About five years ago, we went off-grid and said goodbye to our charming, but mouse-infested, wallet-draining, blackout-prone 200 year old farmhouse.
That farmhouse had actually inspired our move – not because of its inconveniences, but because it represented a time when its inhabitants had not only survived, but thrived without electricity or a fat bank account. And, while we had no intention of turning our lives into a historical re-enactment, we knew we’d have to make some choices if we were going to live with only the power we made. So, after five years of washing my dishes by hand, I got a super-efficient dishwasher (it actually saves water and electricity) and said good bye to my dryer.
We had line-dried our clothes most of the year before we made the move, but going from line-drying with an electric-dryer backup to depending completely on mother nature’s good mood was a bigger change than we’d thought. It meant setting up a space for drying indoors in snowy weather and, in summer, timing our wash loads with dry weather.
And, if there’s anything that has taught me to look at life from a basket half-folded point of view, it was the adoption of line-only drying. I groaned, for example, the first time a sudden summer storm drenched a line full of laundry. But when the sun came out a day later, the clothes were softer and smelled better than if I’d used a luxury-hotel fabric softener. When winter settled in, I thought drying inside would be slow because of the lack of wind, but because we use the wood stove 24/7 in winter, clothes actually dried faster. And there was another bonus I’d never thought of – the evaporating moisture of the drying laundry was a perfect counter balance to the over-dry air created by the wood stove.
I haven’t found any miracles in the mountains of clothes that I end up having to fold in late-night marathons (when sleeping children won’t rearrange my sorted piles on the couch). But when I’m meditating as I work my way through the pile, free of distractions and requests, it’s more than just laundry.
It was one of the few times that I didn’t have a camera, a situation made more ironic by the fact that most of my visits to this country inn at the center of Arlington Vermont had been to serve in the capacity as wedding photographer.
We went for a birthday party – two actually . My son goes to school with the daughter of the innkeepers, but neither he nor his brother had enjoyed a meal there before, and, when we sat down at our table with our impeccably-prepared meal, he said, “Mom, is this a fancy restaurant?”
The buffet had been beautifully decorated, and expertly-arranged flowers adorned every table. It was a beautiful as any wedding, but without any of the tension that such a momentous ceremony can create. But as we looked around the tent-covered patio and carefully restored barn and gardens, we children cavorting noisily in the paths. We saw the innkeepers’ children showing off their new rabbits. And we saw waitstaff, plucked from the ranks of our neighbors (who could very easily also have been guests), hosting friends rather than customers.
“It’s the fanciest,” I replied. “Where else can you have a meal like this and still get to pet a rabbit?”
We were sitting at our favorite diner a few Saturdays ago when my husband asked, “Do you think we should get a straight pick again?”
We’d had chickens before – sometimes we got the chicks from the feedstore; sometimes as refugees from a school project – so when we accidentally ordered the straight pick a few years ago, we felt pretty confident we could handle life with the three roosters that had made it into our coop. Besides, we knew that baby male chicks are usually macerated at birth, so sparing them might feed our karma a little.
So we brought home our chicks, and because we buy our birds strictly for eggs, we had no qualms about naming all of them. We called the hens, “The Ladies”. They were very similar in appearance (all Rhode Island Reds), and they liked to help me in garden and at the laundry line.
The roosters were easy to differentiate fairly quickly, however, and our boys quickly came up with names. Thing1 named the Red rooster “Red”, and a Barred Rock with feathery feet was named “Fluffy”. Thing2 chose “Chickie” as the name for the smallest of the three roosters, and, in the beginning, the name suited the downy white bird.
Fluffy quickly found a home with a family who wanted to build up their flock, and for a while it seemed as though Chickie and Red would rule the roost jointly. But Mother Nature had different ideas.
Just as the hens started giving us eggs, the roosters started noticing the hens, and, much to our consternation, began demonstrating the facts of life on an hourly basis. With 12 ladies and 2 roosters, you’d think Red and Chickie would have been in seventh heaven, but Roosters, as it happens, will let a woman get between them. And when Red decided to go after one of Chickie’s hens the feathers started flying. The fight escalated quickly, and, as Chickie became more enraged, I realized we were about to be a one-rooster family. I grabbed an old fireplace screen that hadn’t made it to the dump and dropped it between the two combatants. It didn’t stop the fight, but at least Red was safe – for the moment. And I patted myself on the back as I counted my accruing karma units.
Red had never heard of karma, apparently, because just a few short weeks after I had saved his life, he charged me at the laundry line. The attacks became more frequent, and, in the absence of any good books on chicken psychology, I deduced that I had injured his pride a few weeks earlier. Red wasn’t aware of my theories, of course and went on attacking me.
The day he attacked my youngest son, however, he used up the last of my good will. Thing2 was driving matchbox cars on the ground when suddenly Red flew at him. I saw him attack and got between them before Red could hurt him, but I was furious. An hour later, Red learned about consequences, and we discovered that, unlike revenge, karma should be served with stuffing.