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In Search of the Practical Life: What happens when a city girl moves to a remote island

Life on an island

I’m a city girl. I have spent most of my life living in cities. Some of my favourite places in the world are cities. Give me a day in Chicago, Istanbul, London, Edinburg, Delhi, Montreal… these places are alive, diverse, and full of culture and interesting cuisine. So, I was as surprised as anybody when I decided to leave behind my city life in Vancouver to move to a tiny little island.  This island has fewer than 1,000 full-time residents and is two to three ferries from the nearest big city: about 8 hours. The island has no shopping centres, no restaurants in the winter, no traffic lights, no hospital, and only one tiny little school that serves grade-school children.

The last time we left the weather caused our last ferry to be cancelled again and again. We drove six hours and sat by the sea in a little six hours before, finally, arriving home late in the deep, deep darkness. Darkness like I never really experienced until moving to someplace so remote. It’s dark a lot here these days: the sun doesn’t rise until after 8 and it sets around 4. There are no road lights, no reflectors even, and there is virtually no light pollution. I find I know whether or not there is a moon and plan around it.

We don’t live particularly near anybody other than our good friends—Green Mama helper and House School teacher, Laura— who live right next door on the same property. Today, instead of tucking away in my office in the barn, I’m sitting on my couch with the fire behind me and a view of the stormy ocean in front. In my old life, by this time of the day I would have rushed out the door of our apartment, jumped in the car with my two kids, driven 30 minutes out of the city to the closest Waldorf school, checked in and said hello (much to the annoyance of my youngest) with a few dozen people, and then walked to the library for three hours of writing time and then walked back, gotten my youngest, driven back home. Prepared lunch, started dinner, driven to the school bus for my eldest, driven home and prepared dinner.

These days, we wake up leisurely and cuddle a bit in bed. Then I go downstairs to make a fire, prepare breakfast, and the kids walk a few paces for school. For the four hours they are in school and a couple of hours after, I am writing. Then the rest of the day is mostly chores: bringing in wood, sweeping, folding, preparing food.

I have done things I thought I’d never do. I have buried my first rat (it was enormous and I was so freaked out I buried it with the trap still on its head). To be fair, I didn’t catch the rats or dispose of the other five, that was done by Laura’s husband who built his own bucket rat trap! I have also gutted my first fish. Make that 10 enormous Salmon. Again, this was a growing opportunity for both Laura and I. We spent hours outside in the dark and rain as a storm blew in, knifing open the salmon. This is very bloody and gooey work. And hard. It’s not easy chopping off a fish head or tail or fins. (Perhaps you already know this first hand and now I do too.) Did I mention that Laura is a vegetarian?

And I cook. I have put away dozens of jars of apple sauce, sliced apples, fish broth, fish steaks, whole gutted fish without heads or tails. I have made kimchi by the bucket and I have homemade apple cider vinegar brewing away.


Life is still life. Some days my children wake up and scream at me. Organic, unsalted butter costs more than $12 a pound and sometimes they run out at the one little co-op that sells it. There is nowhere on this island or any nearby island to get my some of my favourite ingredients. I’m afraid to use the ax and thus I worry a lot about wood security and getting kindling. The electricity goes out often.

I am loving it. I have friends on the island. It is beautiful. It feels like a more balanced and fulfilling life: the practical life as Rudolf Steiner would say. My husband has to work in the city—something that I am familiar with from spending time in Guatemala—and that can make it a bit more lonely. Parenting and writing can be lonely work anyway. Yet, so far, things feel great.

“Seek the truly practical life, but seek it in such a way that it does not blind you to the spirit working in it. Seek the spirit, but seek it not out of spiritual greed, but so that you may apply it in the genuinely practical life.” —Rudolf Steiner





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