Living in Northern British Columbia's bush | Back To The Land

His name, Greggo Mutch. You often hear stories of city dwellers trading in their nine to five, two-story home and unnecessary amount of stuff in an attempt for a back to the land experience. A lifestyle that can sometimes be romanticized into feel-good feelings of self-sufficiency, seclusion, and being natures companion. Seeing Greggo’s situation was like stepping back into 1887 and the harsh reality of homesteading where the only comfort was a wood burning stove. Greggo still endures the realities people faced 150 years ago and he seems to be doing just fine.

When I first arrived, on a whim, not knowing if Greggo would even be home from the information I received, I pulled into a tracked road where the only noticeable signs were callused impressions leading into the bush. I stopped the truck in a small clearing, two dogs cautiously greeting me with barks of insecurity. The property is surrounded by trees, along the banks of a river, humming loudly from the spring run-off. There are multiple structures on the property, Greggo’s main home, and a couple others, weathered, a decade or two away from nature claiming it as her own. It’s early morning and in plain view, I see a man walking across the property, a carefree strut to the beat of chirping birds and wind grazing the tops of the trees. We exchange hello’s, pleasantries, and I explain my intentions and reasons for the unannounced visit. Greggo looks at me for ten seconds, gauging my next move, neither cowboy draws, his response, “Well welcome. Are ya hungry? I have some beaver and beans on the stove”. It wasn’t a joke.

I ask him about his life growing up and when he answers, his response is a mix of outbursts, opinions, followed by nebulous mumbles as though a third imaginary person just joined the conversation with his gaze elsewhere. He continues without taking a single breath, hitting a range of octaves and facial expressions that would have Charlie Chaplin nodding in approval.

A man who quit school at 14, which was not uncommon in those days, Greggo was born in 1947, a trapper who still to this day runs a line far up the valley behind his property. He makes do with what he can, still earning an income from what he does catch; marten, mink, bear, and a few others. I ask the obvious question on how he stores the game when there is no electricity to power a fridge. “I put it in the river to keep things cold, sealed in buckets under the water about 10 feet”. I look over and the water is dangerously high and flowing strong. His abode is a log cabin with a couple of wood stoves to cook food and stop him from freezing in the winter. There is stuff that I find hard to focus on, but when I do, there is a couch, a bed, animal skins everywhere, storage in the rafters with a half-dozen feral cats coming in and out of the home's interior. We look through pictures from his past. Mostly friends on hunting trips into the backcountry, pitching canvas tents, using horses and donkeys to access difficult terrain. One story, in particular, made this place all the more wilder. Greggo was on a hunting trip with a friend. Their game of choice that day was grizzly. His friend managed to fire one shot at a bear they were stalking, however, it only injured the animal, suddenly the bear charged; mauling the man. Greggo, taking his chances to save his friend and his own, fired a shot while the bear was defending himself. The bear was killed. “My friend got hurt pretty bad and was lucky to live”.

I stumble upon a photo of his father and when I ask what his story was, he casually mentions he was a famous clown. I looked for any sign of sarcasm, there was none upon which he adds “His name was Zippo, Zippo the clown… you know like the lighter you use for a cigarette”. Greggo’s story just got more interesting. I ask him about his time in the bush, his family, and reasons to live out here. “I enjoy most of my time out here, thinking for myself and not anyone else. It’s freedom. I’ve learned to live without money. I don’t need a nine to five job with money in my pocket to buy things. To me this makes sense. A lot of people think money buys happiness, it can, but if you're upset about life, is it because you don’t have any money or is it because you’re not free? My dad had nothing and was so happy. All he had was a bicycle”. I didn’t say anything and waited for more. “Out here it’s freedom… Oh, look there’s my duck, Stephi”.

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