Living “off the grid” means different things to different people. For some it means having all the creature comforts of a full-scale, grid-dependent home using alternative fuel sources. For others it means being conservative on your power use to get by with a couple solar panels. For still others, it’s some marriage of the two. For me, it means something completely different.
Enter the alter ego of “Amish Robin.”
By no means do I live my ideal life at this point. I’m sitting at my laptop, plugged into the wall, connected to the power grid. My radio is on. There’s a lamp illuminated in the corner. The refrigerator hums in the kitchen. My dishwasher is yet to be unloaded from being run the other evening. But I can dream, can’t I?
So my dream… the ideal life for Amish Robin, is truly one of minimalism. I’m not talking Japanese style modernism. In fact, quite the opposite. Quite frankly, I would much prefer to live with significantly less technology than I currently have. Truth be told, I do live with fewer of these creature comforts than the average American household. But where as the typical suburban yuppie might scream “I NEED MORE” – I’m more inclined to quietly say: “I need less. Much, much less.” There’s too much in my life.
The funny thing is, when I lived in the big city, before coming back to Montana, I did with far less technology. For a while I didn’t own a car. I haven’t owned a TV in years, nor a microwave. I didn’t have a dishwasher, and didn’t own a washer and dryer. Since coming back to the northern Rockies to pursue my simple life, I seem to have acquired a washer and dryer, and each house I’ve rented has included a dishwasher. Honestly, much like the TV I shunned years ago, I feel these “conveniences” have made me lazy. There was a calm rhythm to washing my dishes in an old farm sink (ironically, in an apartment in the city of Chicago). There was a quiet joy to being at the laundromat early on a Sunday morning with the old cowboy and the university coach. The next house I look for, I’ll purposely find one that doesn’t have a dishwasher. I wish it was so easy to get rid of my washer and dryer, but my Dad bought them for me for my birthday. So I can’t get rid of them… it would hurt his feelings. I didn’t really want them, but he felt that I should have them – so I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. He meant well, and I love him for it.
Another one of those things that I’d love to swap out for a more Amish counterpart is the kitchen stove. Right now I have an electric stove. I always remember my Mom cursing the gas stove when we were growing, and I never understood why. She claimed she could smell the gas and it drove her crazy. She loved the electric stove. After having a few apartments with gas stoves, I long for them. They’re easier to use and easier to control than the electric model. But more than that, what I’m longing for – what I really, really want is a wood-burning cook stove. I saw one in the paper the other day for $150. A far cry from the $5,000 they cost brand new from Lehman’s. But alas, that old fear of debt has me renting. I’m sure my landlords would be none too happy with me if I tossed the pretty, shiny, white electric stove and put a wood burning model in the kitchen. Our jovial relationship would probably sour over that one.
I’m in the market for a heavy duty grain mill. Hand-crank, of course. I was pretty much set on the Country Living Grain Mill, but I happened to find a similar model that’s made right here in the Bitterroot Valley. And it’s red. 🙂 I’ve read some differing reviews on it – some say you have to have Herculean strength to use it, others say it’s better than the Country Living mill. I’m thinking of giving them a call to see if there’s a place I can “test drive” one before forking out the $425. The tiny grain mill I have won’t do for permanent, high-volume milling. It’ll grind a cup to two here and there, but I want to mill more of my own flour for bread making, and no ordinary grain mill will do.
A few weeks back I wandered into an abandon cabin in the Chimney Creek area east of here. I was looking at some land, and the old cabin was unlocked. The lights were propane, and I immediately fell in love. Propane lamps built into the cabin. The only other place I’ve seen that was at the North Fork Hostel in Polebridge, Montana. How utterly perfect! No harsh, curly cue bulbs filled with mercury needed. Just a warm, inviting, yellow glow to light your evening reading.
Another thing I want is to replace my alarm clock. It drives some people insane, but I love the tick of a real clock. I have two in my living room, and when the house is quiet, I love to meditate on their methodical ticking. The only thing that worries me about an old fashioned alarm clock is the harsh ringing of the bells when it goes off in the morning. Maybe a little too jarring. We’ll see.
Anyway – the point being, that for me, going “off the grid” is not so much of trying to continue life as usual using alternative power sources. It means ditching technology altogether. For some that may seem extreme, but that’s okay. Far be it from me to force my way of life on anyone. What’s right for me, is right for me – not for everyone else (save for a few Amish folks back east!)