Friday, March 11, 2011

Fame at last (or: how we made it into a book about Desolation Sound)

Before falling in love with and snapping up our Seagull Republic, we visited many small communities and looked at several recreational cabins that were up for sale. In the process, we got a great feel for the life we might expect, and the way these small, often isolated, enclaves of humanity function.

Although we had some predetermined criteria (see earlier posts) to guide us, we knew the place we fell in love with was going to depend on the feeling we got when we stood on it: we would know it when we saw it.

One of the places we looked at was a boat access, off the grid property on the Malaspina Peninsula. It was a little more expensive than what we had to spend, but it came complete with house, boat, daysailor sailboat and all furniture, tools, solar panels, battery bank, generator, etc. To get there, we took the ferry to the Sunshine Coast, did the famous dash to Egmont and the next ferry to Saltery Bay, and from there drove north towards Lund. At some point we took a right turn to the government dock at Okeover to meet the Powell River realtor who had the listing. One thing we remember is the Telus phone booth at the dock which was relevant because our mobiles couldn't get a signal there.

A huge plus on this trip was that the owner, Bernard, was coming to pick us up in his boat (part of the above-mentioned package deal) instead of having to pay a hefty price for a water taxi again. When he didn't arrive, we used that phone booth to call him. We whiled away the waiting by chatting to a friendly chap called Bob from Victoria who, with his wife and daughter, were loading items, including a table, into an impossibly small boat. He told us his spot was around the point from the property we were going to view. As he puttered away, boat impossibly low in the water, we talked about how nice it would be to have a great near neighbour like Bob if we were to buy this cabin.

When Bernard arrived, we climbed into his well-used aluminum boat, rather fancy in hindsight because it offered some cover behind a split console (perfect for conveying building materials, we thought). After a short trip, we arrived at his cabin, perched on the side of a cliff. We knew the property was part of a strata (not ideal - we weren`t really keen on answering to anyone in our splendid isolation), but hadn`t known no docks were allowed. This didn`t really matter, because Bernard had rigged up a line and pulley system to anchor the boat.

From the flat rock upon which we landed, the house loomed large, with those oh-so-typical large windows facing the view. After climbing a bunch of handhewn stairs, we entered the large, open living space of the cabin. It was nice and warm inside even though there was no heat on, due to all the wintry sun coming in through those large windows.

Clearly the house had been much loved and enjoyed by Bernard and his family. The only real negatives for us were that the view did not contain any mountains, and we were pretty sure no orcas would ever pass by. But a key consideration was that it was all built... a plus on the one hand, because we would be able to start enjoying it immediately without building, but on the other hand it would for us forever be "Bernard's house" (we still refer to it in this way).

While we were wondering around I looked over the water to a cabin on the next point, and saw a small grey plume of smoke rising. I asked the realtor whether this was normal, or should we check it out. Both he and Bernard thought it was of no concern. But the plume grew larger and larger, which I pointed out to them again. At some point Bernard realised it was something serious and said he was going to check it out. He and the realtor rushed out, hopped in the boat and roared off to the source of the smoke, which by now was billowing out over the water in a furious cloud.

Alas, it was too late - the cabin on the point burned to the ground. Turned out the owner had cleaned out his fireplace, taking the ashes out onto his deck. He then went to check on his well with a neighbour and in his absence, the wind fanned embers to life, setting fire to the house. Ironically, the strata did have firefighting gear, but it was inside this very cabin. Watching from Bernard's deck, we heard several loud explosions, no doubt the propane tanks exploding. Although a bunch of oyster farm workers rushed over to try and help, it was too late.

It was all over in 20 minutes. When we passed by later, all that was left was a crumpled metal roof on a concrete slab and a very large brick chimney. Quite sobering.

Notwithstanding all this, on a return trip not too long after, over lunch at the very delightful Laughing Oyster Restaurant at the Okeover government dock, we decided to make an offer on Bernard`s house. It was conditional, based on our being able to sell The Tree House, so it never happened because we couldn't sell it. In truth maybe we weren't ready to sell at that time and there was always that niggling thought that we would always be living in Bernard's house, same as in Lions Bay we are living in Peter Zeipper's house even after living here almost 10 years!

So what about the book, I hear you yelling ever louder...

One of the Christmas gifts I gave Nev was a book called "Adventures in Solitude: What not to wear to a nude potluck and other stories from Desolation Sound" by Grant Lawrence. I happened to grab it as a ferry read - it took me 3 1/2 ferry trips on the Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay run to finish it. It's a great ferry read especially at this time of year when one's thoughts turn to cabin stuff as Spring approaches. Much of the book and its stories remind us of our experience on our quest to be more self-sufficient and independent. This is why it's such a great read for those of us attempting the same insane task of building from scratch on a remote, boat access only piece of paradise without any electricity to boot (thank goodness for cordless tools).

Anyway... turns out it was Grant's father who established the strata that includes "Bernard the German's" lot, and all the tales about the family's time at their cabin happened around there.

And where we come into it is when the author describes the above fire, starting on page 253. He used some poetic license in describing the whole thing... for instance, there were definitely no brewskis involved, and the "friend" who pointed out the smoke was ME.

And that`s how we came to make it into the book. I intend to e-mail the author and tell him our tale!