GUMBOOT GIRLS (Caitlin Press 2014) is about the ‘second generation’ of ‘landers’ from the 70’s. Hippy chicks. First generation would be the original fisher and logger wives of several decades earlier and, of course, there were the ‘originals’, the First Nations women, for thousands of years before that. Sal is third gen. Kinda. Mostly.
Sally is the same age as the second gen women but she just doesn’t have the roots, the scars, the skills, the long history to be truly a back-to-the-lander, hippy-chick. Sal was urban until her early fifties. Cosmo. Vanity Fair. Even though she has all the right stuff and attitude, she is a veritable Newbie amongst the many long-experienced, true Amazons of the wild west coast.
Mind you, those ‘GUMBOOT GIRLS’ in the book were further up north as well. Life was and still is harder up there and it must have been especially difficult at times in Haida Gwaai and the nearest mainland area from which these stories were forged. These women went back to the land in the seventies when services, amenities, housing, money and even safety was in short supply. They did good to make a go of being off the grid when the nearest grid was still hundreds of miles away. And many had to do it alone.
GUMBOOT GIRLS is a good read. But it is also truly descriptive. It is accurate. It gives the right sense of living off the grid. Our lives are not as hard and never will be as hard as the GG’s had it but we do face similar basic challenges and there is often some kind of commonality in their stories for us. We can relate.
And that brings me to the point: I am not so sure I can honestly relate to First Nations. Too foreign an experience for me to relate to. Too primal. And the early settlers were also such a hardy and impoverished group working ten times harder just to survive – I don’t really relate to them, either. Too tough. But I know the GUMBOOT GIRLS. Some still live amongst us. Many still live around the remote nooks and crannies of the wild and rural-side of the province. These are the new Cougar Annies’. And we know some of them.
Essentially, they are the hippy-chicks of the seventies but the qualifying essential is longevity. Duration. Stick-to-itiveness. These are not just the young beauties of the free love era who arrived in long, thin cotton dresses with flowers in their hair that were somewhat ubiquitous at the time. These are the ones that stayed, partnered up, built boats, found employment, constructed homes and gardens. And they raised families as well. These are the women who didn’t have electricity or running water, who also gave birth sometimes in tents and small cabins and who learned to fix motors and survive off the land (to a large degree) or else they would perish. These are the third iteration of rural women and they did good.
They still are doing good. Sal and I did a quick tally this morning and came up with twelve names of nearby neighbours who qualify as 70’s back-to-the-landers who are still here, doing great and are real role models for anyone wanting to see strong, independent, accomplished women who can virtually do anything.
Talkin’ ’bout Sal’s generation…? The Sally-come-lately’s? The ‘other’ members of the book-club? Well, she and some of the others just-as-old but-not-as-tested, recently-arrived women have more than enough to deal with transitioning from urban life to off-the-grid living. They work hard too. They are not slouches. Their work is not as hard but these women started at a later stage. Mind you, the children are grown. So, it is still a challenge – just in a different way.
And there is a next generation in the making as well. Some are children of the GUMBOOT GIRLS and they have embraced this way of life with the same gusto. Some GG children have married other GG children. Others went fishin’ in the urban gene pool – promising to come back. We have young women with young men trucking families and tools and a sense of adventure to remote places for work and even sometimes just for the adventure. And we have WOOFER’s. The spirit of discovery and adventure in the wilderness is alive and well, to be sure.
A full-time partner makes it easier, too, in either generation. Having enough money to buy the food you need makes it a helluva lot easier.
But something as modern and simple as cell-phone service or Netflix illustrates the real difference. There has been a technological leap. We have it much, much easier than the GUMBOOT GIRLS but we also are just close enough to know what they went through and to have great respect for it.
GUMBOOT GIRLS. A good read about a great way of life.