Off the Grid
I saw the phrase “off the grid” the other day, and I thought to myself, “That’s us.” Mind you, I have been wanting to tell someone this for thirty years, because around here, everybody is off the grid. Yawn. It will have been thirty years, come this May, that Ann and I permanently set foot on this ridge top in Northern Mendocino County, after moving our belongings from San Jose.
We hauled our stuff to the 16 by 20 foot, windowless cabin, that I had built with brothers Matt and Tom, and neighbor Rex, the previous summer, after having bought my twenty-acre parcel in 1975, for 400 bones an acre. Our sole vehicle for conveying our household goods, was my 1962, calico-colored VW bus, though we did make two of the five-hour trips, one earlier in the month. When I say the cabin was windowless, I do not mean there were no apertures framed in, I mean simply, that there were pieces of plywood nailed over the openings, creating what? A cave.
There was no running water, which was kind of OK, because running water without plumbing tends to get inconvenient, especially in the summer, when there is minimal water. No water meant no toilet, no sink, no showers and no water heater. There was no electricity, propane, telephone (cell phones? :), refrigerator, method of heating the cabin, shelves, steps to the loft, or steps up into the cabin, for that matter.
We did have a stove, and it was convenient to have something to stack stuff on, but without propane, it served only as a small counter. We were at least thirty minutes away via a five-mile dirt road, and eleven miles of Highway 101, from the nearest post office, although the Czech Lodge was located three miles closer to town, after we left the dirt road. There we could get gas, newspapers and a bare-bones assortment of daily necessities.
Ann was preggers with our oldest, Casey, who arrived in September, so any of you who have ever been in a similar expectant situation, I think Ann, rather than me, would have you imagine what that experience would be like, if you could not pop into the shower, or more enjoyably-but probably impractically-a lie-in with the tub. Assuming water was on hand, she still had to fire up that Coleman stove, heretofore used only on camping trips. And I’ll bet you’ve never thought about the joys of camping-for four months-while in a family way.
The one saving grace was the fact that we were not the first in my family to make this move. My brothers and I had been searching for property for eighteen months, while living in the Bay Area, branching out on Sundays, to look at parcels listed in the Chronicle. When we found this 100,000 acre ranch for sale in Mendocino County, it had all of the necessary components that we had been searching for. Amazingly, in addition to me purchasing twenty acres, two of my brothers, and my parents, each bought twenty acre parcels. Therefore, because my folks made the move from the San Gabriel Valley in SoCal, to Bell Springs Road, in 1977, they were already well-established, and able to provide Ann with the amenities of civilization. All we had to do was walk the ten minutes or drive three to their spot.
I was just reading that delightful blog piece about the proposal for birth control: have your teens be required to take care of one or more sick child, for a period of time that must extend through a full twenty-four hours. Forty-eight would be better. This is just as good; camping full-time, when you are battling life for two, which is just not as much fun as it sounds. It should be Ann writing this, but I think maybe by this time, she has ground it out of her mind. The construction project last winter, providing the upstairs facility for teaching her sewing/quilting classes, has helped even more.
We have had an interesting ride, and there are still glitches in the system, like the fact that there is still no electricity to said new addition, even though the wiring is done, the fixtures are in place, and it LOOKS like a million dollars. I can do carpentry, brick and block work, concrete of any sort, plumbing-reluctantly-and most other kinds of homesteading skills, but I fear the E-Beast. I love our solar panels, which still cost $50,000 in 1977, when they were first presented to our Environmental Studies Class at San Jose State, but now can be afforded. Of course Ann and I taught in the District all of those years with only a twelve vote system in place, because teachers don’t make a lot of loot in California.
We did get hot, running water in October of that first year, much to our relief, and the rest came along in bits and spurts, as I learned how to pound nails and fix frozen, burst plumbing, under the cabin. When I got Satellite TV three years ago, so I could watch my beloved Giants, after listening to more than 150 games annually on the radio every year of my life, I was dazzled. I got it in time to see them win it all a year ago, October. Small minds, small pleasures. It don’t cost much, but it lasts a long while. Baseball been very good to me.