It's been nearly a year since we bought an island near Halifax. We went in being completely clueless, our only salvation knowing that we were completely clueless and would have to learn a lot. And boy, have we. I've spent more time on the island than in my RV over the past couple months, and it's begun to feel like a second home. The rhythms of the island and the environment around it have become familiar.
When we bought the island, it was nearly completely wild. The previous owner had cleared a small area where he'd intended to build a small cabin, but otherwise the island was so dense that it was nearly impenetrable. Our first night there we were excited to venture into the woods, and gave up immediately upon seeing how close together the trees were.
We now have a trail system so extensive that it's hard for me to keep it all straight. In fact, yesterday we ended up widening the wrong trail, and were surprised to end up at the tide pools rather than a 15 foot tall rock we call Eagle Rock. On our first trip we carved a trail from the clearing to the center of the island, going north. Since then we've expanded the trail system to branch from the center point to the east, and to the west. There's a half-finished trail that goes north to the ocean, a half finished trail that goes south on the west side, and a finished trail that connects the clearing and the fire pit area.
On the first trip there, one spot jumped out at me as the perfect spot for a fire pit. It's right next to the water at high tide, has mostly low scrub around it, and has the tide pools on one of its sides. On the second trip to the island we roughed out a fire pit there. This trip we were surprised to discover that the scrub we'd cut down to make the circle was all raspberry bushes, which extend far beyond the fire pit. Every morning we'd lazily walk around the raspberry patch and gather up raspberries for breakfast.
We also widened the clearing significantly. It used to be a roughly 15x15 square, but is now a 35' diameter circle. This process was a tremendous amount of work, probably the hardest thing we've done on the island so far. We had hoped to put up a deck and yurt there, but didn't get the timing right and have to delay it to the first spring trip. I'm not going to talk too much about the yurt, because the next update will probably be all about it.
That's the sum of improvements we've made to the island. It always feels like pretty gradual process, cutting each foot of forest with hand tools, but it's amazing to walk through the trails all over the island and think about how wild it was when we first arrived.
The first big purchase we made was to buy a boat, the associated comedy of errors having been covered previously. The transom on our boat is too high, making our motor very inefficient, but the actual hull and motor are both great. Since being fixed by our amazing mainland neighbors, the boat has run perfectly every time.
What I, and I think the others, have gotten most out of the island has been the connection with nature. It sounds silly and trite, but it does feel like a profound experience. Only in contrast am I fully aware how removed from nature I am in my regular life. On the island you wake up, and you check the tide, because it will have a bearing on your plans. While checking the tide, if you're still for a moment, you can see life progress in the ocean. Crabs fight and mate, periwinkles crawl across rocks, minnows dart around. Bald eagles, plover, seagulls, and chickadees fly overhead. Mysterious owls we've never actually laid eyes on hoot constantly from the woods. Rain alters plans. So do high winds. If it's sunny we can charge with the solar charger.
Coming back to the same land with some regularity highlights the changes it undergoes. In April the sea grass was dead and brown, there were patches of ice across the island, and there were no bugs. When we came in July the whole island was filled with tiny white moths, and every pine tree had bright green growths stemming from the tips of the old growth. We saw the baby bald eagles, with their brown mottled feathers. During this trip, in August, the crabs were the stars of the show. At night there were so many of them you had to be careful not to step in them. It was also the first time we had clear skies and no moon, so we could see the constellations, shooting stars, satellites, and the milky way. Raspberries we didn't know existed were perfectly ripe and ready to be picked. Our neighbor Hughie took us Mackerel fishing, and we caught twenty of them in approximately that many minutes.
Having that sort of exposure to nature feels good. It's fascinating and fills me with wonder and awe. It makes me grateful to be so close to nature, but also for the conveniences in my life that represent triumphs over nature, hot showers being at the front of that list.
Our first year of island ownership has been a success. I'm tremendously grateful for all of the friends and family who bought it with me, and for our amazing neighbors who have been incredibly kind and generous towards us. Without them, I'm not sure we would have made half as much progress by now. With no shelter, the island will be empty for the next six month, but I can't wait to get back there in the Spring, see the changes brought by the seasons, and continue working on it.
Photos belong to Zac and Elliot (fellow owner), who were both on this last trip.
I'll be in Japan soon. Maybe we'll do another meetup! Also-- anyone in Petropavlovsk? Need help finding a travel agent there who can arrange a tour for 8-10.
I wish I had the nerve to leave everything behind to reconnect with my own humanity. Really enjoying where this blog is going, and wanted to say well done. That is a TON of effort you guys are putting in and it's paying off in ways you can't even attach a value to.
Hi Tynan, I discovered your blog about a week ago, and I am really benefitting from what I'm reading. Over the last year and a half, I've woken up to life and my amazing family, and I've been working really hard to create change that's positive for me and my family. I find your writing inspirational for that. I've made a decision to trace your own evolution, starting from your very first blog post. I just have one question/request. I know Sett is your own platform; so I'm wondering if it is possible to make your archive a little bit more user-friendly? It's a bit tedious scrolling all the way to the bottom through nearly a decade of posts. If not, no worries. Scrolling is a tiny price to pay for what you've written and shared. Thank you, awesome dude.
Tynan, here is a way you can have hot showers with just soil and biomaterial
I woke up to a familiar sight. Outside the vehicle I had slept in was Brian, on the phone, trying to get us help with our latest predicament. And, just as last time with being stuck in mud, our unfailingly benevolent neighbors came to our rescue.
"I don't let anyone besides my dad work on my motor. He could have you going in forty five minutes."
I didn't believe him for two reasons. First, it seemed absolutely impossible that we could be in possession of a functioning boat. Him fixing our motor would violate this apparent law of the universe. Second, I have an inappropriate hubris that prohibits me from fathoming that experts could possibly fix something that I was unable to fix.
Our motor wasn't working in forty five minutes, it was working in about fifteen. Perfectly. And the gear oil was checked, the shaft was lubricated, and a new choke lever was fashioned out of a screw.
We were out on one of our Saturday jaunts with no particular place to go, when I spotted an intriguing feature on the map. (This is why I prefer maps to GPS, which doesn't give the big picture view of the territory to the left and right of your current trajectory.) #icelandsecret
There seemed to be a bridge or road or some sort of connection to an offshore island off Route 1 northeast of Reykjavik in a town called Grafarvogur.
Now some might argue that if there's a road, it can't be an island. But if it's a causeway that's under water at high tide, I respectfully insist that it is, at least some of the time, surrounded by water, the very definition of an island. And this distinction is essential to my assertion that we actually did what the title of this post says we did. The causeway is a rough, lava-strewn strip with a rocky beach on either side, but it was passable at low tide.
The second "island" in the title refers to the fact that Iceland is an island. There should be no quibbling about that.