When our friends find out that we, a PhD in interpersonal communications and a divorce lawyer who have never successfully grown so much as a tomato, are preparing to become subsistence farmers, their reactions vary from incredulity through denial to (occasionally) fascinated approval. The most frequent response by far, though, is “Why?”
Actually, that’s not true. The women want to know why. Many of the men simply say “No way my wife would go for that.” It’s at that point that I am reminded again that I indeed married well, but that’s another story. So what is driving this? This is not about running from anything. Both of us enjoy life in Vestavia Hills and enjoy both our professional careers and our many wonderful relationships with friends and colleagues. Our reasons for moving grow, I think, from two desires: (a) to live closer to both our families and (b) to prepare for a future we expect to be very different from the recent past. Both my family and Amanda’s are centered in and around Montgomery. Our move will shorten the distance between us and that center by about 2/3, and that has to be good. Both of us have uncomplicated and pleasant relationships with all those in our own and in each other’s families; my profession dealing with broken families helps me understand how rare this is. So it’s only natural that both of us would want to be closer to them. As for the future, Amanda and I spend a great deal of time digesting information about the
Triple Threat we humans face in the form of Peak Oil, Catastrophic Climate Change, and the ever-growing human population. We anticipate a coming decline or collapse in the complexity of human civilization, one in which those who depend on professional careers will be vulnerable and those who can attend to their own basic needs will be more secure. We anticipate that travel will be more challenging, the electrical grid less reliable, and food and water more precious. Amanda is at heart an environmentalist, a sweet mothering spirit who yearns to embrace the planet and make it whole again. I am more selfish and pragmatic, focusing more on resiliency than restoration, more on food security than carbon footprint. We come from different perspectives, but we arrive together at this place where we want to transition to a life that lessens our demand on the planet, simplifies our routine, and prepares us for an uncertain future. Our intention is to live in a 600 sq. ft. apartment in our pole barn until we can afford to build a house and have time to design it. The pole barn is, and the house will be, designed to use a minimum of energy for heating, cooling, and water heating. Both will run exactly East and West to take maximum advantage of the seasons for ventilation and shading in the summer and solar gain in the winter. We will heat the barn primarily with a wood stove. More about that later. There’s no backup propane heat, but we will position a heat lamp here and there we can use for quick spot heating (think sitting on the toilet, for example). We’re reading right now about the widespread areas of the U.S. where people are likely to be without electrical power for weeks in the wake of a totally foreseeable ice storm, so that makes us attentive to making life as livable as possible even when the grid fails. We will have a standby propane generator, because we are dependent on electricity for pumping water. We have a diesel tractor, a John Deere 5310, and we know we will always need to use it for some tasks around the farm. So that means we will always need a little petroleum, even if it costs $20 per gallon. However, we are designing our systems so that we will be able to sip petroleum by the spoonful rather than guzzle it five gallons at a time. And so far we’ve been pleased to see how efficiently Tractor runs, particularly if you keep him near idle speed (as we can for most tasks). We know we’re hopelessly naive. But we also know we’re having fun and enjoying this massive new challenge. So we’ve organized our work around three simple principles. More on those tomorrow.