My husband, Walter, and I began looking for a Northern Gulf Island property in 1990, with the intention of retiring 10 years later. However, a convergence of life-altering events significantly advanced the time frame.
The sudden death of our daughter from a massive brain hemorrhage due to an aneurysm, one month before her twentieth birthday, made us reassess our priorities. Though we lived in a beautiful part of Victoria and enjoyed our jobs, surely there was more to life than the nine-to-five routine. Walter would soon have to make an intense, long-term commitment to a new telescope project and my job as French instructor would end with the relocation of DREP to Halifax.
My interest in the life of an obscure sailor had led us to visit the legendary boating couple Sharie and Allen Farrell. Their simple, unfettered and unregulated life of building and sailing beautiful boats manifested calmness, a sense of peace and contentment. All these factors shaped our decision to retire sooner rather than later.
“All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous, unpremeditated act without benefit of experience” (Henry Miller) became our guiding principle. After much searching, in 1991 we purchased eight forested acres, west-facing, high-bank waterfront - as close to a dream property as we could afford.
In spring 1994, we put our Victoria house up for sale. When it sold in July, at ages 53 and 56, we cut all ties and moved to “our” island. Chattels stored in the garage we had built the previous summer, we set to work on making habitable a rough cabin that was on the property. It was the time of the comet Hyakutake and every night when we visited the outhouse, our way was illuminated by what we came to call "God's flashlight." Throughout the winter months, amidst much discussion and changing of mind, Walter drew up plans for a modest house. He would patiently explain the reasons my vision was either impossible to execute or impossibly beyond our budget. We devised a system where changes had to be agreed upon by both - and initialed on the drawing. There would be no “but I thought you said....”
With the first hint of spring, in February 1995, we mixed cement and poured the footings. We were on our way. Much of the lumber used was milled from timber on our property. We framed walls and built trusses; installed windows designed in segments that we could physically handle; we wrestled 20-foot (six-metre) sheet metal panels on to the roof. As it was a hassle to cross over to Campbell River to rent and return a sander, I decided to hand-sand the edge-grain fir floor that Walter had laid.
Once a week, we’d make the two-ferry trip to town to buy supplies. It provided a much needed break and lunch out. Our conversation centred around vapour barriers, pony walls and fascia boards. We became physically fit and nimble, able to climb a ladder while carrying one end of a two by six. We cursed the rains of June 1995, when we had just laid the plywood floor. Since we avoided contractors, we were spared delays and excuses and saved a lot of money. When things went awry we had no one to blame but ourselves. We were always mindful of potential accidents and got through the process without a major injury. And though there were tense moments and miscommunications, unlike many others, our marriage survived!
In September 1996, with great personal satisfaction, we moved into our close-to-finished house - one year and eight months after we’d started. With the exception of the drywall (we’d experienced enough renovations to know the drudgery), we had done it all ourselves.
A visitor once asked, "Do you love your house?" I can say, we do! It's simple and not as artsy as some here on the island, but it's cozy, warm, bright, practical and will do us into old age as the primary living space is all on the main floor. If anything, it's maintaining the property that will do us in. But then, that is what keeps us outdoors and flexible.
We struggle with challenging wireless Internet connections. We’ve learned to always close a garden gate. Our life is ruled by ferry schedules. Local politics demand tolerance – and a sense of humour. I miss browsing in downtown Victoria, yet, when we visit, I can’t wait to get home again. We have a love-hate relationship with summer residents and tourists: we welcome them like a fresh breeze, yet are relieved at their departure. Walter has taken up fine woodwork and I’ve immersed myself in writing - it helps to have a diversion other than fundraising.
An exotic place this is not, nor is it for everyone, but for us this is now home. Would we trade? Never!
AUGUT 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
AUGUST 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND
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