Living without electricity and running water is an experiment I’ve been developing over time. It started one summer, seven years ago, when I bought a used fifteen-foot ‘Pilgrim’ camper and parked it in the fields of a friend’s farm. I was living in a small boat on a sea of grasses. I kept my food in a ‘flower pot’ fridge, (an African invention, using two ceramic pots, one inside the other, with damp sand in between, and a damp cloth overtop.) I washed in the creek, cooked on an open fire. At night the sky was lit by stars. The coyotes sang. The candles flickered in my windows. Read more
Winter is over. It’s a miracle. My door is open to the mist on the distant hills, to a valley uncovered, turning gold to green. The birds return. Their voices ring like echoes in a bare room, because for so long there has been silence. Suddenly, there is movement. I think of the vultures, and then they appear. I wonder where the loons are, and then they arrive on the lake and I hear the first haunting call. Every day a new bird arrives, the robin, the thrush, the starlings and goldfinches. The speckled trout leaves are up. Eight cords of wood are down to one. Rain barrels are overflowing. No more gathering snow and waiting for it to melt on the stove. No more clearing of pathways. I came through. I pull back the mattresses and plywood boards that closed off the upper floor for six months. I pull up the plaid wool blankets and blue sleeping bags from the floors. I take down my blanket contraption, three blankets tied with rope to a thick branch and hung on a nail. It enabled me to open and close the door freely and keep out the wind. Read more
The coals stay lit from the beginning of November until the middle of May, almost like the ancient fires kept burning in the temples. a continuous line through time. Or like the live coals that were carried on prehistoric journeys, wrapped in grasses and birch bark. Each morning I rake the ashes and find the little red coals buried underneath. I align the kindling, fallen branches, and newspaper or birch bark or cardboard, so that the flames are fed, keeping the door slightly open, waiting. I build a fire house. Each one is different. It foretells the kind of day I’ll have.
Fire is my most precious element. Without it, I could not live here. Read more
The lake sits below the mountain like a mirror.
I always feel like I’m in another country, one that does not exist anywhere. It is timeless. It’s like anything is possible, if I just step past my limits and have faith. The raven fledglings are dancing over my head, learning to fly. I can feel the wind in their wings as they soar off the ledge, suspended over the lake. Sometimes the hills are reflected so perfectly in the stillness, that it’s hard to tell which world is more real. When you look at it sideways, it forms a whole: one land mass suspended in the water/sky. The wind makes silver patterns across the surface, travelling as it does through the grasses, running across, then lifting. The sun makes waves of gold, storm clouds stain deep purple, sunsets leave pink and red wakes. The water holds everything, the stars and the moon. When you see this you realize that everything is just a reflection. You want to hold it in one thought, but the mind can’t sustain this. It drifts and separates into two, inside, outside, with your self in the middle. Read more
I live up here with the vultures.
Every morning, like clockwork, the wind comes up from the lake and cools the air. The wind blows away the poor mosquitoes. It pushes my door open, and comes through the windows. It dries out masking tape and duct tape, pulls out tacks. Papers and photos go flying around. It rattles the windows in their casings on the south wall. The old caulking, scorched by the full sun, is crumbling loose and one of these days the windows are going to fall out. Tools creak on their nails underneath the cabin. Wind blows my clothes off the line. Things go missing. The turbine vent on the roof spins round and round, clattering like a prayer wheel. Read more
Saplings nod and bob like little green people on the forest floor. One day, they will be trees.
I am on top of a small mountain and the trees grow up on every side. Fifty years ago, it was open and the cows were grazing up these slopes. I see this happening on the cliffs behind me where the neighbour’s goats and donkey graze. They create a beautiful tended lawn among the sculpted rocks, where you can sit and contemplate, looking down at the lake. But take away the goats and it will go wild again. Where there is space, there is light and rain. The earth is just waiting. The trees will conquer.
I was just another seed floating in on some wind, coming down to settle, taking.my place. The first year I cleared, cutting back the overgrowth. The little maple seedlings I pulled by hand. The saplings I cut with shears. The infant trees were too thick, so I pruned the branches. The trees reached out to the cabin, grazing its walls. They climbed up to fill my eastern window onto the valley. They wanted to fill the sky. Read more
Over the hill, in a little nook in the forest overlooking the lake, is a little house of half round log siding, painted red like my cabin, with a tar paper roof that has grown moss.
Inside, the methane creates garlands of frost, and when it’s cold I can feel the warmth rising from the hole. In alchemy the nigredo stage is where the substance simmers and putrefies. Once I saw a mouse on the window ledge. They come for the warmth. My mother always told me that in her day ‘shit’ was called ‘farmer’s gold’. Read more
It’s a good day for laundry: blue sky, sun, a little wind, a barrel full of rainwater.
The black tub absorbs heat from the sun and warms the water. I save the insects, a green-eyed fly, a little black beetle. For some it’s too late. I sift them out, along with strands of grass, dog hair, a maple leaf. Read more
One of my daily rituals is cleaning the candleholders and preparing the candles for the night. All the leftover wax goes into a tin can, red, green, pink, yellow, all the colours of candles from garage sales, second-hand shops and stores. Eventually, I have saved enough wax to make a few candles. It doesn’t take long. I melt the wax in the tin can in an old frying pan filled with water. Read more
I wander through the forest, gathering kindling in my arms, with slugs and slimy lichens.
The rain in the night has soaked the ash bed of my fire pit and all the wood is damp. I lay out a grid of thicker branches onto the bed and using very small branches, I build a structure on top of the grid, layering with fragments of paper, birch bark, cardboard, then thinner branches on top. I use a candle to keep the flame lit. Smoke blows into my face. The fire ignites, then burns out. More paper. The fire is working its way through the structure, catching. Smaller branches fall to the bottom and make coals. The fire is lit. I make sure the grill is sitting on its four rocks, so it doesn’t tip when the fire burns down. Within minutes I hear the coffee pot roar to life. Read more