This place is good for the soul. It’s been two years now since Sweetie and I purchased the Little House in the Bush, a modest raised bungalow on a chunk of Northern Ontario bush. Just shy of 12 acres, the land is mostly in its natural state as are the surrounding properties. People here cleared just enough for their dwellings and left the rest. There are trails now that meander through the bush, creating fine walks regardless of the season.
When I walk in winter, I am struck by the peacefulness, the quiet, the beauty. Even on -20 days, the trees provide shelter and the walking is a joy. In spring, when it’s wet and everything is coming alive once again, it’s the smells that strike me. That smell of earth and pine and clean. In summer, it’s a bit more challenging since the mosquitoes also love the woods but properly garbed and sprayed, even the bugs don’t bother too much. The birds are singing, woodland creatures are busy, staying just out of sight and the forest is alive. And in the fall, with the leaves changing colour, it takes me back to childhood, kicking through mounds of leaves and reveling in the crisp air.
What has struck me most about this new-found connection to the land is the connection to the land. I am not a religious person. I do not subscribe to a particular faith. But I have thought a lot about spirituality and what that means to a so-called non-believer. Here’s what I’ve come to believe: that spirituality is whatever it is that makes you feel human, that brings you peace and a sense of belonging. For me now, that’s what I find in our little bit of wild. I am drawn here now. And I am grateful.
My parents built this house some 40 years ago. They had lived their lives until then in town. But we were always an outdoors family. Growing up, summer vacations were camping and fishing. For a time, there were camps in the family (cottages to Southern Ontarians, cabins to Westerners). Two in fact and I have many good childhood memories from each. Eventually, they were sold out of the family – for economic reasons, for maintenance reasons, for reasons that I don’t quite remember. But the outdoors life continued. In fall, it was hunting. Many a weekend ended the lives of a few more partridge and many a kid turned up at show and tell in school with partridge feathers and occasionally, a wing or a foot. Deer and the occasional moose would fill our freezer and we’d dine on game for longer than my mother cared to. We stayed up late at night during the annual smelt run and learned to bait hooks and fillet fish whether we wanted to or not. I did not. I was for the most part an unwilling fisher and spent much of our time on the lakes of Northern Ontario sitting in the bottom of the boat with a book. But the sights and sounds and smells became part of me, more than I realized until we purchased the Little House in the Bush.
I had already moved away when my parents built this house so I never actually lived in it. But it was a constant in our family, for all of us – children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. We visited a few times a year and almost without exception, on arrival, remarked first on the how good the air smelled and then on how beautiful the stars were. No light pollution here. Sometimes, if we were lucky, spectacular Northern Lights.
A few years ago, my mother decided to sell the house. She had lived here alone for almost 20 years after my dad died. It was beginning to become more difficult to maintain and she worried that one of these days she would no longer be allowed to drive. So she did her research, checked out apartments and put her name on a couple of waiting lists. And then it was time to move. We’d been here that winter celebrating her 90th birthday and were walking in the bush and making snow angels. It was my sister who noted it would probably be the last time since the house was about to go on the market. That sat with me all the way home until I said to Sweetie a few days later that maybe we should buy it.
We like to say it was an astute financial decision but in reality, it was based on emotion and sentiment. We knew it would make the move easier for my mom and would allow her to visit any time she wanted. We knew it would make everyone happy that the house was staying in the family. We didn’t know just how much we would love it until we began to spend time here.
We came up for New Year’s the first year we owned the place. I had just retired from my job of 25 years and was feeling all the disconnect and confusion that transition can bring. On New Year’s Day, I woke to gently falling snow, big fluffy flakes adding to the blanket of white that surrounded the house and for the first time in quite a while, I felt I could breathe.
Since then, every trip here brings us closer to the land, to the community and to my family. I am constantly struck by memories and images and delighted by unexpected discoveries. We put up a Christmas tree this year and I found ornaments in the crawl space below the stairs that I recalled from childhood – the glass kind that broke easily and left bits in kids’ bare feet. I discovered my mother’s high school yearbook and learned more about my mom – a story for another time.
At first, I spent much of my time here alone but with Sweetie’s retirement at the end of last year, we are here together now and discovering a new phase of life. We are still working but on our own terms, a few contracts a year. I am drawn here now. And I am grateful.