Decision leads to a life worth living

Kate Grigg, Special to the Packet & Times

Gaia Orion, who left the sophistication of Paris for a rural life in Ontario, is teaching an art workshop called Life Transition on April 1. KATE GRIGG/SPECIAL TO THE PACKET & TIMES

Gaia Orion, who left the sophistication of Paris for a rural life in Ontario, is teaching an art workshop called Life Transition on April 1. KATE GRIGG/SPECIAL TO THE PACKET & TIMES

They pulled over on the side of the road and looked into each other's eyes. Don't go back, Gaia Orion said to her husband, don't go back to the factory. Spending the next 30 years in a job that didn't mean anything, that was only a means of putting food on the table was scarier than the thought of walking away, of having no plans and three small children to feed.

They'd never been afraid of life. Gaia had always possessed an underlying certainty that things would work out. A result, perhaps, of her early years in Africa: a Galapagos turtle for a pet, monkeys playing in the yard, the locals climbing up palm trees to fetch her coconuts. It was there, whatever you needed, you only had to reach for it.

She only studied architecture back home in Paris because education there is funded by the state, and an upper-middle class girl from a traditional family was expected to get a degree. It didn't really get at what she wanted, training as an architect. She'd built things as a child, houses for the dolls she was given, a cabin in the woods. But it was more than bricks and mortar she was after. It was creating a life that is meaningful and beautiful. It was something her uncle in a measure exemplified (Gaia's uncle, an architect, partly inspired her choice of study): an artistic approach, an interesting way of looking at the world.

Dolphin, Gaia's future husband, must have made her uncle pale in comparison when she met him on a bus in Morocco. (Gaia was then on a one-year student exchange in Spain.) He'd had a dream of the planet he said, while trying to decide where to spend his five weeks off from the factory. Hadn't hesitated -- the young Canadian who said he was an artist and musician, a writer and poet -- when the dream zoomed in on Morocco. Where he and Gaia spent two days together, keeping in touch by phone and letter after they parted, until two and a half years later they were married.

You have to accept what is happening to you, you have to work with it, Gaia says. Be curious, rather than a victim, even if it's difficult. And it was difficult at first, leaving the beauty of Paris, her carefree friends, her urban lifestyle for a farmhouse north of Toronto where Gaia lived in comparative isolation with three babies, a first-born son and the twin girls that soon followed.

Until the day she and Dolphin attended a conference on healthy living and afterward pulled over on the side of the road and made a life-changing decision. Until they asked themselves why they weren't living the most wholesome life they could, what was stopping them.

And the answer was Dolphin leaving his factory job and starting a line of casual clothing (The Funky Clothesline) to sell at markets and festivals (including the Mariposa Folk Festival); Gaia growing organic sprouts to offer wholesale to Toronto health food stores.

The answer was to come and live in a forest by a river outside Orillia (after selling Sprouts for Life in 2003) where, after working hard each summer, Gaia was free to spend the long quiet winters drawing and painting, carving out an art career.

She has an exhibition coming up in Paris and another in the U.S. And on April 1 she'll host an art workshop called Life Transition at her Sebright studio where participants can examine how they feel about where life is taking them. Where they can draw and talk and go for a walk to see the birds that herald spring. The birds, who do not fret about sowing and reaping, but like Gaia, know they are here to sing.

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Kate Grigg is an artist and writer who grew up in Orillia and tells stories of local people in her weekly column. If you have a story you think she might be interested in, email

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