The Finer Things

Smoked pork tenderloin

It’s funny how one’s sense of privation changes over time. That’s not to say that there isn’t a tradition of privation here in The Neutrals, but that our sense of what constitutes it has shifted through the past century from a material definition of the word to a psychological one.

The land I live on was originally homesteaded by Jurgen (George) Beck in 1916, when he built a home for his family. He built an addition onto it in 1917. There was no electricity, natural gas, or indoor plumbing. This was before trees were common in the area, so firewood was at a premium. A trip to the store took the entire day and a family couldn’t afford much more than the basics such as flour, sugar, yeast, and the like.

My father-in-law spent a very rough winter living in the Beck Homestead just after the end of World War II. The snow came early that year, before his family was able to move their cattle home. Someone had to stay with the cattle that winter and that person was my father-in-law. It was that, or lose ALL of their cattle. John wound up spending the winter in the old house by himself. He got up early in the morning to stoke fires, get horses ready, and throw some food on the stove. He loaded a wagon with hay for the cattle and spent the day taking them food and chopping ice for them to drink. When he got home he put the horses away, fed, and watered them. He chopped firewood. Only after all that did he himself get to eat. At this point it was nearly bedtime, which is good because aside from the couple of books he had and his fiddle, there was not much to do. No radio. No telephone. Still no indoor plumbing.

Over half a century later we find ourselves living in the same yard the Beck family built their house in. Our home is heated by natural gas. So is our large shop. We have a well and a septic system. We have electricity. We have a 10Mbps WiMax Internet connection. Nearly anything we want to watch or hear is available in the iTunes store (if we’re not happy with what is available on the satellite dish). Grocery shopping is 25 minutes away by automobile. The more exotic items can be ordered online and will usually show up by mail delivery within a week. Our kids walk around with always-on Internet devices in their pockets, having the ability to snatch whatever knowledge they need out of the air around them. We’re never NOT in touch with others now.

Despite all this, the sense of privation persists. We look at that which our city cousins have — but we do not — and are immediately bedeviled by the scourge of Envy. We’ve gone from originally having almost no services at all to being able to have whatever we want shipped from anywhere in the world within a week. Our inability to have something the same day that we could in the city is viewed as being akin to a curse. A dearth of Tim Horton’s franchises somehow becomes equated with a lack of civilization. Somewhere, George Beck is probably watching us and thinking to himself, “what a bunch of Nancys.”

Those goods that we need are accessible to us now in a way that didn’t exist a century ago. We’re rich with knowledge and an ability to communicate. We may lack some of the finer services available in the city, but there’s nothing stopping us from continuing The Neutrals tradition of self-reliance and doing it for ourselves, if need be. Living out here doesn’t mean going without — far from it. The truth is, the only thing anyone living out here has to go without is the endemic crowding of city life., and there’s nothing finer than that.


The food you see in the accompanying image is smoked pork tenderloin served over creamy pepper mashed potatoes, and grilled vegetables with a sharp, balsamic-laced brown sauce. We prepared it ourselves and there was no need to tip a snooty waiter at any point in the evening.

One Response

  1. Sheri Grutz says:

    In our current culture, and I know its true for my daughter, we have these getaway ‘retreats’ to cabins in the woods without electricity or heating or plumbing. They are meant to bring people together in a more rough and natural way, but still we couldn’t imagine living that way all the time.

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