In my life away from Barkerville I am very plugged in. I love social media. I live in Wells, a remote community with no cell phone service, so I rely on the internet to keep me connected. My computer is my lifeline to my friends and family far away. In my leisure time my iPad is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of my arm. I am always checking my Facebook, email, Instagram, Twitter or just generally flipping around, looking at my favourite websites.
And then I go to work.
Although there is limited access to Wi-Fi in Barkerville, once you are past the gates, roaming the streets and exploring buildings, you are basically tech free. When I cross through that fence in the mornings, I lose all access to the internet, and I love it. For at least nine hours a day I live in a simpler time when messages were passed from mouth to ear or written down and delivered by hand. While I am working, while I am in a 19th-century costume, I am not only representing an age when computers did not yet rule our lives, I am also living that reality.
It has been a very hot week in the Cariboo. In fact, all of British Columbia is experiencing near drought conditions. When it gets hot and dry like this, the interpreters in Barkerville need to take care. During our sixty-five minute town tours, for example, coworkers make sure to plant cups of water along our route so we stay as hydrated as possible while projecting our voices through the dust, and through the other particulates that hang in the air as a by-product of summer forest fires. When we feel woozy as a result of expending performance-level energy while wearing hot, multi-layered costumes, we listen to our bodies and do our best to sit down in sheltered spots to regroup before our next scheduled scene or program. A few times this week I have slipped into some of the more secluded corners of our main street to rest and take some shade.
Yesterday I had a break between performances so I stole over to a charming wrought iron bench that is nestled in a grassy nook behind the boardwalk just in front of the King House Bed and Breakfast. The little triangle of grass upon which the bench sits is right underneath a giant cottonwood tree. As I sat, I allowed myself to notice the world around me.
Little fluff-covered twigs decorated the ground all around the hems of my hoop skirt, reminding me of the magical cottonwood “snow” that swirled through the air last week. The startling, motor-like sound of a hummingbird whirred past my ears and made me jump a little, but I was glad the tiny creature had alerted me to its presence. I watched it methodically drink nectar from each flower on the hanging planters dangling from a nearby porch.
Mr. Dodds, our new schoolmaster, rang his school bell and with commanding yet kind skill and expert diligence arranged his giggling “students” into parallel lines and instructed them on appropriate Victorian etiquette before marching them inside his schoolhouse and leaving the street quiet once again.
A ground squirrel popped out from under the King House, surveyed me, quickly determined that I was not a tourist bearing sugary crumbs, and dismissed me for a more promising mark.
I gazed under a nearby boardwalk and noticed a rare sprig of wild columbine preening like a diva amidst crowds of ubiquitous buttercups and forget-me-nots. I breathed in the summer Barkerville air ” a scented mixture of dust, forge smoke, delicious food, horses, flowers and grasses. I took one final look around, and then it was time to head uptown for my next scheduled street scene.
As I reluctantly stood and prepared to leave my cottonwood oasis, it occurred to me that had I not been in costume and character at that moment, had I not been in a technology free zone, I might have missed all of that noticing. In another reality, I would have sat on that same bench and immediate pulled my phone out of my bag to check messages. Instead of simply watching that hummingbird, I would have been scrambling to take a photo of it and quickly post online.
I love electronics and I freely admit to being a screen addict, but I am also so grateful for my screen-free, internet-free Barkerville days. While I am in Barkerville, instant communication and access to cyberspace comes second to connecting face to face with other human beings, and the simple luxury of sitting still and watching the gentle flow of real life all around me.