Thursday, 28 April 2011

Chop Wood, Carry Water.

Helen and Scott Nearing in their famous book ‘The Good Life’, talk about the meaning of life being ‘chop wood, carry water’.
The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living
I know exactly what they mean.  The things that give life meaning are things that make us feel real.  It does not literally have to be chopping wood and carrying water – they can get a bit irksome if you have to do them all the time.
I have been listening to a rather amusing series on Radio 4 about a care worker from abroad called Beauty.  She commented yesterday that we Europeans seem intent on doing away with all our modern comforts and conveniences and living like someone in the third world – ie back to nature, camping, doing without electricity etc.  She has a point, actually.  It is all very well doing without these things if you already have them and can go back to them at any time.  If you really have to depend on chopping wood and carrying water and growing all your own food for your survival it is very hard, especially if you are ill, or old, or pregnant…
However, somewhere in there is a compromise.  There is no need to exhaust ourselves trying to do it all, but maybe it makes sense to make mashed potato rather than buy a plastic tray of it in the supermarket for £1/$1.50.  It will be more enjoyable not just because it tastes a whole lot better, but because you made it and because it only cost 20p/30c.
I love to chop wood and I love to rescue wood from the dump and use it on our woodstove.  This week I learned to use metal splitting wedges to split huge logs.  I phoned up a company that sold such things and asked what a five foot tall and not very strong woman could use to split logs.  So now I am the proud owner of two wedges.  With a sledge hammer, a bit of practise and the help of a You Tube video I found I can split some quite large logs that I was given and it feels great.  But thank goodness it is not my only form of heating in minus 20c. 
I guess it is all about balance.  I like to make do and mend rather than have to work full time.  But too much make do and mend and I feel deprived and am likely to go and spend money to make myself feel better.  A bit like the binge and diet syndrome. 
We all have deep human needs to be 1. Understood,  and   2.  Useful and valued. Doing no work at all is quite depressing actually.  
I do not mean only paid work here, having children or relatives to care for, volunteering, growing food, chopping wood and carrying water all qualify.
Even Scott and Helen Nearing left their ‘Good Life’ when they got older.  Actually, the whole point of communities is to not have to do it all yourself.  And we simplify and aim to live in one place and have a locally based life of meaning and community, then realise that is just what people living in small towns and villages all over the world have done for generations.  It just does not seem sexy when it is the kind of life you grew up with.  Peasant life in rural France seems romantic if you grew up in a mining village in the UK and probably vice versa.
So here I am living the life that my Grandparents did, in a geographically different but otherwise very similar part of the country.  They had allotments, so did I.  They grew veg and kept chickens, so have I.  They chopped wood for the fire and so do I.  My grandmother saved bits of string and plastic bags and so do I.  I can even still taste the tinned ham that was fast food if she ever got unexpected guests.  (It makes a great sandwich with a spot of mustard - yum).
The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook: America's Bestselling Step-by-Step Cookbook, with More Than 1,400 RecipesIn fact today I bought a new(er) copy  of the Good Housekeeping Cook Book. In our local charity shop.   
 My mother gave me a copy when I left home and it has everything in it that I have ever needed to know, even down to party menus and quantities for larger scale catering.  Her mother had bought her a copy of it when she got married.  And it is still in print today.  And I chopped wood, but drew the line at carrying water and used the hosepipe and automatic sprinkler to water the poly tunnel and strawberry bed.

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