You hear a lot of talk about relocalization and deindustrialization. The pastoral life, the good old days. How romantic! Reality pays you a visit when your pick-axe hits a rock, a chunk hits your face, and you taste your own blood.
Unaware of it at the time, I was a child of privilege, one of five born to a Chairman of Earth and Space Sciences at a State University in New York. We were all expected to be high achievers. I fulfilled the expectation and put in 32 years as an engineer helping the über-wealthy zip around the skies in personal rocket ships from one golf game to another while chalking it off as business expenses, when all I ever really wanted to do was sit out in the woods and cook some food on a stick over a fire.
In 1994 I acquired a 160 acre tract of land in southeast Kansas, for a price only slightly above chicken feed, as a weekender place to go sit by that fire and decompress from the rat-race. 18 years ago the future didn't look quite so ominous. Reel forward to the present and this full-time back-to-the-land experiment is starting to look like a pretty good idea. Some stark realities become self evident however when you are actually 'living the life'. Talking about it is easy. Doing it is something altogether different. Here is where I wish to convey a few 'notes from the field':
1. You realize after a while it is mostly hard, dirty, repetitive and boring. Mud, blood, shit, sweat, discomfort, disappointment, death. There are rewards, but you have to have a passion for it to endure. People who have grown up ranching already know these things of course, but they don't have to adapt. They know the life.
2. If you create an artificial abundance of anything, Mother Nature will do her best to return things to the status quo. Plant a large garden and you will have more venison than you can eat. Goats are not native to this region, coyotes are. Eagles, hawks, owls, raccoons, possums, foxes and bobcats are also native here. Chickens are not. They will all eat your chickens, given a chance.
3. If you want to eat meat, you have to kill something. It's brutal and unpleasant. Blood is blood, you best get used to it. Warm guts smell bad. They smell different, depending on what you just killed, but they all smell bad. The first time you shove an arm elbow deep in warm guts and blood to tear loose some connective tissue, you are hard pressed to not lose your lunch. It begins to get a bit easier when you have a chilled carcass with the hide peeled off, and the pieces you hack off start to look like something you would buy in a grocery store, but the lifeless eyes continue to stare.
4. Intellectual deprivation. This was unexpected. It doesn't become apparent right away because you're so damned glad to be away from the crush of humanity and the demolition derby approach to getting around. Land is inexpensive in certain regions for a reason. Living elsewhere is much easier (so far). In this case, the regional economy has been in decline for 70 years. The population has declined nearly 80% from its peak, and the brain drain is close to 100%. Most anybody with ambition left long ago, and most youth leave, never to return. It is not hard now to understand why, historically, tribes of 1 to 5 haven't fared well. You need some minimum critical mass of human interaction to be able to survive psychologically, and some degree of specialization and division of labor just to cover all the bases. For those of you considering it, the 'survivalist bunker' approach to dealing with the future would be ill advised. Social interaction is not just something nice, it is an imperative.
Not to be too glum, on the upside there is sunshine, fresh air, fresh meat, eggs, milk, cheese, honey, fruits, nuts, vegetables, abundant wildlife and beautiful scenery. You don't need to 'go to the gym' to stay in shape either.
To peer into the future and see nothing beyond an endless re-run of this hard living is enough to put fear and dread in most hearts. I find it increasingly difficult to believe that dispossessed cubicle dwellers will be able to adapt physically or mentally.
In this setting it is not hard to envision the emergence of a tradition where you take each seventh day off from the grunt work and get together with your friends and neighbors just to celebrate the fact you are still breathing. No deities or voodoo required. Then just for fun, throw a big feast every solstice and equinox and invite everybody. Wait... haven't we been there before?
People tend to think of a 'land of milk and honey' as something idyllic and easy. This land of milk and honey is accessible, tangible and real, but it comes with strings attached.