After graduating from college six months ago, Zak and I packed up everything we owned and moved all the way from Vermont to West Virginia. We had never lived in the South before and I had never even visited West Virginia, so we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but seeing as we had no money and no place to stay, we cautiously agreed to come when some friends invited us to help start their homestead.
Let me tell you right now, we had a great time gardening, building, and foraging in West by god, but I don’t think I will ever want to live there again. Before you get all up in arms, my Appalachian friends, I will also say that I am sure other parts of the state are perfectly lovely, but we were living right by the capital, Charleston, and the culture there just wasn’t our jam. And by culture, I mean that I prefer to be able to walk freely through the woods without worrying about being shot, attacked by dogs (wild or otherwise), cutting myself on rusty refrigerators or tripping over barbed wire, or stumbling into some industrial chemical dump site (also known as most bodies of water). We rarely left the property for fear of being reminded that we lived much too close for comfort to a coal power plant.
In one week, close to thirty people overdosed on heroine just a few towns over from us.
I went to the doctor once while I was there and the physician assumed that I was a drug addict because I was scratching my legs obsessively and because, well, I guess most people that she saw actually did have serious addictions. In reality I was covered head to toe in poison ivy because you could not go anywhere in the woods down there without running into a patch. Even after I told her this, I’m not totally certain that she believed me.
So, needless to say, I spent a lot of time this summer looking for a job and a place to live elsewhere. Meanwhile, I did have a great time working in the biggest garden I’ve ever had, running a little farm stand, working on my blog, and hanging out with dogs. We canned close to 1,000 quart jars of food, worked on building an off grid house, which was about 1/2 mile away from any road (straight up), started hand digging a well, and foraged for several hundred pounds of edible mushrooms. We did have a hard time finding a job, though, where both Zak and I could live there and he wouldn’t be away for weeks at a time. So when he was offered a position at Hawk Circle teaching an after school program for public school kids, we jumped at it, even though it would mean frantically finishing my canning, packing up a whole homestead worth of tools, canned goods, and books and driving all the way to New York state in just a few short days.
While this sounds like quite an adventure, some of you might think “Are they really even homesteading if they don’t have a permanent homestead?”. Well, they say the home is where the heart is, and I think this applies to home-steading too. It’s true that we don’t have a house to call our home, any livestock, or any land, but the large majority of the food we eat was homegrown and home canned, I’m still self employed through my blog and Etsy shop, and we’re still gardening and foraging, just in a different location. Plus, we’re doing all of this with the goal of having a place to call our own; everything we do is working towards having a permanent homestead.
Many people have told me recently- “You’re young, you need to travel around for a couple of years- this is the last chance you are going to get to do it!”. Okay, first of all, I say no thank you to unsolicited advice. Second of all, I’ve travelled, I’ve been traveling, and to be honest, I’m really, I mean REALLY tired of it. In the last four years, I’ve probably driven halfway across the country 20 times, and flown several more, and I tell you what, I would be happy if I never stepped foot in an airplane or drove for 12 hours straight again. In fact, I would be just plain enthusiastic about the idea! As an avid gardener, I have not once had a garden for an entire growing season, and that breaks my farmy little heart.
I can’t tell you how badly I want a tiny little shack back in the woods somewhere where I can write and cook near the wood stove, and this will happen soon, but for right now, we have this fun little thing called student loans to contend with, and without having found a steady job yet, we travel around the country doing what we can. Sure, we could hunker down somewhere, rent a shitty apartment, and work full time doing whatever job we could get. Here’s why we’re not going this route:
For starters, we agreed that if at all possible, we would continue to work in the fields that we went to school for, or at the very least to do something that we have an interest in. This is not easy to do. I’d say that 98% of college grads do not go to work in the field that they studied their first year out of college, but the way we see it, there’s no way making ourselves miserable at a job we hate is going to help us any. That will not help us grow and evolve forward, it will only mean burn out and stress and arguments between us. This way, we get to continue to learn about our passions and develop our skills and knowledge, and we know that we can support each other in pursuing our true talents. We’ve been at Hawk Circle for just a handful of days, and already have learned more about homesteading, primitive living, and making a good life for yourself than we would in years working at most jobs.
Okay, so it is not the most well paying job in the outdoor education field; Zak gets paid about the same if he was working for 8 hours a day at a minimum wage job, maybe a little more, and he only has to work a couple hours each day, with the rest of the time free to pursue whatever he wants! By staying in his field, he is making more to work less. He actually has time to practice his skills, his craft, so that when we do pay off our loans, we have the ability to support ourselves through what we enjoy doing. Not to mention, that we get free housing and utilities. If we were BOTH working full time doing minimum wage jobs, one of our salaries would just be going towards renting! RENTING! Meaning not owning anything! And that is enough to rent a small apartment in a not so nice place. Right now, we are living out in the countryside, in a beautiful old farm house, with a commercial kitchen, a big old wood stove, and 200 acres to roam, hunt, forage, and garden on, and we’re still making money. Okay, so a bunch of chipmunks live in the farmhouse too (one is looking at me right now…) but that’s cool with me, I’d rather live with chipmunks than listen to noisy neighbors and sirens all night in a cheap, carpet filled apartment. We have plenty of time to live our homesteading lifestyle, one that is kind to us and kind to the earth. We make almost zero trash, we eat almost 100% of our own, organic food, we get to cook all of our meals from scratch, we have time to hike, we have to create things, not just consume them. We’re living around good people who want to help us learn and want to see us succeed, and understand why we choose to live how we do. That is worth a hell of a lot more to me.
One day's bounty of farm and forest at Hawk Circle.
Sound great to you? Well, here’s the catch, and there’s always a catch. This job only lasts for a month and a half and when that is over, we will have to find somewhere else to go. The upside, though, is that we will get to experience another place, other people, another environment. We will learn different things from what we learned here. Maybe that job will pay better, have better housing. Maybe it won’t. But that will be okay, because pretty soon, we’ll leave there too. Meanwhile, I have 6 months of super healthy, delicious food stocked up and no bills to pay. Plus, I get to write about all of my adventures and the new skills I learn and you guys get to read about it!
And eventually, we will have enough money that we can buy our own little slice of land, and when we do, we will have all the knowhow to survive on it, without having to work for other people too much. When that happens, those “almost” things that I mentioned earlier will turn into ALL of our own food, and absolutely no trash, and 100% self employed. I am also looking forward to burning much less fuel in my vehicle.
For now, though, being a little nomadic keep us from owning too much stuff; I’ve got a Subaru with a Thule box on top and if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t come, and half the car is filled with food, which pretty much leaves us with warm clothes, a guitar and banjo, some books, Zak’s bow, my herbal medicine box, and tools. Let’s just pray to the Subaru gods that bad Bessy will run another 50,000 miles.
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