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Looking back on 10 years of roughing it in the Ozarks – Happy Thanksgiving 2015

Many would consider us still roughing it. Life is a lot more comfortable here now, but we learned a lot about survival since we moved to these wild Ozark hills.


Our Wild Ozark Origins

When we first moved here to the Ozarks from south Louisiana, we lived in a very old house. We were a family of five who’d moved from a 2500 sq ft home to less than 1000 sq ft. This old house was not what most would consider “livable” and would very likely have been condemned as unfit in most civilized places.

old homesite
The front yard of our old house, after we bought the property but before we moved up here.

However, even as poor as conditions were, it was still far more comfortable than it must have been when the early settlers to our area built it. By the time we’d moved into it, there were bedrooms and a kitchen added on. Oh, and a bathroom. Sort of. The bathroom had a toilet and sink, but no bath or shower.

Until we built our new house, we used a kiddie pool rigged to a hose, with a spray nozzle for the shower. Living this way was definitely not for the faint of heart! It was cold in the winter time, but at least we did have a hot water heater.

Our makeshift shower for roughing it
Our makeshift shower for roughing it

At first, the old house was only a one-room cabin with a fireplace. If you look underneath and in the attic, hand-hewn beams of red oak mark the oldest part. Those old beams are so dried out and hardened that a nail will bend before penetrating if you try to hammer it in.

Cold Winters

That old house was cold in the winter, even with the modern wood stove that had taken the place of the fireplace years before we’d arrived. But the wood-stove was the only thing that kept the house warm enough for wintertime survival. There were so many holes in the floors and cracks in the walls that running an electric heater was an exercise in futility and expense. We still did it anyway in an attempt to supplement the heat in corners where the fire didn’t seem to reach.

We’d close the door to the kitchen so we didn’t have to heat a room not in use, so at least the living room and bedrooms would stay a little warmer. We’d leave the sink running a little so the water lines didn’t freeze up. Once, it got so cold in the kitchen at night, the next morning I had stalagmites in the sink. We had to keep food in the refrigerator so it wouldn’t freeze on the counters or shelves.

Stalagmites in the sink one cold winter morning.
Stalagmites in the sink one cold winter morning.

Once, when the kids and husband had traveled south to visit family near the warmer gulf coast for a couple of weeks in December, I stayed behind for work. There was a winter storm during that time and I couldn’t get the fire lit because of back-draft. That night I slept in my coat and hat and pants and socks in a 0*F sleeping bag. As long as I didn’t get out of it, I was pretty toasty and comfy. I marveled at how hardy the settlers who first lived in this house must have been. I can’t even imagine sleeping in relative warmth without the modern conveniences of at least a warm sleeping bag.

I guess the point of this story is that even though it was rough at times, I’ve been thankful the entire time I’ve been here. Although I lived in relative suburban comfort before the move to the Ozarks, I was unhappy there. Something burned in my heart to live in a remote area of the world, where water flowed clear and the seasons were easily marked.

I needed to tap the soul of the wilderness.

Adapting to a harder life

My children suffered for a while during our transition up here. I think they’ve recovered now, ten years later. No sane mother would have taken the measures I had to follow that “follow your bliss” call. Much comfort was sacrificed and lost during what seemed to most a selfish pursuit of a selfish dream.

But I never claimed to be sane.

And there were fun times for them, too.

The kids at Ponca
Gab, her friend Kayla, and Garrison playing at Ponca
hobo zack

Much was gained, too. The boys, in particular, really took to roughing it and the rural life and enjoyed learning to hunt and trap. My daughter is now quite proficient at cooking real food made from real ingredients grown in real gardens. And she’s doing a great job of raising her kids to know country life survival, without having thrown them into a crash course in a run-down shack of a house the way I did with them.

I can’t imagine how my life would have been today without having made the choices I made before. The kids are all grown now and have remained in these hills that have become their adopted home. Since moving here I’ve been divorced, and then remarried, now to a man who is truly my soul mate and who also loves this life in the wild Ozark hills. He’s the reason I was able to stay on this land I grew to love. All in all, in spite of the rocky path it took to arrive, I’m still thankful I made the crazy and sometimes excruciatingly difficult choices I made to get us here.

Gloria, the Old Oak Tree
Gloria, the Old Oak Tree
She’s grown a lot in the eleven years since we arrived.

Happy Thanksgiving from Wild Ozark!

I hope all of you out there reading this have plans for a pleasant Thanksgiving day (if you’re in the US), and if you’re not American or celebrating our American holiday, I hope you are still going to take time to reflect on all you have to be thankful for.

It’s a day early, I realize. But tomorrow I will likely not be online to make this post so I figured it was better early than late.

Actually, gratitude is a good practice for every day. It’s too easy to begin taking the little things for granted. Then it becomes harder to notice the little things that make life more bearable. Soon it becomes too easy to complain about all the little things that make life harder. And then suddenly it’s too easy to forget that there are so many ways that our lives are wonderful and awesome even in spite of our difficulties.

If you have an origin story to share about how you found and settled your homestead, I’d love to hear it.

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Andi Loveall
28 November 2015 8:50 pm

What a great read! While I’ve never settled my own homestead (or settled at all, really), I did spend a year living in a VERY rustic cabin in the Appalachians of NC. The way you described your house reminds me so much of that cabin. It was barely insulated, full… Read more »

27 November 2015 1:23 pm

Hi Madison, I’m building my home in the Ozark hills also, with the dream of being a writer. I started out in a tent; lived that way for a year and a half. To keep my drinking water from freezing in the winter I brought it to sleep with my… Read more »

David Prosser
26 November 2015 1:00 am

Those seemingly insane choices we made are sometimes the best things we ever did. I’m so glad yours worked out for you.
Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving.
xxx Massive Hugs xxx

25 November 2015 8:46 pm

I really enjoyed reading this post and story, Madison of your beginnings in the Wild Ozarks. I admire your fortitude and ingenuity in make life work for you there in its rough stages of development. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

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