Unintentionally Off Grid

Nine days ago it started snowing, on a Saturday. It fell steadily for days on end. By Monday we had big drifts of fluffy, white snow. Enough to build snowmen, to sled, to build jumps, forts and tunnels.

It covered my half-planted orchard, and my dreams of summer.

Blueberries and Currants in HugelKulturs

The Biochar Pit Burns Not

It frosted the mulberries and wild huckleberries.

Mulberries with Frosting

Wild Huckleberries

It blanketed the cottage garden.

It filled the woods with the heavy stillness that only snow can make.

And then Tuesday the ice storm came and that stillness was broken by the constant sound of cracking branches and falling trees.

Snowed In

This was once a clear driveway as far back as you can see. In 24 hours it was full of fallen trees. And then the power went out on Wednesday.  It continued to snow steadily until then.

I spent most of the daylight hours thawing animal waterers and doing farm chores, busting buns to get everything done by dusk. I boiled water on the wood burning stove to wash dishes and rags to clean udders at milking time. On the campstove I cooked rooster and dumplings, rabbit gumbo and corn biscuits, pancakes, bacon and cobblers from thawing fruit.

We played Yahtzee, Cribbage, Scrabble and Go Fish. We read The Long Winter by kerosene lamp and to warm up, took turns hand grinding flour.

To save the lamp oil we went to bed early. After a few days we fell into a routine and this new life began to feel normal. Disconnected from electronics and instant gratification I watched my children begin to play differently with each other. I saw more imaginative play and more conflict resolution. Despite the stress of trying to get everything done during the short window of daylight hours, it began to feel almost like a vacation. Our neighbor came over for breakfast and dinner most days. We had time to sit and talk to each other.

And then on the fourth day the power came back on and a part of me was sad. But not the part that had worried about predators finding my animals without the electric fence on! It’s obvious to me why we have less time these days, and less engagement with our immediate families. We’ve created situations where we need to leave the house for long hours to hold down jobs, too many engagements for children, and when we are together we are all plugged into different electronic devices.

We’ve decided that each Saturday we will turn off the lights and electronics at dusk and spend time together as a family, studying each other by candelight.

We also decided that since we had become acclimated to a frigid internal house temperature, we are lowering the thermostat from 58 F to 54 overnight and 57 during the day. The bad news? We are out of dry firewood. My secret is two pairs of long Johns. Since we’ve been keeping the house cold I no longer dread heading out in the dark to do animal chores.

Some other things I learned last week:
Goats don’t like head lamps.
Chickens that roost in trees can freeze to branches but they are otherwise incredibly hardy.
Old roosters taste amazing. So much so that I’m thinking about taking up caponization.
I’ll be taking down a lot of trees as soon as I can afford it.

How about you? How did you fare in the storm?  Did you learn anything surprising?

21 Responses to Unintentionally Off Grid

  1. We’ve been through times like this and loved it! We have a Victrola that we don’t listen to often but when the power is out, we light a lantern and crank it up. The snow replaces the fridge. The only problem is water so we learned to cut back on it’s use and with warning, fill containers. Good times and good memories!

    • Annette Cottrell

      Sharon how cool!! What kind of music does it have? Luckily we did not lose water. We want to put in a well and having an emergency hand pump will be a must for sure! When we first made out our emergency list my husband made sure there was a hand tap for the kegerator and at the first sign of snow he sent me off to refill the keg. Something went wrong with the fittings though and he lost all the CO2 so we had no beer anyway. ;p

  2. You guys really did get the heaviest of the snow storm and freezing rain. We got a fair amount of snow but largely missed the freezing rain and the results of that. We actually had already planned to begin removing some trees this year (as much as our budget will permit) and intend to keep doing that as we can afford it over the next several years to improve our sun availability to the garden. It also improves our safety by removing the largest of the trees that literally are within crushing distance of our house.

    • Annette Cottrell

      Laura I cannot wait until all the tree companies have time to do bids again! I didn’t mention it but I was outside doing farm chores early one morning and heard a loud crack. I turned and saw snow start to shake off the top of one of the tall trees close to the house and my heart just froze for what felt like an eternity, until it decided to fall on the drive instead of crushing my sleeping family. Those trees are beautiful but I never want to relive that again! How nice it will be to have more sunlight on your garden!!

  3. Wow, I was just thinking about our recent power outage and how it affected our family, and then I read this post! You and your family are amazing for being so prepared and handling the outage so well! What a cool idea to have a weekly no-power time – it sounds like a wonderful way to reconnect and remember what’s important. :)

    It’s inspiring/motivating to hear about how you and your family handled the outage with such minimal disruption to your routines… we definitely have some preparing to do in our neck of the woods for if we were to lose power for several days.

    Just wondering, what did you do about fridge/freezer contents during the outage? Where we are, our bad storms don’t necessarily mean cold weather, so we can’t just put everything out in the snow. Did you lose any food to spoilage during the long time with no power?

    • Annette Cottrell

      Danielle we’ve talked about it many times. A few years ago in the middle of Seattle there was a big wind storm and many people, including our neighbors across the street lost power for two weeks. It was really eye opening but we’ve been working on preparation ever since then. We put the things that really needed refrigeration in ice chests outside with snow. Many things like cheese and fermented foods were fine without refrigeration so it wasn’t much. I made pots of broth with meat and just left them on top of the wood stove cooking all the time so they never went bad. This made dinner a snap! We do have a small generator that we plugged into the chest freezer once the weather started warming up again, otherwise frozen meat would have been the biggest loss. I chose to take the frozen fruit out of the freezer and we ate cobbler and fried eggs for breakfast every day which felt like a treat to the kids. It’s amazing how important having a hot meal becomes when it’s 24 outside and no heat!

  4. Beautiful photos…it’s great that your family was able to connect on a deeper level during the storm.

  5. Sounds like you made it through and learned some amazingly important and profound lessons! I do love all of our modern conveniences, but I also acknowledge that they have definitely come at a cost! Now, if you could just send some of your moisture our way, we’ll happily take it!!! ;-)

  6. We too had a wonderful time being off the grid and snowed in! It was a lot of fun to cook on the woodstove and slow down to enjoy one another and our neighbors. We had a few trees drop some small tree sized branches and we now have a birch tree that is so beat up it just needs to be taken down. On the upside, cooking on the woodstove for days left us needing more firewood and the birch tree and giant cedar branches will refresh our wood pile. Our family, for the sake of saving money on power (and for the fun of it) turn off all the lights, etc, on fridays and find it exceptionally centering after the long work and school week.

    One thing I learned this week…putting giant blocks of ice and snow in the fridge kept things just cold enough and we didn’t have to transfer everything into a snow filled camping cooler outside. :)

  7. We also enjoyed the power outage… although ours was only for a day. I, like you annette, was sad when it came back on. We were prepared and able to cook and keep warm. We put a blanket up in the hall to trap the warm air into a smaller living area. I LOVED the smaller living area as I was able to watch my kids play as I washed dishes by hand. It made me long for simpler times.

    We also visited with neighbors, but more to make sure that the tree that just fell in that direction didn’t damage anything. We were all lucky and no body or house was damaged. A few gardens and lawn structures were damaged, but those can be fixed easily.

    My kids were VERY excited to have the power back on. Especially my 3 year old who was scared to go in the bathroom in the dark… The shouts of “there’s power in here too.” sounded in my house for a while as they had to try every single switch. :)

    It was nice that we had power because we were able to house some families that had health issues that were dangerous because of the lack of power. So, I was grateful in that way that the power was back on.

    I love the idea of having a power out time!

    • Annette Cottrell

      Waggie closing off rooms is so smart. I wish we could do that but this log home was not designed with efficiency in mind. Although I did really appreciate the big windows without electricity!

  8. What a lovely post! The pictures are beautiful and I loved reading out your experiences ‘off the grid’.

    • Annette Cottrell

      Thanks Danielle – I can really appreciate what those before me went through. I just kept thinking “at least I’m not hauling water from the river!”

  9. I popped into your blog earlier this week looking for some specific garden information and have enjoyed the other few posts I have had time to read.

    Being up here in Alaska, on the Alaska Peninsula, and out in what is called ‘the bush’ I can easily relate to the slower lifestyle. One of the first things that impressed me when I visited some of the smaller hub towns before moving here from DC a few years ago was how people took more time to visit with each other, after fishing season of course, and also truly watched out for their neighbors.

    Most areas out here have access to the wide array of TV, Internet and other electronic items but neighbors and good cup of coffee usually come first.
    I have also learned how to par down my power needs even further and do without a number of things, even though I had lived a pretty basic lifestyle in the city.

    Can’t say I can muster having our house as cool as you do but I have come to work on how to save heat and dress comfortably for cooler weather. I have also toughen up a lot when it comes to cold and would probably wilt quickly if back in even the spring heat and humidity of the Mid-Atlantic states :-)

    • Annette Cottrell

      Victoria, thanks for commenting! I just kept thinking back to how my Grandparents would make such a big deal whenever someone stopped by, putting on coffee and pulling out whatever they had (hopefully coffee cake but even twinkies), just something to make that person feel special. In this day and age we seem to be always on call somehow, tuned in to email or waiting for the cellphone or text. I have to remind myself that nothing is as important as the here and now, if just for five minutes. We’ll see if we manage to keep up our resolutions because this last warm stretch has left me feeling chilled and tempted to turn that heat back up! Thanks for stopping by for a visit. :)

  10. Hi Annette,
    Glad you made it through! We had a ton of snow here in Monroe but we didn’t get the ice storm. We didn’t lose power but I did realize I should have a small generator for my freezer and fridge. I had to frequently keep the snow off my greenhouse and blueberries. One thing I did accomplish on my forced days off was to start my blog! I have been wanting to do it for a long time. Here it is if you are interested: http://doublelsgarden.blogspot.com/
    Take care and thanks for your great info!

    • Annette Cottrell

      Larry I checked it out and commented – good for you!! I’ve been so busy since moving that it’s been hard to find time to post but the comments really keep me going. I miss my blog community!!

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