Off The Grid

KIRK S. NEVIN

July 19, 1993|By KIRK S. NEVIN

I am fascinated by the revelations experienced by Kathleen McCarty (''Fireflies,'' Opinion * Commentary, July 2) during a recent power outage at her Baltimore home.

Ms. McCarty and her son delighted in the secrets of the technologically imposed darkness: not just magical fireflies, but such wonders as urban silence, crescent moonsets and the long-forgotten comforts of family and neighborhood companionship.

Perhaps Ms. McCarty would not be too surprised to learn that some other not-too-distant neighbors have chosen an ''unplugged'' lifestyle, not just for an hour a day, but for every delightful hour of every wonderful day.

Our family has chosen to live ''off the grid.'' When we built our home 20 years ago, stone by stone and board by board, we left out a few minor items: wiring, plumbing, lighting. No TV, no hair dryer, no bathroom, no washing machine.

Why choose this lifestyle?

The reasons would fill a book (which I hope to have the time to write some day). But let me just list a few of the more obvious examples of the benefits of our chosen lifestyle.

The single greatest benefit is that our kids were raised without television. No violence, no commercialism, no video games. They read, they climbed trees, they swam, they traveled with us . . . in short, they grew up as healthy young animals, which is what they are.

Another obvious benefit is economic. We have no monthly gas-and-electric bill. Also, the lack of wiring and plumbing considerably reduced the cost of constructing our house. We built an outhouse in the woods, got a couple of wood-burning stoves (one heats, one cooks), built a hot-water heater from junkyard scrap, and bought a few kerosene lamps. We were home.

Our second daughter was born upstairs in the west bedroom. One of those black March nights, bitter cold, softly snowing. Three candles flickering, the fire crackling in the stove, the black kettle hissing. She was born gently, calmly. I carefully washed her in a tub of warm water and placed her on her mother's breast. She is, at 17, a calm and self-assured young lady.

Our outhouse is quite cozy, with windows facing west and south into the ever-changing woods. Every trip, whether first thing in the morning or last at night, gives one an opportunity to appreciate the weather of the moment. A soft pre-dawn mist, a brilliant starry night, a slippery path through the snow . . . each necessary journey to the outhouse fills the lungs and the heart with the beauty of that particular moment.

Our evening meal begins with a walk to the garden. This day was typical: We picked a quart of red raspberries and a pint of blueberries. That was our salad. We stir-fried a zucchini, an onion, a green pepper, some beans, a tomato, a few carrots and a chunk of tofu. Put on brown rice in a pretty ceramic bowl (made by our elder daughter) and eat with chopsticks. You can have your microwave.

For six months of the year we sleep on a screened porch in the woods, on the floor, on a thin foam pad. Last midnight's thunderstorm was a miracle: the faraway rumblings, then the hot hurried winds and first huge drops breaking on the screens into a million tiny droplets of life. We laughed, and we made love to the beat of nature's greatest sound and light show.

Art? Try the texture of our fieldstone, or the patterns in a blue-jay feather, or the seed pattern of a sunflower. Check out the pink blush on a rugosa rose hip or the dawn light on a riffle in the stream.

Music? Sit with me in the garden. We'll listen for the dusk hour to our macho mockingbird as he salutes his domain from the topmost branch of our tallest white oak tree. Listen to the doves on a hot afternoon. Listen to the bullfrog woo his mate at midnight. Listen to the warm spring wind in the April-blooming orchard.

Come, be with us. Any day, any night. Each moment is truly a miracle, but this can only be so if we humans are willing to slow down, to turn off the lights, to be silent, to listen, to see, to wonder.

I believe we humans do have a place on this fragile planet, but it must be that place chosen by our Mother Earth: As but one of many millions of miraculous forms of life, each depending on all others.

Yes, Ms. McCarty, revel in the fireflies. And live calmly, so that they may revel in you as well.

Kirk S. Nevin writes from White Hall.

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