Winning the “Neighbour Lottery”

By Cam Mather

When Michelle and I bought our place in the woods 12 years ago we won the neighbor lottery. We really lucked out. Anyone who reads my stuff knows how often Ken and Alyce Gorter are mentioned. That’s because they are a big part of our lives. They are our nearest neighbors even though they live 2 ½ miles (4 km) away! They say that fences make great neighbors, but we don’t have any fences, just bush.

Alyce was born and raised here but Ken is an import like us. In fact the day we met Ken we found out that he had grown up not too far from the community we were moving here from. He asked us what high school we had attended and it turns out that he went to the same high school Michelle I went to! I think the odds of moving 4 hours away and finding out that your nearest neighbor attended the same high school is pretty remote.

In the workshops that I give based on my “Thriving During Challenging Times” book I recommend that if you’re a cidiot (city idiot) like I was when I moved here, you NEED a neighbor like Ken. Ken is a licensed electrician and also knows everything there is to know about practical stuff. He’s like Mike Holmes from the TV show who just “gets it”, and is a jack-of-all-trades!

Consequently if you were to look at our photo albums at pictures of any of the major work projects we have undertaken while living here you would see photos of Ken. Building trackers for the solar panels, building sidewalks, fixing broken wind turbines, putting up new wind turbines … just about everything has Ken’s signature on it. The DVD that we produced on how to put up a home scale wind turbine “stars” Ken. While I was working the camera to film it all, Ken worked with the students from the Energy Systems and Design Renewable Energy Program at St. Lawrence College to show them how to install the turbine. Ken showed the students everything from how to put on a strain relief to the proper use of torque wrench. And yes, my excuse that I was doing the filming isn’t the real reason that I wasn’t the one doing the instructing!

Ken has the best-stocked garage workshop you could imagine. When something breaks I go to his garage to fix it. And Ken isn’t one of those “here, I’ll fix that” types. He is always happy to show me how to fix stuff. When the starting motor on the truck broke it was me who crawled under it trying to get the new rebuilt one installed while Ken coached me. I’ve even learned how to weld since moving up here, thanks to Ken. I wasn’t the best welding student and I’m not the best welder, but I take pride in the fact that I welded the stand for my solar thermal system as well as a few other projects around my home.

Having grown up here, Alyce simply “gets” life here. She knows the downside of life in the country, but mostly Alyce seems to rejoice in the upside. If it’s a sunny day and there is the potential to go for a ride on one of her horses, Alyce is overflowing with joy. This isn’t the enthusiasm of someone buying a coffee in the city, no, this is a kind of ‘over the top’ infectious glee. It’s hard to be down when the people around you are that up.

Alyce has recently retired from her professional career and has taken to farming. She owns a 100+ acre farm she recently bought and raises Highland cattle. Her herd continues to grow and right now we have several members “boarding” here at our place. As long time “plant eaters” it seems very ironic for me to have beef cattle in my paddock, but I’m trading their room & board for a monthly load of horse manure. This is part of the horse-trading that goes on around here in the country.

In my book “Thriving During Challenging Times” I suggest that your first priority is to become more independent. At the same time I recommend that you start building a community to belong to. In tough times your neighbors are going to be very important to you. Michelle once read an article in Harrowsmith Country Life magazine that suggested that in the country “neighboring” is actually a verb, and that country people place a high priority on it. Even the new head of the FEMA in the U.S. reminded Americans that the first responders in most emergency events are not the government, but your neighbors.

I remember when we first bought this place we told Michelle’s dad that one of the things we were most looking forward to here was the lack of neighbours. Michelle’s dad was quick to point out, and rightly so, that your neighbours in the country are very important. Ken and Alyce Gorter are exceptional at neighboring. Tornados aren’t common in my neck of the woods, but if one ever blows through, as soon as it’s over, I’m heading down to the neighbors to make sure everyone there is OK. Look at me, I’m a first responder!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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