Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Log Splitter

Another way to get to Walmart

Yes, this is just another way to get to Wal-Mart.

Mass consumerism and the fossil fuels that drive our lifestyle are the main reason we have climate change and resource depletion.  There are many things we can learn from the Amish to help the Planet and ourselves.

The Amish aren’t mass consuming anything, that I can see.  Their dress and houses are plain and humble.  The women don’t purchase expensive purses, fancy clothes or shoes, makeup or jewelry, and the men’s wardrobes are equally plain.  They make their clothes.

Most of their food is grown and canned so hardly any processed foods are purchased.  A buggy or cart is used for transportation, with the occasional car or bus ride by an English person.  In these situations, the destination is too far or time is an issue.  They also live close together and help each other, which fosters community.  The Amish are not heading to the local bar to get stupid drunk on a Friday night either.

They may seem boring to the average American but I think their system eliminates many of the problems we have in our society.  Their lifestyle is so much more sustainable, and their carbon footprint is barely a blip on the scale.

Our system on the other hand has every person on their own, fending for themselves, which breeds isolation and loneliness, many times.  And, our carbon footprint is the highest in the world per person.

I was reading Eric Brende’s book, “Better Off,” and he brings up how technology separates us in his book.  He is living off grid with his wife in an Amish community.  I don’t know the reasons why the Amish shun electricity and most technology, but from a personal experience with an Amish friend, who I bought some wood from, I can see firsthand how technology does separate us.

One day, my Amish friend called me up to drive his kids to school because it was -10.  I said sure.  I picked them up and couldn’t believe all the kids walking to school in that weather.  A couple of days later, my friend called me up to say he wanted to pay me.  I said forget it, I was happy to do it.  He insisted, and, again, I said to forget it.  He could pay me next time he needed me to drive them.  During the conversation, I mentioned that I needed to split my wood, and he jumped to offer his help.  I felt bad telling him I bought a log splitter and wouldn’t need his help.

Well, that log splitter had sat in the box a month before I pulled it out, and I found it to be defective.  I was feeling a little pressured to get some logs split and thought of my friend.  I stopped by one night to visit and asked him if his offer was still good.  He said he was busy the next few days, and that night was the best day for him.

Along with his two, young boys, we headed over to my place.  After a quick tour of my cabin, he got to work.  For about an hour and a half, he split wood while we talked.  Sure, I can have my log splitter and use it myself but this was a perfect example of how it divides us.  We were building a friendship over that one and a half hours.  I valued that much more than having my log splitter.

A few days later, he asked if I could drive him to get his motor for the mill fixed.  It was a bartered exchange.  We called it even, and he said he could finish splitting my wood when I needed.

I am not Amish, although I am living pretty close to their lifestyle, but feel fortunate to have an Amish family for my friends.  It’s a bit lonely hanging out with my log splitter.

Nature or Technology

 

Valley

Nature, it is one of the reasons I moved here.  Let me tell you.  There are very few places that real Nature exists anymore.  In between the miles of big box stores, malls, housing subdivisions, corn and soybean fields, restaurants, grocery stores, schools, hospitals, office buildings, and warehouses, there are Nature Centers for us to visit.

But here, I experience Nature firsthand.  Stars that fill the night sky, moonlight caressing the whole valley, frogs and toads, fog most every morning, birds singing, and silence.  The stillness of the woods fills my being.  It is an energy . . . an energy connecting me and the woods.  We are one.  Something a cubicle and fluorescent lighting can never do.

I hear coyotes at night.  Never have I heard coyotes.  Their yipping and howling intrigues me.  I have heard owls for the first time.  A deer screeched as I went to enter the woods on a path I cut.  I was so startled, I retreated.  There was a red headed woodpecker in the trees one day while I was getting water or wood.  Because it was winter and the trees were bare, it was very easy to spot him.

The other night I heard something in the woods, and I tried to spot what it was with my flashlight.  I deducted it had to be a deer because the sound of the noise was not light.  I swear I saw two eyes shining in the light of the flashlight.  For several minutes, I waited with bated breath to see if it would come out so I could view it.  Didn’t happen.  Oh, well.  So many new things I have not seen or heard before.

My mom keeps telling everyone that I am cooking outside, which is true.  And, up to that point, the weather had been good.  Then it got cold.  It was 4 below zero, and I was outside cooking, and it was still good.

Why?  I can’t quite put my finger on it.  Maybe it connects me with ancient practices.  I mean, that is what they did.  They didn’t press a button and turn up the heat.  Is it awful putting on extra clothes and boots to heat up some soup?  Not in the least.  Believe me, I am still connected to plenty of convenient gadgets and processes but this is back to basics.

I recently finished a book by Eric Brende, “Better Off:  Flipping the Switch on Technology,” which is about a couple that is foregoing technology to live in an Amish type community.  There are converts, like they are, in the community, too, along with Amish families.  There is probably a reason he explains why they are there but I don’t exactly remember.  But they are there.

Why are we drawn to this type of lifestyle?  The rest of the US thinks we are crazy.  And, it is something other than just getting off fossil fuels.  I think it is good for our inner beings.  It is good because it brings us back to basics, to survival, some primal, instinctive nature we left at the doorstep of the Industrial Revolution.  For all the good it seems, all the conveniences, deep down, I am thinking they are actually robbing us of our primal nature.

I went in my woods to gather twigs for kindling for my fires.  Now put that on your list of activities that you can’t wait to do.  For me, there are no words again to describe the task or feeling of being in Nature.  Maybe it brings me back to my childhood when we made forts, climbed trees, and played in the creek.  Maybe it brings me, once again, to primal, ancient practices we have long lost.

A friend sent an email before the winter really started.  He said, “Winter is exciting.”  So when I saw him next, I asked him why he thought it was exciting.  No one would say winter is exciting.  He said it is survival.  He and his partner heat with only a wood stove, as well, and harvesting wood is ensuring survival.

My current lifestyle borders on primitive.  Many would say it is definitely primitive.  But I would argue, or, at least point out, there are many conveniences within the so called “primitive” lifestyle I have.  There are many things that I have that were created with fossil fuels that primitive or indigenous peoples didn’t have.  But, I suppose, by our current standards, it is primitive.

What is the price of having technology?  And, I am still a far cry from having no technology, although my lifestyle looks very radical.  Environmentally, the price is huge.  Survival is at stake.  Psychologically, or perhaps spiritually is a better word, the price seems small.  But is it?

Technology has taken us so far from Nature that we don’t know what it is, for most of us anyway, and visiting a forest or nature center doesn’t count in my book.  There is a saying in the Koran that goes something like, “a loss is a gain, and a gain is a loss.”  If technology is a gain, then we have truly lost Nature in our inner most beings, as we are Nature.  Who wouldn’t take convenience?  A push of a button over cutting wood for a fire?  I don’t have any idea how to measure what we have lost.  I only feel there is a price we have paid for it.

 

Electricity and a Toaster

Waka waka light

As the weeks went by after I first moved in, I would wonder how I was making it without electricity.  One month went by and no electricity.  How is that possible?  I went over my list:  water from a well, heat from a wood stove, propane camping stove to cook, Waka Waka lights and candles for lighting, a cooler for my food, outhouse for waste, cabin for shelter . . . all good.  What do I need electricity for?  Life is fine without my toaster, blender, coffeemaker, blow dryer, TV, or computer.  I either substituted or did without.

TV?  I haven’t watched TV for over 10 years.  I was accustomed to watching a DVD occasionally, but hey, I didn’t miss them yet.  Music comes from my mp3 and some small speakers that can be recharged.  A few solar lights have a USB port to charge my cellphone and mp3.  Life is still good.

Well, there was a minor downside with the Waka Waka lights.  They have a solar panel on the back side and two LED lights on the front side.  They are approximately 4” x 6”.  I set them out each day to be recharged.  Even on cloudy days, they will gain some charge.  The charge may last a day, but if there is a cloudy day, they aren’t as bright.

One night it was particularly dim due to some cloudy days.  I hit a breaking point.  Could I just have some normal light so I can at least cook, eat, and do my dishes?  This is not asking for much.  Right?  Think about it.  Of all the conveniences I wanted, lights were it!  Forget a hot tub.  Give me lights.

There had to be a solution without having to install a massive amount of solar panels that would be very expensive.  So I searched online and found a solar system with 3 hanging dome lights by Solar King with a small solar panel approximately 8” x 12”.  It was $150.  Backwoods Solar also had some small systems that would have run about $500-$600 with a 12 volt battery and a solar panel that would run lights on AC with an inverter.  Running on DC would be a little cheaper.

I went with the Solar King dome lights.  It was a perfect solution.  We have had a good mixture of sunny and cloudy days, and the lights are always running and charged.  Eventually, I will get a small 12 volt battery and one solar panel system for lights in the living room.  But now, I can cook, eat, and do my dishes and see what I am doing.

I also caved a bit and bought a small generator, just in case we got the cloudy days we had last January.  They lasted all month.  The generator would ensure I had light.  There are a few downsides to the generator, like exhaust and a little noise, but I would be able to have light, charge my phone, watch a movie, use a drill, etc.  No items with heat would be used on this generator like a blow dryer, toaster, coffeemaker, etc. because it is not big enough.

This lifestyle is doable without electricity.  There is life without a toaster.

A Winter’s Walk

Winter's walk-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No need for the car.  I just headed to the end of my driveway and took a left onto my street.  It was the same route I took this morning on my jog, only that was a task.  Funny how I was oblivious to my surroundings at that time and on this walk it is all I see.  This was pure relaxation.

This wasn’t a beach or some destination vacation.  Just my valley with the undulating, country road caressing the flat, expansive pasture in the valley for the cattle that have become my new neighbors, some months ago.  The small range rises and falls on the other side.  It is not the Rocky Mountains but it is just as beautiful all the same.

There is no chatter in my mind, no list to go over.  The clouds are a mixture of pinks and dark gray, with some blue peaking through, as the sun starts to set.

I feel my body relax . . my breath deeper and slower . . the knots in my shoulders loosen . . my stride is a slow saunter . . and even my jaw seems to give way.  I feel my feet make contact with the ground.

There are some deer tracks that cross the road in the new snow.  I wonder if they are from this morning or 10 minutes ago.  Occasionally, I stop to to hear the silence.  It is so still on this winter’s walk.

Another full breath . . I am ready for that list, as I head back home.

Cabin at -20 Outside

So That’s What It’s Like at -20

So many of my friends were concerned that I would be warm enough in my cabin with my wood stove.  I’d tell them I was warm but to check in on me when it is -20.  I admit, I really didn’t know how well the wood stove would heat when it got really cold but I was in for the long haul and still am.

Around Christmas, it hit -17 at night.   This is what I discovered.  I would have to feed the stove every few hours in order to keep the temperature up.  Well, that wasn’t going to happen.  I would have to set an alarm to get up and wouldn’t get much sleep.  When I got up, the cabin was 37 inside.  That’s a good morning ‘hello’ for you!  The next night I made sure there was a big enough log in the stove before I went to bed and hoped for a bathroom trip during the night.  It was still in the 40s when I got up.  Did I mention it takes a couple of hours to raise the temperature up 10 degrees when the stove is going, especially at below zero temps?

Let’s add substitute teaching to keep the challenge going.  I get up and try to get the cabin near 60 before I leave.  It barely makes it to 57 if I am lucky.  Then, I am gone for nine hours, to come home to somewhere in the 40s in the cabin.  I began to realize I can’t even go to visit my mom and friends for a weekend with this situation.  The trip for Christmas dinner at my sister and brother-in-law’s was not going to happen with -10 at night.  No way was I going to leave my cat, my buddy, home with those temps, although he probably could have made it.

Then, the propane cooking stove flame wasn’t very big, which is outside.  Low pressure or something someone explained.  I was able to heat my water to wash my hair but cooking breakfast was going to take too long.  I hit the diner for breakfast on the way to sub two days in a row.

Also, to make the wood stove work harder, my cabin is on cement blocks, which allows the cold air to flow under it.  This makes the floors really cold.  I insulated underneath the cabin but I really don’t know how much that helped.  I thought about putting a skirt around it but my brother, who is my main go-to for all construction questions, said it would still be cold.  The one area rug in the living room keeps the cold from penetrating through so I thought about getting some rugs when it gets below zero.  Purchasing a bigger wood stove and one that is cast iron or soapstone instead of steel is definitely on my list as a solution.  That should help retain warmth longer.

But, let me make one thing clear.  I am warm during these frigid nights.  There are at least six blankets on my bed, and I am always layered up in the winter, regardless of where I am.  Waiting for the ‘L’ and bus in Chicago taught me to dress warmly in the winter.  Then, each year I started turning down my furnace in my old house.  Last year I had it at 55 at night.  Granted, that isn’t 37 but it wasn’t far away.  Cabela’s long underwear may be pricey but it is well worth the investment.  It if is warm enough for some guy in a tree stand, that is the long underwear for me!  And, anyone who knows me can testify to the scarf around my neck with all of my winter attire.

We have turned the corner on the below zero weather.  March is in sight at mid-February.  We have had a minimum of 15 days below zero during the night, many at -10.  I am ready for spring, to say the least.  I only had one meltdown during the roller coaster, temperature ride in the cabin, thinking for a moment this is insane.  I am okay now.  It is all still doable.

Welcome!

Welcome to An Off Grid Life.  My name is Debbie, and I am wondering how I start this story.  It seems it just evolved.  There was no burning desire to live in a little cabin off grid when I was a kid, or even 20 years ago.  I probably couldn’t say I was headed for a tiny house and off grid even 5 years ago, although I had started looking for property for some sort of cabin.

I will say one thing for sure.  I wouldn’t be in this cabin if I hadn’t gone to college.  Let me back up a little.  I am 62, something my aunt reminds me of since I have taken this new lifestyle on.  She is right.  It is more physical.  Hopefully it will keep me in shape.  So, at 50 I went to college, and it changed everything for me.  One class in particular is responsible, and that is Environmental Sociology, which is what we do to the planet.  And, it ain’t pretty.  There’s plenty of time to talk about that.  Back to now.

Off grid?  Lots of people call it going backwards.  Who decides that all the modern conveniences of the western world aren’t necessary?  That would be me.  It is something I am going without for a reason.  No running water, furnace, a/c, cooking on the porch when it is -5….woman, are you mad?  It is all good.  There are a few challenges but all doable.

It is not that those things aren’t necessary but they are part of the CO2/pollution problem big time.  I would also suggest that when we took that turn at the Industrial Revolution and all moved from farms into the city, we cut ourselves off from Nature.  I may have to go out to pump some water after dark but I also get to delight at the stillness of the night, a sky lit up with stars, or a moon caressing the whole valley with its light.  Which nourishes my being more?  Flipping a switch or getting a little closer to Nature?  I am not even close to living the way the First Nations tribes lived before we came here but maybe I can experience a small piece of it.

There will be many books and documentaries to share with you that helped get me here besides the Environmental Sociology class, along with some podcasts I will put together.    I look forward to sharing what I know and the life I am living, along with receiving the experiences, questions, and solutions you will share on your end.