Freedom Cove: A floating farm hidden away in the BC wilderness

Wayne Adams and Katherine King are artists carving out their own path in Tofino BC

From the outset its name sparked my curiosity, Freedom Cove. How can we be free and yet still have a sense of security, shelter and protection in modern society? Adventuring off to Cypress Bay, just north of Tofino B.C, we set out to explore how two artists keep afloat in a sinking economy.

After coaxing a local floatplane company who admitted to having flown over several times with curiosity, we coasted into the cove that’s usually only accessible by boat. Wayne Adams, with his definitively buoyant outlook, and Catherine King, with her graceful tranquility greet us warmly as we hop out onto their seven-sided flower muraled dock.

Stepping through the whale rib archway, they guide us into the living wonderland of floating gardens that the couple call home. Rope netting slung across wooden fence posts and collections of shells line the pathways constructed from metal decks salvaged from old fisheries.  Scents of Lemon balm, Parsley, Mint, Rosemary and Roses fill the air. Everywhere we look there is something delectable: Strawberries, Blueberries, Kale, Snow Peas, Carrots, Rhubarb. Even fig trees, pines and grafted semi dwarf apples thrive in this floating installation.

In the center a carved wooden Bowerbird perches atop a spiral post surrounded by blossoming honeysuckle and bees. A nod to Wayne’s Australian upbringing, the Bowerbird collects and displays bright items from its habitat to attract its mate, a fitting symbol for the eclectically beautiful scavenged and repurposed nest the couple have built for themselves.

As the clouds roll over and it starts to rain we lounge on the couch inside their two-story cosy wooden home sipping tea. The slight buzz of a small honda generator can be heard in the background, a current necessity while replacing the solar panels salvaged from an RV wreck that served them for 19 years. Beneath the wood stove, fueled with salvaged debris washed up after storms, a piece of an old ice hockey rink reveals a window to the underwater world beneath them.

“The occasional otter will poke up its head” they admit with a chuckle.

Wayne and Catherine cook up a feast of freshly caught crab, vegetarian pie and green salad all made from their abundant garden. They tell us about their lives and the decision to become ‘floaters’, how their respective families told people they were just camping. Twenty-three years later they’re still here and happier than ever. Eventually the conversation turns to their work, carving wood, stone and ivory. This is a contentious issue for us both as environmentally focused artists.

As I sit and listen to Wayne and Catherine, a previous park ranger and naturalists who have shunned consumer society, the irony that the weight of the ivory trade should be placed on either of their shoulders registers on me. The couple have specifically chosen to work with ivory, which Wayne defines for us as the tooth or tusk of any mammal, because it is one of the last parts that remain of a creature to tell its story, its lasting legacy. Adamant about not purchasing new ivory; their carvings are not for market and neither meeting nor creating any demands. Alternatively, the couple and their son make molds from the carvings and cast natural beeswax candles. The majority of these candles they gift for free as a memento to those who seek out their hidden world. On occasion, they will accept privately commissioned carvings provided they are given  the full history of the animal in order to carve a narrative befitting of its life. Wayne describes to us how much can be learnt about the creature’s lifestyle, diet and health just from its tooth. Using old dentistry tools the couple intricately cut out and sculpt where the ivory has come from and the plight of the creature. Wayne describes to us with an almost defeated honesty “I’m not a hunter, I follow the hunt.”

It is our artists and craftsman who are our cultural storytellers. The stories that are difficult to hear are also hard to tell.  I couldn’t’ help but feel a growing admiration for Wayne and Catherine’s resolve to create not merely art but cultural artifacts that serve both  as a reminder and tribute so that we may not forget nor take lightly the life of any creature.

Rain subsided and darkness having fallen, we head off to sleep in the new studio gallery where they are kindly putting us up. Lanterns repurposed from plastic buoys illuminate the walkways as we make our way across the wet brightly painted old canvas tent canopies that pad out the metal grate of the fishery dock.

We wake up with a crisp swim and coffee (one of the few necessities still purchased on the mainland) brewed with fresh water harvested from a nearby waterfall. Climbing into a small canoe we paddle across to shore and hike up the side of the waterfall to get an aerial view of their floating world. Tied down and weighted to the surrounding rocks in a spider web formation to minimize storm damage, Freedom Cove is always re-forming Wayne explains. As we fly out later that day and circle overhead I watch the colorful installation gently shift. Just like the couple intended the turquoise blends in with the local forest, water and algae and you are left with the fuchsia pink of fireweed representing constant renewal.

In the wake of our current unsustainable consumer-driven society and the rising waters of global warming we too may soon find ourselves trying to keep afloat.

In this constantly shifting world, Artists Wayne and Catherine are an inspiring reminder of the stability that lies in our own ability to be resilient. Their home is a beautifully floating testament that freedom can be found in how we create and recreate our own story.

Freedom Cove, Tofino BC.

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