It isn’t the journey I set out to take.
Living off the grid puts everything into perspective. Conventions, once binding, begin to feel alien and contrived, and the grid little more than a pen for a people being farmed by the rich for their labor. The Offgrid is the world, the rest is nothing.
Farm life consists of a routine structured around a year long cycle. In the Spring we’re protecting the grass, parceling it out to the cows one bit at a time using electric hotwire string. The cows are terrified of string because of it. We time their breeding so that the animals don’t give birth over the winter, but then they all come at once. The herd doubles, there are too many piglets to count, chickens and turkeys start hatching, the orchard blooms, and if there’s to be an annual garden it has to be now.
For my part, I wake up early every morning to write, before entering the fray. I have a cabin in the woods behind the farm, in a clearing where I keep a garden and my own little homestead. There’s a natural spring for water, and plenty of firewood. My only electricity comes from a small solar panel, along with whatever charge I can bring back with me from the grid. It’s my own world, kind of a real fantasy, and the inspiration for my novels. I live hiding at the edge of the forest, just like Yra and Sol, and the Edgers, in my eco-fantasy adventure, "Liberty and the Forest." Their forest is my woods.
Summer goes dry in the Pacific Northwest, and the farm routine starts to revolve around water. The cows descend on a pasture and take the whole thing, and if there’s water it will grow back. If there isn’t, it won’t. Our natural spring starts to die down from a creek to a trickle this time of year, and we have to portion it out between gardens and pastures. Every drop is used. The other major project this time of year is firewood. Trees that were felled last year have to be cut and split, gathered and brought back home, and new trees have to be cut down for next year. We need enough wood to keep a fire going from November through April, at both the farmhouse and my cabin. It’s our only heat, and it takes a lot of wood.
Springing the Trap
Back when I was a composer in L.A., I didn’t care about anything else. As a young man it was cute, they’d say I was immersive or driven, though someone less kind may have called me obsessed. I lived an unhealthy lifestyle in a tiny apartment, writing hundreds of pieces of music that no one really cared about. It was my own personal trap, poised to bind me to the grid. They had me with debt and all the usual tricks, bankers stood above me salivating in anticipation. I had to step away, it took all my strength. So it was that after a last concert and art show in L.A., I set out on my first exploration of the Offgrid.
Everything takes a long time out here. My stomach rumbles and a chain reaction of chores all line up to be taken care of in order to eat. Water has to be secured, boiled for drinking, harvested from the last trickle we have left by the time Autumn comes around. Everything has to be worked out from dishes to laundry, to just washing my hands so as to cook, and often a first hour is spent fixing the water line and clearing a pipe clogged with sediment. The dirty water can’t be wasted, so it usually means watering whatever’s left of the garden this late in the season, before the line is clear and I can fill all my containers for cooking and bathing. Harvesting food also takes some time, and we spend days ahead of the rains gathering winter foods from the orchard and garden, apples, nuts, squash, potatoes, etc. The frost and rain will end everything, it’s a race to the finish.
I didn’t really know what to do when I first sprang the trap, and stepped away from my music. Gardening came as a substitute for my creative energy, but it was only a means to an end. My purpose was to escape, to shirk off money and the grid, and to find another way of life. I was on a quest. Setting forth to find my way, I first went on a series of tours of Offgrid intentional communities and farms in California and the Pacific Northwest. It was an enlightening experience that I’ll have to write more about some day, but in the end I landed on my little homestead in the woods as a hermit, and not as a part of a community. I still believe that people should live together and share resources in a commune, but I’m not particularly great with social graces, and just so driven in my personal pursuits that it’s difficult for me to let go and engage in shared projects.
Winter is always a relief at first. The rains come, the Protector, as the grass worshippers call it in my dystopian novel, “The Lawn Cult.” By the time the Protector is in the sky, the grass is gone and the animals are eating hay, water is no longer a problem, the garden is all harvested, and my cabin is filled to the brim with firewood. I can just stay inside with a nice fire. Cooking projects on the wood stove become the centerpiece of labor for the day, and I can focus more fully on my writing and other creative pursuits. The rains are always a relief, but then the cold comes. It makes everything more difficult. Instead of being free to stay inside, I’m stuck inside, and farm chores are reduced to the very minimum that we can get away with. By the time we’ve reached the season’s end, we’re all just waiting it out.
Gardening and the Seasons
I find that my gardening energy has always matched the seasons. When the cold breaks into Spring I’m just bursting with pent up energy after the long dark of Winter, right about the time of year when there’s more work to do in the garden. But then after a few months I start to get burned out, and my eye wanders to other things. I start to have less energy for gardening right about the time when Summer begins, and the garden is finished and need only be watered and maintained. Then by the time Autumn comes, I’m usually ready to just ditch the garden project all together, but before I can frost comes along and does it for me. I find the seasons to be quite accommodating.
My life is forever changed because of my journey, and the Offgrid is my home. Now that I’m more focused on my writing and getting ready to publish, the future may have to be shaped to share the burden. The grid calls, it lures, just like for the Lawn Cult champions in my book. But the Offgrid is the world. The rest is nothing.