It wasn’t until both my parents had passed that I could live out my dream of being completely off-grid. Until then, I kept an old rotary phone plugged into the back corner of my cabin. The cable twisted off through tubes and even dove under a stream at parts. A kindly neighbor had been willing to jimmy rig a connection from their property to mine. It had been an intriguing adventure to figure out the best way to install it so that neither the rodents, the weather, nor my reckless frolicking would do it under. We did the best we could but it tweaked out often, especially during winter when the ground froze. I never minded. But I always got around to fixing it so I could reassure my mother once more that I hadn’t perished in the storm.

Every time it rang I knew it could only be one of two voices. Ma or Pa. Even into her late eighties, Ma never stopped needing to check in to see if I was keeping warm enough. Her holiday gifts over the past decade seemed to imply my answers never gave her worries permission to abate; a hot water bottle, mittens lined with real rabbit fur, a tiny space heater, and dozens of wool blankets in various colours. I’d enjoyed fiddling around with the heater to convert it to solar, but once the tinkering was complete it lay around unused. My woodstove was more than enough to take the bite off, and I’d always welcomed a little briskness. It helped keep me lively. But for as long as my parents day’s kept ticking on, I left it there to bring them peace. If that fatal snowstorm that not even sled dogs could drag me out of was coming, my heater would be ready for its debut. 

By the time their days did stop ticking on, they had been married for 68 years. Married young, grew old, left together. No longer than a week after Ma left the earthly plane, Pa joined her. That was their dream. The til’ death do us part sort of love. My sadness and tears soaked my favourite moss patches in the weeks following their passing. Every time I saw a flower that made me smile, I thanked them deeply for the life they had given me, a life that I was now prepared to take the final daring step towards.

After four weeks of morning I returned from my walk, snipped my phone cord, and entered into the silence.

It only took a few months of living in my tiny cabin with its seemingly magical row of glittery solar panels before the local children started rumours that I was a witch. I caught their little half-moon faces peeping through my hedge often. On a quiet windless day, I could hear them goading each other to inch forward a little more, curious to see how close they could get before risking getting a limb nibbled off. Leaning into my new role, I started selecting my frumpiest, greyest clothes to wear out in the garden and even managed to find a wide-brim sun hat made of black willow.

I was only in my early thirties, but I’d always been an old soul. When I was young I tried my best to put on a happy expression when my parents would attempt to spoil me with my own private desktop, or any other of the gizmo’s my peers seemed to lose their nuts about. Eventually, they noticed I never touched them. When they asked me point blank if I enjoyed my gifts, I told them the biggest thrill they could give me was permission to take them out to the woods to watch nature reclaim them. 

About the time the large boxy computers were going out of style and slim laptops were entering the market, Pa finally told me I could do whatever I wanted to his old one- smash it, gut it, leave it up a tree. It was the most effort I’d ever invested in learning about computers. I read a few manuals and took out books from the library to figure out which bits and bobs would need to be removed before I could leave it in the woods with a clean conscience. 

Pa and I had a fun day in his workshop tinkering around until we had any corrosive parts removed from the machine. Ma came around a couple times with tall cups of iced water and a plate of cookies. She scrunched her nose a little, looking over Pa’s shoulder. We were inclined to get up to very strange things. But I know she was happy to see us spending time together. Once the old computer frame was ready, I strapped it to the back of my bike and whizzed off into the bushes. 

Positioning it in a spot where I knew the afternoon sun would shine down (perhaps even melt it a little) I planned to come back every afternoon and take a picture. I had done this in the past and compiled together the images into a little flip book. My favourite booklets were the ones I made that captured each season. The personality of my forest friend changed dramatically as it shifted through the year. It was important to me to have collections of its many faces.

As I returned over the next weeks, the blackberry vines were the first to stake out their territory, clawing their way around the plastic frame. They could have easily swallowed it whole if it wasn’t for some mysterious creature that came frequently and trampled the area. I could see its nibble marks on surrounding fauna, but it never left fresh scat close enough for me to sort out who it was. Determined to see the creature in action, I built a little lean to a few meters away and spent many afternoons quietly waiting.

Eventually, I did get a chance to stalk something living, but it was not the original critter I hoped for. A fat robin with the plumpest breast I’d ever seen started fetching twigs and setting them up inside the hollowed frame of the computer. What started out as a limp pile took form as loose ends were snagged and woven together. Occasionally it rapidly flickered its tail and swayed its belly, ensuring the width of the nest would be spacious enough for its girth.

Once the nest filled with six cerulean eggs, I shifted from an observer/photographer into a fierce protector. If ever I heard a rustle off in the distance, I made a rustle of my own, hoping to make my presence known and intimidate anyone looking for an afternoon snack.

I was an odd kid. And I don’t think I knew it at the time. The mushrooms never looked at me strangely or whispered to each other when I was gone (although I would have liked that very much). It was only in retrospect as the world tried to push me more violently towards “normal”  that I realized how doggedly uninteresting normal was. 

There were certainly some major things going on outside my little forest. Wars. Inventions. Movements. It’s not that I didn’t see the value in those things. I simply felt that not many folks understood the absolute titillation of the education, drama, and kinship that was available just above the leaf litter and below the canopy. Enough people seemed to be keeping tabs on society. I took pride in my self-appointed duty to keep track of what was sprouting, nesting, and moving through the mud. And for the most part, this left me content.

Two years after my parents passed, I turned off my little solar-powered radio and never turned it back on. It used to feel vaguely important to hear some semblance of news from the outer world. But on days the water pipes burst and I had to whip off my wet socks and turn to the how-to section of my library to sort out how to fix it, it felt that what I was hearing was never going to be relevant to me. For many months now, it had been all the same, all the same. Besides, I always noticed a real tightness in my chest and a shallowness in my breath by the time I was done listening. It seemed to be the way they wanted you to feel. All balled up and afraid. But I wasn’t afraid, only curious about how to make that mild mildewy smell come out of my socks.

I was harvesting my winter root crops the day of the sirens. The first siren I heard was a distant wail perfectly timed to the triumphant yank that pulled my first carrot from the ground. There was a brief moment when I thought the sound came from my own head, a little whooping celebration for this very long, bulbous specimen. But then it kept wailing, the volume changing pitch and frequency often. My large four-pronged pitchfork was a trusty companion for getting the job done quicker. After speedily gathering a bushel of potatoes, carrots, and leeks, I scooted inside to start up a stew. My thick timber walls kept most of the noise outside.

Weeks later I was going for a long walk outside of my usual territory when I started to notice a heavier amount of human footprints on the ground. And a profusion of litter. This typically indicated these were folks visiting the woods rather than living in them. Feeling a little grumble inside, I started shoving my pockets full of empty snack packets and stormed off towards home.

Then in the days following, the mechanical noises arrived. Too large to be a car, these noises laboured under weight as if trudging something along with it. They were too far off for me to sprint and find before the noises vanished in the distance, but they were definitely on the mountain. 

I sat that day at the border of my rose garden on the far edge of my property. I didn’t like to think of land that way. My property. It belonged to itself, not me. And my dilapidated picket fence wasn’t keeping anything in or out that didn’t want to be. Leaning my weight onto one of its pegs, it snapped off and I tumbled to the ground. Why would anyone spend time building or maintaining fences when they could be laying in grass and watching the clouds roll by?

The backdrop of strangeness gave way to delight as the most splendid time of year rapidly approached. Tiny crocuses and daffodils filled all the moist ditches where the stream was flowing, the moss began screaming green after the return of the rain, and my hands were always busy preparing my bulbs, seedlings, and cuttings.

The first day of planting always put me into a blissful frenzy. After bustling about all morning with my wheelbarrow in tow, I could feel the dampness collecting under my rubbers and across my forehead. Inviting a pause, I took a moment to luxuriate in the unfolding action. Tools lay strewn out across the garden, piles of dirt were starting to be formed into orderly rows, and the air was alive with the sound of birds who kept watch over the meadow. This was it. Life could give no better. I was tasting the sweetest of existence and as I took a deep breath deep down into my belly, I felt perfect peace. 

I lived on the uppermost edge of the mountain, and every so often the air was filled with a whoosh of mechanical noises as some large man-made bird hurtled through the air. They used to make my head shift upwards as a kid, but they were little more than background noise these days. It was midday when another swooped overhead, but this one seemed to be having trouble keeping its wings steady. Toddling this way and that, there was a big plume of smoke greying it out from view and the occasional lick of flames which seemed to brighten the sky even as the smoke thickened. Fishing out the tube of sunscreen from my pocket, I slathered on another layer and pulled my hat brim a little lower before bending over to get my third row of rutabaga into the ground.

Only potato seedlings were left by the time the commotion could be heard at the far edge of the forest. I saved them for last because they were my favourite. I had cut the seedling potatoes into quarters this morning, and now I had the privilege to plunge each of them into the ground. A large crack shook the air, the sound of trees falling down. And the shouts were getting closer. As I double-counted the potatoes in the bin, I was pleased to find I could get four full rows to finish off my beds. My cabin had a singular window and I heard the glass shatter out of it tinkling softly down to the sod underneath it. My garden was just down the hill. Four rows of potatoes- I could get them done if I focused hard and moved rhythmically, enjoying every last plunge of my hands into the earth while the rest of the world faded away.

February 11, 2023 03:13

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.