Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Life, the next stage

Good grief, talk about procrastination! In February I wrote this:

Well, here I am, with the house all to myself. A few weeks ago Chris was taken to the local extended care facility. I am almost ashamed by how much I am enjoying the freedom. In many ways I have been living alone for more than a year anyway.

Then in April this.

I am finally writing this in my  hotel room at the tail end of a satisfying mini vacation. That  blog with pictures will wait till the next post. 

It is now June.

About that next stage. After January Chris's condition deteriorated rapidly. He started needing more help with activities of daily living and had a few falls. I did not mind helping, and would even have been willing to have a hospital bed in the living room if necessary, but I am useless with not enough sleep. Sorry, just cannot do it. I usually sail through cold and flu season but caught a mean bronchitis this year. In consultation with the visiting health nurse it was decided that it was time to put Chris on a waiting list for extended care. I was warned that it might take some time and that we had to take the first bed in the district that became available, even if that was hours away. 

Well. We have been incredibly lucky.  Since February 12 Chris has been living in Minto House, the local extended care facility. Nobody wants to spend their last years in a facility, but if you have to be in one it does not get better than the one in our village. There are only 16 patients, with three staff members on duty. The rooms are roomy and private, the atmosphere is pleasant, the staff is caring, the food not gourmet but decent. Beds, wheelchairs and other equipment are state of the art and make life as comfortable as it can be.  The  patients' wishes are respected in all matters. They decide for themselves whether they wish to participate in group activities or just stay in their rooms. There is a closed, safe outside space that is quite beautiful in summer, if we ever get it. 

I was even spared the difficult task of explaining the move. Communication with someone who is both deaf and has bouts of dementia is incredibly frustrating. It went like this. I had been out grocery shopping for exactly one hour, and came home to find Chris flat on his back on the floor in the hallway. I managed to get him up, probably the wrong idea but nothing seemed broken. He seemed squirmy afterwards, not dozing off in his comfy chair as usual. When he did not touch his lunch I knew something was wrong. I called the clinic to see if home visits were an option. Not. Oh, did I mention that this was the snowiest part of a snowy winter? Fortunately we had just been plowed out but there was no way to  get Chris into a car. The clinic told me to call an ambulance. They came, sirens and all, conferred, and decided that four lifters were needed to get Chris down the steps and into an ambulance. So another vehicle was called up. It was quite dramatic! Chris was taken to hospital where he was later diagnosed with pneumonia. He had barely been coughing. The next day I was snowed in again. I had begged the hospital to please keep Chris in care for a few days so I could rest, but what do you know: on Friday a bed became available in Minto House, just like that! Minto House is part of the hospital. Of course it was tough and bewildering for Chris in the beginning, but after a few weeks he settled in. He is now wheelchair bound, increasingly stiff, and there is no way he could get the care he needs at home. In the beginning I spent large chunks of every day there but it has become clear that is not necessary. Of course I visit, but only for an hour and I no longer feel guilty if I skip a day.

So here I am, 90% free to join the single sisterhood, free to change things in the house and on the land, a new stage of life.  Ah, the choices! Of course all important decisions have to be made on the basis of insufficient data. The most important factor is my own health. Then there is the possibility  of really bad sh#t happening in the world. Am I spending too much time with 'collapse porn'? 
On a good day, which is most days, I imagine myself staying on the land for another decade, perhaps inviting people to join in some way, perhaps starting chickens again, or making some income with bedding plants, or body work, and earn enough to spend some time in warmer places in winter. On a bad day I think I might just skip the little house in the village stage, sell out, move straight into seniors' housing and do nothing except be old.

For starters, no matter what happens in the next decade, whether I leave the land sooner or later, things have to be tidied up. The log cabin that Chris built is doomed, sniffle. This means contacting B.C. Hydro and having the main powerline go to the mobile dwelling instead of the old house.






Sunday, 15 January 2017

Winter in the Shire

Facebook is full of photos of friends and acquaintances spending time in colourful warm places. Mexico, Africa, Thailand, New Zealand....I am stuck here but I don't mind too much. If this is the view from where you are stuck, how can you complain? 
The Shire is enjoying a nice winter. We have enough snow to make everything white and bright and fluffy, but not enough to make us worry about structures collapsing.

It has been cold enough to leave the snow on the trees and make the snow squeak beneath your feet, but not so cold it paralyses you. Day time temps between -5 and -13 during cold snaps. 
If this were the good old days Chris would be able to keep up with maintaining the driveway. Those days are gone, and I am too lazy, so we pay a friend who comes around with a machine (tractor? bobcat?) and are glad to do it.

We had some pipe freezing scares when the first cold snap hit before we had a good snow cover. Seeing the last water trickle out of your tap on a cold winter morning is no fun, though we have coped with it before. Thanks to my wonderful friend and barter buddy Rick disaster was averted. I thought I had been on top of things. Avoiding this was the reason I had made sure the fallen down, rodent-shredded insulation in the pumphouse was replaced way back in April, right? Thanks to Richard Young for taking on that horrid task.
Rick helped to surround the shed with Tyvek just before winter. 
Rick came to my aid twice, the first time to reset the pressure switch on the pump and lift the intake, a week later to diagnose a frozen pump. I thought the baseboard heater would be sufficient but as Rick pointed out that the pump sits below the heater and warm air rises, DUH. When it gets really cold extra heat is still needed. It was provided and Rick fixed the door as well so it won't let cold air in. I am so grateful that handy man likes Reiki and acupressure! We dare Jack Frost to his darndest now. Of course, if the power goes out for a long time all bets are still off. 

So far, so good. Power outages mainly happen when wind storms or heavy wet snow cause trees to fall on the overhead lines. The occasional blackout forces us to appreciate our army of energy slaves. Most of us can do with a reminder that we are spoilt rotten.

Should a blackout happen I am prepared for a siege. We have ample stashes of water as well as a clean garbage pail to melt snow in. The pantry and freezer hold enough food for weeks. There are candle thingies, LED lanterns, lots of batteries, camping ways to cook and now an indoor-safe emergency propane heater to stave off the worst of the cold. The setup is not as good as the barrel wood heater with the flat top we enjoyed in the log cabin years but it will do. 
On top of all that my next door neighbour made sure I had her cell phone, even though we are not close friends. I am telling you, this is a good place. Let it snow.



It has been colder than we are used to, but also sunnier. This is a trade off I am glad to make. We got less of the dreaded "flat cloud", though there are still days when we are socked in and it is brilliant elsewhere. In this picture from downtown Nakusp you can see both the cloud cover and the glimmer at the edges.
Below, top of Saddle mountain poking through valley cloud in late afternoon.
Even just running into the village for errands is a visual treat. I usually make it a loop, going in one way and returning another. The village is visible just a bit further along the road on but you cannot stop there.
On the way home over Brouse Loop. I don't care how often I see this, it makes me go go Wow every time. It was very cold with wind chill, I didn't even feel like getting out of the car.


And to help me enjoy the good winter the offspring surprised me with snowshoes in the mail! All in all, it may not be Hawaii or Cancun, you won't hear me whine about the season.




Sunday, 25 December 2016

So this was Christmas, again.

Once again Christmas was a total non event, but this time I felt quite relaxed and not tearful about it. Old man is going downhill fast, no details. Let us just say that daily life with a progressive neurodegenerative disease aggravated by deafness is challenge enough without me doing a number on myself about creating special whatevers. In contrast to previous years when I would still attempt to make special food this was just another Sunday. 
Being a caregiver is a great excuse, right?

I did watch the Dr. Who Christmas special, which I found disappointing, trite and Americanised. I was too tired to stay up for The Husbands of River Song, which I wanted to see. River Song is my favourite Whovian character, followed closely by the lizard woman.

As mentioned before I admire people who make festive things happen, with decorations and lights and special cooking and so on, but I have never been good at it.  Even when it was still fun I always heaved a sigh of relief on Boxing Day. We could eat leftovers and relax while the kids were busy with the new toys.

Last year we had our fellow grandmother over and got a skype tour of the new home shared by our daughter and her son. That was nice. The year before was a non event but not nearly as bad as 2013. This year I was 90% OK. The brief exchanges with my fellow humbuggers on Facebook who were in the same boat were fun.

Just for my own reference I collected all Christmas related blogs in one space.

http://freegreenliving.blogspot.ca/2007/11/a-holiday-proposal.html


http://freegreenliving.blogspot.ca/2013/12/that-sweet-dark-heart-of-year-and-bah.html

http://freegreenliving.blogspot.ca/2013/12/be-careful-what-you-ask-for.html

http://freegreenliving.blogspot.ca/2007/12/merry-christmas-from-taoist-pagan.html


http://freegreenliving.blogspot.ca/2007/12/rant-against-rudolf-red-nosed-reindeer.html


http://freegreenliving.blogspot.ca/2011/12/how-our-dutch-family-got-into-english.html


http://reflectionsrants.blogspot.ca/2010/03/credo.html

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Goodbye Thing. Hallo Margie!

Letting Go is a part of this stage of life. 
Stuff, people, abilities, and finally physical life itself.

But let's start with stuff. We have lived in the same place for 35 years without interruption, longer if you count the tipi/log house years. So much stuff! Much of it was in disrepair but still clung to because you never know, it might come in handy some day. We all have different categories we do that with. Mine is books and garden supplies like plant pots and chicken wire. The husband's was vehicles and parts for them. Sadly, his driving days are over. 

I miss our trips with the motor home, which gave us so much pleasure. We used to call it "The Thing". I had almost forgotten that. Below, Chris enjoying dinner on the aborted spring trip in 2008.
Dear Thing had been parked in place since the brief trip to the Sweet Grass Hills in September 2010, when we had limped home with brakes that wanted to seize up. 

The joy of having a unit the size of a Toyota truck is that you can easily tuck yourself into free places for the night. Above, on a small pullout along the Okanogan river near Tonasket, WA.

Thing was no spring chicken when we got her in the spring of 2004. The unit dated from 1982. Her inside was in beautiful shape and all systems worked. But still, we were no strangers to mishaps and tow trucks. Below, being towed into Ritzville 
in 2008. Earlier we had been towed into High Level, Alberta (2006) and spent 5 days waiting for a part in Dease Lake in 2007. 


After the brief trip to the Sweet Grass Hills she was parked on a level spot and served as guest cabin. Sister Margreet considered it her private summer home.
Here she is in the summer of 2008 during some soccer championship. When she received her diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer in 2011 a final stay here was high on her bucket list. She came in October of that year, and we made the most of the bittersweet time. Her favourite activity was retreating together to her quarters to play the board game "Globe Trotters" in the evening after dinner. 
Bouts of vigorous competition were alternated with visits to memory lane, hysterical laughter, and unflinching talks about her impending death. I still miss my sister a lot. I often imagine the phone calls, laced with black humor, that we could have shared about life with dementia. 


Brother Jaap and sister in heart Marielle camped in it with pleasure during their stay in the fall of 2014. But otherwise Thing just sat there, looking ever more sad and neglected. It was time to let it go. 

I did not think it was possible to drive it anymore, so I put it on the Nakusp Communicator Facebook page as potential guest quarters for $900. I figured whoever took it would have to spend some money getting it towed away. Response was instant. The couple who came for a look fell in love with the compact size and functional interior just like we had done. What's more, Bud is a fixer, and he wanted to get her going.
It took a few days of going back and forth, but miracle of miracles, he did it! Below, the coming and going man. Bud was kind enough to include Chris in the test drive.

While all this is going on Darlene told me they are in the habit of naming their vehicles, and how about naming the new toy after us? Ien is no name for a car, nor is Chris. But what about Margreet? Margie! We both liked it. I get a bit teary by the thought of commemorating my sister in this way. Margie left us under her own steam. This final picture is blurry, because she is moving!
Finally, courtesy of Facebook and Darlene Mcintyre-Adair, Margie in the glory of her new lease on life on a beach near Nakusp. It gives me such pleasure to see this.
Goodbye dear Thing, and thanks for all the pics.


Saturday, 8 October 2016

Giving thanks in challenging times.

It has been ages since I posted anything on this blog, the one for my private life minus garden. The garden has its own blog,  I am that fanatic.  I am just learning to work with an app that allows me to blog on the iPad, so I hope to get around to it more often. Winter is around the corner and I still want to finish some memory pieces, just for the fun of it. 

Today is Thanksgiving weekend in my part of the woods. It is my favourite holiday. In the past I would often have a dinner gathering featuring food from the land. If the garden yielded only one pail of potatoes, Thanksgiving is when they would be served. In the years we had chickens the whole meal might be homegrown. 

This year there is not much sense in having company over. My husband has been declining for some time and is now very frail and increasingly incapacitated. He was never quite the same after the car accident of July 2012, even though he suffered no physical damage.  I have often wondered if the accident was cause or consequence of his decline. It turns out to be the latter, most likely. Chris has been diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, an evil cousin of Parkinson's. Parkinson's is bad enough, but there are medications. Nothing can be done for PSP. It comes with Alzheimer's type brain damage and some eye problems for good measure. On top of that he is quite deaf, so having company is more stress than pleasure. Ergo, no dinner party. 

Nevertheless there is much to be thankful for. 

I am grateful that we live in paradise. 
The natural beauty that surrounds us is a daily source of joy. I can garden. The activity keeps me sane. Right now freezer and pantry are bulging with home grown produce. It is questionable whether the garden really saves money. But as I never cease to point out, I could have chosen bingo or golf as a hobby, and gardening is cheaper than therapy.

I am grateful we own our home, ramshackle as it may be, free and clear. We may be low income but we have no debts. We do not have to worry about being forced to move because our rented home is being sold out from under us.

I am grateful that we live in peace, in a safe society with a social safety net. Who knows how much longer that will be the case? For now it is here for us. Wonderful home support workers come in on week days to do exercises with Chris, to help him maintain strength as long as possible. I can still leave for a few hours, but respite care is available at a week's notice if I need to go out for a whole day, at a month's notice if I need a few days. We are benefiting from a new program that aims to keep seniors safely at home. We have had a bar installed in the bath and will soon have a rail by the stairs, all at minimum cost.

I am grateful my husband is not given to wandering away. This can be a real worry with dementia patients. The increasing stiffness and balance problems make a small walk down the driveway a major undertaking. No fun for him but easier on me.
I am grateful his delusions are not driving him to violence.
I am grateful he is still able to shower and dress by himself. This may change soon. We will cross that bridge when we come to it. I am grateful he is not in major pain. Perversely, because nothing can be done for Chris we do not have the stress of running around on the medical mill, going out of town to doctors. I am grateful for that. 

I am grateful I have been feeling fine and feel up to the task most of the time. If and when I will have to deal with interrupted sleep all bets are off. I cannot function on too little sleep. That is another  bridge to be crossed in time, as is the possibility of scary results from the colonoscopy booked for early November.*

I am grateful my children are thriving in Metro Vancouver and are great friends. I am grateful for social media that allow me to share a sense of their daily life without being an intrusive needy pain in the neck.

I am grateful for Dear Little Sir Echo, the Toyota. I even enjoy shifting gears again, though the fifth gear is still a challenge. I am grateful for a good honest mechanic shop where I will be not be ripped off in spite of my ignorance.

I am grateful for barter partners.
The shed around the well has been surrounded by Tyvek, the electric stuff has been checked and fixed. The sign at the base of the driveway looks great again. There is a gate in the North fence of the garden. There is delicious organically grown cherry juice in the pantry. All this in return for body work, which I love doing. 

I am grateful for electricity. Heating the place to keep emaciated spouse comfortable costs a bundle but so far we have the money. Light and heat at the flick of a switch or turn of a knob is wonderful. 

I am grateful for the internet. Life is circumscribed right now but the world comes into the house, and I get to socialise without leaving home. 

I am grateful for audio books and podcasts, which provide entertainment and education while I do kitchen work.

There is probably more, but that is it for now. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Canadians. No matter what is happening in our lives, we are fortunate to live in this country.

*Update December 1. The colonoscopy was done, and I am fine. Phew! Chris stopped daring to shower alone, but has no problem letting our wonderful Angelita help him. He still insists on doing his own laundry. We continue to take things a day at a time.

*Update spring 2017
Chris took a sharp turn for the worse after January. He started falling occasionally and frequently needed help going to the bathroom. In consultation with the visiting nurse we put him on the waiting list for extended care. I hardly ever get sick, but this winter I got a mean bronchitis, probably as a result of interrupted sleep. Chris ended up being hospitalised with pneumonia, and while he was there a bed opened up in the lovely small facility right here in our own village. It is attached to the hospital, which is more like a first aid post, really. We were so lucky. Some people wait months for a bed and may have to settle for one in a distant location. It is hard on Chris but has been a godsend for me. 








Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Back to the juicer

This is one of those boring posts I write by way of personal diary.

I said I would be back at the farmers market. I lied. I have been feeling perfectly fine some days but tired for no reason on others. The stress of living with a spouse in steep decline could explain some of it, but still. I tried some iron pills again, they seemed to perk me up. That was the clue to go for a checkup. Blood was taken and other bodily samples duly delivered to the lab. I was totally surprised to get a message I had a bladder infection, come get some antibiotics. Apart from "old lady bladder" moments of urgency I had no symptoms. However, I figured it beat a return of colon cancer, which had been my main concern. I briefly considered going all natural, then decided "let's just zap this sucker", take the drugs and use cranberry juice to prevent recurrence. Went to see the MD, and found out the FIT sample had been positive as well. 

The antibiotic, Cephalex, made me feel really miserable. After taking the antibiotic my bladder was suddenly hurting, what weirdness is that? Suggestion? Usually I barely notice the pills. Thank goodness the course was only 5 days and now it is over. I am gulping yogurt and taking a probiotic. 


So, there is internal leakage again, and another colonoscopy in my future. I will play along that far. If the internal bleeding is just a matter of a few polyps they can be fixed right there. If there is pressure to go on a course of cut, poison, burn, right now my intention is to refrain except for palliative purposes. I will happily accept the expertise of the medical system when it comes to diagnostics. I will also accept painkilling drugs, should they be necessary. I do not expect doctors to 'fix' me. 


It is up to me to change the conditions in my body/mind that returned to where they were prior to surgery in 2012. During the winter of 2016 I slacked off on the juicing, allowed dehydration to happen and indulged, though only occasionally, in cookies and the odd alcoholic drink. I sat around and gained weight. I believe more important than the lifestyle infractions was the MEH factor. I was not depressed, but not full of joy and zest for life either. Like I said, MEH.


So. Back to juicing carrots, mostly avoiding temptations, and remember to breathe. The exercise takes care of itself, garden season is here. Also, EFT. There is a puritanical streak in the natural health world that I dislike. "What! You had a beer and a burger with fries? Bang bang, you're dead!" A small part of me believes that I had a recurrence coming because I have been thumbing my nose at that. My rational self rebukes it, but EFT helps to get the message of acceptance of self through to deeper layers of consciousness. If it doesn't, it won't hurt.


I am 72. A bit young to die but not nipped in the bud either. I am not interested in seeing my remaining time, be it twenty years, twenty months, or twenty weeks made miserable by having a "war on cancer" played out in my body. 


Priorities have shifted a bit this summer. No market. Some days the energy is there, some days it is not. I will miss the money but the stress is not worth it. I am getting this place in order, doing some long postponed tidying up, in order to leave as little mess behind as possible if things end up going South faster than we hope. It is good to do that anyway. 

Today I feel great and full of energy. We shall cherish the day, make it a productive one and stop to smell the hyacinths.


Sunday, 20 March 2016

A brand new immigrant buys underwear.

Just for fun, two short tidbits about buying underwear in  my first months in Canada. People expecting titillation because of the title will be sorely disappointed.

Someone posted this image on Facebook, which is the heart of my social life these days. 
This brought back the memory of the first time I went to buy a female piece of lingerie in the spring of 1969. At the time my command of the language was fine when it came to the written word, but I still had to focus in order to listen to the radio.
I could not find the department and had to ask a saleslady. The pronunciation I used was more like the word used to describe the noise of a donkey. The saleslady passed me on to a colleague with the words: "She doesn't speak much English". Oh, the mortification. 

A few months later I used my fresh driver's license to make an epic trip through Alberta and B.C. Chris was working in the field near what is now the town of Grande Cache in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains . The town was not there yet. The way to the camp went through wilderness over rough dirt roads. The supervisor had told Chris  "If it was my wife I would tell her to stay home." He added that one certainly should not try the roads without four wheel drive, especially if it rained. 

When you are 26 three months with only one brief conjugal visit is a long time. Nobody was going to tell me when I could see my husband. I loaded the VW bug with a tent and food for a week. I was prepared to set up a distance away from the geo camp and feed myself if I had to.  The bug performed like a champ. After a sweet three day visit to the camp, on a river meadow blooming with Indian paint brush and other wild flowers, I struck out again.

I had a few weeks to kill before starting graduate school. That is another story. The plan was to cross into B.C. through the Pine Pass. The road led through the town of Dawson Creek, still East of the mountains but in B.C. It was here that the second underwear episode took place. 

Looking at the  simple white cotton briefs on the counter the sales clerk asked me: "Are these for yourself?" And I was like, HUH? Why do you need to know?? Remember, Alberta has no sales tax. It turned out the panties would be taxed if meant for my own youthful behind, but tax free for anyone under 14.
Learn something every day.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Life choices and cars.

After three wonderful years of glowing health, no money worries and good gardening life is taking a darker turn. As I am fond of saying, the Moon is not always full, the tide not always in. I had the good sense to thoroughly enjoy the bright time just passed, and it is only fair we get our share of the darker aspects of the human condition. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

I am oh-so slowly learning to only tell my own story, so details about other people are minimal. Let us just say that age is biting the spouse hard, which is not unfair in someone's eightieth year. A few years ago I wrote a blog about labour divisions in the empty nest. 
http://freegreenliving.blogspot.ca/2011/12/you-hunt-i-gather-division-of-labour-in.html
Put it this way: these days I have to do the hunting as well as the gathering, and it is taking some adjusting.

In some ways ways I have been a spoilt rural woman.  I have been quite happy letting Old Dutch look after snow removal, the water system, the car and the electricity bills.
Now that it is up to me there were some tough decisions to make, and I spent the winter in a fog of indecision. Cars played a large role in various dilemmas.

The cherished 1995 Subaru Legacy has given us almost 9 years of loyal service. It had enjoyed a sheltered life in it's youth. When we got it it was 12 years old but only had 75.000 km on it, and was in perfect shape. I loved that car.
It is now a special needs car. Parts are getting hard to find. This posed serious dilemmas. Pay for repairs to eke another year out of it? Replace it? Go car free? 
If we lived in the village I would do the latter in a heartbeat. Dilemma, dilemma.  On short dark winter days when energy is low the car free option was quite appealing. The things eat money. Just hunker down and stay home. We could use the bus when it is available and help my best friend maintain her car in return for occasional transport.

It is not just about cars. It is about life being open with possibilities and professional development or giving up and letting old age close us in. With the dear old lady on her last rusty legs, or wheels rather,  I have been limiting trips into the village to once, at most twice a week. Apart from being hesitant to venture into traffic I did not dare to take it much farther afield in case it would give up the ghost far from home.
Without my own car I cannot attend the farmers' market as a vendor or make home visits.

I had been wondering if I should go to market or not, if I should invest in new gift certificates and brochures, do some publicity, some more learning, or just stop and retire from being a reflexologist. Instead of working to earn extra income and start driving out of town more I could just stay home and focus on being (even more) frugal.
I am happy to report the die has been cast in the direction of opening to possibilities.

Behold the perfect for me car! It is a 2004 Toyota Echo.
I used to be quite hung up on on needing four wheel drive and loved the Subarus. But then I remembered something. If the roads are so bad that 4wd is a must I have the option to stay home, duh!

I first heard about the Echo when a reflex client/friend showed up with one. In spite of not having four wheel drive it made it up our driveway every time, through mud or snow.  I loved the compact size and super fuel economy.  I had barely started investigating when I saw the classified ad for this car at a price I could afford. Called the number right away, left a message with the male voice on the machine. Who should call back but my old friend, who I had not seen since she retired and moved away. It is her car! It has been impeccably maintained by its only owner. 

I went online to check the average life span of an Echo. The answer: not known yet. If looked after properly they keep on trucking well past 400.000 km.

Now I will have to focus on getting some work in order to pay for it. That takes care of one dilemma. Market, here I come! Best of all I will be free to make some fun trips without breaking the bank or worrying about getting stranded. There are some fabulous nurseries in the Slocan Valley. Who knows, with practice I might start driving in cities again. Vancouver is a stretch but one can dream, and practice.

Here is a toast to open doors.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Local dilemmas.

Open letter to Mayor and Council of Nakusp



Dear Mayor and council,

Quite frankly, what with a bad economy, climate change, wars, refugees and so on, the plight of the Western Toad has not been high on my agenda. 

When I received a call to please support the fight to save the wee beasties' habitat the cynical voice of George Carlin popped into my mind. "Save the whales! Save those snails!" Believe it or not, but my first words in reply were: "Nakusp loggers are an endangered species too." I have been in this area a while. The inner redneck has been growing at the expense of the original semi hippie. 

I promised the caller I would do my bit after listening to a radio interview and reading the newspaper. The interview did not portray us as badly as I had expected, and the Valley Voice gave me the impression that NacFor had done a lot of due diligence. I left it at that.

HOWEVER!

Publicity is mounting. Both CBC radio and the Vancouver Sun are going on about the issue. This is bad publicity a tourist area can hardly afford. I understand the proposed logging will only provide work for a few weeks. A well organized and publicized Toad Fest on the other hand could provide a much needed stimulus to the tourism industry, which is a mainstay of our economy these days. I also understand the studies undertaken concern hibernation of the adult toad, while the habitat is critical for the little ones.

Nobody is calling for an end to logging per se. The industry has come a long way since the days of massive clearcuts. The area in question is relatively small. Does it really make sense to spend tax money on culverts underneath the highway and then log the place that culvert is going to? Shame on the provincial government for not letting its right hand know what its left hand is doing.

As local council you are in a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" position with political fallout no matter what. I hope you can find it in yourself to take the long view. Think of a century from now. On one side of the scale, a few weeks worth of work that could be found somewhere else. On the other side, another endangered part of the great web of life that sustains us all.

With the greatest respect for our hard working people in the woods, it looks like a rethink of this one particular job makes more sense than "Damn the toads, full speed ahead". 
I look forward to an expansion of Summit Lake park, a future Toad Fest to rival the garlic one, AND a thriving locally owned forestry industry. One can dream.

Ien van Houten
Nakusp

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Two love stories

A post for Valentine's day, different from my usual more cynical input.

One of the perks of being a Home Support Worker was learning the life stories of fascinating people. These two love stories really happened. The protagonists of the first one are long gone and there are no close relatives. I am pretty sure "Felix" would love to be so remembered. The second story is shared with permission of son and daughter in law. Even so I feel more comfortable not using real names.
Hearing these stories was a true privilege.

The first time I met Felix his beloved wife had just died and he was a lost soul. A soft spoken gentleman who loved nature and books he lived in a tiny airstream trailer in a beautiful spot by a small lake. The kind neighbour who owned the property kept an eye on him. I was sent in to help with basic housecleaning and some meal preparation. We quickly developed a routine of getting the chores done so we could get to the important part: Twinings Earl Grey brewed properly by Felix in a Brown Betty pot, to be enjoyed with Peak Frean biscuits and serious chat. 

Felix' start in life had taken place in Victoria, B.C. in 1910 or 11. He remembered being devastated by the death of his mother when he was 9 years old. The little boy and his mother were both sick with the Spanish flu and were being nursed in the same bed. He lived, she died. 
Felix was doing some kind of clerical work when he met "Annie". She healed the loneliness he had felt ever since his mother's death. Annie must have been something special. Not long into their relationship she informed her suitor that she did not intend to become a housewife or have children. What she wanted to do was "mess about with boats." So they did!

Somehow this city couple managed to transform themselves into fisher folk. They spent most of their working life living on their own boat on the glorious coast of B.C. To get an idea of their life on board read "Fishing with John" by Edith Iglauer. John had been a friend.  After retirement they enjoyed some blissful years in the airstream trailer by the lake. Compared to the ship it was spacious! They lived simply, not needing much  beyond the natural beauty, the neighbours and each other. A highlight was the weekly trip to our wonderful local library. When Annie lay dying she took her husband's hand and said "It's been a great adventure".

 "Paul" and I shared a home town. He had moved to Canada from Amsterdam as a young man in 1929, forty years before we did. His sisters sang in the Amsterdam branch of the same choir that had played a role in my grandparents life. Most of our conversations took place in English, but once in a while we'd share some Dutch. A particular pleasure was inventing phrases consisting of the most unpronounceable Dutch words. Dutch speakers can find them in the footnote.

The routine we adopted was getting the noisy vacuum cleaning out of the way first, so Paul could put on music while the rest of the cleaning got done. We both loved Edith Piaf, and Paul taught me to appreciate American musicals. I always think of him when I hear a song from Oklahoma. Somewhere between music and Dutch jokes his love story got shared. It is romantic enough for a Valentine's day post.

When young Paul told his father that he wanted to emigrate to Canada to become a farmer his father wisely suggested that he should work on a Dutch farm first. Take the time to see if the life style really agreed with him. Paul duly spent a year on a farm in the Eastern part of the country. You guessed it, there was a farmer's daughter. Several in fact, but Paul became most friendly with the one who was only 12 at the time. Let's call her Maggie. After Paul moved to Canada they wrote back and forth for some years. When Maggie turned 16 Paul broke off the correspondence. He enjoyed the contact but he worried about it "not being fair to her". Those were his words, decades later. He did not want her to miss chances to meet available boys. Some years passed, tough depression times. Enter WWII. Paul, still single, joined the Canadian army and was part of the liberation of his native land. He was even billeted with his own father at the end. On a whim he decided to go visit the farm where he had lived before he emigrated. And there was Maggie, still unmarried! She had cried for months after Paul stopped writing and never found anyone who she liked as much. The rest is history. One more war bride! 

Footnote. Say can you say:
Door de schuifdeur van de bijkeuken van het grachtenhuis dreef de geur van groene gaargekookte spruitjes.
Van teveel scheepsbeschuit krijgt men scheurbuik.
Door de verschijning van de politie was de schurk verschrikkelijk geschrokken.

Friday, 22 January 2016

My seventies show. Christina Lake, part 2 We buy land!

Warning. I am writing this for my own pleasure, not for publication. I never took many pictures back then. Much of what I did take was destroyed by moisture and mice in the attic of the old house. This will be the verbal equivalent of filling an album with snapshots. I will shamelessly indulge in as much detail as I remember, which may be boring. Links can provide illustrations. 

The start is here. 
http://freegreenliving.blogspot.ca/2015/12/my-seventies-show-christina-lake-part-1.html

Going for a walk in a landscape designed for the car often leaves few options. In Christina Lake the choice was Highway 3 or take Fife road uphill and see where it goes. Fife road climbs steeply uphill to a lovely little plateau with some farm houses and fantastic views. One day, in an ambitious mood, I crossed the plateau and continued past the railroad crossing. The road meanders into the hills, and at some point took me to a small old house where people were hanging out in the yard. The same kind of people that we had met at PX ranch. How did we end up visiting? What follows is my memory, which may be faulty. Carol Nye and Roy Leon, please comment with your version!?

Most likely I waved, they waved back or the other way around and I sort of barged in. I don't remember. I do remember we were invited to dinner and went. The house did not have electricity or running water. Cooking was done by wood stove, water was carried up from the creek. The space was divided by hanging sheets to provide extra privacy for the 2 families who shared it. I could not imagine living in it. They were renting the house and acreage for almost nothing, mainly the cost of property taxes. This place was a stop off point. They were planning to stay near civilization, earn some money, and eventually buy a place in the promised land: the area way up North near Telegraph Creek, where they wanted to live without money. Why there?  It would be far enough away from the main madness when the inevitable collapse hit. The region is beautiful but harsh climate wise. Years  later I met someone who had just left Telegraph Creek after twenty years as a homesteader and market gardener. He had loved it and only left because the grown children had all moved South. It turns out there is a valley in the rain shadow of the Coast Mountains that is like an oasis, lots more sun than Dease Lake, good growing conditions. Fascinating.

Anyway......the very next day the younger of the two women showed up at my doorstep, complete with fat baby boy, in tears, asking for sanctuary, which was provided. We had an extra room in the basement. It turns out she was not quite prepared to see the official house policy of free love acted out in reality by her husband. Things got patched up and I don't even remember the girl's name. Roy and Carol on the other hand became close friends and we are still in touch. 

This was the second bug placed in my ear about buying land.
The first one had come when I picked up a hitchhiker during a three week solo car journey the previous summer, that will have its own blog some time.  I picked him up somewhere outside of Vancouver. We were both enroute to Calgary.
By the way, I was incredibly naive. It never occurred to me that offering to take him all the way back and share the accommodation of my tent might be misconstrued in some way. I thought all I had to do was state clearly that I was married and that my geologist husband was in the field to be totally safe. And so I was. Not the slightest whiff of assault anywhere, just pleasant companionship for three days.
Anyway....the young man was an Anglophone from Montreal who had come out West to look at buying cheap B.C. land.
It was a revelation to me that most of the immense nature we looked at was in some way spoken for. It had never occurred to me. I thought it was all just there. On the way to Calgary we stopped in Revelstoke so the young man could look at maps and available crown land. Then I thought no more of it. 

Just like in fairy tales the nudges came in three. The third one was an article in McLeans Magazine, late summer of 1970. It went on about how Americans, or rather USA citizens, were buying up recreational land in Canada, especially B.C. I even wrote a short a letter to the editor which was published. It stated that I was more worried about being fenced out of public land than about who owned the fence. Please, make sure we have enough public parks and beaches!
That was it. I was in no hurry to start homesteading, but somehow I became obsessed with the notion that we should buy a piece of land in B.C. before it became impossible. 

We used the Thanksgiving weekend of 1970 to drive a loop through the Kootenays, up through the Slocan Valley, through Nakusp, North along Arrow Lake and East past Trout Lake, down along Kootenay Lake. Along the way we noted For Sale signs of acreages. We had no money saved up for this, just Chris' good job. I went to the bank in Grand Forks to inquire into loans. All I wanted was information, but the manager insisted he wanted to talk to my husband. We've come a long way, baby. To make a long story short, our limit was $5000. I called the realtors about parcels we had seen and most of them were beyond our reach. Small parcels came with a house, which we did not need, and raw land mainly came in large chunks like 80 acres.

But Oli Bokis in Nakusp mentioned one small acreage that was only $3500, the price our Calgary friends paid that year for a new Volvo. It was ten acres, no house, no utilities, mainly cleared, just an abandoned field on a dirt road off a dirt road a few miles out of the village. We went and took a look. The place was more or less South facing,  sloping with flatter benches. The South side of the square opened to a large field, on the other three sides there was Crown land, just woods. The place had a wonderful sense of space and peace, and yet was close to the village. If we absolutely had to we could walk to work, a bit over an hour downhill, longer back home uphill. 

We were told honestly that the land was no good for farming, and water could be a problem on this ridge. Chris had taken a course in hydro geology. He borrowed an auger and drilled a hole in the field below us to see where the water table was. This was fall, after a dry season, as good a time to check as any. He concluded it should be possible to dig a shallow well at the bottom of the land. 

The rest, as they say, is history.



Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My seventies show. Christina Lake, part 1

Warning. I am writing this for my own pleasure, not for publication. I never took many pictures back then. Much of what I did take was destroyed by moisture and mice in the attic of the old house. This will be the verbal equivalent of filling an album with snapshots. I will shamelessly indulge in as much detail as I remember, which may be boring. Links can provide illustrations.

Here goes.

After a nine months prequel in Calgary our true Canadian life started when Chris got a geology job in Grand Forks, B.C. They were investigating if the historic copper mine of Phoenix still had some life left in it. 

He started in January 1970. As mentioned in the very first post in this blog, I got dragged away from the city under protest. The move to the Kootenays is one of the best things to ever happen to me. I am leery of all this goal setting stuff, let alone New Age manifesting. The best things in my life happened in spite of my plans, not because of them. 

The first view of Grand Forks had been in the late December dusk, on our way back from the trip to Vancouver where the job search had taken us. There had not been much snow yet. Everything looked grey and dingey. I did not look forward to the permanent move. That all changed the first weekend I took the bus out from Calgary. Chris had found a house to rent in the community of Christina Lake, 22km to the East. A good snow had made everything look spic and span. I loved it! In early April the courses I was taking at the University of Calgary were finished and I drove the fifties' VW Bug through the Crow's Nest Pass to my new life as a country dweller. I have been one ever since.
1970 was a wonderful summer. We lived mainly in sunshine, surrounded by natural beauty among sweet smelling ponderosa pines. I made some stabs at starting an M.A. thesis but had a clean conscience about not working for pay. Hey, we were in the sticks because of his job, O.K.? We had no money worries and enjoyed exploring the surroundings on weekends. On week days I could just walk to the beach in front of the old hotel, a few blocks from home. It was so quiet back then! I used to get seriously irritated by the sound of a single motor boat, hard to imagine in these days of the infernal jet ski. 
This picture  must have been taken in that summer. The VW bug died on a trip over the Santa Rosa road on my birthday.

Our neighbours at the base of Fife road happened to be Dutch. Of course we  became friends. Jos and Coby came from a small town/rural background. Jos was a carpenter by trade and was building his own house. It is now a stuccoed two story mansion, unrecognizable.  At the time they were living in the downstairs, a big square box with tar paper and raw plywood still visible on the outside. There was no yard yet. The outside was a level sea of gravel, with the exception of raised bed vegetable plots bordered by logs. Koby was a Maker. Apart from having produced two beautiful small children she sewed her own clothes, grew food, canned it and made wine. These days young women doing the same activities make a big fuss and write blogs about it. Coby was 13 years  younger than Jos, petite and lovely. My favorite memory picture of her is this. We are hanging out with a smoke in a summer evening on the logs that bordered the square vegetable patch in the front yard. The kids are in bed and Coby is wearing her lounge for the evening outfit: a sleeveless, bell bottomed wine red jumpsuit with a square neckline that she had sown herself. It beautifully set off her delicate creamy skin. She was years ahead of her time in staying out of the sun.

All these DIY activities were new to me. With their encouragement I hacked away at the neglected garden plot under the trees in our yard. I started too late, had no good soil and too much shade but by golly I produced a few meals worth of snap beans! I was hooked. This was the start of a lifelong passion. I still think of Jos and Coby every time I order my seeds from William Dam, a firm they introduced me to because "they sell kale seeds". This was long before kale, a traditional Dutch and Scottish winter food, gained cult status among hipsters. 

We got our first whiff of the back to the land counterculture that spring. 
On April 26, on the way back from a Saturday trip to Nelson, we were surprised by a late snowstorm. I made a mental weather note about the date. When we spied two guys with backpacks  on the long slope leading out of Castlegar to the Paulson pass it was a natural thing to pick them up and put them up for the night. We fed them brown rice, stir fried vegs and juicy steaks. They were most impressed by the rice and veg part, saying it was just like being home in the commune. They invited us to visit the PX ranch, so we could see how they lived. 

Silly straight people that we were, we took them at their word and used the May long weekend to travel 5 or 6 hours to the PX ranch near Ashcroft. Our two guys were not there, but after some awkwardness we were invited to stay for a meal and overnight anyway. Did we bring a tent? All I remember for sure is a communal dinner that included the inevitable brown rice and dandelion sprouts that some girls were very excited about. They had walked behind the guys roto tilling a garden plot and "gleaned" them. Their word. It seemed a bit over the top. At some point a girl wearing the countercultural uniform of long hair, long skirts, plaid shirt  and sturdy boots arrived to ecstatic welcoming hugs. She and her backpack had hitchhiked solo from somewhere far away, California? Later, a visit in a dimly lit smaller cabin talking with draft dodgers and deserters from the Vietnam war. In some ways these people were more our intellectual kin than anyone else we had met so far. Anti Vietnam war, aware of the dangers of pollution and so on. 

All through the sixties I had become increasingly concerned with the direction the world was taking. The Dutch geology crowd we met in our first months in Calgary was a lot more conservative. I was about to meet the people who would indirectly change my life, but it will wait till the next post.