By Jessica Ferrigno
One sweet day, at the age of 31, the universe conspired in my favor and brought me the opportunity to embark on a journey that would not only go down as unforgettable, but also life changing. This decision affected my past, present, and future self in ways I could never fathom at the time I answered the divine call from the universe and said YES without hesitation.
Although in the grand scheme of things actual location doesn’t matter too much when it comes to off grid experiences – since the blood, sweat, and tears are all the same – I will still begin by saying I was inspired to write this piece after living off grid in a tiny mountain town in Northern California. To sweeten the pot a little further, I must add that I moved off grid from Northern New Jersey – just outside of New York City – where I had lived my entire life.
- Most people living on the grid just don’t get it.
No matter how many times I explained (or tried to explain) my living situation to friends and family living on the grid, they just could not seem to fully comprehend what I dealt with on a daily basis. They would do things like mail me gifts in boxes filled with packing peanuts. Unbeknownst to them, when I received the packages I could only focus on two things, while almost completely forgetting to check what nice gifts may be inside:
- The cardboard box is great kindling for the wood burning stove aka the heater!
- How in the world am I going to get rid of all these Styrofoam peanuts?! They cannot be composted and we do not have trash pickup out here. I will have to collect them all and publicly dump them next time I journey down to civilization.
- Your wood-burning stove doubles as a hair dryer.
I never paid much attention to how much power a hair dryer uses until a little 1800-watt generator was all we had powering our hut. Living off the grid means little to no blow dryer use – so you improvise. In the winter, I would get in and out of the shower as quickly as possible because hot water was almost non-existent and my extremities could only take so much before they would scream at me and threaten to fall off. When I’d gotten as clean as I was going to get in my race against the cold water, I would jump out and immediately stand in front of the wood-burning stove to get warm and let my hair dry by the heat of the fire. If you’re lucky enough to have a small battery powered fan (as I was), you can clip it to something nearby and let the fan blow the heat from the fire to your hair. When finished, you have dry hair scented with campfire for an added bonus.
In the summer, I didn’t have to worry about a hair dryer. It was so hot I had the pleasure of bathing outdoors under a tree powered by a propane camping shower.
- You don’t need power to make a good cup of coffee.
All you need are the following items:
- A pot to boil water in
- A tall mug
- Coffee filters
- A hair elastic
- A propane camping stove (or some type of way to boil water)
- Ground coffee
*NOTE: If by some stroke of luck all you have are whole coffee beans, you can crush them into grinds using a big rock or hammer. *
- boil water
- secure coffee filter over the top of your mug with a hair elastic creating a pocket in the center for coffee grinds
- place coffee grinds in the coffee filter pocket atop your mug
- pour boiling water over the coffee and let it seep through into your mug
- remove coffee filter with grinds and place in your compost
- sip and enjoy
Trust me, off the grid coffee is some of the best coffee I’ve had…then again, maybe it’s because I had to work so hard for it.
You also want to be mindful of how many dishes you use because although that coffee tastes like heaven, it can feel like hell when you’re staring down a pile of dirty dishes that need to get washed in a bucket outside.
- Most of what you see on television is not an accurate portrayal of off grid living – they only show the glam and glory.
Nothing truly illustrates the most preposterous (but important) part of off grid living. What might that be you ask? – No toilet or shall I say no plumbing. Our toilet was a used porta-potty left on the property by the previous owners which is considered an amenity out in the wild. However, no matter what type of “honey pot” you have the end result is always the same – someone has to bite the bullet, layer up with rubber gloves, and clean the pot.
By clean I mean the following:
- Dig a deep deep hole somewhere far away and downwind from your hut.
- Scoop your poop out of said porta-potty or honey pot and put into buckets with lids.
- Try not to barf.
- Carry buckets to said hole, remove lids, and dump.
*Gagging and an upset stomach will be inevitable. Take breaks as needed. *
- Cover hole with dirt and powerwalk back to safety.
If in a hurry you can throw your buckets off the side of a mountain or cliff. While I do not condone this, it may be necessary so use your best judgement.
If a porta-potty or honey pot are not your cup of tea, you can bypass this by creating a “poop graveyard” also somewhere downwind and far from your hut. Here you can dig a hole as needed, squat over the hole or make a “toilet chair”, and sit over the hole to do your business. When finished, cover the hole with dirt and watch your step as you leave the poop graveyard as it will be booby-trapped with landmines.
Ironically, after taking a hiatus from off grid living and returning to the doe-eyed depths of civilization, I learned about a funny little thing called a composting toilet. Well, I always “knew” about them, but never actually considered one since it wasn’t feasible for our off-grid set-up. However, these nifty creations are very off grid friendly as they remove the need for shovels and five gallon buckets and make you feel like you’re actually escaping from your poo.
- Overall, it’s about thriving…and keeping your teeth.
When I first stepped through the portal from living on the grid to off the grid my life felt like it went backwards – especially during the initial descent into the wild. My daily concerns became very basic: food, water, shelter, safety, and sometimes personal hygiene. We are blessed to have a well on our property, but not all off grid properties do. If you do not have a well, you MUST go to Costco before you embark on your journey and stock up on bottled water – you can never have too much. If you think you have enough, buy twice as much more. On a side note, while at Costco spend some extra scratch and invest in baby wipes – lots and lots of baby wipes – they will be your new best friend along with the bottled water. Once you are settled into your luxurious off grid hut do your future self a favor and BRUSH YOUR TEETH. No matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable, use that bottled water and brush brush brush! This might sound crazy, but trust me, this very basic task will easily slip away as your world and priorities are turned upside down.
Some of you may be wondering what happened to the little jersey girl who moved to the hills of Northern California, and frankly – so am I. After living off grid for a year, that jersey girl is somewhere in a galaxy far far away. As I sit here and reflect on my past self she is almost unrecognizable to me. I am amazed at how much I’ve learned, how strong I have become (physically and metaphysically), and the new perspective I now have on the world. Whenever I am faced with a challenging task or situation I think to myself, “you lived on a mountain, you can do this” and as soon as I say that to myself I almost immediately succeed at the challenge before me and this gives me a great sense of accomplishment. By no means was living off grid easy which is why I have taken a temporary break into civilization. I am still out west, but back working another 9-5 job and all the un-pleasantries that come along with it…for now.
As challenging as off grid life was, I would not trade it for the world. It was by far one of the best and most beautiful times of my life. In fact, after six months of living on the grid, I am missing the hut more and more with each painstaking day that passes by. Sure, getting a paycheck and regular hot showers is nice, but it’s not me. I am a daydreaming gypsy sitting on the grid watching people pass by, eyes glued to their smartphones or tablets, computer screens lighting up the backdrop everywhere I turn, and electronic…well, electronic everything. I can’t help but feel an uneasiness when I think of how far we have removed ourselves from all that is natural – all that is human in the world. When I look at the city life that surrounds me, I feel a deep sense of disconnect, a social awkwardness, like the world has continued to spin, but I stepped off the ride where even if I tried, I would not be able to get back on. Now I simply watch the world through a movie screen because it seems artificial and untouchable in a super-sized way. When I think about the mountain I yearn to walk barefoot in the grass absorbing life’s natural energy where I am the cell phone and divine mother earth is my charger.
About the Author
Jessica is a lover of all things astrological, metaphysical, witchy, and gypsy with an addiction to coffee and a good book. Writing has always been an intuitive part of her that she would use for its therapeutic properties, never fully accepting it as an outlet for opening her thoughts to the world. She is now awakened and on a journey of divine synchronicity to find her life’s work and share her love and consciousness with all those she meets along the way. She trusts in the universe and is following the divine path it is revealing to her. She hopes to one day heal people not only through words but through herbalism and owning her own holistic coffee shop. You can contact her via Facebook here.