Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sustainability begins with me

There was a chilling story on one of the TV news broadcasts last night. Can't remember which one. When I tell you, you're going to think it's one of those end-of-the-worlder's fundamentalist stories, but it happened in Africa - Somalia, I think - and it's probably the first time I've seen such a story reported in the international media and it almost makes me want to start stockpiling things.

In short, it was about a man in one of those drought-devastated areas who was attacked by men with machine guns - they shot up some of his family and (wierdly) his animals that had not yet died from starvation and drought to get hold of his land, which is one of the few pieces of land around that neck of the woods (woops, no woods there) that still has some grass and a little well or stream providing water. THEY KILLED HIM FOR HIS FOOD AND WATER. Got that?

One only has to look around for stories about unusual weather that has destroyed the food crops we're used to finding in our stores - tomatoes from California, oranges from Florida, wheat from the prairies, garlic in Asia, you probably heard many more and watched food prices jump accordingly, or saw some products disappear off the shelves.

In Vancouver, it is hard to convince anyone that water will be the next oil, not only for drinking, but for irrigation and hydro power, because, well... we have so much of it. But in August this year, Vancouver was hotter and drier than ever before in history. Scary thing is, here in Lions Bay, the new Village Manager reports that water usage levels in August remained exactly the same, even after water restrictions were introduced. Of course no-one ENFORCED these restrictions, heaven forbid we "whip" people into complying, as one resident termed it. It's as if no-one can see that only a united effort will ensure a future for us all... CO2 knows no borders, so climate change isn't about one country or another, same as it's not about one neighbour doing his bit, but not the guy next door.

The point is, we're in this together, like it or not. We only have this one planet. No matter who destroys it, we all are doomed unless we start making it well enough to sustain us going forward.

Irritating, to say the least, for those of us who are doing our bit. Nope, that's not nearly the right word... infuriating, maybe? Terrifying, in those wee wakeful hours of the night?

But even if you "don't believe" in climate change, if you extrapolate the story of the African man above to its logical conclusion, if we don't act now and food crops fail and water resources dry up, there will come a time when some will kill others for food and water all around the world in order to survive, just as polar bears are now known to be resorting to cannibalism in order to survive.

How can you not see this? And how can you not do your part? It's not difficult, truly.

So here's a little ditty in the making from me. It has no music yet and there are only a couple of verses (or maybe a verse and a bridge, or verse and chorus, I don't know yet). And those who know me know I am not really advocating we forget about the polar bears and the whales, in fact, a percentage of my business profits will go to World Wildlife Fund Canada to help protect the polar bears and more.

In this song I am trying to appeal to those selfish individuals who think "they" should do something about climate change, or more commonly, they chide "the government" for not doing anything (including you, Mr Ignatieff and Mr Layton).

Who cares what happens at Copenhagen? Each one of us has the power to make a difference, no matter how simple, and cut our CO2 emmission and energy usage. Drive less, switch off the lights, reduce your waste, recycle, grow food not flowers, cook in a pot on the range and not your oven, hang clothes to dry and get rid of the dryer, select the recycled paper in Staples above the other stuff, it's all about simple choices, and it starts with me, and it starts with you. Tell a friend (or a stranger, except mostly they don't like it very much, but your friends will still love you).

Anyway, here's the song thus far. Feel free to suggest some verses.

Yup, I could wait for "they", or wait for "them",
Maybe I should wait for the govern-ment?
But in the end, in reality,
Sustainability begins with ME.

Forget about the polar bears, forget about the whales...
what you gonna do when YOUR food crops fail?
What you gonna do when your water's all gone?
It's already real, just look around.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

If I were to pick a builder right now...

... this would be them. I wrote an article on these guys for Cottage Magazine and I love the way they work, and what they build. I think the pics speak for themselves.

Personally, I would like an open-plan home where the timbers are exposed on the interior, so you can enjoy the organic texture of the wood (how tactile is that?!) and combine that with a clean-lined, more contemporary style.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tis the season to plan and dream.

Until we have a place to stay other than a tent, there is not much we can do over the Fall and Winter months to further our dream Republic. However, 'tis the ideal season for planning and design, so we thought a quick overnight trip to Cortes Island on a relatively good weather weekend would be a good thing (see previous blog re site measurements/plan) so that I can begin on our (currently favoured) design for the main house (sketches above - no comments on how on earth I'm going to deal with snowload on this roof, pse).

Unfortunately, we have guests in the B&B for 3 nights this weekend coming (think of the money, Penny) and the weekend thereafter, looks like Nev and the work crowd are finally going fishing (hard to begrudge this). Weekend after is Thanksgiving, a vague possibility for a trip except we accepted a booking on the Monday evening (lady coming back from Cortes!), so it will have to be a quick trip indeed.

In the interim, I have switched from presenting Green Building at Lighthouse to manning the resource centre once a week, which is an amazingly timeous opportunity, because that's where their library of sustainable materials are kept, along with lists of suppliers and other interesting contacts. And at least I will feel like I'm contributing while learning more, even though I am nuts about materials and finishes, so am pretty clued up, even if I say so myself.

This also ties in very fortuitously with my decision (at last) to start a small "green" design business. It is after all why I went back to school, and presents the same opportunity to change old, unsustainable design and renovation practices one homeowner at a time. Wish me luck and watch this space!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

More learning.

I started my Construction 1A Course on Wednesday and I am stoked. It is really basic, and fortunately I do know some of the terminology and techniques involved already, so I think I will be OK. Put it this way, I was way more worried about passing the Built Green exam and that turned out OK.

What's exciting is knowing that in a few weeks' time I will be able to put together a set of drawings for a house. That's the thing with BCIT courses - you start out wondering how you will ever learn everything on the course schedule, but by around week 9 you think "wow, look how much we've learned!".

We saw a house on the Extreme Homes TV show today. It's in Phoenix, AZ so obviously a whole other weather area, however, it was exactly how I would build the main cabin if budget permits. It's built into the rock of a mountain, and it would work fantastically on our gully site. The trick, they said, was to cut a laser line into the rock to the depth of around 3" and then scribe the glazing into it using lots of silicone. The end result is a rock wall inside the house, which merges seamlessly into the rock. Wish I had a pic of it to stick in my design sketch book.

The latest Dwell mag features a house in California with stunning bare concrete floors. That's it at the top of this posting. It also has the front door I dream of having. Sooo... how do we make THIS happen? It would help to have accurate site measurements on the main building site. We haven't done this yet. We actually started doing a site map for the teeny cabin site: we did it on the visit earlier this year when Delia gave us a ride. It's a standing joke between us now. I took ONE measurement to avoid having to cut down a scrawny young arbutus tree and the joke is that even though I only took one measurement, I drew the dimension incorrectly... the 10' is to the FRONT of the rock, not the back. That's it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Norpine Cabins

I decided to follow up on those prefab cabins they are selling through Home Depot, my most UNfavourite bog-box store. You know the joke - HD employs 3,000 people (or whatever) and they're all at the same store somewhere else... hate going in there.

Anyway, worth a quick price check for the bunky. The Norpine website is I checked on the Fraser, Mackenzie and Palliser because we really want something with a small footprint. I think the Palliser might even be too big.
Called 2 HD stores: at Campbell River everyone was "helping other customers" (yeah, yeah, all other customers are more important than me), but I managed to establish all HDs charge the same for the cabins.
I then called the Abbotsford branch, because having bought the composting toilet there, I know they have a number of older, experienced, English-speaking employees who are very helpful. However, they had no prices and no phone number on record, but the kind chap I spoke to told me to look them up under Winton Global, which is how I arrived at Tammy. Who was FULL of info and advice and gave me all the prices and then some.

Since we will be building on a pier and beam foundation, it looks like the cheapest we can go is the Fraser (16' X 20') at $20,749. We can do our own siding if we don't want the log-look - subtract $4,080 and buy your own siding plus Tyvek instead. I do like the metal roof and it comes in BLUE! Ha! Of course, there are other colours as well.
But when I look at it, I could probably buy enough lumber for my own design for less. If I design it right, I can have minimal waste on materials too. Interesting though.

For the record, the Mackenzie came in at around $27,887.

Root cellars again, and propane refrigerators.

OK, I see what they're doing: it's an underground or bermed "room". Of course the temp is lower in winter and higher in summer, but still cooler than ambient. It needs to be ventilated and drained properly and the reason it's called a root cellar is because it appears to be a storage area for produce. But one chap says he can keep milk in his till the sell by date, so I think it'll be good for many things except potentially meat and keeping beer and wine chilled. Kinda knew that though.

Useful, but we'll still need a small propane refrigerator. We will need around $1,000 for a small one, I think. The solar power models are even more expensive... oh well. The bunky is not supposed to be kitted out though - we put real budget into the building of the main house for appliances, but not the bunky. Dreams don't come cheap. That's what research is for.

Monday, September 14, 2009

It's a process, not an overnight thing.

My friend Barb and I had lunch on Friday. It was truly wonderful to see her again, as always. Lo and behold, she too is contemplating an alternative place to live, and a more suitable way of life. I hesitate to say alternative, because I think it's a choice, not an opt-out, as some city dwellers seem to think.

When I called Barb today, she was in front of her PC, looking at properties. This is something Nev and I spent literally hundreds of hours doing before buying The Seagull Republic. In fact, it was an obsession all of its own. We had The Tree House on the market at one point in order to be able to move forward with our plans, but truthfully, we weren't ready to sell. Or were we? You see, none of this happens overnight; it's more like a process one goes through, from the dream, through the thinking, the research, the planning and then the hardcore business of it all: the financing, negotiating, building, moving and more.

Those central stages involved a lot of math: running the numbers on umpteen spreadsheets, such as what do we actually need to live? What will it cost? What will cost less and what will cost more? For instance, one has to have a boat, a dock, and insurance, to name a few items that would cost more, but food and heating may cost less, depending. Some items didn't figure much in our planning, for example, we don't often buy take out, mainly because there isn't any in Lions Bay (!) but also because truthfully it's tastier, healthier and CHEAPER to eat at home. But I guess for others, this could be a huge saving outside the city.

A vital part of our research was definitely visiting numerous little places around Vancouver Island and particular properties. We spent a small fortune on ferries, B&B's and, most expensive of all, water taxis. Those guys are usually fishing guides (or similar) using their boats as taxis only when they are not taking tourists out fishing. So typically they were as much as $100 an hour. This is something one should take into account when thinking about a recreational/rural property... even the looking ain't cheap if you're looking at an island or boat access only spot.

It helped that we spent many hours online narrowing our search down according to our pre-determined criteria: Must be 1. on the ocean 2. boat access only 3. must have a great view with mountains. FYI we got 2 1/2 out of 3 in The Republic, but you can't help yourself when you fall in love... and that's what this is all about, falling in love with a spot. You don't SETTLE when it's the dream. You ask yourself, "is this the dream?" - and Nev was good at asking this - and if the answer is no, you keep looking.

We invested in courses, as mentioned somewhere else on this blog, books, trade shows, phone calls and countless hours of research. I still wonder what we'll find to talk about once we've actually built a place and moved in, although I'm certain the learning will continue.

Life in Lions Bay has been ideal training for moving to a more remote spot. Living on half an acre of forested land close to the San Andreas fault means we always have to be prepared to take care of ourselves for a few days (technically 3, 7 is better). It's kind of eased us into the rural lifestyle. We have the odd power outage, such as the storm in November 2006 that left us without power for 5 days, but usually it's a day or a few hours. Nevertheless, one has to be able to keep warm because the house gets cold very quickly when it's around zero outside.

In 2006, I had to buy a generator to keep the fridge cold and cook dinner. We could have BBQ'ed except Nev was up north at Snap Lake having lobster dinners and warm showers (long story) and I'm not great on the gas BBQ (gas terrifies me to be honest). Luckily it wasn't too cold, and the woodpile meant we had heat (thanks to Nev's diligent wood curing and chopping regime). But you get the idea... our beloved Tree House has been great training for The Seagull Republic.

Even now, we are probably not quite at the point of selling The Tree House, buying a small city home and moving permanently to Cortes. Will we ever be? We want to be on the North Shore during the ski season and for Christmas with Lee (which fortunately coincides with the bulk of the hockey season). In short, we want it all. Having said that, when I left Cortes last week, I was very sad to be leaving.

This is exactly my point: it's a process. No-one decides to do what we're doing overnight. In my case, it's taken all my life thus far. I moved from the dreaming stage to making it real because it gets to the point where you think, "OK, if this is what we really want, how do we make it happen?". Even then, one has to work through the complexities of everyday life, the reality of that new life, and the most important thing... finances.

That's what's so amazing about Canada: one can have a wonderful life almost anywhere and it needn't cost too much. Once one figures out exactly how much money one needs to live on and how one wants to make that money, you can make it happen.

But it's a process.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Root cellars

So I'm reading about root cellars in the latest Cottage Magazine. Basically, an underground refrigerator that stays cool no matter what. Some seem to have sod roofs. Anyway, they of course need no hydro. Reminds me of when we used to keep our drinks cool in the cold Atlantic waters, which makes me wonder how we can submerge perishables in the cool waters around the Republic.

Anyway, if anyone stumbles across this blog and has advice for me, please let me know! Will post more info as I research this topic further.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

10 Things we learned this time.

Every time we have to get up and catch the 6.30am ferry from Horseshoe Bay, we wonder why we didn't book on the 8.30am sailing. However, we didn't, so Friday we heaved ourselves out of bed at 4am, packed the cooler boxes, left home at 5.30am and headed off to The Republic. Not so easy hitching the boat to the truck in the dark (lesson #1). Thus far it's been light when we've left. Note to self: get Nev to put in light on lower parking spot. B&B will need it duing 2010 Olympics anyway.

This time we did a tailgate breakfast with the usual B&B leftover buttermilk biscuits (signature item at The Tree House) and as usual with the new ferries we were stuck among all the overheight/overlengths ie 18 wheelers, buses and RVs. The whole Lions Bay Climate Action Task Force volunteer experience has had me quite frustrated lately (see my post title Green Volunteer Grouch) so I have to say I wasn't quite in vacation mode at that point. I was also pretty sleep-deprived, what with a sleepless night during the thunder storm, a late night packing the night before, and two very early starts. I can be quite miserable when I'm that tired (no comments, Nev).

In fact, I don't think I started unwinding until about 2 days later: unusual, for sure. But we'll get there.

We got to Gorge Harbour Marina on Cortes Island in the early afternoon as planned and managed to set up camp before the rain started. For the record, it didn't stop except for a couple of watery sunny patches, and it's still raining if it's anything like the weather here in Lions Bay today. We got The First in the water at high tide - perfect timing for us, around 6pm. They only charged us $5 to launch when it should be $8 and we told them so. Lesson #2: it's not worth trying to pay more when someone wants you to pay less. Just pay the $5 even though you are not in a kayak.
We went back to our little campsite, which looked more like a squatter camp by now, what with tarp for outdoor BBQ area etc strung up. We were the only tent there.

I had prepacked and frozen chicken pieces in various marinades, and we chose to BBQ my tandoori chicken, with rice and curried chickpeas I'd made a few days before the trip. Yum. (Recipes at end of this posting specially for Julie.) Those prepacked meat packs worked really well (lesson #3 - do it again).

Got to bed early and slept late because we had a so much rain and even a bit of wind. The sun came out and so did the deer that wander around the camp site eating the little green apples that fall from trees that were probably part of the original orchard.

Decided to go check on The First, but it didn't seem likely we'd be going anywhere given the weather at Gorge Harbour, which is on the west of the island. However, Squirrel Cove was a whole other story: we just had to go over to The Republic. Lesson #4: when camping, always apply sunscreen, because you never know when you're going to be spending time outdoors! Although I didn't get burnt badly; no sting even, just a little heat.

It was so amazing to be back on our piece of paradise. I do so love the ocean when it's battleship grey, everything's a little desolate, and the cries of the eagles and the gulls sound completely forlorn...

We unloaded the siding to above the highwater mark, but then it started raining again, so we headed back to the government dock. One thing about an aluminum hull is that it's a rough ride when there's a swell of any kind. Kinda fun though; every 7th wave is a big drop like a funfair ride.

That night it thundered and lightninged like crazy, which Yukon did not enjoy one bit, although he was as always very well behaved. I got him to lie next to me, which happened to be where we had a few minor drips in the tent, mainly because the fly sheet doesn't cover the 2 sides where the "windows" are. All in all, the tent held out really well. Every now and then a little waterfall would fall off the "portico", as we jokingly call it: the little entryway where we store the cooler boxes. It's not water proof, and unfortunately that's where Nev left his hiking boots so they got completely waterlogged (lesson #5 - keep boots inside tent).
After all the rain and storm we'd had, it was amazing to arrive at Squirrel Cove on Sunday to see the sea as smooth and silvery as as taffeta, hardly a breeze to be found (lesson #6: the weather differs from spot to spot on the island). But we could see the weather moving in from the southeast, so we knew the trip to The Republic would a quick one. All we did was carry the packs of siding to the site of the shed and make sure the tarp was still firmly in place for the winter. I have to admit, the site we've picked for the bunky is truly sheltered from the worst winter winds, because it's on the northwest side of the lot. We will definitely have to take the dock around there for winter storage.

Yukon seems to have taken to the boat in a big way. He climbed onto the bow and sniffed the wind like a wolf. It was hard to believe this was the dog who wouldn't get in a car when we got him. Lesson #7: it can be done!

Sunday night we BBQ'ed again under our tarp. In the rush to leave The Tree House, I ran out of time to cut herbs from the garden and take them with us. I usually put them in our veggie packs. Although I have to say, lemon juice with our "French condiments" (see pic) is always a pretty good combination.
Monday morning we had to admit we weren't getting any work done and sitting in the tent was making Nev antsy. I was quite happy reading my trashy novel, or as Kate calls it, "modern women's literature" (the industry calls it "chick lit"). I actually got through the entire 3" book in the trip, for the record.
Given that poor Yukon had been damp for days - and he doesn't like getting his hair wet! - we decided to use the morning's sunny spell, our 30% non-rain in a day Environment Canada said had a 70% chance of rain, to pack up and book into Cortes Island Motel (they take dogs) and move our ferry booking forward from Thursday evening to Tuesday evening. We had to phone the weather line because everything internet on the island got wiped out in the storms, first Telus then Twincom. Lesson #8: go for the satellite internet option on The Republic.
The motel option gave Yukon a chance to dry out, at least. BBQ'ed again though, best meal of the trip, and then Tuesday hopped in the ferry line-up at Whaletown. Yukon had a wonderful time with another large dog - everyone stood around smiling at the 2 of them charging up and down the road. Socialised with everyone as usual and I was sooo sad to be leaving... it would be so nice to be able to STAY. I didn't listen to a single newscast (couldn't anyway) or see a newspaper in all the time we were there and it didn't bug me at all. For the first time since being in SA in 2006, it didn't bother me at all. (I felt so isolated while in SA, when I came home I became news-obsessed, watching CBC, CNN, some BBC and both local channels almost all day long. I'm sure this is not good.)
Made it to Campbell River no problems - had a great chat with Gordon from Cranbrook in the CR lineup - and had a wicked lunch of fish and chips (the only time we don't call them fries). For the record, they let us take Yukon on the patio with us!
On the road to Nanaimo it became clear we'd be there way earlier than our 7pm sailing reservation, so we called to switch to the 5pm sailing. Lesson #9: you have to make the change at least 2 1/2 hours before your booking, which we missed by 30 minutes. But it was a charmed trip - they put on an extra sailing due to the volumes and we were put on the 4pm sailing, among the normal size cars, which means we were on an open parking deck WITH VIEWS!
Somewhere between the sound of the rain on the tent in the dark, the mindless storyline of abovementioned book and the gentle rhythm of Cortes, I came to the decision that life is too short to let things like the aggravations of getting involved in Lions Bay grind one down (lesson #10, and the biggest lesson learned this trip) and that I would resign from the LB CATF. However, I'll stick with Lighthouse for now and see how things progress.
I also found a focus for moving forward with something interior design-related and we'll have to see how that unfolds. It involves making some money, which is good. Truth be told, I'm quite excited about it. As a start I'm having lunch with my friend Barb from school. I think together we can hatch some plans, whatever they might be.
Tandoori Chicken Recipe
Skinless chicken thighs (choose how many you need)
About 1 C plain yoghurt (no-fat if you like, and you might need more if you're doing a lot of chicken)
2 T Curry paste or more (I found a great Tandoori one in the store, but I think curry powder would also work)
Some fresh chopped garlic (one or two cloves)
Mix everything and marinade chicken thighs overnight or longer. You can even freeze the chicken in the marinade (my fave trick) so it marinades while defrosting.
BBQ until cooked, basting as you go. We are going to try this on a piece of foil until cooked, then put on grill to char because the chicken dries out easily if you're not careful.
You can also cook in the oven at 400 degrees F on a rack on a baking tray, turning once, until cooked. Then raise the shelf so the chicken is closer to the grill and grill until slightly charred. I did this and next time I will not use a rack until I get to the grilling part.
Curried Chick Peas (can be served warm or at room temp)
You can use canned chick peas, but I soak dried chick peas overnight and cook in pressure cooker with salt till cooked but intact. You need to have enough water in the pot to cover the peas plus a little and I cook them with only one ring showing for about 22 minutes.
Drain chick peas and for around 2C of CP's, add 2t curry powder, about 1/4 of a largish onion, chopped very finely, plus about 1/4 of a large red bell pepper, also finely chopped. Check seasoning (salt and freshly ground black pepper) and mix. I have also used my own curry spice blend that I got years back from my friend Shads (top secret). You could also add finely chopped garlic if you're not dating :) and if you have fresh cilantro, one of my favourite herbs, add that, too.
You can serve immediately, but as with all curry dishes, keeping it in the refrigerator for a couple of days improves the flavour. It's a great dish to take to BBQs because you can prep it beforehand and it's not expensive, so you can scale it up to suit the number of guests you have.
Also good mixed with white basmati rice as a side dish to a curry.
NOTE: the formatting is bloody awful, I know, but I've been fiddling with it for a while and nothing is working so I'm publishing this now so I can start cooking dinner!

In which I find my anthem.

Two things happened the day before we returned to The Seagull Republic.

First, we received a mail from Shona in which she wrote, about my blog, "... we are answerable to God for our care of the earth. It is our responsibility to undo as much as we can the damage already done, and to make our contribution in creatively saving the planet and enriching its future. You two are doing your share, thanks!! [I did not post this on your blog, because] I did not want to put people off with my God sentiments. However, I think I am moving more and more towards a sense that this is what God is about."

Which is exactly what I believe and then some.

Second, I was driving to the store to stock up on provisions for our trip to The Republic and happened to hear "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver on my satellite radio. Now, I haven't heard this song for years and even when I was listening to John Denver regularly way back when (LOVE his songs) I don't think this was a favourite of mine. My only excuse is I was young and stupid back then. Because it is EXACTLY about me, the whole thing, although maybe it wasn't entirely at that time. It even brought tears to my eyes. I do not apologise for this sappiness at all.

I was so desperate to listen to it again that I immediately headed for the nearest mall, and hauled out an HMV gift card I've been carrying around for well over a year. Out of several JD albums, I picked his "Definitive All-time Greatest Hits". And I've been playing track 6 ever since. Well, I did listen to the others eventually, but only because en route to Cortes Island I thought my long-suffering husband might go insane listening to the same track over and over, which is what I do when I'm learning the words to a song prior to working out the chords so I can accompany myself on the guitar. I mean, JD is not for everyone. I remember when he was at the peak of his career they made jokes about his squeaky-clean image like "John Denver took a bath and the soap got clean".

And that is how I found my anthem, hippy child that I am.

"You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply"... just love it. Here are the words; they speak for themselves.

Rocky Mountain High

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Coming home to a place he’d never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door

When he first came to the mountains, his life was far away
On the road and hanging by a song
But the string’s already broken and he doesn’t really care
It keeps changing fast and it don’t last for long

But the Colorado Rocky Mountain High
I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
Rocky Mountain High (Colorado), Rocky Mountain High (Colorado)

He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below
He saw everything as far as you can see
And they say he got crazy once, and he tried to touch the sun
And he lost a friend but kept his memory

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forests and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply
Rocky Mountain High (Colorado), Rocky Mountain High (Colorado)

Now his life is full of wonder, but his heart still knows some fear
Of a simple thing he cannot comprehend
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more
More people, more scars upon the land

And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky
I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly
Rocky Mountain high

Its a Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high
Rocky Mountain High (Colorado), Rocky Mountain High (Colorado)
Rocky Mountain High (Colorado), Rocky Mountain High (Colorado)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Things I think about at 3.24am.

After blathering on yesterday about how organised we are re camping these days, today dawned very early for us and it's all I can do to not panic about how much needs to happen today.

It didn't help that we had a VERY loud thunderstorm last night, the 2nd or 3rd this season, which is unusual (who doesn't believe in climate change yet??). In short, I've been awake since 3am tickling Yukon, who hates thunderstorms. No sleeping in either, because we had guests in the B&B and we had arranged breakfast for 8.30am which means I have to be in the kitchen at 7.30am looking perky. They were a well traveled, friendly couple from England, so as usual it was pleasant. However, as a not-a-morning person, I'm still stocking up on caffeine in order to think straight.

Luckily it poured with rain during the storm, because the last thing we need right now with our forests being so dry (ditto the climate change comment above) is dry lightning and our mountain going up in flames a la California and Kelowna. I lay awake wondering what to grab, apart from our earthquake kit, if we had to leave suddenly. We used to have a pile of "precious things", with a list for each of us, me, Nev and Lee. Mostly it revolved around getting the cats into their boxes (always nigh on impossible) and in the Jeep with a few other things thrown in like Lee's baby photos.

But in the disco-like dark last night, all I could think of to grab was our passports (Canadian), my mom's important documents and a few handfuls of photos from the large tote in which most of them are packed. Then it occurred to me that Pee and Vee are away and Cleo the Cat is alone in their house on Bayview, so I would have to dash past there if Carolyn wasn't able to do so.

Then I started wondering whether it was thundering at The Seagull Republic, which is also bone dry, and whether our forest there, along with the few giant old-growth trees still standing, would get struck by lightning and flare up. Because then we'd be left with 10 acres of naked rock. And then I wondered whether we would be OK camping under the trees, as we do, and that reminded me that we'd planned to speak to our neighbours about investing in a water cannon in case we have a fire at Boulder Point, which I think we did, or did we?

Then I wondered whether this is what it's going to be like having a second property when there's a real house there, complete with furniture and things? We saw a cabin reduced to a concrete slab and a melted roof when we were looking at a property on the Malaspina Peninsula in early 2008. From the first sign of smoke to the nothing-left stage took around 20 minutes. That's it. Gone in 20 minutes. Also an off-the-grid, boat access only spot, and even though the neighbours and some of the guys from the oyster farm came to help, it was too late.

Eventually I went full circle and started puzzling about what I need to buy, grocery-wise, today, and so there I was counting meals on my fingers as the rain rattled on the roof and the heavens flashed and rumbled. Then I started mentally inventorying groceries that could get stored on The Republic long term once we have a structure of some sort there so we don't have to schlep too many supplies up there each time we go. Aaahh - the things I can find to worry about at 3.24am each morning...

But it looks like it will be chilly for most of our stay on Cortes this time. Not sure if this is good or bad. So we'll have to take something to put underneath the inflatable mattress, otherwise the cold will be seeping up into our bed the whole night, as happened a couple of trips back. Man, was that miserable or what.

I forgot to mention our bedding tote yesterday. We use a queen-sized duvet cover as a sheet so we never really have to make a bed, it just stays put. Right now I'm going to pause for a moment to dream about our bunky (next year?). It's going to be 12' X 16' and there'll be a real bed in it, along with 2 comfy chairs, a dresser, a flap-down table, storage and ultimately a small propane fridge. But it'll be cute. I'm going to paint the inside white so it's cabiny even though it will be basic. All we have to do to make this happen is gather some cash, oh, and I need to design it and do the drawings for it. I can only do the construction drawings once I have done the course I'm starting on September 16th.

I digress again. So, getting back to shopping: We have an ongoing joke about the boat plug, which Nev removes so that rain can drain out of the boat if it gets under the cover. We only have one and it's not comforting that this itsy-bitsy little plug is "stored" in the centre console of The Tank, with a 1,000 opportunities to get lost each day. And always, when we are launching The First, I ask "did you put the plug in?" at least 10 times (a minute). So a 2nd (or maybe 3rd and 4th) plug is a must on the shopping list today.

Which means I should get going right now while Yukon lies in a deep sleep (well, he has been awake all night!) on his mat.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bring on The Republic!

Today is Wednesday and we're booked on the 6.30am ferry to Nanaimo on Friday morning. So I have a bunch of things to do to get ready for packing tomorrow night. Luckily, when we got back to Lions Bay last time, I made sure the food tote and our very handy double drawer box thingy had all the necessary items clean and neatly stored inside, ready for this trip.

We bought these 2 sets of these drawer thingies for camping a few years back. They are about 24" high and fit nicely into the back of the Jeep, which makes bearproofing the campsite every day real easy... because all the food and food prep stuff is in them, you just heave them into the car when you head out for the day, and voila! No bear attractants left in the camp site. When you get back and it's time to cook dinner, you just haul them out again and they make a very handy counter top next to the picnic table. I added a clip-on cutlery basket on the side for paraphenalia as well.

In the interests of cargo space, we are currently using only one set of double drawers: One drawer has all the plates, cutlery and condiments in it. Another has the gas cylinders for the camp stove, BBQ and lights, matches, lighters, candle, bugspray, washing up tubs and more in it, and then the food tote has cereals, cans, fruit and veg in it. We take as much stuff as we can with us, because groceries are expensive on the island. All we buy is ice and bread, the latter being locally made and truly awesome (and healthy).

We have a large cooler box for milk, butter, the meat for BBQ'ing, which we pack frozen, yoghurt and other perishables, and a smaller cooler box for pop, wine and beers. That's why we need the ice. We learned a lesson in August when every boat that docked at Gorge Harbour or Squirrel Cove stocked up on ice and for 3 days there was none to be had. Ultimately we want a small propane fridge in the bunky, but for now we're doing fine.

Of course there are no bears on Cortes Island or The Republic, just wolves, cougars, deer, raccoons and so on. But these drawer thingies are a great way to make sure the whole camping experience is organised and easy to manage.

Getting back to the upcoming trip: I might just take the laptop with me and write a blog entry every evening while Nev is BBQ'ing. That way I have a record of what we managed to get done each day, and what we learned.

This might be due to seeing the movie "Julie and Julia" yesterday: I get it, I really do. Even though no-one is reading this blog, it'll be a record of how The Seagull Republic came to be for us. It might be a resource of Lessons Learned in the future, who knows?

At the very least, it keeps me occupied and un-bored. While writing, the flow and rhythm of the words make me forget how frustrated I am with the projects I vounteered for, the fact that we have limited cash to make the main cabin a reality right now, and my quilts, which have almost come to a halt while I wait to learn how to finish them. Thank goodness for Carolyn, my long-suffering quilting buddy, who helped me out yet again yesterday!

Ah but I digress. Or do I? It's all part of the general betwixt-n-between state of being in which I find myself right now.

What I need is some time at The Republic. Bring on Friday!

Green volunteering grouch.

This year I offered my services in two areas of sustainability: firstly, I donated a considerable number of hours to our very own Lions Bay Climate Action Task Force and ended up chairing the Green Energy Sub-committee. Because I am so passionate about making a real difference in the fight against climate change, it was easy to spend 5 - 6 hours a day working on things such as the proposal to put microhydro in 2 of our creeks, reaching out to nearby communities doing the same thing and even writing up minutes, which I loathe.

I was also accepted as a volunteer by Lighthouse Sustainable Building Centre in Vancouver, as a presenter of their Green Building 101 for Homeowners workshops. I've been to all except one team meeting, attended the training, and started familiarising myself with the 85 slides we are expected to present. Ditto the remark about passion, hours, etc above.

So why am I so frustrated? Arriving on time for meetings, actually giving up some hours after making the initial commitment and so on, appear to be completely voluntary as well. Here I am, with years of expertise and skills to offer, saying to these groups you can have it all FOR FREE, JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT... but all I hear is warm fuzzies about how we should be thankful for unprofessional, inexperienced individuals, because they are after all "volunteers". What's the bottom line? Nothing gets done, or it rambles along on an ad hoc basis, and at the end of the day, my time is just wasted. Silly me - I really thought volunteering was a great way to give back, to offer something valuable to the planet, thus ensuring the survival of us all.

So my new commitment to myself and our planet is to find a PAYING job in which I can make a meaningful contribution in the fight for a more sustainable way of life and hopefully assist in bringing about small changes that will all add up to REAL change. Because if you are getting paid, people tend to value your skills, time and experience.

Just as well no-one reads this blog except me. Frankly, bring on the Republic. Sometimes I really give up on humankind.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

It didn't just happen though.

Having finally posted something on this new blog which I started a while back, I thought I should fill in some gaps, because it takes many little steps to get to where one wants to be. So although it might look like these things simply happen, a lot goes into making it happen.

Someone once made the most insulting comment to me ever imaginable. She said, "yes, but you were lucky". She was referring to the life we've created here in Canada. In saying this, she negated all the hard work we put into creating what we have. It helps that Canada is a land of endless opportunities, where almost anything is possible if one has a positive outlook and is ready to make a go of things.

It's the same with The Seagull Republic. One doesn't decide to build on a site that is boat-access only and entirely off-the-grid without putting a heap of research and learning into it. Even so, I'm sure we're about to embark on a huge learning experience as the years unfold.

We informally divided up the task: Nev focused on boats, docks and techincal stuff. I'm sure there's more, but since I had more time, this is kinda how it went. I focused on alternative energy sources and sent him on a course to cover the technical aspects of PVCs once we had established this was definitely going to be in the mix. I spent hours looking at sustainable building, sending him info to look at while I was studying interior design, LEED and green building. We both looked at umpteen everyday items in a new light, from septic issues to water tanks to refrigerators and everything else inbetween. I gave him a book on building green homes which covered cordwood, cob and other methods, one on micro-hydro, and a subscription to Cottage Magazine, which has been an absolute treasure trove of information as well as a great directory of where to buy things. Everytime I have stolen the books away to pore over them myself!

I started growing vegetables (sans pesticides, of course) to see whether we could indeed become more self-sufficient. I'm not sure we picked the right spot for this, because not only will be competing with the deer for the fruits of our labours, but there is very little soil on Boulder Point in general. So it'll be raised beds or containers, and this is probably not enough to make us self-sufficient. I hope Nev will catch lots of fish.

How people did this without the internet is beyond me.

The absolute worst part of the journey is knowing we'll have a cabin, but not knowing when. We have the furniture, the cups and dishes and crockery we need. I even made a quilt for the bed, stored lovingly in my studio till then... in the meantime everything is in the basement and the garage and our cars are still parked outside (not great in the winter).

Once we'd bought on Cortes, we bought books on the history of the area and the charts, soaking up stories on early settler families and how places we've yet to fully discover came to be.

It's all part of the journey, but in the meantime we need to get to a point where we can enjoy The Seagull Republic a little and explore the area. So far, each trip has been a quick one or a working holiday. But it'll be worth it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

And so the dream becomes reality...

It all began in 2007 or so, or maybe in truth it began many years before, when I was just a kid, this yearning for something wild and free, a rustic cabin on a shoreline somewhere, where one lives with the smell of the sea and the tang of the wind, and life revolves around the changing tides and moods of the ocean. Call it my hippy heart, the product of growing up in the 70's and listening to the likes of Joan Baez, CSNY, Leonard Cohen and so on.

It sounds so wild, so free, and that's what appeals to me the most, especially in my fuck-the-world state of mind. It's kinda comforting to know that whatever they do to ruin our paradise of Lions Bay, there is always The Seagull Republic, with at least 10 forested acres between me and the rest of everything else.

On May 31st 2008, we took possession of Lot A, Boulder Point, Cortes Island having seen it a month or so earlier. We'd looked at many beautiful spots before that, Quatsino, Port Neville (no sheltered moorage), Malcolm Island, Port Hardy, Zeballos and all the cute places up there (all too far although affordable), Tofino and environs(too expensive), Sooke and up to Port Renfrew, the Sunshine Coast as far as Lund (leased land, lots too small, no boat access only)... it was a fun search, but somehow nothing had it all for us. If nothing else, while our friends were travelling to places outside of Canada, we were falling more and more in love with BC!

Strangely enough, once we'd legally acquired The Republic, we didn't get up there again until about a year later (almost to the day). So somehow it wasn't REAL. However, we've been going there ever month since May this year, which we can do thanks to the acquisition of SRS The First, a rugged aluminum hull work boat, 18' - 6" of deep hull fishing and hauling capabilities, which Nev sourced via craigslist in Port Townsend, WA.

The first thing we did after picking up the boat was drive all the way up to Cortes only to discover the tide was too low to launch The First and get to our land! Embarassing. But thanks to Delia, we managed to spend 2 hours there before heading back to the B&B we'd booked (they take dogs, so Yukon was OK). That was in early May.

Now that we can GET to The Republic, which is of course boat access only (visa required if you want to visit), the dream has truly become reality.

At the end of May we made a more planned trip to The Seagull Republic. We regard this as the first official landing, because we got there in our own boat. We didn't physically do much in May except, very importantly, decide where to build the main house. Since this will only happen a few years from now, it also cemented a decision to put a primitive settlement on the west side of the land, overlooking Protection Island, where there is a nice flat area ripe for a couple of bunkies and an outhouse/storage structure. Camping out here over the next couple of years will give us a good idea of where the sun is during different seasons, what the winds do and where when they hit us, and what kind of architecture and design it will take to make the dream house a reality.

In June we took more pics and decided on a spot for the dock, which is crucial since we now have to apply for a permit (Crown Land tenure) which could take 6 months. Although we still haven't done the app because it requires scale drawings complete with compass bearings...

Our last trip at the end of July was, I guess, the start of anything tangible. To make this possible, Nev sold the Saturn SUV, the product of that short-lived stint in ON last year, and we acquired The Tank, an older GMC pickup with 6' - 6" bed, which makes the logistics of building in a remote location doable.

SInce we don't intend to put any power in the little settlement for now, the other step was to sell the composting toilet we bought a few years back (craigslist again!) and buy the non-electric model (Sun-Mar). Even so, having bought a pre-cut 6" X 8" cedar shed and the toilet, the Tank filled up fast and so the boat was pretty overloaded for the trip to Cortes.

We arrived at Gorge Harbour Marina as arranged only to find the previous campers hadn't yet vacated the site. After standing around in the brutal heat, the hottest in recorded history in BC, we finally got in there and set up the tent and the usual dishwashing and cooking areas (we've got it down pat at this stage). By then the tide was high enough to get The First in the water at Squirrel Cove and get a first run in to The Republic to offload the first batch of shed. In The Heat. Of course, being high tide, the shoreline was a little different. There was some "discussion" between us as to where to offload the lumber, Nev won, but the next day it became clear that the other suggestion (mine!) involved far less work, and he ended up traipsing across the rocks to haul it back to the chosen spot at low tide. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The next day was harder and hotter: It was low tide, which makes the ramp at Squirrel Cove so steep Yukon won't go down it, and of course the heat made it all tougher then we'd estimated. We now know why most people put a dock in before doing anything else. Once we got The First tied up on the rocks at what became known as 2nd Cove, we first had to carry it to above the high water mark, and then hoist it onto the first flat area, and then the second flat area, where we would build. In the heat, in case you've forgotten. The only mercy being that the site is quite shady being on the western shore. I think we did two runs that day before stopping for the day.

Yukon was happy enough, snoozing in shady spots he dug out for himself and we did stop for water and our usual lunch of Cortes-baked flax bread, canned salmon and fruit.

Day two saw us hauling the rest of the shed to The Republic - everything except the siding, roof shakes and building paper. We made good progress though, getting the sleepers and most of the floor done. Day three we finished the floor, sorted the lumber and framed up two walls and then the drill batteries ran out of juice. Even though it was hard work, there was something truly rewarding in building something with one's own hands. Can't wait to see it all done.

Somewhere among all this, Nev got stung by a yellow jacket and his right arm flamed up and swelled, so hammering became impossible. After stacking all the material on top of the floor, covering it with a tarp and tying it down, we called it quits and decided to have supper at Squirrel Cove Restaurant. The food was really good: I mean, you just can't beat halibut caught fresh right there and cooked up superbly with a view to match.

At high tide The First came out the water and we pre-packed as much as we could for the trip back to Lions Bay (home? where is home now?). We have this ferry thing sussed - we aim for the second ferry to Quadra, knowing we may be bumped due to being over-length, and prepared to cook up the only non-healthy breakfast of our trip while waiting 2 hours for the next one. Of course, breakfast is frequently punctuated by people we have or haven't met stopping to chat, and Yukon's walks to say hi to admirers and doggies going our way. This makes ferry travelling a really fun, feelgood part of the journey. It truly does.

Since we are usually booked on the 5 or 5.20pm ferry from Nanaimo, being bumped once or twice still leaves us plenty of time to drive south, so much so that we had time to stop for lunch in Parksville and take the more scenic route along the coast. I guess you have to get onto Island time to appreciate this... we still get Lower Mainlanders asking us, "but isn't it very far?".

I suppose it depends on what you want and one's attitude. Being forcing to slow down is something we need.

Next trip we'll finish the outhouse/shed and next spring we won't have to camp at Gorge Harbour (no more noisy crowds of RV'ers!!)... we'll spend our first ever night on The Seagull Republic.