Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Many years ago when we were in our early twenties Michelle and I made a move from one city to another. All of our belongings were loaded into a rental trailer and wouldn’t you know it, we got a flat tire on the trailer. It was a Sunday morning on a 4-lane divided highway. Luckily the highway was pretty quiet and we were able to hike across it and then across a field to a house that we had spotted. It was in a fairly isolated spot, so there weren’t many houses to choose from. While Michelle sat and waited with his wife, “John” drove me back to our trailer which meant backtracking to the nearest on/off ramp where he helped me to remove the tire, then drove me to a repair shop where I was able to get the tire fixed, drove me back and helped me put the tire back on, and then took me back to his house to pick up Michelle. All on a Sunday morning. On his day off. How to you repay someone for doing all of that? We certainly didn’t have any money to spare in those days. I vowed then I would remember his kindness and help others whenever I could.
The need to help didn’t become a reality until we moved to the middle of nowhere. Our house is the only one on a 10 km stretch of road. The Kouri’s live about 6 kms to the west and the Gorters live about 4 kms to the east. Ten kilometers is a long distance to walk if your car breaks down. I keep a spare jerry can of gas in the garage that I lend out when people run out of gas. Over the years I have also picked up a number of stranded drivers and it turned out that a lot of them are my neighbors. What better way to meet your neighbors?
We are surrounded by an undeveloped provincial park and hunting camps and our house is often the place that men dressed in orange and carrying guns show up when they lose their bearings. Having lost my bearings in the woods myself on occasion I’m happy to help out.
We’ve learned about an interesting aspect of human nature while we’ve been living here. We’ve noticed that people seem to prefer to stop near a dwelling if they have to stop while driving on back roads. Often when I’m outside I’ll hear the sound of a vehicle stopping in front of my house. I might not be able to see it through the bush and trees, but I’ll hear the sound of the motor slowing down and sometimes I’ll even hear the slam of a door or two. I assume that perhaps the driver and passenger are switching places, or someone needed to have a stretch or read a map or whatever. Many people seem to prefer to stop near a dwelling. I guess it’s comforting. I’m at a point now where I rarely investigate because I just assume it’s someone reprogramming their GPS and rather than stopping in the middle of nowhere, they feel more comfortable stopping in sight of my gate.
The other day I was driving back from my neighbours’ place after dropping off the manure trailer. A Jeep full of young women flagged me down. I’d spent the morning shoveling manure with a wool hat on, so I smelled like a barn and looked like the sort of person you would be wise to avoid. One of the young women asked me how to get to Kingston. When I learned that they were coming back from skiing at Calabogie I realized that they had missed the turn down Highway #38 at Parham, which is a pretty common mistake. We’re about 20 kms from that turn so they were really lost.
I told her to drive back the way she had come but to be sure to turn south when she got to Parham. Then she asked, “How close is the nearest gas station?” Well it’s quite a ways away and I wasn’t even sure it would be open on a Sunday morning. So I offered to lend her a jerry can of gas if she was concerned. She admitted that her Jeep Grand Cherokee really sucks back the gas and her fuel level was at about the 1/8 mark. So they ended up following me back to my place and I sold them 15 liters of gas. I was pretty sure that much would get them back to Kingston. I also gave them a copy of our book “$mart Power, the Urban Guide to Renewable Energy and Efficiency” to explain to them why they should be driving a Honda Civic. I’m not sure if they got it.
One cold and dark late winter night a few years ago, we were just heading off to bed when there was a frantic knock at our front door. Our friend Carolyn had been on her way home from Ottawa and her van had hit black ice and rolled down a gully. She and her son had hiked about 2 kms in the cold and the pitch black to get to our house. Once we got them warmed up I went back and grabbed a few things out of the van for her and drove them to their home to Tamworth. She called the police from her place and later when I spotted the police car go by I went to show the cop where the van was. I sure didn’t get much sleep that night!
For a while Michelle and I had a Sunday morning routine in which we would make ourselves coffee and toast and enjoy breakfast in bed while we read the big Saturday paper. (Since we can't get newspaper delivery out here we would buy the Saturday paper on Saturday afternoon and wait until Sunday morning to read it.) One Sunday morning at about 7 am we heard a car stop at the end of the driveway, doors slammed open and close, and then it drove off. It seemed weird but not uncommon. Because that’s what people do on our road. Then I looked out the front window and noticed two people, one in pajamas, walking towards our house.
It was a young male of 17 or so and an even younger female. They said that they’d had an accident down the road, had been picked up and dropped off by two women passing by and just needed to come in and use our phone to call his dad. We quickly agreed and let them in. He was pretty banged up and she was really sleepy. They told us some convoluted story about having been at a party and losing their way on our dark country roads and blah blah blah. As parents we would want to know that others would help our daughters, and so our first priority was to make sure that they were OK. Once he called his dad, who lived more than an hour away, we went about trying to fix him up. He had glass in his eye and Michelle was trying to get it out. Actually Michelle was trying to convince him to let us take him to the hospital but he absolutely refused to even consider that. After a while I went down to check out their van and I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was a mess! I couldn’t believe that they’d managed to walk away from such a wreck. When I got back to the house I tried again to convince him to go to the hospital. He refused and told us some story about the time he’d lost a tooth in a fight and how the people at the hospital had put it back in his mouth … backwards. He had no respect for hospitals!
By then his girlfriend had fallen asleep on our couch and I was getting concerned that she was going into shock. Eventually the dad arrived and off they went. Shortly afterwards our neighbor Todd arrived at the door. He works for Ministry of Natural Resources. He asked if I knew anything about the wrecked van down the road and I told him about our visitors. He asked if I’d called the cops. We’d been so focused on helping these kids that we’d never even thought to call the police. Duh.
Several hours later I was working outside and saw an OPP cruiser drive by so I went down to the wreck. I told the cop about the kids who had visited me that morning and he told me that the van had been stolen, which would explain their hesitance to go to the hospital.
Then the cop started asking me questions. I felt like a seven-year-old being questioned by my dad. Did I get the license plate number of the father’s car? No. Why would I have? Could I describe him? No. Could I describe the kids? Well, they spent an hour and a half in my house but I couldn’t begin to describe them. Nope again. And on it went. I did however have the fathers’ phone number the kid had left for me. The cop said it was probably a fake. My shoulders dropped another inch.
Turns out that people who have learned to expect the worst of people, like cops, take note of these things. Turns out that I expect the best of people and so I didn’t. The kids who arrived at our door were about the same age as our own daughters. All we could think about was that if our kids were in the same boat somewhere else, we would hope that someone would help them the way we had helped those kids.
After this incident we have a new policy here at Sunflower Farm. If you arrive at our house and you’ve put your car in the ditch, our first step will be to call the cops to report your accident. If you aren’t in agreement with this rule you’re free to keep walking to one of our neighbours. We’ve already established that it’s going to be a long walk…..
In the “it’s a small world” theme, it turns out that our friend Lorraine knew of this incident. The van had been “borrowed” by the kid from his grandfather late in the evening without permission. The grandfather reported the van as stolen to teach his grandson a lesson. Because we live off the grid and use a cell phone for all of our calls, we get an itemized bill every month of every call that comes in or goes out. We were able to check the phone number that the young man had given to us and it did indeed match the number that he called for his dad. So the story was a bit twisted, but not as sinister as it might have first appeared.
I’m hoping that all of the emergency gas we've provided and the help we’ve given to lost and banged up motorists over the time we’ve lived here is helping to pay back our good fortune at finding that guy who so willingly sacrificed his Sunday morning for us, all of those years ago.
Photo By MJCdetroit (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons