They don’t live in houses but instead carry their houses with them. They don’t shop at malls, clip coupons, or wear the latest fashions. They don’t possess or strive for anything except their next meal and good grazing land for their flocks. Some live out on the dry, cold tundra where plant growth is mostly mosses and lichens and the ground beneath their feet is permanently frozen. Some trek across the deserts of the world from watering hole to watering hole. Home sweet home for them is wherever they stake their tent. They’re called wanderers, migrants, travelers, and nomads; people who live their lives constantly on the move.
Stretching back thousands of years, before recorded history, nomadic peoples have walked the earth; living their life on the road, carving out their own unique reality. Individualism is in their blood; so much so that even today nomadic people still walk the earth, letting the road teach them as they go. Their journey may not be spiritual on purpose, but it definitely has a spiritual component.
Communing with Nature as they walk among Her greatness; accepting where they find themselves and what Mother Nature has set before them, nomads are known for leaving a scant footprint in their journeys. As homesteaders, we also move to places beyond the sidewalks to better commune with nature, appreciate Her magnitude, and do no harm.
Nomads live on what would seem to most of us like the cutting edge, way outside of our comfort zones. Doing what the vast majority of us will never dare to do, they live mostly without material possessions. They herd, hunt, and fish wherever they find it convenient, beyond the sidewalks and the fences. In this way, they’re a lot like homesteaders, just much more mobile.
They walk where others are unwilling to walk; making a life out of infertile places, rocky hillsides, icy tundra, and hot deserts.
Because nomads live in areas of climatic extremes, they’ve become flexible and opportunistic people. Mobility is a must if they are to thrive on widely dispersed resources whose availability varies from year to year. Homesteaders also can be said to adapt to Nature; many of us have left the city behind so that we can make a life closer to the environment, and live in respect of Her. We, too, try to leave as small a footprint as possible.
The tools of nomadic survival include camels to carry their gear, lightweight shelters called yurts that are easy to put up and take down, and clothing that protects them from the sun and sand. Like homesteaders, they raise animals—goats, yaks, sheep, and cows. Their small-scale farming includes fishing and hunting. Although nomads live a more subsistence-oriented life, they engage in commerce by trading and selling their animals and animal hides, milk, meat, and various crops. Homesteaders do much the same.
Nomads also live in the deserts of the world. Living there, they must relocate constantly since the harsh weather and shifting water tables make life almost unbearable. And yet they adapt and survive as they move from place to place herding their livestock and providing for their families.
Why do they wander?
Nomads don’t struggle with the “purpose of life concept”, and that alone seems like a huge burden lifted, if you ask me. They simply put one foot in front of the other, leading their flock and their families to the next suitable place. I wondered why and how they could live such a life of—what seems to me—sacrifice and inconvenience. Why do they prefer to move from place to place and do without many of the basic necessities of life? In short, I wondered why they wander.
Nomads are willing to pay the high cost of wandering in a high-tech world. But that high-tech world has seeped in on them, and continues to trickle in, eroding their roaming. How long will our world be a place that nomads can wander freely?
Some of these wanderers have embraced the new high-tech developments of the world beyond the footpaths, i.e. using photovoltaics to lessen their dependence on fossil fuels. Mongolian nomads have solar panels in their communities, allowing them access to electricity. They can now converse on cell phones with neighboring villages and even watch TV inside their yurts. So can we still call them nomads? Like nomads, homesteaders cherish the land; we improve it through farming and planting. We may designate it a wetland or start a community garden, and many of us choose to leave the land just as we find it. This is basically the nomad way; they take what they need from the land and nothing more.
In their quest for water and resources for themselves and their livestock, nomads have become incredibly resilient and opportunistic people. Many nomads have turned their knowledge and survival skills into a business of leading people across wide expanses of desert that they would otherwise be unable to cross alone. This entrepreneurial trend echoes the cottage industry of homesteading life.
Nomads are people not connected to any place; their lifestyle dictates that they move on to the next grazing ground. They have no permanent housing, no car in the garage (no garage, even), and no closet full of clothes. They don’t hang pictures on the walls of their yurts because they will soon be moving on. They live temporarily in a permanent world, without being tied down to material possessions, without being tracked, without being policed. Their life beyond the sidewalks means avoiding attachments to material things as much as possible. In this way, we homesteaders differ from nomads; because we do want to own things… most of all, land. Although nomads do not own land per se, they do live in organized groups, or clans, with a certain untethered claim on specific territories. Tribal elders control access to land, water, and resources, much like we homesteaders do on our own properties. But when circumstances call for it, nomads simply pack up their gear and move to better grazing ground, no questions asked.
But as homesteaders, we asked many questions before making the move to become people of the land. Can we give up our attachment to some of our favorite things, like cable TV, fast food, and brand new cars? And that’s what we, as homesteaders, have done. We have moved away from the big city lights and made a conscious decision to do without certain things.
Wherever You Go, There You Are
For the nomads of the world, it’s mostly about the journey; and it’s a fluid journey. If they arrive at a place that meets the needs of their family and flock, they make that place their home until such a time as their needs change. They don’t travel the world for any indefinable, elusive goal but for the simple, tangible goal of tending their flocks and staying alive to walk another day. They embody the Buddhist philosophy of, “The home is the here and now.”
Their lives are about travel, but not the sort of travel to the next popular, exotic vacation spot. Their travel is from grazing ground to grazing ground, finding water and land for their families and their livestock. But don’t underestimate them just because they don’t possess or desire the latest version of the “good life”.
The Nomadic State of Mind
Imagine not having to sift through all of life’s possibilities and choices, but just to accept what is and go with it. I believe this is the heart of the nomad state of mind. Homesteaders differ here as well; most of us choose to leave an old life behind and make the radical change that transforms us into people who can live off the land.
They don’t know it, but nomads are vulnerable. They walk face-first into an unknown world, unashamed of who they are. Sometimes they’re hungry, sometimes thirsty, many times without the most basic needs of life, yet they continue to journey. They are what most of us would call “dirt poor”, but they don’t see it that way. Maybe it’s this unreserved simplicity that makes some city dwellers want to strap on a backpack and walk along with them.
Their vulnerability feels like trust to us; if I were to walk along with them, I wouldn’t expect games or dishonesty, just the simple pleasure of the walk and the chance to soak up some of their wisdom. I would have to drop all pretenses and face my weaknesses; in other words, I would have to “just be”. That’s what I was seeking when I moved beyond the sidewalks; I wanted to live on the land with no make-believe or pretense. In this way, homesteaders are like nomads.
Walk Until Something Happens
It’s the ultimate simple life, but how many of us in modern civilization could live it? A mantra of recent times has been to simplify our lives, to move away from materialism. I think about that and then I look around me at all the possessions I own. What if I couldn’t reach over and turn on the lamp that sits beside my comfy couch? Or tune into my favorite radio station, or eat at my favorite restaurant? What if I had to give up all that I hold dear, in the name of simplicity? I wonder how long I’d last.
The Road is Their Teacher
I ask myself if I really want that much simplicity. Could I walk through hot deserts, and over cold mountain passes while keeping my eye on a flock of goats, two children, and my ailing parents? When we say we want a more simple life, to most of us that means buying fewer Christmas presents. It means reducing the number of times we eat out, or not buying that new pair of shoes. It does not mean putting our homes up for sale, selling all of our possessions, and hitting the road with a knapsack on our backs. To us, in our tech-savvy, industrialized world, this would seem ludicrous.
We are goal-oriented people, on our way to somewhere specific, and because of this, we miss much of life along the way. But the life of a nomad is the exact opposite; for them the road is home and home is wherever they decide to stake their tent for the time being.
Nomads of Today
There is a new kind of nomad on the horizon these days. Today’s up-and-coming nomads are young, mobile, and very tech-savvy. They didn’t grow up living the nomadic life, but, as adults, they make a conscious choice to live it. Traveling from place to place, country to country, they use their laptops to pilot them across the spaces, to make money, to communicate with each other. In this way, they live out their philosophy. These new nomads could be called the digital homesteaders; they are the new pioneers of the digital world. They don’t own things, or at least they try not to; they choose not to put down roots.
But as homesteaders, that’s exactly what we do choose. Homesteaders can be called stationary nomads of a sort; some of us are even digital nomads. We choose to live out of town, or way out of town, and make a digital living. All it takes is access to the Internet and a willingness to explore new territory. The array of companies we can work for from home is constantly growing, and as stationary nomads, we always have a home to come back to; unlike traveling nomads who must constantly look for a place to bed down and worry about the laws and regulations of the country or region in which they find themselves.
I couldn’t wander the deserts and mountains of the world, or travel from country to country, never putting down any roots. But I can wander the fields and meadows of my own little piece of paradise; it’s the property I call my own. I’m a homesteader and I own a piece of this planet. Though I live my life in one place, I have a heart for nomads and I understand their quest. The way I see it, we are all seeking our spiritual place in this fast-changing world.