Best Valentine’s Day Ever

So how did you spend your Valentines Day?

Well, let me tell you how I spent mine … doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, the greatest thing you could possibly do on any given snowy winter day – cutting firewood!

But this was no regular tree. This was a massive pine beside the garden. When we moved here there were 6 big red pine trees in a row. They were obviously planted by someone at sometime, I’m just not sure when. Two of them were killed by a massive lightning strike a number of years ago. (You can read all about it here)

The tree at the end had a real lean to it and that’s the one I cut. I’ve read that huge pine trees were harvested around here 150 years ago to be shipped to England to be used as masts in sailing ships. But throughout my 150 acres I can show you at least five massive pines that have snapped in half in high winds, so I’m not sure about this. Who would use pine for a mast?

So based on my experience with softwood pines coming down in wind storms, and with wind storms becoming more frequent on our warming planet, I decided to be proactive and take this tree down. And it was a nice tree to take down because of the lean. There’s nothing more disconcerting than cutting down a tree expecting it to fall one way, and then discovering that you miscalculated and having it fall in a different direction. Let’s just say that when that happens, if I had one of those hidden defects in my heart it would have blown by now! So I’ve got that going for me.

Luckily this tree dropped exactly where I wanted it. It was a big job to cut it up. There is easily two months worth of swing season (fall and spring) firewood from this tree. I’ll most likely use it to heat the guesthouse. Softwood like pine doesn’t burn as long as hardwood, but it burns fine. Lots of people are freaked out about burning pine thinking it will gum up their chimney with creosote and start chimney fires. Any wood will gum up your chimney if it hasn’t dried long enough and/or you don’t burn it hot enough. I always make sure to burn my fires hot and every second year when I sweep my chimneys all I ever get is some ash, never any creosote. So personally, I love pine for the cool, not cold, seasons. It’s light, burns hot and makes nice crackling sounds like those fires you can watch on cable TV networks during the Christmas season. And it smells wonderful. Seriously, spending the day cutting pine is like outdoor aromatherapy.




I know it’s probably hard for many people to not look at this and think that it would be better for the planet to have left it standing. Well yes, it was a beautiful tree. But it was growing in the wrong spot and it had a nasty lean to it. And it, like all living things, was getting to end of its useful life. I could have waited for a big summer windstorm to take it down and drop it on my vegetable garden or I could be proactive and take it down while there is 3 feet of snow on the garden. And yes, it was absorbing carbon and storing it, but when I burn it I’m simply releasing the carbon that it stored during its life. It’s just completing the cycle. And I can assure you something that I have noticed on my 150 acres; you can’t stop trees from growing back. Nature is relentless.

As a bonus, I get incredibly exhausted doing it! It’s just so great! Do you ever see those news reports where they show the latest ‘thang’ that people do for exercise like go ‘spinning’ on a stationary bicycle and get really hot and sweaty, or go on a military-like training thing where they climb over walls and crawl through mud under barbed wire. Well, I get way more tired and I end up with a month’s worth or carbon neutral heat when I’m done! If only I could find a way to convince a group of these people desperate for exercise to come out here for a day. They wouldn’t even have to pay me for the privilege!

When I was all done I convinced Michelle to bake a chocolate cake, because it was, well, Valentine’s Day. Then I took a can of cherry pie filling and filled the insides of the cake with it, then I iced the cake with chocolate icing, and then I ate a quarter of it. I would have eaten the whole thing but I can’t handle sweets like I could when I was younger. And let me say, that I did not have even the slightest twinge of guilt as I crammed that sugary, unhealthy, fat-laden, death-on-a-fork into my mouth. The thing I like most about a day of tree cutting is a night of chocolate cake stuffing. It’s a pretty great trade off.

There was no dining and dancing at Sunflower Farm on Valentine’s Day. There were no Argentinean-grown and flown in roses. No new jewelry in little boxes. I always offer, but Michelle isn’t into those things. There was pizza and chocolate cake though! And one heck of a lot of firewood cut for to keep us warm next year. How can you get any more romantic than that!

Michelle’s Note: Hmmmm…… You know you’ve been married for too long when your husband thinks he can get away without some sort of acknowledgement on Valentine’s Day! Actually, he knows me pretty well. He managed to find something that combines two of my loves … chocolate and popcorn!

V Day Gift

4 Responses to “Best Valentine’s Day Ever”

  • Jim:

    Cam we don’t have to rely on as much wood that you do to keep us warm but our eucalypt hardwood trees, also known as widow makers, often drop limbs so we have a constant supply ready to cut up and store to dry out which takes about 5 summers unsplit or 2-3 summers if split into usable sizes. I wouldn’t worry about the ins and outs of dropping a tree that is passed its use by date and a danger to all around. We even take the tops out of some of our trees to reduce the risk of wind blown limbs getting too close to our house or person if we are out side.
    Where I grew up we had 120 foot high eucalypt trees which had been rung out during settlement of the 1920’s so were very tall dotting the landscape. One particular lightning strike brought down half of one of these dead monsters spreading wood splinters to 200 metres away but sizable chunks weighing 20-30 Kgs up to a hundred metres and slabs 4 metres long to 20 metres from the tree.
    A lightning strike nearby is deafening. I have had several close shaves over the years. Twice the house, once building a set of stockyards beside a hayshed when I was digging a hole with a crow bar when the corner of the roof was struck and another time when doing pruning in the orchard when a tall steel star post about 2 metres away was struck. With the last two instances it was cloudy but the storm seemed to be kilometres away but at the moment I was aware something was happening and just looked up to see blue/pink/purple/red sparks spewing off the corner of the iron or out the top of the post for a split second before there was this “massive kaboom” you mentioned. When there is a storm around now any people close to me quickly vacate my presence just in case I attract another strike.
    We were told about a local farm branching out to produce popped sorghum(think popcorn) for farmers markets about 7 months ago. We threw some into our popping machine and out came pop sorghum, a delicacy we think is better than popcorn. Also I have an allergy to corn so now I can eat these little snacks again.

  • Ed:

    In response to Melanie Ann MacKenzie,

    Wood is wood and lots of people heat with it. Hardwoods are nicer to burn but… We have 75 acres near Cochrane Ontario and there isn’t hardwood trees up here. Like Cam said, burn it hot and dry it as best you can.

  • Melanie Ann MacKenzie:

    I was VERY interested in the remarks you made about burning pine in your woodstove. We are not as lucky as you to have 150 treed acres but we do have about 9 acres and a good bit of it is trees, mostly pine with some cedar. I have used some of the cedar as kindling but we had always heard that you should not really burn softwoods for the very reasons that you state. I was hoping that I could get my husband to build me an outdoor bake oven this summer (plans from Harrowsmith magazine) and I would burn the pine in that since the chimney is only about 12″ long. If we decided to burn the pine in our woodstove, how long do you think it should sit after being cut and stacked. We had to take down about 9 quite large trees when we built our house and put in our kitchen garden. When we put in our solar array, down came another 2 really big ones. So, at the moment, we have lots of pine trees lying around just waiting to be cut up. Any thoughts? Cheers.

  • Madeline and Ken:

    Wow Cam You are a real romantic devil!!!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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