Off The Grid

Living off the Grid on a west coast island


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in a heap

The difficulty level in this climate of growing zucchini is about the same level as you would have growing a weed.  Anne maintains that one plant will feed a family of four. My friend, planted twenty-six. Despite evidence to suggest otherwise is she is surprisingly quite sane. I planted four. I suspect I planted them to make it look in my garden, albeit deceivingly that there is abundance to be found behind my fence. Today, there were five ready to pick. Good heavens, what am I going to do with it all?

My tomatoes are doing well (ish) there are lots of green tomatoes but I am worried about their size for this time of year. Maybe they are all late producers.. Not really sure, but I am nowhere near picking fresh red tomatoes.

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There are lots of pumpkins and although they require a lot of my precious water I really want to try to keep them alive, as we like to enjoy them all winter long. I love the taste of pumpkin spice muffins, pumpkin spike cake, pumpkin pie, anything really with a pumpkin flavor I consider a welcome treat on a stormy winter day.

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Anne showed me today how to scratch my grand-daughters name into the skin of the small young pumpkin. Apparently, as the pumpkin grows the name will expand and scar into the side of the gourd. It’s probably a premature trick for my grand-daughter this Thanksgiving as she will only be 13 months old but I wanted to see how it worked. Have any of you tried it? Give it a try, and tell me how you make out. Anne tells the story of a friend who misspelled her grand childs name so make sure you don’t screw it up!!!

We have three baby fish in the garden pond bringing the total to twenty. Five of them are three years old and look more like Koi than gold-fish. The raccoon thinks they are there for his midnight snack and he has been determined in his attempts.

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We went up to the garden this week and the rocks had been moved around the pond. The fish aren’t that strong so we checked the fencing. At one corner of the garden all of the plants had been trampled, the pear tree had been vandalized and there was a large hole under the fence. On the outside of the fence the five-pound boulders we had placed along the fencing had been picked up and moved aside. Little brat.  Although he trashed that corner of the garden he was unsuccessful in his fish snacking adventure. Raccoons can’t fish with one hand. E built the pond in a manner that the raccoon can’t dip both hands into the water at once so … ha ha we are smarter…..

We have to go to town on Wednesday for puppy shots and we realized that we had too many other stops for one day to handle them with sanity. E made an extra trip today to take care of half of them. I was ever so grateful to stay behind out of the 30 degree heat and watch the dogs. I spent the day in the shade transcribing notes and enjoying sweet peace and quiet.

E came home after six hours of running around town and collapsed

in a heap

 

 

 

 


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wine beside me

When I moved to this island, I discovered that every woman I met living here had artistic crafty talent or amazing five-star chef like skills,  and I had none. I could neither stitch in a ditch nor stuff a tenderloin. What to do? I decided to pull a quote from a book I had recently read and went with “I’m writing a book”. After all, these are just neighbours, they will never know if I’m writing a book or telling a tall tale.

But then I discovered that neighbours on this island aren’t like neighbours in the city. These people actually became my friends and knew pretty quickly that not only did I not have any artistic or crafty talent, but dining at my house knew I wasn’t a chef. They easily deduced that I was not writing a book either.

One can’t show up at a dinner party in October to boast your single achievement since the summer AGM was having read a significant amount of fiction. Sure, I did read 26 books one June, but that feat didn’t translate into the kind of badge of honour a quilt or a batik would have merited. I suspected that all of my new neighbours were also capable of reading when they didn’t seem very impressed.

So, I told them about the blog (not so much a book as a diary) and a lot of them began to follow along and I am honoured. But it doesn’t take many hours in a day to write a blog post and these women are making sweaters and quilts and gardens and beaded jewellery. Shit, even the men manage to carve masks or draw negative space flower pots between their septic systems chores and their wood splitting. I was hooped, and needed to come up with something.

I wrote the island newsletter for three and half years (seven issues) but that grew as boring for me as my readers. Actually, I’m not sure anyone actually read it.. But none the less that was my community service and I was able to forestall the inevitable “how’s the book going” question with elaborate stories about content and margin width concerns.

I guess the propensity for artistic persona to move to this type of environment would be obvious to most but I hadn’t expected that I would need to understand the difference between fair isle and cable knit to have a drink with my friends. Fortunately, my friends are generous in their patience and single syllabled in their explanations.

It’s been six years. I have been able to fake my way through their artistic maze. Last year I sewed squares in the raffle quilt and this year made a baby quilt. I still can’t knit and I still can’t cook. Please to God, no one expect me to draw anything.

But I do now know the topic of the book I hope to write. Today, I began in earnest to put transcribe my notes. I still don’t know how I am going to approach the tale. There is a lot of information to go through. I feel that it will take slightly less time to write than a George R. R. Martin novel but a little longer than an Erma Bombeck bathroom reader.

I could probably fake it a few more years with my friends with a story about the books progress, but if I don’t get at least a first draft done soon John (it’s his story) is going to kill me.

And to answer your question, yes there is a glass of

wine beside me

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hear my snoring

Okay, I tried. I really tried. But, the truth is, my ability to write is directly affected by my commitment to abstinence.  I just do not feel comfortable putting pen to paper (metaphorically) without a glass of red next to me.

I don’t drink when I’m Grandparenting and since my sweet wee one left I have been under the weather …. Hence, the lack of blog postings lately.  But honestly… to heck with it… I’m supposed to up my fluids and isn’t one fluid the same as another.. water, wine.. Just a sec… I am getting a glass of wine… don’t tell anyone……

Now, I expect the words will just flow……

Life has returned to some semblance of normal. If you were to visit us, and look around the place, you would think we are in the middle of a renovation. But, we have chosen to close our eyes to the unfinished siding, unbaseboarded walls, and the unframed windows.  The deck railing is safe enough but not as good as it will be when the metal channels go on the posts… We have chosen to ignore it all and enjoy the summer.

It has been terribly hot lately with more heat on the way. Fortunately, living on the edge of the water we have had more than enough wind to keep us comfortable. Too much wind some might say as travel has been difficult.

We choose to consider ourselves still in the process of setting up the rain water collection project as the water tanks are still empty. We couldn’t possibly start a new project until it is done. By my estimate, that will be in the fall when the tanks are full.

In the meantime, I have been able to take time to harvest my lavender and make sachets out of the organza pockets I ordered on the google..

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I tried to resume my second favorite pastime, reading but kept falling asleep. Either, I am reading the wrong book or I am still under the weather. In the mean time, I don’t think I have had this many afternoon naps since, well, since never. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts. There is something very satisfying about falling asleep sitting up in a rocker chair on the deck, in the shade with the water lapping at the rocks beneath me.

With the added advantage of the privacy our location provides ….no one can

hear my snoring

 


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Caught our breath

I am the first to admit that I might, occasionally, exaggerate just a little bit, every once in a while, maybe. In fact I might be the greatest exaggerator ever!

But, I would well be in the realm of accuracy if I told you that yesterday was incredible, of historic proportions here on the nature channel.

It was 8:30 in the morning as we listened to Mother Goose nursery rhymes and generally adored our grand daughter who had slept from 8 pm til 8am….. when there was an enormous splash at our window.

Not fifty feet from our deck an enormous humpback whale breached and flew through the air past our window. Not once, not twice but three times (there were probably two whales).

I had the baby on my lap and she is lovely but she is a very poor camera.

So I searched the internet to show you what we saw.

I did not take this picture but please consider it a very accurate representation of what we witnessed.

We still haven’t

caught our breath


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a cautionary tale

Dangerous situations can arise pretty quickly when you are out on the water. Living on an island we are out on the water more than most and the islanders are pretty diligent about our safety measures.  We see many who are not.

To get to the Gulf Islands from Nanaimo there are two options. You can travel the wild currents of Dodd’s narrows or the complicated route of False Narrows. We prefer False Narrows.

Although some of the choppiest seas we have experienced locally were at the south end of False Narrows, it is my preferred route. We know the convoluted course well and it is the closest path to our marina. There is a very large reef down the centre of the channel and the only way to get around it is by travelling in a zig zag pattern between the hidden rocks. No one should be travelling to the Gulf Islands through False Narrows without their charts open.

The other option is the wild ride, called Dodd’s Narrows. The current can run 9 knts through the slim S-shaped channel. Not only are there wild tidal pools, but tug boats with log booms, big white boats with their accompanying wakes mixed with lots of debris from the Harmac mill. Substantial logs have been known to randomly spring from the whirlpools rendering you without the steering you need to keep off the rocks. Sailboats line up at either end waiting for slack water to get through. Slack water is the moment between highest or lowest tide before it turns and goes the other way, when the water is at its calmest. Dodd’s Narrows slack water still can’t be considered calm, but it is safer than when the tides are running at full speed.

At the most narrow point of Dodd’s, hikers gather to sit and watch the entertainment as boats are tossed and thrown across the whirlpools. I would suggest you need a fairly reliable boat to be considering a trip through Dodd’s Narrows. Ours has no problem and E actually loves the trip. As the boat flies back and forth like a ride at Disneyland, I have heard him actually say wheeee..

This is a video I took once of the sea lions playing in the whirlpools. (Dodd’s Narrows)

Tuesday night, around 5 pm my sister and brother-in-law were heading from Nanaimo to our island via False Narrows. They were keeping their eyes peeled for random logs and dead heads, perhaps an Orca or two when Janet spotted an oddly shaped kayak at the northern end of Dodd’s. It’s shape was odd because it was upside down. They changed course quickly and zipped over to the Dodds side of Mudge to check on the boat.

Hanging off the boat was a kayaker, held in an eddy, close to shock. An older man and apparently with experience. He had been in the water for ten minutes, one leg still inside the overturned kayak and his wrist attached to the kayak by a safety strap. They got him and his kayak into their boat.

This guy’s planned route was from the cedar boat ramp, through Dodd’s Narrows around Mudge, down through False Narrows, through the cut and back to cedar. Insane. He had no skirt on his kayak and hadn’t checked the currents. Ten more minutes in the water and he wouldn’t have survived.

Janet and Steve took him back to the cedar boat ramp. Congrats to them on a great save. A reminder to us all to keep our eyes peeled for the unexpected.  A reminder also, that no matter how experienced we like to think we are, common sense should prevail. It couldn’t hurt to tell the story to your visitors and family as they head out on their kayak tours of the island.

If you will, a cautionary tale


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grand parent shuffle

When you live on, build on or even visit this island and you need something, you had better have brought it with you or you are going to do without.

There are no stores. What is in your pantry or your workshop is what you have to work with. Sometimes, in a pinch, nuts or bolts, eggs or cups of sugar are borrowed from a neighbour.

It is summer time on the island and most of us are expecting our children or grandchildren in varying numbers to show up for days or weeks at a time. Sitting an infant on your lap for her pablum would work well enough, but a high chair would be better. Before cars came to the island, our kids were often transported around the island in a wheelbarrow.

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How much easier a stroller would have been? Children sleeping on piles of blankets surrounded by pillows on the floor worked well for the Flintstones, but again, a playpen would have made a better bed.

Whenever I have mentioned that our granddaughter is coming to the island and that is often, my neighbours have been quick to ask what we need and to offer what equipment they have to share.  Everyone is quick to offer anything which might enhance an island visit for our collective children and grandchildren. Baby baths, high chairs, strollers, playpens, water toys, and life jackets are not so much passed down but passed around. For the older kids, bikes and kayaks are offered kindly.

The island high chair is ours, and we have a playpen from back in the day but we had to borrow a stroller for this weekends VIP guest. E’s back isn’t what it used to be and his wheel barrowing child transport days are over. Everything we need is ready for her arrival and what we don’t have, she won’t miss.

At the end of the summer my island friends will likely heave a collective sigh, and probably have a well deserved nap but right now we are enjoying the summer dance I could call

the grandparent shuffle


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now our turn

We have just had a wonderful weekend with our son and two of his friends. Two friends who RSCN5453have been to the island before, when we still had Papa’s house.  We have known them since they were first learning to tie their skates at the rink on Sunday mornings. We also have the honour of calling their parents our friends. We thoroughly enjoyed their visit.

When our kids were young they would come to visit Papa on this island, often without us, on school breaks. With E and I both working we were grateful he would open the door to his house to our kids and their friends. Often their two cousins would be here at the same time with their friends. One week Papa had fourteen kids staying with him.

Rules were simple. Papa provided the meat and vegetables. The kids brought their own junk food, cookies, cereal and chips. Papa cooked, but the kids set the table, washed the dishes, and kept the property and house cleaned. Although the house slept fourteen, the kids chose to set up tents on the front lawn. Tents provided privacy for late night shenanigans and junk food binges. The kids set them up and took them down when they left.

Before the days of fire bans, evening swims were the norm followed by s’mores by the fire pit at the ocean’s edge.

Every summer the first order of business was the building of the summer swim raft. Made from drift wood, the design was never the same. At the end of the summer they took it apart, so it didn’t become a boating hazard during the winter storms. Often, more than one raft was required to get them though the summer… they weren’t the sturdiest of vessels.

From the moment our kids could crawl they were in swim lessons. An ability to swim is mandatory if your Grandparents live on the water. By mid elementary school they were on swim teams. Endurance more important than speed met our safety needs.  Before they could take the aluminum boat with motor out on their own they had to be able to swim from one point of the bay to the other.

Papa, would sit on his deck watching the site of the kids enjoying his property by the sea and generally being a hands off,  in charge,  kinda guy. The kids entertained themselves. They knew the rules (there weren’t many) and if they wanted to come back, and they did… they followed them. Even their friends, complied happily. Many of them came back year after year after year. As a result, even our kids friends had a great relationship with our kid’s Grandfather. Many came to his memorial.

At the end of the summer the kids would build a pyramid on the front lawn for the annual photo-op. Our kids were privileged with their time with Papa on the island and they knew it.

Our door here is always open for our children when they want to bring their friends. They are welcome. On Thursday, we have our ten month old granddaughter coming by herself for five days. It will be her third visit and the first of hopefully a lifetime of solo visits. One day I hope and expect she will bring her friends with her.

Growing up, our childrens lives were so enriched with their time on this island and in turn Papa’s grandchildren brought such happiness to his years living here. We are overjoyed that it is

now our turn

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to push off

When we moved to this house at the edge of a cliff we were left with the parting words of the previous owners. If you start to fall off the cliff, just push-off. The indication being, we would be clear of the rocks and be safe enough in the water.

Sitting with our son and his friends out on the deck this weekend, the usual raccoon came to the tree to steal bird seed and bravely listen to our conversation.

DSCN5139 After a particularly loud burst of laughter he reconsidered his position and climbed higher up the tree to listen. Higher he climbed, just to be sure he was shielded from this unusual crowd on “his” deck. Our evening continued, and we kind of forgot he was there.

You can spend all the money you want, and attend to the finest detail of a new water system but you can’t know if it works, until it rains.

Last Saturday, it rained and while it rained E and I sat expectantly, waiting for the automatic pump in the rain harvesting water tank to kick in. We listened as the water poured from the roof through the Wisy into the tank. We watched the leaves and seeds spin out the off flow pipe. Everything looked like it was working as it should. Our weather station program indicated 21 mm of rain had fallen that day. As the millimeters of rain were measured, the excitement grew.

Then it happened, on its own, a sound we had never heard before. I think E might of actually said “Hark”. We thought this new sound must be the pump, but we could only know for sure by checking the tank in the morning. Sure enough, the tank under our deck was empty and the tanks 400 feet up the hill had 400 more gallons of water than they did before the rain. The new system works!

My daughter introduced me to a new Canadian author. I have finished the first book and if you like Louise Penny you might like her,  Iona Wishaw. At this point she has written three others and I have added them to my winter’s reading list.

Where was I? Right, about the other night. While we sat on the deck enjoying the conversation, the raccoon was long forgotten. Out of the darkness came a thundering splash in the water, next to the deck, below the tree. The raccoon had climbed too high into the tree and the branches weren’t able to carry his weight. He can presumably swim because he returned a little wetter, a little later in the evening to finish “his” bird seed.

Apparently, he knew

to push-off

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we ever lived

It was 11:15 PM, we were watching Sports Page, and our phone rang. E answered it and got a strange look on his face. He put the phone down on the side table and went into our bedroom and picked up the extension. A few quiet words spoken and I heard him call me “can you come here for a minute, please?”

I went in the bedroom to find E standing behind the curtain peeking out the window. On the outside was a man, dressed in black with socks on his hands. He was climbing up and over the lattice around our ground floor patio. Our upstairs neighbour had seen him watching us through our curtains. She phoned us, then phoned the police.

We had thought the location of our new apartment was perfect. A brand new condo complex, with a courtyard garden, just off Denman at the gates to Stanley Park. It was owned by a friend of my Moms, an investment property, she just wanted occupied. She charged us $220.00 per month rent. It was 1980 and the price was right.

We both played recreational soccer on Sundays so we would walk around the animal pens at Stanley Park before we left for our games. The park was empty at that time of day and we would have the park and the animal enclosures to ourselves. Evenings, we could walk around the seawall. Lost Lagoon was at our front door.

The condo was on the ground floor with the driveway to the underground parking beside our patio. One night, months after the incident when the neighbour called us, we came home after an evening walk at the sea wall. I don’t remember why, but instead of going through the front door to the complex we walked down the driveway with our beeper to go to our car in the garage.

At eye level on the driveway retaining wall, stacked in neat rows side by side were  2X2 towers of five maybe six skins of meticulously peeled oranges. They sat in varying degrees of decay at eye level from the driveway looking into our apartment. Someone was watching us, and they were fond of their citrus. We gave our notice, moved to south Granville and paid double the rent.

My daughter has been here for the last week. While here she had a deer at our front door, whales under our deck and a new puppy to cuddle… It was a great visit, and it was agreed this is a great place to live.

Over a glass of wine one night she reminded me of the creepiest story I had ever told her and the worst place

we ever lived

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Okay by us

After living here full time for six years and the reno almost complete, our life has returned to what could be considered routine. The questions begs, what are we going to do with our time, going forward.

Many on the island spend the winter months travelling to warmer climates. Renting accommodations with power and heating. A bit more warmth, or a greater variety of activities.

E and I watched a few episodes of Anthony Bourdain, listened attentively to our friend’s adventures, considered brochures and websites. We even renewed our passports. But we couldn’t come up with one place we would rather be than here, in the spring, summer or fall and there is not one place we are interested in visiting during the winter.

Our options are limited by our interests vs. E’s health. Heart transplant patients are unlikely to get medical insurance for the Galapagos and if an emergency arose kayaking in the Antarctic.. well we would be hooped.

So we renovate to create our dream house and tuck in for twenty or thirty years on the nature channel. We are forty minutes from a hospital and an hour from the transplant team. It works for us.

What we don’t need or miss travelling the world, we get from our family and each other. Our family has always included two dogs. Except for the last three years, since Bacardi died at thirteen, we have always had two dogs.. E and I each want one on our lap when we are reading by the fire in the winter. My dog Sami is twelve.

Today, we picked up the newest member to the family. You will be able to find him, I am sure, firmly attached to E’s hip. Like Bacardi before him, a shadow following E around the property while he does his chores.

We needed another dog you see, because the truth is.. we are going no where and that is

Okay by us