Book One

The End

The day after Karen returns home to Toronto from an outsourcing project in India, the power goes out and this is a full-scale disaster — the power is out across North America and most of the world.  They decide it is time to leave the city to wait it out in their off-grid house in the country.  When Robin suggests they paddle their way out of the city, they are faced with a decision: stay in an increasingly terrifying existence in the city, or escape to the country where they have a garden planted and power from solar cells and a wind turbine?  The choice is clear.  But can an eight-year-old girl, a pregnant woman and her husband make it out of the city by canoe?
The novel follows their journey up the Humber River, through the city of Toronto, under the busiest highway in North America, past urban sprawl and into the farmland north of the city.  Along the way, as they struggle their way against the current, they meet a variety of characters grappling in different ways with the new reality.  Part pleasant canoe trip, part epic escape from a crumbling city, the trip shrinks their world to the space between the river’s banks and collapses time to their next meal and the day’s journey ahead. 

Explore the world of Book One: The End

Carrington event
Prologue, Page 6

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Solar flares and borealis
Prologue, page 7, page 20

“I didn’t know we got Northern Lights this far south.”

“We don’t, as far as I know.”


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Straw bale houses
Page 33

“Karen feels that twinge she always feels when he mentions the country house: jealousy, which is dumb because it’s just a house, not a lover, but jealousy nonetheless.”

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Quebec power outage of 1989
Page 45

“Wasn’t that what happened in Quebec in 1989?”

“Yeah, solar flare caused a voltage collapse and partially damaged a transformer.  Back then we had six million people without power for close to nine hours.”

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Geomagnetically-induced currents and the power grid
Page 46

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Humber River Carrying Place Trail
Page 77

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Anne of Green Gables
Page 78

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Humber weirs and Hurricane Hazel
Page 87

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Invasive species – sea lampreys
Page 88

“So, one of the big problems we face in around the Great Lakes is invasive species, plants and animals from other parts of the world that can take over entire ecosystems, forcing out the native species.  One of the worst invasive species we have in the Great Lakes is Sea Lampreys.  They spread everywhere, and they have these giant sucker mouths with rings and rings of teeth in them and they attach themselves to healthy fish and feed off them.”


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DIY water filter
Page 115

“As the one Brian sits with Robin, showing her how to hold the knife, how to pull it away from her so that long slivers of wood come peeling off, then using the point and twisting it round and round to make a hole, the other Brian sits down with all the parts and tools he has assembled for the job of building a water filter.”

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How to fillet a trout
Page 126

“On their fishing trips he usually finds a reason to release the catch: we’ve already eaten dinner; it’s too small; we don’t want to attract bears.  A year ago, he watched a few videos on YouTube on how to fillet a fish, practiced it in his mind before going on a trip with Robin, but in the end, they’d released the bass they’d caught.”

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How to make campfire bannock on a stick
Page 128

“The last time they’d gone camping they’d made bannock over the fire, kneading the dough and then rolling it out into a long snake, wrapping it around a stick and then holding it over the fire until it was a beautiful golden brown.”

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Inglis billboard
Page 130

“Boredom is an insult to oneself.  I saw that on that Inglis billboard that used to be on the Gardiner Expressway. It had a new inspirational quote each day.” 

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Blackflies breeding
Page 139


“What are blackflies?”  This is Robin, who has stood up and is now waving her hands frantically around her head.

“We don’t get them in the city.  One of the few benefits of water pollution.  Their eggs can’t survive in polluted water.”

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Hurricane Katrina
Page 156

“What day is it?”

“Good question!  Monday, I think.”

“That means the power’s been out for almost a week.  That’s as long as Hurricane Katrina.”

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Outdoor Midsummer’s Night Dream
Page 169

“As they cross the bridge and come round a bush, a lilac whose purple blooms are just starting to come out like paper grapes, they see a group of people, maybe seven or eight, acting out some kind of strange pantomime.  One is wearing what looks like a horse or a donkey’s head and is stumbling about hands stretched in front of him.”

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Midsummer’s Night Dream – Act 1, scene ii
Page 170

“He’s not sure how he got talked into it.  He’s never acted before in his life.  Not that he has a big part, just a few lines, but still, there he is, script in hand, standing with the others, waiting for his cue.”

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Midsummer’s Night Dream – Child fairy
Page 173

“Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier”
She looks down at the page again, hesitates and swallows.

“Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon’s sphere;”

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Wild river mint
Page 176

Robin had reached out, grabbed a handful of leaves from the sweet-smelling plants as they passed, putting them under her nose and inhaling deeply.

“Can I try one?”

“I wouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“I just don’t recommend eating wild plants if you don’t know what they are.”

“But it’s mint.”

“We think it’s mint.”

“Because it is mint.”

“Fine, go ahead, poison yourself.”

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Sautéed fiddleheads
Page 178

“By the time they’re done, they’ve collected a half-pot of fiddleheads.  Brian, pulling out the stick of butter they were given that morning, fries them over the stove, their delicate aroma making their mouths water.  It’s a delicious addition to an otherwise plain dinner of rice pilaf, which isn’t bad, all things considered, but nothing can substitute for fresh greens and rich butter.”

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Off-grid straw bale home
Page 189

“It’s just the sub-floor and the walls have only been primed.”  He’s apologetic now.  “But the plumbing and wiring are all done, she’s ready to live in.  I’ve got the flooring, I could lay it this week if you want.”

Karen turns to him, grabs his face and shuts him up with a huge soft-lipped kiss, the second of its kind in less than ten minutes.

“It’s better than the Taj Mahal.”

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Documentary on off-grid straw bale home in Minto, Ontario.

Page 202

“By the time they leave, they’ve hammered out an arrangement.  Once a day, Harry will bring down fresh milk and a few eggs.  In exchange for this, they will recharge his Powerboxes, two rechargeable generators that he keeps handy for boosting his truck and tractors in winter.  Each Powerbox has regular plug-ins and can last for up to ten hours, depending on the draw.”

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Page 220

“She even identified the stomach ailment as giardia from contaminated water and offered a naturopathic remedy which appeared to clear it up within less than twenty-four hours.”

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“An impressive achievement.  Much more than cautionary tale or a back-to-the-land parable, Simon Heath’s trilogy of novels is foremost a warm, generous meditation on an abiding truth underpinning individual lives and societies alike.  Always there are challenges and upsets; always, love, family and community sees us through the worst of it, and shows us the best.”

Charles Foran, author of Mordecai and Planet Lolita