It’s Complicated; Living the Simple Life in Rural New England

(This was Just released as an essay in The Wayfarer, A Journal of Contemplative Literature, special New England Edition, Vol. 3; Issue 3. Below are the beginning and ending…)

After spending an interim ministry year ‘banished’ to Las Vegas, with its limited natural resources, I deliberately chose an ecologically aware and environmentally active congregation in Vermont for my next interim ministry experience.

I wanted to learn to live as simply and as sustainably as possible. “Simplify,” Thoreau urged a century and a half ago; okay, I’d try, while living in the rural village of Lyme, New Hampshire, twelve miles north and east across the Connecticut River from the church’s office in Norwich, Vermont.

Renting what I came to call my Thoreau House, a two-story cottage that sat on a tiny lane just outside the village, it didn’t take long to realize how complicated the simplified life can be. I’d come to expect and always taken for granted such essentials as running water, electricity, indoor plumbing, and instant heat….none of which Thoreau had, of course.

While this was about as ‘simply’ as I could or cared to get, living in rural New England proved to be a learning curve.

….. I found that the closer you live to nature, the more you realize the damage being done through human mindlessness. For instance, the glory of New England is its fall colors, yet the maples are dying from acid rain carried on the wind from coal burning power plants in Ohio. And the earlier springs from global warming are disrupting the sugaring cycle that needs cold nights to draw the sap back down into the roots at the end of each warm spring day.

Everything was clearly interconnected in large and small ways: it was utterly overwhelming to be so intensely aware of ones every action, so that even opening a packet of peanut butter crackers became a wanton act of wasting packaging.

The archetypal Yankee poet Robert Frost wrote of the difference between making new and making do….and rural New Englanders have always seemed to know in their bones how to make do out here, where the true state flag is blue tarp.

But making do meant being mindful! And that made for a complicated life!! It also called forth a whole new way of living.


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