The Best Time to Start Is Now

Get Out Now. Not just outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people at the end of our century. Go outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow down, look around. Do not jog. Do not run. Forget about blood pressure and arthritis, cardiovascular rejuvenation and weight reduction. Instead pay attention to everything that abuts the rural road, the city street, the suburban boulevard. Walk. Stroll. Saunter. Ride a bike, and coast along a lot. Explore.

Abandon, even momentarily, the sleek modern technology that consumes so much time and money now, and seek out the resting place of a technology almost forgotten. Go outside and walk a bit, long enough to forget programming, long enough to take in and record new surroundings.

Flex the mind, a little at first, then a lot. Savor something special. Enjoy the best-kept secret around – the ordinary, everyday landscape that rewards any explorer, that touches any explorer with magic.

The whole concantination of wild and artificial things, the natural ecosystem as modified by people over the centuries, the built environment layered over layers, the eerie mix of sounds and smells and glimpses neither natural nor crafted – all of it is free for the taking, for the taking in. Take it, take it in, take in more every weekend, every day, and quickly it becomes a theatre that intrigues, relaxes, fascinates, seduces, and above all expands any mind focused on it. Outside lies utterly ordinary space to any casual explorer willing to find the extraordinary. Outside lies unprogrammed awareness that at times becomes directed serendipity. Outside lies magic.

John R. Stilgoe, Outside Lies Magic (1998)
Outside Lies Magic.

Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places, by John R. Stilgoe, holds a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf. It’s been well over a decade since I first read his opening verses. I have been enthralled ever since.

In relatively short order Stilgoe lays out his governing philosophy; that simply noticing the everyday things we take for granted teaches us a great deal about our environment. Everything has a lesson, and every lesson can teach us about something important.

Stilgoe, none too subtly, warns of us the dangers of complacency in our education as well. Read how he warns not just against the “programmed electronic age” of our time, but of programming in general. Stilgoe sees the danger inherent in acceptance of programming without question and the value in “unprogrammed awareness.” All through his writing Stilgoe reveals that not all that is old is antiquated or useless, and not all that is “improved” necessarily makes modern the better. Stilgoe begs us to reach out with our own senses. Implores us to question and seek answers. Stilgoe beseeches us to ask, “Why?”

And from the get-go he expresses a sense of urgency. Get Out Now. Start Now.

So, if you’re still with me at this point, that’s what I want you to do too. Start now.

Chances are if you’re following us, or have simply read this far without jumping ship, you’re interested in homesteading, gardening, or farming. Afterall, that’s what we do here on the homestead. And if that’s what you are interested in, then there is no better time for you to start on that journey than right now.

I get it. It’s winter. Nothing grows…

Believe me, I understand. Do research.

You don’t have the land or equipment needed…

We didn’t either. We’ve been there. Still are in some regards.

You don’t have the cash needed to start…

We didn’t either. Most of the time we still don’t.

We’ve absolutely been in all of these dilemmas. And that being said, the only regret I have is that I, we, didn’t start sooner. That’s how absolutely satisfying the homesteading life has become. Yes, it is hard at times. No, we didn’t have land in the beginning. But we grew vegetables and flowers in containers on apartment patios or in small raised beds on tiny lots. We definitely lack the proper equipment. My Sonata performed as the best damned farm truck I’ve ever had. We’ve hauled tons of dirt using just 5-gallon buckets, hoping one day to afford a tractor. And we’ve tightened our belts and budgets more times than I can count to make ends meet while building gardens, raising chicken coops, fencing paddocks, and improvising essential gear on the cheap. But we’re more resilient for it.

And there’s one other dilemma to overcome…

Not everyone is going to get what you’re doing. If you’re rejecting what mainstream society is promoting then you’re off program. But if reading Stilgoe, or Salatin, or Bromfield, Leopold, or Muir, has taught me anything, it is that we need to break out of our programming and realign ourselves with what nature has intended for us. For all of our modern “improvements,” I cannot say that I feel we’re really better off.

Sadly, Farm Fresh Eggs Are Not the Norm.

So take Stilgoe’s advice. Get Out Now. Reject programming. Ask questions. Flex the mind. Question the status quo. Be intrigued. Be fascinated. Be seduced. My wife, Chrisitne, loves to be “wooed,” as Jessica Sowards from Roots & Refuge Farm often says. Find your unprogrammed awareness. Learn the lessons our environment has to teach and live in accordance with those lessons. Learn what you can and spread the word. Reach others. Step outside the norm and begin your own homesteading journey now.

For outside (the norm, the programmed, the status quo) lies magic.

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