Occasionally I feel like a pioneer, I cook over an open fire and wash in a cold brook. For days on end I make do with scant provisions that don't need refrigeration. When I am down here on my land I have no means of communication with the outside world unless I yell really loudly and I’m lucky enough that someone with very good hearing happens to be walking by on the road half a mile away. I labor at some task every day like my life might depend on it (even though I acknowledge it doesn’t). And, I wash my clothes by hand in water boiled in a pot on the fire and sit in the dark with candles or a dim lamp.]
However, I’ll acknowledge that I haven't killed any chickens or used a handsaw to cut down any trees larger than 8 inches in diameter and I haven’t milked a cow. I haven’t plowed a field while walking doggedly behind a bullock. I haven't built a stone wall to contain my cattle or hauled more than one bucket of water at a time up from the brook, I haven't ground grain into flour or made alcohol from some strange grasses I find (of all the things on the list above this is most likely to be a pioneering endeavour I make happen). I haven't foraged for food or had to hunt down any wildlife to eat. I haven’t had to face off with a bear, a buffalo, a mountain lion, or anything else that might kill me.
And, I own a Nissan Juke, which means that I can drive away any time I want to get food or other things or check the internet to see what kind of plow might be dragged behind a bullock...when I get to the library in the local town to get on the internet I discover some amazing pictures of women and men heaving plows through muddy fields - the women are dressed in long skirts with mud dragging their hems and there ain’t a bullock in sight...these women in teams of three do the heavy hauling...they are the bullock. When I see these images I think, “Thank god I have a forest and no field so I never have to plow” and then, stupidly, I look up “pioneer foresters”...but that’s another story.
My friend Clare believes I have the makings of a pioneer woman. She tells her friends “My pal Alison, she’s in Vermont, pioneering”. I’m grateful for her support and also her enduring and encouraging romantic vision of what I am doing, but I am not so sure that I have what it takes to be a pioneer. This spring has been relentlessly cold and wet and miserable, I've been here almost a month and it's been wet and cold every day, but today topped it off as there was actually a snow flurry. It’s May....it’s the end of spring and there was fucking snow?...All I want to do is cry. I am fairly sure pioneers don’t cry when it snows. Or maybe they do cry but it freezes onto their cold faces while they're outside doing pioneering tasks, like plowing fields in long sodden dresses, so no one has documented the phenomena of them crying. But, today, when it snowed, fuck it, I cried.
A few months later, once I have stopped chipping frozen dirty crycicles from my cheeks and the constant rain has ceased, I’m still labouring away alone in the woods thinking WTF have I done? WTF have I done? WTF am I doing? I message my friend Suzanne who lives in Florida to moan about how hard it is to cut down and drag off trees, and generally express some angst and dismay at this life. I message her “I’ve been working for days cutting and hauling small saplings and larger trees, my body hurts like hell and I've barely made a dent, good god, how did pioneers ever manage to clear the land?” And, because she is a bit of a brutal, unromantic, call-it-like-it-is hard ass who doesn’t mess about with undeserved sympathy, she sends back “Well the pioneers actually had to in order to survive, what’s your motivation?”
Now...that’s a stop you in your tracks kinda question. I have yet to answer that question.
What I do know is that for the last month I have no longer been contemplating any romantic connection to pioneering... labouring like a pioneer hurts like shit and if I was placed in pioneer times I know I’d die pretty quickly from a range of things: my heart would just stop from fear (this is way up on the list of things to die from out here by myself) or I’d trip on the hem of my sodden skirt and be dragged down into the muddy field and the plow would roll over me churning me into the ground leaving the three women pissed at me for not pulling my weight, or a tree I attempted to cut down would fall on me and trap me, not killing me instantly but slowly, from dehydration and starvation. Or, and this is actually much more likely, my friend Suzanne might ride up on her horse from Florida, come over the hill and shoot me for being a self indulgent moaning bitch.