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In the process of moving to Victoria two years ago, I viewed a series of apartments before finally deciding on one. I took the ferry over on the weekends and drove around the city that December, the year that it snowed way more than usual for the mildest city in Canada.
To a Vancouver native, it felt bitterly cold. One of the apartments I’d had my eye on was a bachelor pad with a Murphy bed, whose pictures made it look like the perfect, cozy little haven in which to start fresh in a new city.
The apartment was owned by a couple who were moving out into a bigger house, but keeping their old place to rent out. It was meticulously clean, and the prospective landlord showing it to me had a kind of rigid, perfectionistic quality that came up in little comments about how, precisely, I would keep it clean.
I already knew I wouldn’t take it anyway when he told me, “We ask that you put your compost in the freezer, just so it doesn’t start to stink.” Inwardly, my first thought was: this person seems a tad neurotic. And since I’ve lived long enough to know that a landlord is a part of an apartment the same way the floors and faucets are, I decided that maybe we weren’t a good fit for each other.
When I finally did settle on a place, my second thought about keeping the compost in the freezer was: that idea is brilliant. I had always had the space and the means to keep my compost from composting until I discarded it in the bin outside, yet it had never once occurred to me to just put it in a bag in the freezer.
I once lived in a world where I always had compost on my counter, where it collected fruit flies and began to smell and collected a little puddle of liquid at the bottom of the container, which I’d have to wash out every time. I now live in a world where it sits in a compostable bag in my freezer, and I never even think about it until it’s time to throw it away. I sometimes think the popular term, “lifehack,” has occasionally reduced these tiny discoveries into bite-sized, easily digested tips that aren’t even that practical, when the really good ones are so much more than that. They’re windows into another existence, almost exactly the same as before, but forever altered for the better in some small way.
I was excited about the apartment I finally decided on, and moved in at the end of December. After the dust was settled and all that was left in my apartment was me, the cats and all the boxes to unpack, I noticed it – I dragged the bookcase to a more central place on the wall, and uncovered the remains of the thermostat that had been mostly smacked out of commission, its broken pieces lying on the floor.
Unpacking had to come before repairing it, I thought – but I was too exhausted to do either. I could already feel the scratchiness in my throat, and that bogging tiredness that made me start dragging my limbs. There was no denying it – I was coming down with something.
Two days later, I laid in bed, thermostat still broken as the snow swirled outside. There was enough residual heat from the other apartments to make mine livably warm, but not quite enough to make it comfortably warm while I had a cold – think just below room temperature, a temperature that might make you turn the thermostat up ever so slightly if you had a working one.
My cats noticed the dip in the temperature too and came to curl up next to me in bed. Marble’s more inquisitive sister, Scrabble, came up to me for head scratches, and I reached my hand just far enough from the covers to oblige. And suddenly, Scrabble made a discovery of her own. She must have noticed the warmth coming from the little cave my arm made right next to her head. Cautious, sniffing, she crept under the sheets.
The purring began almost immediately afterward. It was the excited purring of a cat who had just had an epiphany: blankets make you warm. She curled around until her nose faced outward but her head was still under the sheets, and she fell asleep next to me, cozy and happy.
I still keep my compost in the freezer, and Scrabble still sleeps under the covers when she’s cold, even though we now have a working thermostat and a warm apartment. Neither of us made our discoveries happen – we stumbled upon them, oblivious to their existence until they were right smack in our faces.
I can’t claim that we’ve discovered Narnia. But by exploring our worlds, we both found little tricks that made them a bit easier and warmer than before. And even as life inevitably gets more complicated, I’ll continue to keep my compost in my freezer. And Scrabble, as she becomes an older cat, will have a warm place to sleep. What is wisdom anyway, if not simply a series of tiny discoveries?
Colleen Webber lives in Victoria.