Living without electricity and running water is an experiment I’ve been developing over time. It all started one summer, when I bought a used fifteen-foot ‘Pilgrim’ camper and parked it in the fields of a friend’s farm. I felt like 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. There, I had electricity that came through wires in the ground from my neighbour’s house. 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.
In my childhood, 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 electricity. 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 candlelight, 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.
On my travels to Africa and Mongolia, 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 once lived in a red cabin, on the highest hill in the area with a view of the valley, lakes, and distant hills. I could tell whose car was driving down the road. I saw steam rising from the river ten kilometres away. I didn’t have electricity or running water, just a small propane stove for cooking. There was no insulation in the walls. When the wind blew I could feel the currents on my face. The way I live is my art form.