I live where the cities should be

As regular readers know (all 6 of you), I have branched out recently to vent, rant and comment on what I see as colossal social urban and cultural malaise or dysfunction in well, just about everything. I have even alluded to a personal tendency towards conspiracy theories.

There is the distinct possibility that I may be getting weird.

That’s kinda good for my spleen and other internal systems feeling choked and stressed (probably caused just by having to drive so much in city traffic these days) but it is not overly interesting in the long run nor is it particularly helpful to others.  I can’t really apologize (and still be honest about it) but, once again, I am going to try to put some limits on it. I am going back to OTG issues.

OTG living is about independence, nature and skill building. If you have a partner, it is also about personal relationships and, if you have any kind of community, it also emphasizes traditional relationships with neighbours and any people nearby.  And therein lies the first irony – people are the real grid.  More people = less off-the-grid.

A few hundred years ago some independent, skilled and adventurous people struck out to live in an OTG kind of way in the new world.  They came from Europe’s cities. They went forth in North America and found fertile soil and clean water and, perhaps, fruitful forests from which to carve out an existence.  They were OTG but they went for the easiest-to-homestead places first.  And that observation was not lost on others.  Pretty soon our OTG forefathers had neighbours and then they had villages and eventually cities evolved. In other words: where the cities are is where the best OTG places are (or were).

Almost by definition, living OTG today is usually far away from the cities and the best climates, soils and conditions to serve the lifestyle.  At least in any popular way.  Living OTG in the 1700’s was simply a precursor to future population density.  Living OTG today is almost guaranteed to remain that way.

Look at our place.  And the places around us (say, 100 square miles).  There is precious little arable soil.  There is likely more than enough for us and maybe twice as many of us but, after that number is reached, there is simply not enough arable soil.  No one can farm. They grow gardens but they don’t farm.  Or ranch.

Nor is the climate ideal.  The Gulf Islands of BC are notoriously lacking in fresh water. The islands get plenty of rain but the topography and the rocky nature of the geography is such that not a lot is retained.  The summertime is often dry on the Gulf Islands and, of course, summertime is growing season.

There are some areas of the Gulf Islands that are exceptions but they are no longer OTG and are highly valued.  Bottom line: the best conditions for living OTG are found in the lower Fraser Valley. Vancouver.  And we have high-rises and high density there now.

This observation is not just mine.  The Agricultural Land Reserve, an august body created by the NDP in the 70’s, was intended to preserve as much arable soil as possible in an area that was rapidly being paved over.   So, the double irony is that the ideal living condition seems to generate growth to the extent that what made it ideal is destroyed by the people moving there.  Simply put: they paved paradise and put in a parking lot!

“So, what are you saying, Dave?”

I am saying that OTG living is not easy for a number of reasons but, if you go back to the original OTG’ers, they would never have picked the places we have available now.  All the easy places have gone urban.

Of course, we have other ways to compensate for much of the difficulties of the past. Transport, technology, communications, job specializations, grocery stores and all that. But when you choose to go OTG today, you are choosing a new and complicated lifestyle, not recreating an older, simple one that comes to mind for the uninitiated.  Forget the Whole Earth Catalogue.  Like everything, even OTG living has evolved.  It is much more complicated than it appears.

Yes, you enjoy and acquire much of what the original OTG’ers were looking for, freedom, independence and nature but you are getting there an entirely different way.  Just a ‘heads-up’: don’t think of the OTG lifestyle as back-to-the-land, minimalist or simple.  It simply isn’t simple anymore.


6 thoughts on “I live where the cities should be

  1. All over the valley are back roads leading to secluded gated compounds. A house and a workshop situated remotely but within an hour of Costco and other amenities. No traffic, no noise and very few neighbours. Not off the grid but keeping a low profile.


  2. Your “rants” are perfectly acceptable. It’s your blog.
    But the OTG lifestyle definetely has appeal. Your observations about the first white settlers in North America rings true as well.
    I am constantly amazed when Im travelling around BC or the rest of Canada when I happen upon some bizzarre, remote abandoned homestead.
    I once stopped on the “Top of the World Highway in Northern Yukon to take a picture of a very old abandoned log cabin. It was at least 60 miles north west of Dawson City and 25 miles east of Chicken, Alaska. The fricken middle of nowhere and almost no trees for firewood.
    Some OTG folks are a tad wacky (yourself excluded) but I think living OTG is a fascinating refusal by a growing part of the population to say “no” to the commercialism and foolishness of todays urban existance.


    • I wish living OTG was more of a positive statement than merely a protestation about modern, vacuous, shallow and misdirected living but I doubt if any of us did it for purely constructive reasons. I reacted badly to what was becoming ‘normal’ for me back then and so I reacted negatively. I ran away. My impetus was a negative one. I must admit that the positive, joyous part – the part that I prefer to write about – was a surprise. I knew that I wanted to become a more active and constructive and adventurous guy but I had no idea that nature and ‘chores’ would come to play such huge and wonderful role in that. Seriously – nature was a pleasant surprise to me.


      • I think a lot of people would be surprised at how competant they are at doing manual labour, fixing stuff, etc if they were set in the situation where they had to.
        And the sense of accomplishment when they have “figured out a problem” by themselves must harken back to a atime when the first white settlers cleared land, built homes, raised a family……..


  3. This is a reply to the second comment but, for some reason, it is posted up here.
    That may be the right compromise. However, it is not good enough for me right now – I have seen the light! – but it would be 70% of what I feel I have by being so far away. I think. Don’t forget – there is a streak of ‘doomsday’ in me, I think, and being on a back road isn’t good enough. Being on BC Hydro isn’t, either. Plus, out there in the distant toolies, one has to make-do. If I had a Costco or Home Depot nearby, it would not be half the challenge and thus not likely all of the fun, either. Mind you, that sounds like the rationale of someone who has already committed……


    • Okay an hour from Costco doesn’t cut it then how about three hours away. I speculate that it’s being resourceful, over coming adversity, repurposing stuff , battle of the wits type life that you find find stimulating. Most folks crave the stimulation but not all. I have friend in a retirement village who does odd jobs there such as changing light bulbs, moving furniture and the like. I enjoy doing stuff, being competent and self-suffient as you do. Choosing how to organize ones life is attractive as is choosing where one lives is also deeply attractive. A million dollar view and pine scented salt sea air irresistible.


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