There’s a movement taking place in our culture and I’m happy to belong to it. Folks are seeing the value in natural living and are returning to the land regardless of space available to them. Some garden and raise rabbits on little as 1/4 acre, while others harvest fields of crops and run beef cattle in herds. They label themselves with names such as homesteader, farmers, hobby farmers or ranchers. While I love the movement, I have a problem!
The life I wish to lead doesn’t quite fit into any of the above labels. I want to lead a natural life, yes, with gardens and root cellars. I love home canning and finding healthier ways to live. Animals for milk, meat and eggs? Absolutely! I also love the outdoors and foraging. I even enjoy hunting and fishing! But I’ve come to the conclusion that the lifestyle I really want (and offer to my readers) is found under the title of “cottage living.”
Different, I know, but here is my ideal world, what I hope and aim for, the thing that keeps me on track and reminds me of what is most important.
When I think of leading a cottage-like life, I think of the English countryside, a parcel of land (large or small) on which sits a cottage with low eaves. There are vines climbing up one side of it and perhaps a stone chimney is present. It has an air of unhurried life and something that draws you in for more. Quaint charm, perhaps?
Walk up the driveway and you’ll see a rustic fence that as three sides, the fourth side being the wall of the cottage. Within the square is a garden with flowers, herbs and vegetables. A footpath leads up to a single doorway in the wall. This is the entrance into the kitchen. On the property grows an orchard that is neither too big and nor too small, supplying fruit for the occupants of the cottage. Not far off is a pond, where buoyant waterfowl search for their breakfast.
A milk-supplying mammal is grazing in the pasture near a flowing creek. With a lift of the head, it alerts you to an approaching figure in the distance. Coming up from his early morning pursuits is a young fella singing the tune is in his head, his right hand loosely holding a fishing-rod that is laid over one shoulder. A string of trout dangles from his left hand and his thoughts are on breakfast.
When I think of a cottage, I think of contented folks who live on the land. The home is simply-but-beautifully decorated. Rustic charm fills every corner: the black wood stove with a crackling fire, the fiddle hanging on the wall behind the rocking chair, bedrooms made cozy by patchwork quilts and feather pillows, kitchen displaying stoneware dishes and a wooden table. The well-stocked pantry all adds to its appeal. Often, the odor of freshly-baked bread fills the air.
The folks of the cottage look to live on their land, but they also have time for each other, for neighbors in their valley. They value hard work, but also stop to enjoy life surrounding them. They dig their toes into the soil, listen to the birds sing, watch the animals around whether they belong to the cottage or woodland.
Spring, summer and fall they work with their hands, caring for and tending the garden, land and animals. Those who live in the cottage do life together and when there’s opportunity to connect or if there is reason to celebrate, they invite other folks to join in on their happenings. They recognize that part of the joy found in living on the land is sharing what you have with those around. You can also bet your bare feet that when a neighbor’s in a pinch, they’ll be there offering support however they can.
Cottagers value good, simple food. Chances are, there’s a root cellar hidden somewhere on the property! Ferments, root vegetables, canned goods, perhaps cheeses or cured meat are prepared and tucked away for the winter months. They chop firewood to heat their home, anticipate the days when all their summer labor is over, when both they and the land get a rest.
Winter brings short, quieter days and lots of inside-cottage activities. Children use their imaginations to entertain themselves. Toys, games and the dress-up box comes out for use. Wood crackles in the stove as red flames consume it, releasing a deeply-penetrating heat. Hot tea and delicious foods are openly shared. Musical instruments come out to serenade and there’s story-telling to tickle the listener’s ear. Its also a time to sit and read. Cottage life slows. Sewing and handcrafts come out during the winter months. Fellas take up woodworking and other low key activities until spring comes and activities migrate outdoors once again.
Cottage living is about slowing down enough that the little moments in life are noticed! Folks of this place want to make the most of what they do have. If they can grow good food, then they do it happily. If they can raise a milk-providing mammal and some birds, they’ll enjoy it! If all they can manage is foraging from other folks’ land or the wilds, they make the most of it! If they don’t have land to work and plant, they eat and prepare wholesome food as best they can. Maybe they mill their own flour for homemade bread or make their own yogurt, perhaps practice a bit of home-canning. Regardless of their situation, they take time to connect with and help those around.
They use what they have and keep life simple. They set priorities, holding fast to them so they aren’t swept away in the crazy rush of life. Instead, they are faithful with what they do have, to nurture and enjoy it, remembering that its only theirs for a time, that one day they’ll give an account for how they lived and managed it.
This folks, is cottage living. This is my goal, my hope, my desire.