Roughing it with intent

John Stonier
6 min readJan 3, 2021

An authentic cabin in the woods, for a year like 2020

“I’m looking for someone to help me fix the roof at my cabin” my friend of over three decades said.

“I’d love to go”.

I first met my friend on a 10-day trip to the Spatzisi wilderness in northern British Columbia with a eight friends and fellow trekkers. The type of trip you get flown into a remote lake and picked up by the same float plane seven days later.

This trip, 34 years later, was for four days. Remote cabin. 15 minute hike in from the nearest road.

After months of COVID lockdown and home office work, constant virus risk avoidance, smoky skies from westcoast forest fires, and general burnout from my urban existence I was ready for a break in routine. This opportunity for a physical work project get-away was just the ticket. But it was more than that. It was a trip in a time capsule to take you back.

The weather was spectacular for this late summer excursion. Being out in the forest and in nature for the majority of the day was such a contrast to my indoor routine. Fresh air. Lapping waves. Birds, seals and squirrels. I drew in the raw beauty of nature, the sweet pristine air, the rustle of leaves in the wind. The trails were a mix of natural rock or soft forest soil or on the bluffs a thick coat of moss and lichens. Nature’s decorator has brought together order, variety, beauty and longevity that few human creative endeavours match.

My aging knees noted the lack of sidewalks. My friend still tele-marks over remote mountain peaks. I do not.

Autumn rosehips, westcoast style

After our first day of travel, arrival and setup, the sun was setting, and it was time to prepare meals. A propane stove.

Our labours were illuminated by an oil lamp, the same equipment has been in this cabin for 50 years. Oil (kerosene) lamps have a bit of a trick to get the wick just right. Once mastering this, the light is unexpectedly bright. Did the footlights of vaudeville run as bright 90 years ago? All I can think of is how disconnected I am from these simpler, but reliable basic amenities. The lamp, and even the kerosene, were a reliable staple from decades earlier.

The next day started with a hearty breakfast of porridge prepared on the propane stove and yogurt from the cold box outside. Another gorgeous September day. The tide was out and the seals had already perched on their rocky islet in our bay. There must be a couple dozen. Herding and catching fish, there are flipper slaps and splashing between the barks of competing males and their mates. The herd basked in the September sun between fishing expeditions. Eagles rose over the treetops from thermals off the south facing rise of granite and clinging forest.

We set to our tasks and gathered the materials carried in for two solid days of work that included waterproofing patches to the roof, and a repainting the wooden window frames and covers. Up ladders, prep and painting. As an office worker my normal routine involves exercise as a goal, not as my daily routine. My muscles noticed the difference.

We worked during the main part of the day, then would finish the work day with a swim in bracing north coast seawater, followed by a wash down from solar heated spring water in black bags strung from a tree to provide a shower. How simple. How wonderful to enjoy this refreshing and warm sensation, with the lightest touch on our environment, unlike our gas heated water in the city.

A small 40W solar panel, probably the only item at the cabin less than 10 years old enabled us to recharge smartphones. That’s all we “needed”.

The cabin, a former floating general store, and the outbuildings were authentic rustic. The compound had been originally established in the 1950’s and maintained by the same family for the last 50 years. Anything preserving original design, form and function lasting that long in North America is a rarity. As we progressed through the repairs, we touched on all the outbuildings — wood supplies here, paint and hardware there. It was remarkable to me how they all were in their original condition, aged with a beautiful patina that isn’t part of most modern settings.

Every structure had its own charm and practicality. Made in a time of self reliance, with raw materials and practical application. A nailed piece of tar paper protected the latch and lock from the weather on one of the outbuildings, a former summer sleeping shed, now a store of wood and materials.

Our few days at the cabin were coming to the end. I was feeling like I had to document this to savour this all-too-rare experience of being amongst nature, and perhaps an environment that is fleeting. I was here, but the human items in this place were of another century. The vibrancy of the nature around me was such a contrast to daily urban life.

Looking back on this highlight of my year, I ponder why it is so appealing to me. It’s just beautifully simplistic I suppose. Everything works, or if it breaks is fixable with materials at hand. And it survives. It is functional, for now, and probably for another 50 years, even more. How many things built today last that long? I am smitten.

This trip was a oasis I needed after crossing a desert of urban isolation at home. A re-connection to nature, and the past. The all-day outdoors physical work was a rejuvenation. A sense of tangible accomplishment. Repose and reflection at the end of the day with muscles recoiling from the activity.

A cabin in a beautiful setting within nature, with its heritage legacy true to the period from which it came and the natural surroundings which have been a constant since the last ice age. Peace, beauty, and permanence that could last lifetimes.

I returned home with my mosquito bites and scratches over bare legs and a deep-seated feeling of accomplishment that lasted longer than the trip itself.

It was my true escape from 2020 and our current world, too often detached from nature and authenticity. Authenticity that can only be created through reliable functionality for purpose, and beauty, over time.

Twilight returning to Vancouver on a BC Ferry
Photos by John Stonier

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John Stonier

Entrepreneur and advocate for sustainable economy and ending the fossil fuel age before it’s too late.