At various points throughout Once Upon a River, Margo forages for vegetables, traps muskrats and raccoons, pinpoints the change in seasons by minutely observing foliage, chops firewood, whitewashes her boat, skins fish, and shoots deer. While the men all praise her aim with a rifle and her self-reliance, she is not as much of an anomaly as they might think; Margo is actually an unwitting adherent to the "back to the land" movement that began in the 1960s and has recently enjoyed an upsurge in popularity in various forms (homesteading, permaculture, off-the-grid, the locavore movement).
As the 21st century's love affair with technology becomes less a choice and more a requirement, a growing number of women are bucking (or at least reframing) its grasp to craft sustainable lifestyles that value close relationships with the earth and minimize labor-saving devices in favor of the slow pleasures of traditional homemaking.
Much as middle- and upper-class women in the '60s threw off the shackles of their mothers' beloved pre-packaged meals, air fresheners, and chemical cleaning agents in favor of brown rice, patchouli, and baking soda, today's "radical homemakers" are now choosing eco-friendly domesticity to reinforce their anti-consumerist stance and feminist beliefs. Radical Homemakers, a controversial new book by Shannon Hayes advocates for educated women to reconfigure home - instead of the corporate workplace - as the bedrock of their achievements. While some have eagerly embraced this philosophy as a liberating one that values rather than condemns the domestic sphere, others argue that radical homemakers unfairly benefit from wealth and privilege that is not available to all women. Still others, on a more humorous note, bewail their ineptitude at growing, canning, cooking, and sewing.
While Margo might be an accidental radical homemaker, one thing that she and Hayes could undoubtedly agree on is the groundbreaking utility of Foxfire. Launched in 1966 as a project for encouraging a group of Georgia high school students to improve their writing skills and engage with the local Appalachian community, the magazine became a surprise success with readers all over the country. Over forty-five years later, it's still going strong; Foxfire publishes two double-issues per year and also anthologizes its articles, providing practical advice for actual and armchair DIY-ers alike.
This article was originally published in September 2011, and has been updated for the
June 2012 paperback release.
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