Finding a Home

Forced to leave their life in the wilderness, the author and her two children set about finding a home and establishing new roots.

| October/November 1994

With all of the changes that have spun into my life in the past two years, in the struggle for survival I've come to realize finding a home is my most fundamental need. This may seem strange in a society where we regularly drop our dwellings and pick up new ones like so many discontented turtles. However, in the Ningunsaw Valley I had a home in the ultimate sense, and I lost all desire to live anywhere else; visit perhaps, but not live. No matter how far I roamed on the planet, my intention was to return with zest to our homestead among mountains that still cradled echoes of freedom.

But, as you know, fate had other plans for me. I'm back at Shuswap Lake (where I was born) and today I've retreated to a quiet spot on my mother's property. I'm sitting in a grove of wizened apple trees on a brown, leaf-strewn bank. Around me are horsetails. Back in the Ningunsaw Valley we regularly gathered them for goose food in the spring. They are believed to contain minute traces of gold, and my son Ben wondered years ago when one of our geese would lay a golden egg.

Finally I can see the beauty here again. When I first left the Ningunsaw I couldn't see it anywhere. Now the song sparrows, robins, ravens, red-winged black birds, and osprey have brought me back to alight on the truth of how much natural splendor there still is at Shuswap Lake.

By far the most eminent flowers present today are clusters of golden lady's slippers. Also called moccasin flowers, their claret-striped globes are ever ready to catch and hold a drop of rain. Relatively rare, they have made their annual appearance for as long as I can remember. My mother tells of how my grandfather would wander to the same spot each May to pick a bouquet for his wife's birthday. They resist transplanting and will die if they are removed from their natural setting. I can relate to this since I have always resisted transplanting as well, and I dissolved regularly into tears when, as a child, I had to move from this very home at Magna Bay. Throughout my youth I lived for the summers when I could return.

Leaving the Ningunsaw Valley 35 years later was every bit as painful. I was first cast into a ruthless renting situation in which I watched $600 a month go down a hole, never to surface again in any way that would benefit me and my children. It was guaranteed poverty. Nor was there any incentive to work on the-house or grounds, when any improvements instantly became the property of the landlord. Yet, with real estate prices soaring ever higher (at present, beach property sells at $2,500 per foot), purchasing a home was out of the question.

At the same time, my mother was pondering her own future, wondering how long she would be able to manage her two acres. Succumbing to societal pressure, she sporadically views her 74 years as a fragility, instead of as a strength that has given her a historical view of the world as well as intuitive wisdom. The impulse is to herd the elderly to town where they will have a less demanding life. This tendency taken to its logical conclusion terminates in an institution where they are stripped of most of their possessions and sit in line to wait for death. From my mid-life vantage point, I see my mother as remarkably active and capable. Granted, when the pressure has passed, Mom will proclaim, "I'm not leaving! This is my home. I love it here!" And I cheer her on. Where would she be without her own home and garden — the place that she built with her husband, my father? Some say not to cling to the past. Yet I perceive the essence of roots, the nurturing fingers clutching the earth and offering their splendid gift of grounding. And I can't help but wonder if some of us aren't like the precious lady's slippers — destined to be diminished or even destroyed by the process of transplanting.

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