One woman’s love-in with life off-grid
Driving home on ‘The Trail’ the other day, I thought more about what encompasses my relationship with the place we call home. By the time I arrived at our Prelude East access road – 30 minutes outside of Yellowknife on Highway 4, more commonly known as Ingraham Trail – I had a clear head and a smile on my face thinking about the things we cherish everyday.
I love that we live surrounded and submersed in the unpolluted sounds of nature. Aside from the weekend boat motors or snowmobiles, that is all there is to hear. Mimicked by the soundscape CD’s that city folk listen to, we fall asleep to the summer sounds of the wind sailing through the birch trees and the loons calling hauntingly to each other in the bay outside the house. On a crisp winter day there is less to hear; sometimes the sound of big boots moving through snow, and muffled breathing are the only signs of life. At night, we hear nothing in our tightly shut and wood-heated house.
Love of nature is a common thread amongst many northerners, whether you live off the power grid along The Trail or not. Playing outside in the warmer months is definitely easier to love, but winter is special and we love it (almost) as much. Spring brings that intense sun that beckons new life and the return of wildlife to our yard. We start cooking over our outside fire pit and feel the warmth of the sun on our pale faces. Summer days melt into each other and call us back on the open water – swimming, boating, cannonballing; it’s all we can do to come up to the house to feed ourselves sometimes. Planting, maintaining and harvesting a garden is gratifying no matter where you are but here, the best part is always having fresh salad for dinner even if you haven’t been to town for a week. Autumn makes us scramble to get all the projects done we said we would do, and need to do, because another winter with “that problem” is just not an option. When winter returns, we retreat inside the house more, but it has been a long hiatus, so it’s welcome. We sleep more, cook lots of wonderful meals, and wait again for spring.
Being off-grid is an ongoing adventure. The reality is there is always something – 10 things – that need doing; many directly linked to survival. There is always the option of delivery services and hired maintenance, but part of our love of living here is to take on that work ourselves. Now, this is the collective “we,” as most of this work falls to my husband. He would rather haul wood each weekend than have someone bring it to our doorstep. Every six weeks we need to pump water from the lake into our holding tank. Sometimes it goes smoothly and we are giddy about another six weeks of water – other times we struggle with, or choose to wait out, the cold spell with strict conservation. Always we think ahead, adapt as needed and have a celebratory drink when things work out. I also love that there is someone to deliver the diesel and pump out the sewage tank, which I am more than happy to pay for.
Power is another constant consideration. Summer is easy with solar panels and endless sunlight, but winter brings more planning – heat the garage in the morning to start the generator that evening to charge the batteries for the house to run on for the next few days. We watch how much water we use, how much TV we stare at and plan household chores such as laundry and vacuuming around generator days. Conservation is not just an off-grid mentality; we are proudly teaching our son to be aware of what he consumes, which is a life-long lesson no matter where he lives.
It amazes me when I talk with people who have lived in Yellowknife for years and have never been out on The Trail, mainly because of the road. Well, I admit it is something to behold. The potholes double as speed bumps and if you drive too fast, you just get knocked around so you learn quickly it’s not worth it. But when you use it regularly you know where the dips are and what’s around the next corner, so it is easier to endure. In the end, the road brings us home, so it’s not so bad. We also rarely drive it twice in one day – if I forget something, either from the house or in town, I make do until the next time I am there to get it. Without the option of running to the store, life is so much simpler and more organized from the start.
Yellowknifers also have this “it’s really far” mentality. Really, 30 km is not that far and the drive is a great way to clear your head and leave the day behind. If we lived in any other capital city, we would have to drive double that distance (if not more) to get anywhere, and face hordes of traffic. On The Trail, we mainly have wildlife crossing the road, winter ice-road truckers and Sunday Drivers (with boats or snowmobile trailers). To deal with the latter we stay home on the weekends and ask friends to come here instead. Another love, friends who come out and visit for the afternoon, the evening or even the whole weekend. Whether they drop in unannounced or we plan a day out on the boat, visits with friends make great memories. Bring a Saturday Globe and Mail and you will always be welcome.
So after all this, there must be something I hate or this would just be about the things I love on The Trail. It didn’t take long to realize I hate leaving. So I’ll just stay here. Forever.