Winter Solstice at Sunflower Farm

By Cam Mather

Remember when you were a kid and your friends would come over to your place after Christmas and you’d show them all the neat new stuff you got, like the BB Gun or the Lego set? (Note that there was no mention of socks or sweaters in this memory.) Well, consider this blog to be like that post-Christmas visit. It’s of little value in terms of sustainability, homesteading or renewable energy, but more just a post-holiday stream of consciousness.

We had a great solstice holiday here at Sunflower Farm. We experienced a brutally dry fall like much of drought-stricken North America. December was dull and warmer than normal, more like what November used to be like. We got some rain during December, which turned the unfrozen lawn into a mud bowl. Then 4 days before Christmas we got a huge dumping of snow that was fantastic! It made everything look so nice and clean and bright! And it’s helping to keep the house cleaner, since Jasper the dog is now running and rolling on snow, rather than on mud.

winter-arrives

We were pretty thrilled when the world didn’t end on the solstice (as predicted by the Mayan calendar) and even happier when our daughters and our daughter’s fiancé came home for the holidays. It was a great time. The only adjustment I have to make is to ignore the “whoosh” of the hot water tank coming on more often. I know, it’s a trivial thing, but when it’s just Michelle and me here, we use lots of tricks to keep the propane tank from coming on (see this previous blog post.) With five people showering and washing lots of dishes we heard the “whoosh” quite often. I guess it’s just a taste of how often hot water tanks would be used in most homes during most of the year.

Luckily we’re now into a sunny streak and the solar thermal unit is back to making hot water and we even have enough excess electricity from our solar panels to dump it into our diversion load hot water tank (explanation of our diversion load is here.)

I’ve become much more creative in terms of winter activities when there’s a gang here. We have two sets of snowshoes, which came in handy since the dumping of snow ruined any chance of having a rink to skate on this year. But the holidays seem to inspire overeating and a lot of complaining about too many calories being consumed and not enough being burned. I now use firewood as a defense against this.

This year when the gang began looking for physical activity, I was ready with the suggestion that there was wood that needed hauling, and since we were blessed with a fresh blanket of snow, we were able to get out the snowmobile sleds to use for our task. A huge tree had come down in our forest. Trees never fall at the top of a hill on my property, which would allow me to pull them “down” towards the road. Nope, they always fall at the bottom of a hill, so I get to haul them “up” to the road. This enormous ash basically fell down into a mountain valley. I would have loved to have left it there but it probably has about 3 weeks worth of heat in it. So the timing of the snow was perfect. I had debated asking my neighbor Ken to help me pull it out using his tractor, but instead I used “scrambled-egg-and-hash browned-potatoes-power,” provided to everyone at breakfast. Pulling these suckers out on my own would have been a tough slog, but with Katie and Dhruva on the rope, it was a piece of cake!

ash-up-the-mountain

I also decided to load them right into the truck, so we built a ramp and whipped them up in the truck in one fell swoop. These are not “liftable” chunks of wood.

ramp

I decided to take my pickup truck over to the wood but we had a good 8 inches of wet packing snow to get through. Katie comes home from the city, puts on her work boots and is all ready to split wood and get involved with country life. She wanted to drive the truck over to the woodpile. The truck has “aggressive” tires and is 4-wheel drive and has a standard (stick) transmission. Both of our daughters learned to drive standard because we drove a standard Honda Civic while they were learning how to drive, and they both drive exceptionally well. Katie hadn’t driven my “new” (to me) truck yet and since she lives in the big city and doesn’t own a vehicle she doesn’t get much practice, but she jumped in and was ready to go. After a bit of familiarizing with the clutch she was off to the races. As she plowed through the snow around one corner into a tunnel of snow-laden pine trees I was pretty sure that the truck was going to end up in the ditch, but she wrestled it back on track and got it there, no problem. Can there be anything more fun on a holiday than driving a 4-wheel drive truck through deep snow? I think not.

the-truck-haul

So all in all there was a fairly decent “calories in, calories out” quotient at Sunflower Farm. Jasper the Energizer Dog also enjoys the snow immensely. With the two more dumpings that we experienced, we’ve got more than a foot and a half now and he just bounds through it effortlessly. Sometimes I wish we had about 200 sheep for this dog to herd all day, because he just goes and goes and goes.

Jasper-the-Christmas-dog

There was a much higher thrift store component to gifts this year. Luckily our daughters appreciate “antique” and “vintage” and getting a bargain. I guess I was the worst for getting new stuff. As discussed in a previous blog post, there were two main items on my wish list. I’m confident that they were both purchased at a 50% discount. First was my “error code” reader, which will work on both my car and truck. Both of my vehicles seem to display the “Check Engine” light on a regular basis. When you live as far from the nearest garage as we do, this will be a time/carbon/money saving investment, and it was only $35. The second item is a chain saw chain sharpener and I’m pretty excited about it. I sharpen my own chains with a file most of the time but periodically I take them to a local small engine repair shop to get them done professionally. Now I have the tools to do it myself, I just need to take some time and learn how to do it.

cams-new-toys

So that’s about it. No insights or major revelations here. Just the rhythm of the holidays… eat, haul firewood, eat, read, eat, stoke the fire, eat, do dishes…

The snow turns our place into another world. It insulates and deadens any sounds which just makes it all the more special. I spent the entire holiday in a cycle of loading wood, and cutting wood, and shoveling snow and playing Frisbee with Jasper. I have completely forgotten about my former city existence. There was no last minute shopping. And even though there were huge sales after Christmas, I had no desire to get out and buy anything. I have firewood to keep me warm. I have a chain sharpener to keep my saw blades cutting efficiently. I have “enough.”

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Thanks to Ashley, Dhruva, Gerrit, Neil, Ruth Ann & Tracy for your donations. Thank you for showing your appreciation of this blog!

5 Responses to “Winter Solstice at Sunflower Farm”

  • Andrea:

    Great photos and impressed by the size of that tree!

  • Donna wortman:

    You guys are truly our kind of people.after having 5 children and working outside the home
    ( the part you actually get a paycheque for)I. Am ready to not rush and NOT feel guilty. I love
    Letting people go ahead of me in the grocery checkout and saying”I,m not in a RUSH– I,ve waited a long time
    To not be in overdrive”

  • Debbie E.:

    Beautiful pictures and I’m glad you finally got some snow! 🙂

  • Gerrit Botha:

    Hey Cam and Michelle, Happy New Year to you. And to Jasper!

  • Here’s a super good explanation of the Cycles of the Mayan Calendar. It turns out even the Mayans didn’t believe the doomsday thing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjKUqQ2uSzg

    It was more like a mesoamerican y2k.

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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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