Home and Hearth is Best: Sheltering in Place

A Practice of Resilience and how Covid-19 has affected my Nomadic Life

The Hearth & the Yard

For our great grandparents, travel was a luxury, and they did not travel often save for local trips to the next county, or perhaps to a European neighbor. Travel was perhaps a deal safer and freer than the twentieth and twenty first century. There had been no major terror attacks on the nation, plane travel was a rather borgeousie way to travel, and it was stil rather expensive. They stayed at home more often, but not because of increased border restrictions, economic collapse, and global pandemic induced social distancing measures. They stayed close to the hearth and the yard because home was best. The neighbors in the countryside oftered the best company, and all the excitement of adventure and life’s diversity could be found on home turf if you really looked for. To our grand elders, it was all inside. Not that the rest of the world did not matter or seem trivial, but I believe that mass marketing of commercial travel, and international vacationing did a lot to kindle the need to uproot and visit another part of the planet.

The Good Old Days

I remember when my folks won the lottery when I was young, and were given a free trip to Las Vegas, with some spending money for the casino. My folks are not travelers in the sense of the word today, and it is only my mother who has taken trips, though of the tailored holiday style vacation rather than vagabonding and cultural immersion trips. Back then, you didn’t need a passport to cross the border to the united states from canada, just a drivers license would suffice. The car was packed to the brim, and the great North American road trip commenced from the driveway. Food was made at home, and rest stops were impulsive and leisurely. A moose in the road, a view point, or a backroad made for good reasons to slow down and enjoy the scenery. One hopped on a greyhound bus for under a hundred bucks and crossed the entire continent from end to end and saw some of the world during the nearly as many road stops on route. Train travel was also a way to roll across vast country, away from the highways and biways, that cut through forever forests, impossible mountains, and oceans of prarie, sometimes in the same day.

New Age of Travel

Compared to now, post 911 and the current covid-19 era, where international airports all resemble each other, where one waits in long snaking lines, dragging oversized identical baggages to be collected by conveyer belts. Then being processed by body armor wearing guards, scanned by metal detectors, and often interogated about the itinerary of your trip. A criminal background is plumbed, a travel history, and perhaps more intimate details about your finances, lifestyle, and social status are investigated, including your current address, career, etc. Your personal belongings are inspected, documents checked for as many digits on your two hands, and there is a hurry up and wait protocol in these places. You step into an airport and just feel the collective stress that literally sweats from thousands of people, not to mention the mind numbing boredom of waiting for the clerk to finally announce boarding and waiting for the plane to take off. After four Tim Hortons coffees, you are high strung, and impulsive, already eager for the trip to be over before it has started.

Now with the spread of another world disease, the corona virus, there are even heavier measures at airports and more people are staying home again. Seats on planes are being kept absent to encourage distance between passengers. Health checks are mandatory, including masks and gloves, surfaces are sprayed with chemicals and it has become even more clinical and sterile, starting to resemble more of an industrial hospital. More permissions are needed even for nationals returning home. How this is affecting me as a farmer, is something I wanted to record here. As I am stranded in India for over two months since the global lockdown and experiencing the largest population restraint experimentation in the world, in a ‘third world’ nation.

Migrant Worker of Modern Times

Seven years took me several lifetimes to complete. During this nominal period of planetary travel, I set three overarching intentions; to glean instinctive and traditional skills from farmer, masters, teachers and mentors wherever I could find them, to expose myself and become culturally sensitive in order to lower my boundaries and learn from global cultures of the world, and to experience some of this one world garden, from the arctic tundra to the desert dunes, foggy islands to buggy forests. I worked along the way, taking up working holiday visas and hustled to reap some cash to afford to continue to travel. When my coffers were low, I took another seasonal job, fruit picking in the Okanagan valley and the maritimes, treeplanting in the highlands and isles of Scotland and interior of Canada, or salted my brow in farm fields from Guatemala to Iceland. I never opened a bank account until I started earning more serious money on a berry farm in British Columbia. I always made do with less, and often relished in the struggle and suffering, when the bitterness contrasted such sweetness.

Too Free

Some would call the whole ordeal romantic, and perhaps it was to a fault. Intimacy and romance were also partly thematic of the adventure. There were women, beautiful, far-knowing, and mystical women, some twice my age, some with children, other vagabonds, others with homesteads of their own, in their queendom stage of life. I held long distance relationships, online relationships, brief encounters with strangers and partnerships at close quarters, but these were annual cycles of a freezing and thawing heart. I had passions in spades, but not a heck of a lot of balance. The romantic images of a rugged backpacker, long haired, bearded, with his life on his shoulders also fit. I carried only what I could move across the land by myself, though I often stressed the limits. A creative and feral spirit often carries implements most would deem unnecessary. For three years I traveled with a grizzly bear skull, another wildcat, pelts, claws, things I found in the forest, crystals, letters, musical instruments, a library of books, plants and paraphernalia. Among other things my core pack consisted of a mohair blanket from Mexico, a dream pillow, some lumberjack boots, and a hunting knife, a military laptop, sandals, a wool pouch with hygeine products and a hair trimmer, and two of each type of garment. Tied onto this massive rackpack were tin camping cups, antlers, bandanas, extra shoes, and bags of trail mix and fruit for long solo hikes. The pack eventually earned several flag patches of the countries I had visited, where I had dined with their inhabitants, played in their sandbox, and taken some pictures, all the while forging stories stronger in memory than steel swords.

It was all about the road, getting lost, the next state, the next city, the next country, new friends and new experiences. But those friends, countrysides and experiences were not forgotten. Instead they became more drops in the well of the collective saga of my life, and the lineage of my own ancestors sagas before me. They added breadth, depth, and meaning to the apparent, and were steeped in details so rich that I can see and recall them at any time. They were integral to the make up of who I identify with today. I took a lot of risks and lived dangerously, precariously on the serrated bladed edges of law, on the perilous cliffs of love, and stretched to the tensile strength of freedoms unknown to me before.

Maturing

This global migration and test of endurance and vitality was also a maturation process. Though the stories of the years events had flares of the romantic adventure, I have come to see them more in the light of rites of passage, ordeals, and part and parcel of the hero’s journey. Something I needed to ‘get out of my system’, like so many others in the wheel of time, specifically men. Pivotal concepts of archetype, ritual and phase transition living became more apparent to me through literature, relationship, and deep introspection of motive. As the years waxed I realized I was actually climbing and gaining altitude. Less the rungs a ladder, and more of a landscape of mountains with several base camps. Upon reaching one mesa or plateau, I could survey the scene and study it from afar, feel gratitude for how far and high I had come, and feel good that I had weathered the series of challenges on the way up. Incessant travel has been good for me, and I was ‘kin to the wind’, as the old cowboys said, but as I counted my winters and service, and relished in the tremendous growth I had made both horizontally and vertically. I started to feel that my roots were exposed, and were weathered so severely that they barely held me standing. Indeed the feeling of rootlessness pervaded my being.

Warrior, Magician, Lover, King

I have experienced each in high doses, the archetypes of the Warrior, the Magician and the Lover, and only now have come to taste in the Kingdom stage. Last year on Samhain as the first snow fell over the quiet maritime province of New Brunswick, I opened a bottle of Captain Morgan with my new neighbor, and made a deal on a one acre piece of land in the bush, replete with a wooden cabin, a tiny home, and an outhouse. The site of my homestead, soon to be an Appalachian forest farm. The last year of my life has been a stark transition towards the kingly archetype, towards settlement and tending a domestic haven in the wild country, to building tribe, seeding a family, and roping in a community of larger than life individuals to start the world we see fit.

Dying to Be New

Before all this happens, I need to return to Canadian soil, and as a fallout of the corona virus pandemic in the world of 2020, I have been stranded in India. The Mother’s Village as I refer to it has been the pinnacle of one of these storied mountains, where I could host my prospects, wager my life experiences, and distill them down into new spirits ready for the taking. It has also been one large healing ground as I emerged out of the sharp teeth and snarling maw of a bitter marriage fade out. The intention was to spend five months here in the saddle of a motorcycle, and with a little good luck, and momentum, ride through the pain and loneliness I had, while seeking out every opportunity for salving my wounds, growing a stronger trunk, and exploring some unknown territory. I was hacked down, and chopped into kindling ready to be burned, my reputation was soured, I lost my animals, and the roots I had set on a quaint country farm and a commune I called my second family become strained. These foundations were never fully excavated but in hindsight, I did a lot of hard in rebuilding a reputation, my competence, and my ability to self seed, spreading new growth across the land. I hustled in the summer, and sacrificed a lot of comforts for a life that would be nurtured with potential for the winter ahead. Indeed, my direct family lineage also came under the banners of good fortune, and the Nordic winter looked pregnant with the promise of gift.

Stranded

My original itinerary aimed for me to return home in the spring, early enough to start working on the farm as old man winter walked away from the land, the ground thawed enough to plant spring vegetables, and the green therapy of the broadwood forest welcomed one back onto the trails. That was almost two months ago, and after four unfruitful attempts to find a passage home for a reasonable fare, I have been shored and cooped up here in the Garwal district of Uttarakhand, a ‘spiritual mecca’ town called Rishikesh.

My impressions have evolved in dramatic ways of India, and Rishikesh after been stuck here for so long. I see spirituality treated as a business prospect, bought and sold, and comodified into a product of social currency. The same twenty fruit and and vegetables are sold on every street cart, grown from gmo seed, making it almost impossible to find clean food. The buildings are ugly and abrasive to the panoramic span of the gaze, the same uninspired concrete walls and straight lines, crumbling or halfway finished and never completed. The streets carry an acrid aroma of sewage, excrement of all animals including humans, rotting food squashed on the roads, while emaciated sick cows dig through mounds of trash, which is everywhere a testament to the wastes of consumerism. There is no quiet, even in the night, save for the high reaches of the mountains, and the noise can be deafening at most hours. Only in the forest can one breathe the rarified draughts of air, and the water is hard, full of rust, lime and calcium. The living conditions are lackluster, a grimy kitchen hosts a population of rats, cockroaches, and years of refined oil smoke inculcated into every surface, black mold colonizes the walls, and there is no sound insulation from the commotion.

I’m banking on a flight that will take me home before summer solstice, which at this point feels highly symbolic rather than definite. All travel plans since March have been halted before they had a chance to get off the ground, and at this point I have been cautiously exploring new plans for the monsoon season which starts in July and holds until September.

It is a grim reality that is taking its toll on me, so I’ve stocked myself with a toolbox of coping mechanisms and life hacks to surthrive this pandemic era away from home.

How I Cope

I have taken to drinking from a well, pumped by hand from the ground. This water is deeper in the earths table, has never seen the light or a plastic bottle, and didn’t sit in pipes or holding tanks before reaching my mouth. I believe if you work for your water in some way, pumping it and carrying in in jugs for instance, that you will appreciate it more so as not to waste or pollute it. I drink it with generous amounts of Tulsi oil from a copper flask to add minerals and plant essence. Often I will walk several kilometer from any road or source of pollution to detox my lungs, and avoid contact with people. I travel with my own wooden bowl and utensils, and my own wool blanket for sleeping, so as to maintain strict hygiene standards. I workout in my room after rolling out of bed, and in the evening with pushups and calisthenics, and read prolifically when I am less inspired to get out. I’ve taken to eating only once or twice a day, from raw ingredients I can concoct together, with a heavy bias towards high protein food staples, dense fats, fermented foods, fresh fruit and teas. These are times of mainlining and sustaining the houses of our body, and the gardens of our mind, as it can be so easy to let our physical form become weak and toxified by bad habits, and consciousness to become weedy and choked with vice.

Keeping something on my horizon to look out for is a major factor of my ability to endure and bear the current circumstances. I get out to ride small adventures within the district limits a couple times a week, but my domestic routine looks pretty simple these days, since I have next to no responsibilities. This can be stifling and create existential boredom if not checked with some form of novelty. Sometimes I think how much easier this would be with a lover to bring levity to the days under lock-down, but in reality it would probably just dramatize things, so I tend my own heart and take pleasure in the serendipitous and spontaneous encounters that do come with strangers. While with each successive lock-down, I find ways to unlock the snares and binds that may keep me from living a full life.

Sailing on new Paradigms

As a farmer, homesteader, and modern day forager, being connected to the land is intensely important. I often refer to myself as a dirt worshiping heathen, and I mean that in every true sense of the word. The old paradigms are going down on a sinking ship, while the jetsam from the oceans steed are collected and preserved onboard on stronger more robust vessel that will sail into new territory. If we really want to build permacultre, and a Permanent Culture, we must stay closer to home, eat closer to home, and love closer to home. Those can be tall orders if one has been accustomed to world travel as I have made a living of. Remarkably I retain almost no desire left for leisure tourism, and see myself devoting more time hearthside at home, and forming more intense and endowed local relationships with all species of life there, including my neighbors. If I travel in the future, it will likely be to continue my practice away from home, whether that be permaculture, foraging, building, or learning to hunt and survive the way our ancestors did. I want to explore more of Canada, especially the arctic territories, the Saskatchewan north, and the islands of the Maritimes and Pacific, where the old ways of life are more intact.

Being cut off from everything I love at home has accentuated what I put value on and what truly sustains me through hard times. Missing out on our annual seedy saturdays and the early spring greenhouse seeding, the maple season, the transplanting and treeplanting, the early spring foraging, and the onset of the farmers market has felt like something essential has been stolen from me. Not having access to this world is tough, and not something easily fathomed by those I share it with. One can not pretend, and simply abandon the pursuit, even through the pain. But wearing the will of a wolf is a keen position to take, for they are survivors and can adapt to any hardship. It is a time of returning, and protecting not only ourselves, our elders, youth and kin, but also tending the land we live on as sacred. We must secure a safe future for our sons and daughters, for they will inherit the world we work for today.

So I dress myself in protective hide, and grow longer in tooth and claw, remembering that this too shall pass, and remember, that home is beckoning me back, as it always has.

Steff Metal - Steff Metal Reviews: Rewild Zine, Issue 1

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