Friday, March 4, 2011

O Pioneers!

Tonight we watched a recorded episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain ate his way through the state of Maine.  Excited by Tony's sojourn in the tiny town of Milo, Barry started searching the Internet for cheap real estate in the area.  In our price range he mainly found small, probably uninsulated cabins that sounded remarkably like my grandfather's house.

While I was growing up, Grandpa lived on his farm several miles away from a rural South Dakota town in a house he had built himself from the ruins of two abandoned one-room schoolhouses.  As far back as I can remember he raised sheep, Muscovy ducks and field corn on the farm.

Grandpa had no telephone and refused to allow my mother and Aunt Lu to have one installed.  A primitive pump at the kitchen sink was the only "running water;" he (and his visitors) made do with an outhouse in lieu of a modern toilet.  The indoor "bathroom" was occupied by a bathtub that had to be filled by hand with water pumped and heated in the kitchen.  Grandpa had one electrical outlet from which extension cords snaked throughout the house; he did have a small TV and radio, although reading was his main source of entertainment, and what must have been one of the first electric refrigerators ever manufactured (the compressor squatted on top like a small noisy UFO).  The big black wood-burning cookstove in the kitchen was also the only source of heat in the house.  He thriftily burned corn cobs in the winter.

The farm also contained evidence of even more primitive living conditions - a dilapidated sod hut in the grove of trees behind the house, left behind by some ambitious pioneer.  I've always been sorry that the family didn't try to preserve it as a historical relic; it collapsed when I was in college after a hundred years of hard winter snows and torrential spring rains.

I don't mean to imply that life on Grandpa's farm was unremittingly grim.  I have fond memories of ripe warm mulberries fresh from the trees; corn straight from the field; honey from his own hives; and wonderful homemade whole-wheat bread that he traded for in town.  He also boarded a fat spotted pony on the condition that his grandchildren could ride it, and he always had at least one large, friendly mongrel that he'd trained as a sheepdog.  I loved visiting the farm as a child, and it suited Grandpa perfectly.

Now, though - could I live in the wilds at this point in my life?  I used to like the idea of being snowed into a remote location with my cat and a room full of books, but I'm not sure I could handle being cut off from the Internet any more.  The prospect of Barry suffering from an excess of pent-up energy and cabin fever miles from the nearest neighbor is also pretty scary.

Fortunately Barry also concluded that any house with all the amenities he needs would be unaffordable and dropped the idea.  No roughing it for us this year - or at least not until Anthony Bourdain travels somewhere else primitive and seemingly irresistible.

“They would call it a cabin. Or a cottage. Let me tell you, Charlie, it was a shack. There's no doubt about it.” ~Kenny Salwey

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