In the Land of the Black Bear
It was a no-brainer. You probably would have done the same. The smell of gold from the smoke stacks of the prosperity generating pulp mills and lumber mills in Prince George in the confined area, an urban valley called “the bowl” was most likely going to be the death of some of us. At least one of us was asthmatic and had serious allergies to air borne particulates. After nearly two years of respiratory discomfort in the city it was clear that since the industrial engine of the region was not going anywhere, to escape its impact we would have to leave the fallout area.
We had lived in rental accommodations in an apartment in the Ospika area and later moved to a duplex and a row house development in the same vicinity. School would be the next phase in the evolution of our family and it was time to move beyond the transience that had characterized our first two years in Prince George. The region was attractive for raising a family and by now the rivers and mountains of British Columbia had become for us, psychic as well as geographic points of reference: East to Bowron River or further east to Mount Robson or further east to Jasper, Alberta: west to Fraser Lake or further west to Stellako River or further west to Bulkley Valley and Smithers. To put down stakes in the region we made a creative accommodation to retain the benefits of two well paying jobs in the city and minimize the impact of pollutants on fragile lung tissue. After assessing the prevailing winds in the area we decided to explore housing options in a rural area about 25-30 kilometres south of Prince George.
The classified ad section of the Prince George Citizen in May 1972 yielded an interesting possibility: 40 acres of land for $4700. For residents in rural spaces in interior regions of the North this price may not have been surprising; for the neophytes that we were then, to pay less for 40 acres than for a small city lot in Prince George was worth the daily 30 minute commute and lungs would, in theory have a happier existence. We did it!. We bought the property! Now what do we do with it? We build a house. Of course that is easier said than done. We would find that out soon enough.
The easy part of creating a home was now done: “journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” We had made that first step. It would now take patience, courage, perseverance, and many more qualities many of which we had short supply. We could learn but there was so much to learn and the learning curves were all steep since we were both academics with little experience in the many skills required to install services and construct structures worthy for human or animal habitation.
What exactly did we buy? How much in practical terms is forty acres? For people who have lived the urban life where residential lots contain a house and little else, how do we deal with the such an expanse? On forty acres where exactly do we build a house? What do we do with the thirty nine and three quarter acres left after building a house? The known knowns were few, the known unknowns were many, as for the unknown unknowns, mind boggling!
“More guts than brains” comes to mind as the impetus that propelled us. As well, we were imbued with a certain naive confidence that we could do what it would normally require many people with much more experience and skills than we possessed at that time.
In the face of the bewildering array of considerations that pertain to the transformation of a piece of land covered with some timber, overgrown with shrubs and brush and pock marked with rotted stumps, pot holes from upturned roots and crisscrossed wind fallen trees, it was helpful to imagine that all we were really seeking was a home. To simplify and reduce all the tasks would be a productive start to the thousand mile journey which would take us from the property we bought to the home we would build on that same property. In fact then, the single step and the thousand mile journey were one and the same.
While still living in Prince George in late summer we drove the 27 kilometres out to the property. The walk we took from the front edge on the rural road to the back limits was enough to ignite the fire of our ambition. Once past the front portion, about a hundred metres of swampy, dense underbrush, we came upon a grove of tall, elegant aspen at the foot of a green hill carpeted with thick moss, lichens and wild blueberries where spindly lodge pole pines bobbed, weaved and nodded their tufted green heads in the breeze.
We climbed the hill to see a sweeping view of the surrounding area. Looking west we could see the far bank of the Fraser River, between two and three miles away. A half way from the front, about thirteen hundred of the twenty six hundred feet length of the property, the green moss carpet continued with shiny Oregon Grape inclusions, under a healthy forest of densely packed, eighty foot long lodge pole pine trees. A property stretching a half mile long and over six hundred feet wide for $4700.00! And we had virtual control over this domain! Incredible!
The Camelot on the hill that we envisaged was a mirage since it quickly vanished on the way back towards the car. A distance of over 300 metres separated the road from the foot of the hill. The first of many obstacles would be the piles of debris composed of fallen trees which had been cut and abandoned over which we had to climb to regain the road. Reality set in. We would need a driveway a thousand feet long to reach the home that we would build. The driveway was another journey of a thousand feet started with the single step, the purchase of a chainsaw. The driveway would get underway a few days later: good luck with that!