Who among us hasn’t fantasized about leaving terrorism, war, poverty, bankruptcy and all the other 21st century problems behind and going off the grid? You know, living a simpler life? One in which your only focus would be yourself? And survival, of course. But oh, how wonderful it would be to know for certain that a terrorist will never, ever come within reach. Ever.
But there’s still danger: maybe a grizzly. Or a wolf. Let me explain.
Not too long ago I found a TV show called Railroad Alaska. It’s about what they call the toughest railroad in the world, mostly because the climate and distance are so tough. That’s what they SAY it’s about. But it’s really about the people living off the grid, whose only lifeline to civilization is the railroad. And they are an interesting bunch.
We are RIVETED to this series which, unfortunately, we missed for its first three seasons. It’s slow going trying to tape reruns and then view them in sequence and avoid buying them on Amazon. But I don’t want to step out of sequence because, well, every little thing is important. So let me explain a bit. Because the dialogue’s lame and one episode is like the next. Except for this:
Not all big cities are BIG CITIES
One senior couple lives off the grid some 90 miles from the nearest city: Talkeetna. To really get a hold of what that means, consider that the population of Talkeetna is only 900. In one early episode, the older woman, who is just recovering from a stroke, neglects to get her necessary medication on her monthly trip to town. So, she called her son and told him it was an “emergency”–and it was, because the medication would help prevent another stroke. The son, who lives in Talkeetna, had to drop what he was doing to catch the weekly train that ran by his parents’ homestead.
Just like in frontier days, the train stops when it needs to, not at a station. And that day it stopped near the homestead. Maw and Paw zoomed to the tracks on their snow machines to pick up their son for a visit and medication drop. The timing of all this is never clear, but you get the drift. So to speak.
Now, in the city, how would it be if you had to drop what you were doing to take a train out to the bush and back? Yeah, I thought so. The son said he knows his folks want to live on the homestead (which is a fairly shabby and rustic place without indoor plumbing) so he does all he can to help them do that. Obviously, even in poor health, the senior couple chooses to live (and probably die) isolated in the bush.
Maw said that when they first moved to the property they had no insulation. Outdoor temps got to 67 below zero. “So when it got up to 47 degrees below zero if felt like a warm spell.”
Umm. Not even.
“The shower house is closed for winter.”
Can we discuss indoor plumbing? The “shower house” is away from the main house and it closes for their (brutal) winters. So, no showers all winter. All the long winter. Yeah, it would be a mighty long winter if I couldn’t shower. Mighty long.
An even older couple who seem to be on the edge of crazy also live out in the bush. The guy, hair and beard askew with a slightly crazy look in his eye, accidentally shot off his hand one year. Now, had he lived in the city, he’d have had a fancy mechanical hand and lots of rehab to get him to work it. He’d be pretty functional. But out there in the bush, well, such things don’t happen. So a large hook replaced his hand.
“Is that hook DUCT-TAPED to his arm?” I asked M., incredulously. Because that’s what it looked like to me. But no, the hook had some sort of basic black leather sleeve he slipped on. Life is very basic out in the Alaskan wilderness. And they are a completely fascinating couple. I mean, the look on my face as I watch must be priceless.
Calling the LaLeche League!
Two newlyweds who both love living in isolation are also featured on the show. She looks like she’s missing a few teeth and he spends a whole lot of time thanking his lucky stars for finding a woman who wants to live off the grid, too, and who has the skills to do it. In Season 1, she was expecting a child. He had to be gone overnight so instead of sending her to town, a girlfriend of hers with a six-week-old infant came to stay. Since he took the only snow machine, I’m not so sure what girlfriend could have done for pregnant wife in an emergency except, perhaps deliver the baby. After he left, though, girlfriend realizes she’s come all this way and FORGOTTEN HER BABY’S FORMULA.
Ok, so what mom does this? And where are those breast-feeding Nazis when they’re needed?
So now she has to leave nine-month-pregnant off-gridder and trudge TWO MILES through deep snow WITH HER BABY IN A FRONT-FACING PAPOOSE dodging wolves and moose who could find that baby might tasty. She picks up the train, finally, goes to town (90 miles which is a few hours) to get formula at the tiny general store and then takes the train back and trudges two more miles in what had to be the dark (by then) but for purposes of the show, it’s daytime. Of course, this had to be staged. Because I doubt new mom would forget formula. But it’s reality TV.
Like any woman, I’m wondering how this pregnant woman has her baby in the bush. But we never get to see that. Instead, next episode, she has a six-week-old infant and there’s no mention of how it all came about. Did she do it alone? Was there a midwife? Did her mother come? Obviously, this show is written by men.
So, you can see how escapist it is and how addictive it is to consider living in a place where you don’t even think about measuring liquids you travel with so they are three ounces or less. I love the lack of stress about terrorism: no self-respecting terrorist would trudge through the wild to come shoot you up. And if, by chance they did, and hell would have to freeze over first, well, you’re armed to the gills because you need to be for survival in the wild.
Off the grid is a fantasy for me, but this is a time when some of us are seeking refuge in fantasy.
If Alaska’s not your thing….
The other day I read a blog post by a woman who said she is finding her own safe haven in the Hallmark Movie Channel. That made me smile because I, too, tape those sappy love stories that all have a happy ending. No one gets beheaded or shot. I love them. In fact, there are four or five waiting on my DVR right this very minute. Far preferred to the idiocy of Fox or the unprofessional CNN news team.
So, times are tough right now. There’s a lot of tension in the air. But most of us city slickers are ill-equipped to live off the grid. So what to do to get away from the constant onslaught of real-life violence?
My prescription is a dose of Railroad Alaska, a couple of Hallmark movies, and if you have a really bad case of 21st century anxiety, try the five hours of Railroad Alaska’s Realtime Rail Trip: five hours riding the train through remote Alaska nonstop. No dialogue. Some moose.
It is a meditative experience just made for a nice bowl of weed. Fire up and…