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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Modern Homesteading, Part 1

Who would have thought that the first of November would be a sit-on-your-front-porch kind of day? Yet here it is, sunny and 60 degrees, with a mild breeze blowing. Sitting on the front porch is arguably an old-fashioned pastime. In some neighborhoods, the kind with strict rules and regulations, such behavior is even considered a detraction from the quality of the neighborhood!

An architect friend of mine, who used to live in New York City, told a story about how a person living in such a place was limited in the size of porch he could build onto his house so as to deter any temptation one might have to sit on it! "Do we want to see people sitting on porches here?" was the question. And an emphatic "No!" was the answer. Oh the horror of the idea of neighbors being able to see one another on porches! What if they smiled at each other? Worse yet, what if they talked to one another? What if they had barbeques and friends and relatives come to visit and they played music and horseshoes on the lawn? Yes, this is what America, sadly, is coming to.

What must be reclaimed, for this reason and a multitude of others, is the concept of the homestead. In his national best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv describes the modern phenomenon of Nature Deprivation Disorder, which stunts the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual development of children (and also has adverse effects on adults). Children are over-scheduled with organized programs, as well as the fact of being constantly "plugged in" to technology, leaving them no time to play freely outdoors. This disassociation with the natural world greatly contributes to the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.

And front porches aren't the only casualties of snobbery and a profound disconnection from nature. In some communities, outdoor play is actually criminalized. Partially for fear of lawsuits, climbing trees is outlawed, and building a tree house is illegal on one's own property, lest a neighbor think it detracts from his view, or because it violates building codes. Thankfully, I live in just the sort of backwards, antiquated small town that allows porch living and tree climbing!

I do sometimes fantasize about living in the country and having a small family farm, which is definitely a lifestyle choice that is making a comeback. However, I love my historic 1908 home in town, and it is nice to be able to walk our dog and stop to chat with neighbors (who are outside on their porches, for heaven's sake, or doing dastardly deeds like gardening or yard work!). It is also convenient to walk to places such as the post office, grocery, drug store, church, gift shop, pharmacy, library, and bank, or to ride bikes to visit my grandparents. Less need to drive a car, so more sustainable than living in the country in that respect. I have been reading a lot lately about urban homesteading, so I will continue to write on this topic in a short series. In the meantime, turn off the TV and shove your kids outside to enjoy the last, glorious days of autumn. And you get out there too!!

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