A Cold Reality

June 10, 2021


He lost me at 30 degrees below zero. There was no consolation in learning this was a warming trend. However I imagine others would have been equally horrified not by the temperatures but by the fact that this subarctic village has no electricity, running water, or cell phone and internet service. How on earth do they cope?

Watching this documentary I remembered taking photos at the Boulder graduation celebration when one of my sister’s friends leaned over and told me, “Ah, I miss my small phone”, adding that she was forced to get a newer and bigger iPhone. My small phone is one I finally purchased years ago for Ireland. Folks who know I have one are often frustrated that I hardly ever use it here in the States, frustrated because having and using the latest technology is embedded in our cultural narrative and implicit in our story of entitlement. I want it. I need it. I have to have it. I can’t live or function without it. Even though it’s become a shared reality, it’s an illusion.  

The Werner Herzog documentary is titled Happy People for a reason. Those who live in this small village of Bakhta in northern Russia are completely happy with their life and lifestyle. It’s a life not at all hindered by the fact that they are so isolated the village is only accessible by boat and helicopter during the short summer months. The rest of the year they are completely on their own, thriving with the customs and traditions that have been passed down through generations, thriving in absolute harmony with the seasons and cycles of nature. Beyond the addition of ski mobiles and chain saws, daily life has changed little in over a century.

Although Dennis and I lived in a tipi for a year and then for eight years in the house we built without running water and electricity, I find the Bakhta village experience daunting. While we believe in living lightly on the Earth, over the years we’ve accumulated a lot of stuff. Stuff, I’m reminded by this documentary, that we really don’t need. 

No. I’m not advocating that we all give up our stuff and aspire to the Bakhta lifestyle. But it is a reminder of the vast chasm between what we think we need and what we really need to thrive. Considering this chasm and the impact our consumer lifestyle is having on our planet can be a cold and sobering reality. And it’s a reality we can change – without moving to Bakhta.

Judith – judith@stonefires.com

Happy People Documentary Trailer