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11/04/2004 Archived Entry: "Makeshift "infrastructure" and the winter Hermitage"

ADVENTURES IN INFRASTRUCTURE. We have power out here at the Desert Hermitage, thanks to the investment of time, money, and cleverness by my fellow hermits.

This is a Very Good Thing. While I can wax as nostalgic as anybody while browsing the Lehman's Non-Electric Catalog, in reality my idea of primitive living is being compelled to use a low-wattage microwave oven.

Power out here is not always present, though. Even when it is, you do things like unplug that low-wattage nuke when it's not in use, just to keep the little green LED from drawing its tiny bit of juice out of the system.

One of the things we're learning, now that it's November, is that cold weather and frost suck electricity out of a makeshift power system more than about a zillion of those little nuke timer lights. Live and learn. Even if your off-grid system is temporary, use the most heavy duty wire, lay the lines inside conduit, and don't coil up that extra bit of extension cord. (Apparently extra cord, especially coiled, is a Very Bad Thing.)

Compared to pioneer ancestors, we're still living in luxury, I know. In the worst case short of SHTF time - power failure coupled with the failure of our propane heaters and cookers on a 20-degree night - all we'd have to do is pile into a Jeep and check ourselves into a motel in some nearby town to get warm, cozy, and well-fed. Still, when it's below freezing - which it is most nights now - and there's no grid to rely on, no flip-a-switch-and-it's-there heat, light, and cook-power, you're really surprisingly aware of how vulnerable human beings are. It's easy to dis "civilization" when you're sitting in the middle of it. But out here, you understand why our grannies and great granpas rushed to embrace its benefits.

Eventually the Hermitage will have more sophisticated (and hopefully reliable) off-grid "infrastructure." With backups (oh, I love backups). But there's still something very different about knowing that you, and you alone (with the dubious help of nature and the machinery and fuel of your choice), are responsible for providing everything that makes civilization civilized.

This morning just before dawn one of my propane bottles died and the heat went out. Getting warm again took half an hour or less of fiddling. Conditions weren't particularly grim - no snow, no rain, no wind. But fumbling around in the chilly pre-dawn reminded me of how vulnerable, how scary, it can be for human beings to take care of themselves.

Yeah, I know. I'm a wuss. Tell me about it. This is hardly the same as venturing into the wilderness with nothing but a knife and a few strips of jerky. But it's both nervous-making and a thrill to live with makeshift "infrastructure" as winter approaches. Every day is a reminder that the simple life is anything but simple.

Posted by Claire @ 07:44 PM CST

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