The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a homestead as: the home and adjoining land occupied by a family.
For centuries, a homestead existed as a parcel of land and the home built there. It was a combinations of trees or fields, slopes and hills, and bodies of water. The land had a specific climate, it was wet or dry or windy, and it had a proximity to other people, towns and transportation. The homestead that was built on this land was defined by these elements. In most situations the home and outbuildings were created from the material on the land and designed based on the needs of the land.
At the base of this definition is a sense place. Place defined the homestead.
In our modern terminology, we've shifted the definition of homesteading to apply to a way of life. Homesteading has come to mean living a lifestyle that is constantly moving towards self-sufficiency. Most homesteaders strive to live closer to the earth and to live a simpler, healthier way of life. While the land is still the location we homestead, for many, the importance of place has shifted. In the age of the internet and overnight mail, we are able to import animals, seeds, and even knowledge and to change the land in ways not available to people in the past. Yet at the same time, the importance of place is not lost on most homesteaders, and many people find themselves tied to the land in a way hard to understand in our modern transient culture.
As we prepare to move in just over a week, I find myself reflecting on the sense of place we've developed for our small homestead. We've barely lived in this home for 3 years and yet we've made major changes to our lifestyle and to the land: we've cut trees and planted trees, made garden beds, built a shed, had a child, and cared for animals. This place where we spend our days is a living reminder of the events and happenings of the last 3 years.
Despite this attachment, as we pass this space on to the next owners we are reminded of our simple role as stewards of the land. We may carve out a homestead in this place, but given just a little time, this land would fall right back to the small, wild, natural place it was. As much as we like to think of our work as lasting, our homestead, whether just a few years old or a few centuries old is fleeting.
I am sad to leave this place, but my sense of myself as a 'homesteader' is not tied to this land, it is portable. Already my thoughts are stretching forward to the next set of challenges: fences to be built, gardens moved, and all those unknowns that come with moving into an old farmhouse. Knowing that this new place will most likely be our long term home makes our plans that much more exciting.
Just as I am sad to leave this space, I am already anticipating those first days and weeks and months when we cement ourselves to a new home, new land, and start to transfer our homesteading to a new place.
Have you moved your homestead to a new place? How is your sense of place tied to your homesteading life?