Off the Network, but truly connected…


But am I? I’ve been at a cottage for the last three weeks. It is a cabin really. It is about 40 Km’s North of Burk’s Falls in North (almost) Ontario. We take a country road for about 20 km’s outside town which eventually leads to a narrow, gravel winding road. Eventually we get to Island Lake, also called Proudfoot. That is where we park our car and load up the motor powered boat for another 20 minute excursion across the lake.
View Burk’s Falls in a larger map

P1016691Here we walk uphill from the dock (about 55 steps). The cabin, surrounded by a dense forest of birch, white pine and balsam, is equipped with a small gas operated generator to pump lake water. Otherwise, it is (almost) completely off the grid. There is no road access, no telephone lines, no radio tower, no running water (or washrooms) and no internet. Conveniences are limited to a small propane fridge and a propane oven.

P1016885However, as I write this blog entry on the iPad (with the attached wireless keyboard) while sitting in our screened in porch, I am interrupted to turn on the gas operated generator to power up the devices that my family can’t do without: The iPod station is first on our list of importance. It is not like we have music playing every second of the day, however, there is nothing more relaxing that listening to Ben Harper, Wilco or Jack Johnson as we read our books and play our card games. And we came here to relax so we are not going to deprive ourselves of good music.

P1017058Second is the iPad. The charge lasts for about four movies, about two hours or Kindle reading every night and an hour or so of solitaire (not to mention using it as a flashlight). Third is the kids Portable Playstations. To be honest, I wanted to have a “no electronics” rule – but I knew that was impossible to enforce (and I would be the worst one of all). The least important is the iPhone. It is last on the list because I can’t get reception on it anyway. However, I discovered that if I paddle to the middle of the lake, I can access my voice mail and read the news (if I so wish). I didn’t include the cameras (one for every person here) because that is a given.

I am not going to be embarrassed about our inability to completely go off the grid. I could write many blog posts about our canoe and backpacking trips through remote areas of Northern Ontario and Algonquin Park. The intention here, however, was to find a refuge to relax and spend time reconnecting with my family. Our “getaway” was exactly what we wanted. A place where we could strip ourselves of urban clutter and to get closer to nature – and that is what we did. Our family adjusted well to the dark nights, using the outhouse, and bugs. We learned to reuse every bit of waste (no garbage or recycling pick up here) by sorting each piece of garbage meticulously and burning all burnable material. Even so, we have a large bag of garbage/recycling to take home.  Very little soap used (even the most “environmentally friendly” soap will harm the area). P1016798The biggest obstacle, however, was our water usage. We cannot drink water from the lake which meant that every other day we took our small motor boat across the lake to access the natural springs which fed the lake and gave us clean drinking water – for free. This was the water used for cooking, drinking, and washing dishes. We went through 10 Gallons of water every two days.

Listen to our short family PODCAST – What was your biggest challenging being so far from a city?


It is impossible to spend three weeks in this remote cabin and not contemplate the impact that our choices and lifestyle in the city has had on our environmental footprint. We have had authentic learning experience that has taught us that our resources are not indispensable. We truly underestimate the richness and value of our water usage every day. We take for granted that our garbage, recycling and even compost is removed for us each week. We spend  money to access cable, electricity, phones and internet- all which we went without for three weeks. We wash our clothes too frequently and take too long showering. Our family has made a commitment to decrease our carbon footprint in the following ways.
– Landline is going bye bye. We have two cell phones already are rarely use the landline.
– We are going to be more aware of our water usage. Timed showers, use of dishwasher only when FULL, never let water running.
– Engage in regular conversations about how our family is doing as it pertains to resource consumption.
– Buy food from the local market more often.
– Take the local transit, bike or carshare more often. We have already become a one car family.
– Regulate the temperature in our house by keeping it around 67 degrees in the winter. Use furnace fan and fans for air conditioning in the summer.

What commitment are you going to make with your family? How can you address these issues with your students?


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6 Replies to “Off the Network, but truly connected…”

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Off the Network, but truly connected… | PIPEDREAMS --

  2. Another awesome blog post, Zoe! I especially liked the podcast. What a great way to bring your whole family into the blog.

    Usually once over the summer, I go away for a week or two, and I always leave all of my electronic devices behind. I feel like it’s a real vacation when I don’t worry about checking e-mails (or this year, tweeting). I do miss this, but I think that it’s good to give it up too.

    I like though how you and your family included some technology in your trip “off the grid.” I also loved how you came up with some ways to reduce your carbon footprint. I think that cutting back on shower times and only doing full loads of laudry (or running the dishwasher when it’s full only) are a couple of ways that I can cut back on mine. I’ll continue thinking of more ways though. You’ve definitely got me thinking!


  3. Hey Zoe,
    My brother is in your neck of the woods. He’s runs Northern Edge Algonquin from the shore of Lake Kawawaymog and has an office in South River. I’ve been limiting my tech access throughout the month of July, and though we’ve used far more water and electricity than you, I’ve found it refreshing to do ‘real stuff’ with my family.

    We’ll be heading that direction in the coming weeks. Looking forward to seeing you in Toronto later this summer. Continue to enjoy the summer!

  4. This is a lovely post and I regularly face this dilemma when going “up north” (to use the Canadian expression).

    I’m looking forward to the day when solar powered iPads and phones are the norm. Every piece of portable technology has a casing which is a potential solar cell. I know it’s possible to buy add-on solar rechargers but they are bulky and expensive.

    I’m looking forward to reading more posts and especially any with an outdoor theme – let me know and I’m happy to flag them up.

    Best wishes

  5. Thanks for your comment Juliet – Yes, the Solar Powered Ipads and Itouches are soon coming. Glad you enjoyed the post! Zoe

  6. I can’t agree with you more – doing the “real stuff” with family. It is really about being focused on the family and not on the screen. I often think about – and worry, how many driven educators are ‘networking’ and ‘twittering’ and ‘blogging’ —resulting in time away from family. On line life can be overwhelming for some. It would make a good discussion – managing online learning. I look forward to one day seeing your brothers place – up north. Truly – it is my “happy place”.

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