Off the Grid

Before buying our new home, we had two important questions.  Would our old place sell and could we get internet access at the new place?

Our real estate agent assured us on both accounts.

It’s not that we didn’t trust him but in rural areas there are a limited pool of buyers and modern amenities, like internet, are often hard to come by.   On top of that, let’s just say real estate agents tend to be optimistic.  So we pressed him on the issues.

“Properties like your old place are in high demand because it is in the woods,” he said, “it’s nice to look out at something other than corn and beans.”

“What about the internet at the new place?” I asked, “It took an act of God to get DSL at our old house.”

Actually God had nothing to do with it but complaining to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) did.  I used them to motivate the phone company and some say the PUC has more power than God.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s not like it used to be.  There are digital cell networks, satellites and micro-wave links – and it all works great!”

Again, real estate agents tend toward optimism – so I checked it out. I spoke to my prospective neighbors.  They all raved about the micro-wave links they use to access the internet.

These links are an amazing miracle of American entrepreneurship.  The companies, typically run by ex-military types, ricochet micro-wave beams around the rural areas to connect even the most remote sites to the grid.

So in early March, we bought a new house.  It has a two-car garage, a big metal shed, a pond, a grove of oaks, a sauna (no kidding) and four acres of pasture for horses.

(The photo on the header of this blog is our backyard.)

Amid the chaos of moving, I called the micro-wave guy to link us up. The best he could do was schedule an appointment for six weeks in the future.

So in late April, he rumbled down our road dragging a long contrail of brown dust behind his boom truck.

Turning into our driveway, he rolled down his window and yelled, “I dunno.”

“What don’t you know?” I yelled back.

“Your place looks great on a contour map,” he hollered, “but micro-waves travel by line of sight.  I can make out the transmitter on Peterson’s grain bin but I’m worried about these trees. When they fill out, they’ll block you for sure. Is there any way you can cut them down?”

“I don’t own them,” I shouted, “The DNR (Department of Natural Resource)  does.”

“Aw,” he shouted before rolling up his window, “Then you’re screwed.”


“Is there nothing we can do?”

“You could put up a tower to get over the trees,” he said.

“How high you figure that would be?”

He tilted his cap back and gazed at the sky.  “Those are big trees,” he said, “I’d imagine sixty feet at a minimum.”

TowerSo that is what we are going to do.

(It’s bigger than it looks)

Oh yeah, remember the other thing our real estate agent assured us about?  Selling the house?

That was optimistic.

It’s been months and nary a nibble.  Now, I have two yards to maintain.  On Friday, I was out at the old place stumbling behind the mower when a guy pulled into our driveway.

“Notice the locate flags?” he asked.

I indicated I did.  I had been dodging red and orange marker flags all morning, the kind you see whenever there is construction around utilities.

The guy was a sales rep for the local cable company. “We are wiring your [old] neighborhood for fiber-optic,” he beamed. “It’ll bring you phone, cable TV and high-speed internet. Can I sign you up for our triple-play package?”

“I don’t live here.  I just work here,” I said pointing to the FOR SALE sign, “but I’ll tell you what.  When and if the new owners ever show up, I will let them know.”

Author: Almost Iowa

18 thoughts on “Off the Grid”

  1. Others here have commented on the humour. Myself, I’m a tiny bit horrified by it all. I guess I’m more slavishly attached to the internet than I realized. If I had to live through this? I’d be beside myself. The fact that the unsold home now gets highspeed? Cruel irony! Cruel!

    1. Gosh, I was just commenting on your clothesline post when my comment indicator flashed orange with you note.

      It’s pretty rough not having internet but I work in the Twin Cities during the week, so I am not cut off from the grid all together.

      It’s also a good way to rediscover the public library.

      1. That’s not so bad, then. I suppose, now that you mention it, I’d spend a great deal more time at my public library, too if I were in your shoes. I wish you best of outcomes as far as selling your home AND internet connection is concerned.

            1. Relax, it is only six acres of grass. 🙂

              The guy who had the place before the people we bought it from built a nine-hole golf course. Personally, I do not need that much grass but I will keep enough for a ball-field.

              With the rest, I will expand the pond, expand the pasture and return some to native prairie.

  2. Groan…what rotten luck. I thought I was the only one who ran into these problems. When I lived in the city I moved several times. Each time I moved they brought in back hoes and jackhammers and proceeded to tear up the street.
    When I moved back to the country I bought a small house-trailer. It took months to get the power hooked up. After I went to the office and threw a mini-tantrum, they told me they were waiting for an inspection certificate, something I’d never heard of until that point. The clerk then said, “everybody knows you need a certificate to have the power connectet.” Fortunately there was a high counter between us.

    1. Years ago, a woman in western Minnesota told me how her mother sat on the front steps and cried after spotting utility crews in the distance stringing wires toward her farm. It is difficult to appreciate life on the prairie without power, telephone and reliable roads.

      Make me feel guilty for grumbling about not being able to stream netflix.

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