Three years ago I began a post with this anecdote:
When I met Joel Salatin in January, we spent some time talking about the books he had written and the books that he planned to write. He mentioned that he had been disappointed by the response to Family Friendly Farming, in which he lays out his vision of small-scale farms (and possibly other home-based businesses) as vehicles for a multi-generational family life, where a legacy is built, enjoyed by children and parents and grandparents, and passed on to succeeding generations. He had expected it to be embraced by homeschoolers in particular, who he thought were looking for just such a life. I told him that I could think of one very good reason why his message wasn’t catching on with them—he is very emphatic about the importance of staying home. He thought about it for a minute, and then said that it could be true, since none of the homeschoolers he knew seemed to be any better about staying home than the average family.
At that point we had spent many years simplifying our lives, and in principle we agreed with Salatin’s admonition. It was a principle we did our best to practice, but it hadn’t been put to the test for us. We mostly stayed home, but living in suburban Bristol we didn’t have to; the option of not staying home was always there. There was always take-out pizza or burgers or tacos to be had when the mood struck, even if it didn’t strike all that often. An evening could be filled by piling in the car and driving to the ice cream shop or bookstore. It was no trouble to run to the supermarket or the Wal-Mart to pick up something the moment we needed it.
Eight months later things were different. We moved from the Bristol area to rural Kentucky, two miles up a hollow the state highway, 25-30 minutes from each of four small towns that have a bit of shopping and fast food, 45 minutes or more from anything comparable to what we had available in Bristol.
We had done this to ourselves once before, in 1989, when we moved to a restored Victorian home in the hill country of Texas, 25 minutes from the closest small town and 50+ minutes from Austin. We ended up spending more time at home than before, when we had lived in places like Silicon Valley and suburban Boston and suburban Dallas, and we were greatly blessed by that. But that was only because it was now highly inconvenient to go to town, not that we were inclined to stay home. And much of the time we went ahead and endured the inconvenience. Several times a week as suppertime approached, we would decide that a trip to town for a restaurant meal and a bookstore visit was just the ticket for the rest of the evening. After five years we bowed to current realities and moved to suburban Austin, where our hearts had long been.
So we were concerned about how we would handle rural remoteness this time around. The good news is that we had changed enough that this time the inconvenience of going to town served to quickly put an end to what remained of our lazy go-to-town habits. Shopping in town became a weekly planned event, and our grocery bills dropped. The idea of all nine of us piling into the Suburban and driving 30 minutes to a miserable selection of eateries or 90 minutes to a good selection was unpleasant and outside our budget, so eating out became a thing of the past and homecooked meals a fixture. A 60-minute roundtrip to town for takeout was ridiculous, so homemeade pizza and burgers and tacos were added to the menu, and we were shocked at how much more satisfying and enjoyable they were.
As we got used to always being at home, we were able to make changes that required us to be at home. Most important was buying two milk cows. In general cows need to be milked morning and night, and so now our travels as a family are limited to twelve or so hours away. That isn’t strictly true, of course; for three months of the year the cows are dry and could be left for a few days, and in an emergency we could probably get a neighbor to come to milk, or take the cows to him for milking. But overall it was a change that required us to embrace being at home as a way of life.
It seems that for the most part we were close enough to being true homebodies that the shift was not traumatic. Rather than weighing on us, staying at home is something we have learned to appreciate. There’s much more time in the day, mostly because we no longer spend any of it getting ready and then traveling to and from some place that we probably didn’t need to be anyway. More money, as well, since we aren’t spending it in town to entertain ourselves. We enjoy our meals more, we eat them as a family, and we spend less on them. We see our neighbors during the day. We enjoy our surroundings. We think about what we might do over the coming weeks and months and years to make our lives fuller.
Although I’m already inclined to stay home, here’s a practical tip that has helped cut down my travel even further. For every place I regularly drive to, I have put a rough price tag on it based on the cost of gas. A trip to the post office is $2.50. To get to Jerome’s farm or the Mennonite stores or the Bread of Life cafe is $5.00. The weekly shopping trip to town costs $10. A trip to Lexington costs $25, to eastern Kentucky or southwestern Virginia about $50. Those dollar amounts are significant to us these days, and keeping them in mind has done much to cut down on frivolous travel.