Why I Chose Homesteading: My Story

When I think of why I chose this lifestyle, the lost hours of sleep, the responsibility, the hard work. I think of a lot of the obvious reasons, self-sustainability, peacefulness, purpose, but its occurred to me my reasons run deeper than that.

My Story:

When I was growing up I had a pretty chaotic childhood, one that involved many things that no child should have to go through or see, none the less deal with.

My Mom was 18 when she married my Dad who was 19.

My Dad has always worked in the logging industry. I remember loving the way his jackets smelled when he came home. Crisp, fresh, like evergreens, cut wood, tobacco and chain oil. When my Dad was sober he was great. He’d always have us in stitches, laughing, giddy. There was a sparkle in his eye. It was a rare treat to be sat at the kitchen table, Saturday morning while my Mom filled our plates with pancakes and fruit and my Dad drank coffee and made us laugh. We were happy. I felt in those moments that we were normal and that we would be okay.

Like I said, this was a rare treat. My entire life my Dad has struggled with alcoholism and drug addictions. I push a lot of these memories out of my head, as they were dark horrible times. I don’t know which was worse, a drinking problem or a heavy drug problem.

dadIf he had been drinking, he wanted to argue. Arguments turned into screaming, slamming doors, breaking things, throwing his fists onto the table. For whatever the reason I always seemed to be a part of his demise. I irritated him. I think my brother was left alone as he was a boy. Dad’s tend to love their boys.

When he was on drugs, heavy drugs, he was downright scary. A lot of the time I could tell he was on them because his mouth seemed to lose all filters. The crassness, rudeness and ugly things he had to say were a dead giveaway.

A lot of the time he worked out in camp, gone for weeks at a time. I think my brother, mom and I all breathed a big sigh of relief when he left. We could move on. We could be happy.

I loved watching all the things my Mom did as a kid. I loved my Mom’s big family and a lot of her family lived on farms. I loved the farms, the animals, gardens, the food. Some of my favorite memories were watching my Mom bake, make jam, craft things together. Remember, when I was a kid, my Mom was in her twenties. She seemed to like making something from nothing, if she didn’t I don’t remember her ever complaining. She always somehow pulled it off and made things special for us.

In the beginning my Mom stayed at home. My brother had a lot of serious health problems and needed many major surgeries and flights down to Vancouver Children’s Hospital. I don’t think my Mom even got to hold my brother after he was born until about a month later. We were poor. We were so poor.

By the time my Dad came out of camp we would be happy, excited. “Dad’s home!” “We’re going to go camping, and fishing, maybe we’ll buy a boat! A skidoo!”

We might have gotten groceries.

And then the arguments.

“Where the F*** is the money, It was supposed to be in this account!”

“I didn’t touch the money!”

“Well then why did the cheque I sent for this and this bounce again!”

“I’M THE F****** MAN OF THIS HOUSE AND I’LL DO WHAT I WANT WITH MY F****** MONEY!”

One argument sticks out in my mind because I remember my Dad yelling so loud and for so long his voice was starting to tremble. He flipped the kitchen table completely upside down that night. My brother and I hid quietly in my room.

We all knew where the money went.

It went into his nose and through his arms and in his pipes, It went into the boxes of beer, bottles of whiskey and whatever else he could hide in the wood shed.

My thoughts as a very young child were, “If I make the money then the fighting might stop.” I came up with ideas of how my brother and I could make money. Lemonade stands, selling things. I think I was eight years old when I learned how to make beaded jewelry. In the midst of the chaos I dreamt of a quiet place. A peaceful place, for the fighting to stop and our family to do the things we were promised. To be a family that cared for each other and went fishing.

It wasn’t just our trailer that screaming and fighting came from. We lived in a trailer court and there were loads of families fighting, arguing, slamming doors. I felt like I could never escape some kind of chaos. I could never hear nothingness and quiet.

When I turned 13 I wanted to run as far away from there as possible. I was your average angsty, angry teenager. The arguing shifted from being aimed mostly towards my Mom to being almost fully aimed at me. I didn’t take any crap from my Dad anymore. I stood up to the things he had to say to me.

meIt was me who started slamming doors and throwing things. It was me with a quick tongue. It was me who felt so angry and trapped. It was me with the involuntary hot tears that ran down my cheeks.

I started to make a plan.

I was going to move to the other side of the country. I had seen commercials on TV advertising Newfoundland.

New. Found. Land.

Atlantic coastlines, wind whipping through lines of clothing set out to dry, smiling happy faces. I needed to go there. To hear nothing but ocean and wind. To look out onto the horizon and see nothing but sea and sky.

I had part time jobs and stashed the money I earned in my sock drawer. Imagine knowing that a young girl in a trailer court could hide away $10,000. I think it was around then things with my Dad started escalating so badly that there was no where to go after a certain point. I considered suicide. I hated my life, my Dad, my school. Why would any God think that that’s the life I deserved. Why was this what I was given.

One fight became a turning point for us. I came home from a particularly bad day at school, I needed space, quiet, calm. This translates for an angry youth to walking through the trailer, slamming my bedroom door, and flopping onto my bed. My Dad was home and he was ready to pick a fight. Me slamming my door was the match he needed to fuel his anger. He stomped down the hallway after me and tried to open my door. I had locked it.

“Casey you open this f****** door right now.”

“No. Leave me alone.”

“If you don’t open this f****** door on the count of three so help me God.”

“I hate you”

My Dad literally punched through that cheap trailer door. There are things you should never shout to a broken young girl. ” I hate you too, I wish you were never born” is one of them.

My Mom came home from work. She came down the hall and pushed my Dad away. She’d heard what he’d said. I had no part in the rest of that argument. She wanted out. We all did, so badly.

After much discussion, my Dad moved out.

I felt free. I felt so happy. The things we could do now! I can have my friends come over to my house! We can bake things in the kitchen whenever we want! We can stay up and watch movies all night long if we want to!

The war was far from over. It still isn’t. My Dad and I still have a trying relationship to this day. I try and be there for him when he’s sober and try and give him my time when I can. I can see when he looks at me that to him, I should still be six years old for the time we’ve spent together with him sober. How did I get to be a grown woman?

This last Christmas was our first spent together in years. 8-9 years?

This last Christmas was our first spent together in years. 8-9 years?

When I turned 16 I started partying with my friends. I was introduced to alcohol and drugs. Where had they been all my life. I liked feeling numb. I liked how my pain seemed to dissipate. I still wanted to go to Newfoundland, but I also wanted to feel nothing until then.

When I was 17 I had a drug overdose. I didn’t know what was happening to me but that it was about to get a million times worse. I called my Mom and begged her to drive me to the hospital. On the way to the hospital I began to have my first anxiety attack. I will never unhear the pounding in my ears and chest. Every cell in my body seemed to be screaming. I thought I was going to die. In the car my Mom knew exactly what was happening. My Dad’s had many an overdose, suffered many an anxiety attack.

When we got to the hospital the pounding wouldn’t stop. For whatever reason I crawled into the Doctor’s change room, which was unoccupied and dark and tried to crawl under a chair. I thought that would make a nice dark place to die. Things were starry and fading in and out, but the pounding in my head and chest only beat harder, and louder.

I got into emergency and was hooked up to a heart monitor. My heart rate climbed rapidly and I actually started to inch closer and closer to having a full on heart attack. I was given an IV and medication to try and slow my heart. Things were fading in and out. At one point I remember starting to laugh.

Of course! This is how my crappy little life ends! An empty end to my life. Of course! this is what I deserve, I must be some kind of joke! Hahahaha!

I finally drifted out completely.

When I woke up it was the early hours of the morning. My Mom had been waiting for me to wake up.

I had never felt an exhaustion like what came on for the next few days. I slept and slept.  I never wanted to touch another drug again for as long as I lived. Being sober didn’t seem too bad anymore. I liked being alive actually. I kept planning my trip to Newfoundland. I wanted to be gone June 1, 2010. That was a bit of a mantra of mine. June 1. June 1.

IMG_5898The walls of my room were literally covered in blown up maps of Canada. I had routes highlighted, and then re-highlighted. I thought things might go back to normal. I was so wrong. The pounding in my ears and chest and head would come back. All the time. And it got worse and worse. I couldn’t work anymore because I kept having anxiety attacks at work. Driving became more and more difficult. My mind began to cage my body. How was I going to get to Newfoundland if I couldn’t get twenty minutes from town without having a crippling panic attack. How was I going to live my life?

I moved in with a boyfriend when I was 18. To be frank, the neighborhood we moved into made my old neighborhood look like a walk in the park. Fighting, crying, husbands openly beating their wives. People breaking into our vehicle, neighbors trying to sell us heroin. “First try’s free!” I think we lived there for about a year with three other roommates. It became a huge party house and I had no say over the things that went on. I pleaded with God. “Please end my life”. I had told my boyfriend about my plan to go to Newfoundland. I convinced him to come with me. I bought a 1973 Volkswagen Van. We redid it and made it into a home on wheels. It was rather lovely actually. We sanded it down completely and re-painted it the actual Volkswagen red.

41227_10150234596625367_7879236_nWe left in August of 2010.

http://www.keenanandcassandrastravels.blogspot.ca/2010/08/prince-rupert-to-houston.html

I wanted to start in Prince Rupert. I thought if I was going to see all of Canada I wanted to see it from the very west coast to the very east. The afternoon we left our town and headed for Prince Rupert, I didn’t feel any anxiety, I felt like I was leaving it behind. I was living my dream! I was actually getting away! I was happy.

That old van literally did make it from coast to coast. Though the last 400 or so kilometers were with the van on the bed of a tow truck and us traveling on a bus. We took our time going from Prince Rupert, BC to Torbay, NL. It took us just over a month.

And then we were homeless and out of money.

I thought it was supposed to be the promised land, the land where people are smiling and friendly. Turns out “islanders” don’t care much for “mainlanders” A friend of ours ended up setting us up with a woman who had moved from our hometown years before to a town close to Torbay. We ended up finding an old loft to rent. I loved that loft. I loved my kitchen, I loved the 15 minute walk to the ragged cliffs and ocean. I loved the wind. I loved my freedom. I had done something with my life.

Turns out drug and alcohol issues aren’t exclusive to home. The grass isn’t greener on the other side. It’s actually not far from the same, except for that we had isolated ourselves thousands of miles away from our families and friends. I didn’t let it bother me. I really wanted to make it work. The boyfriend wanted to go home, and wasn’t leaving me alone on the other side of the country. We came home.

I remember my first taste of being out miles and miles into the middle of the British Columbia’s wilderness. A group of close friends and I traveled from town to a remote island by skidoo, at night. Part way there we stopped for a rest. It was so quiet and lovely, that the silence almost made it’s own sound. I learned how to set lines through the ice for Ling Cod and how to cook over a wood fire. I felt the cold air in my lungs and I felt happy. I felt alive. I felt at one with everything and finally at peace.

One of the next times I felt the same feeling was when I was introduced to hunting. I loved it. I loved walking through the woods silently down game trails with a rifle strapped to my back. I felt wild and free. I felt like my life had purpose and that I was important. I loved the idea of providing for oneself. I was hooked. My boyfriend and I started exploring further and further into the backwoods of our hometown. We searched for antler sheds and fished, hunted. We stayed overnight in cabins we came across, and sometimes even in the box of our pick-up truck under a sky lit with pink and green dancing northern lights. I was over the moon. We talked about building a cabin of our own and living completely self sustainably, off the grid. We got to the point where we even brought our bags of cement into a couple different places but always ended up packing it back out after realizing we were trespassing on people’s trap lines. I found some land for sale about a half hour from town. We went out and looked at it. I loved it. I couldn’t believe I’d been searching for a place like this on the other side of the country, when it existed right in my own backyard.

Since then I think if one looks back on this blog the pieces are easily put together from that point. What drives me to continue to homestead and to still be hooked on it is the idea that I can provide for myself. That there will never be arguments about money when you provide things for yourself on land that’s been bought and almost completely paid for. I will always be continuing to heal and pushing myself to dig deeper and push harder for this lifestyle. The thought that I could one day have a family on my land brings me peace. I could be the generation of change for my family. My children will never know what it’s like to live in a crowded trailer court and to hear the fighting. They will always have a place to belong and never have to think about money. If they don’t like school and feel like they don’t belong I would be happy to know that they wouldn’t have to become a part of a functioning society. People are so pushed to become assets to those around them. Do this, buy this, do that. Until were so completely over barren with debt and hate our jobs. To get up and go to work to pay for things because as functioning adults we need to have them. To dread morning because we have to go to work. To work for someone else. To work towards someone else’s dreams. People are made to feel bad if there not a working piece of society. In a world where it’s ideal to live five minutes from the grocery store I will take great pride in knowing I can grow and raise those things myself. To wake up and love the work I do. Love what I’m working towards. I can truly say my life is a gift now, that I am so grateful for everything that’s brought me to where I am now.

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6 thoughts on “Why I Chose Homesteading: My Story

  1. It took a lot of courage to tell your story… but it brings the reader to have a deeper understanding of why you are tough, you persevere, and you are resilient. People who grow up in chaotic and toxic situations not only must push forth in search of a life that makes sense, but they must also find a way to heal and let go of the voices of the past. Your desire and drive to survive and flourish might very well be propelled by your past. But, it will be your inner passion and resilience of life that will bring you happiness and joy. You have a beautiful soul Cassandra.

  2. My mum grew up in a similar environment: alcohol and abuse. they moved lots and her dad was never home half the time. They were very poor. She dreamed of one day living on the land and raising her children in a different way than her parents raised her and her siblings. Like you, she wanted to be the change and she was. I admire my mum and everything that she can do, and reading your story, reminds me a lot of her. You’re a fighter, Cassandra, and though I’ve never met you (and probably never will) I think it’s pretty awesome that you managed to crawl back and make that choice to be that change and do what you want. There are many people who don’t pursue their dreams and they’re unhappy. It’s a lot of hard work and perseverance to get what you want, but in the end, it’s worth it. Good on you, for doing what you enjoy and for sharing your story with us 🙂

  3. Wow! This took a great deal of courage to post but you are helping break down the barriers of talking about things that don’t fit our images of a perfect life. As a society, we are too afraid and ashamed to bring up anything that shows our lives don’t fit the perfect image of the 50s family – which we know wasn’t perfect either. I never had to endure what you did, but there was still the unwritten rule that you didn’t discuss fights your parents had, or that you had with your partner. There is a facade we put on in public and it creates and leads to isolation. You are helping smash that isolation.

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