Monday, August 10, 2009

It’s been almost 2 years since we moved off the grid and by now the initial shock to our way of life has normalised. City luxuries like dishwashers, hairdryers and tumble dryers are items long forgotten and hardly missed. Creature comforts have been replaced by silence and wide open space.

As I reflect on the changes we have grown through, there are many valuable lessons which this rural life-style has afforded us. FLEXIBILITY immediately springs to mind.We tread the fine balance between sunshine (giving us electricity) and rain (providing our water), and so the weather plays an integral part in our rural reality. Hot baths are no longer planned or anticipated but greatly appreciated when the opportunity presents itself. And notions of “movie night” might be dashed by constant cloud cover. I’ve found that my perfectionism has been softened as we learn to digest situations with a healthy dose of humour and go with the flow of nature. While outdoor activities are always affected by the changeable weather, our building process has also taught us to be flexible. What was to be a house made from hemp, turned to a rammed earth and timber structure until the economic meltdown came along. Now it’s out with new and in with old shipping containers and recycled materials.

In my training as a management consultant I was taught to “release my agenda” when involved in high level business meetings, and this experience has been invaluable in swinging with the punches of nature.Learning to RE-USE precious resources has led to creative opportunities around all corners. Our used yoghurt containers become planters for seedlings and polystyrene packaging is reincarnated into Barbie furniture. Used water is never discarded before considering the thirsty plants or muddy boots that need cleaning.

Our daily lives are still as full and busy as when we were city dwellers – in fact, activities have only been added to our agenda. Like tapping the water tanks upon returning home from work to check the water levels, then pumping water to the header tank to ensure that our vintage geyser delivers hot water for a bath. Or checking the charge in the solar batteries with a hydrometer before watching DVDs on rainy days and mixing bio-enzymes and pouring it down the toilet once a month to ensure healthy bacterial life in the septic tank (very important!). And then there’s using the bath water to irrigate the garden - manually with a watering can. Not to mention regularly cleaning the gutters to ensure we catch the rainwater. So much for a “simpler way of life”!

With a full-time job in town, 2 small children, no domestic help (except for a well trained husband) and all the added tasks of living off the grid, learning to MANAGE MY TIME is a constant challenge. The best solution I have so far come up with is the “family forage plan”, whereby the family forages for their food in the garden instead of eating meals. This can eliminate or greatly reduce the time spent on shopping for food, cooking, eating and dealing with dirty dishes, while increasing the time we spend in the garden. Not to mention the cost savings and improvement to our health. This plan is underway (although we’re still completely dependent on the Pick ‘n Pay) and progress will be reported on…

Being so conscious of precious resources has of course taught us to have an incredible APPRECIATION for the simple things in life: sun rays, rain drops, a beautiful sunset and a well functioning septic tank. I often pause in deep gratitude to watch the children playing in the mud, ride their bikes down the dirt road or build intricate insect homes from discarded building materials. The old cliché of “the simple things in life” has never been more apt. Time spent with now distant loved ones also takes on great significance.

BALANCING our modern lives with a more natural one is a constant dance (which goes out of step from time to time). Taking our cues from Mother Nature always helps us reclaim our natural rhythms while our dependence on Her abundance continuously highlights the fine balance of nature and the fragility of the systems that sustain life on our planet. And if this awareness can rub off on the next generation, it was worth leaving the dishwasher behind!