Leave a light on in the wild
Cause I’m coming in
A little blind
Dreaming of a lighthouse in the woods
Shining a little light to bring us back home
When to find you in the backyard
Hiding behind our busy lives
Dreaming of a lighthouse in the woods
To help us get back into the world
– Patrick Watson, Lighthouse
To feel free, out of reach and disjointed from time for a few days. To live in a cocoon surrounded by trees and silence facing the Reford Gardens and the river. This is what we experienced as a family a few short days ago.
It’s Friday night. We’re sitting in the car listening to a vacation playlist, a box filled with food and our trunk packed with snowshoes, crazy carpets, pencils, paper and snow gear. We arrive at the gardens at dusk. The entrance light on the ERE 132 ECO home welcomes us. The little one rushes out of the car, feverishly exploring this new place. His curiosity fills me with pride.
Despite the twilight, we can see the sober beauty of this ecological residence covered in a variety of local wood species including spruce, cedar, larch and aspen. The entrance is welcoming. I immediately notice the textured concrete floor, I’m in love! There’s a large basket of colourful wool slippers … this small detail sets the tone for the weekend: it’s an invitation to rest and contemplate. Everywhere we look, we can see and feel that the architectural elements and materials were all carefully chosen for their aesthetic and eco-friendly characteristics
The ERE 132 ECO home is an affordable ecological housing model that’s been adapted to our northern climate. Its mission is noble; to raise public awareness about eco-construction and boost the region’s recreational tourism offering in an ecologically responsible manner. This speaks to me; I signed the Pact for Transition. I want to do something every day that helps preserve the world in its current state. Choosing sustainable tourism is one way of doing that. Working on renovations that meet environmental standards is another. Seeing the explanatory signs spread out across the house and describing the ERE 132 ECO home’s eco-construction process, I take lots of notes. I realize that eco-construction may be more within reach than I’d thought.
Once past the entrance, we arrive in the kitchen, which is just as charming; durable materials, room to entertain, windows that go down to the floor (or doors that open onto the forest), a large kitchen island and quartz countertops with a printed tempered glass backsplash. I put the food away, pour myself a glass of wine (dishes are included in the rental) and pretend I live here. The little one happily screams from the second floor,
“Mom, I found my room! The bed is so cool!”
(solid wood bunk beds)
My boyfriend makes his way to the living room and falls gently onto a soft chair. His smile is a tell-tale sign that he likes it here. I love these moments of family symbiosis. This is my definition of happiness.
Upstairs there’s a room with a large table and a library filled with books about the environment, green building, gardening and architecture. There are also collections of short stories and novels. I choose a collection of short stories and read in Elsie’s bath – that’s the name they’ve given to the clawfoot tub which, I imagine, resembles the one that Elsie Reford, the garden’s designer, once had. While I relax in the tub, the little one sleeps in his new favourite bed while my boyfriend draws in the dining room.
* * *
It’s Saturday at dawn. As I make my way to the kitchen, I’m taken aback by the natural light that pours through the south-facing windows. It’s invigorating! I feel like I’m in a huge solarium. The team that designed ERE 132 found the best positioning for light to be part of the everyday decor. There’s nothing more beautiful than heating your cocoon with solar power! If it gets too hot, the air exchanger and ventilation system create a pleasant breeze in the house. Every house should be built with this much thought and care. We can’t live within shades of pale green anymore; we need to change for our children. It’s time for a bold green, a strong and proud green – a beautiful forest green.
I brew some coffee and watch the hairy woodpeckers, chickadees, sparrows and cedar waxwings who live their little bird lives in this peaceful courtyard scattered with bird feeders. The blue jays stayed in bed. I read somewhere that they only visit the feeders when they run out of acorns and beechnut. They also like larch cones. I guess you could say they like to eat local.
My mother joins us, there are three bedrooms, it’s perfect! She plays board games with the little one while my boyfriend and I go snowshoeing. In winter, the sleeping gardens are like an extension of the house. The grounds feel intimate and familiar somehow.
The ground is covered with fresh powder. We get to carve out the first tracks, well sort of… there are some footprints here are there. Hare, foxes, squirrels and chipmunks have also decided to go out exploring – theirs could probably be considered an extended stay. The tracks from their footprints create lovely patterns on the snow. They almost look like delicate necklaces.
We make our way towards the contemporary gardens. Colourful structures are still in place and they contrast dramatically with the pristine grounds, it’s beautiful! We take several photos and go to the river to observe its white, almost lunar-looking craters.
We retrace our steps and head back to our temporary home, led by a trail of white spruce and centenary larches. We then explore the apple tree garden. A few frosted apples decorate the trees. We head to Villa Estevan and the belvedere, which offer a postcard view of the Mitis and the St. Lawrence rivers. Whenever I visit the Reford Gardens, I’m touched by the Reford family’s sensitivity to preserving land, beauty and memory.
We join mom and the little one at home. We prepare a meal using a few local products: cheeses from la Fromagerie du littoral, mead and honey from the Vieux Moulin, and condiments from La cabottine-Saveurs indigènes. My cousin Julie and her family join us. We congregate around the kitchen island and honour the house by filling it with laughter and joy.
* * *
It’s Sunday morning. Before we leave, I soak in the light one last time. I take note of the names of the artisans who helped make this ecological residence so warm and inviting. I return home with new ideas for green renovations and downscaling, with a newfound sense of hope for the rest of the world, and with dreams of writing a novel – in the ERE 132 ECO Home, of course. I’m reminded of this quote by Félix-Antoine Savard, “Hope for the future lies in nature and in the men who remain faithful to nature.”