Home Again

Shortly after Project 31 ended on the 19th, I headed to the city. Having spent a month alone in the woods, I thought I’d have a good time. I thought I’d appreciate the creature comforts, the infinite electricity supply, the alawys-on (and unlimited) internet connection, the magically appearing clean water, heat at the flick of a switch, places where people cook and serve you food, close proximity to friends…

The first night in the city, I couldn’t sleep. I’d forgotten how loud the city is at night. The constant traffic, the early morning garbage trucks, the beeping car alarms, distant sirens, fog horns, people yelling, dogs barking. It also doesn’t get dark in the city. Streetlight streamed in through the window, casting an unnatural orange glow, penetrating my eyelids. And even the heating was overbearing. On the numerous occasions that my shallow slumber was interrupted, I’d wake up drenched in sweat, feeling clammy and icky.

After a few days, I got homesick. So I came home.

To my own house. My own bed. To silence, darkness, and minimal heating. I switched off my MiFi and left it in the car. I turned off my inverter — my battery array hasn’t fully recovered anyway. And I lit some candles, and settled in with a hot mug of tea and a book.

When I started Project 31, I secretly hoped that I’d be miserable. If I were miserable, I’d know that I should head back to the city. I could give up this crazy life, give myself credit for having tried, and return to a normal life. Have a normal job, live in a normal place, and fill my days doing normal things. I’d be convinced that normal is good. I could be happy with normal, if I could only be convinced that it’s good.

But, it’s not. At least, not for me. So, here I am again. Back on Serenity Valley.

March 11, the day of the earthquake in Japan, was the 2nd anniversary of this blog and also of my quitting Google. At the time, I thought my adventures would last a year, maybe 18 months tops. I didn’t yet know that I’d buy land, but even after I bought land, I’d only initially planned on staying here for a month or two.

Here we are now, two years later. What was once a bare patch of dirt, rocks, shrubs and trees is now my home. And I’m starting to realize that I may never go back to my previous life.

Sometimes I wish I could go back. Living a normal life is so much easier. The story’s practically written for you. You do what you’re told, and everything hums along. If you get confused, there are people who can help you. The people around you are living more or less parallel lives, facing more or less the same problems. The problems you face have solutions, and often well documented ones at that. There are concrete goals, and objective metrics to tell you how you’re doing.

But when you step off the reservation, you’re on your own. There’s no script to follow. Nobody to tell you where to go, what to do, or even what to strive for. All there is, is a vastness stretching out to the horizon. Somewhere out there, beyond the hazy horizon, your future awaits. It waits for no one, but you. You don’t know where it is, nor what’s there. But you approach it, one step at a time. One step. At a time.

People asked what’s next. Here’s the list of possibilities I’ve come up with so far:

  • Volunteer in Japan (mostly, I’m hoping that All Hands will start a project)
  • Start a Garden 2.0
  • Start a beehive
  • Raise chickens
  • Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in Alaska (or Mongolia…)
  • Volunteer at a WWOOF farm
  • Volunteer with the local fire station
  • Volunteer with the Forest Service somewhere nearby
  • Get a job
  • Go back to school

I have a couple of other smaller projects in mind too, but those are the major ones I’ve come up with so far. I’ll probably end up doing some combination of the above, though some of them fit better together than others. I’m also planning on finishing the book in the next couple of months as well.

Anyway, welcome to Year 3. Let’s see and find out what this year has in store for us.

36 thoughts on “Home Again

  1. Congratulations Ryo! You stepped out on your very own personal journey afraid as many are. Whether it’s making housing for yourself on your own land or finding a way in the world like so many others. You did one of the good things that humanity has always been best at, you adapted and thrived. Now, you don’t want to be like millions of others. You’re happy being yourself. Again I say, congratulations!!! You’ve done what many others can’t fathom. Good luck, and keep on going! I’m sure more success will come your way!

  2. I’d like to point out that living what you’ve deemed a normal life is not what most people would choose. Most people don’t have the means to do what you’ve done. Something made it possible for you to step off the reservation, and it wasn’t some hazy horizon. I’d like to see some reflection on that.

    Good job.

    • I beg to differ. It takes choice. Means often create themselves, based on choice.
      While I’m personally tired of the rat race and “supposed to’s”, my wife isn’t. She (and pretty much everyone I know) find comfort in familiarity and the trappings of “normal” life.

  3. I say get some chickens, goats/sheep, and start another garden and try to grow and can enough food to last you through next winter. That will be a nice test of sustainability. Maybe you could start now by purchasing a water reservoir and collect as much gold (water) as you can.

  4. It sounds like Project 31 was more than a test, it was an epiphany, a breakthrough. Your account of returning to the city was very revealing, in that now you can see it as you never had before. It has not changed…….you have, and from the sound of it, much for the better. I suspect that this is only the beginning.
    Keep on, my friend.

  5. Congratulations. You have experienced what real life is all about. It took me many, many years to learn the same lesson.

  6. Thank you very much for sharing your experiences, which speak to many of us who would love to leave suburbia and the rat race. I live vicariously through your blog.

  7. Chickens are easy to raise and provide great protein (eggs). A garden will be a bit more challenging – needs a sunny site, protection from wildlife and chickens, and (if it doesn’t rain much) water. Keeping chickens should provide you with materials to compost for your garden (as will the woods). Animals larger than chickens require much more care (I learned the hard way to stick with chickens). Enjoy your life!

  8. CONGRATULATIONS! on discovering your strengths and weaknesses; for overcoming the elements and realizing your dream.

    I feel the same way when I go visit my cabin (for only a week at a time…).

  9. I found the same things to be true. Living a secluded livestyle with minimal contact to the populace allows me to cherish the quiet of the woods and the interaction with the wild life. Amazing how the wind through the trees takes the place of the constant barrage of noise found in the city (and the cubicle farms!).

    Less contact with the hoi polloi makes contact with friends more important. Like minds are more appreciated when the contact is “harder” to maintain. Friendship takes on an exquisite flavour.

    The daily contact of co-workers and traffic during the long commutes is no longer missed. Nor is the constant barrage of noise that comes with living and working in the city.

    Time seems to be more flowing now too. The daily chores take on a new rhythm now too.

    Congratulations on learning so much about yourself! And best of luck in your future journey.


  10. Sounds like a wonderful journey deep inside yourself, finding the strength to pursue an uncommon dream. I know of New Yorkers who have had complete psychotic breaks when confronted with the silence of remoteness. But those of us who dwell in the world of silence hear more than anywhere else we venture. The earth breathes and sighs, the energy of mountains and streams echo endlessly, the birds sing to us like a philharmonic orchestra. But going back to “civilization” is often a tough reentry process and the tolerance for all that interference gets less and less with each visit. In terms of what next, embrace the process. Do the chickens, gardening, canning, etc. but maybe share the experience with other people too. Invite some college students out to help build a barn, take homemade goodies and offers of help to your neighbors, find a school and help little kids plant a garden, keep up your blog. Most importantly lead by example – encourage others to take the great leap of taking ultimate responsibility for themselves. Very powerful stuff. Cheers.

  11. Congrats on unplugging from the matrix! Liberating and freeing indeed. I’m looking forward to your 3rd season, er, adventure!

  12. Your List: I like all the volunteering ideas. Don’t go back to school or job. Your insight is needed elsewhere, not in that world. And keep blogging, because you’re a good teacher.
    I’m into Year Thirteen of my real life. I do take the occasional foray into the city just to keep track on how the majority lives. Poor sods. There is nothing there that i want, other than fast internet. 🙂

  13. Please define normal for me. I think what your going through is shared by more people then you realize. Many just have not been Able to put it into words because they have not been able to identify what is causing there emptiness for lack of a better word.
    We as a society have lost touch with nature, we live outside of the cycles of it following artificial time patterns. A month is not 28-30 days it is 1 lunar cycle, and a day goes from sunrise to sunrise. Everything in nature follows the same patterns but man.
    Call ne crazy but the lives most people live are not normal. Yous however maybe.IMHO

  14. I like your post today because it resonates so much with how I feel about life in general and I’m glad to read about how you are stretching your imagination about what your life can be.

    Most people keep themselves stuck within society’s imagination because as you say, it’s easier. But to live fully in the world of possibilities listening to your own ideas and imagination, when allowed to blossom, will take you far beyond what you thought possible before you began your journey beyond the everyday.

    Learning more and more about what you find interesting will take you farther than most people have the courage to go. And it does take courage to live your life differently than what most people consider “normal.” There are so many adventures awaiting you including the one you’re well on your way with now.


  15. This post resonates in my soul. We are kindred spirits… I hope that someday, I can take a path as beautiful and full of discovery as yours.

    Good luck continuing on your journey.

  16. Normal’s for wimps! (that sounds judgmental) Uh, I mean, some people are fine with normal. The rest of us need to find new ways so we can feel we are living more authentically. Hurray for you. I struggled for years with “why can’t I just be happy with normal?!” Then I gave in when I realized I was wired differently and that was that. Now that I’m old enough to not give a damn what others think about me and have chosen friends who support my whacky individuality I’m doing much better. Courage my friend. Do what feels right to your soul and your soul will repay you 10 fold. (My theory- somewhat supported by empirical evidence.) Well, if not 10 fold at least your life will have been a marvelous adventure worth living and give you stories to tell around the campfire.

  17. Interesting isn’t it, how once you’ve left there really is no going back (at least for some of us).

    There are so many possibilities and opportunities beyond the well trampled highways!

  18. Yeah, like MO said.
    Project 60
    Project 90
    Project 180
    Project 365
    Project Life

    I’m glad that you are able to figure out what matters in life, and have a decade or three more that I did to enjoy it.

    Keep true to yourself, regardless of the marketing message. Avoid the sheep.

  19. Ryo,

    A couple of years ago I had a pair of friends who decided they wanted to step off the “normal” train and travel the world by mountain bikes. This May, they are set to come back stateside.

    They have painstakingly journaled, photographed, and mapped out their routes.

    I bring this to your attention because you spoke of going to work in Mongolia. They spent quite a bit of time making a trek across the vast land and I think you might enjoy reading it.


    Of course, they didn’t do the Mongolian crossing on mountain bike. But what they did drive might surprise you.

    Take care, continue doing what YOU love, which as far as I can tell, is living out your dreams.


  20. Yay Ryo! What a delightful post! I’m going through something similar — at least the part about being on the point of major life change (foreclosure), and wanting to do something REAL with my life…

  21. You have experienced deep living, the kind most people desire but never have the courage to pursue. I believe you will look back on this time of your life, and the things you’ve learned, and appreciate the way it has changed your life—you have learned a lesson it takes most people a lifetme to learn, if they ever do open themselves to the learning. Pass it on.
    Peace be with you.

  22. Getting out and volunteering in your community is a great way to make connections. When your in a rural area, it can be very important to know what’s happening in your neck of the woods. There are some great communities in Shasta County. People tend to help each other out.

    You might be able to pick up some part time work with the school district, city, or county for IT support services. Mobile computer repair business/IT support is also popular in rural areas. That will allow you to make improvements to your land while living there.

  23. Congratulations! Your experience is good.
    It’s looks like you and me are similar in many cases (I even have a picture of me which like yours one). 2.5 years ago I bought a hut in the pine forest and begun my project. But here is a difference: I am trying to create the community. And I persuade other people not only to join, but just to be my guests. That is not for bring city crowds into the forests (anywhere only few people comes during 2+ years; although many had showed their interest) nor for transforming a peace of nature into ordinary village. I really see the way to improve live of others and me through developing natural-bounded small communities.
    Believe me that it much more deeper than breeding chickens! 😉 (but not exclude farming).
    I see you are on the road-cross now. Even if you feel some sceptics, please, pay attention to the such communities as ecovillages, rural cohousings, etc. This topic are related to WWOOFing. Such communities are not too similar with each over; I suppose you may find more pleasant discoveries attending those groups who leads more primitive and natural life and find some ideas about your next step.
    With best kindly wishes, Michael / Russia
    PS Here is my place: http://common-house.backtothelander.info
    The all information is in Russian, but you can see photos. I invite guests. The rule is tobacco, alcohol and drug prohibition.
    PSPS Feel free to contact me. shestero@mail.ru

  24. No such things as normal! There’s being a conformist or non-conformist. Some folks never leave their safe zones. I pity them. I think of them as modern tribesman living in their small tribal territory. Their immediate physical needs are met and they’re content to live that way. They often are trapped by social responsibilities ie providing for the welfare of their family members. I’ve been as far west as Korea and as far east as the United Arab Emirates. Yet, I still find new wonderful place not 10 miles from my door step. I hope to someday soon find my own place in the country. I want the freedom to test my strengths against nature and at the same time work with nature. Keep up the good work and know that we’re with you in spirit.

  25. Starting a beehive? It could be really difficult, trust me. My family had about 40-45 beehives until late 1980’s. We were honey, beeswax and pollen vendors and had very nice incomes. But it is very difficult to look after bees. There are a lot of contagious diseases that can kill all your bees in less than a week, animals that can destroy a beehive looking for honey, etc. Besides, you need an insurance (at least in my country -Spain- you need it) just in case a hiker got sting by your bees (not a tresspasser, but a hiker in a public path next to your property).
    But it could be a really nice income. Organic honey is highly prized, and so is beeswax, pollen or royal jelly. You could live on your beehives (about 20-30) if you find a good reseller.
    Good luck, whatever are your choice. And forgive me for my awful english.

  26. I’ve been following you for a few months, and well, this latest blog entry has really made my day!

    It is inspiring to hear of your return to the valley, and ‘job’ or ‘return to school’ on the bottom of your list.

    I’d definitely start getting some permaculture going, and avoid having to ever return to the “normal” workforce again. Just do some contract work here or there when you need it.

    I too am looking in to volunteering overseas, or WWOOFing, or just getting the hell out of my current situation.

  27. Am reading your blog for the first time, and had to smile at your “Project 31”, as I’ve been living something similar for several years, with 2 kids. A local writer has summarized it better than I could, so I’m posting the link to her article: http://www.green-trust.org/wordpress/2010/05/18/extreme-off-grid-with-kids/. (The “extreme” part is a misnomer, it’s not that extreme.)

    “Off-grid”, however, (IMHO) is overrated; its biggest benefit is in teaching one to minimize one’s needs, and perhaps the feeling of independence it engenders. Learning to minimize… now *that’s* a skill worth having! I watch my neighbors produce as much garbage in a week as we produce in a year, and I shudder at the waste of the developed world.

    I’ve learned much from others over the years, and am always happy to spread the knowledge, if you have any questions.

  28. I just returned to the “rat race” after spending a week at our cabin in NM. Its still a work in process and I hope to get some new pics up later this week. After dropping off my girls to the Ex. In the suburban wasteland they call Home…I was ready to make the 6 hour haul back to the land of sagebrush, coyote calls, and deep deep silence.

    Each trip brings me closer to being there full time, and each time it is harder and harder to leave in order to return to the world of earning money, and freeing myself from the consumerism that lies around me.

Leave a Reply to Michael Shestero Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s