Going Off Grid, Part 1: How it Began

This article was contributed by Robert Richardson, environmentalist and arborist who has planted over 1 million trees in the last 50 years. He currently lives, studies, and maintains forestry in the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon. 

A few years ago, my wife and I made the choice to go off grid. Since then, we’ve adjusted to different degrees of the autonomous lifestyle, but our goal remains to be completely self-sustainable.

Off-grid, sometimes referred to as OTG (off-the-grid) is a term used to describe a style of living without use of public utilities or conveniences, such as municipal water supply, sewer services, power and other utilities.

A Partnership with Eyes for the Wild

Its a certain kind of character that chooses to live without electricity and plumbing, and that’s just one of the innumerable reasons why I married my wife.

We met online in 1997, and prior to meeting, we ‘d both led “successful” lives, by anyone’s measure of what ‘success’ might be. But, as fate would have it, we were both single when the online dating thing was just starting to be a hit. Her sister was ‘man shopping’ online that night and found the profile with my picture and brief bio. Not taking it too seriously, I had posted (as a bit of a joke), that my ‘soul mate’ had to be willing to live in a Teepee.

To quote a wise, old Sioux Chief I saw in a Pierce Brosnan movie, “Men become what they dream, so dream wisely.”

Well, I have always dreamed of living off grid, and if you’re thinking about going off grid, then you probably won’t stop thinking about it until you have done it. I just wanted to be 100 percent honest about how I envisioned a soul mate.

Long story short, we’ve been together ever since. (And yes, we see the irony of using the internet to find a partner to share the dream of living off grid with, free and far from technology. But that’s another story.)

Sustainable is Attainable (But Requires Work)

Is true sustainability attainable? Yes it is. There are hundreds of ‘Intentional Communities’ all around the world. Sustainable Living has become more than a catch phrase, having replaced the more stereotypical and perhaps negatively co-notated word for self-dependent community: the ‘commune.’ Regardless of what its called, more people are aware of their consumption habits and how they affect humanity.

So, as it turns out, the hippies were right, and other groups have taken notice: Not only does this movement now include those endearingly called hippies, but it also includes a new, extremely passionate group. Dubbed ‘Preppers’ and ‘Survivalists,’ this new group represents even more people that are seeking an off-the-grid lifestyle that is, most importantly, self-sustainable. This new cohort of sustainable living enthusiasts may have different motivations, but fundamentally, they recognize the same problem seen by their hippie counterpart, and seek the same solution.

For most, it seems unattainable, and therefore, not worth pursuing. And it truly is a hard decision. Few can conceptualize life without basic creature comforts, like sitting on a toilet, or keeping food cold in a refrigerator, and keeping clothes clean easily with a washer and dryer, let alone giving up their smart phones or 24/7 access to coffee shops and convenient stores.

But, when you remember that humans have only had these conveniences for little more than a hundred years, it easier to pry yourself away from this thinking. How did people survive without electricity? Do you think you can do it? What kind of lifestyle would this encourage?Every human being eventually craves comfort. Even seasoned outdoorsman have a limit to how long they can endure exposure to the rigors of surviving outdoors…right?

Start by Training the Mind

Next time you wake up in your cozy, warm bed and you have to pee – or worse – you’re having a sudden attack of intestinal flu in the middle of a cold, snowy night, imagine, while you’re enjoying the warmth and privacy of your bathroom – if you can – that you’re outdoors in the middle of the night, there’s snow and ice, holding onto a flashlight, walking to the outhouse, crunching snow and ice, then hanging yourself over a hole in the ground, private parts exposed to the breeze.

Exhilarating.

The first thing you learn as an off-gridder; the Toilet is the best invention of all time. As you can see, some adjustments in the margins of your comfort zone will need to be made if you’re to detach yourself from modern society.

Consider your first off grid experience as an experiment; the whole purpose of going off grid is to learn. You’ve come a long way in learning about the real world. You’ve tried to make a difference (recycling, volunteering, marching in rallies), but all your best efforts have led to the conclusion that its not enough to just to know the truth and advocate for it. You want to live the truth. You don’t want to be part of the problem and you’re tired of living with hypocrisy.

The good news is that if you’re thinking this way, you’re already in the fourth dimension, so to speak. By simply choosing to be free of unsustainable and unnecessary habits, you have graduated from the herd of delusional, self consumed, non-productive, non-thinking, bicameral blind consumers who either cannot or will not choose to evolve. In a culture where your needs are inherently taken care of and desire is free to drive your mind, you’ve chosen to look back at how that needs are being taken care of and more importantly, the quality and ethics of that how.

Consider food.

The act of gardening, especially in the urban landscape, is an act of rebellion. The United States currently endorses a system of agriculture that encourages monocropping, the heavy use of synthetic and chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and the patenting of food – a system that values monetization and devalues sustainability.  The Garden Revolution is just one of the ways available to us for reconciling our industrialized relationship with the earth. And in this case, not everyone has to go off grid to experience the freedom of sustainable abundance. It can be done in a kitchen window.

Interacting with natural ecosystems (like when harvesting your garden) not only improves concentration and increases awareness, but simultaneously decreases our reliance on fossil fuels and monotypic landscapes of exotic species, which are both threatening the health of the planet as a global pandemic. It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

And because you want to change, you’re part of the emerging (albeit slowly) evolution of self-awareness. A true revolution manifests only when we change our own behavior, in our own lives. It will not happen without a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

Is it worth it? Immeasurably.

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”

Edward Abbey

Ready to Read On? Catch Part 2 of the Going Off Grid

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