I think my daughter was 12 and my son was 15. My contract with the Provincial government was over and I was feeling free and footloose. Felt like traveling.
I rationalized that the kids were at that age where they were going to be making most of their own decisions soon and I wanted them to have some perspective from which to make them. So Sal and I decided to take them out of school and drive across Canada, go to Europe for a month or so and then drive back across the United States. It was 1998. I was 50.
On our way back and, as we approached the junction with Interstate 5 somewhere around Bellingham, I realized that I had no desire to go home. “Ya know………….it is just as easy for me to turn left at Bellingham rather than turn right. We could go to Mexico and kill a few months driving around down there. Waddya all think?”
“What!! What kind of irresponsible parent are you? We’re just kids, for Gawds sake! We have school to go to. Lives to lead. Classes to attend. We gotta get an education. Stop already with the hippy thing, dad! And get us home!”
So, I turned right and wondered who their real father was. But Sal made me feel much better by assuring me that she was 100% sure that they were hers and that that should be good enough. And so we returned to the cul-de-sac. Physically, anyway.
I had left my heart somewhere on the road. I just couldn’t ‘plug back in’. Not like I had before. I worked, of course. Had to. I made money like a good husband. I was a responsible parent. And I didn’t buy a red sports car and try to find a secretary. But, despite the adherence to normal suburban behaviour, my mind started to wander. I was looking for something. I had no idea what.
The only hint I had was a bit of nostalgia for the 60’s. It wasn’t that I was much of a hippy back then. I wasn’t. I liked to play sports. Didn’t do drugs. And I didn’t smoke. Not anything. And I wasn’t inclined to live communally either. Well, better put, no community-of-free-love wanted me. Same thing. Still, there was something idealistic about the hippy era that still appealed to me. There was something good and healthy and interesting about it all. Back to the land?
I found my old Whole Earth catalogue.
Then I discovered the Mother Earth News forum on the internet. Back in the old days – around the year 2000 – it was a really good forum. Lots of daily writers, lots of give-and-take, lots of people talking and writing about living off the grid. I was hooked.
And that is where it all started. At step four.
Step one had to be the somewhat nomadic existence I had always lived. My upbringing and my early adult years were always changing and, in a way, were a preparation for developing a lifetime attitude of becoming comfortable with change. Had to be – there was lots of it. So, step one was being groomed to expect and to want change in my life.
Step two was stone-cold bloody LUCK. It was like winning the lottery. I got into some kind of hormonal-like frenzy when I was around 25 about needing to buy a piece of land. Since I had no money, I borrowed all that I could and went as far as I had to go so as to afford a piece of dirt. Any dirt. I found acreage on a remote island up the coast and bought it. How crazy is that? I didn’t even like dirt. And I hated bugs. But I bought it anyway. And then put it out of my mind for the next 25 years.
This was not, at the time, a rational thing to do by any definition.
Step three was mentally drifting out of the rat race and the cul-de-sac. Step three started at the Bellingham junction. Honestly? I think a lot of people would feel step three if they got off the merry-go-round long enough to feel. We had been gone almost four months. It takes awhile for the numbness from the daily grind to subside.
Did you know a lot of big law firms won’t allow lengthy leave-of-absences for young lawyers because they found that once they get off the tracks, they wouldn’t get back on?
Anyway, step four was when I started daydreaming seriously. Imagining. Reading. Learning. Buying junk from salvage yards for no particular purpose. Getting into alternative energy. Learning about construction. Buying tools. From about the year 2000 til we left in 2004, I found myself spending every free moment thinking about and preparing to live off the grid. Step four looked like the beginning. It was step four.
I can’t explain any of that anyway. Gail Sheehan wrote in PASSAGES that everyone continues to go through phases as they live their lives. Maybe it is just a phase? The world was learning about pollution, Globalization, Monsanto, Bush politics, Big Oil and various other major institutions in decay around the time I was tapping into Mother Earth News…………maybe it was just a timing thing? Maybe it was just a fear thing? Fight or flight? And I was choosing flight?
Maybe it was the time when Sal and I went up to see our land of ‘rocks and Christmas trees’ one summer and it all struck me as being so incredibly beautiful?
I really don’t know how it happened. But it did. There was no plan. Not really. But, after turning 50, there was a definite wandering in a certain direction. Actions were taken. Decisions were made. Things were put in place. We made it happen. Somehow. But, honestly, we were not in control. There was some kind of gentle influence nudging, guiding and helping us along.
We got here with a lot of mysterious help.
C’mon?! That is kinda weird, don’t you think?