America was founded on a vision of self-reliance that was both pragmatic and liberating.  Our Homesteading venture has held closely to that same vision and I’ve watched the movement grow exponentially in the seven years since we bought this land and began building a cabin.

At that time I’d never heard the term Homesteading refer to anything but The Homesteading Act of America’s Gilded Age.  In fact, the terminology is refined enough to need its own glossary–there are homesteaders around the country, both city and rural, along with preppers, survivalists,  off-grid folks, voluntary simplicity co-operatives, to name a few.

Self-Reliance, Emerson’s famous essay, underscored the tradition and necessity of staying true to oneself against social conformity.

“If any man consider the present aspects of what is called by distinction society, he will see the need of these ethics. The sinew and heart of man seem to be drawn out, and we are become timorous, desponding whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. We want men and women who shall renovate life and our social state, but we see that most natures are insolvent, cannot satisfy their own wants, have an ambition out of all proportion to their practical force, and do lean and beg day and night continually. Our housekeeping is mendicant, our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born.”

The tyranny of the majority is the most dangerous force on the planet.  Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” (1841) and Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” (1849) are the classic tributes to individualism and its political and social implications. “Civil Disobedience” was written after Thoreau had been jailed for refusing to pay tax, which he claimed would be used to finance the Mexican War.  Social “progress” would seem to mean that 165 years later and we are still required to pay for wars we don’t support.

This very articulate young guy explains his choice for going off-grid.  He reminds me of something I don’t talk enough about: quality of life.  I know some who still remember being kids growing up on the farm and their memories are far from fond:  long hours of chores, financial instability, cold strict households.

I also know some who recall their early farm experience with more nostalgia than one’s twentieth viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life. I believe them all, but I rely on my own experience and I’m living closer to what feels like paradise compared to commutes through traffic and long work days in ugly buildings.  I would not trade places with anyone I know, and this guy would surely agree.

Off-grid guy

Off-grid guy

Compared to the young ones like him, I’ve called us old.  I’ve also been known to say we are “in the middle of nowhere”.  I take it all back now, after watching this 93 year old homesteader living five miles from the nearest road.  He looks healthier than either of my grandfathers ever did and loves his traditional life:

Considering the tradition of self-reliance and the appeal it still has for young people, there’s the disturbing story of Eustace Conway, a long-time self-sufficiency advocate and teacher of essential traditional and survival skills.  He reminds me what really drove me to adapt and learn and someday teach the art and craft of self-reliance.  Because if we don’t, these skills will be lost, forced out by the State at the point of a gun.

“Watauga County Health Department has ordered a cease & desist on Mr. Conway’s educational activities, and the Planning & Inspections Department has cited many “violations” on the property, as well as ordered that Eustace Conway bring his structures up to code, or demolish the structures on his own property.”

“This goes beyond Constitutional Rights, this is a Human Rights thing. . . . This is the government against one poor man out in the woods.”

Eustace Conway, mountain man against the State

Eustace Conway, mountain man against the State