When we first started thinking and talking about this strange and delightful journey we’re taking, we knew it would challenge us in ways we had never imagined. We knew we would call on ourselves to accomplish things we’d never tried to do using skills we would need to develop as we worked.
We also knew, however, that we needed to maintain our humanity and our love for each other. So we settled on three simple principles around which we organize everything we do:
1. We’re approaching but will never reach subsistence.
2. It’s gotta be fun while we’re doing it.
3. We don’t make allness statements.
We’re approaching but will never reach subsistence.
The first way I wanted to say this is “we’re approaching subsistence asymptotically,” but that sounds a little stilted for two people trying to plant sweet potatoes, so we opted to simplify it a little. For us, subsistence means we get what we need from the land. If one were truly in a state of subsistence, one would produce with one’s own hands all food, all fiber, and all shelter needed. Not only will we be unable to do that anytime soon, we’re not even sure we would want to if we could. Instead, our focus is on buying fewer goods and services each year. Some things we will stop buying because we can produce them ourselves. Some things we will stop buying because we can trade with our neighbors for them. And some things we will stop buying because we realize we don’t need them as we once thought we did. Each year, as we need to spend less money to be happy, we will become more secure. We will never stop spending money, but we do hope to spend less each year.
It’s gotta be fun while we’re doing it.
During Amanda’s last trip to England, I watched a reality program in PBS called Frontier House. It was, of all things, a reality series, but done with typical PBS quality rather than in the schlocky, sensationalized manner of commercial TV. I watched as three modern families like ours tried to live in the manner of the frontier settlers of 1883. Many things struck me about the series, but one that really hit home was the dreariness of life for women in the frontier. We don’t want that to happen to us. We hope we will always maintain a healthy perspective on our work and realize that, if it’s not fun any more, we need to stop and rethink what we’re doing. Good work, sound work, is for both of us rewarding in itself. So if it’s not fun, something’s gone wrong, and we need to stop and approach it differently. By the same token, we don’t want to get sucked into a state of all work and no play. We chose Longleaf Breeze among other reasons because it’s so beautiful. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we are so focused on getting the drip lines in that we miss the beautiful sunset?
We don’t make allness statements.
We admire and respect people like the Eating Alabama group near Tuscaloosa who set out to eat nothing but food grown in Alabama for a season, then six months, then a year. It was fascinating and energizing to read about their creativity and discoveries. And we also read with interest the “100-mile diet” experiences that people have taken on. We don’t think it’s for us, though. Maybe we’re too old, or too weak, or maybe we’re just not wired that way. We want to be able to make compromises. Another concern about allness statements is that I am married to a quintessentially Southern lady who has the gift of hospitality. She doesn’t want our principles about subsistence to shove aside her ability to make visitors feel welcome. Even if I wanted to change that about her, and I don’t, it’s lodged deep within her DNA and it’s not going to change. So there you have it, our three simple principles. And in the spirit of the third principle, we may change them if they stop working for us.