Big Hard Sun – And Life Way Off the Grid

By Cam Mather

I heard the song “Hard Sun” the other day on the radio.

The original was done by a guy from Dundas, Ontario that is close to where I used to live. His name is Gordon Peterson but he goes by the name “Indio.” I loved this song when it came out in 1989 and while it was a Top 10 Hit in Canada it never caught on in the U.S. After this song Indio just dropped out of sight, which seems to be a cool thing that artists like to do.

Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam redid the song for the movie “Into The Wild.” This is the sort of song that inspires me to pick up (and tune) my guitar and figure out the lyrics and attempt to play it. Michelle is probably grateful that I keep my guitar out in our guesthouse because I’ve realized something about my musical abilities, and it’s that I sound absolutely amazing … to myself, in my own head, but I’m thinking that for other people… not so much. When I’m playing the song I hear the original in my head and I know that I sound JUST like it! Or maybe not…

So we recently rented the movie “Into The Wild” again. It’s old enough that Tim at Village Video has it in the “3 Videos for 3 Nights for $3.75” section. Take that Netflix! And there’s no “buffering” to suffer through when I watch DVDs!

Michelle and I had read the book “Into the Wild” after we read “Into Thin Air,” both by John Krakauer. “Into Thin Air” is about one particularly deadly climbing season on Mt.  Everest. I don’t have any desire to climb a mountain but the book was gripping. So when a subsequent John Krakauer book came out, we were keen to read it. “Into The Wild” is about Chris McCandless from Virginia who gives up on the “real” world and goes on a spiritual quest after graduating from university. He kind of drops off the face of the earth, much like Indio after he recorded “Hard Sun.” McCandless ends up in Alaska living in an abandoned bus and experiences what one would describe as “death by misadventure.” I won’t give any more away. It’s a great book and movie.

I like the movie on numerous levels. First, it’s a road movie so I get to travel to places I’m never going to go to, including Alaska. It’s very beautiful and a great travelogue.

Secondly, one of the jobs Chris works at is driving a combine harvester! Best job ever! My dream job! So Chris gets to realize my life long ambition. Lucky guy!

Thirdly, I ‘get’ Chris. Now I’m not in the same league as him when it comes to chucking all the comforts of home and heading out into the wild. But I do understand his dissatisfaction with living the life society expects of him. That’ll teach his parents for encouraging him to go to university to expand his mind! Although you don’t need courses on philosophy to know that the trajectory society deems as relevant can be pretty shallow and unfulfilling. I was slowly going mad in suburbia. You can only ask yourself, “is this all there is?” so many times before you need to get off the pot and try something new.

Our daughters were young, I needed an income and there was no guarantee that we’d be able to maintain our business once we took the plunge and moved off the grid. I was pretty sure that we’d get the whole “off-grid-solar-powered-thing” working, but 15 years ago I can assure you, there was no guarantee of this. We spent many years flying by the seat of our pants before we got to where we are now.

Other than on the rare occasion when I’m putting up a wind turbine or dropping a tree with a particularly bad lean to it, I don’t feel I put myself in harm’s way more often than necessary. It was probably no more dangerous than a one-hour commute into Atlanta. But Chris gets a little reckless in pursuit of his dreams and things run amok.

I suppose one could look at it as a sad movie, a tragedy. A young man dies. How can that be uplifting? But we all die. What’s a tragedy is a life spent without purpose. A life spent in a job that conflicts with your soul just so you can retire with a pension. A life spent in pursuit of money that ends before you have time to sit and enjoy yourself. Or experience nature. Or experience the sight of the stars on a cloudless night.

This morning I should have spent the day on the phone trying to drum up some web work to make some money. I should have put more money into my retirement plan. I should have been a responsible citizen and kept the wheels of commerce greased. But I wrote this silly blog instead. Then I got the chords for “Hard Sun” and wailed away on my guitar… poorly, I might add. Then I played with my dog and rounded up the chickens that were wandering off into the woods. Then I piled some logs that I cut on the weekend. On the next sunny day when I have too much electricity to store in my batteries, I’ll cut the logs into woodstove-length pieces with my electric chainsaw. Bad Cam … Focus … Make some darn money!

If I were to find out today that scientists have just discovered an asteroid that will collide with the earth tomorrow wiping out all life on the planet, I’m okay with that. It would be a bummer, but I spent my last day exactly as I would have wanted to. Except that there wasn’t any Black Forest Cake in the house today. That’s my only regret. That I wasn’t eating Black Forest Cake as I watched the impact. Other than that, it’s all good.

Note: Cam is available for personal acoustic guitar concerts for intentional communities, Green Party rallies and hippy commune get-togethers. You have to be within electric bike commuting range. His fee is Black Forest Cake. And Dr. Pepper. Many dates available.

8 Responses to “Big Hard Sun – And Life Way Off the Grid”

  • I LOVE THIS MOVIE! I almost became Chris…but then I fell in love and moved to the Kingston area. I truly think that I learned a lesson that Alexander Supertramp missed out on…or, as the movie postilates, learned too late. There is so many differences between the book, the movie and the articles I’ve read, especially when it comes to the end.
    here’s a link for ya! Kinda unrelated, but here it is!
    this will appeal to your hippie roots, Cam!

  • Jeff:

    “A life spent in a job that conflicts with your soul just so you can retire with a pension. A life spent in pursuit of money that ends before you have time to sit and enjoy yourself. Or experience nature. Or experience the sight of the stars on a cloudless night.”

    Wow. I haven’t read anything lately that moved me as much as this quote. Are you sure you aren’t running for Buddha in the next election? Well said.

    Also, you prompted me to grab the wife and tune up our guitars so we can jam for a bit tonight.

    Thanks for the inspiration(s)!

  • Tricia:

    I like that song too…and that movie was too depressing in the end. Glad I watched it but kinda ruined my “I love nature” vibe there….:}

  • Neil:

    In his book “Buddhism Without Beliefs”, Stephen Batchelor writes (capitals, my emphasis): THE ONLY THING CERTAIN IS DEATH, THE TIMING OF WHICH IS UNCERTAIN. SO WHAT WILL YOU DO?”

    Well, what I will do is live in a way that cultivates integrity in how I spend my time and energies… Off-grid, low footprint, tending to a woodlot, suits me well in that regard.

  • Brian Wortman:

    During summer break some of the guys from college got ahold of me and asked me to jump in the bus with them and take in a concert with some interesting bands. I said that I couldn’t cause I had to work. That was the summer of 1970 and I missed Woodstock. I wonder how many other things I missed cause I was chasing the dollar?

  • David Hribar:

    I live in Alaska and it ir really like you see in the moves. I have lived here for 18 years and it took some getting use to but it has been an experience that I am so glad I did. I have so enjoyed reading your books and my plan is to retire next year back to upstate New York and live the life I have dreamed of. I won’t be totally off the grid like you but will be every bit that I can. I have bought many books and have been learning and am so excite for this new journey. Please keep writing and teaching folks like me to move forward. THanks for what you are doing.

  • I remember that movie! As I watched and was continually impressed in many ways I kept thinking “gotta get the kids to watch this” and then he died. After that I thought “not ever watching this again.” Too sad for words.

    There IS something to look forward to after everything hits the fan, and that’s what keeps me/us going. I’m not looking forward to enduring tribulation but I am oh, so looking forward to the Messiah’s Millennial Kingdom–which doesn’t look to be more than about 4 years away now. If I can just hang on that long I’ll be good.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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