Going with the flow

When an artist couple had the chance to build their dream home, they discovered that living sustainably provided a lifetime of inspiration.

Freedom Cove is a hand-built compound of 12 floating platforms off the coast of western Canada.
Video still by Nat Geo Partners

No day is typical at Freedom Cove. Certain regular chores have to be done – feeding the dogs, cleaning the house, doing laundry. For Wayne Adams and Catherine King, two artists who live on a sustainable floating compound, that is where the similarities end.

Catherine King and Wayne Adams live in a hand-built, floating compound near Tofino, British Columbia. They built their property, called “Freedom Cove,” out of salvaged materials collected over the years. The compound currently consists of a bright magenta and turquoise home space (formerly a fish farm), a lighthouse, four greenhouses, an art space and a dance studio.

Homesteading chores change with the seasons on Freedom Cove, but typically include beach combing, gardening, chopping wood, gathering seaweed for compost, and planting herb and vegetable seeds. King, a trained dancer and energy healer, likes to start with morning yoga and dancing. Adams, a professional artist and sculptor, accesses anything that needs changing or fixing on the property.

The couple had long used the natural world as inspiration for their art pieces. When they met in 1987, they immediately realized a shared love of the outdoors and hatched plans to build their own dream home in the wild one day. After traveling around for several months delivering art works to buyers and scouting locations, they settled on Tofino in western Canada. In 1991, while staying in a friend’s cabin, a summer storm blew in piles of wood. In this remote area, King and Adams knew the wood had to belong to a man six miles away, so they gathered it up and took it back to him.

“He said, ‘You gathered it, it’s yours.’ It was in that exact moment that we knew we could proceed with our dream,” King said. Adams spent the next three months building a wooden house on the shore in front of their friend’s cabin.

Life was never typical for King and Adams. At one point, they lived in a garage Adams transformed into a cottage by hand. At another time, they spent nine months in an RV traveling around and creating art. This style of subsistence living gave them the skills and confidence to proceed with their dreams later in life, which they refer to as an installation art piece.

“Our entire floating island is an installation art piece that transforms in some way every year – often inspired by winter storm damage,” said Adams, who has incorporated over 240,000 pieces of recycled and found materials into Freedom Cove over 28 years. Adams built the whole floating structure to withstand hurricane-force winds. The system is tied to shore with large ropes that allow the entire island home to move as one during tumultuous weather. Living with nature means remaining at the mercy of the elements, so there is always some form of storm damage at Freedom Cove – but Adams considers fixing it as a normal part of their lifestyle.

Both Adams and King are multi-media carvers who enjoy the challenges of using the materials nature delivers to them. Adams specializes in feather work and creates wooden toys and models. King writes poetry, paints with watercolors and water-soluble oils, and choreographs dances. The couple often turns their carvings into beeswax candles to give visitors as gifts.

“Carvings are my teachers. I was inspired by carving my whole life and always wanted to be a carver,” said Adams. “All materials I carve come from nature. Nature inspires me with its beautiful S-shaped flow. I now have nature as my home to inspire me,” he added.

Thanks to the life they have built on Freedom Cove, the couple has the deep connection to nature they had always dreamed of.

“As well as being a creative person, I have always been a spiritual person. Living as I do in nature allows me to go deeper into myself and the essence of my soul. I feel nourished and nurtured by nature,” said King.

“I also live in nature’s rhythm. I live by the moon and the tide. My creative ideas come from her beauty,” added Adams.

King, who is a physical and spiritual healer, works with holistic treatments like aromatherapy, flower essences and homeopathy to be closer to nature. She uses plants like yarrow, nettle, spruce gum, hemlock tips, silverweed, red clover, rose hips, wild onion, bull kelp, wild strawberries, huckleberries, chocolate lilies, blackberry leaves and fruit, crab apples, and bladderwack, which grow naturally around Freedom Cove. She also uses intertidal plants like sea plantain and sea asparagus for their health properties. Alongside nature’s offerings, King has a greenhouse on the property where she grows each of her plants from seeds.

“It became apparent the first year of growing plants on the water that to give them a good start, they need to have the warmth and protection of a greenhouse. I tried to begin them all outside initially but the wind and dampness worked against them,” she explained. King keeps herbs and vegetables that require constant warmth (like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil and cucumber) in the greenhouse. Outside, she grows cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, parsnip, peas, bush and pole beans, carrots, celery, leeks, garlic, squash, asparagus, berries, apples, plums, and more. Her medicinal and edible herbs include staples like sage, oregano, thyme, comfrey, Echinacea, nasturtiums, calendula, roses, bachelor buttons, and tansy. She plants winter variety salad greens indoors so that they’re available as food during the colder months.

Since electricity doesn’t reach Freedom Cove, the compound relies on solar energy and gasoline-powered generators. As the supply of solar energy decreases with the seasons and winter weather, Freedom Cove requires their generator to power the greenhouses and lights across its 12 floating platforms.

To manage their health naturally, King and Adams make compresses, salves and ointments out of herbs like calendula (for soothing and healing), peppermint (for digestion, illness, dizziness and more), nasturtium (anti-viral and anti-microbial), chamomile (for calming), Echinacea (for colds and infections) and lavender (for relaxation and stomach issues).

When word got around about Freedom Cove, people grew increasingly interested in the property thanks to its originality and sustainability. Adams and King enjoy sharing their creations with the world, so they offer occasional property tours from June to October.

“People who visit us are honored that we are sharing it with them. They leave with big smiles on their faces,” said King. Their family regularly tells them how proud they are that they’re living out their dreams.

“According to our grandson, we are ‘epic,’” said King.

For King and Adams, living in nature means living with nature. While their life is full of unique environmental challenges, every day brings new excitement and the potential for new discoveries – about their art, themselves or their surroundings.

In communities across the world, people are reconnecting with their natural environments, seeking out ways they can live more sustainably. Read more about these stories here.