Monday, July 25, 2005

Fantasy to Reality

A few of you have inquired about the meaning of " off the grid "; applied to living, it means no access to utility services: electricity, telephone, water, gas. Ever since Rodale published his first magazine 50 years ago about living off the land and economizing resources, I've wanted to try living a simpler life. I'm speaking for myself, as Richard is quite happy to be the audience at all golf and tennis matches held in our living room. Twenty years ago I gave up using paper towels and napkins thinking of all the trees I was saving, but that idea lasted less than two weeks. Richard said no! No cloth napkins! I pointed out Europeans have used fabric napkins for eons. Despite my plea for saving hot water usage, he wouldn't give in. Next, I tried to modify our nutrition. At that time no local health food stores sold stevia, jellies without sugar, food with no preservatives, stone-ground grits and flour -- you know, all those common commodities available today. So I returned to the SOS, frustrated.

So this living in the woods idea is mine and only partially Richard's. We both wanted a retreat and found this modular building we could use satisfactorily. At our age we didn't want to put excessive money into running a couple of poles for electricity and telephone a quarter of a mile into the woods and digging a water well, so we looked at what we had--Nothing But A Cabin. So one way my constant nagging to be ecological could count, since the Sheds are on a slope, was to have a compost toilet instead of an outhouse. But that toilet idea evolved over time.

In researching I discovered we could make our own toilet using a paint bucket with a toilet seat, graduating to a built-in. The bucket is nothing new to boaters on camping trips. Into this loo you use a mixture of leaves, cut grasses, and mulch to break down the waste. I chanted the entire book on our rides back and forth to NY for two years, trying to convince Richard this inexpensive way was the best. Finally, Richard thought of you, dear Folks, who may come for a visit. He couldn't see you going to a room to sit on a paint bucket (even if I decorated it!) and relaxing, then having to scoop some leaves to drop into the space you just filled! What if we give silver crowns for guests to wear while on their "throne"? I suggested. Would save embarrassment and provide lots of chuckles, I added. No, No, No, rang Richard's voice in my ear--hence, the compost toilet. If that ever fails to perform, the paint bucket is available. Don't worry, Friends, the compost toilet looks almost like the one in any bathroom.(Photo later) And we won't be distributing silver crowns, either. Richard won that argument.

I confess! this isn't all pioneer stuff. We're renting three miles from the Sheds, a tiny studio with a living room, kitchen, and bath. There the telephone, the computer and a television set are available. This will be Richard's escape from the quiet woods and our communications center. I can't live without my computer! This area overlooks the Delaware, so you can have your morning coffee while watching eager campers paddle down the river. Across the Delaware are the looming Poconos and Pennsylvania. On the other side is Highway 97 and the lower Catskills. A few doors away our landlord Yidell runs a small campsite and rents rafts. Up the road are a dozen campgrounds. A swift walk in the other direction is a country store where you can pick up the latest New York Times and a home-made muffin. Also there are several Bed and Breakfasts and two motels. Will that entice you to visit us? Come on. We'll be ready for you.

Our summer retreat is only 2 1/2 hours from NYC by bus and less time by train to Penn Station. It is on Scott's 50-acre property where he is constructing his small cabin. His guest house is a roomy screened porch that will hold two persons. You can sit on the porch with your coffee and look for bears, but no hot muffin nearby. Just a stone's throw is Scott's cabin and his outhouse. This is quite a nice walk from our Sheds. But a good way to get your daily walk.

In the Sheds are a propane camp stove, coolers with ice for a temporary fridge, and battery-operated and oil lamps. The double doors at each building when open are covered with mosquito netting to allow for circulation. Looking from one building to the other gives the feeling of one big room. Outside we have a screen tent for our outdoor all-purpose room. With space at a premium we'll have to caution local visitors to bring a jug of water (which we'll always need; otherwise we have to fill up at a near-by spring), a chair, a flashlight if staying past daylight, and a drinking glass. That will probably kill anyone's incentive to visit us. Out of town guests are an exception.

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