The Mud Years


 This whole thing is a metaphor. It still works and is true the way it’s written, but sometimes I’m too subtle so… this whole thing is a metaphor.

We live completely off-grid on an off-grid farm in an off-grid community. The grid really doesn’t have much to do with my topic today, but I thought I’d head off some of the inevitable questions.  At our old farm in West Texas we were still living on-grid and for a good part of that time we worked regular “town” jobs and we had a little money to expend on things like a nice driveway and… you know… planting and watering grass.

We don’t grow grass now. If it grows it grows, and if it grows tall it becomes animal food.

The point is that when you live like we do, particularly when you first start out, you deal with mud. You deal with mud A LOT.  Even out here in the semi-arid desert. If it rains, there is mud. And not the kind of mud you might be used to. Ours is the perfect clay for making pottery or plates.  It is the kind of clay that when wet, sticks hard to everything and won’t let go.  That kind of mud.

When you first get started in this kind of endeavor, you are one of two kinds of family:  You either have money or you don’t.  We didn’t.  You can throw money at your problems, or you can take the long, slow, muddy road of grinding it out.

The thing is, if you move to a rural farm and just throw money at all your obstacles, the chances are that you won’t have learned how to really live that way.  You won’t have built up hard-earned skills and experience that gives you the confidence to know that you can do it again. Anywhere. Anytime. That’s the thing of it. The hard way kind of sucks at times, but it is the way you learn… and teach others… how to survive.

When we moved to our acreage in the sticks, there wasn’t even a real road through the property. There was a dirt drive coming in for a bit, then it ended and the rest of the acreage was just wild.  No roads. Few fences.  A few fields that were cleared in the 30’s or 40’s but hadn’t been used much in the last 20 years or more. And part of our deal with the sellers was that they had to bring in a bulldozer and cut a road through the whole property. And that’s what they did. They just bulldozed trees and obstacles and pushed them off to the side. The road was basically made from driving the clearing.  And it was clay, which is great when it doesn’t rain.  Not so much after 5 inches in a couple of days.

If we’d had money we could have paved it or graveled it. We could have ordered in road base and crowned it so the water would run off. We could have put in water trenches and culverts to direct the water when it rains. We could have immediately put up fences and planted grass and maybe we could have built a nice, comfortable home.

Instead, we did none of that. We started in a tent.  Then we moved to a camper. Then we moved to a 12′ x 16′ box with two tiny windows on the wrong ends of it so it never cooled down in the summer. And we painted it a very dark barn red, which is actually how you would make a solar oven if you ever want to try that in Central Texas.

The first 6 years were fun, exciting, educational, miserable, and completely horrific sometimes. We didn’t know if we’d make it.  I remember the first time we found a nearby flowing stream that was deep enough to swim in.  Or at least deep enough to submerge ourselves.  After a month of 105 degree temps with almost no water (we had to drive to town to fill water containers for any water we’d need,) a stream to cool off in is like God’s own mercy.

At one point, the year after we moved here, it didn’t rain for 10 straight months. Not enough to even wet the ground. The next year it rained 41 inches and we lived… literally… in the mud.

But that’s how we learned.  That’s how we know we could do this again if we had too. Anywhere.

We’re 9 years in now and we still have to deal with the mud.  The mud years have made us strong, resilient, wise. Not to mention understanding.  There’s that too.  You can always throw money at your problems, but there’s no promise that will work, and even if it does you may miss out on some very important lessons.  In some fields of endeavor, even throwing money at the problem only works once in many millions of times.  You have no real control over whether you succeed or fail. When you do things the hard way, no matter if you succeed or fail in the world’s eyes, you will not have failed. You will have learned valuable lessons. And you’ll be a different person because of it. Stronger. Smarter. Wiser.

I know people who try to overpower every obstacle with brute force. They hate discomfort. Hate challenges. Cower under difficulties.  If they can, they try to make the obstacles go away the simplest and easiest way.

I’m just saying maybe you should think of your obstacles as good things.  It’s just another way to look at it. Maybe it’ll work for you.


Michael Bunker

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About Michael Bunker

Michael Bunker is a USA Today bestselling author, off-gridder, husband, and father of four children. He lives with his family in a "plain" community in Central Texas, where he reads and writes books...and occasionally tilts at windmills. He is the author of several popular and acclaimed works of dystopian sci-fi, including the WICK series, The Silo Archipelago, and the Amish/Sci-Fi thriller Pennsylvania; two books humor/satire including Hugh Howey Must Die! and LEGENDARIUM; as well as many nonfiction works, including the bestseller Surviving Off Off-Grid.

2 Responses to The Mud Years

  1. It’s always pleasant to hear and read about honest success. The American way of promoting differs on many fronts compared to us in the UK, connecting with your peers is difficult unless you are a sycophant to the extreme! I find it great to listen to all the stuff you guys do, maybe some “magic dust” will get sprinkled on me. There are fads which explode for a brief time, as for ambitions for our novels we are in for the long haul My partner and I live in the UK in a 200 year old farm house, our existence owes much to a LIL(Low Impact Living) situation, similar to you in certain ways. It has proven highly beneficial to our health. We do everything for ourselves, we have a wood burning Siberian masonry heating system built by rDNA (my partner) we have solar and wind energy, homebuilt greenhouses and several acres of vegetable garden. We would not wish to live anywhere else. We are in isolation though, that however helps our writing efforts which are more conventional than yours I write very British mystery/suspense/thrillers with a female bias, and my partner is writing an epic SF series. I spend more time than I should scouring the internet for ways to help our book promotion WITHOUT slapping people in the face with “READ ME, READ ME, I AM THE BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD”! I know we do write well, there’s always room for improvement, no matter how superb you may think your material to be! I watch you all and glean the sensible advice. I do not have any WiFi connection near here, the phone lines are inadequate, so we have to get by by other means. I extend the hand of friendship across “The Pond” I will connect on FB and Twitter, I do that once a week. P.S I have just completed my 14th Novel, my 5th(No.4 in the Luke Adams series) is to be published by March 2015.The effort is incessant as you know, no stopping for rest. All the best HonA …… MGYI & LLAP

  2. I remember the first time we visited the Bunkers. It had rained quite a bit, we turned the corner off the county road, and sure enough, there was mud. Now, understand, we’re not lightweights. We’re bred and buttered redneck folk. But, really, this was mud. My husband is the most capable man I know; nevertheless by the time we reached the cabin I was basically down in the floorboard praying. Yes, I can attest. There is serious mud in central Tx.

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