I had an obstinate craving for fresh air, unimpeded movement, outdoor life. I wanted the earth, and I wanted to live in the close embrace of the earth. Some ancestor of mine must have been a hermit on a mountain, a gipsy, or a peasant: I know not which, but something of the temperament of all three had been bequeathed to me. The smell of fresh-turned earth was a smell that revived in me a portion of my nature that had seemed dead; a flower set me dreaming of solitary woods; and I found myself watching clouds and weather signs as though my bread depended on their lenience.” – The Quest of the Simple Life by William J. Dawson
My parents can heartily testify that outdoor work was not my cup of tea growing up. Yard work was detestable to me and the last on the list of ways to spend a Saturday. As I think back on my youth, I am not entirely sure what it was about the work that I found so worthless and undesirable. Perhaps it was nothing more than a child balking at the assignments of parents.
The first memorable positive exposure to “blue-collar” work was while I was in middle school. I had the opportunity to work a summer with a family friend who was a HVAC technician and plumber. I spent the summer learning to install ventilation, furnaces, copper line, and troubleshoot systems. Many days were spent in houses with no AC, since that is the very thing we were installing, and sometimes without power to supply a fan. Yet, what stands out in my mind, outside of the negative my mind capitalized on at that time, is the fact that there was tangible proof of hard work. I could stare at and immediately realize the usefulness of the labor and know that I was part of a job well done.
After that experience, I focused on finishing high school, college, and starting a career. I worked hard in college, and with the occasional, gracious, assistance of my parents, I graduated debt free in May 2011. Yet there was no work to be found in my field. The economy was still reeling and rebuilding after 2008 and long-term work was hard to find. I was able to find somewhat reliable work as a substitute teacher at a local school, where I eventually became a full-time teacher. This temporary substitute work did not come without repercussions, as I had to move back home for a time as I worked and saved up money.
It was during this humbling time that I came across two enterprises that would change my idea of a good life forever: Joel Salatin’s “Folks, This Aint Normal,” and Tumbleweed Tiny Houses. In the tiny house movement I saw deliverance from living at home in my twenties (my parents are amazing but a man needs to forge his path). In Joel Salatin, I found a gateway to a host of people doing that which I had always imagined farming to be, despite what I had learned from Food Inc.
The tiny house movement redefined what it meant to have a home and live within one’s means. Here, people had made a radical change in their living situations but were arguably living more fruitful and ‘happier’ lives than the traditional American Dream adherents. By downsizing, they lowered their costs and increased their savings, thus opening pathways to generosity and simplicity that seemed impossible in most of American households. (Many other reasons exist for the change, with environmental awareness being among the top). As Jay Shafer, founder of Tumbleweed Tiny Houses and pioneer of the movement, argues, the movement is not so much about downsizing to 117 sq. ft., but living responsibly. If you downsize from 3000 sq. ft. to 2000 sq. ft., that is still 1000 sq. ft. saved! Though I walked away convinced I could not live in a micro home as some chose too, a smaller house was certainly in the works.
At the same time, my view of food began to change. I moved first to buying more produce and less processed ingredients (this was easy since I love to cook and am well versed in various cuisines). Then my conviction grew into having a personal part of responsible agriculture. As I read various testimonies of the journey of many people, I began to dream of my own contribution. I moved from a desire to buy wholesome food, to pondering if it would be possible to grow my own food. As a result, my research intensified and I began to consume books, podcasts, blogs, and conversations with various individuals. These convictions for responsible living began as embers and were eventually fanned into flames that required action. I began to have a growing sense that I needed to leave my white-collar profession in order to begin gaining practical experience as well as capital to launch into homesteading.My next positive experience with laborious work was my last year as a teacher as I worked to build a Tiny House as a school fundraiser (perhaps one day I will write a synopsis of how that projected ended). The hard physical work of building a house coupled with the intellectual challenge of architectural problem solving were intoxicating. This work engendered a strong need to work hard at work worth doing, as Theodore Roosevelt once put it. This is not to say that teaching was not work worth doing since it is a high calling and one requiring much strength from those who teach. However, with all of the politics I had to deal with in academics, this high calling was tarnished and giving my productive years to it seemed counter-intuitive. (More on this sentiment in the final facet)
Accordingly, I began looking for other work (of course, this was also made necessary by the events of the Facet #3). Other teaching positions did not open up and I was forced to consider a career change. I found an opening in trucking where I could earn a good deal of income in a rather short period of time. To me, this seemed a perfect, short-term solution to the challenges I faced and dreams I held.
In summary, my change of career was fueled by my aspirations and convictions of responsible, simple living. I suppose other courses could have been taken, but trucking is the door that opened up. Further, the skills I learn here will no doubt come in handy as I work with machinery on my homestead. (I would have needed to know manual transmissions at some point).
Next we will look at the leading factor of my departure from teaching.
From my desk while on home time in KC,