Angela Long is a poet and writer who has lived off the grid for the past three years. Visit her blog.
“I wrote Notes from Off the Grid here, last summer, in the cabin where I’m sitting right now. We live in an area of Naikoon Provincial Park that’s off-the-grid. There aren’t many of us here–about a dozen others officially off-grid. We’re not an intentional community–just a bunch of people who ended up out here (some have been here since the 70s), who like this lifestyle (and living in a forest along a magnificent beach). There’s a wind turbine on the property where I live that provides enough power to fuel my laptop, internet connection, and a few other low-voltage luxuries.”
Notes from Off the Grid
i.) The road
First there’s a sign:
Proceed with Caution: Narrow, Winding Road.
Then there’s a line to cross,
where tarmac turns to gravel,
where electrical poles stop and cedars
creep back to the edge.
The forest thickens. On bare branches
moss grows in mufflers,
hangs in gossamer veils.
Tamped pathways rusty with leaf mulch
all lead towards the Pacific.
There are cabins here,
built from driftwood and salvaged glass.
There are people who chop wood,
collect rainwater in barrels.
They light candles or propane lanterns,
tune to CBC on battery-operated radio.
Or they listen to silence.
It has a sound, a fullness.
It’s heavy with sigh of tree,
and space between breath.
It’s ripe with pause between birdsong
and crash of surf.
It’s golden, they say.
But no one tells us it’s addictive.
My ear seeks it as a musician’s
seeks a Bach Partita or an Ellington Suite.
I crave its harmonious overtures,
and well-timed rests.
Crunch of foot on leaves. Knock
on wooden door. Creak of rusty hinge.
Steaming kettle and clanking teacup,
rat-a-tat-tat of conversation.
This is why, I think,
all the while holding up my end of the conversation,
this is why people become hermits.
It’s about firewood¾too wet, too knotty.
About driving past Rose Spit,
all the way to East Beach,
chainsaw ready for bucking
logs washed up from the world.
Yellow cedar, mahogany, even yew.
It’s about storm reports from Thailand,
catching waves that have travelled
thousands of miles.
It’s about huckleberries
ready to pick, salal berries ripening soon,
about staying up all night canning Coho,
or glasswort, or bottling elderflower wine.
It’s about the price of gas, the size
of engines, the durability of tires
(on these roads). It’s about freight charges
and air mail, about Okanagan peaches
five times the price.
It’s about Sarah
pregnant for the first time,
Juliana for the third.
About how everyone
seems to be having babies.
“There’s something in the water,” they warn.
We collect it in rain barrels,
two, blue plastic, 84-litre garbage pails.
It hits cedar shingles,
drips into a trough,
runs its thin, steady stream.
It’s the colour of pale urine.
They say it softens skin, brightens eyes.
We boil it, drink Earl Grey,
Rooibos, Apple Cinnamon.
We bathe in a basin
just big enough to crouch.
We wash each other’s backs,
feel it trickle down our spines,
We feel it seep into those parts of ourselves
we never knew existed.
It’s as though we have roots,
always reaching for the trees.
I’m sure it’s been noted before,
how when the sky is grey
they’re greener than usual.
Totem poles, bark baskets,
homestead fence posts, fighter planes.
Everything’s written in their rings.
I’ve heard they’re sentient and scream when cut.
I’ve been told to lean into bark grooves to heal myself.
I’ve been watching them,
trunks as solid as rock, wider
than my embrace.
I’ve watched them bend
like grass blades in the wind,
like dancers warming up.
I’ve been watching the dead ones,
noted how ferns sprout from their innards,
how saplings take root
where their hearts must have been.
We’re surrounded by eighty of them,
roughly hewn. Knots, burls, grooves,
bark as mottled as aged skin,
the colour of fine ash, of sand,
of dulled silver.
I’ve noted when the sky darkens,
and the fire burns strong,
They glow with the embers,
a burnished gold, a bloody red.
They glow as though something in the cambium
has been waiting for this moment,
for this night.
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