Sharon Kennedy – Living Off the Grid and Loving It

Living off the grid is not for everyone. It takes a certain type of person to accept the challenges involved in such a lifestyle. Although pioneers of old might find it hard to believe, pioneers of the 21st century do exist and hold to the traditions and values of the past. Hugh and Julie Covert, owners of Shelter Island, a remote 40 acre outer island off Drummond Island, could be considered modern pioneers. This is the abridged story of Hugh’s wife, Julie, an adventurous woman who embraces and epitomizes Thoreau’s basic philosophy, “We can never have enough of nature.”

In one of her blogs, Julie said, “As a nature lover, Shelter Island gives me the opportunity to experience flora and fauna in their most natural and pristine forms in all seasons. In late winter, when Lake Huron ice is breaking up and pushing great chunks onto the shore, the deep bass sounds I hear are awesome. Sometimes a wave hits the ice and it sounds like a gunshot, a noise that would startle me if not buffered by distance and familiarity. In spring the woods are alive with activity. Newborn fawns follow their mothers. Bear cubs emerge from their dens. Sandhill cranes nest in the marshes, and every morning I awaken to the songs of warblers and wrens. Summer brings extensive flowers and many opportunities to enjoy water activities particularly sailing. In the fall we ready for winter. Filling the shed with firewood is a daily activity. I stock our pantry with non-perishables so I don’t have to backpack them in. We make sure all of our 100 lb propane cylinders are full and that we have plenty of gas for the generator. Deer season is a two-week working holiday.

“Living on our own island means it’s a journey to go anywhere. I can’t run over to the neighbor’s to borrow a cup of sugar. We can’t walk out the door and jump in our Jeep to drive to the nearest store to purchase what we need. Everything involves either a boat ride or a long hike which means planning. When travel by boat is not possible due to bad weather or freezing temperatures, we wade or canoe off our island to reach Drummond. Until the bay freezes, we have to don chest waders and wade across or paddle the canoe across. The return trip is sometimes hurried when we see rain or snow clouds gathering or the wind picking up. These are signals we might get caught in a storm.”          

Julie will tell you her friends think she’s the bravest and most courageous person they have ever known. “I’m ambitious, determined and very thorough in whatever I do,” Julie said. “I’ve always been unconventional and believed in living life to the fullest. It’s very rewarding knowing Hugh and I are responsible for everything. If we don’t do it, it isn’t going to happen. If this means living off the grid and enjoying the rewards as well as accepting the challenges, I’m here for the duration. Some days you’ll see me wading in my waders as I head towards Drummond Island where I park my Jeep. Other days I’m navigating the Jeep during an eight day Jeep Rebelle Rally, the first women’s off-road navigation rally raid in the United States. Rarely, on very special or important occasions, you’ll see me all dressed up.”

Julie’s life is full of outdoor activities, and she’s also a photographer, a published writer, a hiker, and a contra dancer. She owns and publishes the local monthly newspaper, the Drummond Island Digest. She built a 78’ schooner, Huron Jewel, with Hugh on which she is the First Mate, chief cook and bottle washer, and if that isn’t enough, she’s available for speaking engagements about her photography and love of nature as well as customized workshops to teach people about her therapy book, The Insightful Body.

“I grew up in a small town called Ottsville in Bucks County, Pennsylvania,” Julie said. “As strange as it may sound, ever since I was 17 I always wanted to live as remotely as possible. I met Hugh when I was living in Baltimore, Maryland and he was captaining a schooner south to the Bahamas in the winter. It was truly love at first sight. Since marrying Hugh, moving to Shelter Island and living off the grid, I’ve learned to cook on a wood-burning stove without burning the meal. I wash clothes in a wringer washing machine, drive a farm tractor and boat, build boat docks, use an axe to chop wood, and pump water from the lake in the most frigid temperatures. It took time to adjust to life as a pioneer, but I love it.

“Hugh used to refer to island life as ‘glorified camping’ but it really isn’t. It’s intentional living. We have to plan and be conscientious about what and when we need things. If something needs repairing, we’re the ones who have to do it. We have many of the same conveniences as our city friends, just in a different format. Instead of a full-size electric refrigerator and freezer, ours are propane. We have solar power and a back up generator. We have all the power we need, but we are conservative with our use. We heat with wood. We stay connected to our friends, family and world events via satellite internet and sometimes cell phone service.

“The second floor of our post-and-beam home, built by Hugh, is our living area. Half of the first floor is Hugh’s workshop. The other half houses two storage rooms. We call one the ‘mechanical room’ where the water pump, water pressure tanks and washing machine are next to the composting toilet’s holding tank. The other room is the tool shed where we store everything from shovels and chainsaws to boat fenders and pry bars. People might think it strange that we live in the second story and have the inconvenience of carrying everything upstairs including firewood, but for us it’s a matter of security and safety. Shelter Island is home to many wild animals that we do not want pushing in our front door. Black bears are common in this area and although we enjoy seeing them from a safe vantage point, we don’t want them in our living room. The aroma of venison roasting in the oven might entice them to venture near, but the aroma is all they’ll get. Foodstuffs are kept well out of reach of our four-legged neighbors.

“I live with my best friend who happens to be my husband. We share a life in a beautiful and remote part of the country not many people get the opportunity to visit let alone live there. I consider myself blessed beyond measure. I have good friends and an often challenging, but extremely satisfying, lifestyle. I enjoy simple pleasures and the beauty of nature that surrounds me. Every day has a special moment. It might be spotting an unusual bird migrating through, monarchs overnighting by the hundreds, identifying a new wild edible mushroom, watching a beautiful sunset or gazing at the Milk Way.”

Julie has captured awesome winter scenes in her photography coffee table book, Art of Winter. She also has three blogs on WordPress that tell of her dreams and ideals manifested with a backwoods twist. She said her blogs are her gift to others who do not have the opportunities she’s been given. “Through my words, I hope to inspire people to acknowledge their dreams and find the courage to follow them,” Julie said.

I was anxious to write about Julie, but kept putting it off because I didn’t know where to start. Now you know why. What I’ve recorded here is just a glimpse into her busy world. She’s the most energetic, creative and determined person I know. When someone is as multi-talented as she is and lives an intriguing lifestyle, her story would read like a novel. This article is just an introduction to her. Once your interest has been piqued, I hope you check out her website at www.juliemcovert.com. From there you’ll find links to her blogs, where to purchase her books, enjoy looking at her photo gallery and lots of other information. Be sure to visit www.ditallship.com and book a trip on their schooner, Huron Jewel.

I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting Julie Covert, one of the busiest women in the Eastern U.P. I wish her well on all the new adventures awaiting her as she continues to fulfill her mission of living life to the fullest. Thank you, Julie. That’s good advice for all of us.

2 Comments

  1. Sandra Lawson

    Sharon I enjoyed this article about the couple living on Shelter Island. I have friends who are in their eighties who live off the grid on Little Lake near Lake Superior . I’m amazed at the way they live. They had lived in the Flint area and when they retired the lived off the grid. They do go to Florida in the winter.,

  2. Thank you for this brief summary of a wonderful person. Julie has done great things for the Drummond Digest and lives by example with a true pioneer spirit. Though her lifestyle is easily romanticized, her way is thoughtful and grounded. She is a generous and lovely friend. We are fortunate to have her in our neck of the woods.

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