“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for—in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”
[ Ellen Goodman ]
Five years ago, Scott Mueller held an executive level position with a large homebuilding company. He was good at his job, respected by his peers, and well compensated. His wife, Alexandra, is beautiful, bright, artistic and similarly driven. They were the sort of couple that David Brooks likes to lampoon—young, successful, upwardly mobile, effortlessly photogenic, living in a nice house decorated a la Pottery Barn showroom.
But their lifestyle came with a toll: long hours, grueling commutes, mounting stress, and a gnawing sense that this treadmill would never let up, would never take them anywhere satisfying—that they were, in effect, running a race to nowhere.
And so Scott and Alex did something quite odd (by most people’s standards). They got off the treadmill.
“What we wanted was to break our insatiable consumption cycle and begin a new life,” Scott says. “We wanted more freedoms, and we wanted our time back.”
In 2008 they purchased land in a remote, pristine area of Eastern Washington, about an hour’s drive north of Spokane. In 2009 they installed a well and began construction of what would become their multifunction home, barn and workshop. And in 2010 they quit their jobs and moved to the property full-time, camping while they finished the project themselves.
The result is Moosicorn Ranch, what Scott and Alex call their “experiment in sustainable living.” They still work—Scott’s a web design consultant; Alex is pursuing a degree in wildlife biology—but they’re no longer tethered to stressful jobs in order to satisfy a hefty mortgage. They raise chickens, grow their own food, and are trying their hands at beekeeping.
More importantly, Scott and Alex are enjoying a lifestyle that feels purposeful and alive. Pre-Moosicorn, they lived next to a state park but rarely had time to visit it. Now they’re immersed in natural beauty, and the effect is invigorating and—for Scott in particular, who says of his previous work developing tract housing, “it sucked my soul”—cathartic.
It’s a life that seems storybook and yet at the same time ruggedly, determinedly grounded. Even the name derives from this mixture, a playful portmanteau of moose and unicorn. And it strikes me that this is how all creative endeavors are born—when playfulness and industriousness collide.
I asked them what community is like in a place where you can’t see your closest neighbors, and they described it as less densely connected but more deeply engaged. “These are all giving, caring community members,” Alex says. “We just meet our neighbors in a different fashion: they show up slinging guns and kindness instead of pre-packaged cookies and kindness.”
Plus, with its gardens, workshops and ample space for tinkering, Moosicorn itself is becoming a catalyst for community. “We’re slowly making it into our own ‘third place,’” Scott says. “We’re bringing people into our environment and engineering the kinds of stimulating exchanges we want to have.”
As Scott and Alex envision the future of Moosicorn, that’s a trend that will continue. Eventually the couple plans to build additional cottages for hosting eco-retreats, seminars and an artist-in-residence program, providing free room and board to help young creatives pursue their dreams.
I’ve known Scott from when he attended The Vine at our meeting in Napa, and I wanted to write this article for two reasons. To share a story worth celebrating, and to invite the stories of others. So I’ll ask, how have you (or your organization) simplified or reprioritized? What did you let go of? What did you gain? I hope you’ll use the comments below or send me an email.
You don’t have to go as far as homesteading in the wilderness to step off the treadmill.
You just have to question where it’s taking you.
Photos courtesy of Moosicorn’s Flickr photostream