From the City to the Bush: Our First Summer

We made it through our first year!

It seems like a lifetime now, but a year and a half ago, my late husband and I first decided to move from our home of 16 years in Toronto to a large acreage in Northern Ontario. We talked at length about the transition from the city to the bush. We realized that it would probably take a full calendar year – firsthand experience with each of the four seasons – before we would really have a handle on what we had gotten ourselves into. Without his humour, his love and, frankly, his muscle, the challenges of each season have indeed proven to be more than I expected when I first signed on.

Back in Toronto, in the wake of my husband’s sudden passing and the early days of my grief, I put one foot in front of the other, far too busy with the move and all the paperwork that attends death to think about the work ahead. I only longed to be in nature where I could heal.

My then seven-year-old son and I arrived towards the end of July, shell-shocked and heartbroken, yes, but also gobsmacked by the natural beauty that surrounds us. Our arrival was also a bit of a rude awakening. I scanned the mess on the property left by the previous owners: heaps of garbage, decaying machinery, stacks of old tires, overgrown trails and dead trees. And then there was the unfinished state of the house. I’ll never forget the looks on family and friends’ faces when they saw it for the first time. It wouldn’t have been a big deal with my husband here – he was very handy – but, well…

In the time before school started, I spent my mornings being productive and afternoons noodling around the property and the area with my son. We visited every hardware store, chip truck and ice cream shop within an hours’ drive. We hung out at the beach and even drove two hours for a private, invite-only music festival in Haliburton. We ventured down a gravel road that looked for all the world like a shortcut on the map, only to find that it degraded into a mucky, messy trail through a swamp. (I later learned that my neighbours did the exact same thing when they first arrived eight years ago.)

My son got a tire swing, two puppies and a cat to help smooth the transition to a world that was vastly different from the only home he had ever known. The timing for adding three new animals to the household was less than ideal, but it was a promise that I just couldn’t break given everything my little boy was going through. The parrot we’ve had for 18 years didn’t seem to mind – he was grooving on the amazing view.

I set up my son’s temporary, pre-renovation bedroom:


I worked to get a new roof put on the house:


I had the fallen-down deck removed from the back of the house where it had been left to rot after collapsing under the weight of snow years ago. Not to mention hiring a crane to move the gazebo that stood precariously on broken concrete pillars, held up only by a 2×4, before it could squash my child or the animals.


I consulted contractors about the safety of the house (my son’s bedroom floor was bouncy) and got quotes for renovations.

Seriously, check out these stairs: 20150814_123622

Now, imagine carrying a laundry basket up and down – well…up…picture carrying folded laundry up the stairs. I threw the dirty laundry down.


Amidst our mourning and the work and the worry, we had campfires as often as we could. My boy – so much his father’s son – was skeptical at first, but finally pretty impressed that his mom could start a campfire and carve a marshmallow-roasting stick.


Those first few months were about getting settled into our new life, of course, but also forging a new dynamic with just the two of us. There were arguments and tears, but laughter and smiles and cuddles, too.

Also, banana bread.


Are You Happy?

In recent weeks, I’ve been asked the same question by a number of friends and loved ones:

Are you happy, Karen?

Each person seemed hesitant to ask under the circumstances, and I guess I can understand why. The short answer is: Yes, I am happy.

Do I wish things were different and that my husband and father of my son were here with us? Of course I do. I miss that man and cry for him every single day, over big things, but especially with the little things that I know he would get a kick out of. I still get angry that the man I loved was robbed of this experience that he worked so hard to make happen, but I am deeply grateful to have landed here, safe and secure. I half expect him to walk out of the trees, but I am learning to carry on without him.

I don’t believe in ghosts or angels. However, when my son asked the important question of where Daddy is now, I told him that nobody knows what happens after we die, but I like to think he’s all around us.

It’s true: I do like to think that, and I look for signs that support my narrative. It helps to keep him with us, part of the daily conversation, always with us, poking someone with a stick to get a reaction. He’s my forest imp now, my own personal Puck, up to his old mischievous self. Playing tricks like dumping snow from a branch on someone’s head or making the campfire smoke chase me around in circles, but also watching over us and rooting for us as we carve out a new life. Maybe I’m fooling myself, but who cares if I am?


Nature heals. And nature inspires.

I’m happy. We’re happy. My son is thriving in his new school. We are forming new relationships here and continue to welcome old friends and family to our home just like we always have. We have the dogs and the cat we always wanted. My back feels strong. We’ve explored our surroundings by foot, canoe and snowmobile, and have only seen a fraction of what’s out there. I’m writing again, and making a strategic plan for the future. My stress level is significantly reduced; certainly nothing a drive on a country road or a walk in the woods can’t take care of.

Yes, we’re very happy. Coming here was the right decision. Thank you for asking.