Thursday, October 16, 2008

A belly-full of the beast.

I had to go on a business trip to a different college, on the edge of New York City for three days. It was fine, apart from some flight delays and an unexpected night in a hotel at JFK airport in New York.

But as usual, it reminded me of how grateful I am for for my wife and home. And why I don't live in the city, the suburbs, or indeed any place in the country that has been "found" by wealthy folks yet and gentrified accordingly.

Then I returned, and, happily situated on the couch with Aimee, watched Jon Stewart on TV. There was a skit on the stock market crash, lampooning survivalists: how folks would be better off with food and weapons and the ability to make fire than with stocks and shares right now.

No s..t. And no joke.

Aimee and I aren't survivalists by any means. But I'm especially pleased this recession winter to have all my firewood and hay in, all my food put up or frozen, and my house and barn tight and warm against the coming cold. I'm also happy that we aren't over our heads in mortgage and consumer debt to pay for this. We could, if need be, get by on one income if the other took a few hours work. We have more than enough food and fuel for the winter. We won't have a heating bill, and our efficient lights and appliances mean our electricity bill will be low.

Being homesteaders: providing our own heat fuel, meat and vegetables, fixing up our own dwellings, vehicles and equipment, and making much of our own entertainment, is really a third income to us, and it means we can afford to live, and live well, which is more than we can say for many other Americans right about now.

What's so funny about that? Sounds like a good idea to me.

City dwellers often look down on the country. Country pastimes like hunting and fishing seem idiotic to fashionable urbanites. And who wants to deal with all that manure and hard work? Life without easy access to theatre, music, movies? No fashion? No expensive cars? Fancy furniture?

Sounds great to me.

The urban life is way over-rated, both in terms of security and convenience. There's nothing at all secure in most urban employment. You're at the mercy of the employer or the markets. And there's nothing convenient about the crowding, pollution, crime, and stress of the urban environment. Most urban pleasures are intense, it's true, compared with, say, watching sheep play, or watching the leaves turn and fall.

But the problem with intensity is that you forget to breathe, you're not as conscious of your own life, your body working, your heart breathing. You have to make yourself exercise, in a gym or on a track. It doesn't come naturally and smoothly out of your work. You will carry far more of the stress hormone cortisol in your system than is good for you. You won't enjoy or digest your food properly. You will worry about silly things that might otherwise be benign or even pleasurable, like getting old, or getting wrinkles.

And you will naturally miss a good deal of your life that way.

Jefferson thought that the yeoman farmer was the root of democracy and national security. Patrick Geddes thought that equities markets and other more liquid forms of wealth were illusory and that the only real source of wealth could be found in homes, farms, and gardens. Aristotle, Ruskin, Leopold, and Cobden all warned of the dangers of urban money-grubbing, as compared to rural dirt-grubbing.

I'll stick to my dirt-grubbing. I'm thinking about a little diversification in my portfolio, though. Vineyards, maybe, because we need to think of crops that will resist the climate change brought on by urbanism. A milch-cow for Aimee's cheese, some gentle doe-eyed Jersey? Maybe I should just junk these junkers and get a buggy horse again?

Ah, the stress...


UlyssesUnbound said...

I've been following your blog for a few weeks, and I have to say I greatly enjoy it. Having grown up on a larger family farm on the outskirts of a very rural town (pop < 3,000), attending college in a semi-rural city, and now living in downtown Charleston, SC, I've gained a lot of perspective on the different ways of life. I entered college being so glad to be away from the rural life. Having now lived in a city (albeit not a very large one), I find it almost sad that due to my career choices I'll probably never return to that rural life. While I enjoy my life in the city greatly, having been away from the farming life for 7 years now has greatly changed my perspective on what is valuable in life, and has given me a new understanding on why my parents chose the life that they did. This economic crisis has greatly worried me, and your blog shed light on another benefit to the rural life that probably would never have crossed my mind.

Mick said...

I'm glad you like it. Of course, it's not entirely "my" blog. there are some others involved, although lately I seem to have been making most of the posts.

Thanks again. Take care.