Partly because we lived for 8 years in poorer regions of Southern Africa and partly because we like to stay connected to the environment around us, we try to keep our physical and income needs modest. Our house/home is a recycled 1901 Baptist church we moved from Boissevain. It was meant to be a temporary home but we’ve added to it and renovated it to the point where we are perfectly happy in it for the long term, nestled as it is in the woods. We lived for six years off of the power grid – generating all of our own electricity from solar panels and a wind generator. When we built the Straw house we realized that visitors were going to have a hard time managing their lifestyles on an unpredictable power source.
We didn’t want to badger people about their lights so we brought Hydro in for the Guesthouse alone. A storm took down the top of our wind generator tower and we couldn’t afford to repair it at the time, so we strung a ‘temporary’ line to our home. The consistent power has been seductive and we haven’t yet made the move to repair and rebuild our home power system. Some day soon. Our dream is to install a home power system in the Straw house that visitors can learn to manage and yet have the grid to fall back on if need be.
It’s been important to us to be engaged in the wider world. Since we can’t always travel as we would like to we’ve tried to bring the world to us. We were for many years part of a network of farms that invite mostly college aged people from all over the world to stay for a time and learn about organic agriculture – called WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Due to the travelers and farm apprentices that have come our way – quite a number of whom have stayed with us for months at a time, we now have an eclectic community of friends. We’ve also had the satisfaction of inspiring (I hope) many young people on their own journeys toward finding and working their own pieces of land.
Through the sale of the greenhouse property in Boissevain, we found ourselves suddenly out of debt. We planned our route, saved up cash and prepared an old truck and camper before setting out in summer of 2000 to travel for a year as a family. We went east to Newfoundland, south to El Salvador and west to Vancouver Island before settling back home. It was an amazing experience to be relatively footloose, forcibly intimate as a family and exposed to so much culture and landscape. Although we would do much more traveling, we recognize the depth of experience we can have getting to know a piece of land like the one we are caretaking and becoming part of a rural community. We are well grounded here even when our spirits soar to distant places.
The rocks and trails around us are filled with stories of people and animals who have lived here over the ages. There is 10,000 years of human history in these hills – the signs of which we are just learning to recognize. We’re compelled to honour the relationships residents of the past had with the soil, water, plants and animals here. Some of our finest experiences are in our encounters with the animals. Any evening in summer we can swim with the beavers in our pond. All they ask is that we don’t mess with their stuff and that we don’t make obnoxious, repetitive sounds and movements. They’ll swim around as close as 6 meters away from us without slapping their tails as long as we go about, what they’ve learned to be, normal, nonthreatening human activity.
It isn’t uncommon in winter to meet up with a deer near our garden. If we’re quiet, the wind is right and the dogs are inside we can look in each other’s eyes for a good long minute before the deer will snort or stamp and move off. We can’t make these relationships happen but we can nurture the environment in which they are more likely to occur. We’re thankful to the generations that have gone before and for the opportunity to be here.
We want to share this world of wonder we have in a measure that doesn’t disrupt the balance. So please walk gently so others can follow.