The aluminum hull of the boat slammed the swells that marked the entrance to the gulf across which there was no shore in sight for as far as 6,000 miles. The next exposed curvature of the earth was across a storm swept arm of the Pacific Ocean where the world’s largest tsunami had once consumed Lituya Bay. We were soon to be in the middle of nowhere with no one to save us. The captain had said this was why he could never stand to be in jail. Ten foot waves hit the deck, and we agreed. To fish the way we wanted, we had to head toward the most dangerous expanse of water, where hundred foot rock pinnacles cover the ocean floor, where giant ling cod feast on the violent currents stirring up their prey, where the outer limits threaten to destroy us or set us free.
The idea of living off the grid has never appealed to me in those exact words. The grid, if it’s the power grid or the matrix of our consumer-driven lives, is not the problem. If we are looking to be self-sustainable, it is not our dependence on public utilities that is troubling or un-troubling. Why would getting away from the grid, the numbers, and the crazy world matter if it still existed? Living off the grid requires a grid. But, there was and is something better than just off the grid. It’s right on the edge of it and exists in a person if not a place.
Living off the Grid may be the same ethos that informed the American Dream. The same character attracted to a better quality of life, freedom, and happiness might as well find it by becoming debt free and building a tiny house in the woods capable of surviving a disaster scenario. The techno-primitive nature of an off-the-grid life can only appeal to us now that we have solar panels and batteries. But the spirit behind it was always there. In me, it’s wanting to feel the sea salt in my face or the mountain wind telling me that, this is it, you either ride this wave of water or snow or light or mud or you don’t. When you don’t make the cut, you head back for shelter.
If the grid were jail, we’d all want out. When we got out, we wouldn’t go to office buildings that look like jails and follow rules that might as well be painted on the walls of the visiting area. We want to go outside. We want to feel alive. My first year duck hunting, I had this moment where I wanted to go back to the car. I’d gotten too wet, too cold, and a piece of metal had worked its way into the bottom of my foot. To get to it, I’d have to disrobe full-body neoprene in a rainstorm. My hunting partner had no sympathy, and it was his lack of sympathy that got me thinking about why I was there. And why I had to stay out.
I wasn’t just hunting ducks because it was an intellectually responsible form of getting meat or because it was pure joy to call them in and take them on the wing. The earthy smell and cold driven rain did something for me. It seemed like the worse the weather was, the more excited we were to go. Better chances at ducks, better time doing it. If something requires ultimate effort, I want to do it. I want to spend every breath, not save the ones I need to go over the last hill for getting home. It’s not for a return on investment, but it might work out that way. Even if I don’t get food in the way of game, hunting makes food taste better at the end of the day. It makes a sleep and a shower better. It’s living life the way I want to.
The outdoors is the only place for me to get things right. The list of obstacles is a bucket list. If it’s going to be cold, let it be damn cold. If it’s going to be far, let it be as far as I’ve ever gone. If it’s going to be exhausting, let me fight to stay awake for it. If there’s one way to become free from the stuff in our heads, it’s to face a life where there’s no room for a mediocre thought. There’s no room for what doesn’t matter. There’s only this moment in front of you and it’s yours to make. It’s off the grid not because my body is connected to a power utility but exactly because what lives in me is not and never was powered by utilities. And, if the lights ever go out, I know I’ll make it not just because of my dreams but because of my character.