Thursday, 29 December 2016

The story of our 're-wilding'; body and soul

Okay, first off, I hate and detest the term "re-wilding".

It's right up there on my personal annoyance meter with "paleo" and "primal"; all these damned jingo-ist terms are so over-used, aren't they? And embraced for the most part by urban theorists, most of whom wouldn't know a gooseberry in the wild if it jumped up and bit them in the keester (but they put expensive 'alma' (gooseberry) powder in their smoothies!). You know the types, they also use words like "lifestyle" and some even wear those weird toe-shoes, believing, in a masterful leap of logic, that they are in some way going to trick the body into thinking it has bare feet.


Now, before you get your organic bamboo knickers in a twist that I am sweeping too many groups together into one big dustpan, please understand this is simply my opinion. And, for once, I don't care to listen to any arguments on the matter - I have a story to tell and I want to get on with it.

I just wanted my readers to know that our re-wilding experience looks nothing like these peoples' .

But all that said, 're-wilding' will serve me well enough as a hook for this post, a word most will recognize and at least vaguely understand.

Something else to get out of the way before we begin - I have nothing against agriculture, and no desire to live in a world without it. It's a necessity. I take issue with many agricultural methods, of course, but here we are again in the realm of the urban theorist. I lack the hubris to take on the individual farmers, my neighbours, as though I know better than they do how to work their land. Nor do I plan to tilt at the windmill of Big Ag/Big Pharm (one and the same). Not my department. Waste of my energy.

What I can do, and do insofar as possible, is supplement our lives - body and soul - with the wild and the wild-ish .. and this is where it all begins and ends for us. Wild and wild-ish.

That may be the longest intro to one of my posts, ever.

This post is inspired by a reader who is about to launch into a project of her own. She will do it her way, of course, but it's high time I retold this story, our story, for her and other new-ish readers who don't know it already. I'm afraid my regulars might want to click away now, stifling a yawn and rolling their eyes, like my kids when I get going on some story they've heard ad nauseum ..

Once upon a time, we bought what we called affectionately "the Camp", our weekend place, our escape from the city, on a tiny, swampy lake not too far from the village we're in now. It had been abandoned for several years; once it had been the dream cottage of a couple who had either run out of money or time or dream, we don't know. It was charming - an octagonal greenhouse attached to one end was intact, a delightful spot to sit and look out at the wetlands without being eaten alive by the blackflies, and with so few neighbours the nights were dark, dark, dark. It was decidedly ramshackle - mushrooms grew in the cracks in the floor of the front room thanks to the leaky roof, wasps were nesting in the walls (outside, thankfully) .. but they were very mellow wasps. So it was all good, really. It was ours for a song (and some help from a fairy god-mother, as we had neither money nor a car in those days .. but that part of the story is for a blog post on the wisdom of putting carts before horses).

We could say, in the romantic jargon of the day, that it was 'off-grid', but really only in the sense that we never bothered to get the electricity hooked up. The house was "wired", but whether it was safely so was the big question we didn't want to have to answer, so off-grid we stayed. There must have been a well originally, since there was plumbing, but nothing came out of the taps, so we brought our drinking water in from a spring at the side of a hill. Blessedly, there was a septic tank, so we could use the drains and flush the loo with buckets of water hauled from the lake. There was a (dangerous) wood stove, which Paul replaced with a good one (another gift), so we were able to go up even in winter.

So those days were about chopping wood and carrying water and a pretty big learning curve. Paul was learning to fix doors and put in windows and mess about with all manner of chores that as city dwelling renters he'd never had much call to do. I was learning to cook our one-pot meals on a stove meant for heating, or a single burner camping stove. When we stayed for more than a weekend, I'd wash our sheets and clothes in a bucket of lake water and hang them to dry.

It was there that our bliss began to take shape.

The lake we were on was too reedy to swim in, so to bathe we'd sometimes go up the road to "Black Mary's Hole", a small waterfall built by old Oliver, a local 'colourful character' and owner of half the mountain. That water was damn cold, the rocks were slippery and precarious but it sure was romantic. Or we'd go to the culvert in the village of Otter Lake, where marsh drained into lake and Benny (son of Oliver) had created a bit of beach for the local kids (mostly his) to hang out at.

We started to feel very, very clean. Showers when we got back home smelled like chemicals, and made our skin feel coated. We never noticed that before we were 'forced' to bathe in wild water.

We had the camp for several years, going up most weekends, then one summer we spent 3 solid weeks there and at the end of that 3 weeks I couldn't bear go home to Ottawa. Ottawa, as cities go, isn't too bad, really, but I just couldn't bear it. I started to say, repeatedly, "let's move to Campbell's Bay!", using a joking tone but with a note of need that Paul recognised as serious. He recognised it because he felt it, too.

That's when we began to face that something in our souls had changed, or perhaps I should say something had been peeled off them so they/we were revealed to ourselves for who we really were. It wasn't an intellectual decision, that change, and certainly none of it was rational, being such a horse-before-cart kind of thing. We didn't make any deliberate changes to our 'lifestyle' (gawd I hate all that word implies). We had been changed, by the water we washed in, by the weedy wild foods we had been learning to add to our stews. We learned about eating nettle back then, and red clover as tea, and their wildness just snuck into our bodies and changed them from the inside out. The skin, the gut and the blood, first, then the heart, then the mind.

We couldn't 'justify' leaving the city, giving ourselves a 90 minute commute twice a day for the next decade or so, tossing the last kid (18) out of the nest (since he had NO intention of coming with us), moving to a village where we knew no one, only that the people in the stores were always friendly and that it was so, so pretty here.

It was madness.

But the 'damage' was done, and couldn't be undone. We belonged here now, and we had to come home.

In part two, I'll tell you about rewilding the yard, and how it rewilded and healed us in return.


  1. My sister has a pair of those shoes. She is the coolest one in the family. Also, she is tall and if someone is a bit shorter than her, she considers it a disability. He he! Sorry Christine, I will ask her to read your blogpost and see what she thinks of my comment:)

    Part I of the story is very inspiring. I am curious now. Was it very difficult to get around without a car? I don't drive myself, and my sister-in-law insists I start driving in the country side. When I talk about biking and having two strong legs, she rolls her eyes.

    1. We begged and borrowed cars from friends and family to get to and from the Camp at first, and then got one of our own in short order - a real clunker that burned oil and didn't have a working heater. It would be impossible to get here from the city without one, or to get around here. Nothing is within walking distance of anything else, and biking - ha, not with these hills, not for us anyway.

  2. "I'm afraid my regulars might want to click away now." Yeah, NO! I enjoy anything you write. I laugh, I smile, I nod my head in agreement. Sometimes I roll my eyes. But, click away, not happening. Ha ha

  3. The background you provide is endearing to read. I'm glad you took the time to offer it for those of us who've not known you so very long.