Last month, I moved. From a 14-year sojourn in a house in the city of Ottawa, Ontario, with a large vegetable garden, mature trees, and friendly neighbours, within walking distance of shopping centres, bars, and the library, from this place that had always treated me well but always felt too jangled for my soul, my spouse and I packed cats and belongings to install ourselves on a two-acre wooded plot an hour west of downtown, outside the small Ontario town of Almonte, in rocky, farm-strewn Lanark county.
Let’s be clear. I am not a farmer nor a back-to-the-land-er. I am a city-bred, wireless-loving, grocery-store dependent woman, who knows how to grow almost every vegetable for my own freezer but is ignorant of – or at least shielded from – the hard work and hard choices that go into raising animals, growing crops, and making a living on the land. I’m a tree hugger and plant singer, toad minder and deer talker, rock thanker and grass patter, and I will be slightly out of step wherever I live. But I am not afraid of the dark, or of solitude. I am not afraid of the woods, or the wind. And I am deeply relieved to be away from the asphalt and cement, and to find, surrounded by the world, the softer, fuller breaths that lie in my depths.
All my life, I’ve lived in small cities, with their buses, bustle, and myriad choices for entertainment, employment, and shopping. But all my life, it’s been on visits to my grandparents’ dirt-road rural summer home in Clifton, Virginia, or at the ocean on Prince Edward Island or Virginia Beach, or standing against the sea air at the rocky coasts of Tofino and Gabriola Island in British Columbia, that I have felt like my real self. Camping on school canoe trips in Algonquin Park, canoeing in Temagami, hiking outside Banff… this is when and where I have felt in step with the world’s music.
My new landscape does not have everything. It does not have ocean or mountains. It is pastoral, settled, mostly on the grid, thoroughly – although sparsely, compared to town – inhabited by humans. I do not have, and do not plan to have – although I would if this were 20 years ago – the care of cows, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, and chickens. What I do have is trees, rolling countryside, rocky outcrops, barely visible neighbours, animals – both farm and free – living all around and sometimes spotted by me, and an independent, inter-dependent, community ethos that feels like a meal I’ve been missing.
Video: Three deer, June 2015
This is only the beginning. I don’t yet know how different my experience may be here outside town, with regular visits from deer and with sheep grazing next door. Already, I feel a change in myself as I sniff the breeze, as it awakens in me the possibility of a greater awareness and a greater appreciation of what I have mostly thought of as ‘nature’ but now realize is simply ‘the world’, living its own life. It’s a return to an earlier state in me, when, as a child, I knew that I was part of a fabric whose weave included all of existence.
When I mow the lawn with my battery mower, I keep my eyes sharp so as not to run over tiny toads. When I drive to my job, in the city, I watch closely for rabbits, chipmunks, and deer bounding across the road… or turtles, who in no way bound and are thus so vulnerable to rushing traffic. At night, I go to sleep in the dark, with a backdrop noise of frogs and distant coyotes; occasionally I’m awakened by the dream-jarring screech of hunter or prey, twisting abruptly through the night. When I dig in the garden, I can wear something resembling pyjamas, with no one but the next-door sheep to cast an eye my way. When I need a boost or a tool or a hand with a tiller or a dozen eggs, or a jar of honey, I call a neighbour, and assistance is rendered. When I stride downtown in my rubber boots, I feel right in step with myself.
Some of this is not much different from life in the city. There is loud machinery, as the land is worked and buildings are put up. There are dead animals along the road, hit by fast-moving cars. In a few years, I will need to clean my septic system, paint my house, repair the porch. I have friends along the road. There is a library in town. And people are people: kind, helpful, honest, private, industrious, or not.
But who am I? How will I be shaped by the unceasing green and rolling vistas, shaped by the world that I encounter each morning?
Audio: Waking to the world
Importantly, how will my writing reflect the change? I’ve taken a hiatus from the blog and for a short time will be posting here less frequently, as I plant new seeds and harvest a new creative vision. I aim to offer a richer harvest, as I wake up to the world.