1837 A dose of planetary reality

The Power of Dreams: 27 Years Off-grid in a Wilderness Valley
by Dave and Rosemary Neads

Surrey: Hancock House Publishers, 2022
$24.95 /  9780888397188

Review by Phyllis Reeve


A couple built a house in the wilderness of Precipice Valley, on the ancient trade route linking BC’s Interior Plateau with the coast, and stayed for twenty-seven years.  They had university degrees and steady jobs and were on the edge of middle age, but, they explain, “It was our dream.”

The dream came bolstered with some years of experience in various places at various tasks, with ability and willingness to learn, and with a solid base in reality, possibility, and common sense.  So this book is neither a Survivor epic nor a New Age idyll.  Thoreau who lasted at Walden Pond 2 years, 2 months and 2 days, was never far from his urban base; Rosemary and Dave lasted at Precipice Valley for three decades and were so far from town that shopping trips for groceries happened only twice a year.

Dave and Rosemary Neads
Building the frame for the house, March 1988.

In a series of vignettes their book shares the life they made in this wilderness valley: house-building (by and for “just the two of us”), coming to terms with challenges of weather and isolation, settling in with neighbours four-legged, feathered or occasionally human.  Their immersion in this particular environment could make them feel “emotionally and mentally alive” and part of a “mystical universe.”  It could also give them anxious times, unexpected challenges, and a great deal of hard work.

They make it very clear that their experience is not for everyone, and that in no way was it a nostalgic return to any imagined good-old-days.  Nor was their life at Precipice Valley self-sustainable.  They built the house themselves, but imported many materials and furnishings from “civilisation”, including solar panels from California. They existed and communicated with the help of  a number of machines and vehicles all dependent on fossil fuels; they were, Dave writes, “floating on a sea of oil.”  Musing on real wilderness life as it must have been pre-technology, he wonders “Perhaps wood will be our last technological fuel, just as it was the first”.  And while they grew and stored or preserved much of their food, Dave found that he was able but not willing to hunt for their meat.

The top floor in place

It was not a cheap lifestyle, and there was need to supplement their income. Dave’s varied background brought him contracts: for instance to explore and improve existing trails for future intrepid backpackers. While they were technically off the grid, they did know how to connect with power and communication sources, including the internet.  In fact, they joke that they had fewer power outages in the Chilcotin wilderness than they have experienced in the Lower Mainland.

There were occasional trips to Victoria and even a diving holiday in the Lesser Antilles. The public library system brought them books by mail. They willingly accepted opportunities to join in volunteer work, mostly concerned with care of the fragile environment which was home to themselves and some other like-minded animals, human and not.

Their eventual departure was neither a rescue nor a failure, but another careful decision and plan. They had reached their seventies, and it was time to go. With more thinking and careful planning, they found a destination in the Gulf Islands where they could prepare to age in place, and write this memoir.

The garden on the ridge.

Looking back, they realize “there’s no doubt that those years and experiences in Precipice Valley gave us humility and a huge dose of planetary reality.”   The book gives readers insight into their dream and what it took to make it come true, a dream that could have become a nightmare, but didn’t – because of the sort of people they happen to be.

Dave and Rosemary Neads in Precipice Valley


Phyllis Reeve

Phyllis Parham Reeve was born in Fiji, grew up in Quebec, and has lived most of her life in British Columbia. Her most recent publication, in Dorchester Review #25 (Spring/ Summer 2023) revisits the history of pre-colonial Fiji in the writings of her paternal grandmother Richenda Parham. Editor’s note: Phyllis Reeve has recently reviewed books by Robert G. Allan, Mother Tongue PublishingLara Campbell, Michael Dawson, & Catherine GidneyDonald Lawrence, Josephine Mills, & Emily Dundas OkeIain Lawrence, and Lisa Anne Smith  for The British Columbia Review.


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

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