Building Resilience In The Wilderness

Carson eCommerce Collaborator2 comments


I’ve been wondering about survival and resilience these days, and how to bring these things into my kids lives. And back into my own life. 

I grew up on a remote gulf island in BC, without electricity, roads, or phones. On that island we all grew up dancing a fine line of survival and adventure. 

My mom and dad moved us out to that island in a canoe (seriously), and all the other crazy people who lived on that small island thought they were nuts. They chose a really remote place on that really remote island. But it was home, and it was warm and my soon to be single mom made it all seem like a grand adventure for my brother and I. And it was. 

We had running water, as long as the creek was full, and a gigantic generator that we were all a bit afraid of. We ran it when we wanted to see the lights on our Christmas tree, or charge the car battery that ran our stereo so we could pump Dire Straits, or Aretha Franklin and dance under the stars. Priorities were locked in

We grew up getting lost in the fog for hours with a broken compass, having our boat break down in huge storms, with nothing but a paddle and a powerful desire to live. Learning how to surf giant swells in a leaky canoe full of the three of us, a couple of propane tanks, and a months worth of groceries. 

I learned what it would be like if you got stranded on a deserted island, and how to survive. How to survive when you ran out of food because of an endless storm, when the creek dried up so you had no fresh water, or when your drunk ass dad vanishes with the boat for far too long. That might have been the last straw for my mom. 

We learned to set our anxiety aside and step into our fear, because if we didn’t shit would get real really fast. We learned that to be happy you had to work hard at it, just like everything else. That small things are worth noticing and celebrating. We learned how to be on our own. Truly bored out of our minds, having not seen or talked to anyone other than family for weeks. I would sometimes listen to the nautical weather channel on our radio phone just so I would know there was another human out there. (It is a very dry listen).

That time in my life was also so full of magic, it’s hard for my grownup self to even believe it to be true.


I once sat on our beach with my mom during a full moon and watched a pack of coastal wolves walk past only feet from us, while we held our breath in silence. I grew up swimming with a family of harbor seals that lived in our bay, and at night with phosphorescence lighting the way like stars and firecrackers mixed together. I’ve drifted in a 16 foot boat amongst huge pods of orcas, and counted over 50 bald eagles on my 45 minute boat ride to school. We ran through forests so deep and dark and thick with moss it was hard to believe that any other human had ever set foot there. We came across trails of chanterelles that would lead us quickly to full buckets of those golden forest flowers. We would catch salmon off our rocks for dinner, and we would watch raging storms smash with all the power of the ocean onto the rocks from our warm and cozy house. Even as it shook and shifted in the raging wind. 

My mom gave all of that to me and my big brother. She gave us the skills to survive, taught us to be creative and work with what we had. To be tough and resilient and to lean into fear. Something that I have strangely ended up pulling away from for many years, but now I’m interested in it. I’m interested in challenging myself and digging into those fears. I want to push past this time of hiding inside my fears and be a warrior like my mom. I want my kids to look at me and know that they can be brave little warriors in their own lives. 

So now I am wondering how to teach my kids these crazy lessons while living the cushy life of cars, the internet and it’s non stop noise, and electricity!? Do we need to move to an island in the middle of nowhere? Or can it be taught by being brave enough to live my own truth? Or to be vulnerable enough to let them see me fail over and over at something, while trying to figure out what that truth is? 

I’m not sure I am hardcore or brave enough to move out to one of those incredible islands, so I hope that I can figure it out in other ways. I think it would be a hard sell to Scotty and family that's for sure!




Gwen! Thank you for sharing your experience and your life. You are a gifted writer. I am somewhat speechless. Reading your experience reminded me of the bike trips we did with our kids, and how people often thought we were insane. It is these experiences that taught me that we don’t need much to survive and be happy. Rock on sister!
Elaine Klemmensen
Elaine Klemmensen
I love this Gwen and I love your writing, keep it up! You are a brave warrior in a way that is all yours. Live with integrity. Answer their tough questions with honesty and when you don’t know the answers, don’t be afraid to let them see your vulnerability and find answers together. Let them push against you and find their own way, even when you want to hug them close and keep them safe. Let them fall, fail and struggle but stay close enough to pick them up when the struggle overwhelms. And when the time comes, and it will come far too soon, that they are ready to spread their wings and take flight, watch them soar and trust they will return to you one day with grateful hearts for the gifts you have given them. You are creating your own family’s story, your own legacy, your own gulf island!

Add a comment