Judith Hoad, 76, has been living ‘off the grid’ for 45 years. To Judith ecology is not some fancy concept but a way of life. Recently I visited her home in Inver and we talked about her understanding of ecology and what she does to improve the environment in which we all live.
Judith and family moved from Wales in 1981 to a thatched cottage, with no running water. Both she and her husband, a landscape artist who has since died, were determined to live an alternative lifestyle that celebrated and respected the earth.
For washing, Judith collects rainwater from six water-butts strategically placed around the garden, and for drinking, gathers water from her well. A large custom-built, three-unit compost system recycles all organic material from house and garden to produce healthy fruit and vegetables. She doesn’t use chemicals in her home or garden. For cleaning purposes, she opts for soap flakes, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and very hot water. As a treat she washes her hair with an egg yoke and tepid water which conditions and makes it shine.
Judith’s sitting room is small and cosy, heated by a solid fuel stove. The walls are lined with bookshelves she crafted herself after she built the roof trusses and the sleeping loft which is suspended from one of them. She also made a pair of wooden armchairs for the sitting room, doweled joints instead of nails, inspired by Japanese architecture.
Before the ‘Gift Economy’ became popular, Judith and her husband were swapping services for goods instead of money. They found other people very receptive to the idea and in the early years, when her children were growing up, it really helped make ends meet. “Currently, I am exchanging an equal number of days’ gardening for days on a herbal medicine course”, she said.
One of Judith’s pet hates is packaging. She is appalled by the amount of plastic packaging on groceries, with some items double packed and passionately believes that if we all take action we can effect change.
“For example if we left packaging at the supermarkets it wouldn’t be long before the manufacturers got the message and stopped using so much. It’s the same with litter. If everyone took their litter home it would be something simple we could do, to improve our environment.”
Judith doesn’t wear make-up which blocks the pores in her skin. She advises people to wear natural fibres, like cotton, silk, wool and linen, “Because,” she says, “natural fibres let the clothing ‘breath’, so, when we sweat, the moisture is evaporated through the fabric. With man-made fibres this doesn’t occur”.
Judith is an author, “This is Donegal Tweed” published in 1987 explores the history of the industry, how tweed is made and its future. “Healing with Herbs” in 1996, and her most recent book “Need or Greed, Our Practical Choices for the Earth” 1999 was published by Gill and MacMillan. This last work focuses on water, air, food and our relationship with the earth.
Judith is also a trained acupressurist (like acupuncture without needles) and over the years has been running part-time residential courses from her husband’s old studio beside the house. “Natural Medicine for Householders” is broadly based around medicinal herbalism. It doesn’t aim to make professionals of its students but provides rudimentary advice on how to deal with acute situations that occur in our homes.
Overall Judith feels optimistic about the future saying “Individually a lot of people are doing great things, but collectively we are all slow to cop on to issues like global warming and pollution. People are naturally trusting and on the whole ignore what’s going on. They will only finally wake up when the situation can no longer be avoided”.