Not Busy: Full!

This is my attempt at a new mantra.  Life is FULL.

These last days of summer are zooming by so fast it is literally making my head spin.  There have been visits and social times, big changes in my work circumstances (and seemingly new ones every day!), and in the midst of it all, the constant rhythm of harvesting, canning, crabbing, freezing.

I’m reflecting all the time, and mostly grateful and overjoyed that this is my life.  But anytime someone asks me how life is these days, or asks about adding one more thing to the whirlwind, the answer I hear myself give is that life is “crazy” and “crazy busy”.

I’ve become a little worried that when a friend hears that, s/he might think that this means we are overwhelmed, or that what we’ve taken on is too much or maybe too challenging for any less ambitious person.  And maybe it is, a little.  It’s true that when friends or family ask me about going to a movie or a play, I can barely remember the last time I did such a thing.  And squeezing in a trip somewhere–even a weekend trip to the mainland to visit family–feels nearly impossible most of the time.   Because we’re just too busy.

I regularly feel the tension of trying to live a more direct, less outsourced life within the requirements of a twenty-first century world.  The last time that the mass population grew, harvested, hunted, processed and strored its own food (let alone produced much of its own clothing, energy, or household goods), the world was a very different place.  Society may be dynamic and always changing, but it is also a whole, integrated system.  Back in the days before industrial production, gender roles meant that women devoted ALL of their time to managing household systems, they had many children and extended family as labour, and men earned the supplemental necessary cash.  City-working men were paid salaries that recognized that they had families to support. (In fact, one of the reasons that women still earn less is because when they entered the workforce en masse, male business owners rationalized that working women were adding extra money to the household income, not supporting children, and so they didn’t need to be paid as much!)

I was reading yesterday about haying, and how in traditional communities, every other task needed to be dropped when the right weather hit for haying.  One trouble today is that all of society doesn’t work around these cycles any more, but farming often still does.

In no way do I romanticize the past.  There are excellent reasons why families encouraged their children to leave farms and find a “better” life, and I am exceedingly grateful for the running hot water and high-efficiency washing machine and dishwasher that my mother-in-law raised three children without.  And I’m even more grateful that I am not bound or chained to life and behavioural expectations based on being female.

I’m recognizing more and more that what we’re doing here on the Backyard Homestead is not going back in time, though it might look that way, and it is often inspired by pre-industrial practices.  Instead, Skipper and I are learning and adventuring into the future, into uncharted territory.  We are successfully growing a significant portion of our vegetables.  This year it’s 100% from June and counting.  We are learning to harvest wild foods as a significant portion of our protein: salmon and crab are now staples in our diet.  Our chickens are providing eggs and the occasional roaster.

We are also building what Sharon Astyk calls a Real Economy.  This is her term for the bartering and trading and relationships that have sustained humanity through all time, even in times where contemporary economies collapse and by all rights populations should not be able to survive (Cuba, the Soviet Union).  So through relationships with friends or friends of friends, we now are stocked with locally caught and canned (and some smoked) tuna, and cases of maple syrup from Quebec.  Our neighbours are getting a milk cow this fall, and we’ll figure out a trade for enough milk to make butter and cheese (wow!).  We’re giving away our excess produce to everyone who stops by! 🙂

All of this feels like resilience, like diversity, like networks of security.  It’s also delicious.

And all of it takes substantial amounts of time and labour.  Sustaining life was once an almost-full-time job, a job that was the primary focus of the family and of wider society.  Today, no matter how I crunch the numbers, how much we simplify our lives, earning enough income in the form of money is the necessary full-time job, and certainly is the focus of wider society.  That’s the reality of where and how I live.  I have, technically, other options; Skipper and I COULD go live somewhere cheaper, we could live in a trailer or other cheaper home, we could forgo the Energy-Star appliances and new materials for raised beds and drip irrigation.  But we don’t want to live far away from family, we want a home large enough to accommodate visiting family and friends; we love this climate and the culture and community here.

And so we celebrate the privilege of having enough work to have the freedom to make the choices we have, and we fill in our life-sustaining homestead in around the edges.  Which does take up all the hours in the day.  But all this busy-ness is purposeful and joyful.  The satisfaction of the filling pantry and freezer, the routine of evenings spent making jam and shelling crab, of eating simple meals that are often the product of our own land and labour is richly meaningful.  And we still have time for friends and for sharing the bounty with visitors and neighbours.  And I know now that come winter, the dark, cold evenings will bring time for movies and music, for cuddling, relaxing, and for dreaming about the spring to come.

And THAT’s the message that I want my friends and family to hear.  Not that I’m too busy.  Not that life is simple and decluttered and zen-like in its minimalism.  But that life is FULL.  So full it’s brimming over all of the time and there aren’t enough hours in the day to enjoy it all!  So much fun and so satisfying that you should try a little of this kind of life too!