I didn’t start my off-grid life because I felt guilty about hurting the planet, I started it because I felt I was connected to a system that wasn’t nourishing me, and disconnected from an eco-system that was a real source of nourishment – physical, mental and spiritual.
In October 2005 I had a terrible headache. It turned out I had suffered a near-fatal brain haemorrhage. I was rushed to surgery, where they drilled a hole in my skull and attached a metal clip to the wall of an artery which had burst in my brain.
Before I consented to the surgery, I was told that this was a technically complicated operation and there was a good chance that, if I didn’t die on the operating table, I would have some kind of disability. There was also a significant chance of post-op complications over the following 21 days, during which I might also die.
Thankfully, the surgery was successful. As you can imagine, the days that followed were a time of focused reflection on what was most important to me in life.
A few years before, a friend of mine had moved to the mountains in Spain and was living in a yurt there. When he first told me he was going to do this, I thought he was insane. But the year before my haemorrhage I had been to see him. It turned out that he wasn’t insane after all. And I needed to do things differently from now on.
So while I was recovering, over a period of several months, I began to make a yurt.
For those of you who don’t know, yurts were developed by Mongolian nomads. They are semi-permanent, low-impact structures made of wood and covered with canvas, a bit like a tipi.
The poles for my yurt are mostly ash, with a little hazel, from a coppice wood in Derbyshire. The tarpaulins were bought second hand from a marquee hire company. I bought a wood-burning stove on the internet and drove it all down to the mountains.
Three years on I have been back and forth from the mountains a few times. This was partly for economic reasons (ran out of money) and partly because I was offered a recording contract while I was living in the yurt. My first album (Here) came out in 2007. Many of the songs on it were written in the yurt.
I’ve now moved onto my own piece of land and have spent the last few months living here. In order to keep a foot in the door of society, and with a bit of luck contribute to changing it, I have been keeping a weekly blog of my time here.
The blog has caught the attention of the media. After an interview on Radio 2, I was contacted by a woman who lives in a yurt in Alaska. Her story made the -10 it can go down to here feel pretty warm!
My heating comes from the dead trees on the land. As I say, it can go down to -10 in winter, but with enough clothes, duvets and wood, all is well, even when there are only a couple of pieces of canvas between me and the elements.
My water comes from a spring. Originally I had to walk down to a spring by the river everyday, but a local friend discovered a puddle on the land here that turned out to be a spring. So now I use that.
My electricity comes from a solar panel. I knew nothing about solar set-ups before getting here, but the internet is an incredible resource and I have successfully researched, bought (from Barcelona – in a foreign language!) and installed a panel, battery, charge controller and inverter.
It is wonderful to see the source of your water, and to know that your electricity is being magically created from sunbeams, rather than burnt out of fossil fuels. And I enjoy my relationship with the trees, to carry my heating home, to smell the olive wood when it has been freshly chopped.
At night there is no light pollution. The stars are incredible. The silence is magnificent. I feel lucky and free. In the daytime I am surrounded by mountain views. There is so much variety in the landscape, and it changes almost moment to moment. The light shifts and everything is transformed. The mountains in the distance are snowcapped and glistening. You can see why many people in this world think that deities live in such places.
I watch the journey of the sun through the sky, and then I watch the moon rise too. When the moon is full, it’s like the gods have left the lights on. You don’t need a torch. The mountains are bathed in a silver glow that takes your breath away. Literally. I just stand there sometimes unable to take my eyes off it all.
This may seem rare and special, but actually it’s everyone’s birthright. You are supposed to feel like this about your environment. And when you feel like this, why would you want to damage it?
Our species is hitting the planet so hard because we have lost touch with its majesty. We have surrounded ourselves with ugliness and created a void in our hearts. Naturally, we try to fill that void, but we fill it with things that cause more damage. This is not a good cycle to be caught up in.
I don’t worry about the planet – the planet will be fine. Give it a few thousand years and it will come around. A few thousand years is nothing to a planet. It is humans that need to take stock. Not only are we threatening our own existence, we are not really enjoying ourselves in the process!
We are a part of this magnificent universe, and we deserve to dwell happily within it while we are here. We just need to learn to look for that happiness in the places where it actually lives.
Padma’s blog is at www.padmamusic.blogspot.com.
You talked about your relationship with nature, which I can fully understand and I imagine you have much more time than many to explore your relationship with yourself.
What about your relationships with other people? How important are they? Have they suffered? Improved? Have you got more relationships? Less?
I ask because I lean towards the idea that being happy is about our health and our relationships. The relationship with ourself, with others and with the future (which includes the environment)
I’m off to check out your music now.
Thanks for your post. Very empowering and enlightening….
I’ve read your story @ http://www.off-grid.net and now here … and I’m considering also to install solarpanels in my little house in Portugal, where I’m planing to return soon (still living in Manchester for now) . Can you please tell where did you bought your panels ?
thanks and good luck
Great article and such a peaceful way of life you describe. Thanks for sharing and best wishes my friend.
Hi Padma,I hope it doesn’t take too many brain haemorrhages for people to get the picture. After all, although I agree that at some level the planet can recover from the abuse our civilisation is causing the loss/extinction of around 25,000 species a year as a result of human impact is a serious loss of evolved diversity. Some estimate that without human impact extinctions are more likely to be about one every five years! The evolved diversity is an important dimension of any planetary recovery. Let’s hope your music switches more people on. Love to you and yours – Guhyapati
Thanks Wretha! Will check out your blog.
Hi Padma, your land looks similar to mine, though I believe your place has more water than mine. I live in the high desert, on a mountain side in far west Texas. We live 100% off-grid.
I love reading about other people living off-grid. It’s fun to see how other people do it.
I also love your music, when I heard your song that is on the YouTube video, that song went right through me, in a good way, I hope that makes sense. :)
Thanks for sharing your life and music with the rest of us.
Great story and great that it is being documented. Unfortunate that it took near trajedy to finally bring you to that point, but of course that is often, if not almost always the way, by which these kind of changes come.
You wrote about heat, electric, and water . . . what about food (garden)? What role or portion does your independence play on your daily nutritional intake?
I discovered Yurts about 10 years ago as an alternative, comfortable and affordable method of housing. Though I’ve not built mine yet, the time is coming soon.
You cite all the right reasons to live in the “mountains” (in my case it’s the forest/lake. If only we could all take a few minutes every day, just a few, to reflect and enjoy the grandeur of our world.
As for our birthright…absolutely, which is why we should all speak out and make sure we protect our planet and the people that live in it. I make sure I share my insight & ideas on green simple living just to spread the word.
I’m glad you have recovered from your dramatic ordeal, I hope that people can appreciate our time is not guaranteed and we should enjoy the “here and now” along with everything else. Thanks for an insightful and reflective post.