Life Off the Grid

June 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

My Sachs Harbour parka still fits 41 years later ... it's just a little more snug.

In our developed world it is a catastrophe when the power goes out. It is considered extreme hardship to be without electricity. Family life is disrupted, routines change, food spoils. We’re not prepared to be inconvenienced. Most of the ways we amuse ourselves require electricity, the way we keep our food fresh, how we spend our days. We’re plugged in, tuned in and wired up.

Have you ever wondered what your life would be like without electricity?

We lived for a couple of years in the Inuit village of Sachs Harbour, NT, Canada before we got electricity in the mid-60s. That meant no fridge, no furnace, no heater, no fan, no TV, no iPhone, no computer, no shower, no hot water. Light came from hissing gas lanterns that emitted a soft circle of light and needed frequent pumping to retain pressure. All the kitchen shelves in our little one-bedroom house were like refrigerators. Meat was kept frozen and unskinned in a shed outside.

Our only heat came from a marvelous invention, an oil cookstove. Resplendent with a water reservoir for heating water which we’d melt snow in, a large oven and a warming shelf for proofing bread, it was our social center, the home’s hearth. Diapers dried above it on swaying racks, dry meat competing for space. Winter nights would find us reading around the stove by gas lamp, feet propped on the oven door. A kettle always hummed signaling readiness for tea. A large pot of caribou soup often shared the smooth stovetop or bread being toasted.

Before the village got electricity people talked, visited each other, played games and sang … when not out hunting. An old issue of National Geographic could start a conversation that would go on for hours. We held Sunday services in our house, served tea and cookies, and then guitars would be pulled out again, and the gospel jamming sessions would start. I’d play my accordion until I couldn’t pump any longer, take a break and then we’d play some more. In the two months that the sun disappeared below the horizon (end of November to the end of January) people would center their activities around the twilight that came around noon, which became our morning. So, if we visited until 2 a.m., or read until 4 a.m., that was normal. Darkness would sometimes affect my energy like a dark, heavy blanket, until my husband would get me out to walk in the fresh air, go visit a neighbor, have a cup of tea.

From this far side of my youth I am thankful that I have tasted the life  of the true north when the honest work of staying alive in a harsh climate occupied our hours and leisure meant people talking face to face.

ⓒ Inger Logelin 2011

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