WORDS: ANNIE ELFSTROM
PHOTOS: ALANNA HALE
About a year ago, I put myself on a timeout from life and moved to an isolated off the grid yurt on what was once a 12,000-acre sheep ranch in Northern California’s Mendocino County. I had been ineffectively dealing with the gnawing anxiety and low level thrum of depression that comes (gratis!) with your standard-issue late twenties life crisis, and instead of dealing with it like the grown up I aspire to be, I quit my job and ran away to the woods.
After a few weeks alone in it all, I adopted a puppy; a sweet little black and white country mutt who eats grass likes a horse, has the face of a seal, and the coloring of a cow. After solemnly vowing to be best friends till one of us died, I named him Bunny. After that, I got on with living life in the middle of nowhere by myself.
Keeping the basics of life running smoothly off the grid takes effort. On the modern conveniences spectrum, the yurts sit somewhere between rustic cabin and camping. Many of the things I’ve always taken for granted; AC electricity, reliable refrigeration, heat, the internet, or a freezer, are either difficult to get, not very good or simply not available. A 30-year-old solar panel creates just enough power to keep a few dim 12-volt light bulbs going for a few hours each night. Keeping food fresh involves an infuriating dance between a malfunctioning 1930s propane-powered fridge, a 1990s cooler and a dozen or so ice packs. In the winter, heat comes from a wood burning stove, a sweater or jumping jacks. For someone used to cranking the heat to eleven just to wear cutoffs in winter (global warming and gas bills be damned) this marks, I am ashamed to admit, a big change.
I don’t know what’s in store for me next. I think I had thought of this whole thing as a way of proving myself to myself, a trial of sorts that would naturally come to an end. I had visions of a triumphant return to “real life” with a great tan and an aura of that unnerving new age calm that’s a total pain in the ass to be around. And while that still could happen, the truth of the matter is I think I may have found, if not happiness, something very close, like contentment.
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