In 1960 my father bought a farm, a piece of land in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. It was less than a hundred acres large, and would have allowed survival farming in the 19th century. Once the trees were felled – a huge task – and their roots taken out and burned – a much harder task – and the stones taken out of the ground and removed to immense piles at the edges of what would become fields, the farmers would have kept some cows, grown some grains, tilled a plot for vegetables, and cut wood in winter. It would have been colder than now, but somehow they persisted and raised children. Today that life (it was not a lifestyle) would be considered dire poverty. Then it was a chance to escape even stonier and colder Vermont for lower altitude farming in a more benign climate, or raise yourself from industrial helot in Lancashire for property-owner in Canada. In 1800 the Townships were covered in forest, by 1900 everything had been cleared to near the tops of mountains, and today it is back in forest, grown since World War 2. We do not need survival farms anymore. The deer are back in force, wolves howl in the distance on snowy nights, and one farmer does the work of twenty of his 19th century ancestors. Thank fossil fuels and tractors for that.
On that farm I spent much of my summers doing things that would now land me in prison or cause me or my parents to be brought before the child-welfare courts. I went off in the morning with an air-rifle, and later a .22, and plinked at cans and fence posts quite contentedly. I grew to be a good shot. At 25 feet away, I once shot with the air-rifle, from the hip, a sparrow that burst from a bush, and felt simultaneously amazed that I had hit it, and regretful that I had killed it. The only rule was do not aim towards the house or the road, which seemed reasonable.
These were the days when children were free-range. You were told to be back for lunch, or supper, and don’t hang around the house reading comics. Kids were much freer then than they are now. Our parents, who had been through World War 2, thought everything afterward was a hardly worth worrying about, so they bred kids like crazy and ignored them until the kids started listening to the Beatles and the Stones at age 13, grew their hair at 14 and started to drink beer or smoke weed at the age of 16. By then it was too late. They had less idea of what their kids were doing than our generation did, and I hear that parental involvement is only getting more intense. Kids are not sent out to play with the random collection of neighbourhood kids anymore, mainly because the feminist revolution is causing birth rates to plummet, so finding kids to play with actually takes work.
One of my most important lessons to my kids was how to aim and fire a rifle, and to ensure that they understood that those things will kill. A dead groundhog is a useful lesson in lethality. It does not need to be repeated.
It was a different world, and will only get more different as I age.
A tip of the hat to Fred on Everything. It might not have been rural Georgia, but it was my little corner of the past.