I must confess I always liked survival stories.
I read Robinson Crusoe at least several times. Ron’s adventures weren’t nearly as extreme as Robinson’s, but I enjoyed them even more. As I get older, realism means more than thrill; Off Grid and Free provides an enormous dose of realism.
There were parts of the book I only skimmed through like Ron’s bike hike because they just didn’t captivate my attention. And I didn’t relate to some fragments of his journey. For example, I’m a city boy and never raised any crops. Two years ago I bought a house in the suburbs and I have a few fruit trees and shrubs, but while enjoying their fruit, I’ve never learned how to maximize production.
The mysteries of growing food aside, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. What made Ron’s recollections enjoyable weren’t so much the wild adventures (bears, forest fires, etc.) but the way he recounted his daily effort s and illustrated his resourcefulness. Off Grid and Free describes a simple life philosophy and way of living.
Not a Savage
By the way, Ron is quite a good writer. I don’t know why, but when I think about living in the wilderness, the mental image I get is of uneducated hunter-gatherers.
And yet the challenges faced in life alone are much the same as many of those we all face. The traits I see being necessary for art, engineering, or scientific research are the same you need to cope with the challenges of nature.
You must plan ahead; Ron and his wife do shopping only twice a year. They need to be very methodical in tracking all their food and equipment usage. I was amazed to read that Ron keeps maintenance logs for all his machinery.
Heck, I am in the middle of civilization and I don’t keep even my car’s maintenance log as I should. But when you are alone—without backup—you cannot leave anything to chance and must think through every move.
Mistakes: you’ll make them. But you’ll ensure you learn from them, like a scientist doing research who discards incorrect hypotheses. ‘Out there’ you aren’t thinking theoretically; you’re making decisions that impact your life.
This makes you a pretty fast learner, I suppose. And you have to be creative. You cannot run downtown to buy spare machine parts, or top-up missing groceries with a visit to the corner shop. You need to depend on your own resourcefulness and ability to plan ahead.
I also liked an underlying philosophy in this book. It’s like my favorite quote from Saint Ignatius: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”
Sometimes, we are just helpless, despite the best-laid plans. There are things we cannot control.
Living close to nature exposes our helplessness quite distinctly. People can throw away vast resources and manpower against forest fire and still lose the fight. It’s normal. It’s natural.
Jim Rohn said something along those lines: It’s strange that in the modern era we no longer expect life to be a challenge. In our predictable suburban or city environments, we pretend that we can control our lives.
Control is just an illusion. You have to always be prepared for the unexpected. Like forest fires, catastrophes are just a part of the lifecycle (the coronavirus pandemic, huh?). They finish some things or periods, but they also begin new ones.
Overall, I loved this book. I appreciate that Ron wrote it from the trenches. Isn’t it amazing that nowadays we can connect with each other so easily and draw from one another’s experiences? Ron’s experience is unique, but almost anyone can connect with him through his book.
My recommendation? Read it! This book made me proud to call myself a human because people like Ron exist on this planet.
Ron recently published a new book, The Self-Sufficient Backyard, where he generously shares his lifelong experience in a simple how-to fashion. If you are into self-sufficiency, it is a must-read!