Preamble: ‘A reformed urbanite gone feral’ is not much of a background story to this blog. You guys know I am married to Sal, have two adult children and that we bailed out of the madding crowd to build a remote cabin on an unserviced island up the BC coast fifteen years ago. If you slogged through our first book, you will have gleaned a bit more about us but, generally speaking, your view has not been coloured too much by a detailed or chronicled written past. One of our fellow OTG bloggers (Deer Garden) sometimes drops a little personal history into her posts and Sal thought I should, too. Sid has also suggested doing so. But to do so chronologically would be just plain boring so I thought I’d spill it out in little themes. This theme is ‘different lifestyles’. And it may be more than you wanted to know…..please consider this a blog experiment of sorts.
When we lived in the city, we lived almost half the time on boats (one at a time, to be more accurate). Three in total. Eleven years. We lived urban together for 30+ years but eleven was at immediate sea level (slightly below). Twenty-six years in total, if you also count being ‘on the water’ out here. Sea level, it turned out, is my base, my foundation, my admittedly fluid, ever-changing, rising and falling, floating bedrock. Quite a contradiction in descriptive terms, don’t you think?
I was first ‘driven’ to living afloat by being young, poor and (quel surprise!) opinionated about what life should be like. It was supposed to be fun! And yet I loathed my first two landlords. To be fair, they were not all that bad but, for me, they were more than bad enough. Why? Because they, too, had a vision of what life should be like and they imposed their vision on us. And their’s was not fun! A small character flaw was revealed at that particular point in my life – I do not like authority figures in any form. And I tend to more-than-chafe at them……and I get worse as I get older.
(Many, many more of my character flaws would be revealed as we carried on these past fifty years together, much to Sal’s constant surprise and delight.)
The last apartment landlord before our different water-life had the audacity to make us separate our garbage into different containers! The bastards! They had come from Germany and Germany was decades ahead of Canada in recycling. I simply did not get it at the time and assumed they were just Nazis.
So, in an uniformed impulse of independence, I bought a 32 foot bridge deck cruiser built in 1933 by Benson Brothers shipyard in Coal Harbour. That seemed like a great idea until the seller casually inquired as to where I was intending to tie up. “Unh, right here. Seems nice. I’ll stay here.” That plan was vetoed by the Vancouver Rowing Club as described politely and sympathetically by the seller (…..with a small smile on his face).
That impulsive exercise in independence was just another in a continuing line of Sal’s surprises and delights. She’s had a lot of fun!
FYI: Moorage does NOT automatically come with the purchase of a vessel and life-ruled-by-landlords just shifted from land to water’s edge. We had to move. We went from the beautiful setting of the rowing/yacht club in Stanley Park to living like trolls just under the Granville Street Bridge near Granville Island with a lunatic for a landlord. Marine lord-amok, H. Clay – a real piece of work.
At one point I had to chase Sally down and grab her arm as she approached him menacingly with a hammer held over her head while yelling threats at him. He was literally cowering as he retreated back into his office. Even his pack of small dogs were afraid and whimpering behind him. She was ticked! He had thrown her flower-box into the drink claiming ‘boats should not have flowers’. And that rift between them never healed.
Freedom is just another word for not having a landlord.
We needed a dock of our own. And that was the beginning of the slow and methodical slog into the real-estate/water’s edge development game I soon found myself deeply immersed in. What a learning curve that was! I started the Coast Floating Home Association and we eventually built the first ‘live aboard’ marina in Canada (legal one, anyway). It was and still is a Co-op in False Creek. Proper name: Spruce Harbour Marina.
That era of living on boats was a great one! We made dozens of very good friends many of whom are still close to us today. T’was a wonderful time. But then, well, life changes and, after a leg-altering knee operation, we moved ashore and I bought a ‘developer’s’ fancy car, a suit and a briefcase (it was just for show – nothing in it) and we had children and then we bought a house and I learned about mowing lawns and parent-teacher conferences. Life and lawns happen whether you are aware of it or not.
Suburbia really was not the ideal lifestyle for me but it had it’s moments. I learned to BBQ, clean the pool, start a watch and tie collection and make a fool of myself in front of my kid’s friends (on purpose, of course). I never really knew how to be a father nor, more importantly, how to make our kids behave….until…..they were teens. Then, one fateful and blessed day I realized that I could get them to do just about anything I wanted if I threatened to walk through their school during lessons wearing only my housecoat and slippers while calling their name out as loudly as possible. I was lucky – because they knew I would do it (and I would have). Those usually difficult teen years went relatively smoothly after that timely epiphany.
Why am I telling you all this? Because you don’t really know me – not in a way that explains the OTG side of the blog, anyway. And, this little blog-sketch won’t help a lot but it might add a bit. You are not missing very much by NOT knowing me, but my background is somewhat pertinent to my current ground. I am here because I was there. And I was deeply immersed in THERE back then for a while at least. I was suburban for about twenty years.
And, to be more accurate, I was there back then because of where I came from even before that. I think we are all somewhat the result of our pasts.
I will not bore you with my long and sordid 70 plus-year history except to say that it was ‘different’. It was Gypsy-esque. But it was always urban/suburban. It was relocation and dislocation writ large and frequent. It was the opposite to stable and normal. Some of it truly was sordid. A few tidbits: 13 different schools before graduation; the only white kid in an all-black school in San Francisco; a bouncer in a pub, a professional motorcycle racer and contractor with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). And that is only some of the ‘interesting’ titles of some of the interesting jobs. Maybe 30% of it. It has been different, colourful and, in retrospect, very interesting and enriching in every sense but financial – which is more than OK with me. It was at least financially adequate. Experience is wealth, money is just filthy lucre.
So, how did all that waywardness end us up here? Good question.
Accident. Serendipity. Luck. Who knows? At some point (being poor and not being able to own a home in the madness that was Vancouver’s real estate market) I lit out for points west and north in search of any generous piece of land that I could afford. I searched first on Vancouver Island. Then up to Cortes Island. While that quest was burning a hole in me, a group of urban Vancouver strangers came together to buy a piece of land up the BC coast. I knew one of them. They invited Sal and me to join the group. We went with it. The rest is history that lead to buying our piece of paradise when I was 26 years old.
And then we forgot all about ‘the rocks and Xmas trees’ while we went through all the other normal lifestyle suburban nonsense. By the time I was 50, I was tired of the now all-too-familiar rat race despite the BBQ and golf. I really wanted out.
How does one ‘get out’? Lots of little prompts and pushes is what worked for us. Sal was burning out at her job, I started to dream of building a cabin, the kids were all-but-fully functioning, independent adults attending university and our OTG island property definitely FIT the definition of an attractive ‘OUT’. At 56, I left the city with Sal. In a way, we were moving back to the ocean. Not full-time afloat but lots of boating, lots of ocean, lots of marine life, lots of fish and chips. We had come home to a home I never really knew.
This almost decade-long blog and our first book partially fills in some of the rest. There is more, of course. It goes on and on and on. But, in the end, it is all about lifestyle choices and our lifestyle turned out to be eclectic and different, eccentric and even quirky in some ways. We enjoyed an ever-changing lifestyle that, in itself, is a lifestyle. But we live a lifestyle that has kept us close to the sea and, in that sense, it is somewhat consistent (we get wet a lot), just not quite as predictable as some.