, Muskogee, OK


November 10, 2013

Area residents pursue simpler life

TAHLEQUAH — When Cherae Stone locks the door on the Starr House on West Shawnee for the last time, she’ll trade 3,000 square feet of living space for a little more than 240 square feet in what appears to be a tin shack on the Illinois River.

But appearances are often deceiving, particularly in this case.

Stone’s “shack” is made of corrugated tin and hand-milled pine, and it has a handsomely appointed interior, complete with a four-burner gas range, refrigerator, washer and dryer, hand-milled cedar paneling, stone tiling, and LED flush-mount can lighting in the ceiling.

Stone is part of a movement to simplify life by scaling back – which includes living in smaller spaces, consuming less and reducing stress.

“I found this home, which was previously occupied by a family of four, and had it renovated to suit my needs,” Stone said. “I looked at having one built new, but this was a better deal. I bought my land, and asked the builder, ‘How much house can I get with this much money, because this is all the money I have?’”

Stone’s new home is one of about three dozen such sites cropping up at the Illinois River Village, off Scenic State Highway 10 on Chewey Road.

A person accumulates a lot of stuff over the years, and Stone is also ridding herself of everything except the items most precious to her.

“Some of my stuff has been sold, some more will be sold, and tons will be donated,” she said. “I’m having the hardest time getting rid of my books.”

Stone has scaled back a couple of times in her life, once when she was a teenager when her family’s home burned, and again when she lost her entire retirement savings in a corporate snafu.

“Remembering that time when the house burned – sure, we didn’t have all those things, but we were fine,” she said. “Even though we didn’t have that ‘stuff,’ we had our connections. I think it will be a lot more fun to be in my world out here. I mean, who, if they grew up here, doesn’t entertain the idea of living on the river?”

Some people might find the prospect of leaving city living behind in the winter for a small space off the beaten path daunting, but Stone is comfortable with the idea. “I require a lot of alone time, so maybe it will help me settle in,” she said. “I kind of like burrowing in for the winter.”

The home, which is mobile, runs on a standard recreational vehicle 110-volt electrical system, along with propane for cooking.

“And if I lose power, I’ll be just fine,” Stone said. “While I won’t be living off the grid, this home can be fitted to run that way. All you need is a composting toilet, a wood stove and some solar panels.”

Stone is not the only area resident to choose a simpler life.

Chrys and Marty Tinsley, who own Canyon Ridge Farms, lived in town for the first 19 years of their married lives. Both were raised on farms, and it was always their desire to get back to that lifestyle.

In 2002, the Tinsleys bought a farm at Welling, but they continued to make the daily trek to town.

“With each passing year of working at ‘farming’ on evenings and weekends and making the commute into town for work, our desire to be on the farm full time kept growing and we explored several  options to make our farm self-sufficient,” Marty Tinsley said. “Since we already had dairy goats, we checked into milking and selling our milk to a co-op on several different occasions, only to find out that was not an option for us.”

In 2010, the couple put in a Grade A dairy, along with their own Grade A processing facility. Today, Canyon Ridge Farms produces enough goat milk and cheese to participate in several farmers’ markets, as well as supplying cheese to a number of Reasor’s grocery stores.

Chrys Tinsley continues to work his full-time job in town, and Marty Tinsley works on the farm.

“There are many sacrifices to living in the country, and especially on a farm,” she said. “Convenience, mostly, but also that it doesn’t matter if it’s raining or snowing, there is an animal that needs to be cared for. Internet access is not all that accessible, we have more power outages, phone service is not that great.”

But the benefits far outweigh the sacrifices, she said.

“It is peaceful and quiet; you can actually see the stars; there is always an animal that needs caring for; there is always something to do,” she said. “You can save money because you don’t want to run to town, so you just make do with what you have on hand. You can provide most of your own food, the air is fresher, and there is plenty of room for kids to run and play.”

Teddye Snell writes for the Tahlequah Daily Press.

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