Friday, June 29, 2018

Exactly Where I Should Be

Sun, rain, wind, tent, squirrels, possums, raccoons, 5 incredible landmates, chiggers, fish, ducks, scratches, cuts, bruises, aches, welts, wood, fire, smoke, bark, knives, axes, chainsaws, bows, arrows, hides, skinning, tanning, butchering, clay, flies and their larva, ticks, mirrors to check for ticks, fresh air, trees, birds and their beautiful sounds, soil, poop and pee outside, wigwam build, planting, grafting, harvesting, picking greens immediately before a meal, once-a-week dumpsters, new friends of all species and connecting with old ones, farmer’s market, deep sleep, waking up early with excitement for the day, day’s activities determined by the weather, time for reflection, self-care, growth, peace, and clarity. These have been just some of the many parts of my life for the past few months, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I am positively thriving, and I feel better than I ever have before. I am truly healing and connecting to the sources of my life. I am living out what my mind, body, and soul have known for several years but that I didn’t know how to do. Though I miss my friends and family in faraway places, I have no questions that I am exactly where I should be. I am grateful to everyone who has helped me to grow and get to where I am, and I wish that those who want to live similarly were here with me. You see, I left Washington DC at the end of March after leaving the ol’ EPA in early March. Leaving the Environmental Protection Agency was simple (and was made all the simpler when I was instructed to literally walk throughout several buildings to have people sign a piece of paper that I didn’t have library fines, etc., like a third grader), but leaving DC was quite challenging, choking back tears while saying goodbye to close friends. I certainly do not miss the city itself or what it stands for, but the earth-minded community that I was a part of there was nothing short of incredible. Where was I going? Well, I was going to go on a wigwam build, and then to visit family in New Jersey, and my current location in Western North Carolina.
The beautiful pond.

It all happened seamlessly fast. When I had some downtime after eye surgery, I was listening to podcasts and heard a fellow speaking about his and his partner’s homestead. He was talking about healing traumatized land, ecology, rewilding, the virtues of going feral. I commented on the podcast, as I try to connect with people who are trying to un-domesticate themselves, and we ended up connecting over the ether. He posted an opportunity to come live, work, and be with him, his partner, and their newborn on their homestead, and I knew immediately that this was what I should do. I wrote them a letter, we talked on the phone, and they invited me to come. I'm now a firm believer that life can work out in amazing ways if I expand my comfort zone and find people that support me in doing so.
I've been on the land here for almost 3 months, but it feels like an eternity, in the best of possible ways. My old way of life melted away very quickly when I got here. I feel as if I've connected directly with my ancestors, who lived in a more village-like setting, close to the land. I believe that this connection is why everything feels so right: I am finally doing what I'm supposed to be doing after 31 years. I am forever grateful. Sometimes I have to remind myself, especially when something about living this way feels hard, that I have been welcomed with open arms to an absolutely magical place by amazing people.

I live primarily outside. I have access to electricity and modern appliances and have a car, but I sleep in a tent, I cook with wood, I'm building a wigwam to live in, and I work to directly support myself and my landmates. There is no boss, no schedule, no TPS reports, no bullshit. There are the complex human relationships that exist anywhere, but we are open in our communication and all love where we live and want to see the ecology of the place thrive. Our common goal guides decision making and makes living here so wonderful. A common goal certainly does not make life easy, but, in a real way, makes it clear and simple. Every action affects the land. There is no “away” and no hiding ecologically irresponsible behavior.
Wigwam inner frame - a big kid jungle gym!

I’ve had some friends ask me what a typical day is like. There is no typical day, and that is part of the joy of this life. I might plug mushroom logs, take part in stripping the bark off of a huge tulip poplar tree for building a wigwam, weed garden beds, plant, collect firewood, fish in the pond, skin and eat a squirrel, write, read, learn about plants, let my curiosity drive me when necessity does not. One day, I sat and meditated and watched asparagus grow. I saw a change in the length of the asparagus spear in 45 minutes. I checked back 8 hours later, and it had grown over an inch! I felt calm, peaceful, connected. I understand that this could be viewed by a certain culture as a waste of time and some hippie bullshit. Well, I don’t really know about that, but it felt right. Sitting still in that spot made sense that day, just like somehow, sometimes it seems to make sense to stare at a screen, work for a paycheck, call a friend, dance, or watch sports.

My stove.

It has been difficult for me to write a post on this blog because I have simply been enjoying living far too much. I’ve been “busy.” Not the hustle-and-bustle type, just in that I see and notice so many things and I want to know more and connect. Life is full. My list of want-to-do’s is unending and I just have to prioritize and take opportunities as they come. I’ve had several realizations, which I hope to continue to share over time. First, I’ve realized that I do not want to be a lone mountain/country/homesteading man. I’ve known this intellectually for some time now, but now I get it for real. There is so much to do, and it can be lonely when done alone: collecting firewood, killing other beings, cooking food, taking care of ailments, getting clean water, maintaining a shelter. There would be no time for anything else if I had to do these things all the time for myself. There would be no time for writing, taking up interesting projects, connecting with people, lounging for a little bit, sleeping, taking it all in, reflecting. I have no doubt we are meant to work together as a species. I learned this in a real way when one of my landmates felled a tree and we stripped the bark from it. We used a chainsaw, but it was still hard work! I tried to do some of the bark stripping myself, and just eventually gave up in exhaustion and due to an ache in my arm from a past injury. I got back together with my landmate and we finished the job. I can only imagine what the effort would have been like if the two of us tried to do the work without a chainsaw. It truly takes a village! However, in this day and age, humans can bypass the village with a lot of machines. Machines support the individualistic culture that exists: MY car, MY computer, MY cell phone, MY money. These things do connect me to the wider world, and sharing some of them is a catch-22 that I’m still sorting through.

Flattening 7 foot long pieces of tulip poplar bark for the wigwam.

Second, I must take care of my body at all times. I’ve had so many bites and scrapes and cuts and I work with sharp things often. I’ve had a few infections. Luckily, I live with herbalists and they have helped me with different remedies. I’ve been really empowered by exploring what, for me, is a new avenue. When I had a swollen eyelid, I immediately thought that meant I needed to see a doctor and get antibiotics. But, I tried a compress of usnea and calendula instead. I religiously compressed that eye and the swelling and itching eventually subsided. I read an interesting passage in an herbal book about how I should support my body during the infection, because it has the tools to fight it. What a different approach than trying to knock everything out with an antibiotic all of the time (though there are some herbs that will do that too)! I look myself down from head to toe a couple times every day and check out what’s going on. If I don’t take care of my body, I cannot be what I want to be and do what I need to do. Plain and simple.
Teaching fire making. Local newspaper picked it up at

And so I am looking forward to continuing the construction of my wigwam, which will be my primary residence, continuing to better connect and integrate with my community, and to learn and teach my ancestor’s skills as they become my own skills. I want to see ecosystems as my ancestors did. I want to develop relationships with everything around me to keep me alive. It is no easy task, but there are a determined few of us trying, even as the inertia of the dominant human culture on this planet is encouraging disconnection, order, and profit. Onward and upward, live, thrive, and be!