Off the Grid, But Still Online
A photographer spent two months with people who live off the grid but still log in every once in a while.
Photo: Rachel Bujalski
For the last 61 days I've been traveling throughout California while living out of my Corolla, collecting stories from people living off the grid.
The people I've met have abandoned the chase of the American Dream; they are not battling traffic to work a nine-to-five job in order to live in a big house or buy a fancy car. Instead, their values are centered around new life experiences, connecting with nature, building their own homes, growing their own food, and having a full sense of control over their lives—including managing the amount of time they spend on the internet.
The average American feels lost going a day without logging onto their social media accounts via smartphone, tablet, or computer. By contrast, these people know exactly how much power their solar panels need to generate to charge their phones or watch a DVD on their laptops, and they moderate their usage in the same way they would measure out exactly how much water they need to cook dinner and take a shower.
They know exactly how much power their solar panels need to generate to charge a phone or watch a DVD
Over the last two months, I've slept in a 220-foot tree, kayaked to floating wooden homes on the ocean, helped mix cement for a cob house (made from mud and straw), watched late night movies in a desert yurt, showered in creeks and waterfalls, but above all I learned there's numerous ways to live off the grid and still plug into society.
Alexis Stone, a deer hunter, volunteer firefighter, and store clerk for the only general store in town, poses in front of her mobile trailer with one of her new rifles in Honeydew, California. Her mobile trailer allows her the freedom to plug in or out of the electric grid when she wants. Alexis works across the street and comments on how short her commute to work is, "I leave for work at eight and get to work at eight."
Rana, 25, Tess, 19, and Vianca, 22, hang out in the laundromat parking lot on the hood of Tess's station wagon that doubles as their home in Redway, California.
Brian Edward Kenny, a.k.a Pascó the Great, a contemporary fine artist, works from his laptop and smartphone while lounging in a hammock on the deck of his ship, The Illahee, which is anchored in the ocean two miles off the shore of San Diego Bay, California. Completely off the grid, Pascó rows himself to shore in a small boat to fill up his gas tank canister every week to power up his generator so he can plug in his Christmas lights, charge his laptop, smartphone, and other equipment.
John Benedict, an astrologer and body masseur, studies an astrological chart on his laptop he plugs into his friend's storage shed which he uses as a place to cook and get electricity in Topanga Canyon, California. John has lived out of his Volkswagon Vanagon for over 25 years to avoid unnecessary monthly living expenses. Reducing his possessions to fit in his van and only turning on his flip phone to listen for voicemail, John is able to lead a very minimal, inexpensive lifestyle that keeps him closer to nature and his community.
"Carbohydrate," an alias this tree-sitter gave himself, sips a cup of tea from the wooden platform he built in a 220-foot giant redwood tree in Trinidad, California. Tied by his waist to the 14-foot diameter trunk of the tree with climbing rope, his goal, along with other tree-sitters, is to stop logging companies from clear-cutting the forests. Nestled deep in the trees, tree-sitters cook, eat, sleep, use the bathroom, connect to the internet, and keep entertained on platforms as small as 4 feet by 8 feet for weeks to sometimes years at a time.
Garth Bowles and his dog try to catch a rattlesnake in front of his permanent teepee house he built in Joshua Tree, California. Concealed beyond miles of desert, the 640-acre property he acquired acts as a sanctuary and retreat for all forms of spiritual seekers, healers, and travelers passing through. Living completely off the grid, Garth gets water from his underground wells and power from his solar panels for his two refrigerators, lights, CD player, and stove. Because he welcomes visitors with open arms, he openly accepts donations for food and calls himself "The Make-Do-King" because he says, "If I don't have something, I make-it-do."
Delfin, a 49-foot full teak Porpoise Ketch and home to a family of four, sits in the middle of Morro Bay until it's ready to set sail. Adelaide, 10, shares her thoughts with her mom about the family's lifestyle switch from land to water: "We can sail around the world, people can't take their houses and float around the world, they have to stay put. And when Delfin is finished we just leave for Mexico or the Caribbean whenever we wish."
Adelaide plays with a small toy in the galley of their boat while her mom, Melanie, turns the iron on to press her waitress uniform before heading to work. For the past 14 months the family of four have used small gas powered boats to get to shore for work, guitar lessons, and the grocery store from their wooden floating home. Since they are not tied into the electrical grid, they use a gas generator and four 85-watt solar panels to supply all the power they need for lighting, refrigeration, and charging their walkie-talkies, cell phones and laptops. An adjustment but an upgrade from their previous lifestyle on land, Adelaide, 10, tells her mom, "Everyone else talks about their gardens having tulips, and I would say, my garden has beach dunes and beach bushes….my backyard is the ocean."
Bri Joy and Breanna Shannon water the garden they built on the top of their green Chevy van in Big Sur, California.
Pam Chapman, an artist, mother, builder, and the director of her community's organic market, sits in her self-built minimalistic home. Living off the grid the way she likes requires her to make outside treks either up the path to bathe in her bathhouse or down a wooded path to her compost toilet. Since she doesn't own a refrigerator, she keeps all her meats and cheeses outside to keep them cold. At night for reading, she uses a small light by her bed, charged from the stored sunlight from her solar panels.
Connected-Off-the-Grid is represented by THE STORY INSTITUTE, a visual storytelling platform, which serves media, editorial, advertising, entertainment, record industry, fine art, book publishing, online/mobile media and corporate clients. THE STORY INSTITUTE operates out of Los Angeles (USA) and Bath (UK).