Last month I spent time taking photos at a few old homesteads.
There’s something about these abandoned places that feels sacred to me. A sort of magic lingers in the air. The veil feels thinner. There’s an energy of lives lived, time past, and love shared. I can’t explain it, but I can feel it.
Yet my rushes of excitement often swirl with twinges of sadness. Especially as I witness the growing decay from year to year.
At one point, these homes were a point of pride. They were islands of economy, as evidenced by the remains of gardens, root cellars, milking parlors, and spring houses.
Once upon a time, someone cared. These places were their everything– their pride and joy. The care is obvious in the meticulously-laid stone foundations, the smooth stucco walls, the fancy details on the porch railing, and the white-washed milking parlors.
Yet now they are cast aside and forgotten as the prairie consumes them bit by bit.
This time as I walked through the overgrown barnyards and tilted buildings, a singular question danced through my mind on repeat:
“I wonder if they realized what they left behind?”
As tempting as it is, I can’t pass judgement as to why these farmhouses were left to ruin. The reasons are endless.
Life is hard here on the prairie… even now with electricity and iPhones and heated steering wheels.
How much harder would it have been to scratch a living from this unforgiving landscape with a hand pump well and pot bellied stove?
Families change. Patriarchs pass. People move on. Imagine the allure of city life after years of struggling. To pluck food from a well-lit store shelf instead of a drought-weary garden. To buy chicken in crisp packages, instead of butchering birds in the front yard. To have city lights and nearby friends and easy-access convenience. I understand the pull.
Why suffer through a life that’s too isolated, too quaint, too windy, too cold, too hard, and too outdated?
“On to the new, the convenient, the modern, the high-tech!”
It was the rallying cry of a generation.
So isn’t it funny that people like you and me want to go back to those harder ways?
Some accuse us of romanticizing the past (and perhaps we are, in a way), but there’s more to it than that. We’re craving the harder path because the promises of modernity have left us wanting. The fruits of industrialism are appetizing on the outside, but rotten within.
We left the farm and now we’re coming back.
And maybe, just maybe… this is how it has to be. Maybe we have to swing on this pendulum of extremes. Maybe we can’t see our errors until they’re in our rear view and only then we turn around and recognize what we lost. It seems to be how we humans work…
On the last day of the photo shoot, we drive to the final location in the dark. Our breath fogged the pre-dawn air as we cleared tumbleweeds off the old porch, swept aside decades of dirt, and scavenged a few relics from the front yard. A crooked shelf took center stage. A rusty muffin tin found its place among the jars of food, fresh veggies, and dried flowers I’d brought from my house. It was a stunning mixture of old and new.
As the sun rose over the horizon and filled the creaky porch with light, the colors of the flowers and food came alive against the faded walls. And I felt the house smile.
While it may be too late to extract the stories from these forgotten farmsteads before they fade into the prairie, homesteading is a movement of preservation— not just for food but for skills, knowledge, and time-honored ideas. And people like you and I are keeping those fires burning.
This gives me hope.
And may we continue to contemplate what *our* generation is leaving behind, as we march into this tech-drenched future, full of artificial-everything and human arrogance.
I’m sure we’ll miss many of the obvious issues, at least at first. (We always do.) But may we ride the pendulum of the new and shiny for a little while, then remember to jump off and plant our feet in the soil, where they were always meant to be.
Preserving the important things,
P.S. These homesteads aren’t for sale (yes, I’ve tried.) Out of respect for the landowners, I can’t disclose their location.
Darla Staten says
We are easing into Homesteading in my 60s. I do all the work. It’s therapeutic. My hubby 75. I’ve suddenly realize, I’ve been a homesteaders for years and just now acknowledging it. Thank you for your help and articles. My heart aches for the abandoned homesteads.