Putting up the sign at Timber Butte Ranch

People have had a number of reactions when they hear about Nancy and my desire to live a more sustainable lifestyle here at Timber Butte.  Some are thrilled and blessed as they see us now achieving the things we set out to do so many years ago while others curiously wonder how we have been able to develop an eighty acre homestead like this on a pastor’s income; an income based on the pay scale of a public educator.  These are honest reactions and should be discussed if others share a similar vision and want to follow our example.

Living a sustainable life is really not about survival, self-sufficiency or social withdrawal and isolation; to me it’s about freedom and putting ones self in a position by which they can bless other people when things get tough.  It’s about having a deep conviction based on a philosophical and theological view concerning the earth, believing that it is a gift from God and that it isn’t to be abused or used up but rather preserved for future generations.   Living a sustainable life is a life of responsibility.  Without these convictions a person will never even get started on this kind of adventure but rather will live day to day, pay check to pay check caught in a very status-quo life.  For those who are interested I’d like to lay out what I believe are five essential ingredients necessary to achieve a sustainable life in today’s world. (For these five essentials read the rest of this entry)

  1. Stay married – share a common vision.  I’m not saying that you have to be married to live a sustainable life, but if you are you need to be married to someone who shares the same values and desires the same things you do.  Nancy and I sat in a coffee shop forty years ago on the night we had first met discussing the kind of lives we wanted to pursue.  In the months that followed we kept the conversation going as our relationship developed to the point of me asking her to marry me.  After nearly forty years of marriage the discussion is still going on, only now it is more focused and refined as we live out our life long vision together.  Our life plan has never been disrupted by the trauma and financial set backs that many experience through the pain of divorce.  In this way we have been able to gradually make forward progress on the dreams we have shared together.
  2. Develop a financial plan that will take you towards your dreams – This means to not only get out of debt, but spend your money on the things that will get you where you ultimately want to be. Because Nancy and I have never lived on a huge salary we’ve had to be very disciplined in our spending habits.  Proverbs 29:18 tells us that when people have no vision they cast off restraint. This means to me that without a vision to direct your life you will have a tendency to make bad choices concerning things like spending your time energy and money and thus waste a lot of valuable resources.   If you do this you will buy things on time and buy things that in the end find their way to the Goodwill, a garage sale or even the landfill.  Nancy and I have had a number of financial windfalls through the years such as unexpected gifts from family members.  Whenever this has happened we feel extra responsibility to invest this money responsibly towards our family’s future.
  3. Work hard and work together.  As a full time pastor I work long hours five or six days a week.  At this point in my life (after nearly 30 years of ministry) I get about a months vacation a year. During the nineteen years that we have been relocated in Idaho we have bought and sold a dozen different houses and properties.  Nearly every house we have owned has required large amounts of sweat-equity.  Nancy has been gifted at finding what we call “Big P” houses  (older rundown homes that have remodeling potential).  She’s had courage when it comes to making these kinds of investments knowing that we are both willing to work hard to do major creative remodels in order to make run down homes warm and comfortable.  In this way we have managed to build us a financial base that eventually allowed us to buy and build for cash.   People who know us well know how hard we have worked in order to get ourselves in the position we are in at this season of our lives.  Nearly every day off and most vacations have been given to fixing and building homes and rental houses.  Last winter I built our barn in down pours of rain and in blizzard conditions in order to get it ready for our move late in the spring.   This kind of life is clearly not for everyone and to be honest I don’t think many people would even desire to live the way we have, but for us building our vision has been deeply rewarding.  To me there is no greater satisfaction than seeing the work of our hands come to completion over the course of time.  In a way you might say that we began building Timber Butte Ranch in our early twenties while we still lived on the original ranch in California (See about Tri & Nancy).  Now I am sixty and have landed in the place that we long ago dreamed of.  My idea concerning hard manual work is this; why waste time and energy going to the gym for exercise when you can dig post holes? In doing so you not only get in great physical shape but you have a functional fence as a bonus when your done.
  4. Glean from those who have gone before you. The question people often ask is how have we learned to do the things that are necessary to live the way we do?     I’ve discovered that a lot of folks get overwhelmed and even fearful when it comes to learning new things.  As a result they never even attempt to step out and try new things.  Granted, I had a great dad that taught me a lot, but honestly the most valuable thing he taught me was to have a work ethic and to never be afraid to attempt things that are difficult.  In the weeks to come I’m going to do a series that I’ll call “Making Hay”.  A year ago I had no clue how to cut, mow or bail hay.  I lost a good many nights sleep just thinking about all I didn’t know.  I had read the Small Farm Journal and countless other publications on the subject but the truth be told there is no education like simply getting started.  Last year we managed to put up about six tons of hay, but the far greater benefit was simply knowing we could do it.  I’ve never been afraid to ask people for advice or for help concerning things that are unfamiliar to me.  I am quick to confess my ignorance concerning the things I have no clue about.  A number of friends and neighbors jumped in to help me understand the mechanics of bailing as well as the art of the process. Things like understanding the moisture content of cut hay and the time of day to bail.  Sustainable living requires hundreds of skills that have been lost to the age of computers and modernization.   We must look to people from past generations if we hope to acquire these lost skills first hand.  One thing I’ve come to realize is how much it blesses older people to be asked for help and how much the asking gives them a feeling of self worth when they impart the things that they have known so well.  Another thing I’m excited to write about one day is how I learned to use a team of horses.  It’s quite a story that would have ended in disaster (I had experienced four dangerous run-a-ways) if it hadn’t been for a couple of old timers who came to my rescue.
  5. Have faith.  Nancy and my faith is a huge piece of our life together.  If you hope to pursue a sustainable life you’re going to undergo some hard times along the way.  Nancy and I have faced every kind of crises in our life together.  We navigated through difficult marriage problems, experienced financial disasters, helped our kids through some really painful experiences and have suffered the loss of loved ones.  Jesus said, “In this life you will have troubles, but fear not for I am always with you.”  It was a promise.  A life with God isn’t always an easy life, but it is a life that will be sustained.  With all of our hearts we have felt that this kind of life is God’s idea for us.  Believing that has given us a deep conviction to press through the tough times.  Without our faith we could have never had the endurance or tenacity to keep on going.  Through faith we see meaning in what we are doing.  We believe God will in some way use our lives as a blessing and model for others to follow.    In the end our hearts are filled with gratitude and thanksgiving as we have had the joy of seeing these things come to pass.