Sunday, July 17, 2011
I forget sometimes that we don't live an ordinary, suburban lifestyle. Having lived off the grid for over ten years, I don't always remember that our normal isn't everyones normal. When we moved into our shouse with no electricity, running water or flushing toilets, Maid Elizabeth was 11 years old. Master Hand Grenade was 4 and Miss Calamity 1. Princess Dragon Snack and Master Calvin were nothing more than longed for dreams. There was a distinct period of adjustment for this formerly suburban family, but we dug in and made the best of our chosen situation. The first winter in our Shouse was wonderfully quiet. With no electric refrigerator humming, no radios or televisions providing background noise and no computer demanding attention, our evenings were filled with family dinners, reading books aloud (by lamp light) snuggling under heavy blankets and sipping hot cocoa. Truthfully, once we got past the withdrawals from the modern world, we were content, peaceful and productive. Of all the children, only Maid Elizabeth remembered another life, but being 11, she viewed our new life as one huge adventure. Master Hand Grenade and Miss Calamity grew up with the soothing hiss of the Coleman lanterns, thinking everyone lived this way. They realized very early that they were never to leave the water running, because we would run out and have to start the generator. They learned to wash their faces, hands and feet before they went to bed so they didn't get their sheets dirty. Maid Elizabeth became my right hand, facing ferocious weather while digging a milk cow out of a mud hole, braving sub-zero temperatures to help me jump-start a fussy diesel generator and baking cookies, pies, cakes and everything else you can imagine in a wood cookstove to serve to our continual stream of guests.
Eleven years later, we are still off-grid, however our circumstances are much changed. No longer do we enjoy the soothing sound of Coleman lanterns, but our shouse is lit by efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. Our silent propane refrigerator has been replaced by a noisy electric model. Ipods, television and computers have invaded our once quiet household. From time to time, I actually forget that we are not "normal". Solar panels, a reliable generator and a huge battery bank lull me into a false sense of normalcy....and then, my kids go a-visting.
While spending the night with our very dear friends, Princess Dragon Snack and Miss Calamity were preparing to take a bath. After the water had been turned on, allowing the tub to fill, Princess Dragon Snack turned to the friend they were staying with and asked, "why isn't your generator on? How do you get water?". At this point, Miss Calamity and her friend tried to explain that they had power so they didn't need a generator. Still not quite understanding, Princess Dragon Snack pressed on. "Yes, but where does your water come from?". Again, the girls tried to explain. They told her about power poles and how that brings power to a persons home and how that power runs the pump that brings in the water. Although she didn't fully understand, Princess Dragon Snack accepted their answer, took her bath and wondered at the miracle of power lines.
The next day, I picked Miss Calamity and Princess Dragon Snack up at our friends house, and the first thing Princess Dragon Snack said was "Mom - did you know they don't have a generator?! They get their water from the power-light poles!". It was an amazing concept to our off-grid kid. For weeks after, every time we went to town Princess Dragon Snack would say "Look - they have power-light poles! They don't have a generator!".
What our children consider normal is very different from what the rest of the world would consider normal. Our three year old knows when the choke needs to be adjusted on the generator and how to turn it off "all by his lonesome". Our six year old wonders where everybody else's solar panels are. Our 12 year old climbs on the roof to wipe snow off the panels in the winter. Our 15 year old knows how to change the oil, service and maintain about three different types of generators. Our 22 year old could run an entire household with nothing more than a wood cookstove, some stored foods and a Coleman lantern. These are not your typical, suburban kids. These are true, died-in-the-wool off-grid kids.