Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First year in a nutshell

It’s been a year since we traded our suburban Sandton life to a more rural off-the-grid one on the edge of the Knysna forest – and what a journey it has been!

We had been contemplating leaving the hectic city rush for a more rural type of existence for years (as I’m sure many other suburbanites do). After 4 years of browsing the countryside, we found a small piece of paradise: 1.7 hectares bordering an indigenous forest in the Western Cape (South Africa), situated at the end of a dirt road where a spectacular hike into a gorge begins.

With nothing but a very dilapidated old structure, no electricity or municipal services, this promised to be the perfect canvas to create an off-the-grid eco-house and live a more sustainable life…

We managed to rent a small, solar-powered, old farmhouse down the road, which meant that we had to bid a sad farewell to many of life’s “necessities”: toaster, heater, hairdryer, iron, microwave, satellite TV. Being dependent on rainwater tanks also meant that the dishwasher & washing machine had to stay behind. By learning and exploring a new way of life, we’ve learnt that there is immense expansion in contraction and that we don’t need nearly as much as we think we do.

Country living has been quite an adjustment and we got so much more than what we bargained for! John Seymour’s Ultimate Guide to Self-Sufficiency (which has been adopted as our new bible) did not prepare us for the baboons, for example. Getting to know them has been truly insightful. They have ripped the roof of our tool shed and destroyed our wheatgrass crop twice, which has led us to investigate all sort of options of protecting our vegetable garden. We’re currently planning to build a geodesic growing dome (and we’ll probably have to erect an electric fence as well).

The floods came and changed our septic tank into a septic terror…even our house guests had to get involved in the digging! I have made close contact with dry and composting toilets and an area of interest has opened up where I previously didn’t give the flushing the toilet much thought. We intend using a biogas digester in our new home which will take care of the “waste” as well as providing us with gas for cooking & refrigeration (the downside being that the methane gas produced apparently smells like a fart!). A matter which warrants further exploration…

We’ve almost run out of water & been without electricity a few times (but not nearly as much as we would have been if we stayed in Sandton!). The awareness of conserving water has probably been our biggest eye-opener. Water truly is the source of life and something that should be regarded with reverence and gratitude. Having such a close connection between rain & bathwater; sunlight and using the power drill, has definitely increased our awareness of the interconnectedness of all things.

Rubbish management has also taken on higher importance. We have bins for horses, compost, worms, recycling, re-using and removal. The science of worms has truly taken my fancy & we currently have 2 wormeries under experimentation. I have even managed to convince my father to keep worms!

It has taken me about 6 months to recover from what some call “urban shock syndrome”. The silence out here in the country is overwhelming – you can hear yourself think! There is no electricity or traffic to cause a constant hum and no media polluting our minds by trying to tell us what to think/be/buy. Without the distractions of city life one’s inner landscape takes on a life all of its own.
Living this close to nature has brought a profound sense of peace, joy and freedom (and feeling completely insignificant – which keeps us in our place!)

We begin construction on our little “eco”-house soon & the blessed journey continues…

"Contraction is expansion"