After Visiting 100 Off-Grid Homes, This is the Barebones Truth About Life in the Pathless Woods


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Categories: Life Stories

This is a republication of an article from The Plaid Zebra, shared with permission:  By Tyler Fyfe

Life Off Grid is a film about people who have chosen to build their lives around renewable energy with beautiful, inspiring, and often challenging results. Filmed over two years of travel throughout Canada Life off grid shows how off-gridders have disconnected their houses while maintaining a familiar sense of home.

In a frostbitten valley in the deep bush of Northern Saskatchewan lives the most isolated couple in North America—100 km away from the nearest unpaved road. The only way in or out is by float plane. Ron and Joanna leave only twice a year for supplies – once before the freeze and once after the ice melts. As Phillip Vannini sat in the kitchen of their two-storey wood house, built only using hand tools, he suddenly felt overwhelmed by the sound of silence.

“How do you cope with the isolation?”

“We don’t cope, we embrace.”

Up until five years ago, when Royal Roads Professor Phillip Vannini turned on the tap, the water just flowed. His water had always been supplied by the city, but when he moved to Gabriola Island, a 22.2 square mile crumb in the Gulf Island’s archipelago, he was forced to move his own water. Then everything changed. He began to become more mindful about where his resources were coming from. And then another thought bubbled. What was it like for those who chose to step away from the grid completely? What did it take to become self-ruling?

Over two-and-a-half years, Vannini and photographer Jonathan Taggart would document the experience of 200 people living on nearly 100 off-grid sites in Canada.

 

What he discovered was a counter-narrative to the rainbow-child, gemstone-healing generalizations of social media portrayal.

It’s a common stereotype; if you live off-grid, you’re a hippie or apocalypse freak by default. Vannini says that’s a romanticized myth—one largely fuelled by photographers drawn to the visual appeal of Woodstock caricatures under the smothered glow of oil lamps in remote cedar cabins.

Ron is an industrial electronics engineer and Joanna is a registered dietician. While working at an electronics company, Ron felt that his passion was withering under fluorescent light. And he realized his plight was not unique—it was the result of being dependent on others. In the span of time between his parents’ lives and his – things had drastically changed. Now, the average person leans on some farmer in California. They had lost the skills of curing and canning. The only control of consumption had become price point. Why preserve produce when slightly softening bell peppers could be thrown out and replaced in the nearest grocery store aisle? For Ron and Joanna, hopping the timberline into the estranged wilderness was about refusing a piggyback and learning how to walk alone.

But not all off-grid homes are inhabited by those drawn to the dirt-under-fingernails lifestyle of Thoreau. As Vannini puts it, “some are making virtue out of necessity”. Once you step away from densely populated areas—even a step as small as 500 metres—the financial cost of extending the grid can outweigh the convenience. Cradled by white-capped mountains in the Yukon, Barrett’s choice to live off-grid is not the result of some predisposition to technological bitterness.

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