Over the last several years I’ve talked with punks who would work on organic farms through the summer, and I listened to their tales of farm life. I’ve since met people who have gone further with that desire to leave the cities and all the trappings of the modern world. Some have gone to work on farms, some just left the city for smaller communities, and there are those who made the leap and are truly living off the grid.
Over the next several weeks we will feature some of their stories. Here it Gretchen’s.
Escaping the Cesspool
By Gretchen Fawkette
What’s so punk about living in the bush? Sitting around twiddling your thumbs in isolation. The city is where the fun is. It’s where the action is. There’s shows, bike rides, dumpsters, Food Not Bombs, people to bum change off of, people who share your ideologies about Anarchism, Feminism or Equality, plus there’s lots and lots of punks.
On the other side, there’s also cops, yuppies, pollution, gentrification, drug problems, cops, pavement, landlords, garbage, and way too many cops. And if these things start to get you down, you can just drink your worries away. And if shit gets hairy you can always take to the rails, blast through some nice scenery and go hang out in another city for a while.
That’s what I did. It’s all I knew. Where I grew up, Nashville, I just saw the country as full of deliverance-style rednecks and meth labs. Why would I ever go there? And when I escaped that place I just travelled from city to city. Sometimes I would settle down for a bit, but soon enough I would get itchy feet and have to take off again. Rural living for me was living on a train for 3 days as I went from Minneapolis to Seattle.
My first experience living outside of a city was spending four months on Denman Island, one of the Gulf Islands in British Columbia. I lived in a trailer outside of a hay barn in the middle of a sheep field. My rent was to feed the sheep and the horses everyday. It was a lot of fun. It totally changed my mind about country living. I loved it, but wasn’t quite ready to give up city life just yet. There were still towns to explore, bands to join, shows to go to and punk houses to destroy. So I left and went back to the travelling, city-dwelling life.
A few years down the road I found myself in Montreal, living in an old warehouse turned into shitty lofts and crawling with punks. It was winter and I was in a huge slump of depression, drinking shitty 40’s everyday, mostly by myself, so that I wouldn’t care about anything. I saw how fucked up the world is, how cruel we are to each other and how stupid we are for trashing the earth to a point where we’re making it inhospitable for ourselves. And I realized that after all my activism, all the protests I went to, being vegan (and then being a conscientious “post-vegan”), and all my well-wishing ultimately did fuck all. TOXIC NARCOTIC’s lyrics pretty much paralleled my mood. “We’re all doomed, what’s the use? Fuck the world and pass the booze.” I saw myself falling hard and I knew something drastic had to happen in my life.
I got a job tree-planting in BC in the spring but I left Montreal a month early so I could spend some time with my partner who was living in Winnipeg. While I was there I went to a PROPAGANDHI show and bumped into some old friends who said they were living on their father’s land an hour outside Winnipeg and invited me out for a visit. Always up for an adventure, I left with them the next day.
Being out there for that week changed my life. They lived off-grid in a glorified shack. They heated their house with wood, which they had to cut themselves. They also cooked their food with a wood cookstove, something I had only ever seen in museums. An artifact of a bygone era.
I kept myself busy helping them do the spring cleaning and hauling in wood from the bush. They kept horses, and while I was there we got completely snowed in, so we took the day off to take a five hour sleigh ride to the beer vendor and back. Epic fun.
But, after a week I left, and when I got back to the city I felt gross and out of touch with reality. It was a shock. It was -10°C (about 15°F) but it was so warm inside. No stove to stoke, no wood to stack. Just turn a dial and pay a bill. To this day that still shocks and disgusts me. For me, heating your house and cooking your food with wood that you cut, hauled, stacked, and seasoned by yourself is by far my favorite aspect about living in the bush.
Fast forward to now. I’ve been living outside of cities for the better part of two years. I’ve lived in a few different places and have learned a multitude of different skills. Where I live now is in a community of homesteaders on 80 acres of isolated bush in Manitoba, close to the Ontario border.
I found the transition to bush life very natural. I don’t find it too hard to stay connected with my friends. I’m only an hour and a half from Winnipeg, which surprisingly has a pretty wicked punk scene. I still come into town every few weeks to catch a show or visit some friends, but I’m quite content to live out here in the bush.
I have serious anxiety issues and I find that being out here is so calming and chill, which is so good for my mental health. I also barely ever have to work because I barely ever spend money. I grow a very large amount of my own food, so I hardly ever buy groceries.
I live off-grid in a small house. I have a very humble 12-volt solar power system – just enough to power a few lights and an old car stereo I hooked up. You would think that living without all the conveniences of civilized life would be hard but I actually find it quite liberating. Everything I do, I do myself.
I used to be a bike mechanic and a welder, but I’ve found those skills pretty much useless out here. The closest bike shop is probably in Winnipeg. Tragically, biking just doesn’t make sense out here unless you love touring. It’s something I’ve had to come to terms with. Bikes were my passion when I lived in the city. Now I’ve slowly started replacing my old skills with auto mechanics, blacksmithing, bow-making, tanning hides, wildcrafting and gardening.
Honestly, the thing that’s probably the hardest for me is the lack of punks around. Punk culture is something I hold very close to my heart. My Irish, Welsh, Ukrainan, and Dutch heritage is just a random grab bag to me, places on a map I’ll probably never visit. I’m nothing more than a mundane White settler. But to me, settler culture is everything I despise: Wal-Marts, video games and exploitation. Extreme waste.
I also have no real home. Born in Alberta, raised in Tennessee, I feel no alliance to those places and I have no desire to return. I also haven’t lived in a place for more than a year since I was 17. No culture, no hometown. All I have is punk. Punk culture isn’t something I was born into, it’s a path I chose. So I hold onto that, very tightly and defensively.
Interacting with locals is sometimes amusing. There’s a Hutterite colony very close by (Hutterites are similar to the Amish except they allow electricity and tractors) and a large Mennonite Christian community in the area. A lot of them don’t get out much, so when they see a girl walking around town wearing skimpy, crustie clothing and covered literally head to toe with tattoos, some of them get their minds blown. However, a lot of people don’t give a shit, and try to make me feel welcome in the greater community. I’ve made some genuine friendships with folks who I would never have talked to in the city because they weren’t in my anarchist/punk bubble.
Since moving out of the city, I’ve become less of a drunk and much more creative. I’ve started drawing, bow-making, archery, tanning animal hides, and I’ve picked up the banjo. Lately I’ve been making jewelry with bones, claws, antlers and sinew.
For years, even before I moved out to the bush, a lot of my friends have always talked about leaving the city, and how they’ll move out to the woods someday. Very, very few of them ever take steps in that direction, and I’ve grown tired and annoyed with their lack of action. They see all the problems and the inherent unsustainability of urbanized areas, realize they should do something, but never act on it.
It’s obvious to me now that cities are festering cesspools of greed, consumption and garbage. Urbanized areas and industrialization (which go hand in hand) destroy so much more than the ecosystems that once existed in the surrounding area. Forests are stripped away and prairies tilled to create food to feed them, completely destroying the ecosystems that once existed there as well.
Where I live, in a transition zone between where the rocky Canadian shield ends and the flat prairie lands begin, there used to be some of the largest trees in Canada east of the Rockies. I’ve read accounts of old timers describing trees more than four feet in diameter commonly found in this area. 150 years later, all of those big trees are now gone – used to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 19th century – replaced with fields of wheat, flax, canola and soy.
I live on the edge of this farmland. Where I live and east of here is too wet to be farmed, so it was logged and then left alone. It was able to grow back into the beautiful and humble forest it is now.
I wish punks who talk about leaving the cities behind will take the step of connecting with the land and not be afraid of looking like a bunch of hippies. Living in the country is fucking epic. It’s a big step but what you get is amazing.
If that’s what you want to do, take action and do it.
Feel free to contact me:
Ochre River, MB
or by tech-no mail:
If you would like to share your story of leaving the city, contact zine@profaneexistence,org
Great article, love the look of the place.
I want, need this life. I’v been so depressed and unhealthy only w/ hopes and dreams of tree houses, off grid living, googling images. Iv been feeling like there is no hope. Downward spiraling. Spending all of my energy working in a shitty kitchen pumping out food like an animal and constantly cleaning after people who dont care in Brooklyn. In the heart of tourist-ville. Williamsburg. Im babbling. My apologies but this article give me a lil hope that at least I know there is someone out there “DOING IT”!
Iv thought of living in the marsh of a nearby golf course but that’s just silly. I work so hard but only to pay rent and no one cares. I love working hard but not for nothing. Not like a donkey. I wish you well, health, love and that piece of mind that is priceless. Cheers!!!
REALLY enjoyed reading this….Thank you for sharing. I hope to do the same someday!
Just read this great article and thought you might like to have a look at our place……
That looks the business Mark, great metal sculpture.
err… My mailing address is actually box 266 not 622, but the lady at the post office will figure it out either way (there are less then 300 boxes anyway). You could probably just write “Yo Gretch!” to Ochre River and I’d still get it.
also, thanks for all the kind words and replies!
Stay Rural, Stay Punk!
Hi Gretchen, I made the correction. THanks for the heads up!
Reblogged this on militantmoments and commented:
One day I want to do this. When I have had enough of the city and institutional learning and society. I want to be free in this way too!
dont you just love how so many (a) (e) types just love to use and exploit animal at the first chance they get! this is a sick fucking joke, these back to the land punks who are no better then the trash the claim to be against. why is it we are so quick to be apposed to the system in a city and be so quick to embrace the same fucking system in the “bush”!
i know we have all heard those who dont know the past are doomed to repeat it, but why do we have to look at the past for the way to live in the present or future?
do a little looking and you can see where animal agriculture and exploitation (eating, wearing, etc) has gotten us, forests cut, depleted soil and polluted water, this is nothing new (factory farming) it goes way the fuck back. just take a look at the amount of land you would need to clear to grow the grass for your horses verses the amount of land you would need to grow all the food you could eat in a year ( dont just take it from me, look it up and see for yourself).
as for hunting, we all now the image of the great native wearing buckskin and hunting with a bow. but how accurate is this (http://www.ivu.org/history/native_americans.html)
once more even if it is, why are we looking at the past for a way to live now? i think we can all agree that the world is a very different place.
heres one more article from an indigenous women on veganism: http://www.thescavenger.net/animals/indigenous-veganism-feminist-natives-do-eat-tofu-237794-504.html
one more thing to think about, how can we ever hope to build the world we want to see when we continue to exploit those around us just because we can?
Differing points of view are welcome and debate is encouraged however, name calling and finger pointing is not going serve any useful purpose and only creates more discord in an already fractured community.
If you disagree with something find a better and more constructive way to frame your argument.
Jeremy (a//e type)
Well, Carron. I’m with Jeremy on this one. I’m very happy to hear critiques on my article and my lifestyle, but your reply isn’t a critique, it’s an attack. It doesn’t make me think and go “Hmmm interesting”, It just makes me laugh at you and think your an asshole.
Morality is bullshit. “That is WRONG! This is RIGHT!” Life is not black and white. It doesn’t work like that. I don’t have much patience or respect for people to treat Anarchism (and all of its associated -isms) as a dogmatic religion.
My reply isn’t really to you, both because I don’t think you’ll listen, and honestly I don’t think people who are as self-righteous as you seem are worth my time. My reply is an explanation of my views to everyone else.
As for eating or not eating animals, do what you feel is right for you. It’s a personal choice. After putting years of thought into it (including being vegan for over 3 years) I have chosen to eat meat. I’m NOT trying to convince anyone else to do what I do, I’m just explaining myself. I’ll ask that you respect my well thought out choice.
I eat mostly wild, hunted (or trapped) meat. Wild meat doesn’t take up miles and miles of land to farm and steal thousands of gallons of water from local watersheds. In fact, deer where I live are pushed out of their natural habitats by farmers growing soy (for tofu), wheat (for TVP), and canola (for Earth Balance).
In this sense, eating meat seems more natural (to me).
Factory farming is a product of over-population. I think factory farming and feeding animals grain is mostly fucked and thus I try to steer away from eating that shit (I am guilty of the occasional pepperoni pizza when I’m in the city). Factory farming doesn’t go “way the fuck back” as Carron stated. It started becoming popular post-WWII and got into full swing in the 60’s. So it’s been around for maybe 80 years. considering that agriculture has been around for 10,000 years (give or take) that’s a very small amount of time. Before factory farming, cattle (which is all I can speak for) were mostly/entirely grass fed. They were put out to pasture in the summer and ate hay (harvested grasses) in the winter. Humans (as you may have noticed) can’t eat grass. Cattle are ruminants. That means they can (and how they do it is super cool, but that’s a biology lesson for later). Feeding animals grain is a product of factory farming, as you can grow more calories easier and in less space with grains that by harvesting hay.
You can still get reasonably priced grass-fed beef and bison around here. You won’t find it in a supermarket in the city (except maybe over-priced at Whole Foods) but you can get it from farm stands and farmers markets all over the place.
As just for being pissed off for me leaving the city: harsh tokes dude. I don’t give a fuck.
I wish I noticed this comment earlier, but I don’t spend my time sitting around reading blogs on the internet (my only complaint with PE going digital), I’m too busy living my life. Hell, this is the first time in weeks that I’ve been on the internet.
Anyways, love and respect to all punx!!
you can say what ever helps you sleep at night but it doesnt change a thing.
im all for personal choices but the ends when your choices end or harm the life of another!
self-righteous? no, asshole? yes.
could someone explain to me how any farm, small or large is not a factory? the animals are no different then any machine you would find in any factory, simply a tool for production.
what crack are you smoking? by far the majority or soy, wheat, and canola is not grown for anything vegan (we are still way less the 1% of the population) soy and corn (you forgot corn) are feed to “livestock”, as for wheat and canola do you really think thats were its all going?
now ill back go back to my small house build of dumpstered materials in the woods on maine.
still an asshole and still vegan!
whatever, your not worth my time…
inspiring article! hope to leave the big city of berlin/germany this year, all this pollution and stress made me sick the last years. there are better places, you prove it 😉
all the best to you!