Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Tough as Nails
I have a confession. There have been times when I have resented our hard-scrabble lifestyle. Everything we do, we do the hard way. We can't just flip a switch and turn on the lights. We have to fuel the generator, charge the batteries and monitor every watt of electrical usage. Doing laundry hasn't always been as simple as tossing a load of clothes into the washing machine and later transferring them to the dryer. It entailed making laundry detergent, hauling water, washing clothes in a 5 gallon tub on the top of a wood cook stove, lugging soaking, hot clothes to the bathtub and wringing them by hand. Even food preparation is done the hard way. Rather than going to the grocery store and buying a loaf of bread and a package of meat, we have to grind the wheat, chop the wood to heat the oven, bake the bread (turning it often and monitoring the stove closely so that the bread doesn't burn), open the jar of meat that we killed, gutted, skinned, butchered and canned. Nothing is easy.
Even raising animals and preserving food proves challenging when you are off the grid. Rather than having the luxury of a stock tank heater to keep the stock tanks ice free, we have to chop ice morning and night with an axe, making sure we smack the ice hard enough to break it but not hard enough to chop right through the stock tank. When the garden is in full production mode, there is not an option but to process the harvest - right now! No putting produce in Ziploc bags and tucking them in a freezer - everything has to be canned immediately.
Challenges mount upon challenges during the winter, with no alternative heat source and nothing but sheet metal and a bit of insulation and sheet rock protecting us from the elements. It is not at all unusual to wake up in 40° temperatures (inside) and have to chop kindling to coax the fire to life so that we can heat water to make tea. If the night has been particularly cold, we have to thaw pipes to get water to heat tea. That certainly makes for an invigorating start to the day!
As I think about the lifestyle we have chosen, I realize that we are gaining by far more than just hard work and independence. We are becoming, and training our children to become, tough as nails. We have learned that hard work is not something to shy away from, but something to be tackled with vigor. We have learned to think (and live) outside the box - creating new and ingenious ways to deal with life's little challenges. In reality, our hard-scrabble existence has been phenomenal life training. If the world continues limping along as it is, we have learned the value of hard work and discipline - our arms are strong for our tasks. If the world spirals into the abyss of societal collapse, our lifestyle will have prepared us for what lies ahead. Either way, our hard-scrabble life will have served us well.
In the end, I would much rather be tough as nails than soft as butter.