Work Like a Peasant, Live Like a King

By , June 19, 2017

As we complete our eleventh year of residence on our homestead, I recall a motto we adopted early on: “work like a peasant, live like a king.”

From the very beginning, the strange dichotomy of our life became apparent. We deliberately, voluntarily reduced our quality of life in order to improve it. We dedicated ourselves to a new lifestyle, economy, and condition set—a new paradigm, if you will—that recasts us almost literally as peasants. Yet, by doing so, we live like kings!

Consider: the level to which we stepped back from modern conveniences baffles many of our friends and relatives. We have no refrigeration. We use no instant heat generators for cooking—no hotplates, microwaves, or bread machines—nor do we have any powered clothes washing machines. Only our self-generated electricity, propane stove, and gravity-fed running water keep us from basic cabin living here.

Situated a mile and a quarter from the nearest road, on a rocky, cliffed shore that’s very unfriendly to boat landing, we haul the necessities of life in and out on our backs for the most part (see Avoiding “The Chilkoot Breast Stroke”). On the rare occasions we use boats to haul these loads, the canoes, kayaks, and rowboats themselves depend on our muscle power for propulsion.

We cut our firewood with handsaws, and haul it to the cabin on our backs.We dig our garden soil from among the rocks and tree roots, sift it, and load it into raised beds we’ve built by hand with lumber hauled in a few boards at a time (see Scraping a Living from the Land). We force level spaces for these boxes from the bedrock itself, levering boulders into place, breaking stony obstacles with hammer and chisel (see Stone Breaker).

Whatever must be built, we build by hand: shelters, structures, all furnishings that aren’t manufactured, and more.

Every task we undertake to maintain our living commits time and—especially—effort. Our day-to-day work might seem familiar to peasants of previous ages, or to current poor residents of other countries around the world.

And yet . . . .

A man’s home is truly his castle, particularly when it’s set like a small jewel in the forest on the edge of the magnificent Lynn Canal. Here we enjoy a level of seclusion, peace and quiet most Americans can barely imagine. We own the land, owing no mortgage or rent for it to anyone.

Then there’s the food: the freshest ingredients, vegetables grown free of industrial considerations like improved shipping endurance and prolonged shelf life that diminish flavor, nutritional value, and texture. Fish and other seafood that most Americans buy frozen at barely affordable prices, we gather for free and serve so soon after catching, some dishes don’t even leave the beach until they’re brought to the dinner table. We eat mushrooms that are sought the world over, considered nearly priceless in many upscale restaurants. In their proper season, these too reach our table within hours, even minutes, of harvest.

That harvest often occurs in the process of backbreaking labor. It may have been the contrast of the muscular effort required to carry a heavy pack over the trail while trying to gently hold a handful of mushrooms without crushing them that originally inspired the motto of this essay.

Every meal is made by hand, with devotion, care, and all the time required to come out right. What might world class gourmands pay to eat as we do?

For all the hard work, we enjoy a great deal of leisure. Michelle’s and Aly’s current town jobs not withstanding, the work of the homestead progresses at our pace—literally “at our leisure.” We find plenty of time to enjoy reading, listening to music, observing wildlife, watching movies, and relaxing. We find plenty of time to play.

On our micro-scale, we live a life of abundance. Even the smallest luxury grows in stature for its comparative rarity. Our philosophy of “Thinking Little” allows us to act like millionaires.

So, despise or dismiss us if you will, we continue to thrive in this chosen lifestyle by working like peasants, and living like kings!

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