This whole thing is a metaphor. It still works and is true the way it’s written, but sometimes I’m too subtle so… this whole thing is a metaphor.
We live completely off-grid on an off-grid farm in Central Texas. The grid really doesn’t have much to do with my topic today, living disconnected from it just explains a lot of the context, but I thought I’d head off some of the inevitable questions. At our old farm out in West Texas we were still living on-grid, and for a good part of that time we worked regular “town” jobs and we had a little money to spend on things like a nice driveway and… you know… planting and watering grass.
We don’t grow grass now. If it grows it grows, and if it grows, great! If it grows tall it becomes animal food.
The point is that when you live like we do, particularly when you first start out, you deal with mud. You deal with mud A LOT. Even out here in the semi-arid desert. If it rains, there is mud. And not the kind of mud you might be used to. Ours is the perfect clay for making pottery or plates. It is the kind of clay that when wet, sticks hard to everything and won’t let go. That kind of mud.
When you first get started in this kind of endeavor, you are one of two kinds of family: You either have money or you don’t. We didn’t. You can throw money at your problems, or you can take the long, slow, muddy road of grinding it out.
The thing is, if you move to a rural farm and just throw money at all your obstacles, the chances are that you won’t have learned how to really live that way.
You won’t have built up hard-earned skills and experience that gives you the confidence to know that you could do it again if you needed to. Anywhere. Anytime. That’s the thing of it. The hard way kind of sucks at times, but it is the way you learn… and teach others… how to survive.
When we moved to our acreage in the sticks, there wasn’t even a real road through the property. There was a dirt drive coming in for a bit, maybe a hundred feet or so, then it ended and the rest of the acreage was just wild. No roads. Few fences. There were a couple fields that had been cleared back in the 30’s or 40’s but hadn’t been used much in the last 20 years or more. And part of our deal with the seller was that they had to bring in a bulldozer and cut a road through the whole property. And that’s what they did. They just bulldozed trees and obstacles and pushed them off to the side. The road was basically made from driving the clearing. And it was clay, which is great when it doesn’t rain. Not so much after 5 inches of downpour in a couple of days.
If we’d had money we could have paved it or graveled it. We could have ordered in road base and crowned it so the water would run off. We could have put in water ditches and culverts to direct the water when it rains. We could have immediately put up fences and planted grass and maybe we could have built a nice, comfortable home.
Instead, we did none of that. We started in a tent. Then we moved to a camper. Then we moved to a 12′ x 16′ box with two tiny windows on the wrong ends of it so it never cooled down in the summer. And we painted it a very dark barn red, which is actually how you would make a solar oven if you ever want to try that in Central Texas.
I don’t recommend it. Of course, we didn’t know what we were doing, but we were glad to be doing it.
The first 6 years were fun, exciting, educational, miserable, and completely horrific sometimes. We didn’t know if we’d make it. I remember the first time we found a nearby flowing stream that was deep enough to swim in. That was in the first year. It was summer and it was nearly 105 degrees every day. After about 2 p.m. every day we’d just sit under a tree and swelter. It was pure-on misery. And it rarely cooled down much at night. The mosquitoes would descend like we were in the jungle. We’d bought a membership at the State Park a dozen miles away and we’d go there to fill our water containers every day or so. I was driving home and decided to figure out the back roads, and took a detour. The road was winding and it was a beautiful drive, and at one point a few miles from our land, the road did a double-back into a little valley and dropped down over a small creek. I pulled over. If you walked in either direction from the road down the creek widened and there was a beautiful “swimmin’ hole,” several feet deep. Or at least deep enough to submerge ourselves. You couldn’t dive in it, but you could cool off. After a month of 105 degree temps with almost no water (we had to drive to the State Park to fill water containers for any water we’d need,) a stream to cool yourself in is like finding God’s own mercy.
I drove home fast and skidded to a stop in front of our old army tent.
“Grab a towel and get in, ya’ll!” I shouted. “We’re gettin’ a bath!”
We drove like we were crazy people over to that swimmin’ hole and boy was it fine! After that we went looking for other areas to swim and get water, and we found quite a few not too far from our land.
At one point, the year after we moved here, it hadn’t rained for 10 straight months. Not enough to even wet the ground. The next year it rained 41 inches, like it was a rain forest, and we lived… literally… in the mud.
But that’s how we learned. That’s how we know we could do this again if we had too. Anywhere.
We’re over a dozen years in to this life now and we still have to deal with the mud. The mud years have made us strong, resilient, and wise. Not to mention understanding. There’s that too. You can always throw money at your problems, but there’s no promise that doing so will work, and even if it does work you may miss out on some very important lessons. In some fields of endeavor, throwing money at problems only works once in many millions of times. You have no real control over whether you succeed or fail. When you do things the hard way, no matter if you succeed or fail in the world’s eyes, you will not have failed. You will have learned valuable lessons. And you’ll be a different person because of it.
Stronger. Smarter. Wiser.
I know people who try to overpower every obstacle with brute force. They hate discomfort. Hate challenges. Cower under difficulties. If they can, they try to make the obstacles go away the simplest and easiest way.
I’m just saying maybe you should think of your obstacles as good things. It’s just another way to look at life. Maybe doing hard things the hard way could work for you.