I awake in the morning before the sun at 6am when the sky is still dark blue and the bright moon shines into my bedroom window. When I make breakfast and bring my two year old downstairs, the sun is rising through the kitchen windows, touching the monochrome grey world with golden yellow light and then a flood of bright colour erupts over the snow covered landscape. After the wee man is changed and fed and happy I clean the ashes out of the wood cook stove and dump them outside in the ash bin and then light a fire –streaking my forearms with black soot every time. I make tea, I wash dishes, and I play with my son in the early morning hours. I’ve been a single parent since December and am still trying to get the hang of juggling all the things. Sometimes for a change of scene me and the kid walk over to my friend’s cafe for tea and breakfast and to chat up the locals before the work day starts.
Mostly though, I usually wake up to being snowed in and having to dig myself out again so I can get out of the house and into town, so my employees can park in my driveway, and so I can get to the garage and wood shed. Alex and Errol can only come into work after they dig themselves out too. My snow blower was awesome until it stopped working and I was left with drifts of 2-5 feet of snow to clear out. It amuses me greatly that when New York and New Jersey got hit with a big snow storm, it was all over the news and social media. We get a nasty snow storm here almost every week and the world cares not –neither do the townsfolk. They know the snow is coming and they bring in extra firewood, buy their groceries, and hide inside until the snow stops. You shovel your driveway only after the plows have gone by, or your driveway will simply be blocked again by a mountain of snow from the road.
Some older houses in town have bad insulation and poor heating. I feel really lucky that I have a furnace and a wood stove. Visitors always comment on how warm and cozy my little house is. I’m glad I have the furnace as back up. If you only have fire and your fire goes out, your pipes freeze and burst. Errol says he feels like Cinderella because he’s bound to his fire, but he can pack it with wood and forget about it until sunset and it will still be burning. My wood cook stove is vintage from the 1950s and full of holes, letting in air and burning up all the wood every hour, making it inefficient and needing to be replaced before next winter. I feel like Seymour constantly feeding Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors. “Feed me Seymour, feed me!”
When late morning comes, my forager and shop assistant Alex walks over from his place just up the street and my shipper Errol drives in from his tiny house on Morning Glory Farm. Alex starts processing herbs and making herbal products for the shop and Errol starts to print invoices and work on shipping out orders. I cook brunch for us while chasing the toddler around and out of the kitchen. He is constantly trying to get into everything right now –climbing and grabbing at everything and giggling and running away… A troublesome blend of extreme cuteness and endless mischief.
He goes down for a nap after we eat. The silence is beautiful, but we fill it with conversation and music; blues, folk, hip hop, rap, electronic… I lend a hand and try to get as much work done as possible while the little man sleeps, helping with shipping, labelling, inventory, photos, or answering emails.
We three are kindred spirits, of a similar age and mindset, and new to town. If you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while you know I give everyone nicknames. Alex is The Greenman (aka The Forest Spirit) and Errol is The Psychonaut. We’ve all been classified as hippies by the locals. And we are. Anti-capitalist communist hippies of a discordian anarchist persuasion who look forward to the inevitable fall of civilization… but you know with goals of brotherly love, environmental awareness, and self-sufficiency. We each moved to Killaloe to get away from the city and the currently unrealistic life that is expected of our generation: go to school, get a degree, get a job, get married, buy a house and cars, have kids, and retire happily ever after. What do you do when you can’t afford school or hated it, can never afford a house in a city, your marriage only leads to unhappiness, and you can’t get a job or can only get one that sucks away your soul?
Errol left engineering school for the military and has now just left his position as an army medic after seven years to become a nomad with his tiny house on wheels. Alex left the city and his job as a prison guard to become a forager travelling between Ontario and Quebec. I left library school a few years ago to run my own business and more recently left Vancouver to be a herbalist in rural Ontario. And here we are. We sit at my kitchen table and dream of spring and of foraging and homesteading. I need lumber, guns, and honey bees for the spring. We want to grow edible and medicinal mushrooms in a shed in the yard, learn to hunt deer, keep honey bees, go on foraging trips… to be wild and rewild. How cool is it that our team building exercises for work are plant journeys, drum circles, product testing, and will soon be foraging trips, camping, hiking, canoeing, and hopefully paintball. There are farmers’ markets, workshops, the Killaloe Herb Gathering, and Raven’s Knoll events to get involved with… I have a good feeling about this year.
Serendipity has been a recurring theme for me since moving to this small town. What I’ve needed, I’ve been provided with in short order. I needed help with the shop and found Alex and Errol simply by running into the right people at the right time. It’s just icing on the cake that we all have skills the others lack and want to learn from each other. I will share my knowledge of plant and tree identification, foraging, herbalism, gardening, permaculture, and butchery. Alex has experience with honey bees, is our resident forager and mushroom expert, and is apprenticing to learn how to do everything I can do as a herbalist.
Errol is a retired army medic and Alex is a former army cadet so they will teach me to shoot, though they are both partial to crossbows. Errol just built his tiny house on wheels last year and will likely help us build the mushroom shed and maybe a smokehouse or two… Once upon a time I used to be a professional cook, particularly skilled in butchery. My parents are planning on getting more pigs on their farm this year so I can teach us all how to ethically slaughter and butcher them in an area that is full of livestock farmers and hunters, but surprisingly few abatoires and small scale butchers.
Yes, we’re dreaming big. Because why not? And then why not actually do all these things when spring and summer come? We aren’t the only ones with wild stars in our eyes. There are many young people in the area doing their best to rewild, live off-grid, homestead, or just enjoy sleepy small town life. It is quite the contrast to see many local youths eager to leave this small town for the city, while at the same time, young people disenchanted by the city are moving here on purpose to live a more rural, practical life with a focus on tight-nit community. Part of me believes it has always been this way since we started to congregate in cities at the dawn of civilization.
We talk about these things and and so much more from science to the realm of the absurd. And then the kid wakes up and I finish my work and go get him. I play with him in the living room or take him outside if the weather and the snow cooperate while the guys finish their work for the day. Sometimes I cook dinner and we hang out, sometimes they head home. Tuesday nights are for potluck and Friday nights are pizza night at Garth’s Cafe. I’ve started hosting a trance drum circle at my house twice a month. There’s a winter farmers’ market and then a dj and dancing at the Lion’s Hall once a month for kicks. Winter seems endless sometimes, but keeping socially active makes it not only bearable, but wonderful.
The sun sets in a glorious wash of pink outside my large living room windows and then the world darkens to monochrome blue grey again and the town becomes eerily silent. The little man goes to bed for the night, I finish up any work that needs to be done, clean up, put away laundry, take out the compost, bring in firewood in the snow, shovel snow, and then usually fall asleep myself.