There came again a time in February when I got “Nova Scotia Cabin Fever”; that state by now fairly familiar to me when I just can't stand the bleak winter landscape around here any longer. Fields lay bare and brown, the ocean day after day displayed a greenish gray that makes your bones freeze just by looking at it, and the skies overcast.
Day after day after day. Mood: Downcast.
Travelling south doesn't tempt me, but I figured that the woods might contribute to lifting my spirits. Even without snow a healthy woodland would be interesting: Mosses and creeks running, smells of evergreen needles, towering trees.
I wondered, "How much space does a person really need?"
So I booked myself into the “Sweetwater” cabin at Windhorse Farm and awaited my retreat with excitement. Then, the day before I was to go there, it began to snow. Even better! I packed some books, a candle, cooked a couple of meals and got walking boots and snowsuit ready. The place is magical, and you are on your own. No electricity, no running water. Composting outhouse, a tiny gas cook stove and light, drinking water in a pack, a small woodstove for heat. A bed. A desk and chair. This is it. In a 10'x10' shack for a woman who is over six feet tall.
If your shelter is in a supportive environment, if you don't have to store everything you might need down the road, if you have people you can go and visit, I thought 10' x 10' might be surprisingly sufficient. It all depends on the health of what surrounds you. And the community and woods at Windhorse seemed healthy to me.
My guess is that the contemporary person's desire for a spacious home and an oasis backyard he/she can withdraw to is linked to the extend of which we feel that the environments we work and move in outside our homes have been altered beyond our control. They have been turned into places that do not sustain us well. Wispy forests damaged by decades of clear cutting; monocultures on industrial size fields, countryside inaccessible except by car, social events that require tickets and money. Then the home needs to give it all, be it all. In the process, we spend like crazy on renovations, additions, saunas and hot tubs, decks, gardens and gigantic BBQs. Is there perhaps an intentional link between the absence of public spaces where people can freely recover and rest and the economic interests behind the promotion of home improvement stuff?
I was happy in my 10'x10' cabin. I could get out whenever I wanted and walk in an old growth forest. I could read to my heart's delight and rest by the fire. I could walk to the main house and chat with one of the workers when I missed the sound of another human voice. I would see the prints of my big boots in the fresh snow every time I walked anywhere. It was as if the footprints in the snow said, “We, the fields and hedges, and woods and ravens, are watching you. Anything you do here, we'll see it. We'll feel it.”
I know I have big feet. Size 12 to be exact. But that’s not the problem.
The greatest impression of these days was the realization of just how big my ordinary “ecological footprint” must be. The fresh snow showed me every trace of my existence. Where do you pour the waste water from doing the dishes? There's soap in it. The snow will remind you where you poured the soap. Who will eventually remove my composted outhouse waste? What plants will it feed? How long will the water canister last? If I could not take the cans and food containers home, where would I put them? If a couple of days living in great simplicity can teach you that much about your impact on the environment, how come I hardly ever feel the impact of my much more wasteful living in my regular home? The problem is that we make everything “disappear” at home. We make it disappear too fast. Down the drain or into the attic or into the recycling bin. We never need to see how big our ecological footprint really is.
That you realize only when you live in nature and are determined to keep it as small as possible. Even just for two or three days.
And it helps when it snows.