Editor’s note: This series of blogs was written last year by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist about her and her husband Dennis’ adventures homesteading and running a hostel on Deer Isle. The entire year of blog posts are contained in the book A Homesteader’s Year on Deer Isle (see www.deerislehostel.com).

For the first ten years after moving out of my parents’ house, the longest I consecutively lived in one place was eight months. That place, as were most other places I called home, was in a big city where my needs were met in the office where I worked, the store where I bought my food and through the radiant heater that kept me warm. Now I think of myself as a homesteader, letting the land be my main provider of what I need.

To me, homesteading creates a strong sense for, and connection to, the place I’m in. By working in the garden and the woods, I get to know the trees, the plants and the wildlife. I know the wet spots, the slopes, the shady areas and the sunny ones. By devoting my life to this particular place, I can recognize myself as a part of it and, by extension, to nature as a whole. I depend on water from the land the same way the trees and the deer do; and I depend on nutrients from the land the same way mushrooms and gold finches do. I’m not just an observer of nature but physically and spiritually a part of it.

A homesteader’s life has a very tangible connection to the land: the carrots grow in the soil and I go to the garden to fetch them. The firewood, our source of heat, comes from the trees and the trees grow in the woods. The bacon is the pig in the pen. The eggs are in the chicken house. The sun makes the tomatoes grow and the rain waters the seeds. Logically, one who relies on nature ought also to care for nature.

Now as I’m making this journey down the homesteader’s path, some things are so obvious I can’t even imagine how I could have lived for so long having never thought about them—that the food in the store comes from a farm and that even the vegetables in a tin can once grew in the soil. I ate beans for 20 years before I saw a bean plant and I remember how amazed I was when I first saw a real-life pear tree. Food came from the store, period, and nature was something I could visit on weekends. 

Other connections also now have become clear: that fossil fuels used to run cars and produce plastic materials come from the earth, and the metal used in electronic gadgets comes from the earth too, as does the asphalt on the roads and the rubber in my bike tires. It all comes from the earth, and too often nature pays a high price when these resources are extracted.

During the last century, fewer and fewer people have been living with a hands-on connection to the source of their sustenance and that seems to have created a gap in our relation to nature. One example of the consequences is global warming, which to me is not a climate problem but rather a spiritual problem created by this disconnection. For many, what happens in, or to, the environment—like severe changes in weather patterns—simply doesn’t happen to them.

Encouraging a re-establishment of the connection between individuals and nature could perhaps reverse this trend. That connection could teach people that the food on their plates comes from the soil and that the fuel in their cars comes from the ground, at nature’s expense, and that no green windows or hybrid cars can replace a true connection to the natural world around them.

The changing climate shouldn’t be a nature vs. people issue. We need to look at the trees, the stones, the animals and the sky and realize that we are all nature and nature is us. Everything surrounding us comes from the ground, and we too come from the soil, the very same soil, and we will all—humans, rabbits, mosses, day lilies and oak leaves alike—return to it.

When we as individual human beings truly identify ourselves with every living organism out there and fully appreciate where our sustenance for living comes from, that’s when we also truly will have a chance of lessening the impact on and making peace with nature.