I can remember a time when I drove down the somewhat remote potholed road in front of the house where my father grew up, saying, “I don’t know how anyone could live out here. What would they do in the winter?” Potholed it may be, but that road is actually paved. Sort of, in a neglectful fashion. I used to visit the West Virginia backroads where my father was raised, where my great-grandfather once owned 800 acres, where my great-great-grandfather’s house still stands, on ritual family history vacations with my family. We’d stay in an old ramshackle, mouse-ridden cabin on the only piece yet remaining of my great-grandfather’s farm. We shot tin cans, played in the river, swung on grapevines, used the outhouse, and toured the family headstones in the forgotten cemeteries.
Then we went home to our comfortable suburban existence, secure in the knowledge that the grocery store was around the corner and the mall was 10 minutes away.
I continued these ritual family history vacations with my own children, never dreaming one day I’d live on a road worse than the one I thought must be so impassible in the winter. I’m a seemingly unlikely homesteader. I was always attracted to the country in a dreamy-storybook way, but it seemed far too exotic and foreign to actually ever fit into my life. In the 1960s and 1970s, rural movement was somewhat narrowly defined in youth counter-culture. I was just a child then and was completely unaware of the so-called back-to-the-landers. Today, I don’t fall into any of the stereotypical media models of our modern rural revival. I’m not a survivalist, a hippie, a fundamentalist, a homeschooler, or a retiree. I fall into a different category, one that crosses all those lines and more, and one that could only be born of the age of the iPad and was completely unpredicted when our parents imagined our futures in terms of Star Trek.
With the increasing sophistication, digitalization, and conveniences of today’s world, most of us can live our entire lives barely lifting a finger other than to a keyboard. Like an extreme sport, homesteading is an exercise of the human spirit. A testing of our bodies, minds, and wills outside the luxurious twenty-first century box. Just as our grandparents and parents fled the farm, eager to clasp Linoleum, Parkay, and K-Mart to their bosoms, we flee in the other direction. We want to build fences, raise chickens, milk a cow, dig a root cellar, home-can vegetables, bake bread, and grow our own fruit. We don’t have to do it; we want to do it. We do it for the self-sustainability, the fresh food, the satisfaction of a day’s work, and the steely test of our wills. Some of us do it on farms, some of us do it on a few acres. Some of us even do it in one-bedroom urban apartments.
We’re the new back-to-the-landers.
Not everybody understands us, but that’s okay. We don’t understand them either.