by Sandra Radja
I like the idea of independence. I read once that you shouldn't ask someone to do something for you that you can't do for yourself. At first glance this seems like a lonely and separate existence but on further thinking it really does embody the idea of freedom. We ideally want to choose to be with someone, not because we have to, but we want to. We ideally prefer to do a job we love that we have chosen and not have to take one to pay the mortgage. It's a shift of mindset - you make decisions according to your own personal flow which is in the positive and each person that encounters this happy new you will be better for the experience.
Living off the grid has become a popular choice these days as it opens up possibilities of getting out of the rental market. The land is cheaper and it provides a real sense of satisfaction for tending to yourself and knowing you have the ability to survive. And it's not the arena of bearded hermits running from the law anymore.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, being close to nature is healing as you begin to take on the rhythm of your surrounds. In Carlena's case the dense element of the forest provided a protective blanket to her need for contemplation. Choosing a natural state in relation to your Vikruti (imbalances) can act as medicine - it's something our forebears did regularly and we don't think to do so much anymore, instead preferring distraction and avoidance only to then have to take a medical retreat when it gets too much.
This interview is so inspiring because it screams at what most women want to do at some point in their lives - to do it their way and without responsibility to anyone but themselves. Owning your brilliance begins with deciding that you can be independent. We are in a time of creating the new woman - not in reaction to the shackles of a patriarchal society but instead taking the reigns of her life and doing whatever she wants to do. It's exciting times.
1. You live in a region that is slowly becwoming known for Melburnians wanting to "check out" from the rat race, both figuratively and logistically. Why did you move to the forest and live off the grid?
After thinking a bit about this question I've decided, I live where I live and the way that I live, not because I wanted to "check out" from anything, but because I simply like it. It's not an escape or a statement, it's a choice. I like being in the forest and I enjoy knowing my immediate impact on the earth around me - my energy consumption, my water usage, my waste. It's empowering to know I can build and maintain my own shelter. I believe that the space you choose to spend your time in can dramatically affect your view on the world around you and I feel passionate about designing and creating the space where I live. Living in the forest, off-the-grid and in my own home allows me exactly the creativity and freedom I want in my world, and lifts restrictions I've personally felt in renting other peoples abodes. Also, I've found living this way helps me to become more connected to the environment around me, both in caring for it and depending on it and this is incredibly grounding for me.
2. How did you learn to be self sufficient with regards to the plumbing and electricity on the caravan?
I've been working as a builder for the last three years so the building part of things I've learnt from a variety of teachers. I built a shelter to cover the caravan. It protects the van from leaks, shelters it from sun in the Summer and it's a place to fix my solar panel and how I catch my water. The water I catch goes into a small water tank a friend has lent me and is hand pumped in the caravan. The materials for the shelter (bush poles, old hardwood framing timber and old corrugated iron) were also gifted from the friends whose land I am living on, (they were scavenged from a variety of places for free) who will keep the shelter after I'm gone to use as a tractor storage or the like.
I researched all I could about solar electricity and what I would need online and I had my Dad, who's an electrician, help me install it and run three 12 volt lights, a couple of USB plugs for phone charging andan inverter for my laptop and tool battery charger. I built myself an outdoor shower out of a bucket and watering can rose. After a bit of research about hot water units and water pumps I opted for a pulley system and gravity - pretty simple and effective. I heat two kettles on an outdoor gas stove and fill the rest with cold water.
It's all pretty simple really, everything learned, like most things these days, from people, help of friends, books, internet and 'trial and error' and most of the learning that didn't come from past experience, came on a need by need basis.
The most important thing for me has been to push aside any fear of making mistakes and just try, whether things work or not, the process is incredibly fulfilling.
3. How do you feel being with the elements of the forest?
I love being in the forest. Living surrounded by trees, as I mentioned above, has been a great way to feel grounded. It's hard to ignore the beauty around you when you are so close to it and interacting with it and this has been exactly what I've needed. Whenever I've been stuck in my head, processing decisions and the like, simply going for a walk surrounded by those old trees and seeing the way everything lives quietly and harmoniously helps put things in perspective. I quite like open spaces with expanding views also, but I think in going through a time of introspection the cloak of the forest has had a calm protective feeling.
4. What's your daily routine like?
I don't really have a strict daily routine, and to be honest, don't really want one.
It depends very much on if I'm working and what work I'm doing. In any case usually I wake early with the sun, (I still don't have curtains on the caravan) and now that it's winter I light a little fire and make breakfast. Preferably, I like a slow morning, with books and designing by the fire but, if I'm building I usually start around 7.30 and work until 4.30. If I'm doing planning work on my computer, I'll start a little later and probably work from the local library (the reception's not the best in the woods). When I get home, if there's enough light, I'll do odd jobs that need doing, maybe chop some fire wood or repair something that needs fixing. Then, light the fire, put my two kettles on the stove for a bucket shower. It's been a little difficult with little sun in the winter but it's actually quite nice to have an outdoor shower by candlelight particularly on a still night, and the caravan's always a toasty reward at the end. Then it's onto night time things, dinner, writing notes and ideas, reading, knitting, maybe I'll call or visit a friend or maybe I'll watch a movie. All sounds rather boring really, but I guess that's the nature of routine and I'm thankful that mine isn't strict. While there are things to constantly maintain when you're living off grid (and at the moment I don't grow my own food which would require even more attention) I feel also I'm afforded a lot more time and freedom in that there are less external distractions, I should attempt to fill this time more with yoga and meditation but that too, for me, comes in waves.
5. Has your definition of home changed since living in a caravan?
I feel like I've been searching for 'home' for a long time. Travelling around and being in and out of house sits and rental properties, I've never really felt fully settled and always somewhat restricted by the wills of landlords.
I think part of the process of making my own movable home has been learning that home is a feeling rather than a place. At risk of sounding really corny, once you establish that feeling within yourself, 'home' can be anywhere and, personally, I've found that in my van I call home my creativity flourishes and it's extremely empowering to know what I can accomplish. There are then no restrictions. In a physical sense I can put permanent nails in walls and change colours as often as I wish but also, in an abstract sense, anything feels possible when you put your mind to it. Your home in this way can not only become a place for shelter but an expression of yourself and, in a way, a place to reflect and get to know yourself.