Im-Permaculture: Hospice Care for a Dying House

March 10, 2012 at 7:29 pm (permaculture, Vancouver) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Looking out my kitchen window, I see a lane full of litter and a biggie-size Vancouver Special–the kind with terracotta roof tiles, where a compact fluorescent light is left on by the gate all night.  I wonder what the view was like out that very window in 1985, when I was the age my daughter is now, and that house was just recently built.  If I let my mind wander another generation back, I imagine a view of 1950’s semi-suburbanism, the vacant lots as grassy fields where neighborhood children must have played.  I wish I could’ve seen the greenhouse as Frank built it, before it was partially demolished to make room for a renter’s over-sized vehicle.  I can hardly envision the garage as it was before the paint peeled and the leaky roof was covered by an orange tarp whose tattered remains still cling to rotting batten boards.  This is life in a dying house.  The improvements we’ve made inside and out to make it livable and beautiful once again, we think of as a kind of residential hospice care, affording a bit of dignity to a well-built home in its final years.

The house roof was looking really soggy in a few places, so we copied Frank and covered it with a tarp. When summer comes, the landlord will have to decide how extensively to repair the roof on a house destined for destruction.

From the living room window, I see rush-hour commuters, city buses, and eighteen-wheelers barreling down a highway and I can’t help but think it must not have been like this when Frank moved in.  Back then, Knight St. would have been busy with now-defunct American car brands sporting tail fins and chrome, but the mass transport of consumer goods from Asia to North America had only just begun.  These days, Knight St. doubles as highway 99, a six-lane trucking route connecting the port of Vancouver to all points east.  Night and day, truckloads of cheap consumer goods roll down our street, the traffic and pollution making for some really urban homesteading.

The view from the living room. It's not so loud in the evenings and on weekends... and statutory holidays are pretty quiet.

The irony is two-fold, however: our crumbling house and backyard mini-farm may contrast sharply with the retail and high-rise condos that surround us, but we owe a debt of gratitude to the busy Knight St. for preserving this house in its original state.  If it were on a quiet residential street, this house would surely have suffered the fate of other bungalows in the area, many of which have been demolished for new construction.  Even when they’re merely gutted and renovated, Vancouver’s EcoDensity plan would see a laneway house where a garden once grew.

A house forgotten by time: Carl and Ellie's house in the movie Up, surrounded by high-rise construction.

What we have is a true gem in Vancouver: there aren’t that many affordable single-family homes (sans basement apartment) left to rent in the city.  This house is also unique in being owner-occupied for over half a century; this fact alone probably accounts for it not being torn down a long time ago to make way for commercial development.  When his family moved him to a nearby senior’s center, Frank’s house–or rather, the lot–was sold to a property development corporation.  Their long-term plans include razing the house and a few other properties on the block to make way for a mixed-use development of several stories.  The company already owns the house next door, but their plans have so far faltered on purchasing any more of the block.  So, they wait… and we wait… not knowing how long we’ll be able to live here.

In the meantime, no one cares what we do with the house or the yard–we were literally told when we moved in that we could do anything as long as we leave the house standing for them to tear down–so I continue to experiment with various (impermanent) permacultural projects without fear of reprisal by a disgruntled landlord.  It will be a sad day when we’re told we’ve got to go; I don’t think I’ll be able to watch with dry eyes as a bulldozer rips through my (Frank’s) garden.    But, the experience and what I’m learning from working with this property will always be with me.


Permalink 1 Comment

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

January 17, 2008 at 5:35 pm (aquaria, Eleanor, goings-on) (, , , , , )

Well, I know I had kind of neglected my blog, before Christmas. I was just so busy–the time got away from me. And, then there was the necessary and anticipated absence of Christmas vacation when Stephen and I took little Eleanor down to Atlanta and Charlotte to show her off to all her family. And, now that we’ve been back in Vancouver for two whole weeks, I have not taken the time to catch my readers up. What a bad blogger I am!

It’s not that I don’t make time to get online–I do!–but, to be honest, I found a new addiction right before Christmas. Mom, you may recall that one of the items on my Christmas wish list was a subscription to a magazine called Practical Fishkeeping. Well, it turns out, I don’t really need the magazine in print because, not only are all the articles available online, they have a very active forum that just keeps drawing me in. In a month of membership I’ve put up almost fifty posts! Granted, they’re not nearly as long as ranty as some I’ve written here, but still… 50! First thing every morning, I have to check my forum. Seven a.m. is still peace-and-quiet-coffee-break time (Eleanor doesn’t usually get up until until 8 or 9). And, at this time I have every intention of updating rainraingoaway (especially because we’re in the thick of the rainy season and the rain rain just will not go away), but because I’m 8 or 9 hours behind the majority of the members on the UK-based PFK forum, there are always multiple replies waiting for me, and of course I just have to reply to those and then I just have to check out all the new posts that magically appeared while I was sleeping. Is this crazy?! No, it’s just that fishkeeping is a darn addictive hobby. Ask anyone on the forum, having a single successful fish tank doesn’t last long–you want another one and then another… In fact, two is no longer enough for me. I added a pair of German Rams yesterday to my larger aquarium, bringing that one near completion as far as stocking goes, and already I’m planning on a third, much bigger one… and maybe a small brackish water tank–I’ve never kept a brackish tank before–and maybe also an extremely low-tech tank in which I follow all the “don’t’s” of the fishkeeping hobby (like don’t use soil for substrate and don’t use sun for light–sounds silly doesn’t it?) Well, there’s only one way to find out; I’ll just have to set up that tank…

Well, any plans for a much larger aquarium are on hold for now because we are waiting to hear back from a local housing co-op where we’ve applied for membership. If we get in, and I’m fairly confident we will–it’s just a matter of time–there may be a big move in store for us soon and I don’t want to have to move a really big fish tank in addition to everything else I own. If we can make this move, though, it’ll be good. We already know a couple people in the co-op because they have children the same age as Eleanor. There’s a daycare for 3-5 year-olds on site and a really good primary school right across the street. I’ve got my fingers crossed…

And, hey! if we get in–when we get in–maybe we’ll have a little more room to accommodate some of my “new” furniture! I’m the proud new owner of a worn-out, but still very classy Eames chair–the classic leather and bent-wood rocker. This Christmas was, in part, a sad one for me because I had to say goodbye to my childhood home. Plans have been made to store some of the more memorable pieces of furniture for me (and I am so grateful to those who made it possible to do so), but I will never go back to 1914 again.

One of the neatest things about an old house like that is the history that it comes with; unlike with new construction, an old house has a life of its own. That house was and always will be part of my life, but I was part of its life, too–and an old house always has a life beyond just “housing” its owners and their things. That house in particular had little pieces of history–little flourishes that were not built for me or for anyone else, but simply to give the house Quality–little things like the telephone shelf with a hide-away for the cords and phonebook. And, then, there are little touches that get added over the years that were never part of the builders plan but that, nevertheless, result in a certain irreplaceable Quality. (I’m capitalizing the word Quality here to emphasize that I do not just mean that it was quality; rather, I’m speaking in the vein of Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.) The house at 1914 was literally a diary that spanned close to forty years. A previous owner’s daughter started writing on the basement wall in the early 70’s when her family moved into the house; her first entry read “Hello House!” She didn’t flesh out the details of her life by any means, but she dropped by every so often to record her height, the day she got her braces off, and, twenty years later, the day her parents moved out. Her last entry was “Goodbye House.” Realizing that this was something special, my family renovated the entire house and left this one wall alone. I added a few entries to the diary wall over the years that I lived there and this Christmas when I was “home” for the last time, I added my own goodbye to the wall. My hope is that future owners will have the good sense to leave the wall alone.

That being said, Christmas was good. The most exciting part, the part that I most looked forward to, was showing Eleanor off to all of her adoring family. I guess every parent feels this way, but I am so proud of her. I think the world of her and I was excited to have everyone else see the Eleanor that I see everyday. I think she more than impressed everyone! And, of course, we are so appreciative to have all the new clothes and toys for her. She has been so much better than before about entertaining herself with her toys (I think she had out-grown all her old toys). She especially loves her new Duplo blocks. Personality-wise, I think all the cousin-exposure (for those on my side of the family that may not know, she is one of 12 grand-children on Stephen’s side) was good for her; she really matured a lot. It’s like she’s a two-year-old now! When her birthday comes around–on Valentine’s Day!–we’ll be taking her to Science World for a fun treat (as if her scientist father and my aquariums aren’t already fostering a regard for science in her). In a similar vein, we took her to the new Georgia Aquarium while we were in Atlanta. It was amazing! It made me want to resum e my volunteer work at the Vancouver Aquarium, if only I had the free time…

Getting back into the swing of things work-wise and Ellie-wise has been quite an adjustment. No one really wants to return to work after a holiday, but we were so spoiled over Christmas having so many other people around that we didn’t have to entertain Eleanor every second of the day, that the real adjustment has been getting back to the daily grind of child care. I know it’s worth it, though. Speaking of, it sounds like my peace-and-quiet-coffee-break is over. Eleanor beckons.

I hope to keep you all updated more regularly from now on. I’m not making any resolutions about it, but here’s hoping!

Permalink Leave a Comment