Growing Up Solar: Chapter 1

Growing Up Solar: Chapter 1

You might be surprised, but I grew up in a solar- and windmill-powered home in rural New Hampshire. This isn't something that most people would guess on first impression of meeting me – I live in a city, I work in business, and I like fashion. But I was raised completely off-the-grid.

I learned a lot from growing up this way. Even though I was privileged to live in such a beautiful area with loving parents, in other ways it was challenging. Nothing was ever convenient. Electricity itself was a luxury. You could compare my childhood to 20 years of camping – not quite that extreme, but pretty close compared to how most people grow up. 

I was forced to be creative and find ways to pass the time, since at home I didn't play video games or watch MTV like the other kids. Especially as a gay boy growing up in a rural area, it was hard to find my place in the world.

My father, Bill, moved to New Hampshire in the 1970s to live off the land. He isn't a "survivalist" or a "prepper" or a tax evader or someone who is afraid of society. He just believes in conservation and sustainable living. My mom, Mary, met my dad in Seattle, and moved out to New Hampshire to build this dream of a homestead in harmony with nature.

I'll talk more about my parents' lives in another post, but they still live in the house in New Hampshire and have found ways to live even more "green" than ever before.

A couple of my friends now call me "Princess Mowgli" because I have both sides to me – a rough woodland creature crossed with someone who wants to be fancy and wear gold. Sort of like Sleeping Beauty wandering through the forest:

Aurora and her forest friends in  Sleeping Beauty

Aurora and her forest friends in Sleeping Beauty

Here are some facts about my childhood growing up solar that I tell people:

  1. I couldn't watch TV or movies unless it was sunny out because the bright sunny days were when we had enough electricity stored up to power a color television. So while I wanted to watch the Spice Girls or the newest TLC music video, instead I was outside climbing a tree or picking flowers. Of course, you could say that was a good thing.
  2. When I turned on the microwave (which I could also only do when it was sunny out), the lights would flicker because of the sudden drain on our electricity.
  3. On the plus side, our power never went out during a storm or when our neighbors' power went out.
  4. When I was young, my parents carried drinking water in pails to the house. It was pumped by hand from a well down the hill. Mom always joked that Dad forced us to live like pilgrims. We teased him that this was the way he wanted to live, but we were stuck with it.
  5. My Dad built our house entirely by hand. It's a circular shape with a glass dome on the top. I'll post more about it soon.
  6. I grew up using a composting toilet, which is basically an outhouse that is inside. It composts waste, which is then placed outside.
  7. We used wood stoves to heat the house, and all winter long, the stove was roaring hot.
  8. Our shower operated with a hand pump, so pumping water by hand would push water out of the shower head. The shower space was made of wood and designed to be a seat, so bathing was mostly done in a seated position. It looks a lot like an old-fashioned telephone booth.
  9. To this day, the sink in our kitchen has a hand pump for water for hand washing.
  10. I had very few neighbors. None of my friends lived within walking distance, and my high school was 30 min away. I was also an only child. So sometimes it was lonely or boring.

I'm proud of "growing up solar". My Dad was way ahead of his time, and as we are seeing now, the world needs us to take care of it much more than we think. It developed me into a creative thinker, a hard worker, and a pretty tough person. There was a period in high school where I really immersed myself in pop culture and wanted to become more mainstream. Yearning, as all high schoolers do, to be "normal". But at some point I realized that I wasn't normal. I'll never be normal. Not just because I am gay. But also because of the way I was raised and the outlook I have.

I'm going home to New Hampshire next week, and I'll plan to do some more posts about "growing up solar" while I'm home.

Me circa 1992, NYC. Shirt says "I hugged the trees."

Me circa 1992, NYC. Shirt says "I hugged the trees."