People who live elsewhere often ask, “What do you do all day long on your island.” How do I begin to describe a typical day in this place I call home? There are seasonal differences and a day in my life as a remote, off grid island dweller depends a lot on the weather, among other things.
Let’s take last Tuesday for example. I woke up earlier than usual with the sound of C.’s alarm clock chiming. Still dark outside, I could hear the incessant rainfall on the roof. C. had plans to leave for his annual winter camping and deer-hunting trip to the interior of the province. I needed to get up too, in order to take him and all his gear, in the skiff, down the channel, to the end of the road on the next island where our car stays when we are at home on this island. Have I mentioned that there is no ferry service to our island?
While we ate breakfast the rain stopped, temporarily, for the first time in many, many days. C. was able to load his gear into the skiff without it all getting soaked. We both got dressed for the open boat ride; layers of warm clothing topped off with heavy duty rain gear and rubber boots. From home, it’s a fifteen minute run, in a fast boat, to the end of the road.
The tide was still high when we arrived, but falling fast, so we quickly unloaded the mountain of gear onto the beach. C. hiked up the steep hill to fetch our Honda CRV from the parking area. I tied the skiff up at the dock and went ashore to help load the car at the bottom of the hill. We said our farewells and C. was off, leaving me behind, without wheels, for a couple of weeks. By the time I arrived back in the kitchen it was 11 o’clock and time for a cup of coffee.
When C. is home he is usually the first one up, an hour or so before daylight at this time of the year. Downstairs, he stokes the woodstove. I hear the fire crackling to life and the sound of running water at the kitchen sink as C. fills the kettle for my morning tea. The sound of the hand-grinder in the pantry and the scent of his freshly ground coffee rises up to where I doze in the bedroom loft.
I hear the radio, tuned to CBC’s local morning program. The two cats, Leo and Cisco, meow at C., demanding their saucers of canned milk. The rooster crows from the chicken coop out back, despite the early morning darkness. Our old dog, Molly, snoozes soundly in her hay-filled kennel outside, underneath the back porch, where she spends her nights.
C. brings the tea tray upstairs before settling down to his coffee and book at the kitchen table. Still in bed, sipping milky tea from my favourite china mug, I write in my journal for about forty-five minutes. Then I read. Currently I am half way through Stephen King’s On Writing as well as Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club. I have just finished The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant. I am also dipping into Jamie Oliver’s 15 Minute Meals for helpful culinary inspiration. A pile of unread books on the bedside table awaits future attention.
By about 8 o’clock I am ready to get up; it is time for breakfast. But first the dog needs to be taken for a walk.
If C. is at home he takes Molly for a spin around “the block” (the forest trails around our place) while I make the breakfast. We usually have oatmeal porridge, made with water, cooked on the wood stove at this time of the year and on the gas range during the summer. We eat our porridge enhanced with ground flax seed, chopped apple or banana, a touch of brown sugar and a dollop of milk. On Sundays we might live it up and have a poached egg or two on toast; perhaps half a grapefruit on the side. After breakfast the day passes by with alarming momentum.
Since our children are grown and gone now, we no longer have child-rearing or schooling activities to participate in. There are still plenty of other activities to choose from, depending on the time of year, the weather, whether one is here alone or not. There is never a shortage of things to be done around the homestead. It is more a question of which chore to choose.
Some of the possibilities are: firewood cutting, splitting, stacking and hauling, boat maintenance, dock maintenance, garden maintenance, weed whacking, grass cutting, brush cutting, compost making, cleaning out the chicken coop, building something, repairing something else, cleaning out the gutters, washing windows, washing the skylights, fixing the garden fence, maintaining the water and electrical systems, gathering seaweed off the beach for the compost pile, hauling compost up the path to the garden, digging the garden, raking the yard or the orchard, organizing the workshop, the recycle storage area, the garden tool storage area, pruning the fruit trees, pruning the raspberries, planting the garden, harvesting vegetables, fruit and berries, feeding the animals, walking or cleaning up after the dog.
Indoor activities might include doing the laundry, sweeping or vacuuming and washing the floors, cleaning the bathroom, washing the insides of the windows, knocking down the insistent spider webs, doing the dusting, baking bread, making soup, preparing some food product for a meal or to preserve and store for a meal another time, knitting something, sewing something, doing some mending, playing cards or Scrabble, reading a lot of books, listening to music, practising the piano or the guitar or writing this blog.
We usually stop for lunch sometime between 1 and 2 o’clock. If it is getting too late for lunch by the time we stop, we make do with a pot of tea and a big bowl of popcorn seasoned with a bit of butter or olive oil, soy sauce and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast. We usually read while we eat lunch, and continue to read while we drink our tea after lunch. We skip the reading if we have company, and normally we are book free at supper time when we prefer to chat or listen to music or the CBC radio.
The rest of the afternoon is spent finishing up the morning project or starting a new one. Sometimes a friend will drop by for tea or we might pay a visit to one of our neighbours. We go for walks along the rambling trails we have created in the forest around our place. In the fall we sometimes go mushroom-hunting. In the summer we like to swim in the lake. Sometimes we go fishing, or to set the crab traps. once in a while we go for a paddle in the kayaks. In the fall C. spends quite a lot of time hiking around on one of the islands in search of a deer or two for the freezer.
At the end of the day, I like to stop and sit for a few minutes, with a glass of something, and listen to the CBC evening news. We have a chair or two in the covered area under the front porch, just up from the beach, where one can listen to world current affairs on an old boom box, bundled up warmly while gazing out at the natural world beyond. It is an odd and entertaining juxtaposition.
Paying work for us has always been seasonal. During the summer C., who works as a fishing guide, is away from home, working almost every day for several months in a row. There is a month of boat prep prior to the start of his season and another month at the end of the summer, putting the boats and all the gear away for the winter months.
When I worked as a cook at a nearby fishing lodge, I was away from home for about fifty percent of the time. Fortunately I no longer am. Things are more like they used to be when the children were small and I spent most of my time at home looking after the family’s domestic needs.
There are no shops on our island, so every now and then we make a trip to the next island or to the nearest town on the Big Island, in order to pick up supplies. We keep a running list in a small notebook, and town trips are spent trying to cross the items off the list as quickly as possible. Sometimes we succeed, and if not, the item will get moved to the top of the next list. We do not look forward to these shopping expeditions. In town one seems to bleed money. It is always a relief to get home again, away from the hustle and bustle and the haemorrhaging bank account.
For even more fun we occasionally travel to visit friends and family, locally or abroad. Sometimes visitors come here to stay with us. Every spring I attend the Words On The Water writer’s festival in town. When possible, I go to a yoga class, or to the Sing For Joy singing group or the Read Island Ladies Book Club on one of the other nearby islands. C. has his hunting expeditions in the fall.
These days, when we are at home together and darkness comes early, we try to eat our evening meal around 7 o’clock. Most of the ingredients at supper time are things we have grown, foraged or caught ourselves. We are thankful; our bellies as well as our consciences satisfied and content at the end of our evening meal. We do not have an electric dishwasher, just the human variety. Sometimes we leave the washing up until the following morning, tidying everything neatly beside the kitchen sink before we settle down to relax for the rest of the evening.
Most evenings during the winter months we watch a bit of the idiot-box before heading to bed with a book. We used to borrow DVDs from the local library, choosing films, documentaries and a television series or two for our viewing pleasure. About a year ago we finally got connected to the Internet with Xplornet, a satellite provider servicing people in remote locations. Now we have Netflix as well, so we are able to watch all sorts of rubbish, just like the folks in town.
Sometimes I wonder how people in other places spend their days. Once in a while I wonder what I would be doing if I didn’t live here. For now, while C. is away, I will be bringing myself a pot of tea in the morning in addition to the usual chores and pastimes.