Living Off-the-grid
Living Off-the-grid
By Timothy Allen / humanplanet.com

I am sitting in a remote mud hut discussing ‘Big Brother’. Next to me an open fire radiates its welcoming orange cast, tinging all but the brilliant whites of the scene outside, trees freshly dusted with an icy coat of late January powder. Today, unusually, the topic of my conversation has nothing to do with any prophetic Orwellian nightmares of oppression but rather the popular reality TV programme.  Two months ago I traveled to this secluded corner of west Wales in order to photograph Emma Orbach, a 59 year old lady who’s been living in this isolated woodland for over 13 years. She tells me that shortly after my images were published in the media she received a call from the producers of the gameshow asking if she would like to become a contestant on the next series.  She declined I’m happy to say, but as it turns out her off-grid way of life has garnered a fair amount of media interest over the years.

Vogue asked me if they could come and do a fashion shoot here once” she recalls.  “At first, I thought to myself ‘Why not? That could be fun to see’.. and I told them they could come as long as they didn’t bring any motorised vehicles onto my land.  However, after a few weeks of discussion I ended up having to decline my offer because they were insisting on bringing portaloos for the models.  Portaloos!  Here!… Can you imagine that?!”

It’s true, there could exist nothing more absurd in this wild place than the over sanitized intrusion of a portaloo. Emma, of course has an outdoor compost toilet in the woods near her hut.  Inevitably, my mind runs amok with farcical visions of the comedy of errors that might have ensued here had those two worlds actually been allowed to collide.  Can you imagine?!

On face value, Emma is a rather unusual candidate for this kind of alternative lifestyle.  An Oxford graduate, she grew up in a Victorian Castle in Devises. “We weren’t rich” she admits, “We were quite poor actually and my mum and dad never specifically encouraged my love of nature.  As a young child though, I do remember that I was most happiest up a tree in our garden.  Me and my brother used to eat our meals up there.”

In the early 90’s Emma and her then husband bought a remote farm house a few fields away from the patch of land she now lives on. As her children got older she recalls having a strong calling to live in closer proximity to the nature spirits she perceived around her and consequently built her first mud hut in the woods before leaving the farm to live without electricity or running water.   Emma is quick to confess that she never wanted to impose her unusual lifestyle choice on her children, especially since they hadn’t been brought up that way from the beginning.

“Living simply like this takes a lot of determination in such a complicated, materialistic consumer culture” she alludes.  “However, I’m not a purist.  My goal is not self-sufficiency.  In my perfect future, there will be a lot more exchanging of goods between people but it’s nice to have a high level of food production… If the shops suddenly had nothing in them I would probably survive quite comfortably”

Vegetarian Emma keeps chickens and goats and grows an array of vegetables on a half-acre plot just outside her woodland.  Trips to the nearby village are relatively frequent… “To collect supplies or visit my mother twice weekly”.  The journey usually involves a long walk unless she’s feeling lazy in which case she can ride bareback on one of her horses, something that has in the past raised quite a few eyebrows in the local Welsh community formerly unfamiliar with alternative folk like herself.

She is keen to stress to me that she is definitely not obsessed with only living and eating on her land. “I enjoy a cream tea by the beach like anyone else” she concedes. “But I only ever tend to travel further than the local village when I’m visiting my children or showing visitors around the area.  It’s normally a sociability thing.  I certainly don’t do it because I miss the outside world”.

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water

Many times during our conversations I find myself referring to the ‘outside world’.  It’s unavoidable in a secret spot such as this.  Following Emma down a meandering path, she balances an alabaster jar on her head during one of our trips to collect water from the stream. It strikes me that this ubiquitous chore which I so commonly encounter throughout the world was one that I had never actually witnessed first hand in my own country before.

Getting permission from the local council for the gathering of dwellings on Emma’s land has been a long and drawn out process since a surveying plane spotted their ‘lost tribe’ back in 1998. Fortunately for Emma and her neighbours, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s progressive policy on sustainability finally resulted in the granting of planning permission after almost a decade of negotiations.  Along with the correct paperwork came a council tax bill of £63 per month for each home which Emma earns from donations received running workshops in her woodland retreat.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door…”

 Emma tells me  that her own particular method of building has evolved over the years by trial and error revealing her secret recipe for plaster as ‘clay mud and horse manure’.

“It smells a bit initially, but after it dries its fine. However, I’ve honed my technique quite a bit over the years.  The first time I tried it, the walls turned completely green after a few days with sprouting seeds!”.

“Would anything ever take you away from all this?” I ask. “What about illness?”

Emma is optimistic.  “Definitely not…but to be honest, I’d rather just die if necessary than get taken away to survive in a world away from nature”.  She recalls the council’s planners asking her how she planned to deal with this kind of lifestyle in her old age.

“I would be really happy if I just slipped over and died banging my head on a rock on the way to fetch water one day…  that would suit me just fine!”.

It’s a strangely comforting thought since there’s no doubt that in the event of a serious accident, there would certainly be somewhat of a delay before the emergency services arrived.  On my way out I ask Emma if I can return to visit her again some time. Her matter-of-fact reply reminds me not to get too carried away with my overly romantic fantasies about her isolated lifestyle.

“Just call me on the phone if you want to visit!” and she disappears back into her woods.

Please leave a message: Emma’s ‘phone box’… about half a mile from her hut

 

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
How a Trump Presidency Would Unleash a Torrent of Racist Violence-And Devastate the Left
Arun Gupta · 12,661 views today · The Left should take the Trump threat very seriously.
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 10,584 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 10,537 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 9,366 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Maya Angelou's 3-Word Secret to Living Your Best Life
3 min · 5,961 views today · Dr. Maya Angelou says that in order to be the best human being you can be, you must follow one simple directive: "Just do right." Watch as Dr. Angelou reveals how you can never...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 5,895 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Forest Man
16 min · 5,742 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
11 Traits of People With High Emotional Intelligence
Raven Fon · 5,370 views today · Lately, new ways to describe human interactions, social behaviours, and many facets of psychology have emerged on the social network scene. One of those descriptions is “high...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 4,467 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 4,449 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Doctors Response to Daily Mail Bigotry is Beautiful
Neil Tiwari · 3,537 views today · A poetic open letter to the Daily Mail newspaper from Dr. Neil Tiwari, in response to a bigoted attack on his colleagues, is going viral and it's beautiful.
Alan Watts: What If Money Was No Object?
3 min · 3,428 views today · How do you like to spend your life? What do you desire? What if money didn't matter? What if money was no object? What would you like to do if money were no object? Spoken...
Real Change in Democracy Comes Not in the Voting Booth but Activism at the Grass-Roots
Ilze Peterson · 2,826 views today · Many years ago, the late Judy Guay, a low-income woman from Bangor, founded the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods in order to advocate for the neediest in our...
Fighting Trump - Residents Opposing Donald Trump's Scottish Golf Resort
14 min · 2,759 views today · Documentary on the residents protesting against Donald Trump's golf development on the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Directed and Presented by James Trosh.
10 Shocking Facts About Society That We Absurdly Accept As Normal
Joe Martino · 2,745 views today · When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o’clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 2,448 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Superblocks: How Barcelona Is Taking City Streets Back From Cars
5 min · 2,351 views today · Modern cities are designed for cars. But the city of Barcelona is testing out an urban design trick that can give cities back to pedestrians.
Capitalism Is Just a Story - Rise Up and Create a New One
6 min · 1,952 views today · How many of us have a sneaking suspicion that something pretty fundamental is going wrong in the world? We keep hearing about the potentially devastating consequences of...
Do You Have Time to Love?
Thich Nhat Hanh · 1,866 views today · The greatest gift you can offer loved ones is your true presence.
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 1,659 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Living Off-the-grid