By Terri Smith —
Like many in the Cariboo, I live out of town. About an hour out of town. I love living here. I love the silence, the wilderness, the animals, the ability to ‘get away from it all,’ just by driving home. But there are times when it’s tough to live off-grid and a long way away from everyone else.
Take the last few months, for instance. Like many who live out of town we have satellite Internet, and like many of you have probably found, it doesn’t always work very well. In fact, for the last two months, it wasn’t working at all. Originally, when the receiver dish was installed they attached it to our balcony railing. This was fine except that our balcony railing also holds the solar PV array and is rather old and tired and it tends to move and shift with the changing of the weather. This meant that when it was sunny it worked just fine, but as soon as it clouded over, the railing would move and we would lose signal. To make a long story short, it would have cost us $250 to have them come all the way out here and move it, and while I know we shouldn’t have just taken matters into our own hands, we did.
This is the Cariboo, after all. We are of pioneer stock. We’re not the type to pay for something if we can do it ourselves (or, more accurately perhaps: we’re not the type who can afford to pay for something if there is any other way to do it). It just so happened that while we were trying to figure out what to do – and this time of year it can take a long time to deal with this sort of problem – we had a friend from France visiting who said he could fix it.
Don’t try this at home, as I’m sure it is greatly frowned upon, but he seemed to know what he was doing so with a bit of help he moved the dish onto the house and then showed us a phone app we could use to line it up with the correct satellite (I had no idea until this happened just how many satellites are out there). We now have perfect signal—better than it was when they installed it. In fact, because it was perfect but still not working, I was just on the phone with Explornet again this morning and the woman I spoke to complemented me on our signal strength. I told her what we’d done and she responded with, “Of course, you’re not supposed to do that yourself, but you have a much better signal even than we have here in the office. Well done!” So it would seem we solved one out-of-town, backwoods-home problem only to find one more bit of necessary interaction in our incredibly interactive house.
Because our house is exclusively solar-powered (with a back-up generator), we don’t leave anything plugged in. Everything is on power bars or gets unplugged when not in use. Most people aren’t even aware of these “phantom draws,” but when you’re off-grid you notice. So because we constantly turn off the modem, it has trouble turning on. It seems to get online we must turn it on, wait until all the lights come on, unplug it and wait one full minute then turn it back on again. I like to think of this house as having a series of secret handshakes you must know if you want to do anything involving the outside world. There are tricks to checking voicemail, (and the phone won’t ring if it rains for more than two days in a row), tricks for flushing the toilet, cellphones work at the top of the driveway or on the balcony but only if you stand on one leg and slowly turn in a circle while humming “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” Okay, I made that last part up, but you get the idea.
Yet in spite of the myriad ups and downs of troubleshooting contact with the outside world, I wouldn’t trade this life for any other. For one thing, it is nice to unplug for a while. It is a good feeling to wake up and know that all that you have is the day and it is up to only you to make the most of it. Facebook can lure me in as much as it can any of us and I find it both incredibly useful and a huge time-waster.
I also love that what I do in a day allows me to not only unplug, but to rescue and care for the surprisingly large numbers of orphaned creatures that seem to come my way. At most jobs in town I’m sure there’s some sort of unwritten rule that employees are not to show up to work with two baby meadow voles in their pocket. But out here, who cares? Oddly enough I have declared war on voles and am constantly setting traps for them around the garden or helping my very eager dogs to hunt them; yet, a few days ago when I was uncovering one of my garden beds I was suddenly faced with two tiny babies who had only just opened their eyes. My first impulse was to scoop them up before the dogs could get them (which is why they were orphaned in the first place), and once I had picked them up I bonded with them pretty much instantly. I couldn’t just let the dogs eat them now. But fortunately since I am my own boss, I gave myself a good talking to, and then went back to work with two little voles nestled in a handful of cashmere goat fibre in my pocket. And now that I’m back online, I look forward to sharing pictures of these cute little guys with all my friends on social media.
Terri Smith is an organic vegetable farmer in the Cariboo with Road’s End Vegetable Company. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Literature and a diploma in Art.