Steve Maxwell’s The Bailey Line Road Chronicles: The Wake Up Call
"Homesteading isn’t going to let you succeed if you’re swayed by feelings."
July 31, 2019 by canadiancontractor
The following is an excerpt from a series published by Canadian Contractor contributor Steve Maxwell, telling the story of his life as a homesteader on Manitoulin Island in the 1980’s. To follow Steve’s story, go to “The Bailey Line Road Chronicles.” You can also visit Steve Maxwell’s website for additional tips, ideas, contests and lessons from Steve Maxwell.
By Steve Maxwell
I woke up with the rising sun on the morning of Thursday May 15, 1986 in a tent pitched on my homestead property. It was my first morning on the land, I was there by myself, and it was one of the most sharply depressing moments of my life. It was all I could do to stop myself from running away from the crazy venture I’d gotten myself into. Buying my homestead property the previous fall had been a dream come true, but somehow it had morphed into a nightmare, though for no outward physical reason. My distress was entirely internal.
My overwhelming eagerness to get started building a house and gardens had felt like Christmas morning that past winter after I bought my property, and I was giddy with anticipation to get going with the homestead dream. But now that I was here, on my own chunk of Manitoulin Island, I was homesick enough that I felt like crying. That’s what happens to some 23-year-olds when they’re far from family and friends, living in a 7×9 foot tent eating cold ravioli out of cans while sitting in the cab of an 18 year old pickup truck that might break down at any moment. I was in the depths of despair and surprised I’d been too blind to recognize my own stupid choices. The task ahead of me was way too big, way too unlikely to succeed and altogether ridiculous. I was convinced that my insanity for homesteading had finally caught up with me, and I’d lured my girl friend Mary into the folly. While all our friends down south were showing off their new business cards and taking swanky overseas trips for their new careers, I’d just spent all my savings and then some on a chunk of property in the middle of nowhere, without any buildings, no water well, and nothing but tumbledown fences and forest surrounding me. The weather was bright, the air had that intoxicating smell I only ever find during the Manitoulin spring, bluebirds and loons and deer were all around me, yet it all seemed so insane. I was a young idiot and I’d thrown my life away. An entry from my diary that first morning paints the picture. The world was brighter than it appeared to me then, but sometimes illusion seems like reality:
“This first journal entry describing my house building adventure on Manitoulin Island is not at all what I or you would expect. To be specific, I feel that I’ve lost all heart for the long and ambitious (idealistic?) project. I believe that a good portion of this condition is due to loneliness, but there are several other factors at work also. The strangest of these is a kind of loneliness brought on by the lack of all the city noises and smells that I’ve come to think I dislike so much! Since I’ve been here I haven’t heard any mechanical noises of any sort, except for a grader which woke me up this morning. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that my heart leapt for joy when I heard that ugly monster going down the road! Obviously, I haven’t the slightest idea what I want or need in a lifestyle, and I feel that I’ve made a mistake coming to this island in the first place. To be fair to this lovely piece of property, I must say that it is peaceful and abundantly populated with wildlife. There are birds singing constantly, and their sound is very beautiful. The land has a wonderful smell; the combination of the budding leaves and wet soil (it just stopped raining here after I arrived yesterday afternoon) and the air off the open waters of Lake Huron. But somehow these things are not enough to change the way I feel. I’m very discouraged and unsure of what to do.”
I see now that this first “black moment of the soul” on the land was a kind of test. Homesteading isn’t going to let you succeed if you’re swayed by feelings. There must sometimes be an iron resolve to continue despite feelings and the apparent insanity of what you’re facing. As I know now, this is the same challenge faced by anyone who builds something beyond what others have already made. This is true whether your dream is a business, an invention, a new homeland or anything else that involves creative choices, hard work and uncertainty.