Essay published through the Covid Chronicles through the Arts Council Website.
The virus was a far off news story when I found out I was pregnant. I was working part-time through the school board, was gearing up for another season of the Salt Spring Market, and planning on adding another rain water catchment and a tool shed for my home. Slowly, the world I had created imploded in on itself.
I’ve lived in an off-grid cabin for almost three years. It’s perched at the top of a steep driveway, a fifteen minute hike or a five minute four-wheel drive to brave the bumps and potholes. The cabin has rain water for washing dishes and an outdoor shower, wood stove heat, a solar panel for minimal electricity and is a cosy three hundred and sixty square feet. The rent almost matches the square footage. I’ve been content for the most part. It’s quiet and peaceful. I listen to the radio and download podcasts. I buy limited dairy products and produce that go off quickly without a fridge or freezer. With no wifi I can stop myself from mindless scrolling online and take a break from the constant demands of a small soap business.
The news of Covid-19 in Canada struck but in a slow, confusing burn. Every day a new restriction, a new alert. I was glued to CBC radio and equally horrified by the events. The Salt Spring Market where I sell my soap, the Gulf Island School Board announcing the closure–things were being cancelled faster than on a Salt Spring snow day.
When my partner Joel moved in before quarantine it made living at the cabin a bit less functional. A delayed island laundry mat meant impossible to clean laundry piled up. The sunny days and lack of rain meant our shower was off limits, the gym and pool also closed for showers, and friends’ bathrooms–a social taboo. The irony of a soap maker not able to bathe and having to wash my hands with cold water ten times a day was not lost on me. I yearned for an indoor bathtub to soak in and de-stress. I also yearned to share my growing belly with my community. All in-person events shifted online, so it was even more isolating to not have access to wifi to stream the dance, yoga, and exercise classes, the writing circles, zoom sessions with family back east, the intimate midwife visits shifted to phone calls. As soon as we found out, with joy, we were pregnant, we knew we had to move from our rustic oasis in the woods. A more domestic life with my partner called for domestic comforts.
The housing hunt began. Without a promise of income and knowing the housing crisis on the island, the stress of the unknown enveloped me but soon a false glimmer of hope appeared. I figured that without island tourism this summer it would finally open up Airbnbs for longer rentals, perhaps it wouldn’t be so hard to find a new more fitting place to live for our family of a dog, cat, and young couple soon-to-be-parents.
In pure Salt Spring fashion in order to find a home one must tell everyone they run into, use all their connections, lower your expectations, higher your rent capacity, and perform a bit of magic.
I started with a post on the infamous Salt Spring Exchange. Coming from an off-grid cabin in the woods, our requirements for a home were minimal. “Searching for a cosy home ideally with electricity, a fridge, an oven, indoor plumbing, and, fingers crossed, a bathtub.” Our budget was small, hoping for under $1000 per month since that would be doubling what we were paying for our woodland abode.
Not everyone knew I was pregnant. I had told close friends and family but waited to make a Facebook announcement, especially when the focus was more on death counts than new life. I made a housing wanted ad which quickly turned into a baby announcement. With every new comment I would read ‘congratulations!’ with dismay.
Our few leads were out of our price range at $1500-$2000 per month or required waiting on the world to sort itself out again. Our biggest hope relied on a Canadian guy moving to Japan or hoping that a jaded landlord would change their mind and be open to renting their space again, or a cabin where a tree had fallen on the roof. No one was moving anywhere with a global pandemic. The world was at a standstill. Without jobs in Vancouver and Victoria folks were actually flocking back to the island to live at their parents’ ground floor suite or guest cottage with ocean view.
I had reached out to my writing circle of women, a green business program I participated in of retirees with money to lend and, I assumed, land to rent, the artist community from my nude modelling days, the younger crowd of farmers and intentional communities. Joel and I had been on island for six years and had a large community but no one had anything substantial.
Things were looking grim. I decided to make a spell. Joel and I collected twigs, usnea, and ferns, cedar bows from the land. We weaved it into a nest while imagining ourselves with the security of a place to live. We lit a candle and rang an antique bell.
A few days later we checked out an RV that a friend of a friend was selling. The price was right at $1500, one month’s rent on this island, but at 24 feet we needed more space. That day we were social distance visiting friends at a farm, where I had interned for the summer when I first arrived on Salt Spring. I parked where I always do, in the crew area. We saw some folks living there who were working on their own AirStream and staying in one of the cabins. I noticed the converted chicken coop that past woofers had lived in. It had a large covered porch and room for an RV in front. Joel and I brainstormed how we could live there for the summer and work on the interior of the RV. Let things open up in the fall and, worst case, stay in our tiny home on wheels. The coop has electricity, a heater, wifi, and the RV has hot water, a fridge, an oven, and even a little bathtub.
We chatted with our farmer friends about the idea and I started packing that night. Now, a month later we’re moving in to our newly purchased 1979 Chevy Security and tiny cabin to continue social isolation but now connected to the grid. It turned out we just needed a magical spell to finally find our security and nest in an old chicken coop.