About a month ago, I quit my job, sold my car, and took a one-way flight to Hawaii. I had decided that it was long past time to stop daydreaming about homesteading, and to give the damn thing a shot. When the opportunity to work as long-term help on an off-grid farmstead landed in my lap, I took it.
This new section of the blog will cover my experience with homesteading, from my current first steps to my journey to land ownership and establishing a farmstead of my own. This first post covers some of the things that have stood out to me from my first month of working on a farmstead.
Spoilers: I love it.
One of the most dramatic changes has been how little my new life is governed by strictly scheduled times. I go to bed when I am tired, wake when I am rested, eat when I am hungry (or if my host has made something hot and delicious), and work when it feels right (which is pretty often, surprisingly). The last one won’t last for too long--I will have to get outside work for money in the near future--but overall I am living much more in tune with my own natural cycles, and with the cycles around me. It turns out that when you work and live almost exclusively outside, you get tired when night falls! I feel like I’ve turned into one of the chickens here.
There are a couple of old chestnuts that apply better here than any other situation I’ve lived in: “Make hay while the sun shines” and “Save it for a rainy day”. The farmstead is in one of the rainiest parts of Hawaii, and we just exited one of the wettest Aprils my host had ever seen. When the weather behaves like that, you simply have to structure your time to work around it. There’s no point in slaving away outside while you get soaked to the bone and your tools get slippery, so you either have to learn to chill out or have plenty of indoor work on your to-do list.
“Island Time” is also absolutely a thing here. Scheduled meeting times are loose suggestions, and folks tend to stay and hang out for as long as the vibe is good. Things like generator repairs can take much longer than they would on the continent, so one has to be prepared to do things differently or not at all when that sort of problem pops up. Convenience not being the name of the game has been unspeakably refreshing.
Overall this mindset has been a huge improvement for me. Things feel less arbitrary, and I feel like I have a great deal more agency in what I’m doing at any given moment. It also feels like my body has let go of a great deal of stress, and I feel that this more relaxed approach to time has contributed to that.
One of the little things I’ve loved about folks here is a sort of get-it-done spirit of inventiveness. This is referred to here as “use what get”: basically finding solutions using materials that are either on hand or easily accessible. It’s a philosophy similar to hacking (in the earlier sense), the French bricolage, or the Indian jugaad. When resources are not plentiful, and it can take ages to ship something in from off-island, it just makes more sense to use what get.
This one stands out to me quite a bit: people here tend to care about their neighbors. The traditional Hawaiian values stress kindness towards others, duty to the community, and responsibility towards the land. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the question on most people’s mind wasn’t “how does this affect me?” but instead “how can I keep my neighbors safe?” When I decided to walk the three miles to town, two of my neighbors offered me rides on their way there; I had never met either of them before. All this has been a wonderful change of pace from the high-paced, individualistic bustle of the megacity I left behind.
I will probably give this topic a whole blog post in the future, but I am astonished by the scope of the local and informal economy on this part of the island. On almost every road are handmade signs hawking different services with a phone number--local eggs, tool sharpening, brush clearing, handyman work, you name it. Farmers’ markets are abundant. According to my host, many people work a patchwork of these gigs to avoid working for a boss.
There is also an incredible amount of barter and trade going on outside of the monetary economy, particularly among farmer and homesteader types. Folks help others with too-abundant fruit harvests in exchange for a few baskets of rambutan or mango. Someone will give you a couple mushroom-inoculated logs because you consulted for their farm design that one time. Folks often gift taro huli or banana keiki so that others can start their own plants. This all adds up to a vibrant scene with few connections to the industrial and monetary economies.
I imagine much more of the USA will become this way in the coming decades, but again, that’s a topic for another time.
It’s likely because I’ve gone for so long without having a pet, but the diverse personalities of all of the animals here on the farmstead consistently amaze me. The pair of turkeys couldn’t be more different--the male is in a state of perpetual blustering and self-inflation, but avoids conflict even when pushed, while the female is curious and game to fight off other birds who get too big for their britches. The goats have personalities nearly as complex as those of dogs; one is very people-friendly and keen to investigate everything, but has no goatiquette and will even butt young kids if they so much as look at him funny. Another was a bit wary of me at first, but has started sniffing my face when I sit down and nudging my hand for scritches. The one that is clearly the head goat bosses everyone around, except for the goat on the bottom of the pile--he, strangely, has the big goat’s number (and no one else’s)! Even though I do get lonely for people out here sometimes, it helps to be surrounded by an army of colorful characters.
I expect to update this blog quite a bit more frequently in the near future. RPG stuff and compositions will likely be on the backburner for a bit, but I have at least one essay in the offing and have quite a few plans for this new Field Notes section.
Upcoming projects include a good bit of roundwood carpentry, possibly some tool maintenance, continuing reflections on my experiences, and any art that I decide to put out there.
Thanks for reading! Take care.