It was three years ago this month when we made the leap. A conscious, life changing decision, both of us were 63 and we’d decided to move off grid. Full time. In the Canadian Arctic. North of the 60th parallel. Land of the midnight sun….and land of long, cold ,dark winter months. Brilliant!
This wasn’t a stretch for me. I grew up in a fishing village on a small island off the southwest coast of Nova Scotia. Hand pumps for well water, outhouses for toilets, buckets down wells and ice boxes on the side of your house for refrigeration were things I grew up with. Kerosene lanterns, oil drip, coal and wood stoves, getting eggs from the hen house and then eating the non layers, beach rocks warmed in the oven to heat our beds…all familiar territory.
My husband…not so much. A self professed “navy brat”, he grew up on an armed forces base with swimming pools and indoor arenas to skate on. At home they had always had a fridge …well, as long as he remembers… and had the first TV on their street.
Our training ? Well, we had owned an off grid cabin for 14 years. We bought it 17 years ago after looking for three years for one we could afford. We took it from a 460 sq ft, mouse infested, dark, dank, two room plywood box to over 1200 sq ft cabin and, with the helpful knowledge of other cabin owners, mostly full time residents, had managed to make it quite comfortable over the years. Accessible by boat in summer and snow machine in winter (truck, if it was a low snow year or we paid to have a road ploughed across the lake once the ice was thick enough) left two seasons when the ice was either forming or melting where living there full time just wasn’t feasible.
We had built our own rudimentary solar system several years ago. It provided enough energy to run a 12 volt RV pump for our water tank, a couple of electric lights and later, as we became more knowledgable about the very important difference of modified and pure sine inverters…a small TV and VCR (the precursor to a DVD player for anyone reading this that’s under 35 or so.)
The cabin was built on a solid rock ledge, but I quickly adapted and began to grow edibles in flower pots and other resourceful things…like old wheel barrows. Given the short season we had to access the cabin I stuck to what I called my salad garden. Several kinds of lettuce and some spinach filled the wheel barrows and the in pots I grew an abundance of cherry tomatoes, radish and a few green beans or peas.
Herbs did well with our beautiful southern exposure and I always had an abundance of rosemary, dill, thyme and cilantro. I also learned that big pieces of birch bark spread over the soil will keep the squirrels out of your planters and doubles as a decent mulch…without being ‘mulched’!
Growing up with 4 uncles…with me, always underfoot at my grandparents house…and the oldest daughter/grandchild/niece…and being the stereotypical tomboy, if I hung around long enough to be a potential nuisance, I was put to work. That could involve cleaning fish, plucking ducks or chickens, splitting kindling, stacking firewood or shingling. It didn’t matter. If it had to be done and I was there, I helped do it.
And that was how I came to be such a natural ‘homesteader’, ‘bush woman’, ‘pioneer’. I carried the bundles up the ladder and shingled the roof of the generator/woodshed we built at our cabin. With some help from my husband doing the peaks, I clad the outside walls of the cabin with white cedar shingles we had shipped from New Brunswick…the same shingles that were used on my grandmother’s house, and my own east coast home.
There were still things I needed to learn. I took both my non restricted and restricted firearms training back to back one spring and placed at the top of the class in both. Bears beware!
I learned how to handle boats…first a 12 foot Crestliner with a 30hp outboard motor , which we called a ‘kicker’. Then came a 19 foot Harborcraft with a 90hp motor, and finally a 20 foot Hewescraft with a 150hp outboard. I confidently, and often alone, drove them across the lake and docked in all sorts of weather.
Solar energy has always interested me, and when we finally installed a ‘proper 12 volt system at the cabin, maintenance of the batteries and running of the system became my domain…including climbing on the roof to clean the snow off the panels in winter. With the system we installed a back up generator. This also fell into my list of jobs at the cabin. Keeping it full of gas and making sure the oil was changed or topped up as required became as familiar and scheduled as making a stew on the wood stove or baking a pizza on the BBQ.
I had driven snow machines before, but that, and our ATV…or ‘quad’ … became our necessary modes of transportation at the cabin, not toys like they are for many. Hauling lumber, 100 lb propane tanks, groceries or firewood, these were two essential pieces of equipment. And so, like with everything else, I became what I jokingly called ‘a northern biker chick’ .
My husband and both sons are very skilled with chainsaws. I can use them but I wouldn’t call myself skilled by any means! We both have…and wear…full safety gear; kevlar chaps; steel toed, cut resistant in-lay, lug soled boots; helmets with face shield and ear protection. Yes siree! I am a homesteading fashionista when I get that gear on! I’ll be honest…I’m better using the wood splitter than the chainsaw!
I’ve been working on some stories about our off grid life, from the cabin to our current full time home. I’ll be sharing those in the coming months and I look forward to hearing your comments…and sharing your laughter as I relate some of our more interesting adventures over the years. I also have some posts in the works about our life across the Arctic. There are some adventures to be told from those years! 2018 is about to get interesting! Stay tuned.