Thursday, January 10, 2013

Failure -- The Silent Partner

When you attempt to learn homesteading activities after growing up in the supermarket era, with no wise grandparents around to instruct you in how to walk the old paths, you have a silent partner in all your endeavors, and his name is Failure.
Mr. Failure pays a visit here

Failure isn't new to just our own generation, the fact is he's been around for a long time.  The original homesteaders in our country were well acquainted with him.  If you look at places like Wyoming and Montana, the pioneers who settled there under the 1862 Homestead Act very often ended up dead, starving, or exercising their option to pack their bags and catch the last train back to wherever they came from. Many left well before the five years passed that was required for the land they'd settled on to become fully their own.  Actually a full 60 percent left before their homesteads were legally established.  And not for lack of trying, I am sure.

Homesteading is hard work, as is settling into any new place and attempting to grow livestock, raise crops, or do anything in which Mother Nature plays a part.  Because Mother Nature is, of course, a fickle bitch.

And here

I was thinking about this as I bit into a crisp piece of bread slathered in some homemade strawberry jam this morning.  My strawberry jam is, no kidding, to die for.  But that's only because I've been making it for about three years now. My first two or three batches didn't come out, in fact they ended up having a consistency of something like strawberry syrup instead of jam.  It was very disheartening, both because of the cost involved and because strawberry syrup cannot take the place of jam, as anyone who has ever tried to pour it onto some toast can tell you.  Eventually I got the hang of letting the strawberry mixture hit a true roiling boil, and once I did that, I was in business.  Strawberry jam.  Voila.

But the same thing has happened to me with learning to make marmalade,  crocheting my first blanket, and growing some vegetables.  Cauliflower has failed on me two out of three years, for example, and I'm still trying to figure out what I did right that first year. Homesteading has a steep learning curve, which is a nice way of saying a high rate of failure.  It's all pretty much trial and error, with a strong emphasis on error.

Yet the reward of finally getting it right is wonderful.  A couple of months ago, I made some not-so-delicious pomegranate syrup, which should have been jelly.  But there will be next year's pomegranate harvest which will allow me to try again, and hopefully get it right.

I miss having some wise old elders or grandparents to teach me these things, but I've got to say, Mr. Failure is a pretty good teacher long as you can give yourself permission to learn and not quit when you get discouraged, which will be often.

The strawberry jam alone with worth it.


  1. Hahaha, nature IS a fickle bitch. My first jam went well, my first pickles did not. Not did my second batch of pickles. I've never had a better pickle than my first one from the first successful batch!

  2. I think the worst kind of failure is when you managed to do it right the first time -- but then the second and third (etc.) batches get screwed up! The first time you do something new, you're almost expecting imperfection, but once you've done it successfully it's maddening when it doesn't come out right the next time.