why i moved off the grid

Here I am in our outdoor kitchen. Photo taken by my friend, Kristin Clements

THE SHORT ANSWER FOR WHY I moved to an off-the-grid cabin in Washington County, Maine — without electricity, running water, refrigeration, a bathroom, or even a driveway to pull my car into — is that it was free. My boyfriend is from here. He was contracted to build a house for a client on the Harrington River. If we fix this cabin up and make it livable, no one will charge us to live here.

The long answer is something I’ve spent all spring and summer trying to define. I’m sure I’ll still be thinking about it this winter, when I’m most likely still here.

Last year I was living in Portland, working at a restaurant and reminiscing about a traveling lifestyle that had since gone stagnant. I moved to Portland because at the time I thought I wanted an apartment with a year lease. I was sick of moving around all the time, using my summers to work 70 hours a week in a Bar Harbor restaurant, just so I could spend my winters growing bored in a warmer climate, not working at all.

When we arrived, we pushed the door open and stepped into a world put on pause.

I thought I wanted to settle down. I should’ve known that after spending six months in the East End Portland apartment I’d wanted — with a whitewashed brick face and a front stoop facing a local coffee shop — I’d be counting down the months until its lease was up.

Every chance I got, I made the four-hour winding drive north to Harrington. I spent my nights camping at McClellan Park on the coast in Milbridge, where a guy named Tom comes around every day at sundown, taps on your tent, and asks you for the nightly fee of 10 bucks, if you have it. Sometimes I’d stay at my friend’s one-room cabin on the river, next to a summer camp where kids come from all over the world to learn about their different cultures and self-sustain together out in the woods. A lot of times I’d just sleep in the back of my boyfriend’s 1983 Volvo 240, waking up at sunrise to go swimming at Spring River Lake.

No matter where I stayed, each time I visited I fell a little more in love with the mentality of Washington County. It’s a place where people still reserve Sunday for visiting one another, popping in for a hot dog or a beer. There are singing circles at the community center on Thursday nights and a dance at the VFW every Friday. Some people have electricity and running water and others don’t, either because they can’t afford it or they know they don’t need it. It’s a community based on congregation, a person accepted whether or not their family dates back generations in the area or they’ve traveled from as far away as England, Germany, or Mexico.

Maybe I was still searching for a place to settle down. It was just different from the city I’d chosen for myself. Washington County was showing me I wasn’t the eating, drinking, woman-about-town I believed myself to be. All I really wanted to do was pick blackberries along the gravel roadside in August, brushing off mosquitoes as I ventured further into the brambles. I wanted to immerse myself in a simple lifestyle that seemed to have disappeared from my own Maine hometown long before I grew up there. [read more]