Thursday, January 27, 2011

Faux-Logs and Chainsaw Sally's

The first night, a policeman came to the door. "Is Patrick Smith here?" he asked. I looked puzzled. "Is this 338 Grants Lake Rd.?" Thankfully, it wasn't. 338 doesn't exist. "This is the last house on the street," I told him. He looked younger and more frightened than I was to be in this town. This wasn't reassuring later that night when I couldn't sleep thinking of the mysterious Patrick Smith somewhere out there. What was his crime? Why did he give a false address?

As I lay still listening for signs of his approach, I discovered I couldn't hear anything at all. The house was as quiet as a tomb. That's when I realized that after nearly three years off the grid I'd developed animal-like senses. I couldn't hear beyond the triple-glazed windows or rolls of insulation and that bothered me. I couldn't hear the rustle of trees, the sound of the wind. I couldn't even hear that it was raining. My ears strained for a hint of nature but there was nothing but vacuum-sealed silence punctuated by the hum of the fridge. I kept telling myself that someday I would find this peaceful. But for now it felt all wrong. Even dangerous. How would I hear the crack of dead branch, the footfall on damp earth, that would signal the approach of Patrick Smith? How would I know when to pounce?

The next morning (alive and well), I realized I'd developed other off-the-grid instincts. The need to burn things, for example. Beneath the sink, a recycling container awaited my mixed paper products and newspaper. But I was reluctant to part with such perfect combustibles. I piled them in a separate corner for the fire of my future. During the past two weeks, I've caught myself on several occasions with paper in hand turning to open the woodstove door. Then I look at the merry gas fireplace, its tiny licks of flame soundlessly rising above the faux-logs. I try to remember the constant struggle of splitting wood and tending fire. But suddenly I miss the satisfying thud of hitting the grain, the smell of cedar, the crackling as welcoming as the voice of a friend.

Yes, two weeks have passed and life on the grid is already losing its veneer. But we knew this would happen, didn't we? Luckily there are hot baths and frozen peas to soothe a girl's longings for the wilds. There is the invitation from an elderly gentleman for a piece of banana-cream pie and a cup of coffee at the Seniors Centre. There is the hair salon called "Chainsaw Sally's." There is hope that somewhere out there a cabin in the woods awaits my return like Spring awaits the swallow. This is just another season of migration, I remind myself. Another place to nest.

Thank you for reading.

Monday, January 17, 2011

From Off the Grid to On

For those of you who may not know me, I feel an explanation is in order.

Yes, it's true, after two years and eight months, I left the off-the-grid cabin in the woods on Haida Gwaii. Now, I find myself in a small community in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.

My decision to leave the cabin in the woods was difficult. To live sustainably you must also be able to sustain yourself. For a long time, I was fortunate to be able to sustain my lifestyle through a series of odd jobs and earnings from writing. But things change.

So, here I am. On the grid. A little heartbroken. A little lost. I plan to continue writing this blog from a different perspective, to write of this journey from cabin in the woods to house in the town. Perhaps off the grid can also be a metaphor for a way of being? I hope so.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chime On

The mini wind chimes on the door remind me every time I open it that this is a glorious invention. I've organized my groceries along its sleek white shelves so that everything has a place in the spotlight. Not like the overcrowded Coleman's cooler outside my former cabin's door. The cooler I'd visited countless times in countless weather conditions. Each time donning rubber boots, each time lifting the sodden raccoon-proofing log from atop its lid. Liberating worms that had penetrated its hairline cracks, and various types of winged creatures that had likely been incubating within its moist interior for weeks.

In the summer months, I'd battled to retain food-safe temperatures. Friends with power learned to expect the question: "Would you mind if I stick this ice-pack in the freezer while we eat?" I'd also bought bags of ice and watched them disappear within hours, fishing lettuce leaves from the meltwater. I'd learned to buy hardy items: cabbage, carrots, apples, potatoes. I'd learned that things like cucumbers, fresh basil, tofu, and mushrooms are too delicate for cooler life. I'd learned cream lasts longer than milk and cottage cheese longer than anything. I'd learned to avoid entire sections of the grocery store for fear of pining. I'd removed all freezer items from my foodie-consciousness: ice cream, baby sweet peas, out-of-season berries.

So you can imagine how I felt the other day at The Country Grocer knowing I had a fridge to go home to. Mechanically, I walked towards the potatoes until I remembered. I filled the cart with delicate perishables. I strode down the freezer aisle dreaming of a future of Haagen-Dazs.

The fridge has come to symbolize life back on the grid. The electricity-guzzling, noise-making, space-consuming General Electric mammoth. I know it's wrong, but I can't help but love it. Nothing gives me more pleasure--not the fire that lights at the flick of a switch, the scalding water gushing from taps, the heavy-duty washer-dryer combo--than the tinkling of those darling little chimes as I open the perfectly-suctioned door, warm and barefoot and in my pyjamas, and reach inside for a cold bottle of San Pellegrino. Maybe this love affair will not endure. But for now, chime on--oh glorious fridge--chime on.