My dream job is a gig at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. Yesterday saw that dream come true…well, almost. The icing on the cake would be a paid position at OSV but volunteering is so much fun, it would be sinful to be paid for it anyway. Again, almost!
Getting paid for doing something you love is the ultimate American Dream, a dream that so few ever obtain. Up until now, I have been like most other Americans: working the daily grind at a meaningless position, going nowhere, and to quote singer, Jewel, having my “standard of living somehow getting stuck on survive…” I hated the Corporate World and hope I never have to go back to it. Of course, 2 weeks left of unemployment may make me eat those words but the 20 years I spent in it before probably has sheared twice as many years off of my life so I sincerely hope, if not Sturbridge, then something local, something I can enjoy almost as much as OSV until a paid position does open up there. In the meantime, volunteering is a golden opportunity for the would-be homesteader.
OSV is a mecca for anyone wanting to learn back-go-basics’ skills. My first day there I learned the basics in dipping candles and how to make a very simple tin candle holder. It was fun. And I can’t wait to learn more. I also visited the herb gardens at OSV and learned how they are categorized. I don’t know if interpreters are allowed to take home cuttings when they prune back in the spring but it would almost make up for the lack of pay! The herb beds are quite extensive and hold an impressive variety of herbs, heirloom roses and apple trees. As I progress, spinning, weaving, carding, knitting, quilting, pottery, shoemaking, broom making, blacksmithing, coopering, cooking on an open hearth (I already took a class at OSV on this but I am by no means proficient and can’t wait to learn more…), cheese and butter making, milking cows, antiquated ways of gardening, baking and food preservation, and more advanced tin smithing and candlemaking are part of the package. There are heirloom vegetables and heritage breeds of animals to become familiar with. Dancing, storytelling, music–this, too, is offered to OSV interpreters, whether paid or not. These are skills that can benefit everyone, especially in these economic times and our current environment.
The environment was quite different in the early-1800’s. Granted, to be a woman in those days was not the best thing in the world. You had no rights and were entirely dependent upon the good will–or lack thereof–of your closest male relatives. You couldn’t vote. You couldn’t hold office. You couldn’t hold a career–unless, perhaps, you were wealthy and could be counted as an eccentric. Even your children weren’t your own. You carried them for 9 months, risked your life to deliver them as the mortality rate for both mother and child were high in those days (thank heavens for modern medicine…it does have some redeeming qualities at least!) but they belonged to your husband. However, one thing that struck me over and again as I walked through the village yesterday–and on many other occasions when I’ve visited the village–is how peaceful it is. And how full of life it is!
The ecologist in me marveled at the squirrels and chipmunks who seemed almost tame. Doubtless, they’re used to getting a bit of lunch from visitors eating outdoors but they would come quite close as they scampered about, sensing that their world in the village was safe from motorized vehicles and most predation. Birdsong was the perfect counterpoint to their chirping. I watched a flock of Canada geese take flight from one of the pastures and land on the Quinebaug River moments later, honking for the sheer joy of being alive. And, like the chipmunks and squirrels, a flock of wild turkeys merely stopped to regard me warily as our paths crossed in another pasture, somehow as spellbound as I by the peace and tranquility that permeates OSV. Dragon- and damselflies, butterflies (what’s left of them at this time of year…) and various other species of wildlife populated the village and, it was through them, that I caught a real sense of what life must’ve been like in that point in time. Route 20 is just beyond the trees that surround the village yet no traffic could be heard; no profanity; no rude gestures made; no music blaring from car stereos (and, hypocritical though this statement is as I’ve certainly done my share of blasting the music about town, I can appreciate the lack of noise pollution in OSV); no negative news’ stories dancing across the boob-tube–no boob-tube at all and that is probably the best blessing of all. Though crimes were committed in the early-1800’s, all traces of fear of such crimes melted away as I entered the village. As always, the yearning to truly step back in time and live exactly that way gripped me deep inside and stayed. As always, when I reluctantly leave, I feel the familiar longing for such a peaceful life. Yes, it was hard. Yes, people worked much harder than they do now. But it seems that life was better appreciated then and the simple pleasures sufficient unto the day…
I probably over-romanticize the time period. Women did die frequently in child-bearing. 1 out of 6 babies never saw their first birthday. Childhood diseases took the lives of many other children before they reached the age of 5. Failed crops meant very lean winters and early springs–and sometimes even death by starvation. But the nostalgia I feel is that of an almost pristine landscape, a landscape devoid of the pollution created by automobiles, trains (though they were close on the horizon…), lawnmowers and other small engines. Homes were also devoid of pollution: no aerosol sprays, no chemical/synthetic fabric softeners or deodorizers, no harsh cleaning chemicals, no dryer sheets, no synthetic beauty products or fabrics, no GMO’s, no harmful pesticides or fungicides, no prescriptions with a list a mile long of harmful side effects that are somehow worse than the original malady. These are the things I long for. These, and quiet solitude. And the ability of each individual to make of themselves whatever they would regardless of their background and without the supposed necessity of a college education; I’m not dissing the education as I am always taking classes in something but, there were opportunities then to be a self-made man (seldom did women get to have careers then outside of “teacher” or “nurse”). Oftentimes, the farmers of old prospered without a “day” job or career other than “farmer” and, what little coin they possessed, was from the sale of excess produce or cheese, butter and eggs, or an extra piglet or two. Bartering was a respectable means of paying for what you needed and could not grow or produce yourself.
People went to church in those days. God was a central part of both family and community life. He was part of everyone’s professional lives, too. “Spare” time was spent with family pursuing quiet pastimes like games, reading, singing or picnicking after church on Sunday. Nature was respected and enjoyed (though trees were wasted in abundance…). Today, it is also enjoyed but exploited and abused for our own selfish gains as well.
I’m sure folks had worries in those days, same as today. But a heavy mortgage wasn’t usually one of them. If you didn’t have ready coin for farmland, out West there was land for the taking via squatters’ rights (one could claim 160 acres simply by slicing a blaze in a tree to mark the land intended, build a house, develop the land and, in 5 years’ time, if you had improved your claim by building on it and working it, the land was yours; most succeeded at this endeavor…). Again, you could be your own person, self-made. You could also go to university if you chose; Harvard, for example, was started in the 1600’s but you could get a job or earn a career even without the piece of paper proclaiming your expertise. It was only those “specialized” careers such as politics and law that required a more formal education. (Medicine, however, was often taught through apprenticeship with a doctor rather than at university and practiced without the license; some things have improved in our modern times as such practices also produced a lot of quacks…even as today’s stricter licensing and cultivation of modern, chemical prescriptions have also produced a lot of quackery…) Moreover, if your children wanted to go to college, oftentimes, the young person found a way to pay for it themselves; parents seldom saved for a college fund for their kids…and nobody thought less of them for it! No electric bills, no water bills, no phone, Internet or cable/satellite bills, no rising gas prices…it truly was a simple life.
Someday I hope to incorporate what I learn at OSV into the modern-day homestead. I am committed to learning everything I can and applying it to modern-day life. I can’t go back. But I can bring the lessons learned at Sturbridge forward into the future, working towards a goal of self-sufficiency and sustainability. I can teach by example and, even if only one seed gets planted, still, I can lessen the impact my living has had on this old planet earth of ours. These are goals worth obtaining…and another dream come true.