I live off the grid and I must confess that, until I started living off the grid, I had no idea what the term meant. I also had no idea what I was getting into.
Backtrack eighteen years to when my husband and I lived on the edge of town, with horses, kidlets, cats and dogs jammed onto one acre. The town was developing around us, so we decided to buy some acreage in a more rural area and give our kids and animals room to roam. This is easier said than done in
, since approximately eighty percent of the state is federal land. Eventually, though, we found a nice house on many acres, with a creek. It was thirty miles from my work and only eight miles from a small ranching town. It was, unfortunately, one hundred miles from my husband’s work, but such is life in Nevada . Nevada
There was one minor drawback to my dream house, however—no electrical service (thus the term “off the grid”). The house had a generator, as did the other two places up the canyon. My husband and I were anxious to get out of town, and the property was exactly what we wanted—in fact it was the only suitable property we’d found in almost a year of looking. We decided what the heck? If our neighbors could live on a generator, so could we. How hard could it be?
It wasn’t that hard. At first. Our generator, a 1964 Onan beauty with a zillion hours on it, lulled us into a sense of security. Starting on demand. Running smoothly during the six or seven hours a day we ran power. And then, one day, we heard, chugga…chugga…cough…chug…..chug….ack…chug… silence. (And darkness. In the generator world, one invariably follows the other.) Silence is the worst sound a generator owner can hear, next to “That part will take two weeks to get here.”
We realized then that (a) we hadn’t seen this coming and (b) we had a problem on our hands, since neither my husband nor I were savvy mechanics. We had to find a generator repairman who was willing to drive seventy miles round trip to diagnose and fix the problem and then charge us an arm and a leg. In the meantime, we had no water to speak of because when the generator doesn’t run, the well doesn’t run. Welcome to life as the Swiss Family Robinson.
During our eighteen years of generator life, I have spent every major holiday without power at least once. I have learned to repair a propane generator in below zero weather. I have jump started my house with jumper cables and a pickup truck when it was too cold for the battery to work. I have done battle with snakes who’ve taken up residence in the generator house. I’ve passed out flashlights to houseguests in the evening before we shut down the power for the night. My kids had to go to bed when we did or sit in the dark.
Why, you might ask, do we continue this madness? Well, the view for one thing. And the incredible sense of peace I get whenever I walk outside my front door and see the valley below and mountains all around me. Also, my kids grew up playing in the creek and reading. They developed keen imaginations. I developed mechanical skills.
I have learned to budget my time between power-on and power-off. Power-on—watch TV, vacuum, do the laundry. Power-off—read a book, don’t vacuum and don’t do the laundry. I kind of like power-off mode—especially now that I have a laptop with a six-hour battery and can write whenever I like.