Monday, June 4, 2007

Frontier House and Agrarianism

Some nights ago, our family finished watching the PBS DVD series Frontier House. For those who don't know the series, they take three families and have them live for five months as though they were part of the homesteaders coming to Montana in 1883.

The series is one of those "can modern families make it without modern conveniences" kind of shows. They showed the mother and daughter of one family (from California) actually in tears when they were told that they would have to leave their makeup behind.

Although the emphasis was on whether these modern families could make it - I found that there was something very interesting going on as the series progressed. Whether they knew it or not, these three families were becoming immersed in an agrarian lifestyle. The families spent all day together: working together and learning together. They had to build cabins, plant gardens, tend to livestock and cut hay by hand.

It was fascinating to see the changes in the families as they spent more time together as a family than they probably ever had before. There was one time when the young son of a corporate CEO said as he was working with his dad in the garden, "I really enjoy being with my Dad. I want to be just like him when I grow up." Is this not just like how our Father wants us to be? Not only in our relationship with Him, but also in our relationships with our own children.

The sad part was when they showed in the last episode the three families a couple months after returning to their normal lives. That corporate CEO casually mentions that his job has him traveling all over the country and that he is hardly at home any more. And my heart aches for that young son whose dad doesn't have time for him anymore. And my mind goes back to that old song, "Cat's in the Cradle" where the neglected son sings, "I'm gonna be just like you, Dad. You know I'm gonna be just like you."

When they first arrived at "Frontier Valley," they all complained about how hard all the work was, especially the children. The children complained about leaving their friends and video games behind. But after five months of living the agrarian good life, they had changed. They loved working with their families, seeing the fruits of their labor as they could look around at the things they had helped their families build: corrals, root cellars, growing herds, etc.

After being back home for a couple months, they all mentioned how bored they were to be back in civilization, how there was nothing to do, and how much they missed their frontier life (I would say their "agrarian" life!) Another sad moment was when one boy was shown to now be spending all his time playing video games.

I asked my sons, why do you think these children would rather have been back on the frontier where it was all such hard work? My youngest replied, "Because they knew they were needed." They knew they were needed! Children don't need all the latest toys or video games. They need to know that they are needed (and I would say "loved" as well).

This is one of the things that draws me to agrarianism. The desire to be able to raise my boys in an environment where each is a contributing member of the family, where they can see that they are making a difference, that they are needed, that they are wanted.

It was also interesting to note that the men all had tears in their eyes when they looked around at their homesteads and all that they had built, and had to say good-bye and return to their modern lives. For them, it was the ending of something good. Although it was saying good-bye to hard work, it had been hard, satisfying work. I would say that they had experienced the nobility of working hard with one's own hands, and had seen that it was good. And they were reluctant to leave it all behind.

Their wives, however had a totally different reaction. They had worked hard too, spending most of their time with the daily chores of preparing meals, cleaning up after meals, making butter, doing laundry, etc. Each of the wives thought of leaving Frontier Valley as Freedom! They left, not with tears, but with smiles.

What was the difference? I don't know. Is it part of the curse? Does it have to do with the endless repetition of household chores, the feeling that nothing "stays done"? I remember one mother I know saying how she enjoyed cutting the lawn because it was the only time she could accomplish something that would last for a week! I don't know what made the difference, I just feel that something was wrong. Why was the agrarian life so fulfilling for the men and the children and not for the wives? What was missing?

I also wonder if what these three ladies went through, and their response, might also be related to why some women may be cautious about embracing agrarianism? Maybe they fear that an agrarian lifestyle may be the prison these three ladies felt it was?


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home