Usonian Concept – Leo Tolstoy’s How Much Land Does a Man Need

Leo Tolstoy - Usonian Concept Leo Tolstoy – How Much Land Does A Man Need is a very Usonian Concept

I wanted to reproduce this story I found recently while searching about how much land the average person needs to live on. We are still debating a one to three acre property in the area we are in versus a 50 to 100 acre property about 5 hours north. This short story certainly put things into perspective and told me exactly how much land a man needs.

I

An elder sister came to visit her younger sister in the country.
The elder was married to a tradesman in town, the younger to a
peasant in the village. As the sisters sat over their tea talking,
the elder began to boast of the advantages of town life: saying how
comfortably they lived there, how well they dressed, what fine
clothes her children wore, what good things they ate and drank, and
how she went to the theatre, promenades, and entertainments.

The younger sister was piqued, and in turn disparaged the life of a
tradesman, and stood up for that of a peasant.

“I would not change my way of life for yours,” said she. “We may
live roughly, but at least we are free from anxiety. You live in
better style than we do, but though you often earn more than you
need, you are very likely to lose all you have. You know the proverb,
‘Loss and gain are brothers twain.’ It often happens that people who
are wealthy one day are begging their bread the next. Our way is
safer. Though a peasant’s life is not a fat one, it is a long one.
We shall never grow rich, but we shall always have enough to eat.”

The elder sister said sneeringly:

“Enough? Yes, if you like to share with the pigs and the calves!
What do you know of elegance or manners! However much your good man
may slave, you will die as you are living-on a dung heap-and your
children the same.”

“Well, what of that?” replied the younger. “Of course our work is
rough and coarse. But, on the other hand, it is sure; and we need
not bow to any one. But you, in your towns, are surrounded by
temptations; today all may be right, but tomorrow the Evil One may
tempt your husband with cards, wine, or women, and all will go to
ruin. Don’t such things happen often enough?”

Pahom, the master of the house, was lying on the top of the oven,
and he listened to the women’s chatter.

“It is perfectly true,” thought he. “Busy as we are from childhood
tilling Mother Earth, we peasants have no time to let any nonsense
settle in our heads. Our only trouble is that we haven’t land
enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself!”

The women finished their tea, chatted a while about dress, and then
cleared away the tea-things and lay down to sleep.

But the Devil had been sitting behind the oven, and had heard all
that was said. He was pleased that the peasant’s wife had led her
husband into boasting, and that he had said that if he had plenty of
land he would not fear the Devil himself.

“All right,” thought the Devil. “We will have a tussle. I’ll give you
land enough; and by means of that land I will get you into my power.”
II

Close to the village there lived a lady, a small landowner, who had
an estate of about three hundred acres. She had always lived on
good terms with the peasants, until she engaged as her steward an
old soldier, who took to burdening the people with fines. However
careful Pahom tried to be, it happened again and again that now a
horse of his got among the lady’s oats, now a cow strayed into her
garden, now his calves found their way into her meadows-and he
always had to pay a fine.

Pahom paid, but grumbled, and, going home in a temper, was rough
with his family. All through that summer Pahom had much trouble
because of this steward; and he was even glad when winter came and
the cattle had to be stabled. Though he grudged the fodder when
they could no longer graze on the pasture-land, at least he was free
from anxiety about them.

In the winter the news got about that the lady was going to sell her
land, and that the keeper of the inn on the high road was bargaining
for it. When the peasants heard this they were very much alarmed.

“Well,” thought they, “if the innkeeper gets the land he will worry us
with fines worse than the lady’s steward. We all depend on that estate.”

So the peasants went on behalf of their Commune, and asked the lady
not to sell the land to the innkeeper; offering her a better price
for it themselves. The lady agreed to let them have it. Then the
peasants tried to arrange for the Commune to buy the whole estate,
so that it might be held by all in common. They met twice to
discuss it, but could not settle the matter; the Evil One sowed
discord among them, and they could not agree. So they decided to
buy the land individually, each according to his means; and the lady
agreed to this plan as she had to the other.

Presently Pahom heard that a neighbor of his was buying fifty acres,
and that the lady had consented to accept one half in cash and to
wait a year for the other half. Pahom felt envious.

“Look at that,” thought he, “the land is all being sold, and I shall
get none of it.” So he spoke to his wife.

“Other people are buying,” said he, “and we must also buy twenty
acres or so. Life is becoming impossible. That steward is simply
crushing us with his fines.”

So they put their heads together and considered how they could
manage to buy it. They had one hundred roubles laid by. They sold
a colt, and one half of their bees; hired out one of their sons as a
laborer, and took his wages in advance; borrowed the rest from a
brother-in-law, and so scraped together half the purchase money.

Having done this, Pahom chose out a farm of forty acres, some of it
wooded, and went to the lady to bargain for it. They came to an
agreement, and he shook hands with her upon it, and paid her a
deposit in advance. Then they went to town and signed the deeds; he
paying half the price down, and undertaking to pay the remainder
within two years.

So now Pahom had land of his own. He borrowed seed, and sowed it on
the land he had bought. The harvest was a good one, and within a
year he had managed to pay off his debts both to the lady and to his
brother-in-law. So he became a landowner, ploughing and sowing his
own land, making hay on his own land, cutting his own trees, and
feeding his cattle on his own pasture. When he went out to plough
his fields, or to look at his growing corn, or at his grass meadows,
his heart would fill with joy. The grass that grew and the flowers
that bloomed there, seemed to him unlike any that grew elsewhere.
Formerly, when he had passed by that land, it had appeared the same
as any other land, but now it seemed quite different.
III

So Pahom was well contented, and everything would have been right if
the neighboring peasants would only not have trespassed on his corn-
fields and meadows. He appealed to them most civilly, but they
still went on: now the Communal herdsmen would let the village cows
stray into his meadows; then horses from the night pasture would get
among his corn. Pahom turned them out again and again, and forgave
their owners, and for a long time he forbore from prosecuting any
one. But at last he lost patience and complained to the District
Court. He knew it was the peasants’ want of land, and no evil
intent on their part, that caused the trouble; but he thought:

“I cannot go on overlooking it, or they will destroy all I have.
They must be taught a lesson.”

So he had them up, gave them one lesson, and then another, and two
or three of the peasants were fined. After a time Pahom’s
neighbours began to bear him a grudge for this, and would now and
then let their cattle on his land on purpose. One peasant even got
into Pahom’s wood at night and cut down five young lime trees for
their bark. Pahom passing through the wood one day noticed
something white. He came nearer, and saw the stripped trunks lying
on the ground, and close by stood the stumps, where the tree had
been. Pahom was furious.

“If he had only cut one here and there it would have been bad enough,”
thought Pahom, “but the rascal has actually cut down a whole clump.
If I could only find out who did this, I would pay him out.”

He racked his brains as to who it could be. Finally he decided: “It
must be Simon-no one else could have done it.” Se he went to
Simon’s homestead to have a look around, but he found nothing, and
only had an angry scene. However’ he now felt more certain than
ever that Simon had done it, and he lodged a complaint. Simon was
summoned. The case was tried, and re-tried, and at the end of it
all Simon was acquitted, there being no evidence against him. Pahom
felt still more aggrieved, and let his anger loose upon the Elder
and the Judges.

“You let thieves grease your palms,” said he. “If you were honest
folk yourselves, you would not let a thief go free.”

So Pahom quarrelled with the Judges and with his neighbors. Threats
to burn his building began to be uttered. So though Pahom had more
land, his place in the Commune was much worse than before.

About this time a rumor got about that many people were moving to
new parts.

“There’s no need for me to leave my land,” thought Pahom. “But some
of the others might leave our village, and then there would be more
room for us. I would take over their land myself, and make my
estate a bit bigger. I could then live more at ease. As it is, I
am still too cramped to be comfortable.”

One day Pahom was sitting at home, when a peasant passing through
the village, happened to call in. He was allowed to stay the night,
and supper was given him. Pahom had a talk with this peasant and
asked him where he came from. The stranger answered that he came
from beyond the Volga, where he had been working. One word led to
another, and the man went on to say that many people were settling
in those parts. He told how some people from his village had
settled there. They had joined the Commune, and had had twenty-five
acres per man granted them. The land was so good, he said, that the
rye sown on it grew as high as a horse, and so thick that five cuts
of a sickle made a sheaf. One peasant, he said, had brought nothing
with him but his bare hands, and now he had six horses and two cows
of his own.

Pahom’s heart kindled with desire. He thought:

“Why should I suffer in this narrow hole, if one can live so well
elsewhere? I will sell my land and my homestead here, and with the
money I will start afresh over there and get everything new. In
this crowded place one is always having trouble. But I must first
go and find out all about it myself.”

Towards summer he got ready and started. He went down the Volga on
a steamer to Samara, then walked another three hundred miles on
foot, and at last reached the place. It was just as the stranger
had said. The peasants had plenty of land: every man had twenty-
five acres of Communal land given him for his use, and any one who
had money could buy, besides, at fifty-cents an acre as much good
freehold land as he wanted.

Having found out all he wished to know, Pahom returned home as
autumn came on, and began selling off his belongings. He sold his
land at a profit, sold his homestead and all his cattle, and
withdrew from membership of the Commune. He only waited till the
spring, and then started with his family for the new settlement.
IV

As soon as Pahom and his family arrived at their new abode, he
applied for admission into the Commune of a large village. He stood
treat to the Elders, and obtained the necessary documents. Five
shares of Communal land were given him for his own and his sons’
use: that is to say–125 acres (not altogether, but in different
fields) besides the use of the Communal pasture. Pahom put up the
buildings he needed, and bought cattle. Of the Communal land alone
he had three times as much as at his former home, and the land was
good corn-land. He was ten times better off than he had been. He
had plenty of arable land and pasturage, and could keep as many head
of cattle as he liked.

At first, in the bustle of building and settling down, Pahom was
pleased with it all, but when he got used to it he began to think
that even here he had not enough land. The first year, he sowed
wheat on his share of the Communal land, and had a good crop. He
wanted to go on sowing wheat, but had not enough Communal land for
the purpose, and what he had already used was not available; for in
those parts wheat is only sown on virgin soil or on fallow land. It
is sown for one or two years, and then the land lies fallow till it
is again overgrown with prairie grass. There were many who wanted
such land, and there was not enough for all; so that people
quarrelled about it. Those who were better off, wanted it for
growing wheat, and those who were poor, wanted it to let to dealers,
so that they might raise money to pay their taxes. Pahom wanted to
sow more wheat; so he rented land from a dealer for a year. He
sowed much wheat and had a fine crop, but the land was too far from
the village–the wheat had to be carted more than ten miles. After
a time Pahom noticed that some peasant-dealers were living on
separate farms, and were growing wealthy; and he thought:

“If I were to buy some freehold land, and have a homestead on it, it
would be a different thing, altogether. Then it would all be nice
and compact.”

The question of buying freehold land recurred to him again and again.

He went on in the same way for three years; renting land and sowing
wheat. The seasons turned out well and the crops were good, so that
he began to lay money by. He might have gone on living contentedly,
but he grew tired of having to rent other people’s land every year,
and having to scramble for it. Wherever there was good land to be
had, the peasants would rush for it and it was taken up at once, so
that unless you were sharp about it you got none. It happened in
the third year that he and a dealer together rented a piece of
pasture land from some peasants; and they had already ploughed it
up, when there was some dispute, and the peasants went to law about
it, and things fell out so that the labor was all lost.
“If it were my own land,” thought Pahom, “I should be independent,
and there would not be all this unpleasantness.”

So Pahom began looking out for land which he could buy; and he came
across a peasant who had bought thirteen hundred acres, but having
got into difficulties was willing to sell again cheap. Pahom
bargained and haggled with him, and at last they settled the price
at 1,500 roubles, part in cash and part to be paid later. They had
all but clinched the matter, when a passing dealer happened to stop
at Pahom’s one day to get a feed for his horse. He drank tea with
Pahom, and they had a talk. The dealer said that he was just
returning from the land of the Bashkirs, far away, where he had
bought thirteen thousand acres of land all for 1,000 roubles. Pahom
questioned him further, and the tradesman said:

“All one need do is to make friends with the chiefs. I gave away
about one hundred roubles’ worth of dressing-gowns and carpets,
besides a case of tea, and I gave wine to those who would drink it;
and I got the land for less than two cents an acre. And he showed
Pahom the title-deeds, saying:

“The land lies near a river, and the whole prairie is virgin soil.”

Pahom plied him with questions, and the tradesman said:

“There is more land there than you could cover if you walked a year,
and it all belongs to the Bashkirs. They are as simple as sheep,
and land can be got almost for nothing.”

“There now,” thought Pahom, “with my one thousand roubles, why
should I get only thirteen hundred acres, and saddle myself with a
debt besides. If I take it out there, I can get more than ten times
as much for the money.”
V

Pahom inquired how to get to the place, and as soon as the tradesman
had left him, he prepared to go there himself. He left his wife to
look after the homestead, and started on his journey taking his man
with him. They stopped at a town on their way, and bought a case of
tea, some wine, and other presents, as the tradesman had advised.
On and on they went until they had gone more than three hundred
miles, and on the seventh day they came to a place where the
Bashkirs had pitched their tents. It was all just as the tradesman
had said. The people lived on the steppes, by a river, in felt-
covered tents. They neither tilled the ground, nor ate bread.
Their cattle and horses grazed in herds on the steppe. The colts
were tethered behind the tents, and the mares were driven to them
twice a day. The mares were milked, and from the milk kumiss was
made. It was the women who prepared kumiss, and they also made
cheese. As far as the men were concerned, drinking kumiss and tea,
eating mutton, and playing on their pipes, was all they cared about.
They were all stout and merry, and all the summer long they never
thought of doing any work. They were quite ignorant, and knew no
Russian, but were good-natured enough.

As soon as they saw Pahom, they came out of their tents and gathered
round their visitor. An interpreter was found, and Pahom told them
he had come about some land. The Bashkirs seemed very glad; they
took Pahom and led him into one of the best tents, where they made
him sit on some down cushions placed on a carpet, while they sat
round him. They gave him tea and kumiss, and had a sheep killed,
and gave him mutton to eat. Pahom took presents out of his cart and
distributed them among the Bashkirs, and divided amongst them the
tea. The Bashkirs were delighted. They talked a great deal among
themselves, and then told the interpreter to translate.

“They wish to tell you,” said the interpreter, “that they like you,
and that it is our custom to do all we can to please a guest and to
repay him for his gifts. You have given us presents, now tell us
which of the things we possess please you best, that we may present
them to you.”

“What pleases me best here,” answered Pahom, “is your land. Our
land is crowded, and the soil is exhausted; but you have plenty of
land and it is good land. I never saw the like of it.”

The interpreter translated. The Bashkirs talked among themselves
for a while. Pahom could not understand what they were saying, but
saw that they were much amused, and that they shouted and laughed.
Then they were silent and looked at Pahom while the interpreter said:

“They wish me to tell you that in return for your presents they will
gladly give you as much land as you want. You have only to point it
out with your hand and it is yours.”

The Bashkirs talked again for a while and began to dispute. Pahom
asked what they were disputing about, and the interpreter told him
that some of them thought they ought to ask their Chief about the
land and not act in his absence, while others thought there was no
need to wait for his return.
VI

While the Bashkirs were disputing, a man in a large fox-fur cap
appeared on the scene. They all became silent and rose to their
feet. The interpreter said, “This is our Chief himself.”

Pahom immediately fetched the best dressing-gown and five pounds of
tea, and offered these to the Chief. The Chief accepted them, and
seated himself in the place of honour. The Bashkirs at once began
telling him something. The Chief listened for a while, then made a
sign with his head for them to be silent, and addressing himself to
Pahom, said in Russian:

“Well, let it be so. Choose whatever piece of land you like; we
have plenty of it.”

“How can I take as much as I like?” thought Pahom. “I must get a
deed to make it secure, or else they may say, ‘It is yours,’ and
afterwards may take it away again.”

“Thank you for your kind words,” he said aloud. “You have much
land, and I only want a little. But I should like to be sure which
bit is mine. Could it not be measured and made over to me? Life and
death are in God’s hands. You good people give it to me, but your
children might wish to take it away again.”

“You are quite right,” said the Chief. “We will make it over to you.”

“I heard that a dealer had been here,” continued Pahom, “and that
you gave him a little land, too, and signed title-deeds to that
effect. I should like to have it done in the same way.”

The Chief understood.

“Yes,” replied he, “that can be done quite easily. We have a scribe,
and we will go to town with you and have the deed properly sealed.”

“And what will be the price?” asked Pahom.

“Our price is always the same: one thousand roubles a day.”

Pahom did not understand.

“A day? What measure is that? How many acres would that be?”

“We do not know how to reckon it out,” said the Chief. “We sell it
by the day. As much as you can go round on your feet in a day is
yours, and the price is one thousand roubles a day.”

Pahom was surprised.

“But in a day you can get round a large tract of land,” he said.

The Chief laughed.

“It will all be yours!” said he. “But there is one condition: If
you don’t return on the same day to the spot whence you started,
your money is lost.”

“But how am I to mark the way that I have gone?”

“Why, we shall go to any spot you like, and stay there. You must
start from that spot and make your round, taking a spade with you.
Wherever you think necessary, make a mark. At every turning, dig a
hole and pile up the turf; then afterwards we will go round with a
plough from hole to hole. You may make as large a circuit as you
please, but before the sun sets you must return to the place you
started from. All the land you cover will be yours.”

Pahom was delighted. It-was decided to start early next morning.
They talked a while, and after drinking some more kumiss and eating
some more mutton, they had tea again, and then the night came on.
They gave Pahom a feather-bed to sleep on, and the Bashkirs
dispersed for the night, promising to assemble the next morning at
daybreak and ride out before sunrise to the appointed spot.
VII

Pahom lay on the feather-bed, but could not sleep. He kept thinking
about the land.

“What a large tract I will mark off!” thought he. “I can easily go
thirty-five miles in a day. The days are long now, and within a
circuit of thirty-five miles what a lot of land there will be! I
will sell the poorer land, or let it to peasants, but I’ll pick out
the best and farm it. I will buy two ox-teams, and hire two more
laborers. About a hundred and fifty acres shall be plough-land, and
I will pasture cattle on the rest.”

Pahom lay awake all night, and dozed off only just before dawn.
Hardly were his eyes closed when he had a dream. He thought he was
lying in that same tent, and heard somebody chuckling outside. He
wondered who it could be, and rose and went out, and he saw the
Bashkir Chief sitting in front of the tent holding his side and
rolling about with laughter. Going nearer to the Chief, Pahom
asked: “What are you laughing at?” But he saw that it was no longer
the Chief, but the dealer who had recently stopped at his house and
had told him about the land. Just as Pahom was going to ask, “Have
you been here long?” he saw that it was not the dealer, but the
peasant who had come up from the Volga, long ago, to Pahom’s old
home. Then he saw that it was not the peasant either, but the Devil
himself with hoofs and horns, sitting there and chuckling, and
before him lay a man barefoot, prostrate on the ground, with only
trousers and a shirt on. And Pahom dreamt that he looked more
attentively to see what sort of a man it was lying there, and he saw
that the man was dead, and that it was himself! He awoke horror-struck.

“What things one does dream,” thought he.

Looking round he saw through the open door that the dawn was breaking.

“It’s time to wake them up,” thought he. “We ought to be starting.”

He got up, roused his man (who was sleeping in his cart), bade him
harness; and went to call the Bashkirs.

“It’s time to go to the steppe to measure the land,” he said.

The Bashkirs rose and assembled, and the Chief came, too. Then they
began drinking kumiss again, and offered Pahom some tea, but he
would not wait.

“If we are to go, let us go. It is high time,” said he.
VIII

The Bashkirs got ready and they all started: some mounted on horses,
and some in carts. Pahom drove in his own small cart with his
servant, and took a spade with him. When they reached the steppe,
the morning red was beginning to kindle. They ascended a hillock
(called by the Bashkirs a shikhan) and dismounting from their carts
and their horses, gathered in one spot. The Chief came up to Pahom
and stretched out his arm towards the plain:

“See,” said he, “all this, as far as your eye can reach, is ours.
You may have any part of it you like.”

Pahom’s eyes glistened: it was all virgin soil, as flat as the palm
of your hand, as black as the seed of a poppy, and in the hollows
different kinds of grasses grew breast high.

The Chief took off his fox-fur cap, placed it on the ground and said:

“This will be the mark. Start from here, and return here again.
All the land you go round shall be yours.”

Pahom took out his money and put it on the cap. Then he took off
his outer coat, remaining in his sleeveless under coat. He
unfastened his girdle and tied it tight below his stomach, put a
little bag of bread into the breast of his coat, and tying a flask
of water to his girdle, he drew up the tops of his boots, took the
spade from his man, and stood ready to start. He considered for
some moments which way he had better go–it was tempting everywhere.

“No matter,” he concluded, “I will go towards the rising sun.”

He turned his face to the east, stretched himself, and waited for
the sun to appear above the rim.

“I must lose no time,” he thought, “and it is easier walking while
it is still cool.”

The sun’s rays had hardly flashed above the horizon, before Pahom,
carrying the spade over his shoulder, went down into the steppe.

Pahom started walking neither slowly nor quickly. After having gone
a thousand yards he stopped, dug a hole and placed pieces of turf
one on another to make it more visible. Then he went on; and now
that he had walked off his stiffness he quickened his pace. After a
while he dug another hole.

Pahom looked back. The hillock could be distinctly seen in the
sunlight, with the people on it, and the glittering tires of the
cartwheels. At a rough guess Pahom concluded that he had walked
three miles. It was growing warmer; he took off his under-coat,
flung it across his shoulder, and went on again. It had grown quite
warm now; he looked at the sun, it was time to think of breakfast.

“The first shift is done, but there are four in a day, and it is too
soon yet to turn. But I will just take off my boots,” said he to himself.

He sat down, took off his boots, stuck them into his girdle, and went on.
It was easy walking now.

“I will go on for another three miles,” thought he, “and then turn
to the left. The spot is so fine, that it would be a pity to lose
it. The further one goes, the better the land seems.”

He went straight on a for a while, and when he looked round, the
hillock was scarcely visible and the people on it looked like black
ants, and he could just see something glistening there in the sun.

“Ah,” thought Pahom, “I have gone far enough in this direction, it
is time to turn. Besides I am in a regular sweat, and very thirsty.”

He stopped, dug a large hole, and heaped up pieces of turf. Next he
untied his flask, had a drink, and then turned sharply to the left.
He went on and on; the grass was high, and it was very hot.

Pahom began to grow tired: he looked at the sun and saw that it was noon.

“Well,” he thought, “I must have a rest.”

He sat down, and ate some bread and drank some water; but he did not
lie down, thinking that if he did he might fall asleep. After
sitting a little while, he went on again. At first he walked
easily: the food had strengthened him; but it had become terribly
hot, and he felt sleepy; still he went on, thinking: “An hour to
suffer, a life-time to live.”

He went a long way in this direction also, and was about to turn to
the left again, when he perceived a damp hollow: “It would be a pity
to leave that out,” he thought. “Flax would do well there.” So he
went on past the hollow, and dug a hole on the other side of it
before he turned the corner. Pahom looked towards the hillock. The
heat made the air hazy: it seemed to be quivering, and through the
haze the people on the hillock could scarcely be seen.

“Ah!” thought Pahom, “I have made the sides too long; I must make
this one shorter.” And he went along the third side, stepping
faster. He looked at the sun: it was nearly half way to the
horizon, and he had not yet done two miles of the third side of the
square. He was still ten miles from the goal.

“No,” he thought, “though it will make my land lopsided, I must
hurry back in a straight line now. I might go too far, and as it is
I have a great deal of land.”

So Pahom hurriedly dug a hole, and turned straight towards the hillock.
IX

Pahom went straight towards the hillock, but he now walked with
difficulty. He was done up with the heat, his bare feet were cut
and bruised, and his legs began to fail. He longed to rest, but it
was impossible if he meant to get back before sunset. The sun waits
for no man, and it was sinking lower and lower.

“Oh dear,” he thought, “if only I have not blundered trying for too
much! What if I am too late?”

He looked towards the hillock and at the sun. He was still far from
his goal, and the sun was already near the rim. Pahom walked on and
on; it was very hard walking, but he went quicker and quicker. He
pressed on, but was still far from the place. He began running,
threw away his coat, his boots, his flask, and his cap, and kept
only the spade which he used as a support.

“What shall I do,” he thought again, “I have grasped too much, and
ruined the whole affair. I can’t get there before the sun sets.”

And this fear made him still more breathless. Pahom went on
running, his soaking shirt and trousers stuck to him, and his mouth
was parched. His breast was working like a blacksmith’s bellows,
his heart was beating like a hammer, and his legs were giving way as
if they did not belong to him. Pahom was seized with terror lest he
should die of the strain.

Though afraid of death, he could not stop. “After having run all
that way they will call me a fool if I stop now,” thought he. And
he ran on and on, and drew near and heard the Bashkirs yelling and
shouting to him, and their cries inflamed his heart still more. He
gathered his last strength and ran on.

The sun was close to the rim, and cloaked in mist looked large, and
red as blood. Now, yes now, it was about to set! The sun was quite
low, but he was also quite near his aim. Pahom could already see
the people on the hillock waving their arms to hurry him up. He
could see the fox-fur cap on the ground, and the money on it, and
the Chief sitting on the ground holding his sides. And Pahom
remembered his dream.

“There is plenty of land,” thought he, “but will God let me live on
it? I have lost my life, I have lost my life! I shall never reach
that spot!”

Pahom looked at the sun, which had reached the earth: one side of it
had already disappeared. With all his remaining strength he rushed
on, bending his body forward so that his legs could hardly follow
fast enough to keep him from falling. Just as he reached the
hillock it suddenly grew dark. He looked up–the sun had already
set. He gave a cry: “All my labor has been in vain,” thought he,
and was about to stop, but he heard the Bashkirs still shouting, and
remembered that though to him, from below, the sun seemed to have
set, they on the hillock could still see it. He took a long breath
and ran up the hillock. It was still light there. He reached the
top and saw the cap. Before it sat the Chief laughing and holding
his sides. Again Pahom remembered his dream, and he uttered a cry:
his legs gave way beneath him, he fell forward and reached the cap
with his hands.

“Ah, what a fine fellow!” exclaimed the Chief. “He has gained
much land!”

Pahom’s servant came running up and tried to raise him, but he saw
that blood was flowing from his mouth. Pahom was dead!

The Bashkirs clicked their tongues to show their pity.

His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for
Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to
his heels was all he needed.

——————————————————————–

I didn’t really understand the story till I read it twice and this concept is one that is very Usonian. A man needs enough land to be happy and should not spend their whole lives chasing more and more and more stuff and land. Frank Lloyd Wright in fact mentioned many times a man should only possess the amount of land they need to perform their profession or make their income and live (which he randomly calculated as 1 acre for some reason). This is of course the goal we are after. Btw, the true answer how much land a man needs is a 6 foot hole in the ground as explained in the last sentence. It is a very religious story in context but pretty simple. Find what makes you happy and do not be greedy that you need more and more. For my wife and I, we can deal with 2 acres (maybe even one if it offers us privacy). The happiness will come from making use of the land as a quiet and beautiful retreat, a place to get our girls the rest of the way grown-up, and a place to put our shop that will be used to both pay for the land and allow me to figure out more serious energy issues on earth. If we can accomplish that with 2 acres, that is how much land this man and woman need.

Quick Note on our Usonian Master Plan

Someone asked me a question about our Master Plan we figured out…

“Why not just place a mobile home on site and sell when the house is done?”

This was certainly something we considered from the beginning but unfortunately in all the areas we considered, unless you are zoned as a mobile home park, cannot place one on your property for any reason.

You will also have to have septic installed and electrical/gas run to a hookup, which the cottage/garage/shop will later need anyway (and in fact accounts for a large portion of the $30K cost).

If it wasn’t for those restrictions, we would have been out in the country already.

One thing that comes to mind is an architect recently told me one reason Frank Lloyd Wright said to go 50 miles out (or farther) was because the rural areas were not governed by such petty rules and building restrictions. It is so bad here in some areas that they even restrict the length your soffits can be, so I can understand his thinking.

The Usonian Master Plan

I have not finished my posts from our trip to Taliesin, Wingspread, Jacobs House, Robie House, Oak Park yet but will soon have some up-to-date information.

My wife and I were most impressed by the Jacobs house and the beauty it hides in the rear. I found a writing by Herbert Jacobs that details his life building the house and living in it for several years. Check it out, it an eye into the Usonian lifestyle that Frank Lloyd Wright clearly defined for the Jacobs family and many more families to come.

After seeing the Jacobs house and reading the passion all involved had for that house my wife and I began to rethink our path.

…and we have a really Usonian solution to the issue of living in a Usonian style house and achieving our dreams much earlier than expected.

We have decided to purchase a 150 ft by 600+ ft property on the north shores of lake erie within the next 6 months or so (for we hope between $60K and $90K). We may even be able to get a 3 year option on it for 10% down in some cases freeing up some cash to build with. We will then take the garage/shop section of our previous usonian floor plan, and design it into a 3 bedroom livable cottage. It will be about 900 square feet, use a slab on grade foundation, in floor heat. It can be built extremely fast (in about 2 or 3 months) for around $30K in materials and permits and hookups. The idea is to go as cheap as possible and retain the footprint of the future garage/shop.

Once complete we will sell our existing home, move into it and reduce our debt load by half, leaving a minimal house payment, a comfortable cottage on the lake to begin our Usonian lifestyle (minimal stuff) and it lets us complete the remaining 2,400 square feet house at our leisure and budget timeframe.

The decision to do this has a much longer explanation to it but for now realize we will be into a new property, new house and not have nearly the debt load. It also lets us only carry one property and not be a slave to two houses (my worst nightmare as we were once in that situation).

The other piece of news is while on our trip, we met up with a rather knowledgeable architect (that is significantly important in the field of Frank Lloyd Wright style houses) that will be helping us with our design and steps forward. He even gave us a way to reduce the house cost by about $20K (which will I hope easily make up for his fee). My wife and I are super stoked about this news.

Will catch up more later and have some photos of the Frank Lloyd Wright houses including panoramic shots of a few.

Usonian Cooling

Thoughts on cooling our Usonian house in the future.

Recently, in our current home we have been able to keep the interior temperature around 15 degrees F below the outside house temperature using only passive cooling methods.

1. Our property is very shaded and  provides excellent cross breezes. The mature trees are fantastic and perfectly positioned to literally cool the whole house in the summer and they are mostly maples so in the winter the leaves fall off and the lower sun warms the house in winter.

2. We close the windows in the morning and open them in the evening. Doing so it is 90 degrees outside and 75 inside for a majority of the day even with high humidity.

3. Ceiling fans provide direct cooling on the body.

4. We do not use this but in my childhood home we had what is known as a whole house fan. The idea is it draws cool air from the lower level and expels the hot air out the roof. This will certainly be going in the new home.

5. Another note is that because the whole house is on one level, the upper level is not even there to collect heat. In our current home the upstairs level just collects heat and is unbearable at times. It will not be missed.

6. Open property or on the lake. This will provide a nice cooling wind.

Now, I know at some point we will have absolutely sweltering days with no air movement and have to turn the A/C on but not for a few more weeks at least and by then summer is half over.

In the new house we will likely be running A/C duct work under the slab just because it is open and cannot really be done later. We may not install the A/C or backup forced air gas system for some time but at least the ducts are in place.

Well those are my thoughts on the cooling situation.

Revisit of Usonian Debt Concept…

I did a post awhile back about how purchasing and financing a typical car could have paid for land instead. I want to revisit that concept with some real figures as I feel it is super important to teach people this lesson. My nephew was over recently and I put pen to paper to show him this concept and he was shocked what you give up to own a new car.

The average new car price in the US is around $25,000 right now. The average payment for that car is around $500/mn. The average full coverage insurance rate (which is required by the lender) is around $250/mn but this figure can be as low as $150/mn up to over $500/mn. We are talking an average here. So the average car payment for the next 5 years of the loan is $750/mn or $45,000 over the life of the loan. At the end of the loan the car’s value (accounting for 20% depreciation/year) is around $8,100 but will likely sell for half that. So at the end of 5 years of loan payments and full coverage insurance you literally burned through around $40,000.

The Tax Man commeth. OK let’s also factor in the 20% (average) of that $40K you had to pay the Government. So we are now at $48,000. There is also the sales tax on the original $25K which can be as much as say 7% or $1750. Also a full drive train policy at say $1500. OK so a grand total of around $52,000 average to drive that shiny new car.

Now let’s try this scenario. Go buy a used car (maybe even the one the guy just got rid of after throwing away $40,000) for $2500. If you think they are not out there you are wrong. Cash talks and because you saved your cash you can say a lot! You only need to carry liability insurance which averages around $100/mn. So at the end of 5 years you spent a total of $8500. Let’s also say you have to put $2000 in repairs into the car one day so we are around $10,500. Pay the tax man for income tax and sales tax on the $2500 and we are around $13,000 for 5 years of used car ownership.

You could have taken that extra $39,000 and invested it and maybe ended up around $50,000 total . Now lets move 5 years forward again. If you then invested that $50,000 in land which historically appreciates at 10% (and maybe much more into the future, will explain why in a later post)…after 10 years that $50,000 would be worth around $75000, plus you will have another $50K to add to that.

So buying used for 10 years would allow you to shove $125,000 into land that is worth more and more money as time goes on instead of a 2 new cars that are literally garbage after 5 years.

These are hard figures. They are not made up and the typical American or Canadian is literally throwing away the ability to have bought and paid for land simply because they want to drive a new car every 5 years.

The concept does not only apply to cars, it applies to everything. The second you borrow money to pay for stuff, it is the same second you are a slave to that stuff forever. It is Frank Lloyd Wright’s concept exactly (even though he did not always follow it earlier in life).

I have been watching youtube videos about a financial adviser named Dave Ramsey that will likely back up everything I have said above. He actually has a very sane plan to get you to land ownership (outright owning it…imagine the concept!) within a very short amount of time.

Here is one video that made a lot of sense to me:

Just a note I want to address about car ownership again is the misconception about owning a new car is more reliable. Some of the most expensive problems I have seen with cars happen within 2 years of ownership. Even if you put $100/mn aside for a repair fund, you would still be tremendously ahead on the reliability factor. So what if the used car breaks down. A cab and tow truck cost maybe $100. A “new” used car would be $2500. Again, so what?

The last note I wanted to make was in regard to an economical-on-gas-car versus a larger car or truck. Again these are based on hard figures made with countless studies. Some of the cheapest cost of ownership cars in the world are huge Cadillacs. I have NEVER owned a small, gas-mizer car that didn’t break down and cost a fortune to fix. I have however owned V8 trucks that yes cost more on gas but only depreciated a few dollars a month. In fact, my last truck I owned for 5 years and sold it for only $1,000 less than what I paid for it. Yes I spent maybe twice on gas over the years but I did not put one repair into it except a $100 battery. On the same token we bought a used neon, put $2500 in repairs, its been on the road for only about 2 months in the past 3 years and it is worth literally nothing. “But it was good on gas!” Bottom line, really consider the total cost of ownership, not the MPG and study this just as I did. You may be shocked what you learn.

The lesson I was trying to teach my nephew is don’t be a slave to your stuff. Really keep a goal in mind and for my wife and I, that is our Usonian Dream…I only wish I learned these lessons at his age.

New Usonian Workshop Site…

Just a quick heads up; I started a Usonian Wood and Metal Working Website to go along with this site. It will chronicle projects for our future Usonian house as well as techniques we are discovering. There is not much content yet, but I will be adding as time goes on because I am learning many woodworking methods including Japanese techniques that would have made Frank Lloyd Wright proud.

Possible “Frank Lloyd Wright” Dream Property…

We did a bit of property hunting over the weekend outside our city. Remember, Frank Lloyd Wright did recommend going out 50 miles and then go farther to build a house…so we did. We looked at several properties right on the North shores of lake Erie because we figured the house can have a south-east facing, unobstructed view, and still be within our budget. Fifty miles inwards to the city…NO WAY we could afford that view.

Possible Property for Our Usonian Possible Property for Our Usonian

Here is what we are considering. It is a section of land on the top of a 50 foot bluff that is subdivided into 150 feet X 700 foot lots. The reason we thought this would work is there is restrictions set by the authorities that stops a neighbor from building in the future in our path. To put it another way…you would enter house from the north side of the property not seeing the lake behind, come around the corner into the living room and have a totally unobstructed view of the lake.

There are 6 lots available and if this is not the lot, there are plenty more around that area, mostly newer retirement homes. A local agent told us most of the farmers sold off their land to subdivide and make a profit. At times some of these lots are going for as low as 400 FT frontage for $70K. We both are just shaking our heads for the past two days knowing it is something we can both picture our future Usonian house and life beginning on. It will fit the view to perfection.

Super Congestion to Open Free Living

Where my $290K used to be. You almost had to turn sideways between the houses.

I was at my wife’s family’s farm today. Her aunt and uncle own a lot of property here but their current house was built probably a hundred years ago and is in the middle of a 1500 Feet X 1500 Feet Farm. A FANTASTIC property.

Anyway, her uncle and I were sitting on the lawn looking at the trees he had planted recently and listening to the wind going by. Simply a spiritual feeling having that space around me.

Anyway, I began to think when we got home about the places I have lived and the congestion I have dealt with that completely juxtapose sitting in the middle of a massive empty property.

Take a look at the photo. It was about 3.8 acre subdivision that contained 36 houses…mostly 3 and 4 bedroom multilevel deals with two car garages. That is almost .1 acres per house.

Since then I have lived on a .25 acre lot and our current place is about that as well. All subdivisions but literally on top of our neighbors. In fact, the largest single property I have even resided on was around a half acre.

The ironic or funny part is, we are going to have one beautiful house in the same space 10 to 20 of those houses takes up for less than the price as that cramped in, neighbor on your doorstep house.

So thus I began to think just how peaceful it is going to be living out in the county somewhere, enjoying the wind, smelling the air and sitting with family on our own piece of heaven!

 

McMansion Versus Usonian Mentality

My disdain for McMansions Continues. Find out why.

I am not sure about other parts of the country, but there is an absolute explosion of what is commonly called McMansions in our area. It is so weird that we are in these economically depressed (yes depressed) times and there are these houses popping up all around us that cost two, three or even four times the average price of a house in our area.

They have 10 foot ceilings. Reside on a SMALL lot. And totally DOMINATE the landscape. In other words, you can’t miss their ostentatious nature.

They are the total opposite of a Usonian House!

But what is funny about them is they are beginning to decorate them with a very distinctive Frank Lloyd Wright-ish Praire-look…just done really bad. I can actually tell you in my sleep the look of the next house that will be going up in one of these McSubdivisions. I can tell you the color of the brick, the use of rock veneer and simulated limestone capping and stucco painted a hideous color. Three car garages and MONSTER insulated roofs (so they can use the attic as storage…as if three floors was not enough room to put your stuff) finish it off.

What is appalling is they are usually taking an old-growth forest area, clearing the trees out until it creates a tree-line around the subdivision and smacking these suckers up and down that tree line…then advertising them as “nature-living”!

I’m sorry about my tone in this post as it really didn’t bother me much until I found out I was being beat out of really nice pieces of property for the sake of another McMansion (make that a super-size bathroom please). Not only that, many older beautiful 1960′s designed homes are being torn-down and these cancerous moles taking up their place.

I did talk to the owners of one and these homes a few months back and showed them the Usonian house plans for our future house that displayed the beauty it can access and the couple almost cried knowing that is REALLY what they wanted… but the builder was only offering the latest McMansion to them. Instead, they are stuck with paying $5,500 a year in taxes for a piece of property 70 X 100 and A LOT of empty space inside the house that takes up most of the property. Heating bills also top out and more importantly AC bills are more than the mortgage on most homes in my city. I mean sure you do not have to worry about landscaping… because there is no more room for it. Sure your neighbor is 5 feet away, but there is a “Forest” behind us (yes, they actually call a line of spared trees about 50 feet wide a forest).

I remember reading a book recently called the Millionaire Mind. A guy did a study of the average home a millionaire owns and I can tell you the people living in these McMansions are what is described as “Income Rich” not “Balance Sheet Rich”. In other words, they make A LOT of money, but at the end of the day, it all goes out in bills. Again, in other words, more actual millionaires are living the Usonian Lifestyle than you may think..no way they are putting out $5,000 to $7,000/mn for a McMansion.

To me, what the McMansion represents is a backwards view of wealth and ultimately happiness. I do not know anyone that would not be happy and have assets and live in a work of art, versus being broke and unhappy at the end of the month, but living in a McMansion.

McHappiness does not exist in my opinion…what do you think? Usonian with a balance of Wealth or a McCashflow supersized nightmare?

Picking Colors (ok Colours)

Frank Lloyd Wright did not believe in “decorating” a house. He felt it was a way for a person of lower means to try and imitate the house of someone much more affluent.

Instead he pushed the idea of letting the beauty of a material speak for itself. It did not really matter what the material was, as long as it was honest and not wearing a disguise for the sake of looking like some expensive material that it was not. For example, think of plastic siding that is imitating wood siding or paint-soaked drywall that is covering up the wood beneath it.

He felt the same of the occupants (live within your means and build within your means). The philosophy of this  is way beyond this individual blog post but for now, realize Wright wanted the homeowners to be and show who they were and that the materials show WHAT they were (not something else). For this reason, paint was hardly ever used (if ever) in “decorating” a Usonian house.

I recently read a quote from the daughter of a couple that literally hand-built their Usonian house in the 40s and 50s that described what FLW was trying to achieve. She said, “The living room had glass on three sides, so we were very much affected by the seasons and the changing colors. In the summertime it was absolutely incredible, but the house changed with every season. There was a huge sugar maple outside the living room, and when it turned yellow in the fall, that was the color scheme.”

This is a critical quote as my wife has been very concern about the fact she will not be able to paint the place (after-all, we met when I came to paint her house as a favor to a friend).

I keep trying to tell her that by changing paintings on the wall and placing items will give the sense of changing decor you are looking for. However, that statement says it all because we are lucky enough to live in an area that has seasons and each has its colour palette or its color picker!

OK, saying all that we have been working on the specs of the house (picking the materials and quoting them out) and we have pretty well come to these conclusions (actually mutually agreed on them).

BRICK COLOR

Brown Brick color for Usonian House

Before we began this project we both agreed we would not want red brick but actually preferred a brown brick. Since the decision to start this project, homes are now popping up all over with the brick color we prefer. It is a two tone brown color.

My wife is still thinking it should be even darker but I don’t think she is fully considering how dark it will be on interior walls.

Sorry about the McMansion picture but subconsciously I think I picked it to show the absolute waste of materials in that roof. There has to be $5000 to $10,000 in wasted wood, insulation and extra shingles.

WOOD COLORS

We want the natural color of the wood to be the showpiece of the house so this is EXTREMELY important. In other words, no stain to cover up the beauty of the natural wood.

For most of the columns and windows we have mimicked Tim Sutton’s Usonian Redhouse in picking Douglas Fir. It has this super rich red and brown tone that no other wood really has and it is somewhat native to the area (and pretty cheap). The only other more proper native material would be oak and it is not a good choice of exterior applications. After talking with a local saw mill, we are certain the fir is going in.

The board and batten on some of the walls and the soffits will likely be cypress. We considered douglas fir, oak, pine, cedar and poplar but fir tends to crack over time in thin board, pine is just not the look we want and poplar is too greenish. Cedar would be our second choice. We originally thought the cypress would be out of our price range due to shipping costs but the guy at the mill told us he can order the logs and almost match the price of pine. Bonus!

CONCRETE FLOORS

Usonian Concrete Floor Color

Frank Lloyd Wright’s color of choice was of course “cheyenne red” for floors (and just about everything else including his cars). My wife and I both HATE the color inside a house. Well hate is a strong word. I would say its like ice cream and hamburgers to me…I can eat them but do not prefer them.

The process of coloring the concrete floor is done with something called Lithochrome Color Hardener. It is a powder that is placed on as the concrete is drying. The advantage to this is you can pick multiple colors to give it that “leather-look” we want.

I think the colors we are going for are “Dark Walnut” with an under-tone of “Padre Brown”. This will bring together the redness of the wood and the brown of the brick and certainly give us that leather look we are looking for.

 

As for the rest of the colors in the home, that is up to us to hang paintings and rely on the beauty of nature to paint right outside our windows…