Carving out a homestead is a fantasy of many a young boy. Even now, when Saturday morning programming does not include anything like Davy Crockett or Grizzly Adams, there are still young boys whose dads and granddads go huntin’, fishin’, and card playin’ up at the lake or river. Chances are, that those young boys have a sister or two, and the girls may be harboring similar fantasies.
Lucky is the gal whose dad takes her along on these treks to the woods and fields.
Luckier still is the gal whose MOM takes her fishin’ and teaches her to bait her own hook.
I was a child of the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s when men were Men, and women raised them. June Cleaver kept her house immaculate and always wore pearls and heels to BREAKFAST for Pete’s sake. The moms from Happy Days, The Partridge Family, and The Brady Bunch did the same. Heckfire, even Samantha on Bewitched who could do her housework by wiggling her powdered little nose didn’t do much else all day long.
Oh sure there was Marlo Thomas, you know, That Girl. And Mary Tyler Moore. And Laverne and Shirley. THEY had jobs. But THEY were single. They were allowed. And it was always inferred that once they snagged a man, they’d be quitting that (whisper and spell it out) j-o-b, and having babies and simonizing the whole house along with the rest.
I was luckier than most as I was a Girl Scout back when scouting was still about camping and learning outdoorsy stuff. When I was a scout, we earned badges for fire making and knot tying, and our high school troop saved up for several years to go to the big Girl Scout camp in Wyoming for a week of primitive camping. Little girls loved riding the big hot stinky school bus to day camp in the summer where I was first a counselor, and later the camp director. We taught them how to lay a trail, build a fire, make stuff out of sticks and we ate s’mores and drank “bug juice”.
By the time my daughter was a scout, badges were not stressed as much, and had been altered to be more “relevant” to this new world (I was too depressed to even look to see what they changed them up to) and her high-school troop saved up for a trip to Europe, where they stayed in hotels and shopped. The one time I volunteered to be camp counselor in this new age of scouting, the girls were delivered individually by moms in minivans and sat around complaining that it was hot, there was dirt, and they looked down their tiny perfect noses at me with scorn when I referred to the Kool-Aid as bug juice.
As a whole, Americans are a whole lot more urban than they used to be. This is no surprise to anyone, and for the most part this is looked at as a GOOD thing.
If you are a contemporary American couple looking for the simple life, it’s hard. Your family and friends will suspect some sort of brain-damaging food poisoning. You will be looked-at with amused and bemused affection and the barely-concealed suspicion that it’s a passing phase that the male half of the couple is instigating to make up for some sort of failure in the corporate jungle. It is the female half of the couple’s job to either talk him out of it, or go along with good humor till the phase is over.
And a lot of the time that is exactly what happens.
Sometimes a single male, perhaps after a divorce, will take off into the wilds to “find himself”. This is accepted, even encouraged self-therapy. “Do the boy some good to get a little dirt under his nails. Build up a few muscles. Work out of the emotional doldrums” etc. etc. etc.
Here’s where it gets weird.
Say you are a single FEMALE, perhaps after a divorce. If you announce to your family and friends that you are going to move out to the sticks and apply yourself to the pursuit of a simpler life, they will be coming after you brandishing anti-depressants and a straight jacket.
How will you live?
Won’t you be lonely??
Who will take care of you???
Just smile sweetly and tell them it will do you good to get a little dirt under your nails, build up a few muscles, and work out of the emotional doldrums.
There are a lot of resources on finding the right property. All those are unisex and depend not on gender for relevance. Sometimes you have to be a little more cautious depending on the realtor—some will think they can pull the wool over a “little filly’s” eyes on a place, but no more so than any other city slicker they see coming down the pike. The advantage of being female is that you are used to this attitude in most of life anyway and can smell a rat from a mile away.
With few exceptions, the manual labor of farm life is what will pose challenges. Although I’ve known women who could bench press the average tax accountant, most of us (collectively, not just females) are much much more weenified than in past generations. Renovating or building a homestead, working on fence, managing livestock, maintaining a kitchen garden, and general repairs will seem daunting, especially if you have to ALSO have employment off the farm to survive (and most of us do, don’t feel badly if you need to also).
I have homesteaded with and without husbands and have to say that if your husband is not behind the idea 120%, it will be way harder than if you are by yourself. You will naturally be second-guessing and micro-evaluating everything you do all on your own; you will not need someone peering over your shoulder waiting to say “I TOLD you that wouldn’t work”. In such a case, some hard choices will have to be made, and those choices will depend on the personalities of those directly involved and must be made accordingly.
You have found and moved onto your piece of rural paradise.
You need tools. In addition to the tools you will find in the handy-toolkit-in-a-box you can get at your local Home Depot, you will need a good sledgehammer, a good prybar, a good hatchet and saw, a case of duct tape, an endless supply of baling wire, and a hot glue gun (for the delicate repairs).
If you possess a natural aversion to bugs, rats, mice or snakes, get over it.
If you are afraid of the dark, buy a really big flashlight and a lot of batteries.
If the complete quiet punctuated by the odd unidentifiable cry of a country night creeps you out, you have made a bad life decision.
To survive and thrive in the country as a single woman you need to always keep in mind the Three L’s.
L number One: Laughter.
In the midst of your most frustrating day there is humor.
Your semi-feral Billy goat pushed over the fence and is now devouring your tomato plants after stromping all over the cucumber vines? Look at his face- calm, serene pride of accomplishment. Think of what YOUR face looks like. Funny.
Your car is stuck in what passes for the road because the rain you prayed for finally came? And you were on your way to have lunch with city friends in town and are now hiking back to the house wearing heels and stockings through the brambles and mud? Hilarious.
You are cornered across the room from the broom AND the door by a big ol’ snake who happened to be napping under your kitchen sink? AND you have to go to the bathroom really bad? STOP IT, YER KILLIN’ ME!!!
These are not at all humorous when you are in the middle of them, but stopping to try to find humor in a situation gives you the chance to catch your breath, calm down enough to come up with a plan, and make for some most excellent story-telling that will beat the tar out of your co-worker’s harrowing tale of losing her car at the mall.
For example, one dark and stormy night I was sleeping in my house, minding my own business, when I was awakened by a tremendous BANG! Seems the furnace that had been installed that day was not leveled and when it kicked on, something inside caused a noisy malfunction of some sort. Speeding to the back of the house to turn off the furnace I couldn’t help but notice out of the corner of my eye as I passed the kitchen door that the little copper tube that came up out of the floor where a fridge once sat and that carried water for the ice maker of said fridge had popped it’s protective cap and was spewing water prettily into the air at an amazing rate of speed and velocity. After finding the ‘water-turn-off key’ (oh yeah- add that to your list of tools), I trudged out to the front of my property with a flashlight clenched in my teeth in the dark and the rain to turn off the main water valve. I returned to my cold, waterless house very un-amused.
And yet, in retrospect, it’s hysterical. And part of the rich history I’ve made with this place.
L number Two: Leverage.
Females are usually smaller and weaker than males. It’s a fact. I am at peace with the knowledge that no matter how many push ups I do, or Power-Ades I slurp down, I will never be as strong as a male of comparable size. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it’s an extreme advantage to think through a problem without resorting to or depending on brute force to do something. Because NO ONE is strong enough to literally tackle EVERYTHING.
Take working with livestock. There’s this cow, see. She’s eating happily but you need her to move to a different field. She likes THIS field.
You ask her to move. No response.
You yell at her. No response.
You yell at her while waving your arms. No response.
You yell at her while smacking her soundly on the rump. No response.
Placing a shoulder against the cow’s shoulder, you try to push the cow.
The cow starts to giggle.
Because Mr. Universe is STILL not a match for your average, nay, your wimpiest cow.
You must apply leverage.
A well-placed thumb into the cow’s ribcage is leverage.
So is a bucket of sweet feed.
Another personal anecdote: filling in at a Vet’s office one day as receptionist, I watched the two male Vets and the male owner of a mule trying to get the mule into the stocks for an exam. They pulled. And pulled. And shouted. And cussed some. Finally, I went out there, wrapped the lead rope around the mule’s butt so I was, in effect, pushing AND pulling the animal at the same time, and he quickly and quietly went into the stocks.
Find the leverage.
Embrace the leverage.
Use the leverage.
L number Three: Lashes.
Now this one is a last resort, but sometimes in order to get something done, playing the Damsel in Distress card is the way to go. You actually have a better chance at getting help, even free help, by being female than by being male.
If there’s another country gal within easy distance to learn from, just ask. Most of us love to share our knowledge with others, and are always learning new things ourselves from OTHER women in an endless spiral of knowledge acquisition.
If all else fails, go on and ask a guy.
In general, guys will help other guys do things for the promise of a good card game and copious amounts of fermented beverage for the helpers after the job is done. It is still a learning experience for the guy who did the asking, but there’s a price tag attached (gambling and beer).
In assisting a “helpless female”, your average guy needs no further payment. He’s just “happy to be of assistance, ma’am. Holler if you need anything else”. You have gained the knowledge that you need to do for yourself next time, and no hops or malts had to lose their lives for it.
Now, I’m not advocating donning petticoats and simpering (what IS simpering, anyway???), because if you have uprooted yourself and moved into the country you are already an independent, strong woman. But the really good men out there, whose mama’s raised them right, will be honored to help you and there’s not a thing wrong with that. Plus, if you are right over their shoulder watching and handing them tools, or hip deep in muck along with them, you will also earn their respect.
And in the country, that’s better than money.
I’ve never been laughed at or looked down on by my neighbors for trying to do for myself—in fact they’ve always been there to help and more importantly TEACH when I’ve needed it.
The biggest compliment I’ve ever gotten was from my 80-something-year-old neighbor. I was helping him move some hay and at one point he squinted over the top of the bale and said, “You know, you’re pretty good help.”
Nothing anyone has ever said to me in almost 50 years has ever meant more.