Updated: Jan 31, 2021
INTRODUCTORY BLOG: Seamus
When I was eleven years old, my father decided to weather an impending apocalypse by homesteading a 78 ranch in Texas. We had horses, goats and chickens. We ground our own wheat for bread and churned our own butter. As a boy I hand-milked two jersey cows before biking to school, and I came home to barn-cleaning and fence-building chores.
Something about homesteading must have changed me. Instead of watching TV I began to write and illustrate novels. Meanwhile the apocalypse showed up in a way we didn't expect. The little cowboy town where we lived exploded into a boutique-crowded resort with golf courses, hotels, and sprawling condominiums. At age twenty-two, employed as a commercial artist and still writing my novels, I returned to our original home in Pennsylvania. Eventually I entered university, and in time I ended up a graduate student with honorary fellowships in Maritime Canada.
Because of a romantic gamble, I gave up scholarships and publications to travel as an itinerant musician in Ireland. I wandered narrow seaside boreens and huddled next to coal fires in tiny bedsits. I worked evenings as a bartender and spent my mornings studying the Irish language.
When I came back to Pennsylvania after six years abroad, I suffered a profound shock. My rural home was rapidly disintegrating. All the small town family businesses were failing. Too many of the family farms were going under. Meanwhile without the support of any university culture, I was struggling to preserve my life as an artist while working for minimum wage in a convenience store. A few weeks after the horrifying events of 9/11, a friend of mine was assassinated by police at the pulpit of a church in Brattleboro, VT.
To come to terms with all this I made a decision to reinvent myself as an American.
I called it my "new constitution." I retreated as much as I could from the global economy. I decided that if I wasn't able to grow it, kill it, or make it for myself, then I'd learn to do without it. To my surprise, the farmers around me noticed my resolve. One farmer gave me 100 lbs of seed potatoes, another gave me a milk cow. A third hired me as often as he could to help him butcher chickens and to plow and plant his strawberry fields with a team of Percherons. I learned that no matter how deranged public life in America may seem, you never have to look far to find sincere, compassionate, determined people quietly working the land and always looking out to help their fellow human beings.
When the Roman world collapsed, a great part of the learning of the classical world was preserved by homesteading Irish monks. They lived in small farming communes as a way to support themselves while pursuing art, philosophy and scholarship. W.B.Yeats was inspired by these homesteading poet/scholars when he wrote “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
In much the same way, my homesteading life has preserved my artistic life. I don't worry about the apocalypse coming. In many ways it has always been here. It is nothing more or less than choosing to live in dismal detachment from the Earth. I've been there. I've been the dreary soul in an office cubicle dying for want of sunlight. At the same time, the Garden is always here too. It takes courage, endurance and an immense amount of patience, but you can walk out into the big sky and rolling green land and there you can plant your own nine bean rows.