First published Oct. 2, 2008, this was one of the favourites of fifth and current Facts & Arguments editor Lori Fazari: "I love how this essay ties together the writer's choice not to be a mother and the isolated, spectacular beauty of Canada's northwest coast, where she lives in a cabin in the woods. The comments online flowed steadily after this was published as readers debated the age-old argument of whether or not to have children. But this piece stuck with me for its lyrical writing and beautiful imagery."
"Be careful of the water," she says, patting her belly with that special smile reserved for expecting mothers.
I've seen that smile before. Almost all my friends have smiled that smile at least once. It says: I am woman now. Fertile. You too could do this.
But I'm careful of the water. Very careful. Especially now that I'm living off the grid where my only source of it falls from the sky. Who knows what happens to it up there.
I collect it in two, 84-litre blue plastic garbage pails that sit beneath an eavestrough. When it rains, which is often, a steady stream filters through pieces of window screen stretched taut across the pails.
The screens are meant to inhibit mosquitoes and other creatures of the Naikoon forest from breeding. But they aren't always stretched taut enough. Apparently something is finding its way through those minuscule squares.
When the pails are full, water runs from a rubber hose snaked through a hole in the wall of the log cabin to a faucet at the sink. It is the colour of pale urine. It tastes slightly of bark and pine needle. I'm careful with it. I boil it every time, a full, rolling boil.
It's not only the rainwater to be wary of around here. Not far from my doorstep lies Dixon Entrance - entranceway to a Pacific Ocean swimming with Haida creation myths. It is here, just a few kilometres up the coastline, where Raven is said to have discovered a giant clamshell filled with the first humans. Here where he coaxed them out upon the sands, where they bred and had children that are said to have been strong and fierce; children of a wild West Coast. Children of the water.
In the opposite direction lies St. Mary's spring. Don't be fooled by the sparkly trickle or the statue of the Madonna carved in wood. Legend has it if you drink from the spring you will return to the islands in the future.
Twice I've drunk, and twice I've returned from places where I was perfectly happy - a hilltop room with a view of the valley of Kathmandu and a villa beside a medieval castle in Italy.
So you can see why I'm wary of these waters. It's too easy while living in a place like this to get caught up in the mystery and the power of nature. A place where people's ties to the sea and land are still intimate. Where they pickle sea asparagus, dry chanterelles, harvest huckleberries and can salmon. Where they transform driftwood into whimsical cabins. Where they know tide tables better than TV guides.
It seems only natural here to follow nature's call, to down rainwater with relish, to do what nature does best - procreate.
And there is nothing like nature to get you in the mood. A surf pounds rhythmically. A sky swells with lush clouds. Evergreens exude a dark, heady scent. Air is laced with a northern chill, even in the height of summer, forcing you to light a crackling fire and seek out a warm body to share your bed. As the days shorten, the danger grows.
I've been told that islanders begin their search for a winter mate after Labour Day, or else hold on tight to the ones they already have. It's during these months to take heed, I've been warned. It's during these months to be careful of the water.
That's why I'm thinking of switching to bottled. Ferrying in litres of the stuff - treated and sterile. Void of life.
I know that having a child is probably the closest I could come to producing a miracle. I just don't want one. It's not because my biological clock isn't ticking or I haven't found the "right man." It's not because I don't like children: I have three nieces and a nephew I've loved since the moment they were born. I've witnessed friends' babies grow into walking, talking beings capable of great acts of kindness. I have no doubt children are miraculous. But I think there are enough of them now.
Experts say our planet is bursting at its seams. Six months in India was enough for me to believe them. There I saw villages crowd around a pail of water to wash themselves, and children fight with feral dogs over mouldy chapattis.
It's difficult to imagine an overcrowded world while sitting on this isolated beach watching the tide come in. In the past two hours, two people have passed. What harm could one more tiny being do? Especially a cute one with blond ringlets who likes to build sandcastles and walk along the shore holding my hand? But I still don't want to smile that smile. I've made a choice.
It's not an easy choice to make. It isn't something that's celebrated with balloons and cigars. Maybe because it's a choice that seems to go against the flow of nature. But nature is changing: Ice caps are melting, resources are dwindling.
What does all this mean for a woman living on Canada's northwest coast, for those children in India? How long before we're all fighting for those mouldy chapattis?
To be honest, it leaves me overwhelmed. Maybe if I had studied the sciences instead of the arts I would have a better grasp of things or at least the capacity to help in a more practical way. For now I just don't know what to do. Except keep boiling the water.
What's your favourite Facts & Arguments essay? As the section celebrates its 20th year, share your memories of great F&A submissions in the comment field below.