THE TRANSFORMATION OF ANNE LONG OF GORDON'S BEACH, BC
Home is where the good vibes take you
THE TRANSFORMATION OF ANNE LONG OF GORDON'S BEACH, BC
Home is where the good vibes take you
There comes a point in every life when the world seems so alien that you begin to look for an escape route out. The mad pursuit, the struggle to escape, the pipes, the timbrels, the wild ecstasy, as Keats said. But which one of us, who in our hearts have secret escape plans, ever realizes them? That is: give up the job at the agency and buy that farm, write that book someday, sail around the world, hark to and follow the siren’s call. Very few, very few. On the following pages fresh winds from the heartland. Two women who, having had it, got out once and for all. So eat your hearts out, gentlemen. And while you’re up get another Bromo.
All right, so who’s Anne Long? That’s me, born in Victoria in 1940. Grew up there. Moved to Vancouver in the spring of ’58, married that summer and became a teacher. Got pregnant. Stayed home for two years with my child and personally deteriorated. Taught art at Mount Pleasant Elementary School but was “moved” from that school after the first year by the school board in order “that I might establish the desired disciplinarian image.” The next year, at Hastings School, I toed the line a little more, got less involved with the kids, enjoyed it less, got my permanent teaching certificate and quit.
Then came the New School,
Vancouver’s own experimentalprogressive school. I taught at the New School for the better part of three years; but “dropped out” after spending five days of the Easter recess doing a workshop at Esalen Institute, in Big Sur, California. Something happened to me during my stay at Esalen, and five days after my return to Vancouver came the decision to quit teaching, marriage, motherhood; to go back down there and find out just what it all was. It was hard to leave, particularly my child, but it felt a lot like survival. On the first of May, 1969,
I left Vancouver in my newly acquired Volkswagen bus, with no idea of what story would unfold.
Ten days after my arrival at Esalen, during which time I worked in the gardens, I was hired as a breakfast and lunch cook. It was new work to me, but relatively a breeze after
II years of home cooking. I cooked for seven months then took two off, on account of having some difficulties with American immigration authorities while on a visit north. Then I became the “laundry lady,” and for the next eight months ran a two-washer, two-dryer laundry room, which
also became my batik studio (batik, incidentally, is an Indonesian method of handprinting textile) as well as a “free store” of laundered used clothes, books, shoes and miscellanea too numerous to mention. It became known as the “Alice’s Restaurant of the Laundry Business” and attracted the patronage of residents up and down the coast, not just Esalen staff and guests. However, I got a little tired of doing laundry, and in September gave up the laundry room to become a masseuse, having spent the previous few months learning the art. In October I spent four weeks in Esalen’s Resident Program, a four-month program to train group leaders. My four weeks was long enough to demonstrate that this was something I did not wish to become, and I went happily back to my massage work.
Along with these “occupational” activities I spent a great deal of time drawing, reading, thinking. I examined my views and feelings from a new perspective, trying to find out just exactly who the hell I am. I drew more. I came to know a rather joyous being friends often referred to as Anna Banana. I learned to play a flute, and even let myself sing a little at parties. I came to like myself.
Just before Christmas, 1970, I left Big Sur to come back to Canada. I started out here living in my father’s summer cabin at Shawnigan Lake, a much more deserted locale than Sooke where I’ve come to live since. The first thing I did there was prepare my work, drawings and batiks I had done in Big Sur, for a showing in the Mary Frazee Gallery
After the show was over (I made the grand sum of $57) I settled into my schedule of two days per week in Victoria, as free-lance masseuse in a local spa to earn me a meagre living, with the other five being spent in the blissful wintertime silence-fog-snow-rain of the Shawnigan Lake cabin. There, I heated with wood in a wonderful old stand-up wood heater — Dominion Circulator — with mica-glass windows in the door of the firebox, and carried my water in from the lake in buckets (the pump system being shut down on account of winter freezing). In that peaceful, beautiful place, I spent many long hours producing a considerable quantity of beautifully unsalable batiks and fabrics.
Then spring started settling in and the family was wanting to use the cabin, so I was off and running, house hunting. I knew it had to be very cheap, and it had to be on the water. What I found was a $35-a-month carpenter’s special, perched at the very edge of Gordon’s Beach, with an expansive view in both directions, ocean out front, edged with Olympic mountains along the bottom,
continued on page 46
ANNE LONG from page 22
clouds along the top. Cut off from the road in back by trees and a lot of swamp bushes, it was exactly the sort of place I wanted. With the assistance of my brother-in-law and the landlord, I got two tables, a counter, some shelves, a clothes closet and bed platform built into the place, which was stark empty of such conveniences on my arrival. And I got the chimney hitched up and was all set with a wonderful place of my own in which to work.
By my income (about $25 per week) I believe I would be rated on those statistical charts as living at the poverty level. Granted, a house without toilet or running water isn’t exactly up to standards. Regardless, I seem to be living quite comfortably, am finding that much of what I once considered necessities are quite dispensable — and I feel richer for the experience.
I am living at the poverty level by choice, for it necessitates my working only two days per week to earn my daily bread, leaving me the remaining five for my own pursuits. Having examined life from both sides of the standards of living, I have come to believe that life on the low side has the potential, at least, of being a more involving, meaningful experience. When you have a two-day-week income rather than a five, there are some things you have to do for yourself that others pay to have done. For example, the lack of plumbing means that I must pack in all my water, a fairly heavy task, and forgo the conveniences of hot-and-cold-running water, shower and so on. But it also adds up to a cheap $35 rent. But my home, small, modest, crude by city standards, is located right at the edge of the beach. From my window where I sit and type I can see beach grass blowing in the wind, logs, the ocean (Strait of Juan de Fuca) and, in the distance, the Olympic Mountains. I figure the view alone is worth the $35, and consider the rest luxuries I’m lucky to have.
The toilet, of course, is the most difficult necessity to do without, for its lack causes daily problems. I’ve come to enjoy a sponge bath, but occasionally I long for a soak . . . like the last time I washed my hair at home. (A task I usually take to mother’s shower in town.) I had a lot of nice hot water (a luxury) in the big blue canner that I generally use as kitchen sink. Tried to squat into it but found me to be too big for the vessel. ■ Figured I’d make it if I put my backside into the canner, feet into one of the smaller basins. But for all the slippery soaping and settling in that I tried, I found myself sitting like a cork in the canner; fartherdown-most-parts basking in that beautiful hot water, but a heck of a lot of me sticking out top. So, I made the move to the smaller-but-oval-shaped basin. Glory and hallelujah! I fit, but a lot closer than I had figured. Half the water leapt out as I sat in! Anyway, with feet in the canner, backside in the washbasin, I got my soak. What was left of the bathwater went back into the canner for dishes.
Anyway, living cheaply does have its problems, but it generally turns out that none are insurmountable, all relevant to how one lives, and there is much that one can do for oneself. And therein lies the attraction of living cheaply.
I heat with beach wood, which insures me a daily outdoor excursion, providing me with lots of sea-fresh air, sunshine and exercise. It’s actual-
“Entertainment costs can be reduced to the price of art and craft materials . . .”
ly damn hard work but good for me, and it feels good. The only way to keep the body in shape is to use it; and I’d rather use mine providing for my necessities than in doing exercises in a gymnasium. Granted, I could also use it, say, in skiing, which I would enjoy. But that again costs money. To me, there is something wanting in the rationale that “1 must work for five or six days a week, at a sedentary job I dislike, so that I can afford the luxuries that tie me to this work.” Especially when I consider that the luxuries don’t bring any great fullness to the life.
Not having a telephone is a real inconvenience when you want to conduct business. As if the eight-mile drive to the nearest pay phone were not enough, one can find one’s patience sorely tried by getting a busy signal, the wrong number, no answer or the baby-sitter. Add to these possibilities, hassles with operators, phones out of order, insufficient or incorrect change. Yes, it is inconvenient. Bloody well annoying at times. But never have I had occasion to use a phone for the reason that most persons say they couldn’t live without one — in the event of an emergency. Perhaps I have been lucky, but I do know that many people managed to live for many years without the connections offered by the telephone. I am finding it an expense I can live without, in spite of the inconveniences, and I enjoy being free of the plague of telephone solicitors. And I know that when friends come to see me it’s because they really want to, not just because they’ve nothing else to do.
Entertainment costs can be reduced to the price of art and craft materials, sewing supplies, tools, paper and stationery, flute rental — along with the occasional bottle of wine, case of beer for visiting friends. One can more than fill one’s hours with a wide assortment of activities that not only keep one “entertained” but productive as well. And productivity, I’ve observed, is a great tonic for everyone’s sense of well-being and self-esteem.
I have never read any books on survival, so I guess, for me at least, there are none that are essential. The essential is to believe that I can do it myself. You don’t get that from a book. Books that have led me to a less material way of thinking about and viewing my life are really varied: Hesse’s Siddartha, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tolkien trilogy. Along about there I came across an outfit known as The Brotherhood Of The White Temple (Dept. F, Sedaba) and became an avid reader of one Doreal on subjects such as Sahaj Yoga: The Yoga Of Life, Science And Health. Yoga: Science Of Breath. Color And Light, Concentration And Relaxation, Personal Magnetism, Man’s Higher Self, His Subtle Bodies: How They Influence His Life. There’s a whole library of them. Little booklets, a dollar or two in price. In here also came a little reading on diet: Feel Like A Million by Catharyn Elwood and Food Is Your Best Medicine by Henry G. Bieler, M.D. Mostly my diet has evolved out of common sense. Go lightly on the meat and starches, and eat lots of salads. And lots of lightly cooked fresh vegetables. The Chinese wok technique is my mainstay of cooking, although I do it in a plain frypan. The most commonly eaten meal in this household is panfried vegetables: celery, green pepper,
mushrooms, cooking and green onion, clove of garlic (not garlic salt!), bok choy, or maybe some broccoli. Maybe there'll be a few slices of bacon along
with it — or a pork chop cut up and cooked with it. Or fish, or an egg or two broken over it. A glass of milk or a pot of rose-hip or peppermint tea. I have quit drinking coffee and regular tea at home altogether. My most common evening beverage is hot lemonade, with juice fresh-squeezed and sweetened with honey. No white sugar in this household, and brown is only used in my Chinese vegetable cooking, along with soy sauce and a shot or two of water. I keep nuts (unroasted, unsalted) and dried fruit around, along with fresh fruit. Bought some salted-roasted peanuts the other day on a mad splurge and sent them off to a friend after one evening. I couldn’t leave them alone. Corruption dies hard.
Living cheaply does not to me mean living off welfare. This, I think, is an important distinction to be made. Many of those who are still on the nine-to-five routine often justify their own position by assuming that everyone who is not in that rut is on welfare; and therefore a burden to them. I honestly don’t know what percentage of dropouts are self-sustaining, how many are dependent on welfare; but I do know that I’ve met a growing number who are, like myself, self-sustaining, financially independent of others. If I am going to call myself independent and free, I do not want to be playing any dependency games with the establishment.
Living cheaply also gives one the opportunity to stop playing the Consumer Game. If you do not have money, you really cannot be playing the game. And if you don’t want to be playing the game, your need for money is greatly reduced. The Consumer Game is the one .that keeps us all believing that without this and that product our lives would be quite intolerable.
Well, I’ve been writing this for the past two hours and to tell you the truth I’ve got work to do. I have to chop wood, clean up house, cook and eat supper, read a chapter of Wilhelm Reich, spend a while with my feathered friends the birds (this place with the swamp outback is loaded with birds), play my final praises (on my seven-dollar-a-month rented flute) and watch the sun set. Boy is it mellow out there. The blues of the Strait, the mountains and the sky all still have a glimmer of warmth, which shows itself in misty-pink colors. Ships and flocks of ducks or loons set sail on this glimmering wonder of an ocean. The logs down the beach and the cabin next door are all tied together in their beach-weathered grey. Swallows swooping around. And this tree in my front yard . . . some kind of fir tree with stiff spiky needles sticking right out from the branches all the way around . . . well it has big pink buds on it! I think they’ll turn into cones, but I can’t recall ever seeing anything quite like it before.
Not so long ago, just about the time of the first winter winds, a man and a woman came knocking at my door to say that I would have to move out of my cabin soon, since they, the rightful owners, were soon to move in. I’m in the process of moving now to another cottage one mile down the road; it costs $45 per month but has the added advantage of a roof that doesn't leak, a fantastically efficient wood stove and, praise the Lord, an indoor washroom. Add to this incredible good fortune that there is no one between me and my beautiful ocean/mountain view, and you will understand how fine I’m feeling these days. Right now this place is part of me, and for all it imposes on my best feelings I’ve loved it, will be sad to leave it .and . . . wow! . . . just saw a whale surfacing in the ocean; spouting and all. ■
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.