Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dust In The Wind

There is a blogger in Nebraska who is a born writer.

Yesterday, she wrote a post asking if the modern homesteading movement had reached its peak.  I can't answer her question, but I can sure write (and write and write) about the previous "back to the land movement", the one that lasted into the early 1980's, because I was part of that.

Not in a "hippie" way.  We weren't hippies - no, we were far from it, probably about as far from it as you could get.  But here we were anyway.

We were afraid the economy was tanking, along with a lot of other people.  Although we were in our late 20's, we found ourselves trying to prepare for a future that was uncertain.  Part of it was reading a magazine called "Mother Earth News" and deciding we were going to "live off the land". Oh, and by the way, unlike my fellow blogger in Nebraska, neither of us had any relatives that had ever pursued the rural life.  We were fully urban. 

And yet....we had dreams of self-sufficiency, of living the "organic way", and Arkansas turned out to be the place where we were going to make them come true.  My spouse was in the Air Force, he was stationed in Wichita, KS and his enlistment was going to be up in another year.  We went on a vacation and bought land.  We moved a year after my spouse left the military, and gave it a good shot. 

We lasted five years.  It was five years we are very proud of.  We learned skills, we learned there was courage in us we didn't think we had, and we learned that failure means only that you tried, and you need to do something different.   I realized part of this in trying to write a "chicken memoir" in Camp NaNoWriMo this year, and part of it by coming back to where we tried.

A life without trying and failing is not a life at all.

And you know what?  Our dreams really did come true in the next 27 years.  My spouse and I are married 38 years.  We have a grown son.  We garden, my spouse sometimes cans, we shop at farmers markets, I've blogged these last four years, and we are still curious, still wanting to champion the sustainable lifestyle.

Why did we fail?

We were too unprepared, still too immature.  And, Arkansas wasn't ready for us, either.

We've somehow, we and Arkansas, moved towards each other in the 27 years since we left, and we've met in the middle. 

So I wanted to take you on parts of the drive we made yesterday.

Northwest Arkansas has grown tremendously over the past 27 years.  Just from 2000 to 2010, the population grew 71%.

But, at some point in the nearly 27 mile drive from Fayetteville to our former land, it was almost like time had stood still.  The roads were back down to two lanes.  Farmers drove slowly.  The traffic lights disappeared. Round hay bales stood in the fields.  Cattle grazed.

We went through Canehill, an incorporated place that could have been great except for the Civil War.  I will tell the story of Canehill in one of my future Civil War Sunday posts.   Several historic buildings, in ruins, the remnants of its former history as a college town, and a ruined mill, can be seen if you know where to look.  And we did know, even though we had never bothered to investigate its history when we had lived near there.

And then we made the turn into the small town of Morrow.

We passed what used to be the Morrow Cash Store, a true general store. (We didn't go in).
Then, we turned onto the road where we lived.  A little of it is paved now, but most of it is still unpaved.  Just like when we left.

So let me tell you what we found. 

We had two neighbors.  One (we had found this out right before we left) died last year and the other died earlier this year.  We had not kept in touch with one at all; the other, it had been many years.

The house of one of them (he and his wife had moved before we did) was gone  - absolutely no trace of it, or his barn.  No foundation, no nothing.  As of last year, the other neighbor was still living exactly where they had been. I don't know if she, as a widow, is still there or not, but her trailer was there.

The cabin my spouse built with the help of his son - gone.  Our chicken house - gone.

The peach tree we had planted - gone.  My roses.  My flower beds.  Gone.

Our garden areas - gone.  Our raspberries - gone.
The people living there had two dogs who ran after our car, and no trespassing signs at the driveway made it clear they would not welcome a visit (which we weren't planning to do anyway, but I did want to get out and walk on the road.  I abandoned that idea quickly).  

We went up the road a bit, turned around, drove down the hill and left, as I took pictures.  When we had cell phone service again, I sent pictures to my son.

We will never come back to Morrow.  There is no need.  Only ghosts of our past remained, and we let them go.  They flew away in the hot, late August, breeze, dust in the wind.

For many of the homesteaders of the 1970's, I suspect what happened to us also happened to them. Some succeeded.  Many didn't.  But they took what they learned back to the city, and changed our country.

I think this is what is going to happen again, with the modern homesteading movement.


  1. That must have been sad indeed to go back and see that. My mother used to always say never go back, we moved a few times and she still refuses to see the house she lovingly renovated and landscaped for that very reason Xx

    1. I'm not sorry I went back. But it was spooky (I've never blogged about it) finding out that several other people I knew/worked with/lived near, in Arkansas, died in the months leading up to my visit. I can agree, though - go back at your peril.

  2. My family did the same thing in the 70's. We weren't hippies either if you take that to mean drugs and a rock ' roll life-style. We planted and built, but our efforts remain, trees, walls and all. You should never go back. That road leads to heartache. Simply take the lessons learned.

    1. I'm not sorry I went back It was an itch that had to be scratched I'm sorry, though, thinking about what I found. But at least I have my memories, and the experience is part of what my husband and I are today.


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