As a professional who markets herself as a “simplicity expert” I have a confession to make. I’ve come to believe that nothing, that no existence is truly simple. Mark and I have almost completed a transition from our 30+ year life in New York City to a downsized life in Monticello, NY. When we bought a house (and a shed) on four acres of land on a dead end of an undeveloped tract outside the town (correction, the village) I entertained fantasies of becoming (almost by way of association with an expanse of undisturbed land, relative silence and solitude) self-sufficient. I dreamt of solar panels, growing vegetables and self-generating electricity. Mark and I started our homestead project by destroying whatever vestiges of homeliness and comfort our predecessor managed to create within the crooked walls of our crooked little house. We inhabited a shell full of construction materials, tools and sawdust. Our porch was, for two years, filled with the remains of whatever did not suit our refined urban sensibilities. I’m still not sure I am meant to live in the country. Country folk do not carefully refinished surfaces, worry about the right paint color or pore over magazines filled with mismatched eclectic pieces of furniture which have been skillfully reupholstered to create that perfect “Cottage” look.
I speak of the country as I knew it in Alabama, in the ’60s and ’70s. At that time there were still vast expanses of untouched geography lacking in the convenient hub which now replicates itself all over the country consisting of: 1) a Wal-Mart 2) a Home Depot or Loewe’s and 3) a culinary smorgasbord consisting of Dunkin’ Donuts (breakfast), McDonald’s (lunch) and Outback Steakhouse (dinner). Being still preoccupied with the intentions of a city inhabitant (fixing up the house) instead of the farmer’s (growing and preparing my own food and pruning the fruit trees) I created a weekend routine on the pretense that, as I’ve only recently reestablished a driver’s license, included driving practice to the local Dunkin Donuts for a coffee. I can only assume that the reason I held off buying a coffee press and real coffee for the house is that I longed to confirm my connection with civilization. After only a few hours of spending a morning upstate, I sat awake and uneasy, with nothing to disturb my thoughts but the caw of the resident crows. I was compelled to contribute to the landfill expansion to which my neighbors so strongly objected. How could I negotiate my morning without throwing away a styrofoam Dunkin’ Donuts cup? I can safely say that after two years, I am now properly acclimated to being an upstater. Home decoration is no longer at the top of my priority list and I am looking forward to spending the spring learning many new skills, starting with germinating seed, creating a garden bed and properly pruning the apple trees. I feel just as overwhelmed with the prospect of becoming a steward of land as I ever was tackling any job in the city, going to music school or performing. We seem to live in a time when our environment is asking many of us who have taken it for granted all our lives to make big changes – in the way we live, in how we consume, in what we do with our time and energy and with what we produce. I used to ask myself everyday: “am I up to the task?” I no longer ask myself that question – someone has to be up for it – if I’m not fit to take care of what has come to me, then how could I ever expect anyone else to be?