I am fortunate to live in an old house. By â€œoldâ€ I donâ€™t mean 1978. The house Iâ€™m living in was built
in the early 1830s. It is stone, not well-insulated, and because of these features is quick to remind
you that we are not far removed from nature, as nature often enters & exits at its own free will. It is
surprisingly free of drafts, which I consider a good thing since it is also surprisingly free of heat. And
lighting. And closets. It is a simple house with modest accommodations, but it is home to me and is a
part of my family history. I can look out from my front stoop (I have no rear stoop–it is surprisingly free
of doorways, too) and see the very house that my grandfather built, 10 generations ago. In 300 years
we have strayed 100 yards.
This fact makes me wonder what happened to our pioneering spirit. As I gaze up the hill to the original
homestead, I think how life was lived back then. It was simpler. It was harder. It was colder and hotter.
Things were different.
Or were they? I still chop my own wood to heat the house. I will occasionally cook in the open hearth
downstairs. I am forced to do my dishes by hand (Mika, my beloved Norwegian Elkhound, has not
yet mastered this task). The spring that provided the water in 1832 is still providing the water to me
today. I depend heavily on the herbs I grow to flavor my food. I care for my livestock (admittedly just
a dog & catâ€”sorry. Now ex-cat.) and battle with squirrels & mice for use of the house. And I am rather
certain that the sound of a Screech Owl shrieking outside his window–just feet from his head– made
my forefather bolt upright in bed, too. (I am convinced that owls know where I am & love to give me
the double-whammy of the deafening initial shriek, followed by the wolf-like bellow that immediately
follows from my furry companion next to me. Owls are easily amused. And evil.) My ancestors and I
arenâ€™t too different, all things considered, though I do tend to believe that hygiene is in my favor.
I enjoy visiting other homes though. The â€œnormalâ€ ones: the ones whose floors are even, with doors
that open smoothly. They have luxurious amenities such as thermostats and integrated lighting. It feels
so plush and pampering to spend an evening at friendsâ€™ homesâ€”like a free spa treatment (although I
have no point of reference). It reminds me of what man can do if he sets his mind to it: big, meaningful
accomplishments that improve our daily life in ways we never dreamed possible. Innovations like air
travel. And double-paned windows. So if I appreciate the modern amenities, why do I live like I do? Part
of it is my recluse side. I need to be alone much of the time as Iâ€™ve found the world to be populated
primarily by idiots. This home provides the seclusion that I need. But there is also my view that the
closer we are to nature, the more we can appreciate this gift of life. It requires compromise and hard
work at times, but our reward is daily survival.
Every summer, I retire with a few carefully-chosen men for an entire week deep in the Canadian bush.
After 12 hours of driving and several raised eyebrows at the border crossing, we park the van to load all
of our belongings into the watercrafts and â€œput-inâ€ at one lake, not to return for many days. We travel
in a loop, rowing from one lake to the next through small tributaries. If no such creek exists, we are
forced to portage (pronounced like â€œgarageâ€ when north of the border) our boats and gear. It is remote
with no amenities, yet we get by. We cook by fire, bathe by lake (not collectively, thank you), and travel
by Kevlar canoe (or Fram 176 West Greenland hunting kayak, in my case). Many kilometers are covered
over huge expanses of rough water, braving sun, storm, and pesky moose. Keep in mind that these
lakes are not small; the largest one we navigated was over 30km, tip-to-tip, but most are between 2-
8km. There can be some wicked chop on water that big. It can be downright frightening to be caught
a mile from shoreline with wind in your face, waves crashing over your bow, and vertical movement
measured in feet (sorryâ€”decimeters) in a craft whose only power source is you. You dig down deep and
power through. There is no other choice. (As a side note, I was once accused by a girlfriend of lacking
self-confidence. I suppose it could appear that way at times, but Iâ€™m not sure there is a better way to
express assurance in my abilities than to set off in those conditions in a kayak I built with my own hands.
In fact, I believe it to be the very definition of self-confidence. But I digressâ€¦it matters not any longer.)
These expeditions arenâ€™t all treacherous water crossings and moose charges, though. There are some
wondrous times, too, such as hiking through virgin forest to find old-growth white pines that stretch
heavenward as far as you can see. Or slipping a canoe silently into a still lake and lying back, unsure
of where the starry sky ends and where the lake begins. Or the nightly ritual of falling asleep to the
haunting calls of one loon family to their neighbors on the next lake. Peace. Tranquility. Canada.
It is these moments that make the journey worthwhile. At the end of the week, when I emerge bearded
& bruised and head back into the â€œrealâ€ world (the nearest Tim Hortonâ€™s), I have this unshakable feeling
that I can conquer anything I encounter and the rest of the world isâ€¦wellâ€¦soft. I have overcome the
conditions and survived to live another day. I get a bit of that same feeling every time I latch my door
and look up that hill.