Living Off-Grid

by Wendy

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It has been a crazy week around these parts for so many people.  One week ago today we had a helluva thunderstorm, and yes, excuse the French, but we are calling it what it is, people.  A storm that shook the ground with a fierceness I have not felt for a good long time, if ever.  The lightning was beyond description.  It was as if the heavens were exploding with blinding light, ranging in color from bright white, to deep red.  The orange in between was fairly interesting too.

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I woke in the dark when thunder began to roll, just before the wind roared through the windows driving rain horizontally across rooms.  I looked over at my hardworking hubby, still sound asleep, and listened as I tried to discern if there was any cause for rising to close windows.  With the roar of a freight train, the wind blew through the back door knocking over the garbage can and banging loud on walls.  It was game on.  My man jumped out of bed to re-close the door, and I started shutting windows with gale forces and monsoon rain coming through.

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From that moment, everyone was jolted into wide-eyed disbelief as the storm raged on around us. Our eldest and his girlfriend are staying with us for the summer, and were out in their tent in the yard.  I was anxious that they weren’t coming in, in this weather.  When the trees started popping and cracking firework-like, I opened the back door to holler out to them to come in.  The wind stole my voice as if it never existed.  I yelled again as loud as I could, but it was of no value.  They would not hear me over the roaring winds, unstoppable thunder, and all the trees falling like dominoes around us.  I wanted to go out and get them, but my man had more rational sense than I.  It wasn’t safe, I should stay inside the house, he calmly rationalized, as I lathered and paced at the windows you couldn’t see out of.  There was zero visibility.  You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, you couldn’t hear anything but the deafening roar of the storm.  Prayer was my only ally at the moment, and I leaned hard on her.  I prayed protection over them like their lives depended upon it, which at the moment it did.  This storm was ruthless.

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We lost power only a few minutes into the storm, just a couple seconds after the back door blew in.  We located flashlights as we rode out the storm, having no idea what we would see when the sun rose again in the morning.  Eventually, we were able to go back to bed, and lie tentatively to wait till dawn.

As soon as it was daylight out, hardworkin’ hubby was out of bed to assess the damage.  The first thing we looked at were the tents in the yard.

Yep, they were both still there.

Davie had left his tent up, as he had been “camping” alongside his big brother for several nights before, but decided at the last minute to sleep in the house.

Thank God.

There was not a leaf or a branch on the tent.  Nothing.  No trees down around it, it was the only place in the yard that looked untouched.  The rest of the yard looked like a war zone.  Tops had blown out of ancient trees, branches broken, trunks splintered, unripe pinecones littered the grass alongside smaller branches and clumps of leaves and needles.  Thankfully the house was also untouched.  No trees on the roof, tin still attached, everyone had weathered the storm with triumph.

There were several trees across the driveway, so my hardworkin’ hubby fired up the tractor and started chaining them up to drag away so he could get to work.  It was around 5 am.  I got busy figuring on how to make coffee without any power.  My first instinct was to make a fire in the cookstove that we have outside for our summer kitchen, so I walked up the hill to get it started, but quickly realized that the wood pile was so saturated that there would be no way it would burn.  The wind had driven the rain into the pile so deep that even the sticks in the middle were sopped all the way through.

Hmmm.  Back to head scratchin’ and wishing for coffee, it had been a long sleepless night.

Amazingly the grill was still on the back deck, and the lightbulb finally went on that illuminated the way to make my coffee on the side burner.

Halelujah and AMEN.

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There would be much needed coffee today.

I went downstairs and retrieved one of the two totes of water we keep on hand for emergencies.  Today was the day to use it.  I had a coffee emergency.  As the water heated outside on the grill, I was feeling pretty proud of my brilliant resourcefulness, that is until I realized that I had only beautiful whole coffee beans, and no electricity to run the grinder.

Hmmm.  I wasn’t gonna let that stop me, I had water on the boil, and I could smell the brew in my mind.

Mortar and Pestle!

YES!!!!

That was my solution.  It took a little grit to get the beans ground fine enough, but this country girl was up for the challenge.  With coffee beans ground and in the French press, I waited for the kettle to whistle outside the back door.  Things were looking up, and I was so thankful that everyone was safe, the house was mostly unharmed, minus a few shingles on the side of the roof still awaiting tin, and we are capable of navigating the challenges that we are faced with.  I sent up another prayer of thanks, and took a few minutes to think about the possibility that we may be without power for a while, and determine an action plan to ride out the aftermath of the storm.

With a fresh cup of coffee in hand, I listened to the tractor and the men outside working to clear the road.  Caleb had gotten up when he heard his dad outside, and was helping to chain up and drag off the debris.

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I took a mental inventory on what we had, and what we might need to successfully be off-grid for a while.  We had coffee.  We had about 4 gallons of water to get us started, we had candles and flashlights, an extra tank of propane in the garage, and we have an outhouse, which is awesome, since this means we don’t have to use a bucket, or excess water for intermittent flushing, and cleaning.  We had canned goods on the shelf in the basement, a little adventure bread left, some fruit on the counter, and fresh milk after the morning’s milking.  I realized right away that we would not be opening the fridge or freezers at all until power was restored, so everything in them was off-limits.  We also had a garden full of lettuce, kale, and radishes at the ready, not to mention the fresh herbs and raspberries that were still clinging to branches.

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A wave of grateful abundance washed over me, as I brought coffee out to the men.  We had more than enough to be comfortable for quite a while, even though at that moment I figured it would probably only be a day or so at the most that we would be without power.

Boy, was I wrong.

In all, we were off the grid for almost 4 days, and without internet/phone access for 6.  Now, this sounds fully dramatic, and perhaps is for some who may be less prepared, but it really did not affect us, at least not in a negative way.  We fully embraced our off-grid experience as a family, everyone pitched in to help with clean-up, on that first morning, we ate fruit and the remaining adventure bread for breakfast, then went on to town to help family with the aftermath storm clean-up.  The highways had been re-opened by then, although the side roads were still closed with downed trees, so we were able to get out.  My sister had power restored by that afternoon, so I went to her house to fill a few large totes with water.  That was a life-saver, although if push came to shove, we could have boiled water from the lake down the road, but thankfully, my gracious sister came to the rescue, as well as friends and family to help and support us though the days.

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We were able to “shower up” in the lake, at the end of a long, sweaty day of tree/debris clearing, cook on the grill,  use the biffy like usual, stay/play outside until dark in the days following where we weren’t working until then, or play cards and board games together after dinner.  It was relaxing in the days following the storm.  There was no white noise in the background.  It was quiet with the exception of songbirds and roosters crowing, and a gentle breeze whispering through curtains.  I put pen to paper to keep up my writing routine, realizing that creativity was flowing freely, without electronic interruption.

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I was able to make cheese, and keifer, plus have fresh milk each morning for my coffee thanks to the ever fabulous Miss Coco.  It was nothing short of amazing to experience the traditional ways of preserving milk, pre-modern refrigeration.  There was rhythm to days that flowed from one moment to the next, morning coffee with meditation and prayerful thanksgiving, milking Coco and taking her out to pasture, gathering eggs from coop and tending to chicks, preparing the day’s keifer, hanging the cheese to drain the whey from the day before, setting the extra milk to clabber for tomorrow’s cheese, and perhaps cultured butter.  Mixing bread to bake on the grill, then out to the garden to pick raspberries.  Back to the house to eat the berries poured over with fresh milk and a drizzle of honey.

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The days flowed cyclic, a gentle synergy of work and play, mingling together with nature’s rhythms.  There was space to just breathe and be.  No impending deadlines, no anxious waiting for alerts, just allowing.  And grace.  So much grace.  Gratitude heavily colored our days, thankful that we were all healthy, happy, and whole.