February 21, 2011

Getting Off the Grid


It wasn't until I got home from being on the road that I realized how much I missed it. Yet I love walking in somewhere to the sound of laughter and dogs barking and little kids shouting Brigid's here! But on a daily basis I need just a little bit of that time, just to myself, no cell phones, no TV, no schedule. Just the secret, strong murmur of silence.

Some people have a real hard time with the quiet though, finding it illuminates those things within themselves best left hidden. Quiet brings that time in which you can ponder the extremities of loss and the destiny of flesh, something most people don't want to put the remote down long enough to consider.

I had a boyfriend when I was young whose family HAD to have noise around, TVs on in practically every room. Add that to the general shouting across rooms at one another and after a couple days over the holidays, I was near to digging a tunnel from the laundry to escape. On weekends it was auto racing, the sound cranked up to "Car No 8 is in my bathroom" loud. He'd watch all day, live and taped; I never got a kiss unless there was a caution. He started making sounds about getting married someday and I ended it, knowing that I could not be happy in that life, and to stay and pretend I could be was unfair to everyone.

But there are noises that bring only a smile. What is a the first sound that you can remember?. As a child, I remember the sounds of the kitchen, my Mom cooking something. I remember the sound of the front door, a heavy hardwood door that shut with the announcement "Dad's home!". Dad would walk in and kiss my Mom. Not a peck on the lips, but a long kiss and she'd giggle, there with flour on her face and that is the sound I first remember.

I remember the sound of bat meeting ball as we played with my oldest brother out in the back field. The CRACK as aerodynamics and physics joined, the ball just a spherical dream of speed heading out into the trees as our dog Pepper raced to recover it before we did.

I remember the sound of the piano, as I practiced hour after hour as a child. Beethoven, Bach, Debussy. The sounds of the music filled the house, filling me, the opening chords of Rhapsody in Blue awakening something in me I was too naive to articulate.

I remember the sound of taps played at a funeral of someone I loved, the wreckage of duty crashing on the ears of those who are left. But it was a sound that fell without lasting damage for we were raised to be fighters, stronger than wreckage, taller than fear. Honor the fallen and continue the fight.
And always and forever, I remember the outdoors, walking or fishing with Dad. A way to get away from the artillery sound of traffic, away from school, worries, bills and whatever it is we need to occasionally shed the load of, even if we always hold the responsibility. Dad could spend all day in hip boots,in a Western stream poised with the relaxation of that first cast of the line. No sound at all, but the gurgle of the water, the wisp of a line as it traveled through the air, with a sense of direction more than speed, carefully seeking those quiet pools where sustenance lay. When he came home we sensed something in him much bigger than the steelhead that he laid on the table. Something he had needed, and somehow found.

My escape has been the hunting camp where even with friends I could seek the inarticulate solitude of a cathedral of trees, where I could watch the moon grow round in the darkening sky as I waited for the flash of a white tail. In the woods even the the most profound acts seem simpler. The crack of a rifle, the crash of a large buck, that act of deliberately taking the life of the game of the forest to put meat on the table; so clear and closing in its sound that no words needed to be spoken. The echo of the shot, the strident fall of the deer remained insular, wrapped up quietly within the chronicle of outdoor life, only to be spoken of in reverent, hushed whispers around a campfire.

Just as there were days of plenty, there were the days of cold feet and a cold barrel but we wouldn't take them back for anything. Whatever we could gain that would set us free of obligation to the suburbs might have been beyond our reach that day, but not beyond our desire. We wouldn't throw down our weapon and stomp out of the forest stopping at the nearest mini mall for takeout. We would wait, there in the blind, there in the stain of dying brush, waiting for it when it came, and doing without if it didn't. Sometimes those meals after, of beans and fresh biscuits and bacon, were the best of all, as we looked forward to the next opportunity to head back out to forest and cornfields ripe with whitetail.
But too soon came time to return to neighborhood and work, hours of travel, the groan and rumble of an airplane, the vibration felt from the yoke to my bones, the cadence and sorrow of air rushing past, left behind in the wake of strained metal. There were hotels in the city, waking to the staccato bursts of sound from the street, cars, shouted curses, and horns. Even at home, with neighbor's far apart on acres of land, but the Starbucks three miles away, there was no such thing as real quiet, There's the neighbors lawnmower at 9 pm, dogs barking or a shouting match off in the distance between people caged too long.

You either adapt to it, or you get away. I vote for the getting away part. My neighbors are scattered, the city 25 miles away, but cars still drive past out front, and I'll realize that I'm close enough in that if there is trouble, I won't be able to defend the place too long even with back up. I want to be further out. Not so far out that when I go walk along the creek I hear the sound of a banjo but far enough to be away from the major roads and cities in the event of a disaster where the unprepared come to loot the prepared.I've read Thoreau, who chronicles his life off the grid in his writings. I found his words moving but found little in common with a middle aged virgin who probably couldn't field dress a deer if he had to. But there is one thing he wrote of that I have always identified with. He talked of judging the cost of something but how much life you had to expend to get it. I've left a relationship for that reason, because in terms of cost to my being for what I got from it, it violated my sense of thrift. It's the same reason I'm getting rid of a huge house of space I don't need any longer and unnecessary possessions. Things are precious when they are few and carefully selected. If you squander yourself on things that give you nothing back, someday, when you need that part of yourself to survive, you may find yourself bankrupt.

In the last year I've given away or sold half my possessions, all the useless decorative clutter, keeping only the art that I truly like, my books, the furniture that's hand crafted and the tools of my life that I really need. Some have said I'm foolish, as a woman alone, there's safety in a busy town, a steady finality in the noise of a large neighborhood. So there is, as well, in the sound of the scrape of metal against a pine box. These are the people who also tell me that I shouldn't have a gun, the police will take care of me; those that speak imperious and loudly, not hesitant of opposure or argument, simply impotent to conceive either.
Hopefully within the year, I'll have the funds saved to build the cabin with cash, a place where the world will only intrude if I wish it to. I'll likely have to keep a small house in town for work, but as soon as I clock out, it will be empty as I drive towards the quiet. There will be my time alone, walks out, firearm on my hip, lest I encounter a mob of chipmunks. There will be my times to just sit, out on a felled log. Time to stop, without schedule as I watch the sky turn from the subtle grey of an unpainted church to the deep purple darkness of a priest's robe, the stars impenetrable and invisible, as if waiting for us before they showed themselves.

Barkley will be sitting by my side, hoping we're under a dog biscuit tree, soon to shed its fruit. We'll wait, serene and still, the moon shining on nibbled shadow, content to just sit underneath the starry sigh of heaven. The only other lights are as far off and distant as memories of shame or pride or loss, barely remembered like the smell of decay, sensed only in the instant of its knowledge and then fading to dim memory as you move away from it. Dark and far away, as such things should remain for as long as possible.
From where we sit, an owl will call, the sound unintelligible amongst the vernal branches. As a satellite tracks the sky, the owl calls again, a call to go home. And within, there might be a a small TV, some games for the children of friends. There will be my little computer to write and communicate. In much of the daily breath I draw there will be noise, but it will be the sound of a blade striking wood, the sun shimmering off of the blade like silver. It will be the crack of a rifle shooting on my land, the tool I will use for provision and protection. It will be the hum of machinery as the shop takes shape, room for more tools, room for more freedom. There will be voices, but they will those of reasoned discourse among friends, as though many of us chose to live away from civilization, we are not so naive to think it doesn't deeply impact us, our safety and our liberty.

It will be a life of still, dense sound; the sound of freedom. A life of remote quiet, the world outside spinning slowly into green smoke. It will be life on my terms as best as is possible, walking the uncertain spaces that open before me in the deepening fields, walking out into the constant trees, alone but nor forlorn, intractable and accountable. Walking on forward, rhythmic steps into the hushed, secret shade of life off the grid.

Posted by Brigid at February 21, 2011 08:51 AM

Yeah! You got it!

Posted by: Tim at February 21, 2011 09:22 AM

Brigid, Congrats on your selection of a life style that fits u. I'd like 2 add u have much more to ear from big business than the govt. There r surley mineral deposits all around u and when the miners come they will destroy your land and the life u have chosen. Why do so many people ignore the disstructive nature of big business? Coal, timber,minerals and the profits r all they are interestd in and have high paid lawyers to fight the case. Unsafe mines, oil platforms, sludge containment, air polution, tainted water,respitory problems please don't ignore these well documented problems. Enjoy your beautiful home and surroundings i'm envious!!

Posted by: neil at February 21, 2011 09:39 AM

Right on!

I live in the woods, have for ten years, and the quiet is wonderful. The only real problem I've found is that when I'm forced to go back into town for some work or any other reason the noise has become nearly unbearable. I think that whatever noise filter we develop when we live in an urban or semi-urban environment just disappears over time.

I'm often surprised how very little noise I want around me anymore. I'm sitting here typing in a house with nothing making any noise at all, just the gentle hum of the computer fan. This isn't due to a conscious decision. It just seems as though over the years I've become so internally quiet living this way that the externals have just followed.

I understand the attraction of monastic life, never talking, always praying, a completely contemplative life. Quiet seemingly begets quiet.

Posted by: Tom Usher at February 21, 2011 09:48 AM

Wow! I am glad I decided to look at some other blogs this morning. You express my feelings so eloquently!

Posted by: Bob in Tampa at February 21, 2011 09:55 AM

"It will be a life of still, dense sound; the sound of freedom. A life of remote quiet, the world outside spinning slowly into green smoke. It will be life on my terms as best as is possible, walking the uncertain spaces that open before me in the deepening fields,"...

Yes. But it will forever be incomplete and sayd without the sound of children. Believe me I know. and I don't want you to have to find out the truth of what I say.

Papa Ray

Posted by: Papa Ray at February 21, 2011 11:27 PM

Papa Ray -

I have a child, and she and her future children will always be a shining star in my home.

Posted by: Brigid at February 21, 2011 11:33 PM