Thursday, June 20, 2013

firewood and savings accounts

Homesteading changes you. It certainly changed me. The person I was just six years ago would be a complete stranger to the one I am now. It's made me stronger, braver, more self-reliant, hopeful, spiritual, and brought me to this farm tucked into sharp turn on a mountain road. And while there was nothing wrong with the person I was before chickens and compost became an everyday part of my life, I like this person a lot better. She's less afraid of failure and discomfort. She's more interested in being kind than being correct. She also knows how to saddle a horse and roast a chicken, and let's be honest, folks — personal growth and humility are wonderful but at the end of a a trail ride and a drumstick offer some seriously satisfying tangible reality.

So I have changed a lot, and most of those changes are under the surface. The most action has happened in my head, taking old ideas and stretching them out like a work shirt cranked through an old-fashioned wringer on a washtub. My thoughts on being a vegetarian, politics, relationships, personal freedom, and food in general are so complicated and different from the college graduate I once was reading back over old blog posts sometimes feels like reading someone else's life. Out of all the paradigms that have changed one stands out above all the rest: energy.

When I say energy I am not talking about peak oil or solar panels on the barn roof. No, no no friends. I am talking about raw effort. I'm talking about sweat and horseflesh, axes and garden hoes. I am talking about the effort my body and farm animals' bodies put forth into the world to create. Create anything, really. Be it a stack of cordwood or a newborn lamb, all of it comes from energy expelled and transferred and that is the foundation of my new religion and what separates me from 99% of the people in this country: I think about energy all the time.

That photo of Gibson and a pile of wood is a conversation loaded for bear. What you are looking at is hand-collected and stacked rounds and limbs delivered here one light-pickup truck load at a time by Tim Hoff. Tim's work had a lot of downed and cut up trees sitting around doing nothing so he asked if he could haul them away since he had a friend who heats exclusively with firewood. His boss said sure and the pile has grown over the several Hoff trips to the farm. I am beyond grateful for this amazing gift because what I see is weeks of warm winter nights by a roaring fire and money saved. And Tim knows that. He brings it because he sees energy being wasted and knows someone who could use it. So he loads up his truck and drives the miles to deliver it. And he isn't doing it so I owe him a favor in return, he's doing it because we're a community, and because he's Tim. He's helping because he can, and I would (and will!) do the very same for him.

Over the summer that pile of wood will become split cords. It will be a lot of blisters and sweat, friends and potlucks, and more and more trips into the woods with a chainsaw and a draft pony. But when it gets cold I will know there is heat outside my door, lying in wait for me. It's not coming from some country I couldn't find on a map, or a credit cards swipe from a pipe on some truck. It's coming from the effort myself and my community is willing to offer.

Tonight at Ben Hewitt's talk (which was wonderful) he hosted a community discussion on money and our lives. At one point he said something along the lines of how four-thousand dollars in a savings account (he was just riffing thoughts, not talking about his own money at the time) and I had to laugh. I did. I laughed right in the middle of his talk because I can't even imagine having four thousand dollars to my name, much less sitting in a pile somewhere like that stack of cord word. If that kind of money comes my way it is already owed to the mortgage, late bills, student loans, etc. Anything that comes here goes right back out like a bucket bailing out a sinking boat. I think my bank account is somewhere in the double digits right now if I'm lucky? I have absolutely no idea where the next payment will come from either. It may be an ad sale, or one of you will decide to take up the dulcimer and come here and pay me for that. Maybe an Indie Day will pop up, or a local will email me about buying 5 hens for their backyard? I have no idea. I do have an unwavering faith that something will get me through long enough to tread water. It just has to.

Money is something I gave up, but not like the subject of his book did. I can't live off six thousand dollars a year like the man he writes about, I need to pay a mortgage, pay off bills and debt, etc. But I gave up any security in the form of money. I gave up expecting a regular paycheck, health insurance, a 401k and paid vacation days. I gave up the idea of weekends and days off. Instead make a living through the occasional book contract, workshops, farm events, speaking, ad sales, ad clicks, part time work, and sometimes you guys even donate here. And I do worry about it a lot, but it's not a worry about obtaining it for security.

I'll close this ramble tonight with this thought: I have changed, and I have changed a lot. I changed how I live, how I see the world, how I relate to other people, animals, and even that demon beast we call money. Some of it changed by getting more involved and some of it changed by giving it up, but I'm a whole new animal and that's a fact. I am going to sleep with less than fifty dollars to my name but with a pile of firewood and people in my community like the Hoff family. If I had money I could buy five cords of firewood tomorrow, but no swipe of any plastic card can bring you people like that. And I think that was the heart of Mr. Hewitt's talk. Money is make believe, but people are real.

And that's good energy.