Monday, July 01, 2013

Conflict and Concerns

As I begin this post, I'm not convinced I'll publish it.  It is far more on the true personal journal side of writing than I think I have ever been on this blog.  That, however, is exactly what I say I want to do with this blog, so I guess we'll see.

As I write these words, I'm feeling concern over and disconnect from what I want to accomplish with me life.  The goals I have in homesteading seem to consistently ratchet up to an unrealistic expectation, then release to a level that offers me no true satisfaction.  Striking a balance with myself is hard to do.

As if that weren't enough, I have the hopes and dreams of my love to consider as well.  She is onboard with my homesteading goals, because she loves me and wants to make me happy, but in truth I think that what I truly want is too extreme for her.  She wants to be within easy commute of a hospital (ie city) so she can go to work and earn good wages and help people.  I respect all of those things, but I have concerns.  She is used to some modern comforts.  I'm interested in off-grid living.  She melts when the mercury goes above 85.  I'm willing to be sweaty and uncomfortable to reach my resiliency goals.  She is still somewhat concerned with keeping up appearances with neighbors and co-workers.  I'm concerned with providing systems that will nourish and support my offspring for generations to come, and I'm willing to sacrifice pretty much all my own comforts to accomplish that goal.  The interplay and timing of these goals that are largely at odd with each other concern me.

I'm concerned about the systems of support we depend on, specifically the healthcare system in relation to the economy, our personal one and the large one.  Currently, we have a good plan to get out of debt within about 13 years, and part of that plan is having a nominal (but not ideal) piece of land that I can homestead on.  Unfortunately, I'm not convinced that the economic realities will match the economic ideals we need in place to realize that plan.  Will the healthcare industry truly continue to provide the living both she and I are hoping it will, or will the money in healthcare show its true colors when the unfunded liability bubble finally bursts?  If so, the time spent and debt incurred for her to go into nursing may turn into a liability in the long-term.  We'll have to wait and see.

I'm concerned about the environment.  Getting out of debt with nominal land in our possession might be enough to get us through a short to medium-term environmental catastrophe, but what if it's not?  There is a reason that I have an ideal piece of land... mainly the ideal is that it is connected to a much larger piece of somewhat intact ecosystem that is nominally healthy and resilient.  Most of the land that we look at is surrounded by other plots that have been managed in a way that isn't exactly with the ecosystem in mind first.

The lack of land available that meets both my big picture needs, and my loves immediate concern needs, worries me.  I'm worried about making the decision to start a family.  Will I be able to provide for them in a proper fashion.  Will the ecosystem into which they're born be able to?  The decision to have kids shouldn't be taken lightly these days in the developed world, and it is something I am acutely aware of.  I'm worried about the economy going to shit before we can rid ourselves of our debt cancer.  I'm worried about the ecosystem collapsing out from under us if we don't make the right decision in the land we choose.  If these things happen, what kind of lives will our kids have?  My love persuades me that she's onboard with buying more remote, ecosystem connected land once debt is paid off and she isn't reliant on being in a hospital setting for good pay, but I worry that economy and ecology might not wait for us.

I should pause in this moment to be fair.  I've so far made it seem as if my love is responsible for any and all bad choices, and that isn't the case.  The student loan debt that I'm currently saddled with is my own doing.  She is not only not responsible for it, but is unbelievably gracious enough to offer help in paying it off once the nursing pay kicks in.  Obviously a large part of my apprehension towards the future has to do with my own choices years ago, and being worried about being able to get out from under those bad choices before the rug is pulled out from under us.  She is willing to do what she can to rid us of that burden and move forward with resilience.  With all that said... do I sometimes fault her for still not quite paying attention the larger picture that I see?  Yes.  Am I a major contributor to the things we need to take care of before we can truly address that bigger picture? Undoubtedly.  So if anyone feels like I'm demonizing her, rest assured I'm not... but she is a source of angst at times, because I think she doesn't feel the same sense of urgency I do.

Moving on.  I very strongly wish I was debt free.  The student loan debt she has incurred would be nothing if I was already debt free.  If I could go back in time and kick 18 year old Kyle until he decided to be more responsible, I would.  If my worst fears about the economy come true, perhaps my debt won't matter, but that's a chance I'm not willing to take.  Not only do I think it is the honorable thing to do to pay off the debts I incurred (even if I incurred them because of a lie that was sold to me about college and the jobs available after completing it), but I also worry about the fact that historically, debtors have been less willing to forgive and forget debt during hard times, not more.  If I were debt free, I'd be a lot further down the path that I want to be on, but that is not the case, so I have to figure that in to my plans.

I have what I consider to be a tremendous plan to get out of our debt quickly.  Buy raw land for cheap, live VERY simply for a few years while paying off debt, and then build systems up using money freed up by becoming debt-free.  One problem is, that plan doesn't seem include some of the modern amenities that are necessary for keeping up appearances in a healthcare setting.  I think it would include them quickly enough, but it's an argument I'm not willing to keep making at this point because I can't really promise that they'd all be present after only a few months.  Which leads me to another, bigger problem, which is that that plan is more simple that reality, and I need to accept that it will be harder and more uncomfortable than I think.  So I sit here, writing this article and contemplating go-between measures that may or may not be enough, all the while hoping that I can accomplish what I must before the world burns.

Will the world burn?  Many and many a generation have thought they were amidst the end-times, and truly the feeling I have is no different.  All of those other generations were wrong, and I have to allow for that fact which implies that I'm probably wrong too.  I don't truly think that we're close to the end times, just close to VERY hard times.  Do I think modern science presents a convincing case that anthropogenic climate change may cause a mass extinction that will wipe us out as a species?  Yes.  Have previous generations been similarly convinced that they lived in their own version of the end-times?  Obviously.  I cannot discount the fact that I might be overreacting.  But I also cannot discount the idea that my thinking so in the previous sentence might just be hopium.

This leads me to the idea that I don't really care if I'm over-reacting.  Perhaps I am, and near-term human extinction is nothing to worry about.  In this case, I'm still very interested in homesteading and all it affords.  I think it provides a lifestyle that will make me much happier.  I think it provides an upbringing for my children that I can be proud of, and that will raise them to be respectable human beings with respect for the planet they live on.  To be completely honest, I know it will be my dream come true, despite all the hard work that goes with it.

I don't know what will become of my future, or the concerns I have for it.  If we choose to have kids, I don't know what kind of future we'll be able to provide for them, or what kind of world we'll be bringing them into.  I do know what I want it to be, and I do think I have a good plan to be able to provide that.  I just hope I'm not too late.  It's possible that I was 30 years too late when I was born, and my tale might be a tragic comedy competitive with any of the best of them.  Or it might turn out that I'll only be 5 or 10 years late as of writing this post, and had I made better decisions when I was in my late-teens and early 20's it wouldn't have been an issue.  Or, lastly, it might prove that I've completely over-reacted, and technology will save the day, and the ideals I hold high will prove to be antiquated and laughable.  All I know is that I feel the weight of humanity on my shoulders right now, and I don't always think I'm taking all the proper steps to be able to shoulder the burden.  Time will tell if I'm successful.  If I'm not, may whatever future lies ahead forgive me for the bad decisions I've made, and at least know that I tried my best once I knew what the future actually was.  May my children, and hopefully their children, know that I did my best with the circumstances I was presented and chose for myself.  May they know that once I was a little more mature, I acted more with their best interests in mind than my own.  May they know that I did what little part I could in saving this planet for them.

Most of all, selfishly, I hope that someday I can be doing something that relieves the guilt I feel.  I want to be somewhere doing something that I truly feel is the best I can be doing.  It's exhausting constantly feeling like you're destroying the planet and whatever future might lie ahead for your children and grandchildren.  I feel despondent and despairing now, working for the machine.  I hope, for my own sake, that I might someday be at peace with the legacy I'm working to leave.  In truth, I suppose I am the biggest thing standing in my own way... and I hope that I have the strength and intelligence to find a way to the path that is the truth I'm seeking to live.


  1. Kyle, what you have written here resonates so strongly with my own fears and concerns. I am also currently living in the city (Seattle) and dream of a permaculture homesteading future. I am much farther from my goal than you are, thanks to student debt for a degree I'm not using and insufficient savings, but have had many of the same thoughts you voice here.

    I first arrived at my dream thinking it would be the only way to survive the economic and ecological disasters that seem to be bearing down on us. But the more I've seen and read by true 'preppers' who are readying themselves not only for total self-sufficiency but also violent self-defense in the lawless war zone the world would certainly become in the event of total collapse, the more I've decided I don't /want/ to survive that way. I want to live without the necessity for wage labor, to build my own home and raise enough crops and livestock to provide for myself and my loved ones and to trade for necessities we couldn't produce ourselves - not to scrape by in a violent post-apocalyptic hellscape.

    Like you, I've reasoned that, collapse or no collapse, the homesteading lifestyle is what will make me happy, and that is reason enough to pursue it. Living in the city, feeling disconnected from the cycles of nature, working one unsatisfying job after another is certainly not how I want to spend whatever time I have left.

    Have you thought of joining or establishing an intentional community? If you found a group of people willing to go in together on land, you may be able to get a larger, more suitable property at less expense than buying individually. I only recently discovered your blog, so I haven't read very far into the archive yet; this may already be something you've considered and dismissed.

    1. Hi William,

      Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful comment.

      4 years ago when I started The Permie Homestead Blog, I was very much in the same position... lots of student loan debt for a degree I wasn't using, no savings, etc. It's been a slow but steady path to get close to where I am, and even so I've relied on a good bit of luck. Keep plugging away, and you'll get there... hopefully sooner than later.

      As for the intentional community, I'm open to the idea, but I'm a little too individualist to be in an intentional community that is run by consensus. Because of that, I think I'm stuck on the path of buying my own land, and running it the way I think is most healthy for the environment and my family, and then inviting others onto the land that agree with my way of doing things. It is a form of intentional community, but not the form that most people think of when they think of IC's.

      Please keep in touch, and keep reading my sloooowwww output of blogs. I love communicating with like-minded individuals. There is plenty to learn, and lots of opportunities for community. Once I have land, I'll be open to having guests there to see and experience what I'm doing, and I'd love to have a local Cascadian down from Seattle to check it out.

      Thanks again for the great comment, and if you would be so kind, spread the word about my blog to other like-minded folks. Please continue to comment as I post, and feel free to email me with any questions you have about permaculture along the way. My email is I hope to hear from you again soon!