Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
There seems to be no limit to the things that surprise, delight, mystify and terrorize me, living in the woods. I blame movies for causing much of my terror. So often I’ll be lost in contemplation while I’m weeding or working in the garden when I suddenly realize that I’m not alone. I’ll hear a sound coming from the corn and immediately imagine either nice people, like the baseball players emerging from the cornfield in “Field of Dreams” (I guess I built it so they came), or nasty aliens from M. Night Shyamalan’s movie “Signs” with Mel Gibson. I can usually handle whatever I imagine coming out of the corn, but I can’t handle it when Michelle sneaks up on me. I saw a movie called “The Woman in Black” (most of which I didn’t watch because I had my hands over my eyes) in which a pale-skinned woman dressed in black (no surprise there) appears out of nowhere and bad things happen. (Watch a clip here, if you dare)
Any time that Michelle (or anyone else, for that matter) suddenly appears in the garden or the guesthouse while I am distracted, my mind immediately envisions the woman in black. I’ve warned Michelle that she’s going to cause me to have a heart attack some day if she insists on sneaking up on me. Peripheral vision can be a scary thing when you daydream.
I see some of the coolest sights at night. We are about an hour’s drive away from the nearest city so it is very dark here. I love just standing and staring into the sky. After your eyes acclimatize to the darkness, the number of stars is mind-boggling. Despite my ignorance about constellations and what I’m looking at, I love stargazing.
Depending on the conditions there can be a glow to the south from the lights of Kingston or to the east from Ottawa, which is two hours away. One night I’m sure there was an alien spacecraft in the woods behind our house. I looked out back and the pond behind our place was all lit up. It was winter and I could see the light through the trees. Michelle saw it too, so I know I’m not crazy. I walked out towards it and wondered how a bunch of vehicles with bright lights could be in that area of the woods, which is pretty much inaccessible by vehicle. I expected to see a crew fueling an alien spacecraft like in a Steven Spielberg movie. I must say, I felt a fair amount of trepidation, even with Morgan the Wonder Dog leading the way. When I made my way through the woods to the clearing of the pond I realized that the light no longer appeared to be coming from that spot but now it seemed to be coming from the next pond. I walked through the woods to the next pond and once again the source of the light seemed to move further into the woods.
Eventually I figured out it that it wasn’t an alien landing craft or a band of Mad Max marauders. It seemed that light from a long way off was being refracted close to the ground so it looked like something was bright and low even though nothing was there. It was cool and freaky. I think it’s similar to the effect called St. Elmo's fire, which Wikipedia describes as an “electrical weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a coronal discharge originating from a grounded object in an atmospheric electric field.” And here I thought St. Elmo’s Fire was just a cheesy 80s movie with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore.
Last night I thought I was going to be abducted by an alien spacecraft. At 10 o’clock I took Morgan the Wonder Dog out for his last pee. Now that he’s getting older we find that it’s more important than ever to encourage this bedtime ritual. I have been known to join him. As I was staring at the sky I saw a light coming from the east. It was cloudy and foggy yet the light was there. It kept moving. And it was growing stronger. It was getting really bright and dancing all over the place and it was spooky as hell. I waited for the landing and tried to remember the five tones from the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Finally I heard the sound of a car and I realized it was just headlights I’d been looking at. The slight wind was from the west, which prevented me from hearing the car, and the fog seemed to have had a real deadening effect on the sound as well. I like that feeling of not knowing what’s coming and there being an element of danger to it. I like to exaggerate but I’m really not that nervous about it Like Phil Dunphy on the TV show “Modern Family” says, “I’ve seen Ghost Busters like 7 times, so nothing phases me.”
I will admit being terrified once though. One winter night after going to bed I woke up later to the howling sound of a strong wind. I have two solar trackers that I move manually to track the sun. They have holes drilled in the flanges and I drop an anchor bolt through to the holes to hold the tracker in place. (My brilliant neighbor Ken Gorter designed my trackers). The bolt keeps the tracker from moving around in the wind. It had been a calm day and so I’d been lazy and had neglected to insert the pin. But when I heard the howling wind I knew I had to go back out and put the pin in. My plan was to just rush out and rush back in, so I didn’t even bother to put on a coat. The furthest tracker is about 150 yards from the front door. When I got out there it was really windy which can be kind of freaky in the inky blackness with just a small one-LED-bulb flashlight.
Then I heard a scream. Not a normal scream, but an otherworldly scream from some creature that you don’t even want to imagine out there in the cold inky blackness. The kind of scream that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, because a scream like that was programmed into your DNA a million years ago to tell you that this is a huge problem that requires immediate action - most likely running like hell. But there was huge expanse between me and the house. And I couldn’t tell where the scream had come from. Presumably the alien creature, all slimy with exposed ribs, dripping mandibles and razor sharp claws was waiting out there in the darkness.
We had heard that a cougar had been spotted in the area and so of course I decided it wasn’t wise to try to fight it off in the pitch black … in the cold … wearing only pajamas, not well noted for their ability to protect you from a mauling by a wild cat of any size. So did what any real man would do… no walking slowly and nonchalantly back to the house for me … I ran like hell!
Days later after doing some research and talking to our neighbours, we realized that the horrific screeching had probably come from a female fox who has a den in the rocks alongside the road near our place. I’m presuming winter is courting time for her and she was making her presence very well known. The thought of a sound like that coming from such a small creature still amazes me. We like having the fox around. I haven’t had a problem with rabbits in the garden and I assume that the fox is doing her part to keep the population of rabbits down. One winter day I watched from my office window as a fox rooted around in a pile of brush near our pond and came out with a rabbit in its mouth. Nature can be pretty brutal.
Our nearest "neighbour"
We have had the pleasure of seeing the northern lights in all their glory a few times while we’ve been living here. It’s a mystic experience. Sometimes living in the bush you can see why ancient cultures developed various gods and legends to describe these natural occurrences. I don’t always understand what I’m looking at, but I am constantly in awe. None of it is in High Definition, 3D, 1080p Dolby 5.1 surround-sound like you get on The Nature Channel. It’s just magical.
Photos by Cam Mather and wikicommons.