Saturday, January 19, 2013

Small Radius

I am told all the time how unrealistic my life is. If you have fallen into the mindtrap that conventional and realistic mean the same thing, than I guess that is true. My life isn't conventional at all. But what really separates my life from most people's isn't the working at home, the animals or the mountain — it's my proximity to them.

My life is mostly lived within a four-mile radius now. Outside of a drive up to Glens Falls for a class or a rare trip into Saratoga or Albany for special provisions, I stay put. This is what really sets my life apart, and in a lot of ways it is closer to how folks in cities live. If you live in a very urban area your world of employment, social needs, entertainment, cabs rides, and basic essentials to human life are a few blocks from your apartment. If you live on a homestead with gardens, a milk goat, and a cart horse it really isn't all that different. The details are, as are the costumes, but the idea of living around your headquarters is the same.

I think for most of suburban and rural America, this kind of lifestyle has grown out of fashion. We are constantly on the move, either for work or play. I know parents of school-aged kids who swear to me it would be impossible to park their car after work on a Friday and not drive it again until Monday morning. Too many play dates, activities, plans and events. One mother told me the only way she doesn't drive forty miles a day is if she is sick. So for some people, their homes have become bedrooms and garages.

I lived like that, too. It didn't stick. Now I go days without leaving the farm, easily a week without going farther than a trip into town. This isn't all that odd around our sort, but to most of modern America the thought of spending weeks in the same place is borderline isolationist. Which is kind of funny since the idea of a motoring society—people who jump into their car and drive for hours a week to commute, shop, eat out, or entertain themselves—are the weirdos in the course of history. It's only in the last hundred years (a blip) that such travel was normal. It's a by product of living in a world of cheap and abundant energy. Before gasoline and jet fuel, travel across the state (much less across the world!) was a rarity. I live my life close to the place that feeds me. It seems quaint and near-mythical in these times but certainly it is the most "normal" way to live in human history for middle classes. At least as far as the records state.

We're supposed to want to travel, constantly. We're being fed the same story over and over: growth and enlightenment happens when you put yourself out of your comfort zone. I agree with this, but I don't think you need a plane ticket to find your center. For some people, getting out of their comfort zone is a temple in India or on the sidelines of a Mongol horse race. For others, it's learning how to take a goat's rectal temperature. You grow when you meet your limits. And our own limits might include jet fuel or hames and harness. It's part of the neat juicy DNA that makes us all different and interesting.

And I know this, but I feel anxiety about my lack of desire for travel outside Washington County. I don't want to leave, and while I know that is perfectly okay and par for my life choices, I still can't help squirming when I read things like Eat, Pray, Love or watch some documentary on Tigers in Siberia. There is a big world outside the Shire and even Hobbits are known to go on the occasional adventure....Perhaps in the future I will crave and desire speaking Gaelic to a man on the Isle of Skye or load up a backpack for a trek across mountains of Korea. Tonight I just want to sit by the fire and plan tomorrow's pig harvest. My adventures are right outside my own front door these days. Why am I being told it's not enough?

My triangle of experience may be less glamorous than Miss Gilbert's, But I think both me and Liz learn about life by seeking spirit and adventure. Her's involved Italian food, Ashrams, and Bali. Mine involves homemade bread, stone circles, and a mountain farm. They both sound like Eat, Pray, Love to me.

46 Comments:

Blogger Lelainia N. Lloyd said...

& you forgot that your adventure often comes to you, through your students. They visit you at your farm & bring pieces of their worlds into yours, so that counts too.

January 19, 2013 at 10:54 PM  
Blogger Eileen Hileman said...

CAf is your sanctuary, your livelihood, your classroom ,your work, your heart song. People spend lifetimes trying to find or create what you found/created before the age of 30 you are incredibly wise Jenna.

January 19, 2013 at 11:04 PM  
Blogger 3 Dogs Barking Farms said...

I think you lead such a rich life and are always on to new and interesting things or even re-discovering a past love like martial art that your spirit of adventure is well nurtured. Why would you need to travel if you are discovery new things all the time? I think you are one of the most healthy people I know so stop listening to the haters and keep believing in yourself.

January 19, 2013 at 11:05 PM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

This is so wise and true! And even before wide-range travel was possible, people had books or oral stories or whatnot to take them places and enlighten them.

I'm often questioned about my lack of "vacationing," and I do think a lot of people see me as an isolationist of sorts. I find incredible freedom, though, in not having to go anywhere for days or rely on outside sources for my every need. To some, the work involved in farming feels very constrictive, but for me, being tied to the land is the ultimate liberation!
-Jaime

January 19, 2013 at 11:14 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

Unrealistic? Seriously? Your life is so grounded, most of us would do well to emulate you, at least in whatever ways we can. Anyone who says that, just doesn't "get it".

January 19, 2013 at 11:15 PM  
Blogger Kelsie said...

Jenna--if people are criticizing you for not being adventurous or worldly enough, then it's only because they have absolutely no clue what running a farm actually entails. I'm a homebody--happiest when I'm cooking, reading, listening to music, sipping wine on the porch, or working in my garden. My job requires that I do some travel around the state, but these days, that's the extent of my exploration--unless you count hiking in the nearby national forest. Our culture has become so entrenched in acquiring the next latest & greatest thing that a vast percentage of us are in a vicious cycle of work-spending-bills-working harder in order to keep up with those acquisitions that help us be "normal" in today's society. You broke free of those bonds, and are an inspiration to me daily. I have no desire for an iPhone, a fancy car, cable or satellite TV, the newest MacBook, or a tropical island getaway--which is why I'm completely content with my lower-class income that allows me to work just a couple of evenings a week and spend the rest of my time in pursuits that matter to me. There's freedom in not wanting things. The only "thing" I want right now is a small farm of my own so I can further decrease my reliance on others. Every day I come one step closer. Your posts keep me fighting for that goal.

January 19, 2013 at 11:22 PM  
Blogger Katie Swanberg said...

I am often told I am weird because I have no sense of wanderlust. But days like today, where I spent the whole day playing in my backyard, gardening and planning on growing my own food while hanging out with my dogs, and no sense of obligation or need to get in my vehicle and leave this wonderful place I call home - these are the days that I am the happiest.

Thank you for giving voice to something I've always felt but never knew how to express.

January 19, 2013 at 11:42 PM  
OpenID dagnygromer said...

Hyper-localism perhaps? I totally agree with your choice. My range of places is a little bigger than yours, but in less than 2 years when I retire I will eliminate the 4 mile trip to work 4 days a week.
In the past, and likely again in the near future, people lived in walkable communities as transport was expensive if available at all. I hate travel, especially air travel. Just stay home, I say.
We have books and this thing called the internet with which to explore.

January 20, 2013 at 12:14 AM  
Blogger Linzleh said...

I think it is important to find a center and live your life around it. My family reinvented our lifestyle in suburbia and we tend to work, school and play within a few miles from home. At times we feel a bit reclusive but we are much more relaxed than our frenetic neighbors and we actually see the sky and landscape around us. It's being present and happy in your life, not running headlong through your days.

January 20, 2013 at 1:05 AM  
Blogger Paulette said...

How can you be running off to this place or that and take care of a farm? I would hope that anyone who has read this blog for any length of time could not seriously ask you why you don't prefer to travel? Seems to me that your life is one of ongoing adventure, challenge, and discovery. Why would you need to board an airplane and leave such a satisfying existence?

January 20, 2013 at 2:12 AM  
Blogger Robin Johnston said...

You rock. Seriously, your balance of practical pragmatic info and philosophical meanderings, plus the honesty of your writing, is amazing. I love reading your blog. I, like many others I am sure, do not often comment.... but you make me think, you make me constantly re-evaluate(what are my choices? and why?) and I love that. keep on doing what you are doing. Maybe one day soon I can come to Fiddler camp. Love to you from sunny Texas,
Robin J

January 20, 2013 at 2:33 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Thank you for posting this. I often feel this way. When friends tell me there off on another adventure I think to myself, "Gosh, you are SO boring. Why don't you be more like them?" I really began to think that everyone and their brother did the traveling thing and had an exciting life because of it. For once I'm glad I'm wrong. I look forward to when we get our farm because then I'll have a "legal" excuse when I tell people I can't do something. I'm perfectly happy to sit in my back yard with a book and a drink in the summertime or to hang out inside puttering around the house when it's cold out.

Thanks Jenna and all you CAF folks for showing me I'm not the only one out there.

January 20, 2013 at 4:19 AM  
Blogger Awfulknitter said...

I think there's a huge difference between the scope of your everyday world (small physical radius), and how wide your mental world is. I don't think a world that has goats and pigs and horse riding and archery and martial arts could be classed as a small!

I love to travel (although I hate the environmental impact of flying, so do it as little as possible). For me, seeing and experiencing new things feels like a good way of avoiding getting bored and complacent with my everyday life. As much as human beings are curious, exploring and inventive, we're also geared towards surving - which sometimes means conserving energy and sticking with what we know. Travel can be a great way to get kicked out of your usual rut, either mental or physical.

But of course travel is not a sure-fire guarantee of broadening the mind or getting away from your everyday life. When I was in the Algarve, in Portugal, the local supermarket had a freezer full of British bacon and sliced white bread! The holiday-makers who want those kind of familiar things when from home will always be mentally isolated, no matter how far they travel

January 20, 2013 at 5:07 AM  
Blogger Awfulknitter said...

I think there's a huge difference between a small physical radius, and the size of your mental world. Some people will always be mental isolationists - the sort who like a holiday with food like at home, and nothing to jar, confuse or inconvenience them, but with beautiful weather and a nice beach.

I love to travel - new sights and experiences can help me see everyday life in a new light. I suppose I like travel in the same way that I like museums: it's about stimulation and learning - which both appear to be in abundant supply at CAF!

January 20, 2013 at 5:17 AM  
Blogger Kathleen Stoltzfus said...

Aaaahhh, but falling in love with a Brazilian on Bali, mmmmm.

January 20, 2013 at 5:22 AM  
Blogger daisy said...

Your way of life sounds ideal to me. It sounds like someone who has found her niche and is content with what she's created in her life. Contentment is not a four-letter word. There's no shame in being happy to be home. I think most people are traveling looking for just the right place. You've found it. Enjoy...

January 20, 2013 at 6:23 AM  
Blogger aart said...

Reality is Relative. . . and everyone's reality is different. When told you are unrealistic, ask them this - 'compared to what?'

January 20, 2013 at 7:21 AM  
Blogger Moose Hollow Farm said...

Some of our friends & family members think that there is something wrong with me & my husband. They go gambling in Atlantic City for a long weekend, fly to California for vacation or live in Florida during the summer months. We have never felt the need to travel away from our homestead because we've always been happy with our surroundings. This is where we want to be all of the time & we do not need to go anywhere to be happy. I used to feel almost apologetic about this because I thought we were "different". I don't feel the need to explain this to anyone any more. It's none of their concern. I put my time in as a "field hockey & softball mom" years ago and now I am helping with my grandkids. That is my excitement. I don't need and don't want the trappings of the latest generation, thank you, so there is no need to travel beyond the barnyard.

January 20, 2013 at 7:21 AM  
Blogger Lydia Behar said...

You've lived in several different states around the country in a short period of time. Seems to me you've traveled. Now you've found a place where you want to settle down for a while. These people that tell you that you have no sense of adventure are so wrong. How often does a single young women take on the adventure of running her own farm by herself? I don't see the joy of owning a big beautiful home where you hardly spend anytime enjoying it because you are running your butt off trying to get your children involved in every activity. Why not take a break, spend some time together at home and be the family you've created. There will be time to travel and enjoy it, but it doesn't have to be a daily routine. To each their own. Live your life the way you want to and I'll live mine. :)

January 20, 2013 at 7:24 AM  
Blogger Lydia Behar said...

You've lived in several different states around the country in a short period of time. Seems to me you've traveled. Now you've found a place where you want to settle down for a while. These people that tell you that you have no sense of adventure are so wrong. How often does a single young women take on the adventure of running her own farm by herself? I don't see the joy of owning a big beautiful home where you hardly spend anytime enjoying it because you are running your butt off trying to get your children involved in every activity. Why not take a break, spend some time together at home and be the family you've created. There will be time to travel and enjoy it, but it doesn't have to be a daily routine. To each their own. Live your life the way you want to and I'll live mine. :)

January 20, 2013 at 7:24 AM  
Blogger Jennie said...

Jenna, Your life is beyond rich. I marvel at your discoveries as a homesteader and have learned a lot from your blogs. Your writing is lighthearted yet can be serious without being too tedious. Folks criticize you 'cos deep down, they are truly envious of your lifestyle. Whenever I return to my home country in South East Asia, I chuckle at some of the visiting Americans who only eat at MacDonalds or the likes. They squirm at the roadside hawker stalls that make the MOST delicious fried noodles with freshly caught prawns, fresh roast duck (never frozen), etc. The wet markets are not their "thing". For these folks, best to sit home in the U.S.,and watch travelogues on TV and in the comfort of their homes where there is instant running HOT water, all the french fries you can eat. etc. As an aside, looking forward to your next book - I'll be buying it for sure and hope it is not an e-book. Cheers for now.

January 20, 2013 at 7:40 AM  
Blogger kwdiving said...

I don' know why some people feel the need to judge others choices. As if their way is the only way. But I have been reading your blog for a long time and for some one your ag,e you have been alot of places and done an amazing amount of things. Our paths change over time. Our needs change over time. And sometimes we find what feeds our soul and settle down and enjoy it. Not everybody finds what they need, some search for ever. Some settle for what they have been told they should want. Enjoy your dream. Revel in it. And dance/walk/run/stumble/crawl or skip down the path that feels right to you.

January 20, 2013 at 7:46 AM  
Blogger blind irish pirate said...

I couldn't stand Eat Pray Love, and actually really can't respect Ms. Gilbert's perspectives on things. I guess to me, she just has it out of whack, and this is coming from someone who has a history of running away from her problems, eating, praying and loving. I don't know, I wouldn't dare compare your life to hers, because... yeah. Her basic conclusions, like yours, are true, but the means to the ends? It really is a kind of superior snobbery tone. Bleh.

Otherwise, I agree. I spent the best part of my college to early twenties running about, experiencing and taking care and learning, but I am just.so.tired. Seeking the greater spirituality seemed to burn out my spirituality anyway.

January 20, 2013 at 9:10 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

I think a lot of folks who travel are looking for something--maybe they are looking for what you have.

I do love traveling, but I am also a homebody day-to-day. (We save up for big, week long trips every couple of years--got to keep the chef inspired, lol!) One day your heart will tell you when it's time to visit the Old Sod, but you have SO much living to do in the meantime--more than most.

January 20, 2013 at 9:16 AM  
Blogger Patti said...

I am much the same. I don't have the great desire to travel and there are days when the car does not come out of the garage. I enjoy life at home. I've always thought restless people who are always on the go are wired wrong and missing out on something. I'm happy that I am content to be where I am.

January 20, 2013 at 9:45 AM  
Blogger sallyrae said...

Home, life, richness of experience, love of your life, the earth and all it's glory is within every one of us. Never mind the ones that have to put a label on what you are doing in your life. You set a fine example. It probably just frightens the ones who don't understand. They are probably just experiencing envy of the simplicity of being. You rock.

January 20, 2013 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger Trish Loughran said...

It's like Thoreau said: "I have traveled a good deal in Concord." You're in good company.

January 20, 2013 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Maggie in Tally said...

The occasional grand adventure is good for the soul, but I agree that there is too much aimless running around. That we would all be happier if we could set down deep roots like you have, and stay mostly in our chosen place. I say this a week before I drive myself & 4 cats back to North Dakota to give a relationship another whirl...

January 20, 2013 at 10:45 AM  
OpenID ditchthegrid said...

After years of traveling far and wide for work, I'm delighted to stay put these days. I've been off the farm twice in the past nearly three weeks - and I'm a-okay with that. There's so much here to stimulate my mind... Like you, there's not much I feel that I need outside of my small and comfortable radius.

January 20, 2013 at 10:57 AM  
Blogger Sneaux said...

After years of traveling far and wide for work, I'm delighted to stay put these days. I've been off the farm twice in the past nearly three weeks - and I'm a-okay with that. There's so much here to stimulate my mind... Like you, there's not much I feel that I need outside of my small and comfortable radius.

January 20, 2013 at 10:57 AM  
Blogger barbsbirds13 said...

My best days are always when the car stays in the garage. Friends wonder as they chase the far corners to find connection and to have 'interesting' places to write about on their holiday letters- wonder that I can be so happy connected to my land and critter and kindred souls in the immediate neighborhood. Early on my father told me there is no such thing as boredom and showed me richness in growing things and partnering with the land. He was right.

January 20, 2013 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger TheHotFlashHomestead said...

I also felt this way for a long time...like I was paying a mortgage on a house so I could sleep in it eight hours a night. Not worth it, in my opinion, but to each his own. I think a lot more people could stay home (if they wanted) if they factored in the cost of gasoline and car maintenance, day care, dry cleaning, take out food, and all the other things you come to rely on when working a fair distance from home. Sometimes getting rid of all those expenses makes being at home actually affordable, for those who desire it! When you add practicing the "home arts" (sewing, making from scratch, etc) and farming into the equation, it becomes even more do-able, financially.

January 20, 2013 at 11:09 AM  
OpenID notherethenwhere said...

I think there's incredible value in being content with where you are and what you're doing. Wanting to be home, in the place that you've made for yourself, is simply a reflection of contentment with one particular way of life.

I fairly regularly encounter people who are confused, even a bit put out, by my lack of desire to travel. Home isn't anything spectacular - right now, an apartment in a city with a library, good bookstore, and a few grocery stores nearby - but there's no place that I'd rather be. I'd just rather be home reading, cooking, baking, listening to music, talking with my husband, or writing than anywhere else.

January 20, 2013 at 11:26 AM  
Blogger Paul Molnar said...

I'd choose your type of adventures over the alternative in a heartbeat.

January 20, 2013 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger Erin Frase said...

Awesome, Jenna--I never thought of the radius analogy between the city and the farm being so similar but you're right. I'm a suburbanite who commutes 30 miles in each direction to work. Over ten years ago I cut a deal to work a 4 day workweek to save me the 60 mile trip once a week and even though it's nearly always an issue my employer is trying to get me to re-think, I've never regretted it and hope that I'll be able to keep it up for as long as I choose. I usually visit my parents once a week, but there are weekends (my three-day version) in which I never leave my little corner of the world and it's not suffocating or stifling at all. Keep persuading us to make the small changes that can lead to the big ones!

January 20, 2013 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger Missy said...

I think "adventure" and "comfort zones" are a state of mind, actually - which is sort of what I gleaned from your post as well. Learning about others and stepping outside of my own little world was partially why I settled on anthropology as a degree. I think travel is great, if one is able to do it, but I don't think it is necessary to learn about others or appreciate the diversity in the world. Nice post.

January 20, 2013 at 11:48 AM  
Blogger barbsbirds13 said...

It is truly heartening to read of so many others who are happy, content, excited, and enriched just where they are planted. There are times I have worried I was just too odd - a concept confirmed by others who would fashion my life differently - for their purposes.

January 20, 2013 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger KiwiGirl said...

I'm going to stick my neck out here, and respectfully disagree with the prevailing tone in the comments section. Living a life that is so tied to home is great, but I firmly believe experiencing the world (even just a little bit) is good for the soul, and definitely expands the horizons in many ways. I've travelled in Europe, Canada, Australia and Mexico and if nothing else, it really made me appreciate how good home really is. And, in the future, there's more travel on the horizons, to places I didnt manage to get to earlier, or to places that I have always wished to visit.

January 20, 2013 at 2:14 PM  
Blogger Melina said...

You live in a beautiful place. You are at home in because you are on the journey of who you are truly meant to be.

Reminds me of one of my favorite pictures books The Treasure. The man goes on a journey to seek the treasure. After traveling about he finally returns home. He discovers the treasure he was was in the home he left.

At the end of the book it says "Sometimes you have to travel far to find what is near."

January 20, 2013 at 4:16 PM  
Blogger Bluebelle Quilts said...

I'm moving from the far flung 'burbs to the city so I can be more convenient to everything I love to do. While I enjoy being home, I go stir crazy if I can't get out and go somewhere. My new house will be within walking distance of the grocery store, library and parks, plus public transportation, so parking the car is a definite option. For now, work will be a reverse commute - with a similar drive time to what I have now.

January 20, 2013 at 5:45 PM  
Blogger Nicole said...

I grew up in the country, lived in the cities for a while and currently live in the suburbs. I've often wondered why, being a country girl at heart, I also loved living in the cities. However, the suburbs just aren't working for me, since I (wrongly) thought the suburbs would be the perfect combo of both. I finally think I have the answer! Thank you, Jenna, for making the connection.

January 20, 2013 at 10:23 PM  
Blogger Stacie said...

This really resonates with me right now-- I'm starting a new job this week working from home, and I am incredibly excited about it. Not because I want to be lazy and stay in my pajamas all day, but because this is giving me the opportunity to finally do some things that I can't do, devoting all or most daylight hours (depending on the time of year) to work-related activity. It's going to allow me to spend time with my dogs, excel in my gardening, and do some much-desired home improvement projects, and then dream about what comes next-- within my own little sanctuary. So I'm right there with you, loving my own little area and making it become the place I learn and experience and enjoy.

January 20, 2013 at 10:33 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

Oh my gosh, you completely put into words EXACTLY how I am feeling right now. Two of my closest friends in my town are leaving to go for a 3 month trip to South America where they will learn and grow and be challenged and while I am so proud of them and excited to see what they do, I have absolutely no interest to do so. They want to travel and be transient and I want nothing more than to have a home and put down roots. I love the adventures I can get in my own home, and while there's no land here right now, I love to figure out how to ferment veggies and brew beer. I am right there with you...

January 21, 2013 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Pamela AKA Aurora said...


Hi Jenna,

I hear you loud and clear. I lived on a small farm up until a year ago. I needed to be near family so unfortunately I needed to put it on the market and move. I loved having a small radius, I loved being home for days in a row.

Reading your post I was reminded of Frodo reminiscing about what Bilbo used to say: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

You have been swept off on a wonderful adventure that you have worked hard to experience and learn from for eight years. It wasn't overnight, it took heart. It stills takes heart. You go girl!

I look forward to turning the land I have now, overtime, to a place where I will relish my small radius of travel and have adventures right outside my door.

January 21, 2013 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger jules said...

You know Jenna, if I didn't have a job outside my home, I'd shut the gate and never leave my yard. I have friends that way as well, and we live in town. We don't have the homestead you do, but we are raising rabbits for meat and have gardens. It's good for us to be at home.

I read Eat, Pray, Love, and it inspired me, but not to travel. The most we go is to visit our families in TX and MI. Otherwise, we're as homebody as they come.

Keep on keeping on girl. You inspire so many.

January 22, 2013 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger downeast becka said...

very cool! absolutely true, and would be a great novel if teased out: eat pray love, local!

January 23, 2013 at 8:24 AM  

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