You Can Go Home Again

One of MOTHER'S most popular columns, this final chapter tells of Deanna's return to her homesteading land in the Ningunsaw Valley of northern British Columbia.

| October/November 1995

When Deanna Kawatski first wrote us in 1991 of her family's homesteading adventure in the Ningunsaw Valley of Northern British Columbia, the power and beauty of her narrative was apparent not only to us, but happily to the thousands of readers who asked for more and who made her MOTHER'S most popular contributor in years. At once naive and world-weary, Deanna’s story was filled with simple strengths. Paradise found was a hand-hewn log home built overlooking the Ningunsaw River and days filled with the endless chores of growing food, cutting fuel, raising two children on $2,000 a year...and reveling in a life of utter independence. But as it turned out, the adventure was just beginning. Her home was lost two years ago in the wake of her husband's departure, and in a moment her family was forced to move back to the civilization it had struggled for so long to be free of. Deanna's stories continued from her new suburban home, but the note of sadness and loss in them was unmistakable. With this, the concluding chapter of her most recent journey, Deanna finally returns to the home she left long ago, and begins the struggle to build again. 

For nearly three years I was unable to return. Circumstances, cost, distance, and a deep sense of loss all conspired to keep me from visiting my old home in the Ningunsaw Valley. And I was scared. What would I have to face by going back there?
Fresh back from a library reading tour in the Kootenays, I was jolted by the phone call. The new owners revealed they were "out of here." Their offer was to sell the homestead back to me. I said, "I'm sure you must recognize how bizarre it is to be asked to buy my own place." "Yes, unfortunately there's a price tag attached to everything these days," came the terse reply. When Jay and 1 had been together, money never was the focus of our efforts and we lived on next to nothing. What an irony that now it should all boil down to dollars.

Scheduled to give workshops at a Young Author's Conference in 13 days, the trip north was nothing less than squeezed. The four of us, including Natalia, Ben, and my new partner, Eric, along with Charlie, the elegant sheltie, all crammed into our Toyota Tercel. As soon as we swung north of Kamloops, we seemed to immediately leave warm weather behind and enter the territory where seasonal awakenings come more slowly. We cut across country from Little Fort to 100 Mile House and encountered snowflakes flinging themselves against the windshield. The thought of my tulips at our new home lingered in my mind, transplanted from the Ningunsaw— bright flames that might well flare and fade before I got back. And Natalia had blessed me with yet another high school-hatched virus. We both had raw throats and swollen glands. Ben, in permanent jester hat, sat patiently counting his Pogs with as much relish as any king in his counting house. Nat, with her nose ring, made a habit of stealing Ben's bubble gum and bossing him incessantly.

A Huge Task Ahead

Throughout the trip, I was well aware that I had a huge task ahead. It involved sorting through our old life, and making the major decision whether to take control of our old valley home again or to simply let it go. To say yes, without hesitation, would be ignoring the facts. That was then and this is now. What we had will never be re-created in quite the same way. But then again, the valley might speak to me as it did those many years ago when Jay and I first fell in love with the territory. No matter what the outcome, our home still did, in essence, own us and it was up to us to abide by her wishes.

I caught the enchantment on Nat's face the moment the magnificent mountains surrounding Smithers came into view. That afternoon, before swinging north at Kitwanga, we pulled in for gas, and who should veer in but the new owner on his way to the homestead to move his belongings out. He warned of the nasty bear he had encountered between the two hills on the valley descent. The bruin had actually swiped at his leg.

North of Meziadin Junction, the land was still lidded with a stubborn cap of snow. As we vibrated our way through a maze of clearcuts, I was tempted to apologize to Eric for the ugliness, to say "I knew it when," but what was the point? This was part of the Cassiar Forest District, which occupies one-sixth of the land mass of British Columbia. A mere 3,000 people reside in the entire region. It has become world famous for its wildlife populations of caribou, mountain goats, Dall's sheep, Stone sheep, grizzly, black bear, wolverine, and myriad other animals and plants. The forestry's present plan to increase the annual allowable cut by 6 to 10 times is both criminal and appalling. Where should I begin to apologize?

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