On the day many folks felt that the Maya predicted the end of things, we spent our first day as full-time rural dwellers. Winter Solstice, and the return of light. Not a bad place and time to begin.
Welcome to Tractorpunk, my blog about this transition. First, there was the housewarming party, where many very city folks decided to make the trek to our farm. I got a first lesson about rural and city distances. How do you explain that addresses, mere numbers on a legal map and a mailbox, matter less here than mileage? When the choice got made for us about where to retire, the family farm where my wife grew up, I think we did well: 11 acres in an area zoned firmly against suburban development by habit of centuries and the presence of lots of wealthy and horsy folk, both from-and-come-here residents. Right on.
So I answer “This many miles past the end of the four-lane road.” But my former neighbor from the city looks confused. “But what is the address?” I dutifully give it, knowing that unless my city friend looks carefully, her Honda will sail right by the mail box at the end of the driveway. When she did arrive, it was at about 20 miles per hour, with a long and patient line of cars behind her. But find us she did.
It is at such moments—and there are many of them—that I have come to realize how far indeed we have traveled, not in miles but in years. The rhythm of this place is still that of thirty years ago. It’s why folk came, and perhaps it will be that way for a long time. No one can control the flow of events, but I suspect that the decades as I drift on toward my personal twilight will see me change more than my surroundings.
As this blog evolves, I’ll chart my transition to rural life, hobby farming, and a more sustainable manner of living. I’m no greenhorn: for twenty years I’ve helped operate tractors, split my own wood, made my own lumber, sometimes starting from a tree we felled, grown and canned a good deal of my own food. Some principles will guide me:
- Unlike “In a Strange Land,” my long-running blog about virtual worlds and technoculture, this blog will be light on snark. I’ll leave that to my Second Life avatar Iggy and his worlds. The tone for Tractorpunk will be far more positive. Urban irony and Hipster style are as useless here as the single-speed bikes and sleeves of tattoos to be found not 25 miles from my new doorstep.
- DIY and intense localism will be focal points. As in my work with virtual worlds and non-corporate uses of technology in education, my DIY ethos is very much intact here in the hinterlands of Central Virginia. Some new equipment had to be purchased to get started and more on that later; mostly our work has involved making do, re-making from old materials, and doing without. The watchwords are economic and environmental sustainability.
- Tractorpunk will focus less on Peak Oil and decline than have my occasional forays in print and at the other blog. Here I break with my occasional correspondent and fellow hater-of-suburia, James Howard Kunstler. Jim is convinced that we face an era of non-linear events, from climate change to resource depletion and the end of our economic system. My attitude has been that we’ll muddle along with what Jim calls “the project of civilization,” but the easy times are indeed over; technology old and new will help blunt the edges of an edgy new reality, but we are not headed for a reset to, say, the Colonial times.
- Preaching won’t be part of these postings. If this venture turns at all didactic, it will be to help others who are venturing out from urban and suburban life not in the manner of idealists from the early 1970s but as sojourners who very much plan to stay and make part or all of a living on and from the land.
- Spirituality will not be a heavy part of this blog. I feel a kinship to the land and a need to learn from it but I won’t be straying into neo-pagan reveries and magical thinking. There is magic enough in the day to day and the passing of the seasons.