The older we become, the more we try to simplify our off-grid lives.

The little four-wheel-drive green machine has turned bringing our work tools from the barn to wherever we might need them into an easy and enjoyable ride.

My ever-multiplying raised bed garden plots have certainly led to both ease of weeding and harvesting much of what I grow, and with the hydraulic log splitter on the back of the blue tractor, we split what will hopefully be a winter’s worth of wood in just over two days.

Yes, we are planning to stay right where we are for many more gray-haired years to come, and so with ease of our older years in mind, we decided to add onto our solar array, build a free-standing powerhouse and run electric lines to power a dual-purpose heat pump/air conditioner, also known as a mini-split.

We happily imagine growing older, comfortably cool on those particularly humid creek valley summer nights and easily warm on those fall evenings when it is not quite cold enough to fire up the woodstove. First, however, we had to build the solar array, run the wires and fit batteries into the powerhouse, all of which was far easier said than done, and then this past week, our chore was to dig the 85-foot trench and run the wires from the solar panels to the powerhouse.

Remember that four-wheel-drive green machine? Well, I easily rolled down the hill, my hair blowing back from my face in the crisp morning air. I gathered up the two long-handled shovels from my greenhouse, one with a square blade, the other pointed. I have learned that it is important to have the proper tool for the particular job at hand. I also grabbed our two hoes. We have two of them because Greg and I often find that we are both hoeing at the same time, be it weeding long garden rows or back-filling trenches. The tools rattled in the bed of the green machine as I returned up the hill.

We set to digging. Greg used the pointed shovel to dig deep into the ground. I followed along behind with the square-bladed shovel, cleaning out the loosened earth from the trench. Occasionally, I used my right foot to dig the blade deeper into the softened ground. In time, I took off my wool outer shirt. In a bit more time, I pulled my sweatshirt off up over my head. I was amazed to find that wearing just my shirt, I was still quite hot in the crisp morning air. By lunchtime, we had finished digging the trench.

We did not dally over lunch for long. We returned to the trench to lay out the wire. We placed the conduit beside the wire and then set to pulling the wire through each section of conduit, cementing the conduit end to end, as we worked our way from the solar panels up to the powerhouse. Wire and conduit laid, we stepped back to admire our work, thankful that we had calculated for enough wire and conduit to complete the run, but once again, we did not step back for long. We still needed to refill the trench.

The evening forecast called for rain. I looked up to the sky and saw that the sun was still shining, though slowly sinking toward the top of the hillside behind the cabin. The shadows were growing longer across the creek valley as I picked up my hoe. With Greg’s hoe in hand, he told me that he would start backfilling the trench up by the powerhouse, while I should start down by the solar panels. We would meet in the middle.

I began to backfill, pulling the loose earth into the trench and mounding it up before I stomped it down with my booted feet. I began to feel a warm ache in my arms that intensified with each hoe pull, and I noticed that I began to spend more and more time carefully stomping down the mounded earth. I quickly realized that the stomping gave my arms a much-needed rest.

I looked toward Greg and could see that he was making steady progress with his backfill endeavors. Need I tell you that we did not meet in the middle at all? Greg never said a word, except to let me know, with a smile, that I was an excellent stomper.

We gathered up our tools as the sun passed over the hill, and together we rode down the hill in the green machine to put them away. On our way back up, we drove past the trench to admire our work. It was a beautiful trench indeed, and to my eyes, it was far more than just a hole in the ground.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at