For the last few years I find myself chopping a lot of wood. I carry a lot of water. I had no idea when I started doing it that it was part of finding the path to enlightenment. Yet, I’m so grateful that I know that now.
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” … And once you finally achieve “enlightenment” you still must chop wood and carry water. Do your work, do it well, and when you find success, do it again.
When we bought our homestead in 2012, we knew we planned to heat with wood. However, I had not given a single thought of how that wood would get in the stove. I weighed 260 pounds when we moved over from the rental farm to the land we purchased. I could not carry an armload of wood, I certainly didn’t carry the skills to chop some. Neither of us knew how to use a chainsaw. We didn’t own an axe. But, we purchased our now infamous little Jotul wood stove and had it installed right when we got here. I know it will keep me warm as I sleep, even though it is due to be 19 degrees tonight. It’s stuffed full of wood I split right now.
Chopping wood was a huge part of this farmer’s exercise routine. I couldn’t do it right when I got here, I wasn’t strong enough and didn’t have the confidence to try to do it. But, I could carry wood. First two or three pieces. Then four or five. Then an armload. The walking back and forth from the wood pile, the carrying of wood–it was part of what helped me start to lose weight. By the time I weighed 220 pounds, I was ready. I picked up that axe and learned how swing it myself.
Today, at 156 pounds–I’ve split I don’t even know how many cords of wood. I’ve taught a good number of other women how good it feels to chop wood too. I do it almost every day this time of year, even if I don’t need to because there is already plenty. Because it is good for me. It gives me bigger biceps, builds my confidence and it certainly helps me find my zen calm and happy place. I may not be able to do it when I get to be a much, much older lady–but I do know this… I’m going to do it as long as I can. Because I love to chop wood.
My forager of a wife does too. She talks pretty often about her great-grandfather and how he had huge guns of arms until he died at ninety years old. That even after alzheimer’s and old age set in–he just kept chopping wood. All day. Right until the very end. It’s always quite obvious to me as she tells this story with a far away smile on her face that she plans to be this way too. I believe her. I can see her ninety year old guns too. It wouldn’t surprise me a single lick if this life she loves and chopping wood gets her past a hundred.
When we bought our land, I certainly didn’t have any intention to be carrying water. In fact, we spent the first few months we were here (and plenty of pretty pennies) getting the foreclosed house we bought wired and plumbed. We put in a fancy kitchen with things we thought we couldn’t live without like lighting, an electric stove, a dishwasher, a microwave and refrigerator. There was a sink and a faucet. We didn’t have any building, plumbing or electrical skills–so we hired several other folks to do it all. We borrowed a bunch of extra money on our mortgage to do it. We had no idea that sometimes ladies can get taken advantage of by builders, electricians and plumbers who want to part them from their money and might not do the greatest job. It’s taken the last four years to pay that repair work off and start paying off our land.
We only had that fancy faucet for about six months before I got insanely sick. Then the forager did. By the time the doctor in the emergency room got ahold of me and told me it had to be environmental–I was sicker than I’d ever been in my life. A burst pipe and black mold found us having to rip out that kitchen much quicker than we had put it in. All that money, effort and stress went right down the drain–I washed it all away, right before I ripped out that sink, carried it outside and tossed it in the yard.
Black mold changed the way that I looked at water being in my home. Total catastrophe showed me how quickly nice things, convenience and comfort can disappear overnight. Destruction of my home from mold, or droughts and wild fires rolling through just this year always shows me how many things are out of our control. That having money or nice things…. doesn’t always end up mattering much when disaster hits.
Being so easily separated from what was in our wallets was not an experience we wanted to repeat. So, we decided to do the repair work ourselves, even if it was slow going. During the last few years it took to teach ourselves how to remodel the house, we began to live and sleep outside for most of the year. That found me getting connected to nature in a way I never had been before and I fell in love so deeply. Since a lot of the walls had to get ripped out, we decided to make our house off grid rather than replace the wiring a second time. Which found me loving a kind of quiet I’d never heard over the hum of the fridge. We only had a water hose attached to the back of the house. That meant I carried a lot of water.
I took baths from a camping bag style shower. I washed my hair in a 4 gallon stock pot. I washed dishes and laundry outside in rubbermaid totes. I did it because I had to, it was the only option I had at the time. I had a large number of water related sobbing meltdowns to my wife. (#homesteadtruth)
Since our house hadn’t had power since fall of 2013, I also read a lot more. By candlelight. About the environmental impacts of grid powered electricity. I came to understand what the implications could be if I kept using power and water like they were an infinite thing that had no impact on the world I lived in. I teared up as I read about the miles a lot of other women in the world have to carry water every day just to drink some. To keep their children from being thirsty. I learned a ton about just how much water Americans use every day compared to people in other countries. I started to feel incredibly guilty for having flushed away so much potable water my whole life. I started to whine about the thirty feet I had to carry mine a lot less. I kept carrying a lot of water. I kept finding ways to use less. I do my best to catch and store every drop that falls from the sky. Permaculture keeps me focused on doing that better and better with each passing season.
I found that for me, carrying water had a side effect I didn’t expect. My biceps got even bigger. I can even do pull ups these days. And, it helps me find my happy, zen place too. Because I use less water today than I ever have in my whole life. I find it so precious and I have a firm understanding of the fact that it is a our most important resource. It’s not infinite, it’s not something I’m entitled to. It’s something I’m blessed to have. So, I do my best to treat it that way.
2016 found me finding a happier balance. Between bigger muscles and my zen… and tears or toting water for bag showers. We had finally learned to build in the women’s basic carpentry workshop we hosted in 2015 by Build Like a Bird. That workshop and some amazing ladies built a kitchen and bath house for this farm.
I hooked that water hose to an outdoor shower and a sink for dishes. For now, I heat it with propane while I continue to work out plans for wood fired hot water. I love my outdoor kitchen and bathroom so much I can’t stand it. It’s mold free, it has a faucet I feel good about, and it works just great for me. I’ve been so blessed that a couple other folks have let me shower and do laundry at their places over the last couple winters–but I decided a couple weeks ago I just don’t need to anymore. I still have that stock pot and washing my hair or clothes in it in winter doesn’t send me into a special emotional place anymore. It just helps me remember what’s important to me. I can be darn sure that when spring comes, I’ll be filled with gratitude for having my outdoor shower back. And I’ll be making a plan to close it in somehow for next winter!
I don’t know how I’ll feel about it when I get older, I’m sure it has the potential to be a pain in my butt. Since honestly, it already is sometimes–especially in winter. When hooking up the hot water is a huge hassle or not always possible. When freezing temps might mean we can’t turn our well on for weeks. But, I figure–every day between now and old age that I can handle doing it… I will. Because in my opinion that behavior will save some water for others that need it. It will keep me respectful of this amazing life giving resource and I won’t be able to easily take advantage of it.
Not to mention, I never have been able to just assume that I’m entitled to even get older either. So even though I’m sure other folks find it irresponsible, I don’t usually spend much of the precious time I have have now worrying about preparing for it. Instead, I try my best to just enjoy the right now and I carry water. I lift it with my knees and not my back. I take care of my body and eat good food. I plant a ton of marketable perennials for a retirement plan.
I know it isn’t for everyone, especially those that are older than me or with little humans in their houses that have a tendency to get dirty often or need to get to school on time. And I totally get and have a ton of respect that. But, that’s a huge part of why I’m doing it too–to save water for you fine folks that are older and wiser than me and that I can learn so much from. Or that are raising the amazing little humans that we all need to shape the future of our world so that it continues to be habitable for humans to live in. I mean, I ain’t raising anything but rabbits! They don’t seem to mind drinking rain water I collect for them and they don’t have anywhere to try to get to on time. That means I have the time to carry my water.
I found that for me–having less easy access to power, chopping wood and carrying water…. it is a HUGE part of what keeps me feeling empowered. I can care take myself under a lot of different circumstances that I could not in my old life. The power could go out, our house could burn down, we could lose our property… and I’d still be carrying something around that would help me live. The skills in my mind that I need to survive. The adaptability to endure any circumstance and thrive. And the body that is capable of doing the work.
So, I chop wood. I carry water. I sure don’t expect anyone else to. I’d never ask anyone else to. Well, unless of course–they immerse or work here on my land. But, it works for me in so many amazing ways. It helps me stay thin. It helps me find my zen. And if it also leads me to enlightenment–that’s even better. But even if it does… I’ll still keep chopping wood and carrying water when I get there.
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
So, I usually write what I write on here because I get asked the same questions a lot. Since 2013, a hugely popular one is how in the world are we going to do this when we get old? What’s our retirement plan? I know it gets asked because folks care about us and I love that they do! But, I have strong opinions on it. Mostly because I ate a terrible diet and lived a sedentary life for 31 years. To me, that means it’s a least possible that I don’t even have the possibility of getting old in the first place. But I sure try to focus most of my planning energy on making better choices these days with what I eat and how I spend my time. I pray every day that I do have a long happy life!! But, I also focus on living, right now, and don’t focus all my energy on getting older and what I’ll do then–and at 37 years old, I feel fine about it. And yes, we talk about it some–loose plans for when we are older ladies. We plan to laugh a lot, love hard, spend a lot of time in our gardens and forests…. the forager plans to be taking on bears still.
An amazing 75 year old homesteader visited us in February of 2013 that gave us some great advice… go ahead and make our steps short and put our wood pile close. Now, while we are young. We listened. We’ve been doing just that. Over the years when my friends, family, or former co-workers visit and express concern about our retirement planning… I just take them outside and plant some perennials or plug some mushroom logs. We went to visit Eustace Conway at Turtle Island Preserve this week. He is 55 years old. He asked us if we had any questions or if there was anything he could help us with. I told him I had just one. Did he think I would ever get too old to want to homestead… To keep living close to nature and without so much convenience? Because I want to be a teacher that actually does what she teaches about too. His deep chuckle and homestead seasoned laugh lines made me smile so darn big.
He told me that yes, he can feel it in his body… the life of homestead work. So, he wants to get better at delegating out all the digging, at picking his battles. But that he’d never give it up or change it, it’s what makes him want to live. He told me an awesome old story about a dream of riding a horse across the country and about getting underestimated that he could do it. That he got laughed at because he didn’t even have a horse. But that it didn’t stop him. and he sure does have them horses now and he uses them for some truly amazing work and education. He showed the Forager how to split wood easier and how to make pegs and joints fit with less work. Then, he gave us a squeeze and scampered back off to his own work with two quite young men running behind him trying to keep up. It meant the world Eustace, thank you. I listened. I’ll do my best… to pick my battles, that’s why I finally added a drop cord to the grid power house our intentional neighborhood shares and a lamp back to our winter system–to save my eyes for when I get older. I’ll go ahead and try delegating out some of my business-y bits and digging so I don’t run myself ragged. I’ll try to learn to do it now, while I’m younger.
Everyone has to do what’s right for them… and I’m just doing what is right for me. I just LOVE the way I live. If that ever changes, then I will change the way I do things. But, for me, for now… this homestead life just WORKS. And when other folks make me get in my head about it or second guess myself–I just put this song on repeat on my mp3 player and it sure does help!