Something has been gnawing at my mind. It began many years ago. There was a longing to return to nature, to use my fine mind, two strong hands and build a better way of life. Life in suburbia was not the answer. One day I visited my sister at her little trailer at an RV park where she and her husband had a getaway. As we sat and relaxed in this place so far from the hustle of daily life I felt every burden lifted, my very bones felt rubbery and loose, there was a peace that lasted many days. And I knew I did not want to lose it. I wondered… could I ever have such a place of my own? Could I escape to the woods, build fires, cook and look up at the stars, listen to the birds, smell the country air… could this be mine?
It became a goal. Within a year’s time I’d saved the money to buy a little trailer of my own, in the woodland setting of my dreams. And I began going to this hideaway every weekend. While I was there my mind felt untethered by time or circumstance. Nothing was impossible.
I bought a horse, and then a second one. What began as a love of horses and interest in riding expanded into a love for country life at the farm where we kept them. I observed very keenly this way of life and ached for it to be my own.
I then read a few books which awakened within me the very real possibility that something was tragically flawed in the way we now lived as a country. It was before the economic crash, before a series of natural disasters left parts of the world crippled, before unemployment had soared and home values had plummeted. The writing was already on the wall. The way of life so many of us enjoyed could never be sustained. Something, or a combination of many things, were sure to cause tremendous and devastating impact. Now, as bit by bit things have begun to fall apart, it’s even more apparent.
A few years ago I had the idea to buy a piece of property a few hours drive out of the city where we could bug out if needed. (We live and work in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.) I wanted a remote location, in an area with a population density less than 9 people per square mile. It would have land for growing, trees for firewood and water. Internet sites have properties galore and I spent many hours exploring and researching various prospects.
I looked at nuclear power implications, natural disaster risks, elevation factors, flood plain issues, crime statistics, local industry, soil quality, proximity to high density populated areas. At first the goal was to cross the Mississippi River into Iowa, but I became concerned that if a major disaster occurred, there could be blockades obstructing bridges across the river. I would have to acquire and maintain drivers licenses and insurance for two states, and even then could never be sure of crossing.
The second plan was to explore locations in southern or western Illinois. The area around the Shawnee Forest had appeal, although it had a higher than average incidence of natural disasters.
What happened next altered my plans. My daughter’s live-in boyfriend of ten years found a job in northern Illinois, after 1 1/2 years of unemployment. They were forced to live apart during the week, and he came home weekends. It occurred to me that we could help them purchase property out in that area where they could live, and it would also provide a bug out location for our family.
It turned out that finding properties of five acres or more, at a price we could afford, in this horrific housing market was very difficult. We encountered difficulties with every parcel we tried to buy. Multiple offers, short sales, foreclosures, flood plains, estate mandates, you name it. It was the fifth property we wanted that we finally were able to close on. The process took nine months, like having a baby.
It’s not the bug out location I originally envisioned. The area, although rural, is more populated. The water source is a well and two small ponds, not the stream or spring we hoped to find. But the land is fertile, ample and well suited to our horses. We plan to add goats and other animals over time. We shall plant fruit trees, grape vines and begin gardening in earnest.
So I write this blog, a chronicle of our adventure, and a place to learn more about homesteading and self-reliant survival. The property has several spectacular Weeping Willows, and in the spirit of endearment I call it the Willows (until my daughter and her boyfriend choose a different name for it). Hence, we’ll discover what lies “Beyond the Willows…”