Under Review

the woods

Amber McMillian

The Woods: A Year on Protection Island

Nathan Pike

It takes a certain type of mentality to live out one’s days in a small community, be it a town with a population barely reaching 500 or a tiny island with under 100 residents. It takes an even greater will to suddenly drop big city life and move to a place that is a fraction of the size. But this is what Amber McMillan and her family did in the summer of 2014. Weary of the Toronto bustle, its hardened residents, and unforgiving winters, McMillan proposed to her partner that they quite literally leave it all behind and try living somewhere smaller. Her husband, Nate — a sweet, supportive and very agreeable human — went along with the idea and they began to search with no clear destination in mind.

Amber and her husband found what they were looking for: a small island in B.C, just a stone’s throw from Nanaimo Harbour, called Protection Island. This “car-free paradise” offered a much smaller population and freedom from Toronto’s harsh weather and living expenses. This young family, carrying only boxes of clothes and treasured possessions, made their way across the country to begin a life on new terrain. An experiment, in a sense, to see what taking a risk can truly look like. The results are eye opening, beautiful, and sometimes surprising.

As is revealed in this nonfiction tale, there can be a price to pay for any trade-off. Our environment can change and we can change with it. Or, we can hold onto our bullshit and continue on with our strongly held personality traits. And while lush greenery had replaced the glass and concrete spires of Toronto, Amber and Nate found life on Protection Island complicated. This small community came equip with its own bit of deeper nuance. Like Keith and his all around handyman ways, who despite his masculine airs, prefers dressing as a lady. And Rob, the affable ferry skipper, who seems removed from it all, but remains a deeply-rooted resident. It is clear that simple living does not necessarily equate to simplicity.  

The Woods is more than a story. It is a snapshot of a life drastically altered, complete with moments humorous, odd, and sometimes frustratingly lonely. Though McMillan and family “only” lasted a year, they garnered a life’s worth of experience by taking on the challenge of letting go, uprooting and replanting in a completely foreign territory.

The effectiveness of this tale rests on McMillian’s talents as a writer. She plods along with a poetic whimsy that feels as though I am listening to an old friend recount the past few months over the phone. She doesn’t try to be a “good writer” and she doesn’t fart around with unnecessary details. Instead, The Woods is a raw, beautiful, dark and mysterious journey that runs the gamut of emotions, and provides food for thought as you ponder the next big change in your life.


Titanium Tunnels

The Last Cosmonaut And the Infinite Computer...

Joey Doyle

There is a seamless emptiness to life. Stop thinking for just a moment, and all you will hear, if you’re lucky, is the wind blowing through the trees. If you’re not lucky, it will be the howl of empty space. Most music seeks to fill that space with something else: noise, joy, love. We are afraid of absence, so we search for ways to distract ourselves from it. We hope that music will be our salvation.

Titanium Tunnels’ The Last Cosmonaut and the Infinite Computer, on the other hand, amplifies emptiness with sparse echoes of sound that punctuate the void. Before the music begins, the album introduces a wave of static, alluding to the sound of tuning a radio and beginning the deconstruction of boundaries between sound and silence, music and noise. As the tracks thrum along, there is always a sensation of searching, as if we are trying to find a stable centre. We are lost in empty space, and the music might be our only link to something real. This is not an album for the agoraphobic.

Though we never find anything solid, Titanium Tunnels’ simple yet evocative music guides us seamlessly through the anxieties of a potentially meaningless existence. One track fades into another, a continuity suggested by the ellipses in the title of each song, and slight alterations among the futuristic computer sounds give us hope that we will set our feet upon the ground. But it is not to be. We are destined to be wanderers. As the last deep notes sound in “E…”, the final track of The Last Cosmonaut, we return, finally, to empty space.

These are our choices: we could start again, static in our ears, and hope to find something meaningful among the noise — or we can resign ourselves to silence, remaining steadfast in the certainty of emptiness. Titanium Tunnels The Last Cosmonaut And The Infinite Computer​.​.​. calls us to the former path. To remain in silence is to abandon those who continue to make noise and fight. It is better to be lost together than a lone witness to the horrors of silence.