A Beautiful Life: Catherine’s Story.
Catherine Birkelo is an artist. She’s also an advocate for simple living and is dedicated to finding contentment via sustainable methods. Over the course of the past year, she has been moving toward making her day to day reality align with the truths that ground her in being who she is. What follows is an informal interview about how her life situation has evolved in the last 15 months, and how that evolution has impacted her perception of herself – and what she deems as enough for a beautiful life.
For years, I’ve dreamed of my next home being completely off the energy grid and geographically unrestricted to boot. I’ve wanted a motorhome powered by solar and wind energy, run off of bio-fuel and kitted out to take myself and my furry family wherever I fancied. But it always seemed out of reach. Whatever the reasons, I held myself back from moving forward on this dream and turning it into a goal for the here and now. No longer. -Catherine, September 10, 2012.
Tell me about your current living situation. What is it like to live your story right now?
I purchased my RV, Gertie, nearly a year and a half ago. After an inaugeral trip to the hot springs, I brought her home and began the intense and rewarding process of gutting and rebuilding her, nearly from the walls up. Her facelift is still a work in progress, but I moved partially in last June, while I was still working on some of the basic renovations. Full-time living became a reality on November 1st of 2013, and my ultimate goal, to live off-grid on national forest land, became a reality on January 1st, 2014.
Now, along with launching a new business (Gertie’s Mobile Pet-sitting ) as a co-support for my artwork, my daily life has finally started to match my original intention. I’m currently parked on a forest service road, at a dispersed campsite with nothing more than a fire ring, where I’m allowed to stay for 14 days out of every 28. The other 14 days, I have to move to a new location, at least 5 road miles away from my last spot.
I drive to a water station in a nearby community to fill up my on-board water tank, which holds around 40 gallons of water and lasts a good long while – especially with augmentation of the occassional milk jug and circumspect use of my resources when washing dishes and showering.
My power comes from a combination of three 120watt solar panels, a bank of 4 6volt batteries, a gas-run generator, and a 600 watt inverter, and my heat, cooking and refrigerator power comes from an onboard, as well as a secondary removable propane tank.
Since it’s just me, I tow my truck behind my house with a towbar when I go from location to location.
Because of the work I’ve done insulating my unit above and beyond any normal RV, I’ve been MORE than surviving, and even beginning to thrive in my very new living situation, managing 60-75 degrees inside when it’s as cold as negative 20 outside.
What inspires you to live like you do?
Independence. Flexibility. Geographical freedom. Living by a different set of rules. No rent. Leaving a smaller environmental footprint. Being able to travel and take my house and pets with me.
What is challenging about living like you do?
Having to set up camp in inclement weather. Coordinating resource usage including water, propane, and gas. Being my own plumber, electrician, and builder. Keeping track of when I need to move and where I’m moving to around work and weather. Problem-solving energy, water and vehicle hiccups. Having to deal with dumping my own waste, water conservation, wind issues, breaking camp, and winter weather road conditions.
What have you learned about yourself so far by living like you do?
That isolation can creep up quickly without an internet connection. I have learned quickly that beautiful pine trees, my girls (dog Kita and cat Lucy), hot showers, my computer, and my internet connection are essential to my small equation for contentment.
Also, that I’m utterly capable. I can deal with plumbing, some electrical and mechanical issues, and lots of hard and creative labor very well. I’ve learned that despite those times when most people worry I can’t do something or shouldn’t do something, I figure out how I can.
And I’ve learned that it’s a lot safer and lovelier in practice, in day to day living, than anyone else can really know without being me, with my personal values and memories coloring my experience of this way of life.
What are you looking forward to as you continue to live like you do?
It’s been a cold winter. I’m looking forward to the weather getting nice. I’m doing all the hard stuff first. The time-consuming, expensive, and most challenging parts of this journey were all stacked up front. By the time summer gets here, my daily and weekly routines are going to feel easy as pie.
As for the details, I’ll be finishing up the decorative and fun parts of Gertie’s remodel. Moulding and curtains and upholstery. Bathroom tiles. A paint job for her outside.
I’ll also be getting Gertie greener, with a composting toilet and other fuel alternatives to gasoline.
And the icing on the cake – visiting my family and friends while being able to support myself well on the road and getting to bring my home with me when I go.
What is beautiful about living like you do?
Breathtaking views, and being able to choose them and change them. The space to live and breathe and just BE. The feeling of independence, and proving to myself how resourceful and happy I can be with just four little walls between me and the world.
What would you say to someone who is unsure about changing the way they operate in the world?
You have to do the inner work to get yourself to do the outer work.
And it’s worth it.
Read more about Catherine’s story at Art Through The Chakras.