BY: ROB HOFFMAN
In the frozen northern tip of Montana, Sean Busby can be found most days chopping firewood or casting line from his fly-fishing rod deep in the woods and up to his knees in the cold running stream that flows at the foot of his yurt. The firewood is especially important to maintain, and as Sean says in a recent video profile, “Our stove is the heart during the winter. It’s the only thing that makes us be able to live up here.” Sean and his wife Mollie pump their own water, supply their own heat, and source their energy from the sun—the necessities of off-grid life that allow them to wake up each morning to the vast mountainscape of God’s country, Montana. Bordering Glacier National Park to the east and Whitefish Lake to the northwest, the Busbys are reminded everyday why they left society for a different sort of community, founded in a love for natural beauty and the simple pleasures of the outdoors.
By trade, Sean is a pro snowboarder and Mollie a former fashion journalist turned activist. After Sean was diagnosed with T1D in 2004, he founded Riding On Insulin, a non-profit that Mollie registered and is now the executive director of. The couple operates the project out of their yurt in Whitefish Montana, which is entirely off-grid despite having all of the comforts of modern life with an aesthetic of an upper-class suburban home. The main floor is approximately 700 square feet, but the lofts that hang below the pointed ceiling add another 300 square feet. This is where their kids will someday sleep, though for now, it’s populated by mattresses for friends who want to spend the night.
The couple sources their drinking and cleaning water from a 55-gallon drum, which they fill in the summer to last them through the colder months. They use a syphon-pump, plugged into a car syphon, which is used as a foot-pump to flow water through their sink. This means their water usage is based on necessity, eliminating waste. They also have a full-sized shower, with a Base Camp AquaCube system that plugs into a water jug, and allows them to custom set their temperature. The device is rechargeable, lasting a few showers on each charge. Though they also have a sink in the bathroom, they only use it in the summer to reduce issues of water-freezing and over-usage.
Sean and Mollie also have a propane stovetop, connected to a 100-lb propane tank outside. Their kitchen is efficient and off-grid, while maintaining a clean and pleasing aesthetic with lots of counter space and multiple burners. Sometimes though, they keep things simple and cook over their wood-burning stove.
They also have a full-sized refrigerator, which—like all of their electronics—is hooked up to three solar powered Goal Zero Yeti 1250 generators, that are connected to four Boulder 90-watt solar panels on the south side of their yurt. “We can go two weeks without sunshine, just on this battery,” Sean tells Goal Zero in their video profile.
Mollie discusses one of the only frustrating aspect of yurt-life is the occasional judgement from family, friends and outsiders. Yet their home is functional in all of the conventional ways—it just requires more thought and a hands-on process, and this is precisely what the Busbys find rewarding. The direct relationship they share with life, where their well-being is entirely dependant on their own efforts and isn’t outsourced and distanced by financial transactions. The benefits of this lifestyle far outreach the satisfaction of self-sustainability, but are furthermore realized each morning as they watch the sun rise over the frosted tips of the distant mountains, where the steam comes off the lake to meet the expansive blue sky.