Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
By Cam Mather
I have written a few too many ranting blogs lately, ranting about the impending collapse of the dollar and my unexplained angst about being a solar early adopter (I haven’t posted that one yet), so figured it was time for something lighter.
It’s not hard to write a positive blog when I have major buzz on, the buzz that comes after a great weekend of firewood cutting and hauling. I’ve been missing these usual activities this winter so far because of the lack of snow and cold weather. Like many North Americans, we have been experiencing bizarre winter weather, or actually a lack of it. It’s been warm and rainy when it should be cold and snowy. If I wanted “wet coast” weather I’d move out there, and then at least I’d have some mountains to admire.
Now I’m not complaining. We did have a white Christmas when most of our province didn’t. And we even had enough ice to skate, although it was just on December 25th. By the 26th it was warm again and the ice turned to mush.
Last Thursday we got wet snow and freezing rain, and then on Friday we got a dumping of snow as the temperature dropped. The trees got covered in an amazing blanket of ice and wet snow and then froze into this brilliant “Hallmark Greeting Card-like fantasyland. Overnight on Friday the temperature dropped to 20° below Celsius (-4°F) and then on Saturday night it was almost 30°C below (-22°F). To a lot of people 25 below sounds terrible, but I love it. It usually happens when a high-pressure system sits over us, which means that during the day we have brilliant, cloud-free skies. And it’s actually the time when we get the most juice out of our solar panels since they love the cold. Even though the sun is still very low, at some points I was getting close to our array’s total rated capacity of 2,300 Watts. I simply love this weather!
On Saturday I spent an hour sweeping and scraping the solar panels because they were covered in a thick layer of snow and ice. Once the sun hit them, their dark background helped them to warm up and the ice melted pretty quickly. On Saturday the sun charged the batteries to full, and then on Sunday I dumped any excess electricity into our third hot water tank. Along with our solar domestic hot water heater, which was also making use of the brilliant sunlight, we’re back in the free hot water business.
After the panels were cleaned off, I headed out to the woods to cut firewood. I’ve been cutting in a pond created by beavers where the trees are dead or dying because they are now standing in water (thanks to the beavers.) There were a couple of massive maples that the beavers had taken down along one bank and I’m sure that there’s about three weeks’ worth of heat in those trees. I cut them into 2 or 3 firewood log lengths so that I can do the final bucking to stove-length back at the house with the electric chainsaw (next time we have a sunny stretch). It was close to -20°C for much of the time I was cutting, but I was still sweating, and the sun just felt fantastic on my face. I have never done hard drugs but I have to imagine that this high must be close to one accomplished with pharmaceuticals. And it’s addictive, but it has no downside. I end up with firewood and the license to eat as many goodies from the local bakery as I want.
On Sunday morning I started hauling the lengths out of the pond and since we finally have enough snow for a good path. I’m able to haul them all the way to the road where I can get them in the spring. The road that I am talking about is on our property and is quite good. It was used during the 1930s and 40s as a detour around a floating bridge that it skirts. There is a huge boggy area on the property and the old road actually had a bridge made up of huge logs held together with wire that horses and buggies and then cars had to drive over. Apparently neither horses nor drivers liked this, so eventually the township asked for permission to make a road around it on this property. Now it’s abandoned but perfect for me to use for firewood. It’s funny but our partners in Aztext Press, Bill and Lorraine Kemp live on “Floating Bridge Road” in another township and we thought about calling our company “Floating Bridge Publishing,” but that name was already taken.
On Sunday afternoon Michelle and I walked the road together. Morgan the Wonder Dog came too. Our 150 acres is narrow and follows the road so it’s probably close to 1 km (.6 mile) down to this pond. Some people find it weird when I admit that I don’t have a better idea of our land, but we got rough sketches when we bought the place and have had to try and figure out what’s ours from old fence lines and other landmarks. The reality is that there just isn’t anyone around to ask or bother. Sterling Barker has bought the former hunt camp on the California Road, but it’s 2 kms from here. The undeveloped Puzzle Lake Provincial Park is to our north and there’s 15 kms of ponds and woods to the south before you hit the road in Enterprise. Standing alone in our woods is a pretty great feeling. There’s just no one around.
So we went for a walk and, despite the frigid temperature, it really was quite magical. We walk this road in all 4 seasons. I love it in the spring, and the summer, and the fall, but I think I love it most in the winter. Without the leaves on the trees, it’s much easier to see further and to get a better feeling for the lay of the land. It’s also easier to see the mix of hardwoods and pines that make up the woods. Animals love to use my trails and it boggles my mind that there are so many deer and coyote that pass through our property. After a snowfall I can’t believe how many other tracks I see in the snow. Rabbits, beavers near the pond, porcupines, squirrels, and lots of smaller unidentified tracks. There are always a few larger tracks that I always intend to look up in a book to identify, and rarely get around to it. Probably wolverines, or small sasquatches.
Last week we were in town on Wednesday, but Thursday was a bad day to drive because of freezing rain, and then on Friday it snowed and the road was a mess, and so by Sunday night we’d gone 4 days without seeing another human being. Our century-old farmhouse has been toasty warn even though it’s been 20 below, thanks to the wood that I cut last winter. Michelle made soup for dinner with tomatoes that we grew last summer and froze. The soup had our carrots, potatoes, onion and garlic in it too. After hauling wood uphill for a couple of hours on Sunday morning I fell asleep pretty easily that night and dreamt about our year of magical walking in our very special woods.
* Michelle's Note: For anyone who, like me, wasn't sure about this title, Cam is giving a nod to the book "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion.