The following was written by two off-grid people, Ron and Johanna Melchiore, and sent to you via satellite for distribution on social media.
A couple of weeks ago, our publisher put up a short video clip on social media of Johanna and me. That video clip touted our self-reliant, off-grid lifestyle. That video clip went viral. Over a million views which generated enormous interest in us with hundreds of comments. We tried to respond to most.
We are grateful for the overwhelming love and support from the vast majority of you. You fully understood what we have done in life and the gist of that video. You easily made the connection that you are on our publisher’s pages which promotes self-reliance. That’s the context and the spirit in which all posts on these accounts are made. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It is you folks who keep us going. But we were a bit surprised that there was a small fraction of people who ended up with exploding heads over the topic along with a few radicals who gave us exploding heads.
Our intent in writing this post is twofold. The priority is we hope this becomes a decisive definition for all people who come along now and in the future curious as to what off-grid really means. Over many, many years, as you might imagine, we’ve heard some wild, zany stuff about what it means to be off the grid. You will see we have written a thoughtful, logical dissertation on the topic which we hope proves valuable to everybody.
We’d like to deal with the small fraction of people who misunderstood what off-grid means as well as the radical element who has hijacked the term. We’ll also address those people who have made comments through the years as if they were an authority on the subject. We love those experts on topics they ultimately know nothing about.
We’re talking specifically about the term “Off Grid.” We’re going to set the record straight so hang on tight. This will be fun. Let’s define what this “Off Grid” means.
About The Term “Off Grid”
But first, what makes us an authority on the topic? Many of you will remember our posts and banter when we lived out in the wilderness of northern Canada. We are the authors of the Self-Sufficient Backyard: For the Independent Homesteader and Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness. We’ve now lived off the grid for 43 years. We were in a documentary film titled Life Off Grid. We think all of this gives us the credibility to write this post as people who are well-versed on the topic.
Originally, a long time ago, the term off-grid meant disconnected from the electrical grid. That’s all it meant. It was modified slightly to include other utilities such as water and sewer. That makes sense. You wouldn’t be in a tightly clustered typical suburban neighborhood and make the decision to go off the grid by disconnecting the wires to your home in favor of a solar array in the front yard while remaining connected to municipal water and sewer.
You’d opt to head out to the country, forested area, or remote section to build an off-grid homestead with your solar panels or wind turbine. And that means you are automatically dealing with finding your own water source and septic system. Back in 1979 I bought 120 acres of forest land and did exactly that. I was off the grid! Johanna came along shortly thereafter and we were off the grid!
At least a decade later, the definition of off-grid got mangled. The world with the internet came into existence. Cell phones, satellite phones, and then smartphones were created and then social media became an extension of the internet. There is a less accepted, fringe definition stating off the grid is to disconnect from all communication devices and social media. It is a ridiculous notion as we’ll explain further below. Anybody with any gumption searching for the definition of off-grid will see the primary definition is to be disconnected from public electric, water, septic, and gas. Period!
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If you think about it, those are the utilities that are essential for heat, cooking, light, and refrigeration. They are absolute priorities! That’s the spirit and intent when the term off-grid was coined. We provided those essentials ourselves and were 100% disconnected from the grid. To this day, we still provide those essentials ourselves. We do not need to rely on anyone else which is a great feeling. We are self-reliant. We are off the grid.
Then more recently, the word off the grid was hijacked by the radicals. Off-grid to this group means untraceable and hard to track. Let’s not take a lot of time with this group but let’s ponder how absurd that line of thinking is in today’s world.
The radical definition of off-grid means you essentially disappear with no trace. And to be clear, we are NOT talking about people who merely wish to live a life that garners the least amount of attention. Until our books came out, we were happily part of that crowd who wished to live obscurely and anonymously. Rather, we are talking about the tiny segment that thinks disappearing without a trace is the definition of going off the grid.
How feasible is it that when there is a network of cameras in the world, many visible and many undetected that are constantly recording activity? If you breathe, you have a scent that can be picked up by any animal with a nose including our canine friends. Regardless of where you decide to plunk yourself with your vanishing act, you will leave traces. Footprints in snow, dirt, or mud (unless of course, you have mastered the art of levitation). Traces of smoke from a warming or cooking fire. If you breathe and have a metabolism, you have a heat signature that can be picked up by any thermal imaging sensors.
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Low-level planes and choppers are constantly crisscrossing the planet doing whatever they happen to be doing. Any activities and traces of someone in remote areas may catch the eye of someone flying overhead.
High-resolution satellite imagery is the norm these days. You can pull up images that show great detail and we believe even higher resolution is available to the right people (or wrong people depending on how you look at it). Technology will only improve as time moves on making any image that much clearer.
And finally, although we do not understand it, we strongly suspect AI (Artificial Intelligence) will be able to assess and predict the likely places remaining on the planet’s surface where one might be likely to hide. Those calculations would take into account climate. It would figure some radius outward from every known cabin, home, or human activity since you aren’t likely to risk being so close to them in your desire to be un-trackable. It would look at the terrain and who knows what else. The bottom line is algorithms will be used to target likely areas where you will be hiding.
In short, what kind of existence is it to constantly look over your shoulder, retreat back to cave man/woman status, struggle for the basics of food and water while living essentially a solitary life? You will have denied yourself the simple pleasures and amenities in life. It’s a ridiculous notion and yet over the years we’ve been told that’s the definition of off-grid. Hmmm.
Although a fringe group now, we can see their ideals becoming more mainstream thinking and would really like to discourage any association of off-grid with that group’s mentality. In summary, off-grid is not referring to such a radical notion. May we suggest they stop hijacking the true definition of off-grid and get their own word to denote life as a fugitive wannabe if that’s their life’s mission. Perhaps fugabees. (pronounced few-ja-bees)? How does one get that word into the dictionary? 🙂 Enough said.
There were some who were legitimately confused about the meaning of off-grid. The fact that we are on social media baffled some. Others were flummoxed that we might have some means of communications such as a satellite link.
And then there were some that confidently and authoritatively told us we aren’t off the grid because we have internet, a means of communication, or are on social media. And they did it in a rude, snide, disrespectful manner. Instead of being supportive, they chose to put down and criticize us. There are always a few who thrive on negativity.
If you have a means of communications, you aren’t off grid? How far shall we take that? The native Americans obviously weren’t off grid back in the day. They used visual smoke signals. Villagers in the Amazon used drums to communicate. They must not be off the grid either. Anybody see the ridiculousness of the argument some are making in that if you have radio, cell/landline phone or satellite communications, you can’t be off the grid? One means of communications uses radio waves, one uses light waves and one uses sound waves. All are off the grid.
Let’s take the absurdity a step further. A ship bobbing out in the middle of the Pacific ocean with navigation and a radio isn’t off-grid? How about a plane 35,000 feet overhead? Is that plane off the grid? What about the space station? Will somebody claim they aren’t off the grid because it has communications? How about the Voyager spacecraft that is so far out into deep space, signals take days to traverse space back to earth. Jeez, does a person need to die before they’re considered off-grid?
But what about the Amish? They are a great example of living off the grid. Will some claim they don’t live off the grid because they have access to a phone nearby outside the house which is happily used? Would they claim they aren’t off grid because in order to conduct business, they now do it through an intermediary person who does have a device? It’s time to get rid of the notion that if one has some kind of access either direct or indirect to some modern communications tool, they are not off the grid. We do not believe anyone needs to risk their safety or diminish their quality of life to satisfy that definition of “off-grid.”
If you also think about it, it is near impossible to be permanently disconnected from the world via a device. At a minimum, it is inconvenient, impractical and in a true emergency, foolhardy not to have a means of communications. For those insistent that social media accounts and access to communications is the definition of on-grid, may we suggest stop hijacking the true definition of off-grid and get your own word to denote life without those tools. Perhaps COM-weaned (Communications or Media weaned) 10-4?
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We mentioned the documentary film that we were a part of, Life Off Grid. That documentary was shown to public audiences worldwide. It was shown on Canadian television and we believe it made it to a US network as well. Who can dispute the fact that we lived off the grid?
By the way, the makers of that film actually filmed it while we lived in the wilderness of northern Canada. Many of you already knew that but for the benefit of those who don’t, it’s true!
Imagine climbing on board a chartered float plane, either on floats in summer or skis in winter. Once you depart the float plane base, any trace of civilization quickly disappears. Below is nothing but forest, lakes and rivers as far as the eye can see. You fly roughly 45 minutes over nothing but water and forest. No civilization can be detected. You circle overhead by our homestead, line up for landing and drop down onto our secluded lake for a visit.
Take note, our address was a set of coordinates. Latitude and longitude: degrees, minutes and seconds. If you didn’t get the seconds right, you just blew by us and missed us completely.
Access is only by chartered float plane. There are no roads. No trails. You are surrounded by millions of acres of forest. Animals are your only neighbors. We shopped and took care of errands twice a year. We only received mail twice a year. And we only saw humans when we came out of the bush twice a year. Twice a year, 6 months, half a year! That’s a long time not to see another human. Invisible pulses of energy sent and received by a satellite dish were our only connection to civilization.
We Started Our Off-Grid, Self-Reliant Life In Maine
It was an educational 20 years where we sure learned the ropes of gardening, animal husbandry and a myriad of other skills. We had a small solar electric system, well water and an outhouse. We know this is going to make some of your minds go into self-destruct mode but communications was to write and receive letters in the mail. We’re talking sit down with a pen and paper, write a letter and walk it out .4 mile to the mailbox. Each day, walk almost a half mile to see if anybody wrote back to us.
You want to actually talk to someone? We had to get in the car or get on our bike and head 4 miles to town where there was a pay phone. There was no booth, just a phone hanging on a small grocery store wall outdoors. Yet, there are some who would question we lived off grid?
We Now Live In Nova Scotia
A long distance aerial view of our homestead will show a small patch of cleared land with a building again surrounded by nothing but forest and a jagged rocky ocean coastline. We at least can drive a car in on our mile long driveway. Shopping is an hour drive away. We have spotty to no cell phone coverage here. We still rely on a satellite beam to stay in touch with civilization. Yet, there are some who would question we live off grid?
Here’s what we object to. People insinuating we are liars and are clueless as to what off-grid means. People commenting as knowledgeable experts telling us with authority we are not off the grid while living in their city apartment or suburban neighborhood. Assessing account profiles, many are young people who have no understanding that life existed before the internet, cell phones, smartphones and social media. Some are older folks who picked up on the term from Hollywood movies. No one can redefine the definition of off-grid to the exclusion of the original definition as if it never existed. They cannot throw the original definition away merely because they can’t relate to it. We have been off the grid longer than most of these commenters have been alive. Surely every person who made the comment we are not off the grid because we are a part of social media or have a means of communication can do a simple search to find the true definition of the term.
For anybody who believes having a method of communication or social media account means you aren’t off the grid, you can’t be more wrong. We say the next time your power goes out for a prolonged period and your food is spoiling or the shelves in the supermarket become bare again or you have a weather event like an ice storm in the middle of winter and you are struggling for heat, other necessities and down right survival, please drop us a note and let us know how your social media account is getting you through the ordeal. Is that smartphone providing sustenance and warmth?
Since we are off the grid, we have none of that concern. Our satellite connection, electricity, water and heat will all be running. And by chance, if our satellite connection goes down, who cares! We will still be warm, well fed and we will be in fine shape. Do you know why?
Because we are off-grid! It is during that stress that we’d like you to ask yourself, why was I making a silly issue of a social media account or satellite connection? A social media account or means of communications has absolutely nothing to do with being self-reliant and off the grid. We are autonomous for our electric, water, septic and heat. We are off the grid. We are self-reliant!
This was written for those who simply misunderstood what the term meant. We will not engage with anybody who comes on here still adamantly proclaiming we have it wrong in statement form. If you care to phrase your questions in a manner such that you wish to learn more about any facet of self-reliance and off-grid living, we are always happy to banter back and forth.
Off Grid: “If a place is off-grid, it is not connected to the public electricity supply, and also perhaps other services such as water and gas”. Collins Dictionary and other reliable authoritative sources.
That is the primary, paramount definition of the term off the grid so we hope this stops the utter nonsense that we don’t live off the grid.
Your honor, we rest our case. See, wasn’t this fun?