“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
While much of what’s been written about our Shirley adventure has been based on the shiny new starts and wonderful fresh discoveries, there have also been fails. Almost 2 years in we have learned a lot, and much of our growth has come from the things that didn’t go so well. Our first year was definitely about transitioning; finding ways that work for living in new and natural surroundings, understanding how our systems work, and relating to the land.
Because the house and environment are so very different than our previous 25 years, it has often felt like everything was too new, too hard, or too challenging. There has been little to draw on from decades of urban lived experience, but, as we all know, sitting in discomfort is where the best stuff happens, and this has been so true for us.
When we moved in, it was spring, which is so full of promise. Lots of new babies being born, including deer, bear cubs, and cougars. And while the April rains were at times lovely, the mud was not. We did little if no landscaping of any kind initially, so we were literally living in wet dirt. Last year we added crushed gravel in places and plenty of bark mulch/chips to walk on and we are now planning our final grading and designing our outdoor spaces (think decks, gardens, walkways, and an outdoor shower.)
Our first summer, we had visions of a lush vegetable garden and food security. And while I had had success with growing backyard food in town, this was a whole new ballgame. My previous gardens had flourished in raised beds with direct sowing and open spaces without fencing. Here, the temperature is consistently cooler, if by only a few degrees, but enough to make a big difference. Luckily, we were given good advice early on…build at least 8 feet high (deer fencing), move your compost bin (bears), dig deep and add mesh (rabbits and rodents), cover or add shiny objects (birds), and have the radio on when gardening (cougars). What we didn’t realize was that we needed to sow indoors first, in a polytunnel or hoop house, rather than directly outside. And a better beginning would have been planting starts rather than seeds; it is just not warm enough for many of them to germinate. So while we didn’t have intruders or pests, we didn’t have food either. Live and learn! This year we have built a hoop house and have designed a more realistic sowing calendar. My salads are going to be epic!
That first winter, while cold in many ways, was warmed by our neighbours. Power outages had me quickly learning how to start a generator in the dark (armed with headlamps, flashlights, and car headlights) and we installed snow stops on the roof and spent hours in the hot tub. And our biggest snowfall had our beautiful neighbour plowing our snowy driveway right up to the front door, as we are the folks with no tractor. Community is everything!
Still a big fan of systems, we continue to learn, monitor and maintain the few we have installed so far. Our sophisticated rainwater catchment and well-water system have taught us much about consistency and safety. We have been learning all about filters and water levels, contaminants, and containers. It’s getting easier now, but a cold first winter helped us discover, the hard way, that we hadn’t buried all of our water lines deep enough, and we didn’t have a warm enough well/pump house, so $1000 and a few frozen fingers later, along with another wonderful and helpful neighbour, we fixed what we broke and never looked back. Now we are on top of that system and all is well (pun intended). Our compost toilets are working as planned, and we are still grateful that we made the no-flush choice early on. The greywater and waste management systems have been a real success. We are recycling household water for the fruit and nut trees growing alongside the greywater field and in about four years, we will harvest hazelnuts and pears, apples, and plums. And with the addition of 10 solar panels this past summer, we are also harvesting sunshine. Even the new hoop house is powered by solar.
So as we move through another calendar year, we are grateful beyond measure for the place, the people, and the passion that keeps us moving forward, loving and learning in a place that we not only call home, but that actually feels like home, more and more each day.
Stay tuned for my upcoming course, launching late summer, 2023 – “designing your best last chapter”.