There is a microwave placed awkwardly in front of the little, old fashioned split-glass window. The curtains are open and on the other side of the window freight ships move across the bay slowly, deliberately, as if the water was thick as muskeg and they had to work much harder than they expected to get through it.
Above this is the smoke from the freighters’ smoke stacks, and above this are a set of ragged, purple mountains ringed with clouds and a sky flecked with birds.
We are in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, that little port town with its quick little port pace to everything that makes it seem like a much bigger town than it really is.
We’ve rented a cheap room in a boarding house for the night. There’s a shared bathroom down the hall, but some thoughtful person has installed a sink, which sits on a porcelain stalk in one corner of the room like a mushroom.
J walks over to it and turns the handles experimentally; water comes out, cold and then hot, and we both laugh. The sink is so clean – the porcelain impossibly white, the aluminum handles polished so they shine – and the water is cold and clear and tastes vaguely of chlorine. Both J and I have been drinking some very questionable water recently.
The creek we were drinking from was recently fouled last week by the death of some large animal upstream, whose wet, decomposing body we could smell but never locate until the odour was so strong it didn’t even seem safe to boil the water and we were forced to drive 30 km round trip to fill our jugs at Meziadin Junction.
That there should be cold, clean water right there for washing and drinking seems absurd after such inconveniences and we drink several cups back to back in the clean, freshly washed glasses still slightly warm from the dishwasher.
Against the opposite wall there is a flat screen television. We briefly turn it on, get put off by the lights and noise of a children’s show, and shut it off again. In the blank screen I can see my own reflection clearly; a small, thin woman with a stark farmers tan, dirty, torn jeans, bug bitten forearms, tattoos, unwashed sun-streaked hair pulled back into a ponytail beneath a dirty ball cap.
J looks about the same, only even darker, with his hair a curly black mess of a mane and his beard scraggly and unkempt, his feet bare; he lost his shoes somewhere several weeks ago and has never bothered to replace them.
We’ve looked like this for weeks – dirty, ragged, skinny – but it’s only in town, around other, day to day people, that we realize how bushed we are, how feral we’ve gone.
J and I are wild food workers; bush gypsies. J started with fiddeheads, then we both did morels at the Barney Lake fire, just outside of Watson Lake. We’ve been doing wild berries now for a few weeks, waiting for the pine mushroom season to begin, and are taking a short vacation to drop off a couple friends at the ferry so they can head south to Vancouver.
There’s a double bed across from the television. It’s small, but very neatly made, the corners tightly tucked, the sheets clean, the pillows fluffed. It looks like paradise.
I have a “bed” in my camper – a thin, flat piece of foam with a few blankets thrown over the top – but this will be my first time in a “real” bed in over a month. I was in a motel in Fort Nelson for one night five weeks before this.
For J, it’s much longer; he’s been tent camping since April. I’ve been living in the bush since the beginning of June.
We peel back the sheets and slip inside. It’s a tight fit, but it doesn’t matter because the sheets are cool and smooth and the mattress is firm. J and I sigh and stretch out. There is nothing particularly special about this moment, except that both J and I are capable of enjoying such a simple thing as if it were a moment of the most supreme luxury. It’s the same feeling, I would imagine, as a middle-class, well-to-do city person would experience if they rented a room at the Waldorf Plaza in New York City.
In a few minutes I will get up and have a shower – the first bath I will have that’s not in a creek or a bucket in weeks – and luxuriate in hot water.
People choose to live off grid for a variety of reasons, but this is the one that has always been the most valuable to me: the way it turns the little things we take for granted each day into the sweetest pleasures.