I wrote a blog post about my book club for the Gems blog this week, and it got me thinking about our latest book, Kristan Hannah’s The Great Alone, set in off-the-grid Alaska in the 1970’s. As I read it, it brought back memories of the years I spent living in a log cabin in small town, Northern Ontario.
This picture was taken right after we took the Insulbrick off the cabin. It was an asphalt, roofing-like covering made to look like brick that people covered old buildings with at one point in time, trying to make them look “modern”.
We were delighted to find these beautiful logs underneath in perfect condition!
But I met my elderly neighbor up at the mailboxes one day and she observed, “You’ve taken the Insulbrick off. I remember when they moved the house down here near the road from that hill over there. Then they put the Insulbrick on. Now you’re taking it off.”
No, “it looks great”. Her comments put a lot of things in perspective for me!
We had electricity, but we heated our log cabin with a wood stove and while we did have running water, it was in the form of a hand pump at the kitchen sink. My enterprising husband hooked up an almost complete plumbing system and, in the end, we had hot water in the kitchen, a bathroom sink and a shower—but no toilet. We put an outhouse in the corner of the woodshed that was attached to the back of the house, and that was considered luxurious by some of our neighbors, that we didn’t have to go out in the snow. Some of our friends had no electricity, no plumbing, carried water in from an old well, and skied in half a mile from the dirt road in the winter.
Once, before we moved up to Renfrew County, my husband, who was not my husband yet, and I decided to visit our friends. There was no cell phone then, so we took a chance and showed up at their log house late one Friday night. They were so-o-o happy to see us. Cabin fever had set in.
“We’ve made an Italian restaurant,” they said. They had thrown a red checked table cloth over a giant spool for electrical cable, made fabulous sauce from their home-grown, canned tomatoes, and we ate and drank wine late into the night by the light of an old oil lamp.
Hannah’s book deals with darker subjects of PTSD and domestic abuse, but she does a great job of explaining the lure, and the pain, of living in the north. There’s something very freeing about living off the grid, but we did find a darkness descended in the winter, both literally and emotionally. Many of our friends separated, families broke up and, at one point, we almost did too.
I guess, in spite of my Finnish blood, I’m not built of sturdy enough stock to tough it out. The last straw came one winter day when my husband and I both had bad colds and high fevers, and had to go out to shovel the snow off the woodshed roof so it wouldn’t cave in.
When we came inside to warm up, my husband said, “Let’s go visit Mike on Vancouver Island.”
So we did. And the rest is history.