Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Michelle and I spent about five years looking for our place in the country. In our book, “Little House Off The Grid,” we share our experiences looking for our place and we also describe the many “coincidences” that seemed to confirm that we were meant to find this place and live here.
For a number of years after moving here I still drove back to Burlington (our previous home) periodically to see our customers. The days when I had to head back were depressing, stressful days, but as we all know, it’s just one of those things you do to earn some money. Michelle went back a couple of times a year to visit family and friends and she says that very shortly after moving to our place in the country it started to feel like “home” and it didn’t take long before the city felt foreign and unwelcoming. It wasn’t that easy for me because I still had to make those periodic trips back to suburbia from whence I came.
Over time the trips became fewer with more time in between them and when we finally decided to go full time publishing books, it finally sunk in for me, this place was my final destination. Every year we’ve done more work and put more of our imprint on the place. Michelle loves sunflowers and we call our place “Sunflower Farm.” We’re not the only Sunflower Farm out there. But that’s okay. It seemed like a natural fit for an off grid house that is “sun powered.” And sunflowers actually move during the course of the day to follow the sun, just like our solar trackers. (Michelle wrote about that here.)
We recently decided that it was time to put up a sign at Sunflower Farm. A sign that says, “We’re here, this is our place.” We mentioned our plans for a sign to our friend Heidi and she volunteered some letters that she had. So she brought over the letters and I got a big piece of cardboard and scoped out the design. I was fine with laying out the letters, but we also wanted a picture of a sunflower on the sign and that was out of my league. I tried cutting the petals out of wood but that’s not as easy as it sounds. I thought I might use a hockey puck for the middle of the flower, but the creative juices just weren’t flowing.
Our friends Hans and Carolyn offered us their old “Bon Eco” studio sign to use as the backing. After asking a few times how the sign was coming along, Heidi finally volunteered to make the sign for us. I’m not proud. I knew from how long it was taking me that I just didn’t have it in me to produce the sign that I envisioned. I thankfully agreed to let Heidi work her magic.
And magic it is! Heidi created a work of art! I just love the sign. In fact, I was thinking of putting it up in the living room! Why waste it on the road? I think it’s beautiful and it bugs me that I can’t see it from the house!
Heidi and Michelle suggested that I should just attach it to our gate. So at first, that’s what I did. But I didn’t like that location. First off, it looked like an after thought. Oh here, I’ve got this sign, what should I do with it? Oh, how about I just tie it to the gate? Yuck! Also, I was paranoid that someone would steal it. Sure it has our name on it, and who would want a sign with someone else’s name, but I know someone could pry those letters off. It’s a work of art.
So as far as I was concerned, the sign could not stay on the gate.
I had actually purchased some tall cedar posts to put the sign on, so rather than take the easy route, I decided to get those posts into the ground. Of course I chose a cold, rainy day and as usual, I had to walk back and forth from the road to the garage and wood shed about 150 times as I kept discovering that I needed different tools for different parts of the job.
I got the first hole dug just fine. This can be a hit and miss thing on our property since there are large granite outcroppings everywhere. Sometimes I get lucky. For example, when I put in the first solar tracker I was able to dig a hole 8 feet deep. I wasn’t so lucky digging the holes for my sign. For the first hole I was able to get down 3 feet and thought I was in the clear. Then I dug the next hole and hit rock about two feet down. As I enlarged the hole I realized that it wasn’t just a rock, it was a rock outcropping. Eventually I got a piece of reinforcing rod and a hammer and just whacked away until I found a place I could put the second hole. Of course by then my plans had changed and I had to re-dig the first hole. And clear out more brush.
But it was worth it. I absolutely love our new sign! I walk out to the road at lease once a day to look at it. I love the fact that right now without leaves on the trees, when you stand in just the right spot, you can see the sunflower (that Carolyn Butts made us) on the guesthouse, right behind the sign. It’s so awesome!
I’ve never owned a place that required a sign. I didn’t even have a name for my 40’ x 108’ lot in the city. My garden is now about 8 times the size of that lot, and it’s not just vegetables that put down roots into the soil. I have put down roots into this land and I’m not leaving. Not in the human form anyway. Michelle will find me keeled over one day in the potato patch, will burn me in a used fridge box and put my ashes in the grove of big pine trees. Really, why waste good wood?
When you get connected to land like this, it seems fitting to name it and put up a sign to celebrate it. We often say we don’t “own” 150 acres; we say we are the temporary caretakers of it. It will be here long after we are gone. I would say with the quality of Heidi’s amazing sign, it looks like it’ll outlast us too!
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To read more about our adventures in off-grid living, read our new book "Little House Off the Grid" available from Mother Earth News.