In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Our simple life

Greg likes to point out how our simple life contains a great deal of complexity. A trip to the grocery store, for instance, involves a crotchety ATV, a muddy rocky road, a cranky boat, sudden winds and iffy harbour crossings. And our simple life is not particularly an easy life. It sometimes requires a kind of physical hardiness most Nova Scotians take for granted. So maybe you could call it, instead, the direct life.

Take our food. We don't grow our own coffee or tea, milk, butter, cheese or eggs (yet). We buy flour and molasses and sugar and salt and oil, pasta and rice and lentils and potatoes. But nearly everything else we have is stuff we've made or grown or collected ourselves. We have shelves of jellies and jams and applesauce and chutneys, and a freezer full of beans and peas and beets and chard and turnip greens and wild raspberries, soups made with rutabaga and turnip and squash and carrot and cabbage, borscht, zucchini casseroles, parsley and walnut pesto, carrot top pesto, zucchini bread, and our adopted pig from a farm near Truro. Two kinds of winter squash sit curing on the kitchen shelf and sauerkraut sits pickling in an antique crock. Herbs from the summer garden -- thyme, mint, parsley, sage -- hang from an old oar in the breezeway.

All the vegetables come from our garden. Greg makes our granola with walnuts and dried apples from our trees. We eat chanterelles we've gathered from the forest, mussels harvested from rocks in the cove, lobsters dropped off by kind lobstermen on their way home from the sea, and haddock provided in the same way.

The kindness of lobstermen.

We drink our own cider. We bake our own bread. None of this is particularly easy -- except the lobster, which just falls into our laps. But it isn't difficult, either, except for a few one-time efforts like creating the garden. It's direct, though, and so it feels more integrated, more whole, and in that sense, maybe, more simple. It's amazing to eat carrots you've grown from a package of seeds, incredible that a few sugar snap seeds can produce the profusion of peas we will enjoy all winter long, astonishing to have pancakes made with raspberries we picked near the old cellar last August, drizzled wih maple syrup a friend made, unbelievable how many steps are involved in getting walnuts. And so our meals are an experience of gratitude and delight, naturally.

This is all something our own grandparents would have taken for granted. Of course you grow a garden, or at least you know how. Of course you know who raised your pig and caught your fish. But in just one generation Greg and I had lost it. Instead, for most of our adult lives we played our bit parts in the elaborate differentiation of expertises and labours that comprised the late twentieth century American urban economy. We earned money by doing certain kinds of things for which we were specifically trained, and then we paid other specifically trained people to provide us with, say, food.

And now -- through a combination of luck, foolishness and choice -- we are learning those old skills, and that attitude that most people in the world have had since time began and we only recently forgot, and more than anything else this simple life feels like some kind of coming home.