Thursday, May 14, 2009

If only I had known—Keep it simple STUPID! (part 1)

If only I had known...

Life was about as good as it gets. Dawn was fast approaching as I unzipped the fly on my tent and stepped out into a star-studded sky. Stars were everywhere. Scorpio was just setting on the southwestern horizon and there was just a hint of first light, barely discernible behind the mountains to the east.

I had been nudged from my slumber by the distant sound of coyotes yelping as they always do when proudly announcing their latest catch. Sounds of the night often made their way into my unconscious awareness as I slept all warm and toasty, snuggled up in my thick cocoon of soft cotton blankets, breathing the cool night air; the eerie call of a bird that I had yet to identify; the eight skittering legs of the wolf spider who kept trying to scamper up the side of my tent, getting partway up, only to slide all the way back down again; the clattering of pots and pans initiated by Isabella, the curious skunk who came to check out my site every night without fail. (Though her sound was not always what I became aware of first.)

It was fresh and cool this early in the morning. I restarted the campfire from the coals still smoldering from the night before when I sat staring up at the sky trying to spot the steady, methodical, movement of satellites overhead. The only thing that could make this moment any better would be to share it with a fresh cup of coffee. As I poured the water from jug to kettle, I thought about how much I had come to appreciate water.

Water. Before now, I had never appreciated what having water really meant, for without water, there is no life. I had never had to think about it. As long as I paid the utility bill, it was always right there in unlimited quantities. Out here it was different. This water had to be pumped from a hand pump at a well a good 1/2 mile away, then carried down the valley and back up to the top of the hill where I had decided to build my dream.

I was excited about my new-found appreciation for water. In fact, I was excited about everything. I had read all the "how to build your own hand-built house" books. Now I was devouring all the "how to live off the land" guides.

I had read the entire Foxfire Series, The Last American Man, Alone in the Wilderness, Walden, and many, many more. I even read the entire catalog from the Cumberland General Store. I read everything I could get my hands on about how to build with tires, straw, mud, cans, bottles, paper, and even trash. I learned how to build earth ovens, rocket stoves, domes, teepees, yurts, geodesics, and even underground houses. Was I excited? Oh yeah.

If only I had known...

Not me...

I sat at the top of my hill, in the middle of 80 acres of land, just purchased from another couple of dreamers with hopes of building their dream here, too. It was so beautiful. Seven different mountain ranges visible in the distance all around me.

But like so many before them whose dreams ended somewhere between foundation and roof, they had only gotten as far as building a ramada— a ramada to shade themselves from the sun as they sat in their plastic Walmart chairs, watching the beautiful Arizona sunsets, trying to decide just what to build and where to build it. By the time I got there, nature had already begun to take it back.

So many who have this dream, come this far—but the realities of living out here soon begin to take a toll on both body and spirit. Living unplugged, not only from the grid but from the everyday comforts we've all come to know, takes a certain kind of individual, and not many can survive it. How do we get the building materials all the way out here? Why does it cost so much to drill a well? How do we keep the food from spoiling? I didn't know it cost $35,000 to get electricity! What are we going to do once it's built...just sit here twiddling our thumbs? There's no shower?

I knew this almost always happened, but I was determined to be different. I was in my early 40s, had conventional building experience, was single, healthy, strong, and determined. More importantly, I was excited...excited enough to conquer almost any obstacle.

If only I had known...

I had it all figured out

I sat by my toasty fire sipping coffee, watching the world gently awaken, full of hopes and dreams. I had come from a world of asphalt and concrete, business and bureaucracy that wasn't real and didn't nurture the soul. That world came with compromises I was no longer willing to make. To hell with all that! I didn't want to live that way anymore. I would make this place a retreat from the everyday stresses of life. A place to reconnect with nature and earth. A place to step back, pause, and reflect.

My retreat had to begin with water—no water, no retreat. The well had already been dug in the logical spot. It was centrally located so all those other like-minded people (who would surely come and join me someday) would have equal access, although it was half a mile away from where I now sat.

I had bought and installed an old-fashioned hand pump to bring water up from nearly 400 feet down—not realizing that getting water from a pump like that, from that far down, would be a long, slow process. It took over 40 strokes to fill a one-gallon jug. But, what the heck, it was good exercise and made me even more mindful of what a precious resource water is. Having to first pump the water and then lug it all the way over to my site made me appreciate it all the more. I soon learned to take my sun shower on less than one gallon. (Remember that "water-saver" shower heads are rated at 2.5 gallons per minute.)

I had to think about lots of other things too, like vehicles. Seeing a truck or car parked next to a tent, a yurt, or any kind of earthy abode just plain ruined the whole feeling.

So, I was determined to banished all vehicles to the property entrance, down below a hill where they would not adversely impact the view. And that would come with a bonus: no ugly roads criss-crossing all over the beautiful landscape. Just one little dirt road down the center of the valley. If anyone else wanted to join me here, they would have to learn to hand-carry their supplies in from there. Yes, that would make for lots of work but it sure would make you appreciate everything you hauled in.

Sure, maybe NO ONE would be willing to do that. Maybe they ALL would want to drive right up to the campfire on a nice paved road and watch TV while eating their hot dogs—but not here. If no one else wanted to do this with me, to join in and celebrate the process, that would be fine, too. I would build this dream myself, haul everything in on my back, build it all by hand, and reap the rewards of just knowing I had done it.

There would be so much more to think of, but for now, in this early morning solitude, there was no radio blaring, no horns honking and no television to suck my attention away. It was just me, the desert and the beautiful orange glow of the rising sun. How wonderful it was right at that moment, watching the sunrise.

It was perfect.

If only I had known...

Stay tuned for If only I had known—Keep it simple STUPID! Part 2
Images sources in order of appearance. All un-sourced are personal photos.
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1 comment:

Dan Gair said...

An important read for anyone contemplating creating their own off grid, sustainable paradise!

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