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Utopia

By LEON YOUNGBLOOD

Mason, heir apparent to the Briar Circle property, handled last week’s cold weather very well, for we stayed in a motel the two freezing nights we were able to be there. It was a treat to have heat, lights, running water and other amenities, including cable TV, but cable TV always amazes me—so many channels and shows, and still nothing worth watching? The networks should be paying their customers, not charging them!

The motel room was a good base station, but Mason was using spring break and three days off work to visit our land. He has ambitious plans and visions, and wants eventually to live at Briar Circle. As usual, neighbor Larry was tremendous help with sound advice, some of which is presented here.

So: What is needed to live off the grid in the Ouachitas?

Well, the desire to live in the woods, off the grid and off the map is the first thing. For me, this desire was created and grew over years of hiking and camping experiences that made me want a few acres of land to hike and camp on. “Desire” can wane, however. When you have been chewed upon by hordes of vicious, blood-thirsty parasitic insects, or shivered in cold or sweltered in relentless heat, when you do without luxuries to sleep under the stars, and do all the other stuff you do gridless, you may well find you do not have the desire to live in the wilderness after all. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, if you realize this soon enough, you can save yourself a lot of trouble.

Assuming you do have the desire to live off the grid, determination is the next thing you need. “One way or another,” you tell yourself, “I’m going to make this work!” There is a lot of work to be done, too.

Next, time and money are essentials to homesteading. So often I’ve found when I had the time to go to the Briar Circle property to work on various projects, I did not have the money, and vice versa. There are some very nice cabins in the Ouachita mountains. Then again, there are plenty that are like mine. Some of the nicer ones have $20,000 solar electric systems, running water, septic systems, heat and air conditioning, while some of the less-nicer ones do not. What is deduced from this is, money comes in handy when you’ve decided to live off-grid.

Land is the largest expenditure, of course, and real estate prices are rising. Assuming you have land, when you plan your cabin, you want to plan on having a water supply. It can be carried in, a well can be dug, rainwater can be collected, but you will have to have water.

Then you need a toilet. You may think that’s what mother nature provided the concealing shrubs and bushes on your property for; but if nature calls at 2:37 a.m. during a freezing drizzle, you realize an indoor outhouse would have been a worthwhile investment.

Self-reliance and “making do” will be skills you will develop if you choose to live off-grid. You will learn to economize on water usage, electricity usage, fuel, trips to town—it becomes habitual.

These are only a few things to consider, and are only intended as an extremely brief starting point for the curious. As for Mason, he wistfully envisions a Utopia of sorts at Briar Circle, with friends helping to build a cabin, plant a garden, and lots of other things. Utopias are merely ephemeral by-products of wishful thinking, but there is a strong community of good people who tend to support each other, or who at least do not bother each other. It’s not a Utopia; but it’s likely the next-best thing.


 

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