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With no water pump, the family relies on plastic gallon jugs of drinking water brought in from Courtney's parents' cabin nearby and stashed beneath the kitchen counter. In addition, covered five-gallon buckets hold water for washing. They use about 20 gallons of water a week excluding baths, which they take at their parents' homes or when a friend fires up a sauna.
They also have a generator that they start occasionally to vacuum and operate tools. Rarely, they'll power the television so the kids can watch a movie. Kerosene lamps, candles and a single gas lamp provide light. The apartment-sized refrigerator runs on propane, but they store meat in freezers at their parents' homes.
We drink tea, and conversation turns to why they chose to live without the conveniences that require electricity or running water, which most people consider essential.
Courtney's voice is passionate when she talks about living simply, avoiding consumption, recycling. It's a priority, a conscious goal, something that weighs heavily in her choices. She works in town one day every week and is repulsed by the consumerism she sees flaunted on television. "That really opened my eyes. This is what they're taking in all the time … cars and clothes and big houses. The more I lived there, the less I liked it," she says.
Not to mention that a lack of convenient shopping saves "a ton of money. In town I thought, I don't have this and this and this … so I'd go get it," Courtney says. Now if she can't buy something, she does without. Temptations to buy things simply aren't there.
Because they supply their own power and water, "We're conscious of everything, like not leaving the lights on," Courtney says. It can be inconvenient but suits their ideals.
Their larger inconveniences have to do with maintaining the road - removing fallen trees, plowing snow. Sometimes they get stuck. And Courtney grows nervous walking in during the monthlong spring break-up when the road is too muddy to drive, and bears are emerging from hibernation.
At noon, Courtney drives out to pick up 4-year-old Ari at the bus stop. He comes in, chattering about his day at preschool. He and his sister attend school in Big Bay, but Ryan and Courtney are contemplating homeschooling. They wholeheartedly like the school, but find it stressful to meet the schedule.
Courtney says one day she was alone and needed to meet her daughter's school bus. Her son was taking a nap. The car wouldn't start. Their old beater woods-truck wouldn't go into gear. They don't have a phone because they can't get cellular coverage, so she couldn't contact anyone to help. She finally had to pull her son on a sled to a neighbor who had a working telephone.