Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Big Wood Chronicles. Building a life.#1. Making changes.

                       First exploration of our big woods.

Our Volkswagon van pulls to the side of the highway that climbs out of the Okanagan valley and I stop my pick-up truck behind it. We are only ten minutes into the journey to the coast and already there is a problem. My wife Heather jumps out, looking green in the face, “Bill! The cats are puking and messing in the back! They will have to go in the truck with the goats and chickens”. As I delicately extract the cats in their cardboard box, while breathing through my mouth, I can see that our three young children, strapped in their seats, are close to gagging too. Those blasted feral cats that were pressed on us at the last minute by a fellow art teacher! Soon we are back on the road again, the cat box tucked into a space beside the farm animals and ‘Gus de bus’ scrambles on up the hillside ahead of me, a green fog wafting from all it`s open windows. ‘Upward! Onward!’ seems to have become our family motto in the last months since we decided to move ‘back to the land’ on a Canadian Gulf island.

"No,no!" said Crooky Toe. "Not the CATS!"
The adventure had begun over a year ago when we made the big decision to move back to the coast and begin a new life. Somehow the path forward as a teacher in the big secondary school at Penticton was too obvious and predictable, immersed as I was within an older group of staff members looking towards retirement. I had found myself standing at the classroom window watching the transport trucks wind their way up out of the Okanagan valley and wishing I was driving. I decided to graduate along with my grade 12 art classes and head on out into life alongside them. I had also experienced a close brush with death early one morning while driving into work when an oncoming driver dozed off and strayed into my oncoming lane. Only a galvanic twitch of my steering wheel saved us both from a high speed head-on crash. Enough of a shock to make me ask some searching questions of myself and whether I was doing everything I wanted to do in life.

The answer it turned out was that I had spent years in University using my mind, but knew I had clever hands that yearned to be given a chance to make practical things. Art had been my outlet for designing and creating things up until now, except that teaching left little time for the making - it was more about the delicate art of growing other peoples minds: valuable stuff, but I would grow stale over time if I could not grow myself into my‘little engineer’ self as well.

Heather and I had three little children, a big garden, chickens and goats and a house on a large lot in the village of Okanagan Falls. We were already living a partially self sufficient life. It seemed logical to visualize moving towards a larger and more challenging version back on the coast near our families and the sea. On a summer holiday we took the ferry to Saltspring Island and then on to some of the smaller islands to get a feel for the land. What would it be like to live here? How much isolation was a good idea? How important would a good ferry service, a school system that went all the way to grade 12 and other services like a hospital be? We decided that the largest Gulf Island, Saltspring, held the best combination for our family. Now to find the land!

We found quickly enough that the south end of the island was less developed: we could find a multi-acre piece of land for the same price as a building lot sold for at the north end. We needed lots of room to develop our dreams and by driving up and down the roads looking at for-sale signs we found a forested seven acres complete with a drilled well and access road. We walked through the tall trees and luxuriant undergrowth down a narrow old farm road past rocky moss covered outcrops. We had found our paradise! By buying it at the end of that trip we had made the important commitment to have more than dreams. We had put wheels under them and phased forward to developing the process that would find us a year later leaving our Okanagan world behind as we drove towards the beginning of our future island life.

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