The beauty of living off grid
March 10, 2015
Six years ago I made a life changing decision to move to the Highlands. Not being a native of the Highlands, I was unfamiliar with its unique beauty, countless lakes, overwhelming wildlife, or the people that I was fortunate enough to meet and in the end call neighbours and friends. Coming from a small town, I always thought that I was country enough to live amongst the residents of Haliburton, and fit in quite well. Fit in I did, but not without the help of the people around me. And that thing about being country enough, well, you’re not country until you live in Haliburton and endure all four seasons and come out smiling. I moved here in the spring, and was welcomed into Wren Billings’s home. I stayed with Wren for six weeks. During my time there with Wren and Sonya, I was treated as one of the family. The kindness that was given is something I will never forget. To imagine a perfect stranger extending that kindness is hard to picture in today’s world. I moved into a house like no other I had ever been in. It sits nestled amongst the trees, on top of the mountain, surrounded by nature. There are no power lines to invade its beauty, or phone lines to drown out the sounds of the birds chirping their songs. There is no cable. Satellite range is mediocre at best. For the first time in my life, I felt completely at peace. No longer afraid of who or what might bother me at night. The tranquillity of nature at its finest. Never in the city had I felt that level of comfort. Something about being out on the mountain told me it was a safe place to be. This didn’t come about all of a sudden, it took a good year before I got there, but I did get there, and to anyone who fears the dark, this is huge. Even listening to the wolves and coyotes didn’t unnerve me as much as it should have. I often waited for the sound of the birds flapping their wings, calling their mates, before drifting off to sleep. Winter came and with it came probably the worst winter I’ve ever had to deal with as an adult. My son would often come home from school and spend hours plowing the driveway, in an effort to keep it clear so that I would be able to get up the hilly driveway that seemed to go on forever. Sometimes we were successful in keeping it clear, and Mother Nature would cooperate. Sometimes she just didn’t want to work with us. The nights were cold, and it was an endless routine of splitting and cutting and piling and carrying wood in order to keep warm. The work involved was overwhelming. Through word of mouth, I found Lyle Bacon and Harry Hutchings and between those two we were able to keep a somewhat comfortable temperature in the house even on the coldest days. Our generator was temperamental and we would go weeks and weeks on end without it running. Making trips to the gas bar to run the little gas generator was an everyday task. Again through word of mouth I heard about Tony Salvatori from Emmerson’s. Well sure enough, I called him up and within an hour he had our big genie running. This also became a common task, as it seemed I was calling him on a daily basis. We bought a new genie and the fear of losing power or not being able to maintain power diminished. I was still uncertain, and for a long time waited for the house to go black, but it didn’t, not for a long time. Then it happened but it wasn’t the generator. It was the batteries. They weren’t keeping a charge. Could be the cold of the season diminishing them, or just that they weren’t good batteries. We had an off-grid system that when I moved there, no one knew how to operate. By the second year of living on the mountain we had become experts on off-grid living, but not without the help of Sean Flannagan, from Flannagan and Sun. He is an expert at off-grid systems and spent a lot of time educating us on the perils of how it worked. He had supplied us previously with the now defunk batteries, and true to his word, warrantied them and supplied us with new ones. We also worked out a plan for newer panels and repositioning of the panels to ensure the batteries were only necessary during our colder months. The thought of being able to have power full time seemed a life-time away. How wonderful it was to have Sean assist us in making this dream come true. We were informed as to where the sonotubes were to be positioned and how deep they needed to be in order for them to hold our new array of panels. My sister came up from Hamilton, and in what proved to be the very coldest November in history, she and I and my son dug deep and hand filled all eight tubes with concrete that was hand mixed as we couldn’t figure out how to get the electric mixer to work. We almost froze to death, but we did it. The panels arrived shortly after and were installed. Due to the extreme winter we had that year, the panels weren’t able to provide the level of power needed. The snow blanketed us way beyond anything that we could work with. Thank God for neighbours. Keith Cowen and Jim Hutchings to the rescue. Without fail, one of them would show up and plow for us, and give us encouragement that better days lay ahead. Finally spring arrived and the power we needed to live by came, in an abundance. It was one of those wow moments when you realize that you could actually sit back and relax knowing that your batteries are full and you can use a luxury or two and have no fear of power loss. Very few people will ever get to experience that feeling. Such appreciation for the things that people use every day and don’t think about. Living off-grid is not for the weak at heart. It takes a lot of determination, time and in the case of having to replace units, money. Personally, I couldn’t have done it without the help of my neighbours and friends. I no longer live there, but my heart is there. I left it on the mountain, and each time I get a scent of lilac I think of my lilac bush, gracing the driveway with it fragrance as you enter this paradise of land that allows you to be free of the elements of technology, the rudeness of society, and the congestion of vehicles that invade this beautiful town called Haliburton. Thank you my friends, each and every one of you that made my time on the mountain an experience that I will hold dear in my heart to share with my grandchildren and their children, in hopes some day, they too might want to venture down that path and rediscover Mother Nature and all her glory.