OFF-GRID LIVING ON LASQUETI

 
Gerry and his dinghy off the coast of Lasqueti | September, 2016

Gerry and his dinghy off the coast of Lasqueti | September, 2016

I was raised as a city-dweller.

Life for me started in Manila, a metropolis with a population of 1.78 million. Then I grew up in a quiet suburb of Vancouver, where our apartment building was a short stroll away from school and the local mall. It was the perfect place to grow up with ambitions for university and a stable career. You can probably see some of my childhood in yours.

I was blissfully unaware of many of the global and environmental issues that preoccupy me today. I had no notions of adopting a nomadic lifestyle. I had not felt the call of the wild, and I certainly had no idea what off-grid living was.

As we become the sum of our experiences, some events reverberate with deep effect. Some widen our view of the world and alter our perspectives. Others inspire new career paths. It is often experiences gained through travel that become provocateurs of a deep-reaching, life-shaking shift.

On a weekend trip to a nearby island, I learned that we don’t need to roam very far to find places that resonate deeply.

treasure is buried in your own backyard

Cherry reading at the yurt, by jugs of collected rainwater, snapped with my Konica on 35mm film.

Cherry reading at the yurt, by jugs of collected rainwater, snapped with my Konica on 35mm film.

I had been invited to learn the basics of off-grid living. The invitation came through my friend Cherry, a masters graduate of Sustainability Science. She kindly extended to the invitation to me, and to Luke, who I had not met prior to Lasqueti.

Similarly, I knew very little about Lasqueti beyond the fact that it was an off-grid island nestled between Vancouver Island and British Columbia’s mainland. The lack of electricity attracts a unique community. Journeying from Vancouver, it took one ferry to reach Vancouver Island and another passenger-only ferry to set foot on Lasqueti.

Climbing the steep ramp from the ferry dock gave way to the town’s main drag — a diner, a convenience store, and little else. The solitary road meant we could go in one of two directions. We set off on foot and, taking Gerry’s advice to hitchhike in, hitchhiking in the back of a truck going the right way. We learned that Lasqueti is small enough for islanders to know of each other by name.

Gerry was chopping cedar shakes as he arrived. He paused from his work to give us a welcome tour of his 10-acre property. He had been cultivating a self-sustainable habitat for the better part of the last decade. The tour started at the yurt, a small structure reinforced with vinyl siding. Inside was a modest kitchen, a hearth-side recliner, a desk strewn with old maps, and a few drying pot plants.

We got a tour of the composting outhouse and the self-watering garden. We learned that a fridge can be made from an old metal filing cabinet and kept cool with just a tiny trickle of water. We also saw the ‘climbing tree’ and yoga and meditation platform. Indeed, Gerry had created a unique oasis. We dropped our bags off at our guest tent, pitched in a small clearing with proud cedars to stand guard, and set off on our first expedition.

Use what mother nature provides

Hitting the road in Gerry’s truck for our first excursion.

Hitting the road in Gerry’s truck for our first excursion.

Gerry’s main project is the construction of his passive house. He uses his forestry background to make cedar shakes (shingles) and offered to show us the process. It started with harvesting the right cedar, or “cream” as he liked to call it. We went off to the dock — riding again in the back of a pickup — to explore the island by boat.

The boat was more of a dinghy. Gerry suddenly announced that his little boat wouldn’t hold all four of us with a raised eyebrow. Luke, being the gentleman that he is, offered to let the ladies go. A few false engine starts and we were finally off. I might have worried about the engine sputtering to death before bringing us safely back, or setting out to remote coves with a stranger and a chainsaw, had I not been seduced by the sparkling blue sea and virgin islands that beckoned.

The chainsaw rattled and clanked against the hull until we finally landed ashore. “Lasqueti provides!” Gerry said with a grin as he pointed out what “cream” looked like. Cherry and I splashed around in the chilly water and stole the heat from sun-warmed rocks. Our journey back to the dock was timed perfectly with the sunset.

The next morning, Gerry taught us how to turn rounds of cedar into materials for shelter. By understanding the construction of the wood, they could be split in such a way that creates shingles. Gerry trades these materials and his services for food, gas, and essentials. He also barters his property for help from Workaway guests. He has largely avoided the use of money, yet halfway to being the owner of a stunning passive house.

It’s okay to be passive

Gerry reclines by the yurt’s hearth, enjoying his pace of life.

Gerry reclines by the yurt’s hearth, enjoying his pace of life.

Gerry used to work a white-collar job at a downtown-Vancouver office. He described his past self as a cog in a wheel who felt deeply unsatisfied. He abandoned his competitive environment in favour of an alternative lifestyle. He used a settlement form a bicycle accident to buy his plot on Lasqueti and never looked back.

After Luke felled a tree with a chainsaw, we got a tour of the house-under-construction to see where the wood would go: Gerry’s forever-home. It stood proudly amongst a dense forest of trees. Though only half-built, it looked nearly ready for a magazine. Gerry was designing and building his own home using the materials around him, like wood and styrofoam salvaged from the sea as insulation.

Gerry based his design on the contours of the land and the changing path of the sun throughout the seasons. Its windows would be oriented to keep the summer sun out and let the low-lying winter sun in to warm the dark flooring. He was also installing a hot water pipe to heat the floors, and a shower with unobstructed views of forest. In this environment, Gerry had cultivated the time and patience to get his project right — down to the most minute details.

Quitting his job to live a “passive” off-grid lifestyle is a misconception. It is one thing to clamber up the corporate ladder, build a career, and starting a home — but there is nothing “passive” about constructing your habitat stone for stone.

NOTHING SAYS ROMANCE LIKE VEGETABLES

Painting and reading in the yurt on our last afternoon.

Painting and reading in the yurt on our last afternoon.

The weekend was one of mutual exchange. We shared stories as we chopped the wood that would keep him warm in the coming winter. We plucked the weeds in his self-watering vegetable garden while collected tomatoes and zucchini for dinner, chuckling every time we found a pot plant marauding amongst the rest.

To thank Gerry for his hospitality, we made pizza from scratch in the yurt’s kitchen corner and dined cross-legged on the floor. The garden’s vegetables nourished us well as we talked about past wilderness adventures and our hopes for a more sustainable future. I felt fortunate to spend the weekend amidst a blazing hearth and kindred spirits.

I had gone three days without electricity and single-use plastic. Three days without social media or screens. When my camera died, I used an old analog Konica rescued from an antique shop. Shooting on film, I rediscovered the mindfulness involved in framing and focusing measured shots, as well as the joy of spontaneously clicking.

I realized that my life was full of things and conveniences that I didn’t really need. I was inspired to see how I could bring these new ideas into my life, cut the noise, and reduce my footprint on the planet.

On our last walk “home” through the silent forest leading to our tent, Luke and I stopped at the garden once again, this time to enjoy the night sky. Beyond the reach of city light pollution, even lesser stars sparkled vividly. Our rather unexpected adventure from Canada to India, and now Slovenia, started in a starlit vegetable patch on the off-grid island of Lasqueti, by the light of two headlamps.

As we plunge deeper into the unknown, we keep lessons from Lasqueti close to heart with one particular truth in mind…

We can design the life we want

No matter how outlandish it may seem.

Cherry, Gerry, Trixie, and Mary Jane in the corner.

Cherry, Gerry, Trixie, and Mary Jane in the corner.

For more information about living off=grid, check out Gerry’s YouTube channel.