In August of 1992, I pulled my car into standstill traffic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was in a shirt and tie headed to my first job that had health insurance – what my father would refer to as a real job. I knew at that moment that I had arrived into adulthood and was trapped in a life I hardly imagined, just like every other adult in my life. It took me nearly 20 years to figure out a way to escape, not because I fear making a living, but because I prefer living.
On July 4, 2011, I had a realization. I was sitting on a straw bale at a Fourth of July get-together on a homestead in rural southwestern, New Mexico. Six weeks earlier, my wife, Karen, and I had left our teaching jobs in order to pursue a life of simplicity and durable living skills. Sitting on the straw bale listening to naturalists, scientists, primitive skills experts and those who had gone back to the land 30-40 years earlier, I thought to myself: how the hell did I get here? Just six weeks prior I was sitting at my desk in a windowless classroom with 30 or so anxious teenagers and suddenly I was in conversations that I never knew existed. Really, you dug a cave in your yard with nothing more than hand tools? You’ve been at it nearly 30 years? You see it as a sculpture more than a cave? Really, you lived in the wilderness for the better part of a quarter century? You rarely wear anything on your feet but homemade sandals? You foraged for food? Really, you lived in a school bus for 30 years and loved it? Really, I can eat this and it won’t kill me or make me sick?
After about four Coronas I had had enough. What had I gotten us into? Wait…maybe my wife was to blame here? What was happening to me? Had I lost my mind? Could I get my job back? I needed another beer.
My host was Dr. Guy McPherson. He left a tenured teaching position at the University of Arizona to become a homesteader in rural New Mexico. Why, you may ask? He figured civilization as we knew it was nearly finished, so he decided to try something else. He generously offered to host my wife and me for three months on his 2.7 acre property that he shared with his wife and another couple and their eight-year-old child.
After 5 weeks of hand aching work, I was drunk at a party surrounded by the most genuine folks I had ever met. I was completely captured by the system just a short time ago and these folks appeared like they didn’t have a care in the world. They weren’t concerned about the latest fashions, status or what one did for a living. They were sane.
My fear about the decision to leave behind a life with a career that I loved was a consequence of being domesticated through conditioning from the day I was born. These folks had realized they were in a trap much earlier than I had and left it behind much sooner than I did. It was as if they had been there the whole time, just on the other side of fear and doubt, waiting for those who had had enough of the bullshit to cross over. There were no champagne bottles or noise makers celebrating our decision to leave it all behind, only stories and knowledge to be passed on and digested. I had finally witnessed my own domestication, and I didn’t like the feeling. I realized I had been chasing the carrot without ever really questioning it.
How the hell did I get here? I’m still not quite sure, but I had escaped and I was on my way towards the exit of the dominant culture.
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