When I’m asked to share something about myself that is unique, I will usually answer with “I’ve lived off-grid three times – and I’d do it again!”
Yes, living off-grid does have its challenges, but overall, some of my very favorite memories both of my childhood and my kids’ time growing up are when we lived without electricity.
The first time I lived off the power grid, I was in the second grade. My dad inherited some family land that was way out the Siuslaw River – our closest neighbor was 13 miles away! I think that must have been my dad’s dream because when I think back on those days, I think that was when my dad was his happiest.
He designed and built us a house, he built a shop and barn that both had false western fronts, and the shop even had a hitchin’ post out front. Before dad built the house and dug the well, we lived in a travel trailer and we bathed in the Siuslaw River. (Thankfully, it was summer!)
Our house had so many features that were unique and special. Our back door had glass panels (the old wavy glass with bubbles in it) and it came from an old homestead – it was complete with a glass doorknob as well.
Mom and Dad split all of the cedar shakes for the roof and they had extra, so they used them to decorate the wall going up the stairs. That house smelled SOOO GOOD! The scent of cedar still takes me back to that old place.
I have so many memories from living off-grid at Trail Creek Ranch. My dad worked in the woods so he was always finding critters that needed help and bringing them home. We raised baby raccoons whose mom had died. Laverne & Shirley. They were so fun! We bottle fed them until they were big enough for regular food. They lived on dog food and grapes – they’d share the food dish with our St. Bernard Bubber, but Bubber wasn’t near as eager to share with them.
Dad also brought home five baby silver-gray squirrels. They also had to be bottle fed but they grew quick and got awfully rascally fast. We named them Enie, Menie, Miney, Mo, and Mutt. We released them to the woods earlier than I wanted but it sure wasn’t soon enough for my sweet mom who had to constantly clean up after them.
I also lived in that house when Mount St. Helens blew, and I remember thinking the woodpile must have fallen because it made a big BOOM and shook the house. (The Harry Truman song always made me cry.)
However, family stuff happened, and we ended up having to leave Trail Creek Ranch. But our off-grid days weren’t yet over!
When I was in middle school, we headed out to Saragosa (before it was known as Saragosa Ranch). While we lived there, I learned so much more about the realities of living off-grid. For instance, since my dad worked in the woods, he usually got up super early so if I still needed the lights for homework, he’d leave the generator on for me and I’d have to turn it off before I went to bed.
Do you know how many ((ahem – imaginary)) cougars chased me back to the house in the dark? I have no idea why that was my fear of choice, but it sure did seem real in my mind! I would run like the wind all the way back to the house!
One day, my dad picked me up at school in a new (old) car. I asked him why he was driving it and he said, “It’s our new generator. It’ll run the vacuum AND lights at the same time!” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but I soon learned how to convert a car engine to a generator. My dad was a genius.
The third time I lived off-grid was completely different because this time I was the mom! Whew, boy did I have a lot to learn! When my husband and I moved to Alaska, we found some property that was just too good of a deal to pass up. Everyone around us had power, but we couldn’t quite afford to get it to our place so we built our house and lived with a generator as our power for several years. The one difference is that we didn’t have a well here, so we had to haul all of our water. That wasn’t my favorite. If I’m ever given the opportunity to live without being connected to the grid again, we will have a water source on the place.
Living off-grid was very different in Alaska than it was in Oregon – it was so much harder. However, the memories are every bit as sweet. Winters are pretty dark here in our corner of the world. I remember telling my kids that they’d just have to sit on the couch in the dark because I refused to turn the generator on before 4 pm. So we’d spend about 30 minutes in the mostly dark house telling stories and playing games while we’d wait to turn on the lights.
Have you ever eaten dinner cooked entirely on the wood stove? I used to use my wood stove more for cooking than I do now but I think soup, biscuits, and even pancakes are way better cooked right on that old stove.
Since we didn’t have water (or much money), we had to use an outhouse instead of having a toilet in the house – we couldn’t afford a composting toilet at the time. Might I ask – do you KNOW how cold a seat can get in Alaska in the winter? That was NOT fun – especially when we all got the flu and had to take turns in that outhouse when it was sub zero outside. But we look back and laugh – I mean, seriously! We endured it and now it makes a great story!
The best part of that lifestyle was that we had very few distractions and our family life was rich with stories, conversations, and memory making. Our life was not easy but it was good. We laughed a lot, we worked hard for what we had, and we all have wonderful stories to tell.
Have you ever lived off-grid? What are your favorite memories? I would love to hear!