Living Without Electricity in the Darkest Time of the Year and What It Reveals

It’s 4:00pm and the sun is casting its last golden rays on the far hills. I won’t need to light the candles for another thirty minutes. Enough fading light will make its way into the yurt through the skylight. But by 4:30 any last warm, reddish hues will set with our planet’s nearest star. Even still, some light lingers, but it is cool, shadowy light, painting the white snowy canvas with purples, then blues, then grays, then darkness.

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Beech Tree Shadows

Or, almost darkness. It looks like it will be a clear night. On clear nights, the stars – those faraway pinpoints of light – are bright enough that I don’t need my headlamp to walk the unlit path from the car, up and over the knoll to our yurt nestled in its tiny dell. The collective brightness of the stars astounds me.

I’m learning to love the dark more than ever this year as I spend my first winter without electricity in a 20-foot yurt. Many (myself included) thought the lack of electric light would make the dark of winter more difficult. It has actually made the darkness more magical! It is stunning what is revealed when light, among other things, is stripped away.

Twinkling distant galaxies, the smoky milky way, and the array of constellations are always hanging in the sky, but modern humans so rarely see the masterpiece. What keeps us from marveling every clear night at this wonder? Light pollution, yes. But there’s other stimulation that keeps us from seeing the stars. There’s the quick shuffle from one climate controlled space to the next, heads down, cursing the cold, thinking about what just happened, or will happen, or might or might not happen. What do we need to finally marvel at the sky’s glory? I suspect we need no thing. What we need is less. Less light. Less work. Less parties. Less obligations. Only when the light and the busyness is stripped away can we finally see the galaxies.

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The full moon rising at dusk!

 

As it is with the starry night, so it is with all of life it seems. Like this evening’s clear, star-speckled sky so much of life can only be enjoyed when unnecessary stimulation is gone. My first few months of yurt living has definitely been a stripping down. We’ve given up most modern conveniences (many of which we’ve come to assume as necessary) in order to embrace this life. No internet means walking or driving to a neighbor’s house to send an email. Living without electricity requires the use of an icebox instead of refrigerator, cleaning up dinner in the dark, and makes nearly every modern time-saving kitchen gadget an impossibility.

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Our kitchen – just the bare essentials

That’s right – no crockpot, microwave, blender, toaster, toaster oven, coffee grinder, electric coffee maker, mixer, electric kettle, etc. We definitely don’t have an automatic dishwasher and no hot tap water means heating water on the woodstove before each round of hand-washed dishes. Some of these conveniences were easy to give up. The absence of others, however, has caused me to throw mini, inner (or sometimes… ahem… larger, outer) tantrums while I wait for a pot of water to heat up with a stack of dirty dishes on prominent display.

Why put yourself through this? I’m not surprised if you’re thinking this. It’s a question I’ve posed to myself during those occasional hissy fits. The reason? In the act of simplifying my life, there is a richness and abundance I can see more clearly than before! Like the stars revealed when we turn off the lights, abundance shines through as I strip away these outer accoutrements. Stripping away conveniences, even conveniences I’ve been most hesitant to relinquish, has revealed a daily beauty I’ve previously only enjoyed away from home on retreat, a wilderness trip, or vacation!

What are the stars revealed by this crazy, off-grid yurt life of mine? Intimacy. Presence. Space. I’m still figuring out how this works, but as I’ve simplified my life, stripped things down to the bare essentials, I have so much more room for intimacy, presence, and spaciousness. Instead of feeling like I have less of something because the basic chores take a little more time and effort, there is a sense of abundance! I’ve been experiencing a renewed and uncontrived intimacy with nature, with my husband- Mark, and with the Spirit. I more often feel at home in my body, my place in the world, and the tasks at hand. I have a clearer understanding of what to say yes to and what to say no to. The temptation to distract myself from reality is lessened as I experience the fullness of each moment.

I will be the first to admit that this sense of abundance is not my moment-by-moment experience. Sometimes I’m hunched over, tunnel-visioned on my shuffling feet, annoyed by the darkness and the inconveniences. In those moments, I have no idea that what seems like a nuisance is revealing a masterpiece around me.  But as I commit more fully to this life of inconvenience, these moments of abundance are much more common than at any other time in my life. Whereas I used to need to retreat from my regular life with its light pollution and conveniences in order to see the stars, now all I need to do is look up.

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Twilight view from the yurt

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