ARE YOU POOR?
The frozen earth crunches under my slippers, the forest nightlife hoots and howls, stars twinkle, crisp and clear through the leafless trees, my breath smokes out in puffs, and my headlamp sparkles the frost on the drooping mountain laurel as I shuffle along the path to the outhouse at 2am.
When I tell people how we live—off the grid, no running water, tiny space-- the thing they’re most concerned about is the outhouse in winter.
Since June of 2000, my husband Tom and I have homesteaded 21 acres in the Connecticut woods--a mile past the last power pole. Before that--our first three years of marriage--we lived aboard a wooden sailboat in the Caribbean. Definitely off the grid. We enjoy the challenge and independence of a freeform lifestyle-- depending solely on ourselves for employment and entertainment; taking our safety and happiness into our own hands.
Now, we're not youngsters--during our time together, one or the other of us celebrated our 50th, 60th and 70th birthdays. We stay healthy by eating well and using our daily chores as quirky fitness regimes.
Between us we have 5 kids and 4 grandkids and vastly different former careers—Tom designed astronaut gloves for NASA, and built a successful injection molding business. I did union acting work and a cappella vocals in Boston. No residuals or annuities keep us going—we’ve started from zero many times. These days, together, we make hardwood kitchenwares and sell them at high end galleries and craft shows across the US.
Compared to everyone we know, we live simply—a young friend asked boldly, “Are you poor?”
We’re certainly not rich, but we’re definitely not poor. And best of all—we’re not in debt. We don’t have a mortgage. We don’t have any credit cards and our savings fluctuate according to the project at hand. We just don't buy things if we can't afford them. We make do without the latest fashions (I actually prefer thrift store clothes and hand-knit sweaters traded for spoons), and we drive elderly, coddled vehicles. We grow organic produce when we can outsmart the hungry forest creatures. We're building a house with our own hands and sweat-- and we’re milling our own trees on a neighbors’ sawmill in exchange for work on their homestead.
And we’re rich in other aspects of life that can’t be bought: freedom from the abundance of rules, schedules and accepted schools of thought. Independence from the grid. The time and ability to explore our Selves and our relationship on our own terms. A freeform life.
But just because we live in the woods and off the electric grid doesn't mean that Rustic is our only option. We’ve made leaded diamond-pane, stained glass windows for our tiny cabin and because we worked on boats, our painted trim is high-gloss, marine-quality. We can watch movies streaming live and get emails using an air card and a power inverter. Our small space is filled with functional creations traded with friends in the craft world.
This is an honest lifestyle. As homesteaders, we have daily evidence of what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve avoided. If we're happy, it's because we've made fun situations happen. When we're broke, we neglected our business. If our gardens are invaded, we missed a hole in the fence. And when we're cozy and warm all winter, we stacked the hay around the cabin for insulation and chopped enough firewood.
At an age when our contemporaries are retired, resting on their previous careers, Tom and I are still exploring new territory—modern-day adventurers. We have a connection with the minute aspects of our daily lives. Friends and families watch our adventures with amusement, condescension, dismay--and some, I think, with a bit of envy.
We’ll never be rich in money, but, oh, we’re so rich in other ways: freedom, deep emotions, dreams and endless possibilities. It's not for everyone, our lifestyle, but it's the one that works for us.
And the 2 am trek to the winter outhouse? Honestly, it’s not a hindrance: It’s an ancient connection to primary functions; it’s a link to other outhouses around the world. And it’s an opportunity to track the stars, appreciate the moon-lit beauty, catch up with the owls and coyotes and add to our ever-growing packet of dreams.
Back in the cozy cabin, I refill the woodstove, snuggle into Tom’s warm body and head back to dreamland.