Homesteading. Self-sufficiency. People talk about it, but most people don’t/can’t do it.
Self-sufficiency is not easy. It’s not even remotely possible for most human beings. We are tribal creatures. We evolved that way—to live in groups, communities. We learned about division of labor and we’re pretty much dependent on it now.
This is the Lykov family, or three of them. (The woman on the far left is a Russian geologist.)
In 1936, the patriarch of the family (seen second from the right in the photo), Karp Lykov, witnessed his brother being killed by some sort of Soviet official and ran home, got his wife and two young children, grabbed what they could easily carry and fled into the Siberian wilderness.
They were members of a fundamentalist segment of Russian Orthodoxy called Old Believers, and they were beyond fearful of communists after the Russian Revolution.
They went into the wilderness, the real wilderness, not a little plot of ground right outside a major US city with neighbors and a little store up the road. They went to an area so remote that nobody found them for years.
Over 40 years.
During that time, the couple had two more children, built a shack they called home, hunted, grew their own food and subsisted.
They had nothing that they didn’t make themselves. When the only metal pot they had rusted out, they didn’t have a pot, literally.
At the time when they were discovered by Russian geologists (1978), their two youngest children had never seen any other human beings.
Now, that is self-sufficiency. Isn’t it?
Doesn’t that prove it’s great and can be done and that the greatest thing anyone can do is try to be self-sufficient because gee, what if you had to just make do with what you could make with your own hands? Right?
Well, the Lykovs had a tough time of it.
The mother, Akulina, died in 1961. She starved to death so her children could eat.
And two of the children (of course, these children were all adults by the time they were found) died within a week or so of each other of kidney failure, believed to have been caused by their marginal diet for so many years. A third child died of pneumonia at the same time, refusing to go to a hospital.
The father died in the late eighties. The one survivor, age 71, still lives (or was alive a year or so ago) at the homestead, alone, refusing to move to civilization except for emergency medical care and after accepting some modern stuff like pots and a satellite telephone.
They actually did exceptionally well under the circumstances.
There was another person who decided to venture out into the wilderness to test his mettle. His name was Christopher McCandless and his wilderness was in Alaska.
Chris’s story interested me because we lived in Alaska for so long. Unlike the Lykovs, Chris ventured out alone. He was a minimalist so he intentionally took next to nothing with him. He lasted just over 100 days. His body was found in an abandoned school bus.
People have always ventured into the wild to try to live, to get away from society, or to simply test their ability to survive. Lots of people do it in Alaska. There’s even a reality TV show, which I have never seen because “reality TV” is almost always “fake TV,” called Alaskan Bush People. [Believe me, when you get in legal trouble because you faked your residency requirements to get the Permanent Fund Dividend, you’re not really living in the Alaskan bush.]
This is Dick Proenneke. He did it for real. He lived for decades in a cabin that he built in the Alaska wilderness by himself. The real deal. His films, archived at the linked website, are worth viewing if this stuff interests you.
But Dick wasn’t self-sufficient. He wasn’t isolated like the Lykovs. And he certainly wasn’t on a suicide mission like McCandless.
He had food and supplies flown in. He worked as a guide from time to time. He participated in the larger society and couldn’t have survived nearly as well, if at all, without those planes coming in.
I do a bit of eye-rolling when I read about naïve people who insist that they are going to buy a little land (near a little store, with neighbors ) and become self-sufficient. They think that going “off-grid” somehow makes them more “self-sufficient.” It doesn’t. It just means that they manage without being hooked to the electric system.
Well, Dave and I manage without having television. We haven’t had our TV hooked up for more than three years. Does that make us “off-grid”? Are we thus “self-sufficient”? Furthermore, we have our own, onsite source of water. We call it a “well.” We have our own, onsite sewage disposal system. We call that a “septic tank.”
When you work in society, drive a car on public roads, buy your food at the local grocery or salvage store, get your water from your completely on-grid business, indulge in fast food so often it’s sort of amazing, call local law enforcement every twelve minutes for some perceived or imagined slight, and stay on the internet most of every day, you aren’t self-sufficient.
Talk to Agafia Lykov. She’ll tell you about being self-sufficient.