4 min

Life beyond the Village

How we left the city for our Salt Spring oasis

The chickens moved in before we did. We tore down and rebuilt their coop before we ever discussed matching cushions and designer wainscoting. In fact, we’ve been bad homos.

Several years later and the house is far from finished. The kitchen looks like a carpenter-dyke’s stifled wet dream. The paint chips over the window case are now dusty and dulled, the plywood floor and countertop stained and dismissed with ‘Someday’ written all over them. We’re happy to call this little slice of heaven home.

It was 1999 and the Y2K frenzy motivated us to get out of the city and grow vegetables. My partner Mark and I, both temporarily homeless, had surfed all the couches known to us.

One day on Fraser and 5th we stepped out of our 1990 Ford Ranger to the voices of several cops pointing semi-automatics at us screaming “Get the fuck out of the way!” We turned to see the busted perp on the other side of the road bent over and hog-tied; another pock-marked junky down. Our anger got the best of us. We snatched our groceries and plotted our urban escape.

Now I’m a downtown fag turned Harrowsmith country queer. Who knew the label ‘farmer’ would have so much cachet on the gay chatlines?

We scooped up this ugly little gem of a small two-bedroom, late-’60s bungalow months before the housing market sat on a skyscraper-sized dildo and creamed itself. It was a bank foreclosure. Someone else’s loss became our chance.

We moved in only to discover that the house had been barged over from White Rock and the neighbours hated it.

Originally painted a dilapidated green and a hippie mellow yellow, the house sits in the corner of two country roads overlooking one of the most beautiful pastoral fields on the Gulf Islands.

We slapped on some paint, an unobtrusive desert sage, to help the house blend in with the landscape. We planted nearly 500 hedging trees, set up a fruit orchard and created one of the most recognized gardens on the island, a huge quarter-acre circular vegetable and herb extravaganza.

Still a size queen, today my back is sore for different reasons.

I used to be a globe-trotting, nomadic theatre artist and social activist living with HIV, a jet-setting, poverty-classed dilettante searching for what was next. Hell, I never imagined a rentless life beyond Davie St, or Church and Wellesley, or St Denis or any one of our nation’s gay ghettos.

Now we own a modest home, we raise pampered chickens and save heirloom seeds. Living in the country, I work harder and feel better.

Despite any fear of small-town ways, we were soon welcomed by many. Jams, jellies and dinner invitations arrived at our door.

On Salt Spring there are many lesbians and gay men whose rural values of peace and quiet reflect our own. Here if homophobic statements occasionally do surface in the local paper, our heterosexual allies speak out on our behalf. If you come to visit and drive by our home you will see the rainbow flag snapping proudly in the wind, just above the Canadian flag.

During our period of urban withdrawal we faced many challenges. The day we took possession of the property, we had to contend with a cantankerous neighbour wanting to steal our lumber to pen-in Wilma, the pot bellied pig who used to live on our land. Later the same neighbour ended up helping one of us through a very serious illness.

I remember spending endless days clearing the land of rocks and weeds trying to forget that it was another Saturday night and that I would be in bed by nine. I remembered needing the cement to feel safe and seen, to have unfettered access to ass and lattes.

For fun in the early days we picked up pop bottles and beer cans to pay for our day’s gas. We traded free magazines and books at the local recycling station. Here the concept of a village is no longer a good marketing ploy by the better business bureau. Going to the village starts as a 20-minute drive to get some milk but ends as an hour-and-half excursion because every third person stops to hug, say hello and shoot the shit.

So now I write about country queers, people born and raised with fresh air, or about those of us choosing a less progressive albeit evolving rural lifestyle.

I write to recruit more country-dreaming homos in the hopes of having more quality potlucks and a few new faces with which to flirt. As more of us abandon the city we need to cultivate networks of contact and support with those who have made the country home and hold out a helping hand to those who want a high quality life outside the catwalk corridors of the urban cage.

Today my jeans may be tight for different reasons and they’re rarely clean, but my cowboy heels still lift my ass to the wind and the strut in my walk is still fresh despite the fact no one but the rooster is watching.

While I continue to learn about the benefits of delayed gratification, country living provides a healing balm to the city’s compulsion of endless choice and chasing. While slopping out the chicken shed I often think of my other life.

To adopt this new life I surrendered enviable career goals, a hard-won Vancouver gay community and an effortless identity as a gay man living in the downtown core. In so doing I have made my life smaller, richer and more meaningful. I learned to localize my passions; I have worked against my city-induced angst and started setting down roots in fertile and friendly soil.