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ManyTracks Homesteading 
with
Sue Robishaw



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Freedom, Flexibility and

 An "Alternative" Life

How-to  ~  Ideas  ~  Inspiration
 From more than thirty years having a good time living a sustainable life
in the northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula

No bills. We worked "out" until we paid for our homestead, bought what we could afford, and did our own building. Our water is pumped by the wind, our electrical wants powered by the sun. Some of our heating is provided directly from the sun via solar heat, the rest indirectly from the sun via the woodlot. We cook with the sun, with wood, and sometimes with propane (one small tank a year). All this gave, and gives, us a wonderful freedom and flexibility to live the way we choose, a way that is satisfying to us and fun.

Our Aladdin lamps are long gone, oil lamps stuck in a corner, candles an occasional soft lighting source. Our main lights are fluorescents and compact fluorescents, the short use lights low cost 12 volt incandescents. All are powered by the sun. Flashlights, with rechargeable batteries, are scattered throughout the house (and almost always somewhere other than where you are). The light is used when we need it, where we need it. It's a comfortable use of lighting.

We've found refrigeration to be not a necessity at all. We enjoy it when it's provided by nature during the winter months, and live happily without when it's not. Our pantry and root cellar are naturally around 40 degrees half the year, the other half they are still cool enough to keep most foods quite well. And the cost was nothing more than building the root cellar and pantry into the back of our house. No extra bills or appliances.

We do have a telephone, and the monthly charge that goes with it. Along with email and our website. Our livelihood at this time requires the connections. But we know it is an option. We could do something else for a living that doesn't necessitate the telephone bill; we have in the past. But for now it is a part of our life.

The gardens, tame and wild, provide much of our food. We purchase some food from outside. We know we can live on only what we can grow and gather. We tried it, and it worked just fine. Outside food is an option, a choice, and one we choose. For now.

The gasoline-hog vehicles are a problem. We live far from towns and activities. Transportation costs are a high percentage of our dollar outlay. But for us a "new" vehicle is one less than ten years old; and blood, sweat, and skinned knuckles keep the older ones on the road (our 1984 Rampage keeps us moving with more than 150,000 miles under her belt). The dreams and drawings for an electric hybrid vehicle are still alive. And our bicycles and our feet give us a break quite often. We could choose to do without a car: we could choose to live closer to town. We could choose to live in an area where public transportation is an option. But we have chosen to live here, so we make do the best we can with what we have.

The only insurance bill we have is for the vehicles, the minimum required by law. Taxes we need money for, so that fund gets the money first. We take responsibility for ourselves and our property, and we keep the quantity of that down. Health is a natural state of being. We prefer to live and work with nature, not against. Our beliefs and our health reflect that.

There is a minimum money that we have to earn. By keeping that amount on the low side, we feel more free to choose our "work" -- what, when, where, and for whom. We know we can get all kinds of odd jobs if needed. We've done so -- in a so-called depressed, high unemployment area, and we were new folks at the time. We just let people know that we were willing to work, we worked, and we met lots of folks that way. Much of what we do now doesn't pay a great deal in money, some hardly any at all. But the work that does pay allows for that which doesn't. The pay in satisfaction and creative expression is far and above more important than paper money no matter how much the job pays.

When we want to buy something we weigh it against the time and energy to be spent earning the money for it. We consider alternatives. Could we make it ourselves? Could we make do with something else? And if it takes five years to buy it, well, that's OK too. We have never gone without something we really wanted. If it is that important, the money will come.

The hardest thing is not being so busy we lose the joy of living, the magic of this earth. There are so many possibilities, so many paths to follow, so much of interest out there, or in here. It's important to see the clouds, watch the birds, notice the stars, feel the wind, smell the earth, the fox, the trees, soak up the rain, and the sun. We continue to work on that.

Many human-slave machines have lost their importance to us. Mulch and permanent beds replace the tiller, the "lawn" mower is electric and used but little, the scythe is a comfortable tool. Brush piles full of small birds and animals make mockery of the long gone shredder. The chainsaw still has us, but less now than it used to. Heating and cooking with the sun beats cutting firewood.

That is not to say we don't make use of power tools at all. We do. I wouldn't want to be without the electric wringer washing machine. And power wood working tools make short work of many jobs. But the hand tools are still alive and well. And used. And enjoyed. The pencil and paper is still on the desk along with the computer and printer. 

We enjoy life, enjoy our creative urges and adventures, enjoy the learning. We're different than the couple who worked for a large chemical company, lived a block off the main city drag, ate out most nights, belonged to the country club, wore pantyhose and suit.

And we're different than the two who wanted every other animal "Countryside" mentioned, wanted to mow and clear and "do something" with most of this 80 acres, wanted to can everything in sight and build and plow and build some more.

The pantyhose are long gone and the suit went to St. Vinnie's years ago. We no longer spend most of our "free" time building, though we are now spending much time "rebuilding" -- it's been that long. 

And I'm sure there's a future Steve and Sue who are different yet again, being born by the decisions we are making today. But we're happy to be where and when we are right now. And it was good to be where we were then, too. 

* * * * * *

Copyright 1997 and 2003 by Susan Robishaw
 



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    To read more about the first twenty years building and living on our homestead check out

    "Homesteading Adventures - a Guide for Doers and Dreamers"

NEW!  "Homesteading Adventures" is now available as an eBook! Click on Book for More Info

updated 04/03/2014
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