Q: Why did they live this way?
A. In Juanita’s words, “That’s the only way you can stop war — stop participating in it, and stop so much consumption that requires war. At least that’s the way I look at it.”
Q: Why not pay taxes?
A. Wally’s answer to a visiting IRS agent: “What would you do if I came into your office tomorrow with a cup in my hand asking for contributions to enable me to buy guns and kill a group of people I don’t like?”
Q: How did they build the cabin without buying into the war economy?
A: Juanita explains:
“…we built our house from salvaged material. We came here in ’74, took down a house…I took out millions of nails. We did all our work by hand…so many people came to help (that) we finally put in an electric line over to Traprock so that people who had Skil saws and all that sort of thing could work.”
Q: Without plumbing or wiring, how did Wally and Juanita stay warm?
Their wood-fired kitchen stove provided plenty of heat — sometimes too much!
Juanita notes: "Our two stoves dominate our living space. The white enamel cookstove, a Home Comfort, sits comfortably in the “kitchen” area. We bought it for $20 from where it lay disassembled and rusting. My hope had been that it would be our only stove, but we shiveringly experienced that first winter that, with all its cracks, it wasn’t adequate below twenty Fahrenheit. Now the Jotul is connected to the Comfort stove pipe…we use it for everything in winter."
Q: How can people live without money?
A: Juanita’s thoughts:
“We haven’t had money in a bank for years, originally because we didn’t want to make it easy for the IRS to collect. We didn’t take interest on the last account we had, after convincing the bank that we couldn’t be forced to take money we didn’t want….
I have come to the firm conclusion that money doesn’t earn money…the only source of wealth is labor applied to natural resources…. Only that which one could, or does, produce by oneself, with help from no other, could conceivably be said to be ‘mine’…so it’s all common property.”
And Wally’s thoughts (according to ‘Nita): “Self-made millionaire”––a phrase that can really get him going!
Q: Did the Nelsons cut and split all their own firewood?
Yes, mostly, but sometimes friends came to help.
Q: How did they live without paying jobs?
A. They didn’t need much money. What they needed they earned by selling their garden vegetables at the Greenfield Farmers’ Market and sometimes at a local restaurant.
Juanita notes: …My grand scheme was to learn to live without money. To produce everything we could and do without the rest, to resist “the system” by making it irrelevant.
Q: How could they grow enough food to both eat and sell?
A. They worked very hard, starting early and working until dark — and when friends came, ‘Nita made sure everyone worked while they talked!
Q: Where’s the bathroom?
A. See Juanita’s “Outhouse Blues” song! For baths they filled a big metal washtub with well water heated on the woodstove. No shower, but they could pour buckets of well water on each other on warm days. Sometimes they used the neighbors’ shower.
Q: Did they have a car?
A. They had an old pick-up truck, but they didn’t use it very much. Mostly to haul manure and lyme for the Bean Patch and to take vegetables to market.
Juanita: …There was one winter when we didn’t use the truck because we couldn’t decide if it was worth fixing…. We walked into town, often in the snow. The six to eight-mile round trip might take most of the day, but we would plan our day around it. I liked it and thought strongly of not resurrecting that vehicle or saddling ourselves with another. But came spring, and we needed manure and lime and wood…. I am sure that if we get to feeling strongly enough about the implications of having a truck, we’ll chuck it, then figure how to manage. Until that day comes I’ll just fret at the inconsistency. Might be easier to do without than to fret.
Q: If they lived without electricity, why are there light switches on the wall?
A. Wally said the next family to live there might want to have electricity, so it was only fair to wire the house while it was easy.
Juanita says: …The difficulty is that whatever one has somehow assumes the status of necessity. That’s one reason I so much dislike computers, for instance…. I’ve heard so many times, “I really didn’t think I’d ever have a computer, but they save so much time!” (Whose time?) …but then they tried it and it became a “necessity”…sometimes for the laudable purpose of bringing about social change. Doing without the computer could be the greatest social change vehicle available.
Q: And how does the sink work without plumbing?
A. There’s a cistern upstairs that had to be filled with buckets of well-water, and there was a siphoning system too.
Q: What did they eat when they had to grow it all themselves?
A: They were mostly vegetarian, but they did have to buy some staples, like cooking oil and dried beans after a couple of years of trying to grow their own.
Juanita’s notes: …
“It was a great disappointment, when I went to pick kale a while ago, to find most of it brown and beyond use. It is so sweet this time of year, and I had counted on it as the fresh vegetable…. We’ve plenty of onions, squash, potatoes, canned and parched corn, dry beans (though most of these are not our own), canned tomatoes of all sorts, sauerkraut, pickled beets, applesauce, peaches, even nine pints of our very own blueberries but no greens. For salad we’ll have to rely on that great invention of mine, sauerkraut and pickled beets. I wish I had mulched the carrots sooner instead of procrastinating until the ground began to freeze. But maybe I can hack more of them from the soil — I managed to wrestle some out a couple weeks ago. Maybe some parsnips, too.”
Q: How did they manage with no phone?
Q: They sometimes used the phone at Traprock next-door, but Juanita explains:
“Not having had a phone in the house for twenty years…I think I’d find it difficult to deal with the intrusion. A bonus is that people tend to drop in on us since they can’t conveniently call ahead. So we don’t have to make decisions about whether we’re ready for company and can feel free to continue what we’re doing. If they drop in at meal time we can offer whatever we happen to have without apology. None of the getting-ready-for-company anxiety.”
Q: What basic essentials were missing?
A: Juanita’s thoughts:
“Made my first batch of soap for the year…. We’ve chosen not to have animals [too much trouble, can’t imagine killing them, and prefer not eating meat), but the decision means importing any animal products we use, like fat for soap and manure for the garden. There is something to be said for having a complete cycle of living creatures on a place.”
Q: What about health care?
A: Juanita’s answer:
“With no health insurance, with one of us nearing eighty and the other in her mid-60s…we’ve compromised so far by accepting care under the Hill-Burton bill, which obliges hospitals receiving federal funds to provide a certain amount of free care. That’s in lieu of our being on medicare, which would, I think, mean getting on welfare, or just ignoring bills, which could equal in less than a month what the two of us earn in a year. Ditto health insurance, which we’ve carried only one year of our lives. Really, our health ‘insurance’ has been the support of our wider community.”
Q: Did their efforts ever feel futile?
A: Juanita describes buying bus tickets because it’s supposed to be the most energy-wise economical mode of transportation, only to learn that Greyhound will invest her money to garner interest for a big corporation:
What do my puny efforts at right livelihood and ecological responsibility amount to? A big joke? Yet I know that not doing what little I attempt would be of no avail. No point in retreating because one can’t do much. Try to do more. But surely none of us can feel self-righteous considering how paltry are our efforts.
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