Thanks to Beryl Novak, we now have an idea of the benefits and pitfalls of living off-grid. The pitfalls can be pretty extreme: fights with bears, competition with wolves, potentially fatal wild foods – the list goes on. However, the benefits make such a life seem worth it.
Freedom is perhaps the greatest allure of Beryl’s secluded life. He’s still subject to the law and seasons, but he gets to do what he wants. “People out there working to make more money are just chasing their tails,” Beryl told In Forum.
Novak is a fascinating character with a fascinating life. This here is Beryl Novak’s story.
Beryl went into his forest shack in 1977 and has lived there ever since
Beryl learned self-reliance early on in his life. After his father died when he was 5, a no-nonsense mentor picked up Novak’s grouse hunting training. Beryl proved to be a natural, using one short bullet to land his first grouse.
Deer hunting, however, he learned all on his own. At age ten, he shot his first buck and has since shot scores more. Novak eventually joined the Air Force, which opened him up to the horrors of war in Vietnam. Novak planned his leave days to coincide with hunting season at home.
He bought the 40-acre forest surrounding his home in 1966 for $700. Novak moved into the 40-acre piece in 1977 and has never left ever since.
Beryl’s one-room home has everything he needs for survival: Gas for cooking, firewood for fuel, and a wood stove for heat. A hand pump outside provides water, and the sauna shed offers a place for relaxation.
Novak has a TV, which he rarely watches because ‘everything on TV is all so damned depressing.’ Beryl stopped working in 1995 and adopted a life of self-reliance. “It doesn’t cost much to live up here,” he added. “I get by pretty cheap.”
People are difficult to please, opines Beryl, so he never really gets lonely: “You can’t satisfy people. So I said the hell with it, and here I am. I get visitors… just not as many as I used to. Everyone is dying off.”
If he has no reason to leave, Beryl will stay in his house for days on end. His beard and hair are about two decades old, and he has no plans to cut it. “I don’t have to live to suit anyone else,” he said.
Novak relies on home-grown food and hunting for sustenance
Novak’s nourishment comes entirely from nature. He’s planted sweet corn, melons, apples, onions, and carrots. The harvests vary depending on the weather, but he usually harvests enough to sustain himself.
Beryl tops up his plant diet with meat mainly sourced from grouse. He’s also a skilled deer hunter who’s held a hunting license since 1960. In Forum reports that Beryl has shot 75 deer in his woods. Conservation officers boost his food reserves by dropping off illegally hunted deer.
Novak used to have a dog to keep him company and assist in his hunts. The dog died nearly a decade ago, and he has no plans to acquire another one. He explained his reasoning to InForum:
“I didn’t feel it was right to have a dog and not have a way to get him to the vet. It’s bad enough for people to have to take me to the doctor’s, but it’s too much to ask someone else to take my dog to the vet.”
Beryl uses an old phone for emergencies and neighbors for transportation
Tired of constant calls from telemarketers, Beryl disconnected his landline. It also severed his connection to people close to him, not that he cared, however.
“There wasn’t anyone left calling me who I wanted to talk to,” Novak said. “People would say, ‘But we can’t get ahold of you,’ and I’d say, ‘That’s the point.’”
In 2015, a neighbor gave him a cheap phone to use for emergencies. It has no connection to the internet or social media, but Beryl doesn’t mind. As long as he’s fit to till the land and hunt, Beryl is happy.
At his annual doctor’s appointment, Beryl got a clean bill of health. He goes years without suffering from cold or flu because he doesn’t meet with many people. Beryl’s life provided natural protection from the coronavirus.
“I’ve been social distancing out here for 20 years,” he said. When he needs a trip to the hospital, his neighbors and a few friends gladly oblige. He repays the favor by offering food from his garden or a hunt.
Beryl hasn’t driven a car since his broke down in 2005. He uses an ATV to travel between his pieces of land, separated by a mile.