By Deborah Charnes
I’d heard the expression, but I wasn’t really sure what it meant. Living off the grid.
I attended a lecture by a photographer who talked about living off the grid in Canada. I sensed she was fleeing from society. Holed away in the hinterlands. Homeschooling the kids. Tending to the fields to supply their food consumption. I got the impression living off the grid was a way to retreat from today’s world.
I’m a city girl. Born and raised four blocks from the Chicago city limits. My “village” had a population of 50,000. My high school had a student body of 4,000. My college, a top ten, counted 40,000 on campus.
I didn’t think I could live without my urban amenities. Without my car (a hybrid). Without my microwave. Without my corner CVS, HEB and ATM.
While New York City may not be my cup of tea, I grew up on public transportation. Masses. And messes.
When I spent a semester abroad in a South American capital, returning to what I perceived as a university cow town was impossible. The campus was three hours away from what I deemed “normal” city life. I postponed the return to the university by enrolling in the University of Illinois at Chicago. I worked full time downtown. My office was close enough for me to reach, walking a few miles in the morning. After work, I took the elevated train home. I loved working and studying in the Windy City that term.
For my last college semester I went to one of the biggest urban areas. Mexico City is teeming with nine million people in the city proper, and 22 million in the metropolitan area, and I didn’t feel invisible. I spent hours walking, part way, to or from school. I strolled leisurely, soaking up the urban surroundings that you can’t really catch riding a bus.
When my daughter was born, I lived in a large city in the Andes where a good part of the country’s population was residing. I didn’t mind squeezing into busses with men hanging out the doors and bodies squished together, or riding in the back of a pick-up taking advantage of the open space.
Looking back at the common threads, I understand that I love the solitude and meditative state that arises within during my long walks. But I need people around me, even if it’s working out of a Starbucks or the library rather than my home office.
So living off the grid is nothing I would have ever sought. When I chose to house-sit on the Mexican pacific for four months, it never occurred to me that I’d be off the grid.
I knew it was solar-powered with no a/c or microwave. I knew it was a ten-minute walk from the highway, and 12 kilometers from an oops-you-passed-it poblado. I knew I’d be on an isolated beach. No streets. No stores. No electric poles. No telephone poles.
I knew the catchment would provide for water in sinks, showers and toilets. The solar energy was enough for a fan, lights and a laptop. What more does a girl like me need? I don’t watch tv. I don’t use a hair dryer. So I may miss my microwave popcorn, but I know that’s loaded with toxins.
It seemed so natural to me, that it took me two months before it sunk in that, “I’m off the grid.”
I gladly gave up being close to the big city life and lights for the sound of silence, where you can hear so much more. I relish the sounds of nature versus the sounds of urban traffic, or the sounds of music blaring out of other people’s cars or windows. The sounds of the waves seem to put my natural energy in sync. The sounds of the crickets and birds reconnect me with nature.
Beyond me and my partner, there are a handful of people living nearby. More on the weekend when extended family from the ranchos visit.
I teach five-year-olds yoga poses from nature: the tree, dog, lotus, fish and butterfly. They reciprocate by twisting my long hair into mini braids as I hang my head off a hammock. Much better and more memorable than a beauty salon. What is beauty anyway?
To me, beauty is seeing these three little girls laugh and play. Beauty is hearing their high-pitched voices and not quite clearly defined syllables as they say in Spanish, we’re going to be cramped. And I’m not sure if they said apretados or apestados (stinking).
Beauty is sleeping on a yoga mat, outside on a wooden deck, sheltered under a palapa, and the super moon lit sky.
Beauty is hearing cow bells ring ever so slowly as a family of fat-free bovines graze by my casita looking for greens in the desert. They pause as the calves drink their mother’s milk.
Beauty is letting the sunlight wake you up rather than an alarm clock.
Beauty is picking up a few ripe maracuya from the ground every day, and blending them with water for a refreshing drink.
Beauty is shooing away flies from your food, instead of consuming GMO foods that not even a goat would eat.
Beauty is appreciating what nature provides and respecting it rather than wasting it.
Deborah Charnes is a freelance contributor and has more than 30 years experience working in multicultural communications. She is owner of The Write Counsel, and when she’s enjoying life off the grid, she can be found at The Namaste Counsel.