Little Houses

If you take the ferry just north of Vancouver from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, cross Howe Sound for forty minutes, then drive north about an hour, past Gibsons, Sechelt and Halfmoon Bay, you’ll come to a village called Madeira Park. If, just before coming to the village, you turn left off the highway, go down the hill and turn left again just as the hill starts going up again, you’ll see a small cabin on your right hand side, set in amongst a handful of tall cedars and pines. It’s a cabin that belongs to some friends of mine, and where I lived just before moving to Holland.

It’s a place I’ve been missing lately, for the silence, for the sound of loons calling just after dawn, for the proximity of a tiny, sheltered bay with a stone beach and water that was clean enough to swim in (though cold!), clear enough that one could gather a dinner of oysters and mussels. It was a bay where starfish would cluster in astonishing numbers, and a place that looked completely different at each point of tide.

I’ve lived in a lot of cabins in my life… as a child,

as a teenager, and on the Rideau Canal,

and in the foothills of the Rockies

and I miss each one of them dearly. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been much of a city person, but the nice thing about Amsterdam is that it feels like a village, particularly in the summer when most of Holland occupies France. Toronto, where I grew up, is too big for me to live in now. The idea of living in Paris (it embarrasses me to say) horrifies me. Je m’excuse. So Mumbai, Beijing, Buenos Aires? No way. For a visit, absolutely, but not to live.

Live is the operative word. This is all very subjective, but for me, “living” in a big city feels more like “survival”. The negotiation of obstacles – none of which is a particularly enjoyable thing, nor what makes me feel alive – in order to simply carry on. I enjoyed cities much more when I was living in those cabins. The city was an adventure, a challenge… I’d cycle in, spend the day soaking it up and be back in my bed in the woods that same night. Marvellous.

I crave those cabins here, where nowhere is more than a stone’s throw away from a metropolis, or at least a heavily populated area (and if it is, it’s somehow not nearly as charming or comforting to me as the Canadian wilderness – it always feels like a compromise, or forgotten in a sad kind of way). I crave them because what made them liveable was a more pure (or old-fashioned) idea of “survival” – the need to gather and chop wood a year ahead of time to heat the house, collecting nettles for soup… no incessant rush of traffic that caused me to think “what are they all doing, why is this necessary?”

That felt real to me.