When Sal and I first went OTG, we knew that we were a little ahead of the inevitable-soon-to-start-curve. Getting out was not a popular concept with any of my peers and contemporaries back then when I was 55/56. But anyone ‘could see the writing on the wall, I thought. It had to happen.’ I was just going to be amongst the first of the GREAT EXODUS.
In fact, the idea was not a particularly popular one even with Sal! She’s always up for an adventure and so was totally onside with the latest quirky venture but only because, in her heart, she thought that this was just a phase and, within a few years, we’d go back to being normal. Of course, now 18 years later, she is totally onside for the long haul and thinks in her heart that “this is the new normal and I like it!”
To be fair, I was always surprised in the early days to come across some guy in a shop or a store or in a scrap yard (I used to hang out there) and, when told of my plans, would express total understanding and support. He’d go on to claim the same dream and desire but lament the tentacles and umbilicals that kept him in place. Those encounters just reinforced my belief that the great exodus from the city was coming eventually. Maybe not soon, but definitely within ten or so years. I figured the baby-boomers alone would lead the way when they got tired and fed up with the rat race and that was likely to happen ten years after me.
It did not.
There was a short-lived period about ten years ago when recreational property ballooned in value which sort of indicated a renewed interest but that mini real estate boom waned. Property assessments dropped. The GREAT EXODUS had stalled at the starting line. Still, it did mark the beginning of an exodus trickle and a new rural stay-at-homeness for young people that kept the OTG population the same and even growing a smidge. By the time we had been here almost twenty years, the population of our island had gone from 60 to maybe 66 or 70. Hardly a boom but still growth and the demographics changed, too. We had a few more young people.
Mind you, time marches on and, in a community with almost 50% of the adults over 70, there is a looming attrition rate. To stay at 66 or 70, we need a young family to come every year. And, so far, that seems to be happening but nothing like a wave. This is just replacement community growth.
The main reason cited from younger people was ‘lack of work’. Translation: lack of PAID work. There is plenty of work just in building your own house. property and keeping your boat afloat. That is a full time job. Trust me. And there is always seasonal summertime work to build a small bank account to get through the winter months. But no one out here gets rich who ain’t already. A young person has to have modest dreams and goals to consider OTG.
Or, better put: they used to…..
Yep. Things are changing a bit….not a whole lot. Not much. But a bit. For instance, we had a whole lot of skilled carpenters out here but just about all of them are 70+ now. The lone working handyman-carpenter-for-hire we have who is still reliable is 60. But he’s now looking to stay off the roof, not lift heavy beams and generally trying to survive into older age these days. Luckily a newer, younger carpenter has moved up but so far, most of his work is still in town so he is not yet committed to ‘being’ a local carpenter here. But he will. That was why he came here in the first place. That exact same story played out last year with our lone plumber (now retired pretty much) with a local young man who just got his ticket….and so it goes. We seem to find a replacement for each retiring tradesman/woman but it is – once again – just replacement, not growth.
And therein lies the punchline: there is now more new work out here. Paid work. Now that everyone is getting old, they do not do it all for themselves anymore. The greatly individualistic, independent, learning-on-the-go homesteading adventurer is getting on and looking to pay for younger help. If ever there was a weird niche but growing job market, it is here. And it will be growing for a while still.
Put another way: for the last forty years home-care was NOT A THING out here. If anyone needed a bit of temporary home care, they had a friend or a relative or maybe even a WWOOF’er help out. But, today, Sal and I volunteer to run a small home care program for the over 70’s because they can’t help each other as much any more. They need more help. Some of their friends and relatives have passed and they are too old to host WWOOFers much anymore.
It is so weird to me that, as my OTG community changes with age, so does the local job market. So does the local real estate market. So does everything and yet, and yet, the population numbers have barely changed at all.