Remember that movie where the young kid goes on an adventure to Alaska and lives in a bus? He arrives in spring so flowers are blooming, the skies are blue and clear. He reads and journals and frolics in the fields. All is well. Gradually, winter sets in. He’s not the best planner so he goes through his supplies pretty quickly. Cut to the chase: he eventually eats some plant or berry that turns out to be poisonous and he dies, alone and scared in a bus in the middle of nowhere.
Although this was a movie (actually I think it was based on a true story), it’s a good depiction of what can happen when you make a stupid mistake and the consequences are immediate. Naturally, we’re all prone to making stupid mistakes from time to time. No one is perfect. Hopefully, though, they aren’t life-or-death mistakes and we learn from them and go on to do better. Ideally.
Living off grid necessitates a higher level of care and attention to safety than living in town. The repercussions of a stupid mistake get magnified when you live outside the range of 911 assistance. This doesn’t mean you can’t get to a hospital, it just means it will take longer for someone to get to you, if they can at all. And it will take longer for you to get to a hospital yourself since you have to get yourself there after having been injured. That’s assuming you even choose to go to a hospital. If you don’t, that’s a whole different level of preparedness. Put simply, the farther out you live, the slimmer your margin for error becomes.
Acknowledging risk is the beginning of preparation. Most people don’t like to think about being injured at all, even though accidents are just as common in the city as on the farm. Who hasn’t been in a traffic accident? Who hasn’t broken a bone or cut themselves and needed stitches? By a certain age, most of us have done that and more. In town, you can call 911 and help is on the way. It’s easy to brush the threat of injury aside until it happens. Up on the mountain, however, it’s wise to think ahead.
Here are three simple habits that will aid you in staying whole.
Be aware of your location. That sounds simple, but you’d be surprised at the people who move off grid and don’t even learn about the weather where they are moving. There’s a big difference between snow levels at 2500ft and 4000ft elevations. Snow level impacts your ability and mode of travel, your roof’s structural weight load, and potential flooding during the spring melt.
Growing seasons are different, too. At 3500ft, our growing season is about 2 months shorter than in town. Also, our area is prone to wildfires; we get heavy smoke that impacts the amount of sunlight our solar panels absorb. Also important to know: Fire and Rescue don’t always come and warn you to evacuate when you’re too high up or hard to get to (they tend to focus on the homes they can get to quickly). We have first-hand experience with this! Have a way to monitor fire levels (or whatever your location’s particular hazard is).
Learn who your neighbors are. Mind you, I didn’t say “Get to know your neighbors.” Learn who your neighbors are, then decide if you want to get to know them. The old adage that “Good fences make good neighbors,” holds true out here, too.
Learn what animals live in your area and the predator/prey relationships. For instance, get to know the tracks and patterns of the neighboring wolves, bear, coyotes, cougars, bobcats, rabbits, snakes, rodents, insects, birds, etc. Some of these critters are helpful, some are dangerous. Learn the difference.
Learn what crops actually like to grow in your terrain and climate and work with that. In short: work with what you have. If you try and mold your location to your personal preferences, you will fail. Man against Nature never ends well for man.
I mentioned wild animals earlier, but domesticated animals are different. You are responsible for every animal that you bring into the wild. If you bring your little dog into the wild and he gets eaten by a coyote, it IS your fault. Period. If you fail to properly cage and shelter your chickens and they get eaten, that is your fault. Coyotes will do what coyotes do. They’re not bad. They’re coyotes and they need to eat, too.
Basically, anything and anyone that you bring onto the mountain is your responsibility whether it’s a child, an animal, trash, furniture, cars, oil, wood, food, plants – everything. Get it? Don’t let another creature suffer from your stupidity. If you can’t take proper care of it, don’t take ownership of it.
Perhaps a bit off topic, but worth mentioning, is the myth that off-gridders are irresponsible. They’ve “abandoned society”; they’ve run away and no longer contribute to the structure that keeps everyone “safe and secure”. They’ve “broken the social contract”. I take issue with these faulty stereotypes.
By having our own shelter, our own power grid, our own water supply, our own food resources and, basically, leaving everyone alone, I’d say we off-gridders who are “doing it right” are some of the most intensely responsible people in existence. Most of us aren’t expecting, or asking, anything from anyone. Our freedom to live differently than most does not infringe on another’s ability to live as they choose. Therefore, being off grid is a highly responsible endeavor. Again, I’m referring to we off-gridders who aren’t asking for anything and exist quietly, not asking or expecting help from anyone. That’s probably why we get a bad rap – no one knows much about us. We’re quiet and we leave people alone.
There is another type of off-grid personality; it’s the type that makes people cringe when they hear “off grid”. The self-proclaimed “off-gridder” that gets all the attention and gives us all a bad rap is usually on Facebook or some other social media telling people how great life is while simultaneously pleading for donations. Enter that frustrating paradox of the parasitic, “independent” off-grid hypocrite, also known as My Neighbor.
My neighbors are only one of many manipulative posers on social media who reinforce the negative stereotype of off-gridders. Like so many manipulators, they take advantage of the naive, kindhearted townies who engage with their desperation. Manipulators do it because it works for them and, sadly, there’s no shortage of enablers.
Their “survival” methods consist of:
Survival Tactic 1: Advertising online how much they love their off-grid lifestyle, while simultaneously pleading for others to bring them the supplies that make their lifestyle possible.
As you see below, two weeks later, they did not retain that “wisdom” and so they’re stuck again.
Survival tactic 2: Virtue signaling and bemoaning the cruel state of humanity (i.e.: those who have seen through their BS and no longer respond to their online pleas).
The worst offense, in my opinion, is when they quote scripture to appeal to “good Christians” because Jesus would help them (and, therefore, you should, too…). But I would answer them thusly with a quote from my grandmother:
Anyway, their saga continues. While we are not on any social media, we do get random updates from friends in town who tune in to their melodrama with morbid curiosity, like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
John and I are not uncaring people. We believe in “teaching a man to fish”, but some will never fish as long as other people continue to bring them fish.
Manipulators do what they do because it works for them. It continues to work until enough people learn their own lesson: sometimes helping is not helping. It’s a small town so hopefully their supply of enablers will soon run out. They will either have to learn some real skills (besides manipulation) or move. Of course, it will be someone else’s fault when they fail.
Don’t be these people.
Once you’ve learned about your environment and your neighbors (animal and otherwise), you can begin to plan based on your situation, and then build contingencies. Try to imagine everything that can possibly happen, then have back-up plans for when it does.
Make decisions based on research, but realize that things can change. For instance, if you get the amount of sun you think you will, 3 solar panels will be enough. But after your first year of fire season, you may realize you need six panels. Build a system that can handle more than you think you will need.
Maybe your area averages 4′ of snow accumulation each winter. How long is the trek to your home from the main road? Can you park a vehicle on the road and snowmobile to your house? If you can’t afford a snowmobile, cross-country skis or snowshoes are useful (and cheap!).
Or perhaps you bought the house with an existing well that, according to the previous owner, pumps 5gpm. Maybe it did when he lived there but now you only get 1/16gpm. What will you do? In some areas, the deposit just to get in line to have a new well dug is $10K. Know your area. Is there an emergency water source nearby you can access?
You are buying a greenhouse to extend your growing season, and the area is prone to heavy snow. Or maybe your issue is wind. Will your greenhouse roof withstand that? How can you secure the base? If it’s especially warm in summer, you might want automatic roof vents if you’re not going to be nearby to ventilate the greenhouse every day. Also, do you want to haul water to the greenhouse or have a faucet nearby? Your freezing depth will determine how deep you need to dig the trench if you install faucet.
You’re snowed in and may not be able to get to a store for 3 months or more. Are you stocked up? Don’t be the jerk who expects others to bring him things (remember, those in town are probably dealing with their own weather issues). Learn to preserve food and mix it up: can, dehydrate, freeze dry, vacuum seal, etc.
If you’re snowed in, you’re surrounded by water so you can melt that to drink (not ideal, but in a pinch). You can even use a snowbank to store perishable food in a sealed container. Work with your surroundings.
Speaking of water, did you know you can buy heat trace that goes inside pipes? Heat trace is an insulated electrified wire that usually runs along the outside of a pipe and comes on just at freezing temps to keep the pipe from freezing. However, it’s too late to install along a frozen pipe that’s already buried underground! That’s where the interior type of heat-trace comes in. It can help you thaw a frozen pipe and prevent it bursting if you catch it soon enough. Better yet, install heat trace when you install your pipes; but if an existing pipe freezes, it’s good to have this on hand. Buy it before you need it.
Can you get propane delivered to your location? How large a tank can you afford? Most gas appliances can be converted from Natural Gas to propane quite easily. Don’t use up all your solar power on your stove and freezer!
Don’t assume you can buy firewood in the fall. If you’re not cutting your own, don’t assume it will be available just because you have the money to buy it. Due to tougher environmental regulations, fewer people are in the business and firewood is becoming more difficult to buy.
That goes for other things, too. It seems that everything is getting harder to obtain (supply shortages, shipping delays, etc.). If you have an intention, don’t vacillate too long. Research, evaluate and plan but don’t get analysis paralysis to the extent that, when you finally decide, it isn’t available anymore.
That’s enough random tips, but you get the gist. Whatever can happen will happen, so be ready for anything and everything you can think of. Hopefully, your neighbor is doing the same.