Call it a dream. Or you can call it a mid-life crisis.
You could even call it temporary insanity.
Probably all three of the above led us to quit our jobs
and move to Mayne Island, British Columbia.
All Our Friends: Simple Rewards of Simple Living begins with a couple's choice to quit their jobs and take up a life of voluntary simplicity. When they buy a rustic property on Mayne Island, one of B.C.’s Southern Gulf Islands, they find themselves sharing their yard with an extended family of raccoons.
While exploring the adjustments the couple must make to the limitations of a travel trailer and a fixed income, All Our Friends follows their relationship with the raccoons as they move from the background into the foreground of their lives.
First Bandit appears by making a comical assault on the bird feeder. Shortly after his lady friends, Foxy, Raggedy Ann and Putzi, make themselves at home. When Raggedy and Putzi bring their kits in the summer, the yard turns into a 'garden stage'.
By letting the reader in on the challenges and rewards of simple living in an island setting, of which close contact with wildlife is the ultimate reward, All Our Friends is an experience few are ever lucky to have.
“All Our Friends is a slim volume that is well-written … and goes very quickly for the reader. As the author states, it is not a recipe but an example of a modest lifestyle, and one that will be interesting to many in these times of growing eco-awareness.”
Gulf Islands Driftwood
“Faithfully but not sentimentally recounted, the exploits of this merry band [of raccoons] will make you more friend than foe of these creatures. It will also make you yearn for the simple life, at least from your comfy, warm reading spot.”
|Book size:||6”x9” / 116 pages / perfect bound||Photo inserts:||8 / black and white||Retail price:||$17.95 CAD||Publisher:||Trafford Publishing|
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All Our Friends is available at the following bookstores:
Salt Spring Books, Salt Spring Island, BC
Sorensen Books, Victoria, BC
|Chapter 1||The Faery Garden|
|Chapter 2||Bandit and the Ladies|
|Chapter 3||A Full House|
|Chapter 4||Ricky, Rocky and the Three Racketeers|
|Chapter 5||Close Encounters|
|Chapter 6||Sickness and Sadness|
|Chapter 7||Sole Survivors|
|Chapter 9||Full Circle|
|Appendix||The Southern Gulf Islands|
Since Bandit’s first appearance in December, followed by Foxy’s in February and Raggedy Ann’s in March, our raccoons’ daily visits had become more of an event than anything that could have happened in the news. We had become so attached to them, in fact, that our greatest concern while we were away was not whether we would return to find our trailer intact and our plants alive, but if our raccoons would still come around.
As if she had already sensed that we were back, little Foxy showed up the evening of our return. Our second guest the following day was neither Bandit nor Raggedy, but a pretty, dark female who sat like a chipmunk with her belly exposed while she munched on her food with the relish of a true connoisseur. A clean, orderly girl with a preference for dipping her food or her hands in the water dish, our newcomer became known as Putzi, which in German is a common name for a pet and, coming from the verb putzen (to clean), denotes something cute or adorable. Although Putzi’s washing turned out to be only a temporary thing, her name stuck. (According to my reading, raccoons do not actually wash their food; rather they immerse it in water to increase their tactile sensations.)
Four regular raccoons required a cheaper food supply so we switched to dry dog food which could also be bought in larger quantities. As the pieces of food were formed for larger canine jaws, the raccoons reminded me of little kids trying to chew on jawbreakers. Except for Raggedy of course who would unceremoniously grab and devour, Bandit, Foxy and Putzi would pick up a piece and roll it vigorously between their hands before taking a bite. This idiosyncrasy was the source of constant amusement, especially later in the summer when we had a yard full of raccoons and Bandit, who found nothing to eat, would come up to the large rocks in front of the screen door and put on a pantomime by rubbing his empty hands together.
In addition to watching our raccoons use their silver-gloved hands to scoop, roll, hold and turn their food, we were amused by the grunting, sighing and smacking which confirmed their obvious concentration and delight. Their table manners were not exemplary, but they would occasionally hold their hands under their mouths or in front to catch the crumbs that flew out as their teeth and jaws pulverized each crunchy clump of dog food. Like fugitives who expect to be apprehended at any moment, they were not able to enjoy their meal with complete abandon. While their fingers scoured the ground for food, their black eyes and white-tipped ears were constantly checking for danger.
By now our place had definitely become the fast food outlet in the neighbourhood, and Bandit, Foxy, Raggedy and Putzi kept my husband, their loyal waiter, hopping. Characteristically unsociable, they preferred to travel and dine alone, but just as we had been observing them with avid interest, it turned out that they had been scrutinizing each other with even keener eyes.
Whereas Bandit tended to be dignified and reserved, the females, in particular Raggedy Ann, carried on when it came to crunchy (which is what we had begun to call the dog food) like bad-tempered little kids who, seeing that one has got some goodies, demand their share, too. Due to Raggedy’s plastic fetish (she’d already demolished a couple of yogurt containers) and the frequency with which two raccoons tried to monopolize the dish, we decided to dispense with dinnerware and leave the food on the ground.
Despite our peace-keeping strategy, conflicts inevitably broke out. First our guests would growl, then snap and lunge at each other until one submitted with a whimper or a retreat. Often their squabbling would continue until my husband went outside and gave each its separate portion. Generally his democratic approach worked, and, unless bad behaviour justified the temporary withdrawal of service, everyone went away satisfied. If not, well, they just sorted things out in their own furious but harmless way.
One mid-summer night we were about to go to bed when, because of the full moon, we noticed Foxy sitting right next to the trailer and begging below the window. My husband went out with a snack that he sometimes kept inside the trailer for off-hours traffic, and saw that Bandit was waiting as well by the stone steps. While they fed, Bandit and Foxy seemed to quiver and pulsate in the moonlight, as if they were players in an electrified midsummer night’s dream.
Bandit and Foxy staged their next evening performance after sharing a relatively civilized meal. Stretching themselves out on the stone steps above the garden, they reclined like Antony and Cleopatra. At this point Putzi, still a wary newcomer, had slipped into our yard from the opposite end and lay crouched on one of the higher shelves. While she sussed out the situation from a distance, Bandit and Foxy regarded her every move, and growled as if to say, “What does she want here?” Raccoons, however, are not easily deterred by threats or insults, and Putzi demonstrated her raccoon determination to have her turn at the supper table by lying low and hanging in there until Bandit and Foxy had left the building.
After that night, we referred to the rectangular plateau below the stone steps as the garden stage. With a summer theatre right in our yard, we were in store for a series of comedies and dramas we wouldn’t have missed for front row seats at a Three Tenors concert!
|British Columbia's Southern Gulf Islands|
|Our home on Mayne Island|
|The view from the top|
|The garden stage|
|Bandit on the garden stage|
|The one and only Miss Raggedy Ann|
|Putzi and the Three Racketeers|
|Dolly, Bugsy and Molly|
|Raggedy, Ricky and Rocky|
|Putzi and Bugsy|
Raccoons take center stage in couple's life
by Elizabeth Nolan, Driftwood staff
It was with some trepidation that I picked up All Our Friends: Simple Rewards of Simple Living, a new book chronicling a couple's experience living with raccoons on Mayne Island.
As a child I frequently got obsessed with the animal stories I read—after reading Kipling's Rikki Tikki Tavi in Grade 4, I desperately wanted a mongoose for my birthday! Even in later years, I remain an impressionable reader. Although I've hardly ever set foot on a boat, M. Wylie Blanchet's memoir The Curve of Time convinced me I should have five kids and live with them on board.
So, I had to wonder how this tale of simple living would affect me. Would I want to give up our small home for an even smaller one? Would I become obsessed with raccoons and start buying giant bags of dog food to feed them? This is just what author D.S. Hartley and her husband did, beginning in 1995. The two had spent the previous 14 years working at well-paid careers in Nuremburg, Germany, but had first met on Salt Spring as travelers without obligations or schedules. Wishing to get back to the West Coast and explore a simpler lifestyle, the two finally settled on a small property on Mayne.
Although many people have complained about the living quarters available to those living on low incomes, Hartley and her husband considered their 20-foot travel trailer "luxurious", equipped as it was with running water, electricity, shower and telephone. Their steeply slanted half-acre property was zoned only for recreational use, so they could build nothing over 100 square feet, but that didn't bother them either. With no plans to work, the couple was happy to just live with nature.
At this point of the book I was still okay. After all, the modest mobile home I rent is not much more deluxe than their trailer was. But what about the raccoons?
"Despite the frequent fights and altercations that sometimes turned our yard into a madhouse, we continued to relish our raccoon summer. How many people have such an intense experience, and how many have the time, and appreciation, to participate in raccoon life the way we could?" asks Hartley.
Luckily for me, Hartley is very good at expressing the wonder and affection she felt without unduly romanticizing it. She recounts the various personalities that played on their "garden stage" from the viewpoint of an engaged observer. The story is even more interesting and endearing when several females start coming around with their babies.
For the couple that purposely attracted more raccoons to their property by leaving out leftovers, and yes, eventually buying giant bags of dog food, there is no question that the animals became more like pets than pests. However, Hartley also had her limits and engages in the book with questions of how much humans should really interact with wild animals. The raccoons were not allowed in the trailer, and not allowed to rip up the small lawn—the only change to the wild property the couple undertook.
When tragedy strikes the raccoon population, the author grieves but does not interfere.
All Our Friends is a slim volume that is well-written and goes very quickly for the reader. As the author states, it is not a recipe but an example of a modest lifestyle, and one that will be interesting to many in these times of growing eco-awareness. As well, it promotes a new appreciation for raccoons without making one want to adopt them oneself.
The Gulf Islands Driftwood, December 12, 2007
All Our Friends: Simple Rewards of Simple Living by DS Hartley begins when a couple buys a rustic property on Mayne Island. While adjusting to the simple life which the couple has chosen, they find their lives intertwining with an extended family of raccoons as the animals move from the background into the foreground of their lives.
Seen as pets by some and pests by others, the raccoons first show up in the form of Bandit, who appears in winter making a comical assault on the bird feeder. Shortly after his lady friends, Foxy, Raggedy Ann and Putzi, make themselves at home. When Raggedy and Putzi bring their kits in the summer, the yard turns into a 'garden stage'. Following the year-around, this devoted tale also becomes a rich almanac of Island life. But the story is not without drama and poignancy—but what wild life ever is. Mayne Island had an outbreak of distemper which decimated the raccoon population.
Reading the background challenges and rewards of simple living, we see that close contact with wildlife is the ultimate reward—an experience few are ever lucky enough to have.
Faithfully but not sentimentally recounted, the exploits of this merry band will make you more friend that foe of these creatures. It will also make you yearn for the simple life, at least from your comfy, warm reading spot.
Many episodes of All Our Friends were serialized in Island Tides in the '90's and will be remembered by long-time readers. It is wonderful, and high time, to have the complete story between one set of covers.
Island Tides, June 26, 2008
To watch D.S. Hartley reading condensed versions of Chapter 1 The Faery Garden and Chapter 5 Close Encounters, click onto the following links:
Chapter 1 The Faery Garden
Chapter 5: Close Encounters
D. S. Hartley grew up in Saskatchewan. She holds degrees in English Literature and Education, and has taught English as a Second Language for several years overseas. She and her husband make their home on Salt Spring Island, and in Victoria, British Columbia.
All Our Friends: Simple Rewards of Simple Living is Ms. Hartley’s first published book. The original version was serialized in part in the Island Tides newspaper, published on Pender Island. D.S. Hartley published an article titled "The Three Racketeers" in the September/October 2008 issue of Canadian Wildlife Magazine, and a write-up about the book under The Wild Life in Canadian Pets & Animals Magazine, Volume 6 Issue 1.
© 2010 Diane Engelhardt. All rights reserved.