It helps that when Gordon Chamberlain was a boy, he roamed through a forest half a kilometre from his home in New Brunswick.
It helps that, after joining the Canadian infantry at age seventeen, he was posted to Churchill, Whitehorse, and northern Norway, « where we were outside 80 per cent of the time, often tramping around in the bush.’’
It also helps that, for a time after he switched to the air force, he was posted at Cold Lake, Alberta, next to the Rockies, a two-and-a-half hour drive north of Edmonton, « where I did a lot of wild canoeing.’’
It gave him, he says, a relationship with nature. « And how can you appreciate anything if you don’t have a relationship with it?’’
It explains why — now that he’s 41, married with two teen-aged children, and working in administration at the air force base in Trenton — he has transformed the plumbing in his family’s typical suburban home to save water.
Nature doesn’t waste anything. he says. We should be trying to emulate it. We should be asking, « Would you like to live downstream from yourself?’’
I like that. It’s an updating of the biblical injunction « Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them,’’ expressed at a time, when living downstream means cancer, hormone disruption, climate change, and shortages of essential resources, such as water.
Chamberlain has rigged up a system to save and use rainwater in summer, and « waste water’’ in winter.
Beneath the deck at the back of the house, he has ten 205-litre plastic barrels that he picked up for $8 to $10 each from a company that used them to transport concentrated juices. During summer, rainwater from roof eavestroughs fills the barrels.
They’re set about two-thirds of a metre above his backyard garden, so there’s enough pressure to run a weeper hose in the garden. Last summer he had bumper crops of tomatoes, carrots, brussel sprouts, parsnips, cabbages, peas, and several varieties of lettuce. Overflow from the barrels goes to a garden at the edge of the deck where he has planted flowers and marsh grasses that like a lot of water.
There’s also a line from the barrels that goes to a toilet in the finished basement. The toilet on the main floor gets its water from a barrel under the roof of a garage attached to the house. It’s also fed rainwater from eavestroughs. The barrels can continue servicing the two toilets until the temperature drops to minus 10° Celsius, he says.
During the winter the downstairs toilet uses rinse water from the washing machine. Water from the first rinse is too soapy, he says, so water from the second rinse goes to a laundry tub where a small inexpensive pump takes it to a storage barrel in the basement.
So, the toilet in the basement, where the family room is located, never uses fresh city water. The one upstairs doesn’t use it for eight months of the year. And city water is never used to irrigate the garden or water the lawn.
Unlike Toronto, where there is a flat rate for residential water, residents in Trenton pay according to how much water they use. So the Chamberlain family is saving money, although Gordon has never bothered to figure out how much. It’s the principle that concerns him. « Water is a necessity for all life,’’ he says. « If we can stretch it, instead of wasting it, it’s a good thing.’’
He quotes the well-known observation of a Squamish chief: « The earth doesn’t belong to us; we belong to the earth. So,’’ he continues, « If we don’t take care of the earth, how is it going to take care of us?’’
Down at the base office, the guys call Chamberlain Captain Planet. Often it’s meant to be derisive. « But I don’t let it bother me,’’ he says. « It’s a badge I wear with honour.’’
It’s a badge I certainly will salute.