A bridge between centuries

The Top Story by Chris Graham

Poll Question: What creature comforts could you do without for a year?

OK, so I’m a wimp. I can’t imagine life without air conditioning and cable TV and the Internet. And I’m saying this, and I lived the first two years of my life in a house with no indoor plumbing. Not that I remember much of that time, of course. Logan Ward has me beat in that respect. He can recall the barest of details about what life can be like without the creature comforts.

“We missed cold drinks, a cold beer. We missed music. We hadn’t had music in a year, so we missed just being able to put in a CD. We missed a hot shower. All of those things,” said Ward, who with his wife, Heather, relocated from New York City to rural Augusta County in 2000 to take a step back in time, literally.

As chronicled in Logan Ward’s book, See You in a Hundred Years: Four Seasons in Forgotten America, the couple gave up all post-1900 technology for a year as part of a living experiment aimed at getting them in touch with the natural world and each other. It wasn’t a project that Logan, a freelance writer, and Heather, an international human-rights advocate, entered into lightly, to say the least. The couple began to have some serious doubts, in fact, a few weeks before quitting the 21st century cold turkey. “We had been doing all this preparation – historical research and all the preparations to the farm that we bought in Swoope. And about two weeks before we started, our draft horse came. And let me tell you, it was just a day of pure panic for me. Because I realized that I didn’t know how to deal with a 2,000-pound draft horse at all. And that maybe we were getting ourselves into a dangerous situation. Maybe I would get hurt, or maybe our 2-year-old would get hurt. So it conjured up all these fears. So I thought, Is there any way to quit? Can we turn back now? And I guessed there wasn’t, and I got through that day. Part of it was ignoring that horse for about a month and focusing on things that were more manageable,” Logan Ward said.

Even so, even taking that one-task-at-a-time approach, it was a tough go at the outset. “On day one, after nine months of preparation, we had to figure out how to get the water that we were going to drink and bathe with out of the ground, and we had to figure out where the food that we were going to eat came from, and how we were going to heat and cool our house, all of that stuff. It was brand-new, and it involved a lot of work. A lot of the things that we take for granted today are done by electrical appliances and combustion engines and things like that, and we had to do it all by hand,” Ward said.

The Wards had difficulty adjusting early on. “At first it led to, instead of finding peace from this simple life, which we were kind of hoping to find, we found the opposite. We were maybe even more stressed out and at each others’ throats trying to figure out how to make it through the day exhausted from all the chores. It was a shock. But that lasted a few months, and we got better at it,” Ward said.
And indeed, after a time, “We had started to reap the rewards of this experience,” Ward said. “We were healthy, probably healthier than we’d ever been in terms of physical health and mental health. We just felt good. Part of that was we weren’t suffering from the distractions of modern life. The phone wasn’t ringing, we weren’t getting stuck in traffic or even zooming in the car here and there. Even without traffic that can sort of disorient you. We weren’t dealing with a pile of e-mails. All our food was home-cooked and raised right there on our farm.”

“But we knew that we couldn’t do this forever,” Ward said. That came up after I’d asked him if the Wards ever reached a point where they thought about extending the 19th century lifestyle beyond that original year. “We were ambivalent. Right down the middle,” Ward said. “Part of us could have kept going. But once we got back, it was kind of a disappointment. Because a lot of those creature comforts weren’t as meaningful as we thought they’d be. We got over them quickly. And then we struggled how to figure out how we were going to live having lived this experience. How we were going to live back in our own century. And we’re still struggling with that six years later.”

With a book now in print, and heading into paperback via publishing heavy Random House early next year, and movie rights snatched up by Caribou Entertainment, the struggles of that year probably are muted now. I asked Ward about what remains in his family’s life from 2000 and 2001, and he had to think for a few seconds. “It’s deeper things,” he finally replied. “Before we left New York, we didn’t really have a sense of the importance of community. We lived almost anonymous lives. We had our friends, but we didn’t have a geographical community there of people that we relied on and that we gave back to. And now we do.”

“In terms of our relationship, it really improved, after reaching a low point during the early months of our experience. We learned to respect one another. And I’m still amazed that I found a woman as beautiful as Heather who would agree to do this for a year – cook on a wood stove and wear the clothes that she wore and go without hot showers,” Ward said.

The feedback to the book has been “incredible,” Ward said. One final question from me – has he become the go-to guy for people who are thinking about doing the same kind of thing in their lives?

“People have asked me along the way, Is this a how-to book? And I say, Actually, it’s a how-not-to book,” Ward said.

“If people want to do it, I say more power to them. But think a lot about it before you dive in,” Ward said.

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