By Ron Spomer
Well, my wife and I already know we’re nuts, so this latest move just confirms it. At the age when most Baby Boomers are cashing Social Security checks, wintering in Arizona, and trying to remember what it was they ingested in 1970, Betsy and I are downsizing—to a ranch.
Yup. Confirmed nuts. Trading 2,000 square feet of curbside, flip-switch convenience in town for too many square feet of too much house, a 300+ acre back yard in the mountains, and no recyclables pickup. Not to mention four miles of cattle fence and a mile-long gravel driveway that snakes uphill (both ways), at 5,400 feet above sea level, without a connection to the power grid.
Let me restate that: at retirement age, with no engineering background and a minimal grasp of electricity we’re going off the grid.
Maybe “nuts” is giving us too much credit. Fools? Completely, certifiably, bat-shit crazy? Ah, but if so, it’s a fools’ paradise the likes of which many of us Boomers have long dreamed.
You remember the dreams you had when you were 20, right? Anyone who lived through the Mother Earth, back-to-the-land era remembers the allure of self-sufficient simplicity. That cabin you were going to build on grandpa’s old farm. That S-Rotor wind turbine to power your lights. The bee hives for honey. The strawberry beds and apple orchard and the goat you were going to milk at the end of the country road that took you home to the place where you belonged.
Yes, that dream. You may still nurse it somewhere deep in your soul. The closer we Americans get to a cradle-to-grave society, the more the old hippie in us rebels. Stick it to the man. Pack up, drop out, and do your own thing. Especially now that we have 40 years of good old Yankee capital to get us started.
But on Medicare?
Sure. What else are we going to do? Fall asleep watching Wheel of Fortune? We don’t need 786 channels. We need challenges. Well, maybe not Challenges with a capital C, but something to do, something new, different, exciting, fulfilling and—well, I guess challenging is the right word. Because this might not be easy. It’s one thing to look forward to your own farm-fresh eggs every morning. It’s another to feed and water the birds every day and keep the foxes and hawks off their backs. It’s easy to picture a freezer neatly stacked with packages of organic, grass-fed beef; it’s harder to bottle feed, shelter, worm, vaccinate, and butcher a calf. Especially when you also have to maintain a wind turbine, solar panels, and an emergency back-up propane-powered generator for electricity. Then there’s the spring, cistern, and ultraviolet purifier for water. And the barn to maintain. Tractor. Snow plow. Electric fence. Septic system…
There are sure to be other challenges. Like the neighbors’ cattle breaking through the fence, the wind turbine spinning to pieces, hail smashing the solar panels, blizzards burying the road, dogs ripped by cougars, bugs in the garden. Sasquatch hiding in the barn.
But here’s the thing: With more land and house and barns and responsibility than anyone on the downslope of 60 should face, we can sit on the deck after supper and watch the snow capped peak across the valley turn gold, pink, mauve, blue, and black. We can sleep in the yard illuminated by nothing but the tattered, silvery weave of the Milky Way curving over the horizon, lulled by a distant pack of yapping coyotes. We can cut up a fallen maple from our woods and burn it in the front yard just to watch it dance. In the spring we’ll check the bluebird boxes for new hatchlings, scour the woods for mushrooms, and photograph sharp-tailed grouse whirling in our meadow. We’ll slip out one October evening and tip over a fat mule deer, walk behind our setter to take a left/right double on pheasants. We can climb the hill at dawn to watch elk file into timber. We’ll be free to take the rifle out the back door for a practice shot or twenty without fear of a neighbor complaining. On the walk to the mailbox we can loose the dogs instead of totter behind them on a six-foot leash with a plastic doo doo bag in hand…
Freedom. That’s what we’re after. We want to be free to paint the garage door purple, park an RV in the driveway, and fly an American flag from our deck without seeking permission from some homeowner’s association. We want the freedom to plow up an old field and plant wheat, milo, clover, and rape for the pheasants, deer, elk, moose and any other wildlife out there. We want to cultivate cherry and apple and plum trees and an organic garden large enough to feed us and all our kids and grandkids. And we want to take those grandkids on camping trips to the “big woods” where we can chop down a tree, build a fire, and pitch a tent where we want, when we want, how we want, and as often as we want without seeking a government permit or paying a fee.
Ours may be a false hope. It may be nothing but a dream. But it’s an old dream and a good one and this may be our last chance to make it come true—or go broke trying.