Frugality comes naturally to native New Englanders, I think, and most of us already have a strong streak of individuality and an inclination to do things just a little bit differently than the rest of the world. My husband and I have always practiced some degree of frugality, always believed in “green living” and conserving. The voluntary simplicity part came later, over fourteen years ago now… but that’s another part of our story!
WHERE we live is an important part of HOW we live. We live in a small town (population less than fifteen hundred) in northern New England. If a main street existed, it would be the road that winds around the rectangular-shaped common. Are you familiar with a New England common… so called because the original settlers jointly owned and used these common areas, mostly (I believe) for grazing cattle. On all sides of this common are quite closely spaced houses, all over two hundred years old and nicely kept or restored. Nearby is a lovely white Congregational church (circa early 1800′s), a small brick ivy-covered library, a school (kindergarten to eighth grade), and a small store that mostly sells souvenir and snack food items.
As you continue driving away from town, the houses become further and further apart, and the main road becomes dirt roads that lead into the hills, where the family farms used to be. We live about three miles from the main part of the village, and about one mile from the turn-off just past the Baptist church (also early 1800′s). The beginning of the road that eventually leads to our house goes almost straight up a very steep hill. At the top of this hill the land levels out for the next several miles… this is a mostly wooded area with just a few houses here and there. The town that was originally filled with family farms has become a “bedroom community” of mostly professional people who spend their days at jobs in the larger surrounding towns. Some farms still exist, but very few are actual working farms because of the soaring property tax rate that has forced many of the natives to sell out and leave.
The road going past our house used to be so narrow that if you were driving and met a car coming in the opposite direction, one car had to move way out to the side to let the other car pass. In recent years most of the roads have been widened to accommodate two cars passing at the same time, but although the dirt roads are well maintained, mud season is still a yearly problem everyone has to struggle through. For those who don’t know, when dirt roads begin to thaw in the spring, entire sections of the roads turn to mud, with ruts that are sometimes as much as a foot deep. At times portions of the road completely give way and the roads are impassable for days or weeks. It’s just one of the perks of living close to nature in a climate where winter temperatures often drop to forty below zero!
We are routinely visited by bear, deer, raccoons, wild turkeys, owls, and other wildlife that we would probably be more comfortable not knowing about. One day we even saw a giant moose standing right at the edge of our back porch. From the front of our house we look out onto the long stretch of stone walls (some of which we’ve rebuilt) and the many trees which surround our property. Across the road is a deeply wooded area that eventually goes steeply uphill. From the back windows we look out on our various gardens, a meadow with a babbling brook that cuts across the property, and a small pond that we dug ourselves.
I was born in this town and grew up in a house a short distance away from where we now live. If we go to the far edge of our property, we can see the house where my mother still lives, although hers is the only house that is near enough for us to see. When we decided that we wanted to move back here to be nearer to family, we bought three acres that used to be a field but had grown into a stand of large pine trees. The young man who owned the land had planned to build a house here and had already cleared out many of the large trees… but he made the mistake of bringing his wife to see his progress one spring day during the worst of the mud season, and the experience ended with her refusal to ever set foot on the property again. The land we own actually once was part of the original homestead that until recently had remained in my father’s family ever since one of his ancestors came here as the first settler to this part of town in the late 1700′s. We love knowing that the same stone walls we look at every day were built by this man or later generations, and that they all probably felt the same pride and exasperation in this extremely rocky land that we feel today.
We love the solitude and the freedom of living where we do, but I’m well aware that so much “country” isn’t for everybody. We’re quite a distance away from a hospital in case of an emergency. We’re nearly an hour’s drive from any larger grocery or department stores. We’re too far out for a fast broadband connection, our telephone lines are crackly, and our electrical service is rather inferior at best with frequent power outages lasting hours and sometimes days.
Contrary to the often-held belief that in a small town, everyone knows you and everything about you… at least in this small town, they don’t. Part of that may be that this is New England, where people do seem to have a bigger sense of reserve and a stronger need for privacy. Most people around here are inclined to “mind their own business” and let everyone else mind theirs… but the general atmosphere is friendly and welcoming without being intrusive.
It’s a nice place to live.