One of the writing projects I’m working on right now is a… well, “post-apocalyptic” is probably the best genre name. It’s set in a low-tech future whose survivors have lost access to oil or petroleum-derived products. So in the name of research, I’m now reading books from peak oil folks who are discussing how they picture such societies working, and where they’re documenting current attempts to live in ways that require less oil (this means a lot of localization, generally—reducing the need for people to transport themselves long distances, and reducing the need for them to import food and goods from all corners of the globe). It’s interesting, and scary, and sometimes a little thrilling, in a wistful sort of way.
Then for pleasure reading I’ve just finished Lifelode, by Jo Walton, which is something I wish more fantasy was; it’s thoughtful and imaginative and doesn’t rely on a formulaic quest saga structure. It’s a story about the nature of time and magic and love and gods and family. And it’s a story about keeping house as a sacred duty, and the fulfillment of doing the work your heart craves, whether or not that work is glamorous. (Mom, I think you’d really like it; I’ll bring my copy when I come out for Thanksgiving.) The scary note drops out there, and I’m just left thinking about shared kitchens and warm light and conversations with good friends, while the cold rain is locked safely outside.
It doesn’t help that it’s (late) autumn, which is always the time of year when my nesting instinct kicks in hard. I dream about having a home where I can grow vegetables, raise chickens, maybe even keep a couple of goats or sheep if I get really lucky with the land. Then I go on landwatch.com and sigh over properties for sale. Right here in King County, where Seattle is located, land is extremely expensive. But one county further north there are parcels with a house and an acre or two that cost less than a falling-down wreck on a postage stamp of concrete in the city. They’re so tempting.
Of course, if I got a house that far out, I would need to buy a car to be able to commute to my heart-of-the-city job, and the commute would eat huge amounts of my time in addition to all of the ongoing costs of car ownership. And if I didn’t have the job, I wouldn’t be able to pay a mortgage.
I suppose if it were easy, I would be doing it already.
I try not to romanticize the country life. I think I often fail. I know it’s hard labor to work the land, but a part of me is just so comforted by the direct cause-and-effect relationship between effort and reward. The ultra-short feedback loop between the work I do and the way it sustains me. I remember the vegetable garden we had when I was tiny, which had a bigger footprint than the house we lived in. I remember pressing bright autumn leaves between sheets of wax paper to hang them in windows. I remember Mom making calendar pages in a big artist’s notebook, using a ruler to make boxes for days along the bottom half and painting flowers from her garden on the top half in watercolors. I remember the one Yule I spent at Cauldron Farm in Massachusetts, the little farmhouse heated by the kitchen stove as the man of the house baked bread in its oven, the fridge with its jugs of milk from the farm’s own goats. I know it’s hard work. But isn’t anything worth doing?
I’m in a better position now than I was a year ago. I need to remind myself of that, when that kind of home seems far away. It feels like no progress, but there’s some money in the bank, and there’s a novel in the pipeline, and if I’m careful and diligent then one of these years I’ll pack up my cats and my kitchen and some friends. And I’ll take the road that’s waiting for me.