Confessions of a Farmer: Arcadian Rhythms

By Terri Smith –

arcadian – adjective: rural, rustic, or pastoral, especially suggesting simple, innocent contentment.

Off-grid living isn’t always easy. That may be an understatement; let me rephrase it: Off-grid living often isn’t easy. Too cumbersome? How about: Off-grid living is hard. Yes. I think that about sums it up.

“Wishing I could just turn up the thermostat when I get chilly, but at least splitting wood warms a person up!” Photo: Mark Rupp

Don’t get me wrong; given the choice, I wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for a place in town with cell reception, unlimited internet, and central heating. Though central heating does sound wonderful right now.

As we move into winter, I find myself reflecting, as I often do this time of the year, on how much more interactive life is out here than in town. Our house is ridiculously interactive. The funny thing is I’m still thrilled with the rather modest updates in modern conveniences that have occurred in off-grid living since I was a child.

For instance, we have running water! Isn’t that amazing? It smells like a swamp, turns the bathtub a lovely rust colour, and tastes terrible, but it comes out of the tap either hot or cold, and we both have great immune systems. We also have lights that turn on most of the time without having to start the generator. Should the lights not turn on, though, all we do is start the generator. Starting the generator is both easier and safer than lighting the white gas lanterns we used when I was a child. Mom would take these lanterns onto the balcony to light because they were incredibly temperamental and if one of them was having a bad day (the lantern or Mom), the result might be spontaneous combustion (of the lantern, not of Mom).

While our only option for rural internet is really rather terrible, at least we do have some internet out here some of the time, and in the last few months we have actually started to have internet more often than we do not have internet. This is a big improvement. I’m very proud of this company for finally managing to provide the service they offer. At the moment, they are even managing to provide this service more than 50 per cent of the time!

I began thinking about how off-grid living is more work today because I needed to use my printer this morning. Not that everyone has a printer anyway, but if you live in town you can usually get to a copy shop relatively easily. That’s a 45-minute drive from our house. I do have a printer (a really nice one, actually), so it should be easy to just print something. However, inverters don’t like printers, for some reason. This house contains the third inverter I have lived with, and every one of them lists printers in the instruction manual as “problem appliances.” So, in an example of how off-grid living is more interactive, here is what it took to print one piece of paper:

I go downstairs and pull on my winter boots and jacket and head out to the generator shed. The generator needs fuel so I hunt around till I find the gas jug and fill it up. My fingers are freezing now since I forgot my gloves as I was only coming out here for a moment. Now I pull out the choke and pull the start cord. And I pull it again. And again… and for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say it starts now. I turn off the choke and flip on the switches that send the power to the house. I head back to the house, remove my winter clothes, and go upstairs to my office where I dig the printer out from under the pile of papers that invariably end up covering it since it’s too complicated to bother using very often. I plug it in and go make a pot of tea while I wait for it to turn on (it’s very slow). Once it’s finally on, I find paper, plug it into my laptop, and voila! Thirty minutes later, I have now printed a single sheet of paper!

Now I must go back downstairs, put all my winter clothes back on, and go back out to the generator shed to turn off the generator. Of course, I might as well bring in a load of wood on my way back. It’s unseasonably cold for this time of year…

But wait; why do I specifically reflect on the interactivity of off-grid living this time of year? Mostly because winter in the Cariboo is long and cold and dark, and our house is powered by the sun and heated with wood. So, we must be very careful with our power consumption for the next six months, and we need to get firewood. Lots of it. And this house is old and drafty so we need to plastic all the windows and hang blankets over the doors, and I’m still going to need wool socks, wool undergarments, a sweater, a toque, and a scarf just to check my email each morning.

So why do I live like this? Because, oddly enough, I like it. I actually prefer having more time to having more money. Living out here takes time, but it does take less money. “Mindfulness” has become a very trendy word lately, something we should aspire to in our daily lives so we can be happier and more fulfilled. Living out here, being mindful isn’t trendy; it’s necessary. I have to think about where my lights come from, where my heat comes from, where my food comes from, and what my entertainment is. I have to be aware of what I need to do each day. I can’t turn up the thermostat when I’m cold, I have to go and chop the wood and light the fire, and while sometimes I just wish I could be warm without so much input on my part, I appreciate the connection between what I do in a day and how I meet my basic needs. Either you go to work every day to acquire money that you then give to different companies to provide you with heat, water, and electricity, or you work at getting those things yourself. I’ve mostly cut out the middle man (which, I guess, makes me a bad citizen). I do part-time, seasonal work away from home but mostly I work at growing food, keeping the house going, writing, and making art. It’s a pretty good life.

Terri Smith is a non-certified organic vegetable farmer in the Cariboo. She is passionate about writing, art, goats, and feeding good food to good people. She believes in following your heart, living your dreams, and taking care of the planet.

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