Living without electricity and running water is an experiment I’ve been developing over time. It started one summer, seven years ago, when I bought a used fifteen-foot ‘Pilgrim’ camper and parked it in the fields of a friend’s farm. I was living in a small boat on a sea of grasses. I kept my food in a ‘flower pot’ fridge, (an African invention, using two ceramic pots, one inside the other, with damp sand in between, and a damp cloth overtop.) I washed in the creek, cooked on an open fire. At night the sky was lit by stars. The coyotes sang. The candles flickered in my windows.
In the fall I moved to a blue cabin in the cedars. Here, I had electricity that came through wires in the ground from my neighbour’s house below. In the summer there was running water, also piped up from below. I had an outdoor shower and an outhouse. In the winter, everything was shut down, but the lights, a hot plate and the fridge. The cold affected the fridge and it became a freezer. I learned how to use a wood stove, a Fisher baby bear, and how to wield an axe. I melted snow for water. This, in turn, led to experiments about how to make things from nature: food, medicine, glue, rope, baskets, thatching, bone tools, leather from animal skins.
It comes from my childhood memories. The forest was imprinted on me as a living, breathing system, and it taught me a way of thinking. My father’s house stood on the edge of a vast provincial park. Winter storms brought down the electrical system. We lit candles and nestled in front of the fire place. My father brought out the Coleman stove and we put food in a cooler on the porch. I was mesmerized by the softness of the light, the silence. No hum in the wires, just the wind. You could hear the birds. You could feel the world outside. It made me feel human. I wanted to live like this. The house was a skin encasing the humans. It needed to breathe.
My travels in Africa and Mongolia further refined my philosophy. I lived in huts and yurts, cooked on acacia wood fires and dung fires, pounded spices on stone, pulled water from wells, gathered food and medicine from the fields, ate intestines, drank horse milk, travelled by horse. I learned from people whose ancestors had lived this way for thousands of years.
I now live in a red cabin, on the highest hill in the area. I have an almost 360° view of the valley, lakes, and distant hills. I can tell whose car is driving down the road. I see the steam rising from the river ten kilometres away. There is no electricity in my cabin, or running water, but I have a propane stove for cooking. Like the blue cabin, there is no insulation in the walls. When the wind blows I can feel the currents on my face.
Living off-grid brings me closer to myself. It is a physical, emotional and spiritual experience. I am interested by the play between the inner and outer worlds. The way I live becomes my art form.