We Followed Thoreau And Nearings... And Ended Up On Denman Island

Homestead on Denman Island, BC

It was the early 90's. I was an impressionable young man and a passionate one. I was in graduate school for Comparative Literature and I was obsessed with the simple life. Needless to say, Henry David Thoreau's Walden was constantly by my side. I read it every night. I even bought the whole Thoreau diary, I think it was 17 volumes, from which he culled the pearls of wisdom and experience and distilled them into Walden. I was at University Of Chicago for the semester and I was happy to find the complete set at the local used bookstore. It went for a high price but it was worth it. I read the set cover to cover. Yes, the mundane daily details of his account bored me, but I kept persevering because this was the foundation of wisdom, the source that Walden drew from. It was my one dream in life to live a life of solitude, in the midst of total nature.

Then I came across Helen and Scott Nearing in my research on sustainable living and simplicity. Remember, this was a time when sustainability wasn't yet a buzzword that's on everyone's lips. There was Norman Walker, who wrote a slim volume on living the rural life, and there were a smattering of literature on back-to-the-land to farm on five acres of independence, but that was pretty much it.

As an impressionable young person, I am glad I was influenced by upstanding authors and inspired by their books, which came from a deeply respectful place, respectful of nature, of other creatures, and of the planet.

So from Manhattan by way of Stockholm, Sweden, and Vancouver, BC, we ended up on a small island in the Strait of Georgia — Denman Island, on an abandoned 43 acres of former gravel pit, with a gorgeous view on the hilltop of the land below and the ocean beyond. The lower part of the property has a creek that runs through it as well as 10 naturalized ponds and beaver dams. It was heaven for me! It was everything I ever wanted.

We didn't have much. We set about to start an organic garden that would feed us. It was hard going because the land was classified by Agriculture Canada as non-arable land. It was all gravel and no soil. So we had to scrounge around for any organic materials we could get our hands on with the limited budget we have. We rounded up spoiled hay, seaweed, leaves, and any kind of natural mulch we could haul.

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