I’ve been thinking about this for a while now since moving out to 24 acres and a doublewide. There is a half-baked romance about “living out” that, for somebody who grew up in Brooklyn and Nassau County Long Island, is nigh inescapable. But make no mistake, my previous life with Annette in Brooklyn was way, way more simple than the weird maelstrom our lives have become.
Many of us harbor a belief that simple is better on several levels, but very few of us harbor an understanding of what “simple” actually means. Since moving out to the boonies I find I now own 10(!) internal combustion engine powered devices, all of which need care and feeding and all of which consume fossil fuel, along with a bevy of power tools and their requisite accessories.
I’m also responsible for over a quarter mile of gravel road for my personal access, which means stockpiling tons of “DG” and gravel (3/4 minus with fines), and spreading it as required.
Ah, and let’s not forget water. I have a well that by Sams Valley standards is quite good, but is still only 4.5 gallons per minute. To reduce the moment to moment stress on the well we installed a 2,000 gallon holding tank which then required a shed be constructed to house the pump controls, oh and second pump to pressurize the house. So now we have two submersible pumps to fret about.
And, speaking of water, let’s not overlook the gravity storage system I devised and installed. Two tanks, up on the highest point of my property, one is 3400 gallons the other 1100 gallons. They’re connected by common input and output manifolds. Their purpose is to feed the automatic waterers for the animals, at this point ducks and chickens. I learned last night that the common output manifold may have been a design error on my part. A fitting separated at some point during the day and both tanks drained dry. Hundreds of gallons wasted. The ground near the tanks is so parched there was no evidence any water had spilled.
As I type this i’m refilling the smaller tank off my well. Very slowly. On the plus side I’m happy to report the 2,000 concrete cistern is staying nearly full and the main well pump has yet to stop due to exhaustion. But again it’s a constant worry.
Then there’s waste water to deal with. Like everybody else out here we have a septic tank and drain field, and we are scrupulously careful about what goes down the drain. Growing up in Sea Cliff Long Island we had a septic tank, but Long Island is one big sand bar so all the septic tanks were the “sand filter” type that drained the water very quickly leaving the sludge to break down over time. We never had a moment’s trouble with our septic system over the 30 or so years my parents lived there, but my current system is embedded in low-perc clay soil that could easily be overwhelmed if we put too much water down the drain. It’s yet another thing to be mindful of.
And let us close with the inescapable fact that I am directly consuming more fossil fuels now, orders of magnitude more, than when I was living in Brooklyn. Yes, I know every scrap of food I consumed in the five boroughs of NYC had to be trucked in and determining the actual carbon footprint of a city dweller vs a country dweller is far more complex than it appears. But returning to my original point about simplicity I would argue that my current life is insanely more complex than was my Brooklyn life.
When I compare this life to my previous life I can’t help but feel conflicted and just as unclear about long-term sustainability. In many ways my current life seems less sustainable. And let me be the first to debunk any “freedom” myth. There is no such thing as private property in the United States. I’m just as beholden to a bank, the county, and now the watermaster along with a host of other agencies, and I present a 24 acre target for possible code/permit violations as opposed to a 900 square foot apartment.
Simplifying is way more complicated than it seems.