On gentry and peasants

Confession: I am interested in at least 5,302 projects that I don’t know anything about. And I am impatient with my inability to be and do everything I want to.

Last November God blessed us with an incredible property—a big gray house, a couple of creeks, and ten acres of land, part wooded and part cleared. This we have dreamed about for years, and finally, beyond our expectations, it came.

Last night we had supper with friends, who dreamed with us about some possibilities for our new property, especially regarding maple syrup production.

My mind goes wild.

For so long now I have been dreaming. What could we not produce on this fertile land? We already have blueberry bushes. An apple tree. Walnut and chestnut and hickory trees. Wild berry bushes. Those came with the territory, and we have nothing to do but prune and wait.

Over Easter we planted more trees, first on my list of priorities after moving in. We have plenty of mature trees around, but wanted a mix of fruit and flowering trees besides. We planted peach. Apricot. Pie cherry. And grape vines.

We’re working on a garden plot, and dreaming of so much more.

I want to plant a perennial herb garden, with starts from my aunt.

Could we raise goats, for milk? Imagine that! I could learn to make butter, and cheese, and yogurt.

Could we raise our own wheat?

Could we tap our abundant maple trees, for syrup and maple sugar? (Or sell the syrup for a nice profit?)

We have an abundance of wild game—deer trails through our yard, wild turkeys. I hope for a full freezer come fall.

How about chickens? How about a pig? What if we tried raising bees for our own honey?

We have all the space we need, and each of these ideas fills me with scarcely-containable excitement. I want to learn to do things I’ve never done before, and I want to write about them. But I have discovered two things.

  1. I am not a patient person. I want to do it all, now. I move straight from “Let’s plant a garden” to “Let’s try for a self-sufficient homestead.”
  2. Pioneering could consume me. I would happily pour my life into making this plot fruitful, but where would that leave my other responsibilities? I feel the frustration already: when the weather turned warm, I moved outside and lost all interest in keeping my house clean.

Nowadays we live between two worlds, I say. We are neither gentlemen and women, with land and income and a bevy of servants; nor peasants, free of education and social obligations. We are a mix of both—“landed aristocracy providing our own labor,” said Andrew.

Add to that the industrial revolution, which removed fathers from the home for large portions of each day (sans sons), and you no longer wonder why so many conservative women are frustrated, caught between old-fashioned values and a modern lifestyle.

We believe in thriftiness—homemade dresses, canned goods, fresh bread. We believe in beauty—pretty clothes and hair, attractive homes, well-dressed children. We believe in ministry—supporting our local missions, being good pastors’ wives, serving others. We believe in education—training our children, studying the Bible, growing our set of abilities and skills. We believe in productivity—adding something to the world by the work of our hands. We believe in community—attending events, hosting parties, staying connected with friends. We believe in health—balanced meals, exercise, personal care.

We can be beautiful gentlewomen with active social lives, or we can be beautiful homemakers, doing our own laundry and cleaning, raising vegetables. I could lose myself in one or the other.

But it is so hard to be both.

Where is the philosophy that meshes the two worlds in peaceful balance?

I am waffling between taking up homesteading or feminism. What do you think?

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Mom Coblentz
12 years ago

Shari, you are truly amazing…in so many wonderful ways, AND you know how to write!!
You didn’t get that OR your pioneering spirit, from me!! 🙂

12 years ago

I’ll be watching for a covered wagon rolling past my house in the near future making its yearly trip to the store. 😉
I keenly feel the tension that you so beautifully described even living here on my little town plot. I think trying to bring the two worlds together in some form of harmony is what makes me feel so. tired. oft times.
In conclusion: You have the makings of a pioneer, Shari!!

Janelle Glick
12 years ago

personally, I like feminism. 😉

and I enjoyed this post immensely- it made me laugh at myself, which is so much better than wallowing in the frustration.

Rachel Shenk
12 years ago

Love your writing…it bring back fond memories of our childhood! Personally I tend towards homesteading. I had my chance at feminism for the first 4 years of our marriage (before the babies came) and became SO ready to satisfy the longing to BE WOMAN! Something about the rat-race did not do it for me. Now I suppose some women may say they don’t have those “homemaking” desires and thats ok. Perhaps they never had the chance to experience the stress of “career woman” side of life or maybe they really do just thrive on that. But I still say that at some deep place; at a soul level perhaps, women were created to thrive by working in the dirt, gardening, making healthy food, making a home beautiful, nurturing loved ones and all the other things you listed in your “We Believe…” paragraph. I loved that! Yes, I think we’d have rolled west in those wagons together! =)

12 years ago

I don’t think I’ve yet heard my own conflicts and opinions about modern women with old fashioned values so well-stated, even in my own head!
I have a confession of my own: I think I always thought of you as some kind of serene-angelic-Mother-Theresa-kind-of-person; the paragon of virtue, submission, of female dignity and quietness (perhaps it was the pastor’s wife thing…). Maybe even a little out of touch with some of us ladies who are more outspoken and aggressive. Granted, I never saw that much of you, so my impressions were very unfounded, however, I always walked in a little bit of “I’m-intimidated-be-her-seeming-perfection.” thoughts when I was around you.
I’m reminded of two things: 1) How superficial and incorrect first impressions are. 2) How inherently alike women are- whatever personalities we have been called to wear, the same questions and struggles and joys and fears mingle in our hearts.
I’ve been going through your posts and reading them, and enjoying it thoroughly. I still think you’re amazing, but I’m not (as) intimidated and I certainly don’t think you’re out of touch. Another confession: any woman who can effectively use “d-rn” in a post has me for a fan. Let’s admit it: we all think that sometimes!!
If everyone would blog, I bet the world would understand each other a whole lot better.

Shari Zook
12 years ago
Reply to  Peg

🙂 I’m laughing. I thought you thought that about me, and tried to give you hints to the contrary, but clearly they did not communicate well. Oh bother… (I really am out of touch sometimes, though I don’t want to be.) I salute your courageous response!

12 years ago

I’m sure the hints were there, and it’s my fault; subtlety is not one of my strengths, whether giving or receiving it.

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