Curling Irons and Light Bulbs . . .
I called my friends the day I plugged in a curling iron in my home in the backwoods of Oregon.
I could curl my hair! Wow! I could even call on a telephone inside my house! Oh my, really wow!
It was strange, exciting and oh so decadent.
For the previous 35 years I had lived without electricity. I washed my hair with water I heated on a woodstove and dried my hair by the same woodstove.
I ironed my clothes with a flat iron . . . heated on the same wonderful woodstove. I even washed them with a hand-turned wringer washer and a scrub board.
“You did what?” new friends have asked me in bewilderment. “You lived without electricity and really used a scrub board? Why would you ever do that?”
I am a bit of an aging “hippie show off” so I would answer, “Actually, before I lived in a log cabin, I lived in a tent. I washed in a creek and cooked on a campfire and a coleman camp stove.”
“Oh and I had no telephone for decades.”
That would get more oohs and ahhs.
We did not intend to live without electricity. After all, I and my husband Bruce had been raised in a city. Our families had phones and televisions and electric stoves.
Even after we met and married we never dreamed of a life style without modern conveniences.
The Early Years
Those first years after we married we had a full range of electrical gadgets of that era. We had phonographs, light bulbs in our homes, electric typewriters and plug in telephones.
We could open a fridge to get orange juice and toast bread in a toaster. We had a TV, though channels turned off after the national anthem at night
Seeking the Peace of Backwoods Living
The war in Vietnam changed many of our generation including us. We moved “back to the land” in the early 70’s with a few dollars, lots of youthful energy and a desire for peace and fresh air.
We built a log cabin by hand with logs we skinned and scrap lumber we found from old houses. We bought a woodstove and kerosene lamps.
Electricity? We thought about having the lines brought in but the cost was too much for our budget that first year. We used kerosene lamps and candles, both of which made the charred food from the woodstove look more appealing.
At least once a year for a number of years we considered bringing in electricity. At first it was a matter of money. School clothes for four growing boys or electricity? Books to read to the boys or electricity? College tuition or electricity?
A Simple Life
Eventually we stopped the debate. We liked the simpler life of being unplugged. We cherished the stillness and silence of dusk when the only sound we could hear was the turning of the pages of a Berenstain Bears book.
The Years Passed
I look back on those years with fondness and a shake of my head. It was peaceful . . . and a whole lot of hard work!
The years have passed since we first moved back to the land. My husband Bruce died in 2005 of a brain tumor. I am older and the muscles are not as strong as they were.
I have electricity now but I still cut firewood for the woodstove. I am glad for it connects me to a simpler life and keeps me healthy.
Living “without” though has made me appreciate every small luxury that most people see as necessities. I can cook without chopping kindling first and can email children living all over the world.
I can turn on a light and answer a phone inside my house.
I can iron the wrinkles out of a blouse without heating a flatiron on a woodstove.
I am so immensely grateful. I giggle sometimes just turning on a light.
More Lessons Learned from the Simple Life
One day last winter after many trips to the wood pile and a drippping wet repair of a bear bitten water line I asked myself, “Was it worth it?”
I have met raccoons and cougars, deer and hawks. They taught me to live in harmony with them, for what I do as a human affects their home, their offspring.
I have learned I can learn and that I love it. Living in the backwoods I have been challenged by mud slides, frozen water lines and frogs invading my home. Long before youtube videos I had to figure out how to use post hole diggers and clamps and what plants are best to hold a hill.
I sometimes swore but when I figure out a new skill I felt resilient . . . and like a tough old gal.
I especially learned that I cherish and thrive best surrounded by the beauty and simplicity of nature.
Passing it on
My children are adults now with children of their own. We talk about the old days when they read by kerosene lamp and used an outhouse.
I ask them if they ever felt deprived or disadvantaged by their simple upbringing.
They smile and list all the things they learned and have done . . . going to university, traveling the world, being self reliant, loving the outdoors and having great relationships.
Then they point to their children, my grandchildren and smile again. So do I.
Yes I have a curling iron but more than that I have a family that walks gently on the earth. Gratitude and joy lives on through the next generation.