On Becoming a Homesteader
I’m really a rookie when it comes to this homesteading thing. After years of living in suburbia, we bought a few acres off of a county road, and are building our forever home there. Homesteading is something I’ve been dreaming of for a while, and that dream is finally becoming our reality. Although we are still living in a rowhouse while the house is getting built, I am a homesteader. I garden and put up the harvest. I make my own dairy products from raw milk, straight from a local dairy. A lot of my free time is spent clearing the brush on our land. So we’ll have places to plant, build animal shelters, and start homesteading in earnest next Spring.
I am learning all the time. I’m learning about Permaculture, soil restoration, raising chickens and beekeeping. I’m also learning skills that many have forgotten; how to can vegetables, grind flour, make butter, and bake bread. And all this feels like the right way to live a good life. One that appreciates the bounty of the earth, provides us with good food, and accepts our responsibility to care for our planet.
A Big Mess
Many moons ago, when my kids were still little, I sent my 4-year-old son upstairs to clean up the pit of destruction that was his bedroom. About twenty minutes later, I went up to check on him. He was standing in the middle of way too many toys, with Barney in one hand, and had done nothing at all. “Austen, why haven’t you started cleaning?” I asked. He looked at me with big teary eyes and said “The mess is so big I don’t know where to start!”
Sometimes I feel that way about the world we live in; humanity has made a terrible mess of things, and it seems nobody knows how to clean it up, or even how to begin trying. I view homesteading as a small part of the solution to a gigantic problem, something that can be done at the personal level. A chance to restore and improve our little patch of green.
On that day long ago, I told my son, “honey, you just start with one thing at a time.” Now, I try to apply that advice to where and how I live. One of the many unexpected gifts of homesteading is a realization that we, as humans, can not only fit into the natural world, but also become stewards of it. We can make a home not only for ourselves and our families, but also for the creatures and plants that share our planet. We can leave this world better than it was when we came into it.
I grew up in rural Texas, where people made a living farming and ranching (no one called it “homesteading” then), and huge swaths of open land still exist. We played in the coulees and creeks around our house & our family dog was a half-coyote mongrel runt we found while out on some adventure or another. We routinely “rescued” coons, ‘possums, snakes, horned toads, and birds, which of course my mom would always have us release. Wildlife had a home there.
Then I lived in Montana for eight years, where I once stood less than twenty feet from a black bear cub, without the benefit of a fence between us. Not intentionally, I promise you, and we booked it out of there as fast as we could. Where there’s a cub, there’s a mama, and we had no desire to meet her. Wildlife had a home there, too.
Our last move was to a larger city in Oklahoma, still our current abode. There is no real green here. Birds nest in the trees at the mall, and I wonder what their food source is. Squirrels are practically epidemic, as there are no natural predators to keep them in check. They are desperate for habitat, too, it seems. One nested in our car engine, with the resulting damage totaling up to several hundred dollars & one dead squirrel.
Restoring Wildlife Habitat
In 2006, when we bought a house outside of town on a few acres, I started the work of making the property wildlife friendly. We cleared out the debris from the creek so water from the small stream could be reached by wildlife. Then we built deadfalls, cleared invasive Red Cedar and sick trees, and planted prairie mix on the unwooded parts of the property. We put up feeders in the winter. In practically no time, the variety and number of wildlife increased; rabbits, birds, quail, turkey, fox, and deer were all sighted. Where before they may have passed across the property, now they found a home there. We created an environment that provided shelter for our family and the local wildlife. This is something I am looking forward to being able to do again on our new property.
Homesteading makes you more conscious of the natural world around you, and how everything has a place in that world. It brings nature back into your awareness. Nature isn’t something that you “get away to;” it’s an integral part of life, whether we recognize it or not. Homesteading brings us back to nature, and shows us we have a part to play in the nurturing of people and the planet.