I started a blog post the day after Thanksgiving and despite editing and rewriting parts of it, I decided not to publish it, because it wasn’t quite expressing what I wanted to say. I became interested in becoming better prepared in 2020, mainly out of fear when my husband was placed on home hospice care and within weeks of that the pandemic craziness hit.
I’d always stocked up extra supplies and food, but I felt assuredly there were “experts” who know a lot more than I do. That’s when I started viewing YouTube prepper videos. I’d been watching homesteading videos for a long time too and that goes with my interest in learning about how people grow food and manage living off of small farms or village life around the world. When my husband and I were first married I told him my dream was to live on a small farm out in the country. We never tried farming and I likely won’t ever live on a small farm in the country, but I enjoy watching other people who have embarked on that adventure.
I’ve been watching an Azerbaijani lady cook food over open fire outside for years and even before I found that channel, I watched a grandma cook in her village in Sri Lanka. A few African village life channels popped up in my feed recently and I’ve watched a few of those too. The biggest takeaway is people do manage with a lot less, they take pride in talking about their lives and sharing native dishes. I’ve learned a lot watching these videos and there’s absolutely no drama, the people seem warm, friendly and excited to share their culture. Unlike so much of the sky-is-falling drama that permeates many of the American prepper and homesteading channels, these people living with so much less, seem more emotionally stable, calm and happy.
When I came across the William Bradford quote for Thanksgiving, the “out of small beginnings greater things have been produced” phrase stuck in my head. Bradford was a Puritan, who sailed to America on the Mayflower and became the governor of the Plymouth Colony, when the first governor, John Carver, died during the early months establishing the colony. Out of the 103 Mayflower passengers and around 30 crew on the ship, about half of them died during that 1620 voyage and first winter in America.
The Mayflower voyage went off course and the Pilgrims ended up reaching land much further north than planned, in November of 1620. They were running low on supplies and totally unprepared for the cold, hard winter there.
The first Thanksgiving was a 3-day harvest celebration in 1621. Although, those first settlers survived their first year in America, daily life was grueling, devoid of luxuries, and uncertain. Life in some parts of the world is still that way. I doubt any of the early American settlers could ever have imagined that out of their small beginnings, our United States of America would grow into a great and prosperous nation.
While we are facing some shortages now, Americans were facing all kinds of shortages, including food shortages, from the first settlers and there were years of failing crops, wheat shortages, and other shortages many times in American history, yet people couldn’t run to Costco or Walmart and try to stock up. They learned to make-do during wheat shortages with what they had and used substitutions, like barley, oats, corn to make bread.
Interestingly, while it’s easy to presume early settlers were all made of sterner stuff than people today and had some sort of unique survival skills, the truth is they were just people too. Their daily lives involved a great deal more hard labor and lack of physical comforts, so from an early age daily life required self-discipline, following a daily routine, and a sense of commitment. The Puritans had already moved from England to the Netherlands to avoid religious persecution, before embarking on the Mayflower voyage. Daily life in England and the Netherlands in the 1600s, was a far cry from arriving in America, where they were facing an uncertain situation with the Native Americans and an inhospitable land.
We all are products of the times we live in and as times change people adapt and change too, but even back in early America, some people didn’t cope well and they had all the same human emotions we have today.
William Bradford’s wife, Dorothy, died while Bradford was on his third scouting trip on land, as the other passengers stayed on the Mayflower, awaiting their return. She fell overboard and drowned while the Mayflower was moored in the harbor. Some historians question whether she committed suicide. There were passengers dying all around her and they had left their three-year old son behind in Amsterdam, with Dorothy’s parents.
Nathaniel Philbrick, in his book, Mayflower, wrote: “We think of the Pilgrims as resilient adventurers upheld by unwavering religious faith, but they were also human beings in the middle of what was, and continues to be, one of the most difficult emotional challenges a person can face: immigration and exile. Less than a year later, another group of English settlers arrived in Provincetown Harbor and were so overwhelmed by this “naked and barren place” that they convinced themselves that the Pilgrims must all be dead. In fear of being forsaken by the ship’s captain, the panicked settlers began to strip the sails from the yards “lest the ship should get away and leave them.” (pages 76-77)
Most of us adjust and learn as we face challenges, just as the Pilgrims did. Some people, even back then, fared better than others, but none of the first settlers in America, nor the Native Americans, already here, lived an easy life filled with comfort items and luxuries that we take for granted. However, we can all, little by little, choose to learn new skills and face new challenges with a positive spirit and small beginnings that produce greater things are still attainable, no matter what the latest shortage being hyped or online drama.
I watched a video the other day where the couple grew a dry corn variety this year and they ground some up and made cornbread. I found that very interesting. I bought a cookbook, Country Beans, earlier this year (used for under $6 on amazon), which explains a multitude of ways to use dry beans, peas and lentils, including making flour out of them. Each little bit of information I acquire and each little experiment learning new techniques and ways to use food, or even my small gardening effort, feels like time better spent than getting worked up about world crises or the latest hot topic flitting across social media.
We can all assuredly embark on a few small beginnings, just looking through our homes and pantries and trying to find new ways to use the things we already have. Unlike the early settlers we have access to information almost instantly. There are even apps available that can identify wild plants and trees with the snap of a photo on your phone. There is more information on ways to use almost any food than any of us can ever possibly use. Truly, we still live in a land of abundance here in America and I am thankful for that every day.