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It is a beautiful midsummer morning. Everything is green. The driveway, which meanders uphill through an old pasture, is lined with maple saplings. They are adorned with net bags filled with dog hair to keep the deer away. There is a bright red barn, a stone circle and a few whimsical sculptures.
At the top of the hill a two-storey house perches against the sky. Ancient apple trees line the dark woodlot in the back. Bushes overflow with bright red currents. The whole place seems alive. You expect a hobbit to appear.
Brian Braganza comes out to meet me. He is slight and dark, with greyish hair and beard, bright eyes and a big smile. He introduces me to his fiancée Tara Reynolds, who has recently moved here from Vermont.
Braganza was born in Nigeria to parents from India. He grew up in Germany, then Ontario. He has a Portuguese name because Goa, where his family is from, was a Portuguese colony. He studied English at York University and outdoor recreation at Sanford Fleming College.
As he got older, he realized he loved to build things. After his college graduation in the 1990s, most of his friends headed west. But he had read a paper about permaculture (design principles derived from nature) by Kim Thompson from Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, and he decided to head east.
Once in Nova Scotia, he did contract work as a facilitator with HeartWood, a foundation that works with young people, later becoming its director. “HeartWood is all about how to live in a creative way, to listen to your inner teacher, to take risks,” he says.
Braganza tells me how in his twenties he travelled to India to connect with his roots, only to discover he didn’t belong there. Now rural Nova Scotia is home.
In 2002, he bought 15 acres of pasture and woods near Bridgewater, part of an old family farm. “I saw the property as a canvas to create an alternative way of living,” he says. “It’s on the fringe of society, sustainable. I asked myself, how can I live in a way that stimulates my creativity and that of others?”
But Braganza is no hermit. He is self-employed, engaged in the world. “I support the local economy,” he says. “We are all tied to systems.”
He took down the old farmhouse, keeping some hardwood beams and doors, and the outbuildings. He asked a neighbour to use his oxen to move one of the buildings. It is now a workshop with a homebuilt sauna.
The next step was to design and build his dream house made of straw bales covered with cob, a plaster that is a mix of sand, straw and local clay. While he did some of the work himself, he also hired contractors and volunteers helped him create the bales of straw.
The house steps down the hill to the vegetable garden, following the natural contours of the land. Walking in, there is a sense of opening into another world. It has high ceilings, space.
“There are patterns that we feel good in -- rooms, buildings,” says Braganza. “Low windows connect us to the outdoors. Low roofs that you can touch on your way in, giving a sense of shelter as you enter. There are soft walls without edges. The kitchen has only low cupboards.”
The house faces south. It’s heated by passive solar and a small wood stove. There is a compostable toilet to save water. “When the power goes out, we hardly notice,” he says.
The master bedroom on the second floor faces east. “We can see the sunrise from the bedroom window,” he says. “It is a gift.” There is art everywhere. Practicality meets whimsy.
He planted a windbreak and a garden of blueberries, currents, tomatoes, peas, beets, organic garlic, kale, spinach, and squash. He started an arboretum, with 20 species of trees including Ohio buckeye, Burr Oak, and Black Walnut.
“As a child I always had a deep sense of caring for the planet, a sense of injustice about how we treat the planet,” he says.
He questions an economy based on endless consumption. Climate change is just one symptom. “We live in a world of planned obsolescence, where nothing is repairable,” he says. “You want to use appropriate technology – and it should last.”
Now he does experiential education and facilitation. Certified by the Center for Courage & Renewal to facilitate retreats and events, he has worked across Canada and the US and has delivered youth development training in Africa and Australia.
The Centre for Courage & Renewal “helps people find the courage to be who they want to be,” he says. This is how he met his fiancée Tara Reynolds, who recently moved here from Vermont.
“The aim of the program is to create a safe space so you can make a difference in the world when the problems seem so huge,” he says. “These concepts apply to everyone, including young people in poverty. We work with those who are called to be leaders to help them tap into their own inner wisdom.”
He leads urban young people on wilderness trips to help them learn about nature -- and themselves. In one exercise, the teenagers are blindfolded and guided along a trail to the edge of a lake to watch the sunset. It kindles a sense of awe. One 14-year-old girl from Dartmouth told him she had never seen the sunset before.
He leads groups of men on canoe trips into the Tobeatic wilderness as a way to explore healthy versions of masculinity. “It’s about how to create a new story – without the bravado,” he says.
Braganza’s mission is “to help people find their passion -- and then live it.” The key is “intentionality.” This is a word he uses a lot.
He writes songs and plays guitar, mandolin, and harmonica. He writes non-fiction and poetry. He uses poetry in his work with young people to help them look inward. “There is the concept of the ‘third thing,’ not me, not you,” he says. “It can help to start a conversation about what stirs you.”
He shows me a book he has made himself, filled with his own writings and favourite quotations. He reads one:
“The man who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before.
“Creativity in living is not without its attendant difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt. And the unfortunate thing about being ahead of your time is that when people finally realize you were right, they’ll say it was obvious all along. You have two choices in your life; you can dissolve into the mainstream, or you can be distinct. To be distinct, you must be different.”
It is time to go.
More Alternative Lifestyles:
- Brian Braganza came to rural Nova Scotia and helps people find the courage to make a better world
- Cape Breton's Amber Tapley reshaped her life and launched a healing business
- Last Stop Alaska: Couple moves into school bus and sets out on journey of a lifetime
- Get in touch with nature with open air learning
- Off grid living in Cape Breton
- Speak the language, save the culture: Working to preserve Mi’kmaw in Nova Scotia
- Baking and being non-binary in Atlantic Canada