Polly Greeks: Let there be light

Electricity comes to Polly’s little section of Northland, and the lights — metaphorical and literal — go on.

Winter’s an unlikely time to get excited about ice cubes. Yet in the initial week of us purchasing a fridge/freezer, our children must’ve crunched their way through several hundred small lumps of ice just because they could. They also opened the fridge door incessantly, marvelling at how the interior lit up, gazing rapturously like other people do at sunsets.

Our house was finally wired for electricity at a time that coincided nicely with the longest nights. Amid drum roll, feasting and fanfare, light switches were turned on for the first time, and our home suddenly glowed like a lantern in the big, empty darkness of the forested ranges. Taking to progress like technological ducks, the delighted kids dusted off a gifted electric back-massager, seized their grandmother’s CD player and simulated a strobe-lit dancefloor as they flicked switches on and off before James and I tersely activated the parental killjoy button.

To fully relate to such electrified rapture, you must spend your first eight or 11 years unplugged, as Zen and Vita did. Like their great-great-great-grandmother 100 years earlier, I’m pretty sure they’ll remember the arrival of instant energy for the rest of their days. We weren’t trying to be neo-luddites; it’s just that when starting from scratch in the forest, electricity was down our priority list. Over time, we’d gained a generator, which ran for an hour most days to power the washing machine and our rechargeable headlamps, and we also had a small solar panel to charge phones and laptops. When we were finally ready for more capacity, there was a queue for the sought-after and elusive genius who engineers bespoke solar/hydro systems in our parts.

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It was worth the wait. Admittedly, it was embarrassing to discover the extent of the Haversham-esque cobwebs unexpectedly backlit in the rafters, and I recoiled somewhat before the brightly lit bathroom mirror, but how lovely to put aside the headlamps that have protruded like coal-mining growths from our foreheads for the past 13 years. Creatures of habit, James and I still sometimes reach for them after sundown before catching ourselves. Life is easier with electricity, and I’m grateful. With a system designed to flourish come rain or shine, we’re energy-rich. Excess food can be frozen. I can start the washing machine and walk away. The blender now lives on the kitchen bench. Light fills a dark room at the flick of a switch, and dog hair is less of a thing, thanks to the vacuum cleaner. Yet, I liked our “ungridded” lifestyle. Reduced artificial light helped me anchor more awareness to the seasons. I appreciated not taking energy for granted and valued the pared-back space to raise a family.

In sentimental moments, I’ve wondered who’ll listen to the wind’s gentler songs now the stereo’s on. Who will notice Venus gleaming like a fat gold bead through the deepening dusk when the lights are all blazing? Who will tell stories around a fire if the children are watching movies on the new projector? The last things we need are more layers between ourselves and silent stillness, between ourselves and quality connections.
Illumination’s on/off switch ultimately lies inside us. As the adage says, where attention goes, energy flows. The wiring might lead to electrical appliances, but it seems essential to remember there was something about a lack of voltage that made our hearts glow.

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Vita, now 12, misses the darkness that draped around us each night. Zen, now 9, has suggested we sometimes have power-free days and “just look at the sky”. No one’s actually taken him up on it, but we resonated with the concept.

In the meantime, finding someone willing to mind our place has become a whole lot easier. Like moths to the flame, house-sitters are attracted to light bulbs. Since advertising that our home comes with power, enthusiasm for staying to tend to our animals has increased 100 per cent, meaning we can unplug from everything and go camping over the summer.

Happy holidays!

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.

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