This week, our family took a very significant step towards greater self-sufficiency: we went off the grid. Life in our house is no longer dependent on electricity. Now, that’s not as heroic as it may first sound, because we have five buildings on our property, three of which still have and use electricity–the school house, our farm food prep building and our farm market building–but our house is free.
What this includes is cooking, bathing, washing clothes, heating and cooling, lighting, etc., in the house. Our cooking is being done by my wife and daughters on a wood cookstove (under a covered area out back) we bought and renovated last year (cost only $200), and over open fire with dutch ovens. My 12 and 9 yo daughters have been doing the cooking, so no, it’s not difficult. The boys supply the wood, the girls go out in the morning to gather sticks, and we don’t talk about it much besides that. Some different recipes have been necessary, but there’s no real big deal.
Laundry has moved from the electric washer and dryer to the wash tubs (beside the wood cookstove) and clothesline. Yesterday was wash day, and my wife and daughters did all the laundry, clean and dry. Of course, they’re not washing business suits and ties…they’re washing farm clothes and one Sunday outfit for each family member. The way you wash changes the way you dress, and the way you wear your clothes, so don’t think of trying to wash your family’s weekly laundry by hand, if you’re living in an urban or suburban neighborhood.
Heating and cooling are not a big deal right now. It’s 85 degrees in the house, but the furniture doesn’t care. All the people are outside working on the farm! In the evening, the temperature in the house drops and, with all the windows open, cools down nicely. This time of year it’s about 65 degrees at wake up time, so it would make no sense to have the air conditioner on…unless you’re in the house during the day…when you shouldn’t be. In the winter, we’ll simply move the wood cook stove inside and it will heat the entire house easily, with a fire constantly burning inside. No big deal in North Carolina.
The biggest shock for visitors will be getting used to life without hot water. No, no hour long hot water massage therapy showers can be enjoyed here… Actually, two things put me over the hump with the whole hot-water-on-demand thing a few years ago. Really, the wimpiness that leads people to fuss is silly. Come on folks..get washed and get back to work.
Of course, our neighbors and relatives think we’re nuts, but that’s only because we don’t debate these things. The world around them is like them and that is their definition of “normal”. The question of whether the world around them is justified in calling itself “normal” and anything else “weird” will never be asked by them. So, we just smile and wink at each other knowing that these questions are not really questions, and that it’s them and not us who have questions to answer.
There are two reasons why these “crazy” changes interest me. First, the force us to learn about the natural world. Sunrise and sunset, weather, the elements, etc., are important in our daily lives, and we all–from Dad down to the toddlers–need to know how the natural world works to manage our daily tasks. Second, they help us to live more temperately, which I think most modern people have forgotten about. Temperance is one of the four classical virtues, and I’m not sure how people can possibly think that they are living temperately in our push-button world of sweat-free food. we have re-defined the word “work” to mean “doing something that is rewarded with money”, and that leads us to interpret St. Paul’s moral rule–“he that does not work shall not eat”–as “he that does not earn money shall not eat”, but that’s not what God has taught us. God said, in the beginning, “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat your bread.” It is good for us, spiritually, to sweat to eat…our society has no idea how precious clean drinkable water, fresh fruits and vegetables, butchered meat, clean milk and dairy products are. They just gobble them up after throwing a few bucks down on the register and lose out on all of the beauty and wisdom of the world God created. We look around and see a race of obese monsters roaming the stores…I know that WE are not the weird ones.
Of course, I’m not saying that anyone who lives well in the modern world is bad, but I think that if more people had the courage to try to live a very different life, they would find it very satisfying–as we have. We’re not poor people trying to glorify our inability to buy things others have. We can beat the world at the money-getting game if we want to. We are pursuing a life that makes us happy…and it is makes us happy to know that we are free to do better things with our lives.