Canadian Wilderness, alone, over a year.

I did not plan this. If I had tried, I would have found it impossible, and given up. I do not know where to start. I will try from the beginning. My job as Economic Development Officer with the Okanagan Indian Band  was coming to an end, already lasted two years longer that agreed upon. I had no money, my divorce had cleaned me out. I had friends, contacts, guts; and nothing to lose.

Through my real estate friend David …. an English gentleman, now retired; this by the way, was in Vernon B.C.,  1995, I put in some offers on large properties with harvestable timber. Timber prices was high, and money could be made, if you had know how and guts.

The year before I saw an industrial building in Vernon, empty, and for sale. A nice building, downtown, needed some painting, called my friend Dave. ( When I worked for The Okanagan Indian Band, I had purchased some major properties, using Dave as the agent.) I then looked for possible tenants, got a tip that a Penticton Company was looking for a branch place in Vernon.  Contacted the owner, a nice businessman , handicapped and in a wheelchair, but very successful. I told him most of the truth, that I had an offer on his property, but needed a major tenant to finance the purchase. He agreed, because he just wanted a long-term lease. We wrote an Intention for a lease Agreement. I took that to Dave, gave him a deposit cheque, that had no cover, before I could deposit my cheque from the lessee.

The deal came about, everybody happy, I needed some more money to fix the building and property up, so I asked my friend Johan …. if he was interested. He came up from Vancouver, loved the building, the smooth deal, with a new tenant already in place; so he bought the whole property from me. I made some good money, most of it went to the divorce lawyers.

Back to the Sugar Lake Property, it was owned by somebody that worked with the Ministry of Forest. He knew the value, was asking $ 785.000. I offered $ 350.000. Dave thought I was crazy, no road access, no possible way to get the timber out. There was fish bearing stream that needed a large bridge, and several smaller bridges, and some kilometers of road, in the bush.

An  older American couple, not legally in Canada, owned a property with road access, close to this property. Many Americans stayed in Canada, long after the Vietnam war. It is easy to see on Google World, but I don’t know how to put the map on this page, yet. I made a deal with this couple, not to tell the immigration about their stay, and to pay the a royalty of each cubic meter of timer I took out. But, these fragile roads were only good in the winter, when it was frozen, so I had only a few months to get the timber out. In addition I got permit to build a temporary road, for the winter. During a big rainstorm, some silt went out in the creek, and could have had impact on the fish. With good advice from fisheries and forestry, I used a lot of square hay bales, to make a dam. and strain the water through the hay. That worked well.

This was a deal, the owner had not been able to make, so he sold it to me for my offer, after 6 months or so. He wanted paid in full. Where would I get $ 350.000. Dave was worried, he was a serious agent, and not used to this type of wheeling dealing. I went to several sawmills and offered them the timber, cash up front. The … mill in Lumby  put up the money the next day.

We agreed that the Ohashi Bros, an older logging company in Lumby would do the logging, select, with hand falling, careful building skid trails, and winter only. By older, I mean older, the average age of these fine men was 67 years, hand logging, in the winter time, man, these men knew their job. They made 3 dumpsites, 2 on one side of the river, one on the other.

That winter they trucked out over 350 large truck loads, average 38 + cubic meters, of timber to the mill that had put up the money. The advance debt was soon paid, and money started to roll on to my account, and I used much of it to build roads and bridges to the property.

The burnpiles were huge, large as a big barn, several stories high. A mix of rotten older logs, roots, branches, cut offs; everything that could not go to the mill. When the snow came in October, a forestry helicopter came by, dumbed some diesel and lit the piles. This is standard procedure, to get the wood piles burned. The idea is that they would burn down over winter. That was not so, the largest burned for two years. The smaller for over one year. The next summer I had to put firewatch with the larger burnpile. I hired a back hoe, a cat, and buried the pile as well as we could. But it kept on smoking, and with some wind, the flames came out, very scary.

No avail, I had to hire somebody to stay there as a firewatch, or be there myself. I bought rolls of 2″ plastic hose, rolls of 1 1/2 ” distributer hose, large commercial fire sprinklers, and found water springs,  and engaged the system. With up to 35 celsius, hot dry forest, one spark and some warm wind, it would set the whole mountain side ablaze. With a small cat I cleared the area around the burn pile, and the sprinklers sprayed water, all summer and fall until the frost, and again the whole next summer.

The first summer I needed a place to stay. I purchased a 40′ mobile home, not in good shape, for a couple of thousand. Trucked it to the closest site a truck could come and turn around. Used a cat to drag it to the site. There were still no roads. Got a waterline hooked up from a spring about 500 yards away, fantastic clear water. Dug a septic field with a backhoe, now I had running water and toilets. The mobile home had gas water heater, fridge and stove. After a few smaller explosion, I decided the natural way was better, and installed a wood stove, I had lots of wood.

Once in a while I lost the water pressure. Checking the lines, I saw high fountains of water. The black bears liked to chew on the lines, puncturing them, creating the fountains. I finally had to bury the lines to stop this. I had one rifle with me, loaded, under the bed, but the door was 3″ thick, ot rather thin. A black bear would hesitate, a grizzly would walk right in. It that case a rifle would be of no use. A small can of pepperspray was my main protection. Of course, it can only be used witheen 15′. It was 3′ to the door, just perfect. Walking or riding in the bush, I had a small bell, Swiss made, a nice ring to it, it rang like if Santa was on the way. Any bear would distance himself before I arrived on the scene.

Hot water was easy, I got a coil of black 1″ plastic hose, laid it on the hot metal roof, and voila, the water was heated by the sun, for free. I needed some power, and used a small solar panel to power what I needed. This was ok for the summer time.

I played soccer twice a week, for Vernon Springs Brewery,  and coached a ladies team, so three times a week I made the run to town, to Vernon. The problem was getting back to the property, after that the last pub closed for the night. The road was not completed all the way in, so I had a distance to walk.  That varied with the wet trail conditions. I more than often, found a shadowy place, usually behind a large haystack on a farmer’s field close to the road, and with my border collie “Lita”, slept for the night, and drove the 1 and 1/2 hour the next morning. I have no record of how many nights I slept in my pick up or my old Mercedes that summer, always a good sleep.

The main bridge was most difficult. I was not allowed to touch, dig or disturb the creek bed, because of the fish habitat. I purchased a used Railroad Switch Bed, the bed used at a railroad station, where they turned the locomotives around, in a large circle crib. These beds could bear 85 tons, were about 60′ long, and 10′ wide, enough for a logging truck. It was trucked close to the site where I wanted the bridge. From there, two large cats dragged it to the site. With a cable and a which, the cats could pull it across the river, without touching the water or riverbed, and put it in place. We had our bridge. No damage to the river and fish habitat, whatsoever.

The smaller creeks were easier, from the truck wrecking places I got several older truck beds, some with the wheels still on, some from accidents, twisted, some all right, just old. These made excellent small bridges over smaller creeks, good enough for a pick up. A little scary when icy, don’t brake, just carry on. Two of them ended up as addition to the mobile home, it was easy to build a frame on them, parked parallel to the mobile home. During the next winter I covered the truck beds and mobile with a new metal roof.

With  a small cat, and paid help from a neighbour with a backhoe, I get a provisional road in to the main site, actually two roads, one more dangerous than the other. The problem was blue clay, and heavy rain, a bad combination anywhere. One time I was stuck with my new  4 x 4 GMC pick up, for several days, about one km. from the site, and I had a few chickens and one rooster with me. I had to let them loose. They never made it to the site, and were there all summer.

I slept fine in the pick up, but the dam rooster, now perched high in a tree, woke me up too early. I made a trail of grain, from there to the cabin site, they came some of the way, and then back to where they first got loose.

Already the first summer I moved out of my house, brought a couple of horses, some sheep, a few chickens and two dogs to the site. I was single, it was exciting, I kind of liked it. Fantastic areas to ride. As the road improved, I could bring other items in. The hot tub was the most important. Then a one cylinder Deutz Diesel generator, to heat the hot tub. I had seeded the whole area with several types of clover, and other plants suitable for the climate and elevation, about 1.200 m.

About Oct. 15. the snow came. Up until then, the weather was fine, I had never dreamed of spending the whole winter there. It snowed for a week. Nothing could move. My new 4 x 4 GMC Pick Up was snowed in, I was not prepared at all. It was next April before I could drag it out with a cat. I had lots of hay for the horses, the sheep was already killed by a grizzly. After a week I hiked in the deep snow to the road, a couple of miles, and hitched a ride to town.

There I had an old Ford Pick Up, sure came in handy now.  An older yellow Mercedes was no use in the winter time. I did not think much of the situation. Collected my cross-country skies, a sleigh, winter clothes, and prepared myself. When in town i stayed with my good friend Brodie ….., in Armstrong. The winter before, we had both taken time off. Every day, all winter, we skied at Silver Star

every day, that whole winter, rain, snow or not. Some days in the pub all day, because of bad weather conditions. Silver Star is a high elevation site, and a real great area. Brodie and some of my other friends were ok with the situation, that I would go back to the bush for the winter, I guess they did not believe it. They probably figured that I would come back to town one day soon. They knew me better that I knew myself. I had no plans, no strategy, or concept of wintering in the bush. I just packed a few things, very few, because now I had to carry them in a pack sack, or drag them on a sleigh.

The pick up I had to dig into the snow bank, close to a river crossing. From there it took all the rest of the day to make it up to the cabin. “Lita” the border collie is useless in snow, “Wolfie” the large Turkish Mountain Sheep Guard Dog, was not used to a sleigh at all, I had to pull it. Deep snow, uphill, heavy sleigh, almost like Santa on a bad day. Many times I had to leave the sleigh, with a big load; to retrieve it the next day or two, hoping the cougars had not taken the food. Luckey the bears were asleep by now.

I had the choice of two ways. The shorter way included crossing a small river, but big enough to having to take boots and socks off, roll up to the knees, and cross the icy waters. The other way was a few kilometres longer, a long uphill, over a bridge, and then a downhill. I made the choice depending on the time of day and the skiing conditions. The next day I would go back and bring home the last of the supplies. Dogfood was often the heaviest load. Some trips were better without skies. Some trips was very bad. Especially when I could not make it back to the cabin before dark. Wolfie, the mountain dog saved my life once or twice, at least I told him so. He dragged me home, in the deep snow. He knew the way.

Alone, in the Canadian Wilderness, about as far away from people as one can get.  Not one light in sight. Not one sound. You could shoot a cannon in any direction, nobody would hear or care. Sitting in my steaming hot tub, in the dark of the evening, minus 35 below, every star on heaven as bright as can be, no city lights to spoil the view. The best time of my life. I can explain, but it takes time. I have had some good times in the civilization, but nothing compares with this.

The sound of quiet. Not a sound. Yes, all the natures sounds were there. In the summer it is insects, birds and that is it. I always had a bird feeder, with lots of visitors, and of course my favorite, several humming-bird feeders, I just love them. In the winter it is birds, and sounds of the forest, snow falling off a branch. Can you imagine anything more relaxing. A more beautiful place. You can hear the lack of sound. I had tinnitus for years, in the bush you can not hear it. Any music on the radio would destroy the mood. Once in a while I could hear the sound of a logging truck using air brakes on a distant logging road, almost like a humming bee, even that did not bother me.

 In the summertime the sounds of the forest is incredibly, intense, almost loud. Some insects are loud. Some birds are taking advantage, their sounds go for ever. An extraordinary event was when the fire ants made their flight. All at the same day, as cloud in the skies, coming out of old roots everywhere, taking just one flight, upon landing their wings falls off. One flight,  one chance to meet your queen, and start a new life.

A dog barking, a wolf howling is the exception, in the wintertime a wolf pack howling, is scary as hell. Moose, bears and cougars are very quiet, but if you are lucky enough to be close to a lake, and can hear the call of the Loom, a bird from the ages of dinosaurs, then you are in the real Canadian wilderness. This is not a place to be if you are afraid of the dark.

I have told you the bear story with the Swede saw, many other nice stories to follow, but what I am not able to convey to you, is the incredible pleasure of spending a year in total quietness. Not hearing any sound, no machine, no motor, no street noise, no noise at all. Just quiet, that can not be explained, one must experience it. There is no value to put on this, if you want to live, try it, not for a day, but for a year or so. Much more to come from the wilderness.

Trips to town was irregular, every couple of weeks, or once a month, much depending on weather snow condition. I was able to wash clothes on the site, I had enough diesel to last all winter for the generator. I had to run it three hours every day to keep the hot tub to 39 degrees. During these hours I recharged some very large batteries. Six of them, 2 volt each, serial coupled for 12 volt. Same as the solar panel. This gave plenty light, radio and also to power my radio telephone, installed in the GMC Pick Up parked outside the cabin, covered in snow. For reading, cross words and  just spending the evenings, a candle is fine, but heavy to carry.

The radio reception, even with a long wire antenna, was almost nil. I could not always hear the Canucks hockey games. When the generator ran, I had time to watch a movie. I had brought a few  movies, some I saw hundred, or may times, they got better and better. Record was My Cousin Winny, the casting there is awesome, lines are classic. The American President and Dave, are both good, spaghetti western with Clint Eastwood, and a few more.

The trips to town needed some planning, having proper clean clothes, bringing both dogs, getting to the parked truck, digging it out, hoping the battery was strong enough to start, and getting it on the road. It took one day to get to town, and one day back. My mailbox at the gas station in Cherrywille often had some items that needed attention.

Shopping was different. Everything I purchased I had to carry on my back, or pull in a sleigh. I often held items in the store, weighing them in my hand, do I want to carry this or not. Most often not. The grain mill store in Armstrong had every kind of dried grain, peas and beans. Light to carry, real good food, and the basis for all meals. Most useful is whole barley. I needed some meat, and usually it would be beef short ribs, with bones, for the dogs. These had lots of fat, and I could make stews, soups and meals that lasted for many days. I ate as much as I could, and still lost weight. I did not bake bread, but buns, pancakes, and various bannock. Sugar and salt, and honey, concentrated lemon juice; was about all I needed. I got fish at Sugar Lake, summer and winter. The most important was stacks of crossword puzzle magazines, and I treasure some books.

Before the snow came, I had found a large wood burner, capable of logs over 3′ and over 1′ diameter. There was no place inside, so I installed it outside, with two large 20″ heat ducts in to the cabin. This would burn all night, and heat was never a problem. I had lots of fire-wood. But, it was snowed down. I made trails to the big dry logs, and cut with a powersaw. Dragging the wood on a sleigh back home, and chopping with an axe or large wood splitter. I stored wood along the outside walls, as extra insulation, and it looked good, nicer that the cabin walls.

I always had to be extra careful, with the powersaw, the axe, even with knifes in the kitchen, where most accidents happens. I could not avoid cuts now and then, but only once I had to make a few stitches. I always had needle and tread, or dental floss works, most to stitch the animals wounded by barbed wire. At this place were no barbed wire. If you ever have to make a stitch on yourself, pretend it is on somebody you don’t like, and that way it does not hurt, failing that, use some of the moonshine in the tea, not only as disinfectant on the sore. You are long away from any doctor, or anybody to take you there, you are alone.

Before winter, the two horses took off, scared away by a Grizzly, I don’t blame the, I saw what the bear did to my sheep. I had to feed the all winter at a neighbor, a few miles away. One was Tika, a good riding horse, one was Danielle, a Percheron draft horse,  huge, over 17 hands and 2100 lbs. I had no saddle to fit her, and only I dared ride her. I sat at the neck, the belly part was too wide. She walked like an elefant, and never changed the stride, I never saw her gallop. I loved her. The raw iron to make her shoes was 16″ long, howes big as a dinner plate. She was trained to pull timber, but I never got to use her much.

See these pictures:

In the summer I had brought in a tank of propane. I did not dare to use it on the appliances, after a few smaller incidents. It came in very handy on the outdoor barbecue. I used the barbecue for everything, fish and meats taste so much better.

And, as I found out, after several attempts, it was perfect to control the heat on a still. Yes, don’t tell anybody, I think it is illegal, but I never sold any, it was all for medicinal and survival purposes. The Okanagan is a major fruit producing area, as i drove by the farms and fruit stands, I often purchased the cases of older, not so good-looking fruits, of all kinds, cherries, peaches, plums, and in the fall apples. When living in the bush, do as the bushmen, have a small bush mill. All the fruit was used, and the left overs became vine, the vine that did not make the cut, ended up in the still. I had lots of time, I double and triple distilled. The final product was real fine, Calvados from the apples, a spiced Rum taste from the mixed fruits, a mean Slivowitch from the plums, and from all the left overs; a Grappa, that only a real Italian would appreciate.

A mug of tea, spiced with some homebrew, a touch of lemon juice, relaxing in the hot tub, in a world of your own, happy days.

To make a batch, took about two days, up every 2 hours, to refill the main pot, it was a 17 gallon stainless steel milk pail, re-distill, two or three times. One could not just stop and sleep, the process had to go its course when started. The whole show was on my porch, in full view of any visitor, but I had no visitors, until one winter day I heard a snowmobile coming.

I went outside away from the cabin to meet them. I had not slept for a day or two. I was dressed as a logger from the twenties, plaid shirt, heavy wool hunting pants, suspenders, looking like a bush man, and smelling like one too. I knew the two men, a RCMP Constable, and a Ministry of Forest worker to guide him. The came by to see if I was all right, nobody had seen me for a month or so, and somebody had called them. With my still at full speed, I could not invite them for a hot tea or anything. Any other day it would have been a treat to have visitors, my first ever. When they were convinced I was ok, and I promised to make a trip to town soon, they left, having a strange look on their face. They probably thought I had lost it, even with a snowmobile it was a long trip in the bush. The probably did not know of Amundsen and Nansen, and all the later Norwegians, that skied to the poles and back, just for fun.

 I hate snowmobiles, noisy and smelly like an outboard engine, making tracks everywhere in the virgin snow, but worst of all, scaring and chasing the animals that rely on the peace and quiet of the winter snow. On skis, I have walked upon a sleeping moose, a bobcat on a branch in a tree, deer huddling under a tree, and many more peaceful incidents.

Hans og Lars, my boys, came to visit a couple of times in the summer, and once at x-mas. They flew to Kelowna or took the bus from Vancouver to Vernon, I meet them there. We would overnight in town, and drive out the next morning. They really enjoyed the place, and have been back there, even after I sold it. We had a few dirt bikes, motorcycles of various size. I sold 6 when I left. They are fun on a place like this. Lars loved to drive an old Volvo, I had purchased it to use it for something, generator, making a small sawmill, or something. Lars filled up with 5 gallons of fuel, and drove until it stopped, up and down gravel roads, probably 13 or 14 years old.

 Their x-mas trip was special. Lots of snow, no skis, walking a long trail, heavy pack sacks. We had to leave some of the load just before the river crossing, and pick it up the next day.

It was a x-mas to remember, I thing that was the time we meet a Moose on the trail, probably my winter friend, and a Bobcat that jumped up on a branch. It does not hurt a young man to spend a few days in the bush like this.

It is good for anybody to spend some time alone. No phones, no mail, no radio, just the birds chatter, and insect humming. It is the only way to get to know oneself. The right place to do it is in the bush. May be you can do it alone on a sailboat around the world. May in jail, I wouldn’t know. But I know that; alone in the bush you will find yourself, your character, like it or not, your strengths and you weaknesses.

Some people can recuperate from a week’s stress by going to a cabin or trip for the week-end. And for a summer holiday after a year of hard work. Some people burn out. I have had a few burn outs. In most of my working life I had to work weekends, and summertime often the busiest. A occational hunting or fishing trip was my time off. The last 12 years at the golf-course, I have been there every weekend, holiday and the summertime was the busiest, because, the everybody else had free. This creates burnout.

 I was at the same stage when I ended up wintering in the bush. What a relief. What a holiday. When I made the trips to town, I could not wait to get back out again. To the quiet, the solitude, the place to find oneself, recuperate, think, and the place one could spend a lot of time, not thinking, because there were no worries, and there were something to worry about, I could not do anything about it anyway. You get it? Total peace. You can not bay this with money, you must find it yourself.

This entry was posted in Farming, Nature, Short stories. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s