Mark Groen
Bowen Island, B.C., Canada

Archive for the ‘Bowen Bytes’ Category

UW DNA Data Storage

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

In the computer sphere, this is a really big deal. Incredibly massive storage achieved by a team working out of the University of Washington.

How I got Here

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

Just in case it disappears from the Undercurrent website, reproduced here under some sort of license of some version he says to the attorneys eh 🙂

“I’ve cracked the code,” Mark Groen says. As a professional housesitter, he’s found a way to live on Bowen and have the time to do the things he enjoys, such as read the Undercurrent at the Snug Cafe. Photo by Martha Perkins

Four or five times a year, Mark Groen packs up and moves — all so he can stay in the same place.

He could be what’s called a professional housesitter on Bowen Island. He has a rotation of regular clients who pay him to stay at their house and take care of their pets while they are away for extended periods of time.

So, one month he might be staying in a $2-million house high atop the clouds in Valhalla and the next in a rustic cabin on the shores of Killarney Lake.

“I’ve cracked the code,” he says with a smile during an interview at the Snug Café. Without a mortgage or rent to pay, he doesn’t need to work full time in order to afford a pretty sweet life doing what he chooses to on an island he loves.

“I’m debt free, I haven’t had a credit card in 25 years and I have time to do what I want. Time means freedom. If you control your time, you’re free.”

For a man so rooted to place — both Bowen Island and BC — he’s a nomad at heart.

His ancestors were among some of the earliest settlers in the Caribou-Chilcotin; there’s even a town, Hanceville, named after one of them, Tom Hance, who’d come north from Oregon to make his fortune. Another ancestor used horses to help build the roads that opened up northern British Columbia. His mother was born in an outpost hospital in Alexis Creek and his father emigrated from Holland after the Second World War.

Mark himself owes his existence to Daylight Savings Time. On the Sunday morning of the spring-forward time change, his mother and his father, who didn’t know one another, arrived at the Catholic church in Kamloops an hour early. “The bishop said, ‘Why not go for a coffee and come back in an hour?’”

The coffee led to marriage which led to three sons: Mark, John and Richard, who enjoyed what Mark remembers as a pretty idyllic childhood.

The marriage, however, did not last. His mother’s second husband was a chemical engineer and the family went where his job took them, including Washington State, Kentucky and New Brunswick.

“That’s when I learned to go to new schools and stay out of the wrong cliques,” Mark says.

A brother David was born before that marriage ended and Mark’s mother found her third husband. “He was a head-turner type of guy,” Mark says of husband number three: good looking but bad hearted. Mark lived with his dad for part of this time, grew his hair long and ran away a couple of times — “teenaged stuff” — before his mother married “the best one of all.” Husband four sold Cadillacs so they always had nice cars and all the toys at their place in Kennewick, Washington. “I milked it for all it was worth,” Mark says. “Life was pretty easy. I was half rebellious, half not.”

His father and step-mother adopted a son, also named David, which is why Mark has two brothers named David.

For all the upheaval, Mark learned to enjoy all the new experiences and, when he left home at 17, he chose to continue his nomadic lifestyle, never staying at one place for very long. “Something would always happen — the lease would end and the rent went up, or a job would end, or a girl….”

He was working at a mine in Williams Lake when he befriended a stripper and they decided to move to Phoenix, Arizona. They broke up a week after they arrived but Mark stayed in Phoenix for 10 years. He married but, sadly, his wife died in her early 30s from complications from MS and epilepsy. Mark moved back to Kennewick before pushing on to Seattle where one of his brothers lived.

To try to follow what happened next is too complicated; suffice to say that wherever he’s moved, he’s always been able to find a job within a day or two.

In 2002, he was living in a house in Dunbar, where another tenant was Dr. Stephen Kiraly, a Bowen Island-based geriatric psychiatrist whose work required him to stay in town occasionally. When Dr. Kiraly needed some help with his website, Mark stepped in and they became friends. “He said, ‘Come to Bowen for a visit’ and I never left.”

Mark loved the island and was able to find work immediately. However, it’s not the easiest place in the world to earn a living. During one of his father’s visits, Mark was feeling sorry for himself and lamenting how broke he was. His father looked around and said, “If you’re going to be poor, I don’t know a better place. It’s better than being poor in East Van.”

Mark thought, “He’s right.”

But then what happened? Mark got island fever. In 2005 he moved off the island and started managing a West End apartment building. The guy he was working for was a bit crazy so Mark moved back to the island and lived in his car. He knew of someone who was housesitting so he put an ad in the Undercurrent, offering his services. Good with pets and highly responsible, he soon had a steady roster of clients.

“When you find a way to make a living on the island, you tend to stay,” he says. He rarely goes to town unless there’s something he needs to buy — note to men: The Knick Knack Nook could do with some donations of men’s jeans — or there’s a concert or special event.

He’s got a part-time job at the Bowen Building Centre which fills in the financial cracks and other than that, loves the freedom of his life, especially since it leaves him time for one of his favourite pastimes — golfing at the Bowen Island Golf Club.

Local actor David Cameron once told Mark that he thinks of Mark as a contented person. Contentment is the perfect word, Mark says. “I’m happy with my lot; I shaped it myself.”

He adds that, “you can’t be content if you’re judgemental. You have to see someone else’s story, even someone you don’t like — they probably have a back story.”

As to Bowen politics, Mark says he doesn’t bother himself with them. “What I care about is that the dogs [I’m dog-sitting] have a couple of good walks today. That’s what I care about.”

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What is it like to live Bowen Island?

Monday, November 10th, 2014

The question above showed up on my Quora home page, suspect it was auto-generated as the island is the only thing listed on my profile page.

Short answer: serene.

It’s a small island, (approx. 6km wide/12km long, 3500 people), and much like any small community with the exception there’s something of a moat – it takes a boat or ferry to get here. For the 60% of the island that leaves every day to go to the mainland to work, it’s an oasis of green and quiet to come home to.

The population that stays on the island to work or are retired get the most out of living here. They enjoy life on what’s affectionately called “Bowen Time”, a more laid back attitude reinforced with road speed limits maxed out at 40kph with long stretches being 30kph. Probably feels like a crawl to most commuters trying to get home but a pleasurable speed to enjoy the scenery and smell the roses going by.

The air is a lot cleaner than on the mainland a few kilometers east, from a hill top often one can see the edge of the smog from the city creeping out over the ocean and stopping well before it gets here. It is dark at night, there are only a few street lights around the area the ferry unloads, called Snug Cove. The “downtown” area consists a few restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries along with a General Store and organic food store and a pub.