Here, looking out from a wood grained cabin window in the coniferous forest onto the slow motion Montreal river, the standing people; Pine, Birch, Maple, Poplar and Spruce represent this northern ecology. Nights are cool by the water, like the skin of a fish, thin and permeable, carrying scents through the hydrated air of aquatic plants and dank earth and the sharp smells of acidic trees. Barefoot on moss, green grass and lichen, a mosquito disturbs my zen, with an invasive attack on my forehead. Stacked cord-wood sits patiently in windrows with their edges cozied intimately together, neatly stacked in preparation for cold gray days, and the winter that always comes to the North. But it is not winter, it is summer. And I am no longer in mother India, alas I have come home to Canada, where this post you read spans a self-quarantine session in the lap of nature.
Our countries government requested for all travelers returning from a foreign country, regardless of where, to self isolate for 14 days in their own homes or other suitable dwelling. The prospects did not sound highly inspiring as I left behind a traditional tribal farm village in the Himalayan foothills, but the Gods were on my side and I was backed with a good dose of resilience from my experiences during lockdown in India. My father had some land in the north of Canada, on 11 acres of rural backwoods, with a cottage and a cabin with all the creature comforts. That was where I would shelter in place until I could resume a semblance of my life back home.
Life away from the country had become routine, last year it was Iceland, where my then wife and myself worked on pony ranches, bathed in steamy hot springs and gazed like children at the shows put on by the Aurora Borealis in the arctic sky. But returning to Canada again, I dug deeper than ever before into the firmament of what it meant to my own identity, of who I was, where I was, and when I was. When I saw and felt with new eyes and senses through the land, and lived intentionally of a more pioneering based subsistence lifestyle, I felt that I had become Native to the land. I had developed a place based relationship towards my home country. One that was built from the roots up, with reciprocity, love, and attunement to spirit, that transcended any lineage or genetic based identity. The elements of heritage, and ancestry always wagered a strong marker for my relation to place and culture, but they were no longer the absolute essence of who I had become as a man. The ecology, the seasons, the local folklore, the flora and fauna had a stronger defining feature now on how I was evolving.
Of course, I was still Viking, and traveling to new lands to obtain knowledge, trade goods, gain skills and bring back some of the treasure from far away nations is important to me. It is what my long haired barbarian forebears did with much greater intensity and keeness than I could ever match. The lifestyle I lead at home is moving into greater periods of settlement, place based agriculture, or permaculture, hunting, fishing, foraging, and the domestic rituals and routines of life lived in one space. When exploring the word ‘domestic’, one can open up meanings now frequently understood to the laymen. Even I was turned off from the notion of ‘domestication’ for a long time, and still have my qualms about it, but the forms of domestication I turn down are the ultra-modern examples of fragile human beings, living materialistic lives, entirely dependent on industrialized life support systems, institutionalized learning platforms, and shallow relationships catered through various social media platforms.
This kind of domestic human does not know how fend for themselves, nor serve a functional role in a community. There is a great divide between where there food comes from and what nourishment is consumed, and there is always an app on their smart phone for everything, almost ridding the need to actually know or do anything the analog way, like navigate, or identify a plant, tell the weather, research a subject of interest, or seduce a woman. Instead this kind of human relies on a complex mapping system based on global tracking and surveillance to tell them where to go, always following the fastest route without traffic or road construction. A picture is taken of an herb to identify all its medicinal and culinary uses without regard for the rich folk history and elder wisdom that could be passed down just as easily from Auntie Flora, if we had only asked. The weather is forecasted and broadcasted onto the smart phone, largely dictating peoples actions, and fostering a deficit of natural knowledge about natural patterns and cycles that affect your homestead. Rather that researching an interesting subject at a local library on say, growing squash, or on the lives of Icelandic fisherman, one can just ‘google’ it, and find the answers and information in brief digested forms. Dating sites and apps make it easier than ever to get a woman into your apartment, maybe even in your bed, but where is the natural authenticity and depth of romance in simply choosing the most attractive profile picture of the woman you lust after and swiping left. By next week you are tired of them, and its back to the profiles of new woman to exchange erotic messages before hopefully meeting, in a cycle that never fulfills. The modern domestic human does not carry the knack for the domestic ways of yore I wish to pursue.
For the modern homo sapien is very fragile, and with those tenets above mentioned, are signigicantly ill prepared for even living in the country. Most men I see would not be able to chop and carry wood for two hours straight, let alone cut enough wood for the entire half years supply to provide for his wife and children. The majority of women have sadly never grown anything, or birthed a natural baby, or treated a sick animal, or cooked a meal for their family with fresh ingredients from the garden. They may have never even had the time to explore their true deep femininity, because modern domestic femininity is wrapped up in toxic notions of bitterness for the masculine species, oversexualized glamor, competition, and victimhood. Children are no longer ‘free-range’ if I can use such an ironic term to describe our most natural state of being in our habitat, directly borrowed out of the industrialized farming paradigm. We have few old growth elders, with mines of wisdom and stories, cared for by their kinfolk, we just have ‘olders’ on life support systems or locked up in nursing homes. Well I digress, but I was circling back to the point of so called domestic lifestyles being lost, in the true sense. There are layers of beautiful meaning embedded in the real domestic lifeways.
The word domestic comes from the latin source -domecile, pertaining to the Home. In this regard, the home is where the family lives day to day, where children are born, reach adolescence, adulthood, partake in rites of passage like sexual experiences, marriage, and take sovereign ownership of their lives, they grow old and die on the same land. An intricate and integral bond with the species of other life surrounding the domestic home is formed. One comes to understand how to self-medicate, put up food, cook gourmet dinners, shelter themselves, build, alter consciousness, harvest, hunt and forage, all from the same plot. The crofters of the late 17th century would be one standalone example of a domestic culture that thrived in the W.I.S.E. isles. There was a room, usually part of the house for the family cow, or a flock of goats, and a range or coop for chickens to be protected from predators at night. Social life revolved around the domecile, where potlucks, family bonding rituals (or quarrels), music nights, and holiday gatherings were held. There was no place like no home similar, and people traveled little but always returned home. It was not an interchangeable unit like an apartment, freely rented, mortgaged or leased and then abandoned to the same empty white walls that another sorry soul would inhabit after. The domestic home was inherited through the generations, and each floorboard and window held stories steeping in rich detail. The home was not a commodity to be bought and sold. Ones domicile was the temple, barbershop, restaurant, hospital, gathering hall, workshop and office all in one. The home is where one went to find solace or entertainment, study a book, eat the best meal of your life, lay with your wife, and spend an afternoon canning peaches and tomatoes for the rest of the year. Time and cycles were taken into regard, that decided what to do, and when to do it. There was a place for everything and everything was in its right place. Each object in the house had a function, a meaning, and a story. Nothing was empty, simply acquired because it was on sale or fit the recent trend. People ate together at the same table, with no screens in front of their faces, in fact the house may not even have one. Problems were sorted out without violence or the unwelcome intrusion of police, agressive neighbors or child services. I can not imagine living the domestic life of most modern humans, it seems so complicated, fast, irrelevant, boring and soulless. What I understand is the warmth of the hearth, the kitchen garden, the family heirlooms, and the horse in the stable. What makes sense to me is the happy child who learns at home, in nature, part of it, and the rich textures of detailed beauty and nuance one gains from an intimate involvement with a small piece of the earth on an individual basis. This is the form of domesticity I can adopt, and have known from youth and as of late.
My so called ‘quarantining’ period does not look like you might envision from the word. There are no industrial buildings swallowing the horizon in it’s maw, forbidding the eye of the sunset. There is very little euclidean geometry in the rural township of backwoods, Ontario. I don’t have medical agents checking up on me everyday to monitor my health and respiratory systems, instead I breath the fresh nordic air and the boreal incense of sappy pines, musky bogs, and sweet birches. My bare feet touch the moss, the soil, and wood chips, or else touch no earth at all, as I paddle with my feet in the slow moving watershed. While the world is wearing masks and furthering isolating themselves from their neighbors, I am getting to know some of my non-human kind, while sheltering in place. In the country it is easier to keep social distance, because already everyone is further apart. People live in cottages during the spring and summer, or for the hardy bushman can hack it for the whole year if their living systems are up to speed. I don’t see any houses from where I have been staying for the last fortnight. Being in contact even with a patch of grass, amplified the immune system exponentially, from the healthful microbes in the soil. If you have pets, then your immunity is probably even more robust, and if you are a farmer like myself, you may get sick once every few years, and won’t have to worry about a novel virus overcoming the boundaries of your immunity.
Throughout the age of my maturation, I’ve always been a proponent of travel and a life lived outdoors as the greatest medicine for vitality, and longevity. I believe that through travel, we literally become ‘cultured’ in the very real sense, with the germs, bacteria, and microbes of other countries, bioregions, and ecosystems, and that is a good thing to have inside you. They are invisible gifts. Think of it like designing a polyculture garden in a permaculture system. You want to have a broad diversification of life forms living inside of you, that perform a vast array of functions on the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and central nervous systems. But not only on the bodies defense lines, also on the channels that nourish the heart, the brain, the microbiome of the gut, the soul, and the spirit. My personal worldview is that we need to incorporate first a versatility of tools to defend and protect our homes as temples, that is our body, from being broken into. Then we would not be so fragile as to be forced to hermetically remove ourselves for our parenting community that we depend on. We may prevent an outbreak of a corona type strain virus through society by preventing contact with anyone, but our culture will die in an empty grave with no one to attend to it. A Corona virus is simply another elegant and intelligent life-form that we need to live with, and accept as part of our ecology, one that has had billions of years of evolution, co-exist with the human species. Because we have become so fragile, the only tactic to not become infected some know is through fear based reaction. The mainstream thinking of following protocol, instead of becoming a less fragile species wins at the end of the day. I am making this post to prove that though it is the norm, it is not always the only way, or the wisest way, or the best and most joyful way to confront the struggles of life, because just living can be hard, we know this, but it is a learned knowing.
Kenabeek, Ontario, roughly one hundred kilometers from the Great Bear Forest, an old growth boreal wood haven that has never been cut, home to the aboriginals of Temagami. The name of the town Kenabeek means snake in the Ojibway language, which comes from the Anishinabe nation. My father is here, living in his retirement and it is where it would come to pass that I would re-ground in Canada after over half a year away on winter holiday. As nature’s clock ticked by, measured by finches morning song, squirrels afternoon gossip, and evenings black loon lullaby, the slanting nine pm sun of these climes turned the days over to silent reflection, writing letters on pieces of softwood to faraway friends, reading by amber light, and listening to the pelting blanket of rain on the river, the simple things. Two weeks can be a long time for people to self-isolate without becoming neurotic or extremely bored, and I sympathize with the challenge this is putting others through. I think this speaks a lot about our routines, and emotional intelligence, and reveals some deep set dissatisfaction, and dis-ease that is already harbored within us.
Taking responsibility for our actions also means enabling ourselves to live healthy, inspiring, thriving and engaging lifestyles that can exist locally in in stressful situation. When our communities, or cities, or the services we depend on for consumption, entertainment and enrichment are not open to us. I’ve learned in a modest three decades that I must ultimately look out for what is good for me with my own means, and decreased reliance on another counter-actively creates a greater boon for me. Thereby amplifying any offering given to me through privilege as more highly appreciated, honored and reciprocated. It is with this mindset that I have taken it into my own owns to ensure my happiness and choose to thrive in any circumstance.
Some of the ways I have been doing that are spending as much time outside as possible. I don’t use the word ‘spending’ very often because we too often applies a term of economics to a broad blanket of meaningful spiritual and personal pursuits. But in this respect, one can see spending time outdoors as investment, and buying a piece of the good life. Slowing buying more shares in a natural existence co-op that always grows as natures rhythms continue to revolve in cycle.
On several occasions of fair weather, I paddled both upstream and downstream on the Montreal river of Temiskaming, both by canoe and kayak. My father caught two pike, and we cooked them on plates of cedar fresh cut from a deadwood log, then smoked them over charcoal in a barbeque. Other times I slowly coasted the shoreline, in search of bullrushes, wapato, day lilies, and horsetail, in their edible stages. One red fox has used the grounds for hunting a pair of rabbits, while I wish I had my hunting license with me to bag one or two for the cooking pot. The Loons have started to croon in the evenings, while a gold tipped black winged bird resembling a kingfisher decided to sleep on the porch after a sustained flying injury. One morning on a walk on unmarked forestry roads, a juvenile beaver excitedly ran in my direction and stopped lest a yard from my feet until it finally noticed my presence, arresting its momentum and peering into my eyes before turning on a nickel and trotting away the direction it had come. The beaver had not yet begun to develop the elegant leathery tail of its elders. I took up a maul axe to split old punky wood found rotting in the forest for use in outdoor pits, and cycled highway 65 to Mountain Chutes, down a forest service road into a clearcut, which may warrant its own story. An air of abandonment and ecological murder was left on the land, and the nostalgic memories of seven seasons of back breaking reforestation in these very places that I had somehow managed to pull off in my 20’s.
Going into the buggy forest, I followed moose and deer tracks to find wild patches of strawberry and raspberry, eating handfuls of these brightly pigmented medicines. I took note to take stock of other species and healthful herbs growing in the bioregion; the aromatic yarrow, the remediating pioneer white clover, the lemony pheromones of wood sorrel, purifying reindeer moss and usnea, and the bitter greens of dandelion. My range of habitat during isolation was no doubt extended in the countryside, and I never met another human being. After sheltering in place, I was able to visit some of my kinfolk, and sit on the banks of lake Temiskaming again which straddles both provinces of Ontario and Quebec. A hike up Devil’s rock trail reinvigorated more youthful memories of black bear encounters, and a meeting with a mother bald eagle, three hundred feet above the lake, that no doubt guarded her nearby brood. Nothing has really changed in the north country, but I’m not staying here long.
In three days I’ll be packing up, and handling a few stings while I collect my life from different small ontario towns and haul it all east to the maritims, where I’ve chosen to settle for awhile in hamlet in New Brunswick. My neighbors are an off grid, solar powered one room schoolhouse, with a forest kindergarten, and wild child nature education program. My other neighbors life off grid in timber frame and straw bale homes, and I’m looking to join the ranks as I adjust my sights on the next phase of my life, in land stewardship, and fostering a deeper practice in foraging, fishing, hunting, and homesteading, while continuing to re:wild ancestral skills and eventually seed a family.
It could easily be overwhelming, but it speaks to how epic this move really is, and how long I have been waiting to pounce on it, finally in range of something I could bite off. My life won’t look terrifically different from the way I’ve managed it in the past seven, but one intense detail will be present, that of the place based relationship that will sprout over not just weeks and months, but years. As well as the fosterage of a more archaic way of life, an analog mode of production, as I start literally from the ground up. I intend to spend the first couple months just getting my bearings; understanding the land and where I am, and the first few seasons to personally introduce myself to the other species that thrive there, animal, fungal, herbal and the human kind. The migration to these places of intelligence, pioneered wildernesses, and ensouling rustic culture are more than just temperamental shifts of domestic ritual, they are sovereign rites of passage to spaces where we finally find ourselves and fit in. If my travels have taught me one thing, it is the power of relationships to change the world, the one you live in, right now. Keep that in mind, and close to your chest.