Jilly D.

Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

January in the calendar according to Sam Warren

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on December 29, 2013 at 2:50 am
Sam's babies

Sam’s babies

Where the paved road ends, so do the vestiges of “modern” life. There is no cellular phone reception here. No internet connection. No wires or poles visible to the human eye. No email, text messaging, satellite or cable TV. No high speed connection to the digital universe. Twittering is something birds do. Time slows down. The quiet calms the inner chaos. Here is where I make my home with Sam Warren.

I listen to the rain fall on the tin roof, hear the gentle whir of the windmill, let birds waken me before the sun rises, eat an entire meal made from food grown on this land, get to be my own boss, decide how to spend my time and energy, walk my dogs in the woods, discover rare wildflowers and identify animal tracks. These are the luxuries of living off the land. The greatest luxury of all is time.

When it’s high noon, I know it. Same time as yesterday. I don’t need a watch to tell me. The whistle blowing from the Fire Station confirms lunch time. In the morning I wake up without an alarm. When I’m tired I go to sleep.

956725-R1-19-20ABefore I met Sam I used to feel so pushed and rushed in my everyday work life. The meetings, the reports, the email, voice-mail, committee work, service commitments just overwhelmed me. I would arrive at the office in the morning and have to turn on lights to see. I would leave late after running a computer, printer, television, clock radio and heater or air conditioner for more than 12 hours constant. I’d work at home after dark with all the lights and heat on, stereo or television on and my computer and printer plugged in to the grid. I collapsed into sleep with the alarm set so I could do it all over again the next day. My to-do list was days longer than I’d ever live.

You can always make more money. You can’t make more time. I used to dream about doing what I wanted when I retired. Then I faced facts:  I would have less money, not more, and even less time.

100_0931Living off the land allows me the luxury of time. My time is my own. No one can take it from me unless I give it willingly. No one can waste my time either. The relentless urgency of modern life drops away on Warren Pond.

I appreciate these luxuries and am grateful for them regularly because there are plenty of folks who are offended by some of the privileges homesteading grants me. People don’t like it if you don’t read your email every day. Phone calls after sunset aren’t answered and folks can’t figure out why not, if we are home. Some are stunned we refuse to make it to evening meetings or public events scheduled after dark. Others are curious why we don’t just hop in the car and drive. There are plenty who are offended we do not bathe or change clothes every day.

Never having been a fashionista, I love the luxury of dressing comfortably, forgoing makeup and hairdos and wearing shoes suitable for the task at hand. Reminds me of the bad advice I got early in my academic career that I would never get anywhere unless I started to wear lipstick and heels. I got there and neither heels nor lipstick would have made it a place worth staying. I’d rather put on my swimsuit and cotton jumpers in warm weather and denim coveralls most the rest of the year. The biggest joy is having one pair of functional — not fashionable — shoes. You can’t wear more than one pair at a time, so who needs more?

Instead of spending an hour getting ready for work, an hour commuting to and from, 10 hours at work and a few more hours working at home, I quit wasting time. I took the time for living, loving and enjoying each moment in the moment. It used to be that I lived in order to work for somebody who would pay me so I could live. Now I live.

What I learned from Sam Warren about sustainable living is that I could have a higher quality of life with less money and more time. I gave up shopping and worked to pay off my credit cards and car loan. When I moved down to the farm with Sam, I paid down more debt and had no bills. Eventually I could afford to break free of those golden handcuffs called “tenure” and quit my full-time job.

Today, there is no mortgage or rent. The land is now ours free and clear.

We have no heating bills. Sam cuts down the timber, logs it out, saws it up, seasons it, stacks it, and then hauls it inside to make fire for heat and cooking. I have heat today because Sam planned and worked for more than a year to make it possible.Morning chores on the farm

The luxury of being debt free is incredible. For too long wealth was measured by how much credit others were willing to extend to you. The old mentality was that the more debt you had the richer you must be. But the price to pay is one’s conscience.

Everybody knows you can’t buy your way out of debt. It is so much easier to sleep at night knowing other people owe you more than what you owe others. It’s more important to wake up each morning without debt burden on your shoulders. The only way to do that is to produce more than you consume.

Sam figured out how to do that. Living off the land and off-the-grid is hard work but it provides everything we need.


My spinning wheel; a christmas gift from Sam

In Holidays, Pictures and memories, The Farm, Time and seasons on December 30, 2010 at 12:35 am

On Warren Pond Farm

It was our second Christmas together when Sam gave me two very important presents that changed my life.  One came in a very small box: a key to the door of Sam’s cabin. He asked me to move in and I agreed if he’d put in a flush toilet. I wanted an oak throne and he turned his cabin into my castle.

The second present came in a large box: an Ashford spinning wheel. He surprised and delighted me with this incredibly wonderful new toy. He never had to give me another Christmas present. This one made up for all past and future gift goofs he could make in my book. 

I don’t remember what I got him that year but it didn’t count as big as this spinning wheel. I forgave him for the first year’s gift of a Hostess fruitcake and almost felt bad that I had regifted it back to him that day.

Because I knit, I learned to love spinning wool. It took me several years before I could spin enough yarn of consistent quality to knit. When I sit down at my wheel I leave the world behind. It requires concentration to make the wheel spin and when you get going you dare not stop the magic.

When I was a child, I spent several summers visiting my mother’s relations in the back woods of northern Minnesota. My mother’s cousin Juanita made quite an impression on me at 10 years of age. Crippled with multiple sclerosis, Juanita used her good foot to push the pedal and spin the wheel round and round while her twisted fingers tugged the raw roving. The wheel seemed to pull the wool from her fingers as she played the fibers like a harpist strumming. Juanita became animated with the wheel and its percussion played her life’s music.

I learned to spin with lots of practice. My memory of Juanita keeps me humble. I am still learning. My first attempt was with a fleece given to me in a large black plastic bag. A friend homesteading in the Finger Lakes National Forest offered it to me free. It had been in her barn for a year or more.

Brown, black and cream colored Jacob’s wool fibers in their rawest form taught me about how to clean and wash wool before spinning it. Then I learned how to card the fibers by doing it until all the burdocks, dried leaves, stems, and other stuff were gone from the roving. I learned a lot from my initial efforts. I also learned not to take anything free that comes in a large black plastic bag that has been sitting in a barn for more than a year.

Try and try again. I read the how-to books and stared at the diagrams and images. I tried again. And again. Every day I sat down to practice. Some days I just pedaled the wheel to get a steady rhythm . Other days I pushed myself through the frustration and got a few yards of yarn onto the spindle. I kept at it even though the yarn twisted back onto itself. I adjusted the tension of the wheel. I got frustrated. I overcompensated and didn’t get enough twist so it looked almost the same going in as it did coming out: thick fuzzy roving.

I sought out an advanced spinner and took my wheel to her homestead in the Forest where two other novices joined us one Sunday afternoon in the middle of winter a decade ago. I discovered I had learned more than I thought about the process. Practice was the best way to keep improving.

Spinning and knitting and felting made me into a Fiberista. Great pleasure is taken from making something with my own hands. I am honored and humbled by these crafts which are centuries old and still serving their purpose today. My spinning wheel, lazy kate, carding paddles, niddy noddy, swift and ball-winder are wonderful gadgets; ancient in design.

Gandhi used his spinning wheel every day. He said if every Indian were to spin their own cotton into cloth there would be no need to purchase the ready-made garments imported from England made from cotton grown in India.

Sam Warren built a waterwheel ten feet in diameter that could make 3-phase electricity for the farm. He had two windmills that went round and round to make even more power. He kept us off the National Grid by installing lots of solar panels and we lived off the land and by the seasons. Sam said if every American were to produce their own electricity there would be no need to purchase energy which destroys the environment or undercuts our economy. Like Gandhi, Sam walked the line of self-reliance.  And so I spin.