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Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


Off-Grid and Free: Living With Wolves and Remote Communications

Lake Ice May 4th

They're back. The wolves. During breakfast one morning this past week, we heard a chorus of howling. Racing down to the shoreline, we saw 3 wolves in the center of the lake about a mile away.

Through the years we've seen wolf tracks on numerous occasions and have even seen the occasional lone wolf, but last fall, we became aware of their presence when a pack of seven emerged from the shelter of the woods into our clearing to the north of the house.

They seemed just as curious about us as we were of them. They hung around all through the evening and at one point assembled below the hill behind the house and serenaded us with howling, yipping and barking. We didn't see them all winter but their return this week told us at least 3 survived.

We've gone from abnormally cold to the opposite extreme. Well above average temperatures. The lake ice is decreasing about 1 ½ to 2 inches in thickness per day. Roughly 15 inches of ice to melt yet. All the snow is gone and we are busy at work with outdoor chores and gardening.

Living 100 miles in the bush certainly has many challenges, not the least of which is communications. A reader voiced questions related to this topic. How do we communicate with the outside world when we live so remote? We are well beyond cell phone range and using tin cans and string is not an option.

Satellite Internet and TV

Remote Communications

When we started building our homestead in the wilderness in 1999, our communications was ultra basic. At that time, a system was in place that allowed a person out in the bush to communicate with others via a portable transceiver.

This radio was battery powered and the long-wire antenna was strung as high as possible between two trees. Depending on weather and atmospheric conditions, it was rather dicey whether a conversation could take place. Instead of voice, one might hear nothing but static or useless mix of static and garbled voice.

The following is an excerpt from my book, Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness.

Communication in those early days at Hockley was unique—at least unique to us. Many hunters and trappers worked in the bush on their trap lines and lived in cabins they built. Their communication system included a battery-operated transceiver. Voice could be transmitted as well as received. The antenna consisted of a long wire that they hung as high as they could get it, between trees. In the town of La Ronge, an operator was stationed 24/7 near a high-powered radio. Someone would call in from the bush and would want to place a call. The operator would dial the call to a landline and then acted as intermediary between the caller in the bush and the person receiving the call on the landline. The operator listened in and, depending on who was talking, either broadcast or received the voice.

It was like the days of walkie-talkies. "Blah blah blah over," with "over" being the key word.

Acting as the go-between, the operator directed the voice traffic back and forth between the two parties using a simple foot pedal switch. Depending on the switch position, voice would be transmitted to the receiving party or their voice was sent to the caller. This banter went back and forth until both parties had said all they wanted to say, and the communication ended with over and out, thus enabling the operator to know the conversation was completed. Anyone tuned to the frequency being used could listen to the ongoing conversation. There was no such thing as a private chat--quite reminiscent of party lines from long ago.

Because of our terrain and distance from the base station, the bush radio was unreliable. Voice transmissions were garbled and static was an issue. But in an emergency, someone was likely to hear our transmission and relay a message for help.

A Reliable Satellite Phone

Once the house was built and we were settled in, we needed a more reliable means of communications. We opted for a satellite phone. Our first satellite phone was literally a brief-cased sized gizmo that I would take outside, raise the lid which was the antenna, and place a call. Not a real convenient thing to do at 30 below.

Roughly in 2003, we progressed to an Iridium hand-held SAT phone which was portable as well as practical since it could be used indoors as well as outdoors. Portable because it has a small attached wand antenna, and practical because I mounted another antenna on the roof so it can be used indoors.

It is ultra-reliable but had a high initial cost. If memory serves me right, it was about $1,300 to purchase and at charges of over $1.00/minute to use, it's best not to be chatty. We still have this phone as emergency backup. It gives us peace of mind knowing we can count on it in the worst of times.

About that same year we bought our first computer. The computer opened the world to us. Now we could consider other communication alternatives. We could use technology to our advantage and use another means of communications. Satellite Internet.

Much the same way people have a cable running to their house and a modem that connects to their computer, we have a satellite dish and modem. We receive and transmit signals up to a satellite and then back to earth. This system allows us to tap into the Internet, do all our financials and taxes online, email and make VOIP (voice over Internet) phone calls.

SAT phone and Internet phone

As the years have rolled on, our satellite Internet service has improved with newer, more modern equipment. The system has its limitations, but it does everything we need it to do.

What an awesome feeling it is to live so far from society and yet be able to dial a phone and chat with anybody in the world, log in to my bank account and pay a bill, write an email to send off and even compose this blog post complete with pictures and ship it to Mother Earth News. Thanks for reading and I'll be back again shortly.

Ron Melchiore and his, wife Johanna, currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of: Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness by Ron Melchiore published by Moon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Ron can be contacted at InTheWilderness.net and on Facebook and Pinterest. Read all of Ron's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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