Evan and Joannie believed in voluntary poverty, so they welcomed the challenge of making do with little money. Besides, Evan didn’t want to do the things that would have led to economic security, like joining his father’s dental practice on West 23rd Street. Even after Evan realized that their plans for a utopian community on the Prophet River in northern British Columbia required about $600 per year, he didn’t ask his father, Morris, for anything. Morris was sad and perplexed that Evan had taken up with a non-Jewish girl who wore men’s trousers and wanted to be even poorer than Morris had been as an immigrant boy.
Though they were pacifists, Evan and Joannie headed for utopia in a refurbished US Army jeep, towing a heavy homemade trailer which caused repeated breakdowns. That summer, they raised a log cabin with some visiting friends from college. But autumn found them alone in the bush with a need for something more than “sweat equity.” So they packed out their possessions little by little, over ten miles of muskeg to the Alaska Highway, where they stored their things in a portable “skid shack” and went to look for work.
Winter found them living in the skid shack in Fort Nelson, sleeping on top of their cartons of books, tools, and clothing. The hotel where they found jobs served mining company people and others with business in the far north. It was hard work cooking for so many people, peeling hundreds of potatoes and cutting away the mushy sections that had frozen.
But they were happy at that time. The skid shack had an airtight heater vented through a pipe in the roof, and Joannie cooked by taking the lid off the heater and lowering a pot into the fire. It was only later in the utopian project that Evan learned what wintering in close quarters could do to people, just as he learned the horrors of getting a piece of flesh stuck to freezing metal.
One day, the hotel manager told Evan to bring in the sheets, which were put outside to dry in minus 40 degree weather. Evan didn’t realize that if you try to fold a frozen sheet it will break. Like his immigrant father, he was stubborn and determined to get the job done. For a while he broke sheet after sheet. Finally, he realized what was going wrong.
Copyright © Leora Freedman 2017
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