Living for a living: Labor of love can be lonely sometimes 00:00

The Great Rural Pioneer living, in the present

Living for a living: Labor of love can be lonely sometimes

Brynn Paul is in the early stages of his life as a homesteader in West Woodbury, Vermont. Building his home surrounded by land and livestock he depends on, Paul reflects on the double-edged sword of his isolated lifestyle.

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By 2035, just 12% of customers in North America are expected to become energy self-sufficient, compared to 11% in Europe. Source: Accenture, a technology-services company

Otis Gray 

The last year living with the complications and restrictions of Covid-19 have led a lot of people to consider homesteading – a humble lifestyle where you live off the land around you. That said, it’s a lifestyle as old as time, and in rural states like Vermont, it’s not uncommon. 

I spoke with one homesteader up in Woodbury, Vermont about the land he’s developing, and the double-edged sword of isolation that comes with it.

Brynn Paul

My lifestyle definitely connects me to the land around me. It helps me just be aware of how everything I do affects the world. In a way that wouldn’t be the same if I wasn’t growing my own food.

Because you become the land, basically like what you eat, you become. 

I didn’t feed them much this morning, so they’d be pumped when you showed up.

My name is Brynn Paul. I’m 31 years old. I live in West Woodbury, Vermont, and I’m living for a living. 

Otis Gray 

So what are we looking at right now? 

Brynn Paul

So we’re looking at about 20 different ducks, close to probably 10 roosters, I also have four female turkeys here, the kind of generic white kind. 

Homesteading is kind of like a blanket term that gets thrown around, because it’s kind of an all encompassing way of describing a kind of domestic self sufficient lifestyle. 

Brynn Paul, 31, lives in West Woodbury, Vermont, with his ducks, roosters, turkeys and goats. (Photo by Otis Gray)

And this time of year, they’re not producing as many eggs for me, but in the summer, I was getting like sometimes three dozen eggs a day. 

It’s a process of always getting closer to the landscape and closer to the wilderness and do that and still not be like crazy doing a loincloth running around the woods, you know, doing that within, you know, recognizable way to society. 

They’re also producing meat for me. 

For me, it was eye opening to just realize that the best food in the world like I can, on my small homestead literally grow some of the highest quality food in the world. It just became obvious that I had to be a part of that. 

It’s pretty incredible to see the kind of elements livestock and wild animals can endure.  

It just becomes a labor of love. It’s like the better job I can do to improve the health of one of my animals, the better my health is going to become when I eat those foods. 

I’ve lost birds to raccoons, foxes, now a weasel recently. 

When you when you observe nature, it can sometimes appear as though there’s competition going on. But I think if you look at it from a larger, holistic perspective, it’s really a form of cooperation. It’s kind of flipping the script in viewing my role in society as one of cooperation rather than competition.

My entire property was Woods when I got it. 

It was a deer camp. And this was like a wooded pine lot. Three years ago, there were some loggers working nearby, and I made a deal with them. They came and took down all of the pine trees on my property in exchange for taking half of them. And they left me like some nice, neat piles of saw logs. And this summer, I was kind of scratching my head, like I need to do something with all this wood so it doesn’t rot. I kind of just decided I was going to tear my roof off and build up two stories. 

Brynn Paul, a Vermont homesteader, feeds his flock. (Photo by Otis Gray)

You can see that the house is pretty unfinished still. Going into this project, I was pretty naive. I’d never built a house or a big structure before. I kind of thought, oh, I’ll whip this out in like a month or two. And here we are, it’s been like four months. I had no idea how much work it was gonna be. 

A lot of what I’m doing right now is kind of like laying the foundation for what is eventually going to come into my life because while I don’t have a wife or children right now, I definitely intend to. It’s a lot of work to put in to get to that point. But when I eventually have kids like I will be out of debt with a property that’s like paid off. Like I want to establish the conditions where I can hang out with my kid. 

I think that like one of the large problems that people have today, that leads to lack of health or happiness is a lack of purpose in people’s life. Not having like a higher purpose or higher reason for living. And a lot of things in society are very based around like doing things just for yourself. I’ve explored that approach and I haven’t found as much happiness as living for something kind of larger.

Growing up, I went to public school and my parents both worked in Chittenden County, and I played sports in high school and pretty standard way of growing up. 

My parents didn’t let us have television or video games, forced me to go outside a lot and definitely had a really lasting effect on my development as a human being. 

When I got out of college, I started getting really into primitive skills, tracking and survival skills and bushcraft and tanning hides and stuff like that. So that kind of got me into the idea of homesteading. 

Living alone, I do pretty well, most days, but you know, it can definitely be secluding and isolating. This year especially, has been secluding and isolating. Humans are gregarious by nature, we do need people. Having a dog has been an incredible blessing. I’ve had him for almost a year now. I think a big part of this lifestyle is just also just accepting. Becoming okay with sitting still and accepting, not needing to go anywhere.

My car died last summer and I was here for like over a month. It was kind of nice, actually, I think 100 years ago, people might have gone to Burlington, like once in their life or something. And I think it’s, it’s not that crazy to get back to that kind of lifestyle, not even just having the need to want to go as far.

Do you want to see the goats now? Becky will try to head butt you if you go in there. 

You know, like, something I might do this year, I might not see the benefits of for a few years. 

See the goats get pretty stoked because they haven’t had any fresh hay today. 

If I plant a tree now, I’ll probably be, won’t be enjoying it till I’m much older aged. It’ll only get easier. It’s almost like a retirement plan. 

Otis Gray 

So are you happy? 

Brynn Paul

I’m very happy. Yeah, totally. I, you know, like, I’m not definitely like anyone have ups and downs and, you know, emotional cycles. But, you know, this lifestyle is rewarding. And it’s only gonna become more rewarding when I do have like a family you know, it’s like 10 generations from now, I hopefully the work that I have done now will still be you know, resonating outwards in concentric rings into the future. Day to day that kind of helps me get up in the morning and feel like I’ve got a reason to live. Because I don’t know, you know what happens when I die? Maybe I’m gonna be the one who’s coming back and having to live and deal with the choices I made. So if that’s the case, I want to be like leaving myself some good world to come back to. That’s been my approach, anyways.

Otis Gray 

For iPondr, I’m Otis Gray. 


Audio story edited by Annie Sinsabaugh

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