Thursday, May 14, 2009

If only I had known—Keep it simple STUPID! (part 2)

Click HERE to read part one.

Fast forward ten years...

I woke up this morning all safe and secure in my little underground casita, dug into the side of the hill, just below where I used to sleep in my tent. I turned off the light, opened the door and stepped out into the full brilliance of the sun.

My temporary kitchen—temporary till a much larger, permanent kitchen could be built in it's place.

Squinting, I walked the few steps over to my temporary kitchen, turned on the water faucet, filled my coffee pot and lit the stove.

I sure had a lot of work to do...

I had been on this same hill ten years earlier, watching the sunrise, sipping coffee by an early morning fire, thinking how perfect everything was, right at that moment.

I was bursting forth with ideas back then, ideas of all the things I could and would do to make this wonderful place even better.

It was an endless stream of ideas...

Should it be straw, stone, mud...or tires and cans? Should it be above-ground, or earth-bermed?

Should the outhouse go here or there...or maybe there?

And the bathhouse...where should that go?

What about a cabin for guests? Where, out of what, and how big?

That was ten years ago. It had been a long process over those ten years, a process that all began with one simple thought.

A thought that if not guarded very closely, becomes a disease. A disease that infects the mind and casts a veil over the soul. Like a cancer, it festers and grows. And the longer you ignore the signs, the stronger its hold becomes. If you don't stamp it out early, you never will.

It's a disease that begins with a thought, a thought that begins with the words wouldn't it be nice if...

I had sat there that morning thinking those very words.

Wouldn't it be nice if—I had a place to sleep that was out of the rain, cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Yeah, that would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if—I had a road to haul all the tires, sacks of cement, rebar, beams, wood, supplies and food up here. Yeah, that would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if—I had a refrigerator so I wouldn't have to drive 20 miles for ice every week and food would keep longer than a few days. Yeah, that would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if
—I had trees all around to shade everything from the sun on those hot summer days. Yeah, that would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if—I had water here all the time so I could water the new trees, mix the cement, clean the tools and wash the dishes. Yeah, that would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if—I had hot water, enough to take a long leisurely shower at the end of a hard day's work. Yeah, that would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if—I had a bathhouse with big soaring windows so I could take a long, hot bath while taking in the stars at night. Yeah, that would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if—I had a sunken kitchen and living area with an inner courtyard out of the wind with screened-in sleeping rooms above—all shaded by a big soaring roof overhead. Yeah, that would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if—I had a cool outhouse with a view and a flush toilet. Yeah, that would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if—I had a little cabin off in the distance so visiting friends and family would have a place of their own with a little privacy. Yeah, that would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if—I had a screened-in room at the top of the hill so I could sleep outside under the stars, just like I used to. Yeah, that would be nice.

Wouldn't it be nice if—I had a viewing tower way up high so I could see all around. Yeah, that would be nice, too.

So I built that road to haul in all the tires, sacks of cement, rebar, beams, wood, supplies, and food.

I built that earth-bermed room out of tires, stone, and cement so I could get out of the rain and stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

I brought in that electricity for refrigeration and lights.

I planted over 100 trees, and put in that big drip-irrigation system.

I put in that water pump, storage tanks and over 1/2 mile of pipe so I would have water, right there, to water the trees, mix the cement, take a shower and wash the dishes.

I built a huge solar hot water heater out of old mirrors and ran all the plumbing to and from a massively insulated storage tank so I could take long hot showers even at night.

Hot water storage tank.

I built an outhouse with a view out of tires, stone, and plaster.

I installed a whole septic system...

 I could have that convenient flush.

I built that little cabin, way off yonder by the water tank, so my friends and family would have their own place to stay.

I built that community kitchen/meeting house out of cord wood so all my friends and family would have a large place to meet and socialize.

I built a giant, soaring roof for that sunken kitchen and living area with the inner courtyard below and screened sleeping rooms above—all yet to be built underneath.

And I even started building that tall viewing tower out of tires and stone that I would plaster and make look like a castle's turret—so I could climb way up there and see farther than ever.

I built all that and so much more...

Ten years of work. Ten years of wouldn't it be nice if...

I took my coffee and walked up the hill to where I had been sitting all those years ago and sat down with a heavy sigh. What had I been thinking? Why didn't I pay attention to that little voice in the back of my mind. That voice that was always there whispering, stop...stop now—before it's too late.

But how could I have listened? To do so would have meant that all I had done up to then meant nothing—and there was so much yet to do, and so much yet undone. I could not bear to think it, so I went on, day after day, building and building, prodded forward by the disease, almost an addiction now to wouldn't it be nice if...?

Nice if I could just get this one thing here done. Then, it would be nice if I could work on that thing over there and get that done, and then wouldn't it be nice if I could work on that other thing and then and then...and then...

I felt a great heaviness. I knew it would not, could not, ever end. And what did I have? What did I really have after all this time, after all that work?

I knew the answer. I didn't like it—but I knew...

I had a place to sleep where I could no longer hear the howl of the coyote and didn't know if Isabella, the skunk, was still snarfling around the pots and pans at night. I had a place to sleep where I could no longer breathe the fresh cool night air. I had a place where I could no longer sleepily open my eyes at midnight and see the stars.

I had a washed-out road with every big rain. A road that needed to be graded and maintained several times a year.

I had an electric bill and a lost sense of appreciation for what life might have been like before there was such a thing.

I had trees to water, trim, and care for along with a drip system constantly in need of repair.

I had a generator to keep running, pipes to fix, and a well pump that kept breaking down.

I had a guest cabin and bath house to clean and repair that no one hardly ever used save the spiders and pack rats.

I had a screened-in room at the top of the hill being slowly taken apart by the sun.

I had a half-built observation tower and a half-built kitchen/living room that was almost more than I could handle.

It had been ten years of work. Ten years of building all manner of things—all in an attempt to make perfect better.

Sure, some of it was nice, and there is something to "the process," but what had I gained? Or maybe I should ask what had I lost? For what used to be perfect was now 80 acres full of buildings, roads, pipes and equipment—all needing to be maintained against that ever-present and pressing force that has always been there waiting to take it all back.

I have my own personal meaning now for the phrase If you build it they will come. The sun, the rain, the earth, the insects, the pack rats—mother nature herself—always there, patiently waiting to bring it all home again unto herself.

I knew all that, in the back of my mind, but the disease had taken full root. Going back was no longer an option—I had gone too far. If I were to stop now, it would be a huge mess and I would become one of the many who have had those big dreams of living out in nature, away from it all, only to find nature more formidable than they.

Gone was my appreciation for water, ice, a sun shower, and the beautiful glow cast by a kerosene lantern. Gone was the feeling of freedom replaced by the burden of keep it all going. Gone were the ten years that could have been spent in appreciation of what was.

And I knew that if I kept going, making it bigger, better, nicer, more comfortable...I would eventually end up with exactly what I came out here to get away from.

Now I understood why so many have abandoned their dreams after putting forth so much effort. Why they succumb to the disease of wouldn't it be nicer if...

And it's not just the dreamers who succumb. We've all been infected. It's the family that has great fun going to the lake every weekend to picnic, swim, and fish. You know, the family who loves it so much that they finally buy a cabin there. The same family who now spends those precious weekends cleaning, painting, fixing screen doors and mowing the lawn.

It's the couple that wanted that bigger, fancier house, in that "nicer" neighborhood. You know, the ones that used to have some free time but now have to work longer hours to pay a bigger mortgage, higher taxes and those nasty association fees. The couple that spends what little free time they have left fixing a bigger roof, mowing a bigger lawn, and cleaning a bigger house.

You see, if you plant a tree, you have to water it.
If you paint a board once, you'll have to paint it again.
If you put in a swimming pool, your Saturday mornings are toast.
Every "improvement" we make comes with a price.
For every gain, something is lost.

We all want bigger, different, new.
We want more, more, more, thinking that somehow more will be better.
I wanted more...

It really was perfect way back then, sitting by the early morning fire—just me, a tent, a cup of coffee, and my awe of what was.

So what compelled me—what compels us—to always want more, to want to change it, even when it's really good as it is?

I don't have the answer. I only know that I find myself wishing I could go back and do it, or should I say NOT do it, all over again.

The first few changes I made were great. If only I had stopped there, before it got away from me.

It was so much better when it was just me and simplicity.

"More" and "different" can be better—and often are, up to a point. Just be sure you do a real gut check each time you are thinking of adding to what already is.

If it's great right now—as is—chances are, more won't be better...It it will just be more...and could be a lot worse.


Monica said...

I agree that more isn't better, that living simply can connect us more deeply with nature and spirit and appreciating our lives more. However, "simple living" also comes with a cost. Most people think it's worth the cost to be warm in winter and cool in summer, free from disease, and have easy access to food.

And as humans, how else would we spend our time, if not by doing something productive or creative? Would we just sit around all day watching the path of the sun as it makes its way across the sky?

We have gotten ourselves into this predicament because each of our inventions have resulted in a new set of costs and benefits, and thus we have had to invent something else to alleviate those costs, but which of course leads to new costs and benefits. I believe it's human nature to problem-solve, to be curious, and to seek new ways of experiencing the world. It's also in our nature to do something with ourselves while we're here on this planet, so we might as well create!

Doing what you do, I assume that building your own hot-water heater from scratch or designing a soaring roof were things that motivated you and gave you a sense of purpose. What else would you do with all that land and all that free time?

One more thing: you didn't mention how adding a girlfriend (who later became Mrs. Curmudgeon) into the mix changed your purpose and plans quite a bit. It was she who insisted on the screened-in room because she didn't like sleeping cooped-up in an underground room with no fresh air. And it was she who insisted on having more of a kitchen. But maybe that's another post... ;-)

The Cheap-Ass Curmudgeon said...
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The Cheap-Ass Curmudgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Cheap-Ass Curmudgeon said...

There always is that OTHER side of the story :)

What I may have failed to make clear in my post, is that there comes a point when it's time to stop. Time to enjoy and appreciate what is. A time to say that's far enough...any more will not be worth it.

I went too far. It became a monster out of control.

You are right. Creating something is a wonderful experience as is the process of doing it. I have thrived on it all my life. I just want people to take time to pause and reflect. To ask themselves if that new thing, that bigger, "better" thing will be worth it in the end. If so, go for it. Just don't forget to ask the question first. -CAC

PiTo said...

Great WIBNI list. It is good to make the list then eliminate items that have unintended consequences BEFORE you implement them.

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