Eva Holland confesses her cottage sins: Greed

illustration of the word greed with people looking at the sky around it Illustration by Sam Island

Pride, wrath, envy, sloth, lust, greed, gluttony—the cottage can bring out the best and the worst in us. We asked seven of Canada’s top writers to come clean about their cottage sins.

I Have a Confession to Make…

The parcel of land was posted for sale on a small B.C. town’s Kijiji page. A friend sent it to me, and I opened the email while I was riding a ferry on my way home to Whitehorse from a sea kayaking trip. I was filled, as I always am after days spent in the wilderness, with a renewed determination to build my life around the things that I love most: hiking, paddling, and being outdoors. I wanted less screen time and more starlight, less pavement and more peace.

It was a little postage-stamp lot, cleared and ready to build on, with a truly magnificent lake-and-mountains view from its front corner if you stood almost along the road, or from the back corner if you built something with a second storey. If I gutted my meager RRSPs, emptied my savings, and put the last few thousand on my line of credit, just until the next pay cheques rolled in, I could—barely—afford it.

Reader, I bought the land.

I spent the fall and winter of late 2019 and early 2020 daydreaming about the possibilities: all the things I would do when my little parcel had thawed out. I knew I couldn’t afford to build yet, but maybe I could start with an outhouse, to make camping more comfortable? Should I buy an old travel trailer and park it? Throw up a glorified shed, a rough bunkhouse, to start? Maybe I should plant raspberry bushes, so they’d be fruiting by the time I had a dwelling put up. Or maybe all I needed was to rig up a hammock?

I imagined a life spent shuttling between a cozy condo in the city and a cabin on my land. I pictured myself becoming a person who gardens, grows vegetables, tending to raised beds in the long days of sub-Arctic summer sun. Or the kind of woman who rises with the dawn and takes a cold-water swim to start her day, instead of groggily rolling over to grab her phone and scroll through Twitter; the kind who paddles an SUP through the quiet at dusk, instead of Netflixing Captain America: The Winter Soldier for the eleventh time.

I wanted to do everything with that land. I wanted it to be everything.

But in March, the pandemic hit long before the frost released its hold. And then, with the pandemic, came the news stories about cottagers fleeing the cities for their rural second homes. I couldn’t entirely blame them for seeking space, but suddenly my dream-future felt uncomfortable. COVID-19 had thrown so many of our societal inequities into sharper-than-ever relief. Access to land, to outdoor space, had never seemed more essential—or more out of reach for too many.

Was it greedy of me to want it all? The urban life when I chose it—with take-out dinners and fancy donuts and an ever-present selection of craft beers—and the rural life when I found time to get away? I was hardly picturing building a mansion—a one-room dry cabin with a little sleeping loft, to capture that view, was more like it. But suddenly it felt extravagant, maybe even ugly. I wrestled with my own thoughts: didn’t I want the land, after all, to build a healthier, quieter, saner life? Was buying the land to change my life any different than believing a new pair of boots would solve my problems?

I don’t have an answer yet—or an outhouse. I decided to wait out the pandemic before doing anything. But I’ve since learned that Christian teachings pair a key virtue with each of the deadly sins. Greed’s is charity, or generosity. Maybe there’s the seed of an answer there, about working to improve those inequities in wilderness access: that whatever I build in the end, I find a way to share.

Eva Holland is a correspondent for Outside magazine, and the author of Nerve: A Personal Journey Through the Science of Fear.

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