Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
For as long as I can remember, my city relatives have asked the same question whenever they drive to my rural home for a visit:
“What is there to do here?” When I was thirteen, I didn’t know how to answer. For a while I even believed what the question implied - that life in the country is a drag. In the eight years since then I’ve corrected my opinion, and come to realize that rural living involves much more fascination than I could convey in a one sentence answer.
In the summer of 2004, my cousin David travelled with our grandparents from their big city home to my place — a seven hour trip — to visit the Manitoulin Island branch of the family. I’m sure they were glad to get out of the car and stretch their legs, but it wasn’t long before David asked me the typical question: “What is there to do around here?” Neither of us knew it at the time, but the week’s events would cause my cousin to abandon that question for good.
That first night we slept in a four-person tent my Dad set up in the front yard. This seemed pretty ordinary to me, since I’d done it dozens of times before. For David, it was a totally new experience, and he loved it. The idea of being able to camp on your own land was completely foreign to him, since the poor guy lived on a city lot with hardly enough room to walk, let alone set up a tent. We rose before the sun the next morning, grabbed a couple of hunting knives and a bow and arrows, and headed out to my favourite spot on the property — a small patch of exposed limestone bedrock along one side of a field that I call “Bowcamp”. I’d discovered it several days earlier, and couldn’t wait to share it with my cousin. We spent the day trying to hunt, then settled for roasting apples we’d picked from nearby trees. Bowcamp certainly wasn’t remote, (we were never more than 300 yards from the house), but something about it awoke the wilderness adventurer in my city-dwelling cousin. To this day, whenever Dave and I get together, the conversation always turns to our boyhood adventure at Bowcamp.
For David, our adventure was instrumental in changing his outlook on country living. He went from a guy who couldn’t wait to get back to civilization, chow down on some fast food, and hit the nearest movie theatre, to someone who plans to one day build a cabin in the woods, just like his crazy cousin from Manitoulin. But he wasn’t the only one whose perspective changed that day. I made some pretty important realizations, too.
I came to understand that there’s a host of good answers to the age-old question, what is there to do in the country? Country living encompasses everything from having plenty of space and forests nearby for hunting, fishing, swimming in a natural lakes, and building your own cabin in the woods. I know, because I’ve grown up doing all these things and more, and that’s had a huge impact on who I am today. But even more importantly, that day at Bowcamp was when I decided Manitoulin Island was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I realized beyond any doubt that I never wanted to give up the freedom to run through forests and fields, build a campfire close to home, and sleep in a tent outside whenever I want.
Granted, rural life certainly isn’t for everyone. If you’re a person who depends heavily on fast food franchises, shopping malls and movie theatres, it goes without saying that you’re better off in an urban centre. But if you’re anything like me, and living with clean air and woods nearby means a lot to you, maybe you were made for the country, too.
All this isn’t to say that I’m completely anti-city. I often travel to Toronto to visit relatives, and enjoy the trips greatly. And there’s certainly something to be said for the convenience and opportunity of urban centres. But one thing’s certain in my mind: when I get the urge to grab a bow and arrows and stalk around outdoors looking for food, I’d rather not be in a place where people will start screaming and fumbling for their cell phones.
Robert Maxwell is a videographer, photographer, web designer and young homesteader who lives in Ontario, Canada. Learn more about Robert's company and projects at www.RobertMaxwell.ca.