurt, beer, sauerkraut, wine, kimchi, vinegar, kombucha, etc.), preserve foods (buy organic local produce in bulk when it is on sale to can or dry it), you are practicing homesteading skills…you are, in effect, homesteading at one level. In fact, there are a number of volumes out there focused on “urban homesteading” and “urban farming.” (We started in a suburb of San Francisco, with an indoor composter and making our own yogurt, salmon jerky, and fruit leathers.) Alternatively, if you spend your family vacation participating in an “intentional community,” or in the commune that you call “home” you often find yourself naked at a group dinner noshing vegan hummus made of chickpeas grown in a yoga garden by your “tribe” on a table that was hand carved by the tan, wrinkled fellow resembling Grizzly Adams sitting awkwardly close to and beside you, you are experiencing homesteading on another level.
“Let us celebrate the soil. Most men toil that they may own a piece of it; they measure their success in life by their ability to buy it.”
I’d like to say, based on my broad exploration of the subject through the written word and interaction with many kindred souls, from here in Hawaii and on the mainland and abroad, that the “norm” of homesteading falls somewhere in between the scenarios described above. (We are philosophically betwixt the extremes of the lifestyle…maybe a 7 on a scale where 1 is urban practice and 10 is Jeremiah Johnson. That said, I have been asked, “Are you guys preppers?”) In my experience, the “norm” often involves an element of spiritual practice (of one variety or another) and homeschooling (a varied kettle of fish worthy of a deep dive discussion, but on a different day, please). Know, too, that individuals’ motivations for homesteading are as varied as its practice, and are rarely singular in nature; a full treatment of this issue alone could not be achieved in anything less than a book-length work.
“No man but feels more of a man in the world if he have a bit of ground that he can call his own. However small it is on the surface, it is four thousand miles deep; and that is a very handsome property.”
So…if you harbor a more robust curiosity about the broader lifestyle and mindset of homesteaders of today, especially the current and ongoing movement of urban professionals (like us) going back to the land, you can get your feet wet with a volume just published in January of this year, “The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today’s America.” On an easier to digest level, check out the entertaining 2016 film “Captain Fantastic” for a brilliant and darkly comedic look at a modern-day homesteading extreme that contains a number of poignant scenes reflecting the ills of modern society and eerily captures some elements that parallel our life (it’s available on Amazon for streaming right now and it’s free for Prime members). Finally, when you next find yourself in want of random cerebral stimulation and growth in that ever-so-useful area of General Knowledge, Google “modern homesteading” and set aside some time for the exploration to unfold.
Now…enough jibberish. Back to our monthly update!
Cast and Crew and Cabin
It’s been a quiet month in tropical Lake Wobbegon. The two younglings, freshly returned from their brief encounter with civilization back on the mainland were in a state of recovery–trying to catch up on school work that was neglected for a month and shed
a few pounds that were gained. The boy secured his food sales license and will begin hawking his handcrafted banana vinegar at the local night market come first week of May. The older two went back to school and, with summer break just around the corner, dove into the last leg of their studies and exams for the semester. Our visitor, the Jester’s bud, departed for his current home back in the Spice Islands.
As for me and m’lady, it was back to reality after the “empty nest” bliss depicted in our last post. Work, pray, yell at kids, work, pray, fret about residential construction issues, work, work… Advancing our homesteading skills, we attended a USDA workshop on propagating papaya from cuttings in a manner that increases yield and keeps fruits lower to the ground for harvest. We also found ourselves back at our local historic theater for the next round of black and white silent films accompanied by live organ (one of our few cultural splurges here) to revel in the original 1925 cinematic rendering of sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World.” (Hard to find this kind of entertainment today, no?) We also signed a contract with the local community college to begin teaching a class that leverages our past professional experience…first class in June! The Bride clocked another year gone by and we celebrated simply with a little red velvet cake and a homecooked meal.
Worth separate mention, Uncle Sam yet again deprived the master raconteur (yours truly) of attendance at Easter Services. You see, in my past professional and international-travel-laced life, there were two
busy occasions during my children’s younger years in which I only knew it was Easter because of the types of sweets being set out in the business lounge of the European airport through which I happened to be traipsing at the time (Lindt chocolate rabbits, to be more specific). This year, yoked with shift work and days off that do not include Sunday, I found myself executing banal security duties come time for sunrise service, regular service, and all other services of the day. That said, there were no deaths (nor need for resurrections) on my watch. Huzzah! (All for God and country, so they say…)
Excursus. Circling back to homesteading–homeschooling, in particular–when you find yourself, as I recently did, in the middle of a dialogue with your 12-year-old daughter that ranges from the moral and societal implications of the Turing test, to legal aspects of gender identity, to the fineries of lacto- and aceto-bacter driven fermentation in the homestead kitchen, you tend to find yourself pausing (or, at least I do) to reflect on the state of middle school public education and the difference in the complexity of life issues between now and when you experienced them as a child some decades before. Is it within our reach to raise the proverbial “philosopher kings” in our homestead context? I don’t know, but it’s worth a shot (eh?), and Little One may be drifting (purposefully, it would seem) into that warrior-monk territory with her aikido and soup kitchen work.
“And the house?,” you ask. Some progress. The yurt’s operable glass windows, in poor condition after being in some unfathomable semblance of storage with Yurts of Hawaii, had to be disassembled, sanded, stained and reassembled. (More unexpected and unnecessary costs). That done, they were installed into the yurt and we were able to locate them along areas of the wall that were also damaged in storage, effectively cutting out the inexplicable punctures in the exterior shell. The bride and I had some fruitful discussions with water catchment filter and pump suppliers and began to seek more solar package bids. Like pouring molasses in winter, we slowly move along.
Spurned by The Taxman (At Last!)
So…our tax preparer kicked off our month with the proud announcement that he had “good news, and more good news.” First, he boldly declared that we are not yet at the poverty line. (I suppose this should always be filed in the general category of “good news,” unless your personal financial planning strategy includes the recouping of tax money paid in years past through the machinations of social welfare). Second, he went on to explain that we now make so little money that Uncle Sam no longer deems us worthy of harassment and has written us off like a bad spot of foreign debt. The Eye of Sauron has shifted.
Meanwhile in the world of tax oppression, Amazon this month proactively decided to start levying a tariff on all purchases placed online from Hawaii, an annoying 4-percent for all islands but Oahu, which is subject to a 4.5-percent inconvenience. (As you may recall from previous posts, Amazon is to us what the East India Trading Company was to British colonials in Jaipur or the Congo…it keeps us supplied with necessaries that are just not otherwise available on this rock in the Pacific, which is sometimes too provincial by half for an outpost of a developed nation.) Anyone up for a tea party? (Where are the Sons of Liberty when you need them?)
“The thing generally raised on city land is taxes.”
Vegetarian Trigger Warning
This month, working closely with our neighbor-butcher (as we periodically do) we secured 135 pounds of grass-fed, pasture-raised, brewery-grain-finished, aged and masterfully carved beef from hefty bovines raised in a field just in front of our property. (No CAFO insanity behind this product, begorrah!) At $2.52 per pound, professionally butchered and individually-portion-wrapped, there is no finer tasting (or economical, sustainable, and humane) protein to be had on the island.
Meanwhile, a work colleague of mine threw our way two gallon-sized zip lock bags of small fish he recently snagged in a late night, shoreline homage to Poseidon, and the local Safeway (through an overstocking mistake) put up for sale no-hormone, free-range turkeys at 29-cents per pound (we bought five, all we could fit in the freezer and fridge and bellies). We worked our way through four birds in as many weeks. Soups, hash, Waldorf salad, sandwiches, roast slices, turkey pot pie, shepherd’s pie… One fixed in a traditional European manner, one roasted with coconut milk and curry, one cooked plain just for the meat to go into other dishes. Lots of broth filling the fridge and bellies these days. (I am not sure if we will be able to stomach turkey come Thanksgiving.) Rounded out by our CSA-secured local produce, we were eating well (and inexpensively) this month (and will continue to do so for some time to come).
Big Island Smiling
It is hard to believe, but we occasionally get “Winter Storm Warnings” here in the tropics, as we did in the last week of April. They are mostly aimed at the summits of our volcanoes, where we get snow and sleet and hail. We did feel the cold air pouring down off the mountain though, with some instances that felt like someone had just opened a giant freezer outside a window and let the heavy cold air stream in. The magic of Hawaii…
This month, we learned that one-half of the Big Island’s public buses–the foundation of our public transportation system–are out of commission. No surprise really, when you look at the dilapidated state of our airports and downtown areas. (We have a shiny new public golf course, though, so the well-heeled of Hilo have a playground away from all the homeless wandering the streets.)
Meanwhile, our public servants–the highest paid public sector employees in the nation–received another raise while the legislature killed bills that would have launched efforts to combat the dangerous rat lung disease found on island (a vacation souvenir that you will never forget) and bring our airports up to standards that are more in line with those of a Developing Nation.
“What about crime, old boy? You’ve been quiet on said issue for some time.” Well…it’s just become part of life and, like the great weather, there is only so many times you can raise the issue creatively. But, if you insist… I recently discovered a meth pipe carried by an air traveler during routine work at the airport and we recently had police shoot outs next to our post office, in one neighborhood where we have twice rented houses, and in another neighborhood not far from our property. The home of one of our neighbors (the notetaker for our Neighborhood Watch group) was burglarized while she was walking her dog just last week. A caper involving a stolen county vehicle and overly bored teenagers resulted in high-speed chases, gun shots, a burned out utility truck… Oh!…and there were four armed carjackings in our district in the past month. Just the usual Big Island frivolity… (People’s behavior here–the mental state driving such–becomes a little less puzzling when you consider all the sulfur dioxide in our air, mercury in our fish, lead in our soil, human waste in our sea water, and glyphosate in our yards. “Breathtaking”…)