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A Simple Life Or Is It?

Reflections on Chopping Wood & Carrying Water

This rather rambling musing of mine was inspired by reading Wendy’s interesting and amusing blogpost in which she was questioning how simple embracing a life of voluntary “simplicity” actually is, when it usually ends up being a lot more “complex” in actuality…

I can definitely vouch for that being true in my experience even though we are no longer living in a yurt (like Wendy) and have a lovely renovated stone house to call home. For example, while this winter was a step up from last year in terms of comfort and electricity (someone donated us a generator!), we still haven’t got a hot water system that works, so it’s been a case of heating up water on a camping stove for hot “showers”. I have got making a pan of warm water last long enough to wash both my hair and body down to a fine art by this point, not a drop of that precious liquid being wasted!

Then there is the ongoing chopping wood for the burner and carrying water from the stream (because we don’t have a cover on the water tank yet and it is full of algae and hence not good to drink!)…actually a lot of carrying wood all the way into the house too!

I dug up a bucket of carrots today. Very satisfying that was, but I also had to reflect on how much work it is going to take to become self-sufficient in carrots at the rate we eat and juice them! Things always take longer than one thinks, for example we harvested lots of walnuts but there is still a whole bucketful to crack (a very time consuming and pretty complex task!)…

There is so much to do and so much to learn, and most of the time I feel rather overwhelmed before the task of embracing a “simple” sustainable life seeing I had virtually zero experience in anything remotely practical, besides a natural feel for gardening, before I came here. But although the ongoing challenges of shaping a simple sustainable life off-grid can be pretty complicated at times, my ongoing experience in the midst of this steep learning curve is one of SIMPLE joy and fulfilment. I know that many others experience the same.

So what does that say about this whole matter of the “simple life” often being far more “complex” than been plugged into the grids and conveniences of “civilization”? The simple joy issues from the feeling of freedom, the satisfaction of owning ones own life, from being connected with the forces of Nature of which we are part. I know for myself that I have always wanted to live a life enveloped in, and propelled by simple, bubbling joy and being surrounded and fused and engaged with the forms and energies of Mother Earth calls that joy forth like a great song.


I agree with Wendy that it is not “civilization” that is the problem. I think the eco/spiritual folk who tend to only see “industrial, rational, scientific” civilization, or civilization as a whole, as a terrible aberration, and therefore feel we need to rewind the tape to get back to some pastoral idyll, are usually very deluded, despite the genuine concern they feel for the planet. They are caught in what Ken Wilber eloquently calls the “pre/trans fallacy”, meaning that they think the way forward is backward, and in so doing reject all the positive advances of the last 300 years, not only in the material domains, but in cultural values (for all my love of rural life I wouldn’t want to rewind to being a medieval peasant would you?). And the fact is we cannot go back, we have evolved collectively from tribal to national/ethnocentric to global/worldcentric awareness and our world is hurtling forward with increasing velocity into an increasingly unknown future, so it seems. We are the first generation ever that has no way to predict what the world our children will inherit will actually be like. It hard to imagine how it will look even 10 years from now!

British, American, Israeli & Hungarian...

British, American, Israeli & Portugal!

So are those of us who are moved by a yearning to “get back to the land” and live closer to nature going backwards or forwards in our search for a simple, holistic life? I guess that depends on our mindset and values. Are we leaving “civilization” in a posture of “rage against the machine”, as a retreat from the challenge of our times into some pre-industrial, pre-rational pagan simplicity? Or do we see our embrace of earth and voluntary “simplicity” as part of a sea change in human consciousness that is looking for post-industrial, trans-rational pathways into an era of greater responsibility, cooperation and authenticity? We’re getting smart enough to know that a century of industrial design is not conducive to our survival. How to deal with that is a monumental question that requires a systemic response, but also a response defined by something deeper than a desire to fix a problem. Big things to contemplate while one is chopping wood and carrying water maybe, but very worthwhile I think, because whether we are aware of it or not, we are always part of the Whole and everything we  has an impact on the Whole.

We were born into a post-modern culture of see-want-take shimmering surfaces and shifting values, the “age of individual” replete with vast new freedoms and endless choices, but there was something missing…We were longing for depth, authenticity and connection! Whether that takes the form of heating our home with our own wood, feeding our bodies with our own food, harnessing our power from sun and water or discovering true trust and communion with friends who share this longing to forge new pathways into the future, it is the interest in embracing complexity of human life from a place of simplicity that makes our hearts sing.


P.S And I think our donkeys are pretty happy too!

Pete, Mingo and Nuno

Pete, Mingo and Nuno


  1. Radcarper says:

    Dear Pete and Cynthia,

    I enjoyed this post and your blog which Ive been reading since arriving in Portugal a couple of months back.
    Im looking to set up a permaculture off grid project, Ive launched a blog which you might find some interest in, though ive no land to actually start the project yet, long and twisty story that I wont bore you with tonight.

    I hope to be heading towards the central region of Portugal in the next week or two and would love to visit you for the day if possible.

    Hope to hear back from you and arrange a good date,

    Love and positive vibrations to you both


  2. Alice says:

    Hi Pete and Cynthia,

    I came to your blog via Wendy’s and I am so interested to read your response to her wonderful post (as is my husband who I just read the entire post out to!) … I think what you are doing is fabulous and I particularly like that you acknowledge that we do not necessarily want to be going back to being medieval peasants – I think a harmony between being sustainable, more aware, taking responsibility etc needs to be balanced with also embracing many of the great things that have happened over the last few hundred years. Anyway, I can’t think of anything particularly profound to say; just that we enjoyed your post immensely and connected with a lot of what you said.

    I shall be adding you to my blogroll and continuing to tune in!

  3. Pete says:

    Thanks for your comment Alice. Yes we have to embrace the whole picture of who we are and where we are in our historical moment, otherwise we cannot authentically evolve. I will be blogging more of this theme soon..

  4. Roberta Anderson says:

    Just spent a great 45 minutes reading through all of your blog posts this past year. I have to say I am blown away by the beauty and true wholesomeness (and wholeness) of what is emerging at the Quinta. One of the main things that strikes me is the solidity of the foundation you have slowly established (even metaphorically with all of that beautiful slate everywhere), and the natural and organic way the project is unfolding. The whole thing is like some beautiful, exotic, and heretofore unknown plant. And I could see that the blog itself is evolving, with both you and Cynthia being willing to be fully authentic in your expression. The entire thing is just a beautiful transmission of “living in Truth”. And I also could sense “greater levels of complexity”. The lovely volunteer gal’s report on her time with you was awesome as well. The photos really add so much. I loved Cynthia’s most recent post on “striving”. Looking forward to more from you, Cynthia! And you, Pete, can wax lyrical like the best Irish bards. You will be amused that while I was reading your Portuguese translation of “A Mysterious Impulse” and somehow getting enough of the gist to feel like I was flying, I had no idea as I was stumbling through it that this piece was from Andrew, although I’d read it earlier in an email. I thought “Could this be Lorca? Neruda? Anyway, big love and congratulations for all that you are growing at the Quinta!


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