Since July of 2016 I have been living off the grid.
Off grid can mean different things to different people, but to me it was living with no electric and running water and I did this for a over a year.
At first, it was game changer. We cleared off a patch of 17 acres on top our ridge, built a 10x12 building to live in, set up a kitchen area, with a fire pit, and started to build our outhouse. The bathhouse, is what I called it, and it consisted of a handmade frame with a toilet seat, and a bucket directly underneath. Yeah, we went that route! Plans were formed, supplies were gathered, and everyone was happy.
Our little tiny shack was open on all sides, covered from top to middle ways with screen and ply-board on the outside that I could raise and lower to keep the harsh wind and rain out when needed. In the winter, we completly covered all four walls with heavy plastic and that kept some of the cold out. The best thing about the plastic was that on a good sunny day, I would raise the boards and when the sun hit the plastic it would heat the little shack pretty well. Nights were cold, we did not have a lick of heat the entire time we lived up there. And when it's 25 degrees and 3 am, and you have to get out from under 5 blankets just to pee you kind of regret not being better prepared.
When winter started in 2016, we really had nothing more than a tarp covering the area where we spent the most time- the kitchen. so when the first big rain storm come in, everything got destroyed. I cleaned it all up, only for it to be SUPER destroyed, not even a week later after another storm hit. I lost a lot of stuff to those storms, including and not limited to my sanity.
After that we went and bought a covered carport, and I tell you I wish I started out like that to begin with. Winter wasn't nearly as bad once we got the carport up. the ends raised and lowered, so when I put the flaps down, the heat stayed pretty well contained. Me and the dogs stayed in that carport when it was to cold to do anything else. After that, I forgot about the things destroyed by wind and rain, even though I was still a little pissed about it. I only wish I knew at the time that that shitty little place I called a kitchen that mother nature took from me, would be minor- compared to what was to come.
When my husband and I started this journey, we had dogs. 5, to be exact, and one dysfunctional cat, 11 year old Sassy cat.
two of the five dogs, Chyenne and Apache, both pit bulls, belonged to my father in law, and one, Scarlett, a rat terrier mix to my son.
Two were ours, 7 year old KYA, a border collie/aussie mix and five year old crawl, a poodle and chi cross. Both raised from pups.
In July of 2016 my father in law bred Chyenne. She was a little over a month into her pregnancy when she miscarried. She got pyometra in her uterus, so bad that the vet was surprised she even still lived. He said he had only ever seen it that bad in sows. She had emergency surgery the same day, having died once, and almost twice on the table, and receiving two bags of donor blood. The next day, that dog come out the vets office with a smile on her face, wagging her tail and took a selfie with me.
The vet bill was an easy 800 bucks. I payed 6. after that, my father in law gave her to me. She had already been with us, and that dog loved me as much as I did her. I never went anywhere without her. She always tagged along right beside me.
Kya, was made from drops of loyalty. She had these eyes, so golden and so human like. I had never seen eyes like that on a dog, and I doubt I ever will again. I went all the way to Alabama to pick up a puppy. She was fat and fluffy, and wouldn't move off my foot. SHE picked ME, not he other way around. When a dog chooses you, it's a special kind of relationship. There was no loss of love between us. When she was a puppy, she leaned against my leg and looked at me with those eyes and she did it her entire adulthood. She melted like butter from all the compliments and all the I love you's.
Kya had a bad hip. she used three legs most of the time, but still went all over the mountain. It was in her nature to love everything and everybody, and that's exactly what she did. When I would ask, you love me? She would bark happy barks at me and put her head on my knee looking at me those big golden eyes.
Crawl, my little Crawl. He talked ya know. Said love my mamma and want yum yum. He really did.
he was a character. He loved Sassy cat, regardless of the occasional swatting when he tried to socialize. He was always excited to see us, and always ready for a car ride. He went nearly everywhere with us. H posed for pictures, and played with our nieces and nephews and their cat, who enjoyed his company instead of looking at him with contempt like my Sassy cat did.
He was also my constant. Curled up in bed with me under the covers, laying his head on my shoulder and falling asleep when I opted to stay under the covers on the coldest of days.
Scarlett. She should had been named barker. She would literally bark if the wind blowed in the wrong direction. But she was an excellent little watch dog, and as sweet as she could be. My son brought her home, but soon after moved and left with her us. I told him too, even though he wanted to take her, because the mountain was all she knew.
You always knew when someone was coming up the road by the tone of her bark, so I knew when my husband was coming in from work and when I should be alarmed, since we lived off a logging trail 5 miles back to the end of 250 acres. There was one way in and one way out. Scarlett was a smaller dog, she loved all the other dogs and was the instigator among them. She was the first one in the woods hunting in the morning, and the last one back in the evening.
And Sassy, I just don't remember a time without her. My son, brought her home in a brown paper bag when he was 8. The paper bag, was for his protection! LOL.. she has always had a wild streak in her. I swear I was the only person she actually liked, and sometimes she didn't even like me. She was wild cat see, when she was a kitten. My son caught her from the elderly man's house who lived next door, and he brought her home.
I almost killed her. I swatted her with the broom because she was in the trash can. Only she moved, and i caught her with the hard part, in the head. She started to convulse and I thought for sure she was going to die.. with tears streaming down my face because I had not meant to hit her with that part, just the brissels, I scooped her up, wrapped her up and held her. Two hours later, She woke up, permanently pissed off. Even though, we loved each other and she made sure I knew. There were periods were we could not be together, and whenever we would see each other again, she would curl up n my arms or on my chest and purr happy kitty sounds.
She slept under the covers on cold nights curled up on my chest. In the summer, I would lay with her sitting right next to me and we would both stare out at the full moon and the trees lit by it's light. me, contemplating, her, plotting an escape route. I let her go out, but I was very cautious and overly protective of her.
We were all happy for a time. Enjoying the peace that come with the seclusion, not having to worry about answering to anyone but ourselves. Making plans on all that could come of our little slice of earth. Building things, and clearing things, and loving every second of this new dream we had acquired. Everything was beautiful, and we thought we had finally gained something, finally had something worth keeping.
And then, it started to unravel.
On December 22, we came home from being at families house. We went to visit, and shower, and watch the walking dead, such as did a few times a month. Usually the dogs meet us in the driveway. This time only one did. Scarlett, Figured the others, Kya and Chyenne, were in their bed inside the carport or in a doghouse in the hay. I got out of the car, whistled a few times to make sure they weren't off in the woods, and went to get our things out of the car to take into the house.
My husband said, I found Chyenne.
Chyenne, was in her dog house, and dead from a 22 bullet wound. I broke into a million pieces, screaming out into the dark, calling for Kya, frantically trying to find her through tears. She come out of the doghouse, where she had been hiding. I went to check on Apache, and he was gone. Stolen, right off his run rope.
Now, I want to tell you I have never taken the death of an animal so hard, but my story isn't over.
I cried for a week. everyday, all day. I spent 4 days in bed, because I just could not bear the thought of stepping outside that shack and her not being there wagging her tail, smiling at me. So me, and the remainder of my pack stayed holed up in that building. Grieving.
I soon after, bought a shotgun, and a trail cam. It was the most I could do right then, so that's what I did. And for a long time, nothing happened. In that manner, anyway.
for three months, I tried to get back to normal. I still grieved everyday, but I had my small pack and my husband to get me through. When things finally felt normal again, I realized very quickly that normal doesn't last for long. My daughters, had come to visit that weekend. Since I had them there I enlisted them to help me build a shelf for my kitchen. while we did that, I let crawl out to play. Crawl loved to be out running with the big dogs. He was happy as he could be playing outside.
I was to involved in that stupid shelf, that I didnt call him back when I heard my husband coming in from work. He saw him, but didn't stop to pick him up.
He got under the tire. It was quick, and he didn't suffer.
And again, I had to grieve.
In April, Scarlett went into the woods. She come out of the woods with a snakebite. She died at the vets office.
Again, I grieve.
In May, the last day of May to be exact, is when I was woken up by the kind of phone call you never want to get. My mother called me, she and my stepdad had found my 32 year old brother across his bed. He had died sometime after 1am. I don't think I have to explain what this did to me. My only brother is gone at such a young age. have so many regrets, so many memories.
The problem is, I didn't even get to grieve properly.
I put Kya into the large fenced pen I built. She she likes to go off in the woods, and the four puppies Scarlett let behind at three weeks old when she died, were big enough to fallow her. We were back and forth to family over the next couple weeks while things were being sorted out and the arrangements for my brothers memorial service were being made.
Some come all the way back to my property, come the 400 yards down my driveway and hand fed my little collie dog antifreeze.
I noticed she was starting to act like she wasnt feeling good. I took her to my vet, who told me her kidneys, liver and heart were failing. I let him keep her there, hoping that maybe he could save her and if there was even a small chance that he could I didnt want to take her home to die if he could...
I should had taken my angel home. At least she would had been with me and not without me.
I dragged through the next two and half weeks, with nothing left in me. NOTHING.
But it wasn't over by a long shot. Because two weeks into July Sassy cat got out and went off to die.
But what broke me, hospitalized me and nearly took my life, is that on top of all this, my husband who could not handle my grief, left me.
I wanted to die.
I didnt eat for four days. My grief was overwhelming at best, and I could not handle it.
This place, once so beautiful and loved, now is the resting place of four dogs, and one beloved cat.
It was twisted into something ugly and sad and unsafe.
After coming out of the hospital, my husband and I decided that it was time to give up and move.
So I started looking for a place. all through August I hunted a place to live, and we made plans to get a mortgage and buy.
We looked at an old farmhouse on 11 acres a man was owner financing for 20 thousand down. He was not planning on renting, but it turned out that he after hearing about what happened on the mountain he decided that he wanted to help us, so he rented us the place.
The day we went to sign the lease, as we coming back up the mountain I spotted a guy walking through the woods on the other side of the fence. He was headed up towards our place, right about the time my husband leaves for work. He saw us, and started ducking and dodging our car. I got out , and he hid behind a tree, so I started to yell at him why are you hiding? what are you doing up here?
It was when I yelled at him that my dogs better not be harmed that he nearly killed himself trying to get back down the hill he came up.
Now my safety was an issue. And I can't help but wonder what kind of intentions and twisted black thoughts went through this mans mind, when he fed my collie antifreeze through a fence to kill her, and while he was walking up the hill towards my house.
I can't say that I am happy, though I am better some. I now seek therapy just to be able to feel safe enough to grieve. At the new place, I set up cameras, and I still jump every time a dog barks.
I have not told another soul this, but I am still scarred. I feel like a rape victim because that's basically what I am.
Instead of my body, everyone and everything loved and held so dear to my heart was taken.
but it was the malicious intent that leaves me broken, and that someone could be so cruel to a soul that was so beautiful that has left me destroyed.
I'll be ok, I guess, with time.
As I sit here and watch the bonfire die, I can't help but wonder what I have gotten myself into.
My life has flipped 90 degrees in the last few months.
For the last decade or so the only thing I have wanted more than anything was to own a piece of property. My very own little corner of the world that I could call mine. Every step I have taken since the beggining of the year has led me a step closer to this reality.
I have taken up residence in a poorly kept house on top of a mountain, in the middle of the woods. I live here, working in exchange for rent while being allowed time to save my money for a down payment. Every day I look out my second story bedroom window at trees as far as I can see. Trees, that with the current warm weather will be covered with green leaves in a week's time.
And I wonder, am I capable of this adventure I am about to undergo? You see, at the end of May, my down payment will be paid, my owner financed land contract in place, and then.. well.. then the test of my own personal strength and endurance will come into question. For I am building my own home, on my own piece of land.
A cob home.
Now, if you aren't familiar with cob. Let me give you a little information so you can better understand where I am coming from.
Cob homes can be found all over the world. They are prominent in places like Africa and can be found all over Europe. Some as old as 800 years still being lived in to this day.
Cob is a natural, earthern way of building. It requires clay dirt, sand and straw. When mixed together with a little water it can be formed into bricks of sort and molded together to make walls, thus making a home. When cob dries it is hard as stone and mass thermal, meaning it holds in heat and releases it slowly, and holds in cool air.
Now, my goal is to have four walls and a roof by winter. Complete with a mass rocket heater for heating, a mass rocket stove for cooking and a cob oven. All inside my kitchen.
I am taking on this project mostly by myself as the man I am marrying may the first works with two days off. So, it falls to me. Clearing the land, digging the foundation trench, laying the foundation stones in place, cobbling the home.. everything.
I can't tell you I am in the best shape. But I am determined and well.. we just can't live in a tent all winter can we?
No electric running to the land, so we will be off grid. Both with electric and indoor plumbing.
A compost toilet is the option I have chosen to go with. A little bit of work, But the right option for us.
As I take this journey, I want to share it. I want to share it with friends, family and strangers alike. I want people to understand that it wasn't easy, but that the end results will be both wonderful and worth it.
I want you to see that anything is possible and that even you yourself can make the switch from living a life full of bills, to not having any bills at all if you should so choose that. From renting, to owning a home that you built with your own two hands. From being dependant on the grid, to not needing the grid at all. From spending all your money just to eat and get by, to being dependant solely on what you raise.
It's a lifestyle.
It's being off grid.
It's a journey worth taking.
There will be many more posts to come.
Stick with me if you wanna see how all this plays out.
For now, I'm off to see about my fire.
18.2 ounces of wood ash lye