Posts Tagged ‘History’

Getting to Know My Forest

I’m spending a lot of time in my forest. And it’s pretty awesome.

We’re in the process of applying for what’s called “The Managed Forest Tax Incentive Plan.” (MFTIP)

It’s a program in my province of Ontario which reduces your property tax, a bit, if you agree to manage your forest. We got a bit of discount on our property tax when we were generating enough farm income, but that ended last fall, with the drought.

I took a workshop about the MFTIP several years back and never got around to doing it. But now I’m back at it and part of the plan involves an inventory of trees in your forest. Sounds easy enough, if there’s an ‘app’ for it or something, which I don’t believe there is. But basically, it involves getting out and counting trees. You take sample plots and record the species, diameter of the tree at breast height (DBH) and height.

I suppose this could sound like work, if you weren’t doing it in your forest. Because forests are pretty awesome places. The challenge with work, and earning an income, and growing some of your own food, (you could include Netflix but I would never admit to that publicly in a sort of earthy, back to the land, homesteading blog) is that you often are too tired, or lazy, or stupid, to get out and enjoy your property.

Michelle and I used to say, “we own 150 acres.” I think now we try and suggest ‘we’re temporary custodians’ of 150 acres. Not that the trees and forests need any help. They’ve been doing a pretty good job of looking after themselves before we got here.

My daughter is an archeologist and has left some books around hoping I might pick one up. Turns out there’s some pretty cool stuff in those books. I think the thing that boggles my mind the most is that about 12,000 years ago, where I live, was under ice. The glaciers from the last ice age were retreating and somehow, once they were gone, all these lakes and trees appeared. The wonders never cease!

I remember a National Film Board movie they showed us in public school in the 1960s that showed a guy canoeing the Great Lakes, and it kept jumping around eons. So, one minute he would be sitting in a canoe on top of a glacier, then the next shot it would jump forward 100,000 years and the ice disappeared and he fell 500 feet into the St. Lawrence River. Is it bad that this is one of my few memories from public school?

So, as I walk the property I picture the ice retreating, the big piles of sand and gravel (drumlins?) they left behind, then the forests encroaching on the exposed soil … or in our case sand created from the grinding rocks. I spend a lot of time trying to improve my soil here.

The thing I’m loving about this whole process is how much I’m learning. I started thinking about it as work, and now I really look forward to going out and doing some inventory work regularly. It’s forcing me to pay attention to stuff in a different way.

When we first arrived 20 years ago as I walked the property I was looking for dead oak to cut. There had been a gypsy moth infestation a few years before whereby the oaks were attacked shortly after putting out their leaves. Once the leaves got chewed off they weren’t able to photosynthesize and they just got weak. The ones that survived I think are stronger.

It took a good decade of cutting before they were mostly used up, so then I switched to looking for any tree that wasn’t healthy to thin for firewood. And now I’m looking for easily accessible poplar to remove, to give the hardwoods more energy to grow.

Which brings me to an inextricable part of just about every one of my mindless blogs, 1970s popular music (that’s popular like “POP” music, as opposed to ‘poplar,’ like the trees I’m cutting.)

The rock group RUSH had this song called “Trees” and the lyrics by their drummer Neil Peart were quite brilliant, although I never had the same appreciation when I was a suburban-dwelling teen.

“The trouble with the Maples, and they’re quite convinced they’re right, is that the Oaks are just too lofty, and they grab up all the light, but the Oaks can’t help their feelings, if they like the way they’re made, and they wonder why the Maples can’t be happy in their shade.”

As I’m measuring and looking up at and admiring and touching, but never “hugging” these trees I often sing this song. Luckily the Oaks and Maples seem to slug it out fairly evenly here. There is indeed no “Oak oppression,” just survival of the fittest. It seems to pretty much be a draw over most of the property.

When I cut down these towering wonders of carbon sequestration, I am most grateful for the warmth they will provide next winter. And that is the main goal we have in our forest management plan. We use it for recreation and we love it that it gives animals a place to live. And the trees just seem to keep growing faster than we could ever cut them for heat. As I recall from the workshop years ago you need about 15 acres of woodlot to heat a home. I’m sure this depends on how efficient your home is, how warm you like it, species of trees, i.e. hardwood vs softwood, but I’m often asked this in our workshops and it’s a good target if you’re looking for property.

And you know who is absolutely “over the moon” about my forest inventory? You’re right, Jasper the Wonder Dog! Oh, how he loves the time in the woods. Do you know how many smells there are to investigate on our sojourns? Hundreds. Our terrain is hilly and there are often low areas that are full of water right now with the spring run-off. And Jasper the Wonder Dog has never met a body of water he didn’t love to play in. Or stand in and drink from. Or chase bubbles in. If I didn’t know better I’d guess he had used his Jedi Mind Tricks … that thing he does when you talk to him and he tilts his head inquisitively, to get us back doing the MFTIP. He knew it would mean endless hours of playtime in the woods.

I beat myself up that it takes a monetary incentive, like saving some tax money, to get me into the bush. This time it will be different. I’m going to be a better Forest Steward. I’m going to be a better person. More time in the woods! Jasper insists!

That Was Fun … Not!

Whoops. I did it again.

Sorry if you recently got a weird email from our website. Long story, but it was my fault as I try and learn some new software and well, I used it on my website and things went horribly wrong.

I love the TV show “Arrested Development” and they have a great pat line “I’ve made a huge mistake!” I love it and use it all the time. They were using “huge” before, well, anyone else.

Michelle and I ran our CSA for 5 years and I think did a pretty darn great job of growing vegetables for our members. Then along came last year’s drought where we didn’t get rain for…well…like…ever… or at least from May to October, which is kind of a big deal if you grow food.

So that was too much and we decided to not run it this year. It’s been hard. I really like growing food. I love being outside and in the soil. But after many years of trying to find a ‘niche’, I still believe with the current economic model farming is still very much a story of ‘go big or go home” business. Get lots of land and a big tractor. Yes, you can find cool ways to specialize but a lot of it is extremely labor intensive so it’s a young person’s game. And I wish them all the best at it, until I get back in the game. Hopefully with my grandkids… really soon!

We are doing websites again as we have for many years. And like anything technology related things have become even more complex. We’ve been using “WordPress” to develop our websites and I’ve been learning a very cool ‘theme’ which makes it easier to control websites. It used to be you had to be an HTML programmer. So, I’m excited about this new easier ‘shell’ shall we call it that is kind of like a “WYSIWYG” or ‘what you see is what you get”.

But of course, for it to make setting up websites easier, it must be hard to learn. Right? Well at least it is in my world.

I decided the best way to learn it was to actually have it on my own website cammather.com. “And how’d that work out Cam?” Ha ha. Not so good. It sent out a rogue blog notification and well, things just went downhill from there.

Again, sorry about that.

I’m sure you’ve never had a bad experience with technology. Your credit and debit cards always work, statements are always correct, your computer and phone and tablet always work flawlessly.

Netflix has a great documentary called “Silicon Cowboys” about some Texas Instruments people starting Compaq computers in the early 1980s. This probably would not mean too much to most people, but I started selling microcomputers in 1982 so it was at the heart of the whole Apple II, IBM PC, Macintosh, Clones, ‘compatibles’ like Compaq …  evolution.

It was fun to see how much polyester was in suits in the ‘80s. How puffy some women’s hair was, along with their shoulder pads, and how they actually made Compaq computers in Texas. Can you imagine?!

I was looking at screens running DOS (Disk Operating System) and remembering I spent a lot of time training people on microcomputers. Michelle bought one of the first Macintosh computers off the line because we wanted to find out why 1984 wasn’t going to be like “1984” (the book)

“Silicon Cowboys” made me remember just how little you could do on computers in the 1980s, and how when you went from an 8086 Intel processor to an 80286 it was a big deal. And how when Compaq was the first computer with an 80386, well, it was a pretty big deal in my world. I believe it was called “Moore’s Law” which suggested the processing speed would double every 18 months. Which meant that a year a half later, your computer would be twice as fast. So, 3 years from now your computer would be 8 times faster? 16 times faster? Is that how exponential growth works?

All I know is that kids today just have no idea of the processing power of their computers and smart phones. I look at what our iPhone does and I marvel at it all. I think it is compounded by having been in the whole corporate struggle for computer supremacy which involved mind-boggling innovation.

I still marvel at it. And then I think about our reliance on this stuff. I think about moving when I was 20 years old and setting out with my dad’s station wagon on a Sunday morning and getting a flat tire on Hwy 401 on our rental trailer and what was involved. And how much easier it would have been to have a mobile phone. Just a cell phone let alone a smart phone.

Michelle and I have one cell phone because we are usually together. When I left the hospital after our grand daughter was born for my long trek home, my daughter was still a little tired from the birth. I wanted to make sure she was okay. But once I got on the highway I had no way of knowing. Michelle kept the phone.

So, for hours I was traumatized by not having a cell phone. I tried a pay phone at a rest stop but on my third try when I finally resorted to using a credit card they said the call would be $11, or $17 or something like that so I hung up. You know, better to be stressed for hours.

She thankfully was fine and I worried needlessly. And I wondered if I would have worried as much if cell phones weren’t available, like that day in the late 70’s when we just left in the car with the trailer for the move. Is all this technology necessarily so great?

I won’t lose any more sleep over it. The technology is here so I’ll just do my best to try and master it. I did figure out a way though to use an old iPhone our daughter gave us to work on the rest stops along Highway 401 because they all have free Wi-Fi. So now I just use “G-chat” or “Facetime” and call people with the phone and actually can see them as I talk to them. When I was selling computers in the 1980s I could just never imagine a time when you would be able to have a face-to-face conversation with someone on the other side of the world, on your smart phone, away from your home. Meet George Jetson…

My 1888 Brain

This is all related to slow internet which is a country thing, but sometimes can be a city thing, and a twisted convoluted story to get to the point, but really, aren’t most of my blogs like this? Bear with me?… (bare with me?) if you are so inclined.

We often get asked about what we use for internet out here in the country. We use satellite internet because there is no fixed wireless in our region. This is a good thing because it means there isn’t the population density to warrant a company installing towers for wireless. So I’m not complaining. Satellite internet is part of many people’s rural reality.

Right now, with so many (166,000 households in Canada last year so what is that in the U.S., 2 million?) canceling their cable/satellite TV and just watching stuff online, it means that at 7 pm when everyone sits down to watch Netflix, well … the whole internet slows down. But with a satellite there is limited bandwidth so the bottleneck slows everyone down … a lot. Our internet provider has launched a new satellite to deal with it, but it will take a few months to be operational.

So, we’ve been renting movies. Yes, I do a lot of reading … in the mornings … but really …  reading after dinner is a one-way ticket to la-la land for me. We rent from Tim at the local video store when we know that we’ll be driving through town and can return the DVDs the next day, and we’ve been borrowing some from the library. This is a good thing too since it shows up on their records as transactions which helps keep the local branch open, in a time when they’ve closed others in our rural area.

So, I’ve been bringing home stacks of movies, most of which we don’t get around to watching. The last batch had Season 5 of Six Feet Under,” the HBO series about the funeral home. It was exceptional and it was from 2005, so we watched it 12 years ago. But at the age of 57 this means that I when I am re-watching something a decade later, it all seems new to me.

Well, not all of it. I do remember a lot it, especially the final episode where the series is all wrapped up in the absolute greatest bit of movie/TV writing ever.

But there was one scene from Season 5 which has stuck in my mind in a big way. Okay, so spoiler alert, if you are about to watch Season 5 of Six Feet Under and want to be surprised DO NOT READ THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS.

In one of the episodes one of the lead characters, now deceased, returns to do a quasi rock video scene to the song Celebrate by ‘Rare Earth.

He is all dressed in white in a ‘from the other side’ sort of theme singing “I just want to celebrate another day of living, I just want to celebrate another day of life…,” a cautionary tale from the great beyond to remind you that you’d better enjoy every day you’ve got left … which might not be many for some of us. Because really, who knows?

I love this song and often break into quite a loud rendition as I walk this marvelous piece of land Michelle and I inhabit … briefly but extremely joyfully.

So, for 12 episodes I kept trying to recall when this video sequence was going to appear, and well, it turns out, my 57-year-old aluminum-and-soda-pop-addled brain just couldn’t reach down deep enough into its synapses to remember it. I had a feeling, and I got it, 2 minutes before it appeared … in the final episode. No points for you Cam! Oh, my memory was of a 2-minute rock video…nope…it was all of 10 seconds max!

We started thinking about all the noise that our brain would have had to filter through to get that data. How many tens of thousands of hours of videos, millions of words in books, billions of words in day old newspapers and Guardians, would it have to get through to remember something I’d watched over a decade ago.

Then at breakfast one morning Michelle and I discussed how differently our grandkids’ brains will be wired because their brains will be exposed to so much more video and imagery than ours. We’re piling on the hours late in life but when we were kids, TV was a Saturday morning in the winter thing so our parents could sleep in, and rarely did we watch TV in the summers or after school because we just disappeared on our bikes into the woods or suburbs and didn’t return home until we got hungry. Sure, the risks were probably there, but you didn’t seem to hear about them as much so parents were like, “See ya at dinner.” Antibiotics, vaccines so we didn’t get smallpox, endless freedom to play, OMG I was born at a charmed time in human in history.

So how many of the images cluttering up my brain are someone else’s creation, like the scene in the second Jason Bourne movie when he jumps from a rooftop and crashes through a window on the other side of the street and the camera follows right behind him? That was so cool but it wasn’t me doing the jumping, it was like 100 stunt people and movie technicians.

Which finally got us to thinking about the kitchen we were having our breakfast in. A kitchen that in 1888 when our house was built, or in 1910, or 1940, a farmer would come in for breakfast and every other meal, exhausted, or his wife would work in the kitchen, until they collapsed after dinner, most likely without the income to afford or the energy to read a book.

All of their memories were theirs. All their experiences were their own. As they sat and reflected on their life, it would be a recollection of only images and experiences that they had actually participated in.

It’s a very cool distinction. I created many vivid images over the years reading about Ayn Rand’s Henry Reardon or Margaret Atwood’s Grace Marks from ‘Alias Grace.’ I didn’t even see visual images of these people but somehow, they occupy my brain.

If the concept is accurate of this death myth/image of our lifetime passing before us as we prepare to cross over to the other side, I think the 1888 brain would offer a much more legitimate experience. Mine, while populated by a billion hours (into my teens) spent playing with Lego and Meccano, jumping off roofs in homes being built in my subdivision and staying out way too late to overfill a pillow case on Halloween could very likely be cluttered and corrupted with all these other images that I didn’t experience myself.

It would be great if you could get a filter to ensure that all your experiential memories were your own. I’m sure there’s ‘an app for that” on your Smartphone! Oh, and that latest episode of Game of Thrones you’ve been wanting to watch …

They Shot a Movie Once…

I got a chance on Wednesday to spend the afternoon with my daughter and grandson. My son-in-law was out of town on business, so I went down after my grandson’s afternoon nap to hang out with them.

We started at the Kingston Penitentiary where they are shooting a movie. Since the band The Tragically Hip are from Kingston, and they have a song that starts with the lyrics, “They shot a movie once, in my hometown…” I felt that it was synchronistic and cool to check out a movie being made in Kingston. Does that make sense? Actually a lot of movies are made there, since it is very old (in North American terms) and was once the capital of Upper Canada.

Kingston Penitentiary was built in 1935 and considered Canada’s Alcatraz. It housed the baddest of the bad and closed in 2013. The movie “Alias Grace,” based on a book by Margaret Atwood, is about a young woman housed there in the early 1900s after being convicted of murder. The great thing is that the movie is a joint production between the CBC and Netflix, so I will get to see it eventually! I remember I loved the book when I read in 25 years ago … in my novel reading days.

They had dumped dirt on the road over top of pavement in front of “KP” (as Kingstonians call Kingston Penitentiary) to make it look like it would have a hundred years ago. It was a long walk to get there since there were so many roads closed around it. My grandson, who is now walking and prefers to not be stuck in a stroller is also not able to focus on long distance walking. Every blowing leaf and empty recycling box (which made a great stomp-like drum) is a new source of wonder. In front of KP he was mostly interested in the lumps of dirt. I share his wonder with soil but was I distracted by whole movie-making process.

movie-set

After we were done we visited my Dad, my daughter’s grandfather, and Liam’s great grandfather. What a wondrous time we live in when 4 generations are sometimes around to enjoy each other’s company. My father marveled at Liam’s dimples. Liam marveled at the 6 remote controls on the coffee table. Everywhere else that Liam spends time, these types of gadgets have long since been moved to higher places because regardless of how many brightly colored, BPA-free plastic toys are around, cell phones and TV remotes are always way more interesting in his opinion.

After dinner I was playing on the living floor with him at one point and he brought over a book (Six Little Chicks, a gift from Michelle) and sat on my lap wanting me to read it. At his age he has about a two-minute attention span for books, but I must say, I melted when he snuggled in wanting to be read to.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, this all took place the day after the U.S. election when so many people seemed off-kilter … even Canadians! Admittedly it had been a raucous and pretty brutal election, and I hope that the message the electorate sent was simply one of dissatisfaction with the way the status quo is unfolding. Based on that, I’m supportive of the results. Message received, hopefully.

But in a world where the zeitgeist of the day seems to be negativity, “us against them”, it’s that ‘they’re the problem’ or whatever, spending time with a child is delightfully distracting. My grandson is happy and content. Every day he gets up with a bright, unclouded view of the world. Every day is going to be a great day. He doesn’t have any negative baggage. If he had done a face plant on the sidewalk, and I hadn’t been able to stop the fall, I’d probably still be feeling great guilt, but he’d just be ready to chase leaves again, holding no grudge. As a grandparent I’d like to see him walk around in a one of those giant plastic balls you see people rolling around in. With a football helmet on. Alas, this does not seem to be a practical way to go through life.

I love my daughters very much, but I don’t seem to be able to remember very much from when they were this age. I was working long hours getting a business established, being involved with the local environmental group, being on the city’s “Sustainable Development Committee” and trying to pay bills. It was a time of sleep depravation and stress, and those wonderful moments that children bring to your life can be overlooked when you are so overwhelmed.

I think the difference with a grandchild is that I only see him about once a week so I have pent up affection and enthusiasm that I have a brief opportunity to shower on him. Then I get to leave and have a great night’s sleep.

The love of grandchild is a wondrous, powerful thing. It’s the kind of thing where you want to move mountains for them to have the same quality of life that you’ve had. Or run in an election for a party that probably won’t win, but that might move the dial on the need to deal with climate change a little further to the “Action” zone. No one likes to lose, especially in an election where the outcome seems so important. It is a depleting, exhausting activity.

My grandchild is teaching me to be positive everyday. To value the important things in life. To get over the slights against me, or the actions of others I may disagree with, and focus on all that is good in this amazing world of ours. To be grateful in the moment. I am giddy at the thought of spending time with him. There is no joy greater than getting a grandchild to smile. I love him fully and completely.

Only love prevails.

walking

 

Down the Wishing Well and My Coffee Can Solar Tracker

Several years ago, in the month of May, I was talking to one of our off-grid blog readers in California who has become a friend. We were discussing the California drought and she said “Oh we won’t see rain now until probably November.”

May to November without rain. That was my worst nightmare. And in the words of Alice Cooper, this summer at our house it’s been “Welcome to my nightmare.”

I will admit that I wrote this in the middle of August and we were getting the tail end of the rain that caused all the flooding in Louisiana. For us the rain was glorious. Too little, too late, but I welcomed it. (And since then we’ve had a few showers, never amounting to more than 3 or 4 mms. My garden still resembles a giant sandbox.)

Part of my “Embrace the suck, move the ‘heck’ forward” in the mess that was our summer running a CSA in the worst drought for 100 years, is my newfound knowledge of our wells. Mostly the ‘dug’ well near the barn foundation which provides the bulk of the water for irrigation.

The well was ‘dug’ by hand, in 1936. We know this because the builder put his name and date in the concrete and we know his son Ken, a former resident of this wonderful place, who is in his ‘80s ’90s now (see comment below from Ken’s son Lynn!).  The well is about 15 feet deep and how they managed to dig such a deep hole by hand, and then build forms and mix everything up by hand and add a foot of concrete all around boggles my mind.

When we arrived here almost 20 years ago the last vestiges of the shed that was built over the well had just fallen over. I used one of the walls as a cover for a few years, then built a better fitting one about 10 years ago (with scrounged wood of course). It was just spruce and softwood and had started to rot a lot, but like so many of the odd jobs around here I just kept telling myself, “I’ll fix it next year.” Human inertia is a powerful thing.

I use a 12V DC pump, which I just hook up to an 80 Watt 12V solar panel, to pump from this well. I used to move the panel around a frame I made, but it was cumbersome, so this year I built a tracker. I call it my “Coffee Can Solar Tracker”. I just put a cedar post in the ground, and bolted the solar panel to a coffee can that sits on top. It has worked marvellously all summer. Very low tech. No software has failed on it or had to be updated.

Version 2

Version 2

The pump is rated to only suck water from 8 feet below. This is fine early on during most summers, because the water level is high. But over most summers it gets pretty low and the pump basically loses prime constantly. This year with the drought this started happening earlier than ever before.

So I ripped the cover off the well. Then I built a frame, put the pump on the frame, and lowered the frame into the well. This way the pump is now closer to the water level so it doesn’t have to ‘pull’ the water as much. These pumps are great at pushing water once it has reached the pump, just not so good at pulling it up to the pump.

Version 2

It still loses prime sometimes and my trick to get it going is just take the intake pipe and ram it into the water a few times and off it goes. Once the pump was down the well though this technique wasn’t available. So I put an aluminum ladder down the well and so I have to regularly climb down the ladder to prime the pump.

I don’t think I’m claustrophobic, but there is something about being deep down in a well. I think it’s because of all those televised news events where a child falls down a well and has to be rescued.

As the water has gotten lower it’s allowed me to solve the great mystery of what is at the bottom of the well. There is some water-logged wood, and like all things immersed in water, they are pretty creepy. I, of course have been straining to see something shiny … something of a precious metal nature … because I’m pretty sure that’s where people used to put their valuables 80 years ago … down the well. Just makes sense, right?

Version 2

Since we moved here almost 20 years ago, I’ve wondered what was at the bottom of this well. Thanks to our awesome drought, I am now intimately knowledgeable on the well and all its workings. Just another reason the lack of rain has been so awesome. (Please note there is a lot of sarcasm in this blog).

Version 2

Version 2

Version 2

Thanks D. C. for your recent contribution to the TIP JAR. It is very much appreciated!

My Epiphany in the Pond

A few weeks ago Michelle posted the mid-season update that we sent to our CSA members. It was pretty bleak. We’ve been experiencing an historic drought.

First they said it was as bad as the one we had in 1959… the year I was born. Then they said it was the worst … like … ever … worse than the one in 1888…the year our house was built. It’s like, come on, is it really my fault? And who was measuring droughts in 1888?

We’d had basically no rain for 8 weeks here. Since that blog post we have had 5 mm (less than ¼”) one day, 24 mm (almost an inch) a few days later and then another 10 mm (less than ½”) last Sunday. All of Eastern Ontario is experiencing it although most places have had more rain than us. Everywhere you look as you drive around the corn crop is brown, the soybean fields have withered … and around here many trees are brown and dying, especially if they are growing in thin soil. Bleak bleak bleak.

I have been trying to put into practice my new mantra, which I learned from Tina Fey’s awesome movie “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” It’s a military expression … “Embrace the suck, move the ‘heck’ forward” (heck replaces that bad ‘f’ word you might use in combat that offends so many people).

It’s easy to have these mantras, but when you spend the day becoming more and more exhausted, watching your plants wither in the brutal heat, and become more and more parched because it doesn’t matter how much you water, you can’t replace a wonderful rainfall by Mother Nature … well, it’s easy to give in to the laziness of despair.

I have started to take some positives from it though. I knew this day was coming, this epic drought, and I meant to prepare better, but I didn’t. There is an inertia to human existence, and one tends not to be as proactive as one should be. It seemed as though during each previous drought, just as the wells were bottoming out, we got enough rain for me to say “Well, we dodged that bullet.”

So this time the first thing I did was borrow my neighbor’s gas-powered water pump. Then I started to learn about them and bought myself a Honda 2” pump, and Princess Auto 1” pump. Then it took 47 trips to 26 different retailers to get all the bits and pieces and hoses and fittings I needed to get them set up the way I wanted them.

I have the main 2” pump in a pond we call “The Hockey Pond,” because we are, well, Canadian, so it’s our natural tendency to refer to any body of water large enough to freeze as being related to hockey. It’s a long way from the house. It was created by beavers and their ingenuity continues to amaze me. It’s in a natural low spot surrounded by rocky hills. Just two dams and voilå … a great pond. It’s a pretty awesome spot. I try to remind myself of every time I make the trip there to run the pump.

thepond

 

When I was using Sandy’s pump I had put it a spot that looked like it had enough water, but with the ongoing drought the pond receded. So with my new pump I decided to get it to a spot where I hope to get a few more weeks out of it. Once I had the spot picked out and had dragged some beaver-felled logs over to it, I wanted to dig it out a bit to make a spot so I could put a big flat rock under the foot valve, and still have it covered in sufficient water.

So it basically meant being in the mud up to my knees while I dug with a shovel. I don’t own hip waders, so I took down an old pair of rubber boots that leak. I didn’t want to work in sandals because it would be hard to stomp on the shovel with them. Water leaks into the boots, and yes, creepy crawlies can get in but I figure it’s harder for the leeches and things to get to me this way. And so far, so good. The fact that it was brutally hot actually made it quite enjoyable.

When I was in high school in the 1970’s I belonged to an outdoor group called Intrepids and one day we were in groups hiking cross country to learn how to use a compass. We kept arriving ponds that weren’t on the map. By the end of the day we just waded through them up to our necks rather than walk around. This project takes me back to those great days.

I have a small posse of frogs that observe my every move.

lotsoffrogs

Correction, I have a huge posse of frogs watching. This pond is swarming with them. It is so absolutely fantastic to be in a place with so much life.

Plus, I have danger around every corner. With the drought, humans have more contact with wildlife … like bears…so I’m assuming sooner or later I’ll have to go swimming to avoid one. And of course, being a fan of movies, as I dig through the lily pads and mud I know it’s just a matter of time before some huge anaconda emerges and wraps itself around my legs, requiring a lot of struggling and hitting it with the shovel to escape. So many anacondas here.

My security backup of course is Jasper the Wonder Dog. Many people see him and think he could easily win “Best in Show”. This would require months of training and grooming. Sometimes I try and keep Jasper on the sidelines, but the few times I’ve been down there digging in the mud, I imagine that he says, “Forget that, I’m going for it!” at which points he immerses himself in the pond/swamp water and proceeds to spend the next half hour vigorously chasing frogs or anything else that moves. This would include bubbles he has made, hence his face being basically black here, because, with the drought, where he’s playing it’s just mud. Oh what fun he has.

Jaspercatchingfrogs

Jasperinthepond

I’m not good at reading pet emotions, but I can tell when Jasper frolics in ponds, he is joyful. I try and learn from him everyday. He’ll be a very smelly dog for many days to come, but really, who cares? It’s hot, and he’s having a blast. I’ll take him down to the lake in a few days to let him swim in fresh water. I will try and be more joyful like my dog.

So I’ll be trying out the new pump and the 124 different pipes and adapters tomorrow. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Here are a couple of photos of the woods I have to walk through to get to the hockey pond.

walktopond

walktopond2

I know, pretty tough eh? This is where I work. I wish we weren’t in this drought, but it’s forcing me to spend time in the magical woods that we’re surrounded by.

I’m not a big fan of that “A bad day at the golf course is better than a good day at the office” bumper sticker, but when I think of my life in suburbia, and look around where I spend my days right now, I realize how pathetic whining about the drought is. Because really, in the words of David Lee Roth …” This must be just like living in paradise…” and his next line is “…and I don’t want to go home…” But I AM home.

I am “moving the ‘heck’ forward”.  Now just a little rain more please.

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Thanks to NB for his recent generous donation. We appreciate not only your ongoing support but your friendship as well!

 

 

Stumping Around the Property

(A story from the early spring before CSA season began.)

Michelle and I are temporary caretakers of 150 acres and it is an amazing place. It is 140 acres of forest, 5 acres of ponds and about 5 cleared acres. I marvel at where I live. And I marvel even more at the farmers’ fields I see south of here as we drive to the city. They were once all forests like most of our property, and someone cleared them. And they weren’t cleared by bulldozers and backhoes. Nope, they were cleared by human sweat and horse power, the original horse power … horses. And probably oxen and anything else that a person could throw a bridle (or a yoke?) on to and get to pull.

As we’ve expanded the gardens for the CSA I have moved a few stumps. Last year I had a stump from a spruce tree that I had planted. The base of the tree was less than a foot wide, but the root was incredibly stubborn. I dug around it, and whacked it with an axe. What a great way to deal with anger issues by pounding roots with an axe.

One day I whacked it hard enough that I broke a blood vessel in my eye. It was terrifying to look at. I assumed I’d be dead by sundown. But it healed itself within a week.

And I learned a lesson from this. This is no way to remove a stump.

This past winter I cut down another spruce that was close enough to the house that it would have hit us if it fell in a big windstorm. And I’m getting more and more paranoid about climate-change-induced droughts and wild fires, so the less there is to burn near the house, the better.

My usual tactic is to leave a stump for a few years and then try and remove it. What I have discovered is that basically our stumps never rot. They have some magic sap or something that keeps them robust for decades.

So I started digging. And once I got enough of an area dug out, I chain-sawed the exposed part of the root. I used an old blade because every time you hit soil or sand it trashes the blade. And I dug, and I cut, and I tunneled under it, and finally I got it free.

stump1

 

stump2

This inspired me to tackle two more interconnected stumps in the garden that had been there for almost a decade, again, showing very little sign of ever rotting.  And I dug and cut, and dug, and tunneled and cut and finally I got them loose. They were brutes though so I planned to use a come-along to get them out, but I put a rope on the first one and hauled it out with the truck.

I cannot believe the embedded energy in gasoline. It’s quite unbelievable. When I tried to roll the stump when I got it close to where I wanted to leave it at the edge of the paddock, I could barely budge it. But the truck didn’t seem to flinch while dragging it. Or the second one either. What amazing times we live in that we have access to such power.

As I drive around this part of the world I look at the hay fields surrounded by piles of rock. First someone used their horses to cut down the trees and remove the stumps. Then they had to drag out thousands of tons of rock, by hand and back. The fields are relatively small when you think of the prairie vistas, but they really were carved out of the bush.

There is a new trend in the area and that is to remove the hedgerows to make the fields bigger. This allows bigger tractors and equipment like combines longer runs without having to turn around. It’s the natural flow of capitalism, but it’s not a good thing. These hedgerows are great wind breaks, which will become more and more important with extreme weather events. And they are home to an array of birds of animals. In our part of the world a very vocal group screams whenever someone tries to put up large wind turbines (because of the bird deaths) but no one seems to notice massive bird habitat being removed in the name of progress when all of the hedgerows are removed.

Every stump I remove gives me a huge respect for past generations that worked this land. I am in awe of what humans are capable of.

When we lived in the city I listened to an Australian band called “Midnight Oil” and they had lots of great angry young man protest songs. They had one called “Blue Sky Mine” lamenting how capitalism forces us to accept industrial progress, like mines. The song had a lyric “Nothing’s as precious, as a hole in the ground.”

I concur. Especially when the hole is what’s left after you’ve spent two days removing the stump that was there. I could stand and marvel at the hole in the ground for days. But it doesn’t take long for me to want to fill it back in, grab a few loads of soil to replace the volume that was taken up by the stump and get the rototiller through the area.

I believe they refer to politicking as ‘stumping’ or being out on the stump. I’ve done the political thing. I much prefer the real stumping.

Vote for Me!

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Thanks to Neil for a wonderful blog post about us! www.peacockforest.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/cam-mather-saved-my-back-and-lungs/ If you don’t follow Neil’s blog yet, be sure to sign up for updates!

Shorting the Whole System

I am amazed with the interest in the movie “The Big Short” among people I know. I was in fact amazed that someone thought the book was worth making into a movie. Clearly their hunch paid off because it seems to be doing quite well.

 

I loved the book. I had caught bits and pieces of the story of these traders since 2008 but Michael Lewis put it all together in a digestible form. It is brilliant.

If you’re not familiar with ‘shorting,’ it refers to the practice of betting against a stock or market, or perhaps betting that something will fall in value, as opposed to what most of us do when we buy stocks, which is to hope they go up. The traders in the movie were responsible for other people’s money and well in advance of the crash of 2008 they started to ‘short,’ or bet against the market.

In hindsight this sounds all pretty basic. Well, yea, obviously, why wouldn’t you bet against it … it was obvious it was going to correct in a big way. Well, it was to some people, but not the majority of people, including many of the people who had money invested in their funds, it was not. The years before the crash saw a huge run up in stock markets that looked like it was never going to end. So these traders took a lot of abuse from people who were watching other people make a whack of money in other funds. Or at least this is my recollection since I read the book years ago.

So they were pariahs for a long time, until they weren’t…at least to the people who stuck with them. Then they made a movie about them, after a book.

I was thinking about this concept in preparation for our upcoming workshop.  Many of the things I recommend would appear to go against conventional wisdom. Why would you heat that way, it’s not that convenient? Why would you bother doing that, isn’t that growing and storing food thing you do a whack of work?  Yup, I get it. It’s all a lot of work and a stupid idea … until it’s not. And then it’s going to look quite brilliant that you took these precautions.

I feel like with many of the things we do with a ‘preparation’ mindset, we are really missing the mainstream boat. We are ‘shorting’ the mainstream. A lot of this has to do with us realizing that the constant pursuit of money just leads to spending it, which isn’t the best thing generally for the planet. So from that perspective we feel good about it. From a prepping standpoint though I just think a lot of what we do makes a lot of sense.

I talk about this in my books and it’s the concept that nothing I recommend really has that big a downside. Investing in a solar hot water system is only going to save you money in the long run. Sure, it’s cheaper and easier to just keep using fossil fuels in the short run as you might right now, but having your own independent hot water system removes one more expense from your budget, which is a good thing, and reduces your impact on the planet (if you care), and makes you that much more resilient to a disruption in the extremely complex, capital intensive structure which delivers that fossil fuel to your home.

All the things we talk about are based on participation in the whole capitalist economic model. The types of food you purchase to put away and many of the things we recommend are based on being able to purchase these items now. We live in a time of extreme plenty. But ultimately, you are going to the effort to do these things in a bet that there may be some interruption to that big complex machine that could be fairly disruptive to your well being. You’re shorting the system.

The great thing about my direction … let’s call it ‘the little short’… is that you probably won’t have people yelling at you to change your course and keep on the whole “make money/buy stuff/have to keep working to buy more stuff’ treadmill. Most people would like to remove themselves from that economic model if they could, I just show you some techniques to speed up the process. And to be more resilient should things go a little sideways.

We’ve changed the date of our spring workshop to Saturday, March 23rd. Be sure to register as soon as possible so that we can reserve a spot for you. Come and learn how to short the whole big picture thing!

LINK for information and to register for the workshop here

 

The Great Canadian Universal Healthcare Parking Fee Crisis

Recently one of our American readers (hi S.C.!) asked us to write about our Canadian universal healthcare system. It has sort of been in our news of late so I thought I would use the request to answer her questions and rant about our system.

We have a universal healthcare system whereby every Canadian citizen is covered and no one pays anything personally. It was created in the mid 1960’s after a long and arduous battle between those for it and those against it. It’s just a brilliant concept where, like any insurance program, you spread risk. Everyone contributes and you hope that it’s not your house that burns down (or you who gets sick) but if you do, you are covered. It is funded from general government revenues like income tax.

I remember when I first began working (many long years ago) I paid an OHIP Premium. The OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Program) managed healthcare in my province and it was partially funded by the federal government, partially by the province and individuals contributed a small amount. It was mostly symbolic but eventually some government decided to appeal to voters by eliminating that minimal payment.

I am a huge believer in and supporter of our universal healthcare system, but not having people contribute to it or be aware of the cost of it, is just an inane concept. What it boils to is this; the costliest system that Canadians encounter on a regular basis, IS FREE and so for many people it has no value associated with it. Having a charge affixed to something equates to value for most people.

Healthcare is starting to use up an increasingly large part of our government’s resources. In Ontario it uses 40% of the budget and we spend $50 billion a year on healthcare for a population of 13 million. The percentage of the spending government devotes to healthcare grows each year. The federal government a decade ago signed a health accord and agreed to increase funding to the provinces by 7% each year, for the last decade. Now think about it. Has the economy been growing by 7%? Has your saving’s account been paying you 7% interest? Of course not. I believe the doubling time for a 7% increase is about a decade. So basically Canadians are spending double on healthcare what we spent a decade ago. Really? How do you think that’s going to work out?

Most Canadians have never seen a bill for healthcare or for their share of the cost of the system. If the system wasn’t already so overburdened with bureaucracy, I think that every time you leave the doctor’s office or hospital you should be presented with a statement that itemizes the cost for the treatment you received.

When I ran in the last provincial election as the Green Party candidate, there were several All Candidates Meetings where (mostly) older citizens expressed concern that they couldn’t afford the parking fees at hospitals, which have been rising quickly since it’s one of the few ways that hospitals can generate revenue. This topic is now regularly covered in the media, this crisis of healthcare parking. I can only shake my head. Our system has doubled how much money it requires in about a decade, and we think parking is a problem? TVO’s “The Agenda’ just did a show on healthcare where they demonstrated that 1 percent of the population uses 33% of the healthcare budget, and the next 4% uses a third … so essentially 5 percent of our population uses 2/3 of the healthcare budget.

http://tvo.org/video/programs/the-agenda-with-steve-paikin/high-care-high-cost-patients

(Just watch the first 2 minutes of this video.)

Half of the population uses only 2% of the healthcare spending. I am unbelievably grateful to be in that 2%. I am also incredibly grateful that the system has been there when members of my family have moved into the upper healthcare consumption percentage.

As our population gets older they use a much higher percentage of the healthcare system.

I know what you’re saying, “So Cam, you are being very negative about the whole enterprise and you’re not offering solutions.” That is correct. In Canada if you say we need to start charging people to use the system it’s anathema (the absolute worst thing you can suggest) to hardcore universal healthcare supporters. Somehow we have to convince Canadians that our healthcare system is a huge privilege, it’s not a right or a given. We have to start using it only when we actually need it. And we have to start being honest about the system. It’s not sustainable and no one will talk about it.

The deductible for my household insurance keeps going up and my agent keeps reminding me that insurance is for a catastrophic event. I believe that Canadians need to stop going to the doctor to get their blood pressure checked when they can buy their own machine for $50 and do it themselves. They need to stay out of the emergency ward when they have a cold.

Any politician who suggests we have to start being honest about the tsunami of a healthcare crisis that is coming will not be elected and this is proof to me of the deficiencies of democracy. When you’re honest with the electorate you don’t win. We aren’t even talking about rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, and it seems to me that would be a good starting point.

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Our Visit to Ireland

If you are a regular reader of this blog you probably know that Michelle and I don’t fly so maybe the title of today’s post made you wonder, “How did Cam and Michelle get to Ireland?” And no it wasn’t a virtual tour; it was more a case of Ireland coming to us.

Immigrants from Ireland, many after the great potato famine, settled our closest village of Tamworth, and the nearby Erinsville. There is a wonderful group in Tamworth (http://srayner.ca/comhaltas/M_Language.htm) who regularly organizes Irish cultural events including a whole week during the summer when people come from across North America to learn Gaelic and soak up Irish culture.

Our community is always invited to participate and this year there was a concert held in the local Legion hall with the band “Four Winds” and they did indeed come from Ireland! (https://www.facebook.com/fourwinds.tradmusic?fref=ts)

The date of the concert was bad timing for us because Michelle was just coming back from Toronto after visiting with our new grandson and since it was a Wednesday night, I was busy weighing and bagging green and yellow beans. Yes, it’s quite a glamorous life here at Sunflower Farm during the summer! Thursday is CSA delivery day so on Wednesday I pick beans in the brutal sun and heat, and then pack them and put them in our cool root cellar. And yes, I’d love to pick them the same day, but with all of the other vegetables we pick fresh on Thursdays, it just wouldn’t work. And when I look at green and yellow beans in the stores that come from Mexico, I’m pretty sure beans picked 24 hours previously are a great deal fresher than the competition.

The organizer of the concert was looking for accommodations for the band members. He asked if they might stay in our guesthouse and since they were arriving late (after the concert) and leaving early the next morning, it wasn’t a problem. I got back from picking Michelle up from the train station just after 7 pm and had the beans packed and the kitchen cleaned up by 10 pm and the band arrived just after 11.

And what a delight they were. I love Irish accents, and am drawn to Irish movies because of them but to spend time with real authentic Irish people is, well, ‘brilliant!’ I say brilliant because it’s a word the band used often and their enthusiasm was truly contagious.

There had been a full house in town for their concert and Tamworth crowds are very enthusiastic, so when the band arrived they were, as one would expect with musicians after a concert, ‘pumped.’ They came into the house and just couldn’t get over how ‘brilliant’ it is that we are off the grid and how remarkably ‘brilliant’ they thought Sunflower Farm was (even though it was pitch black on their arrival) and it just went on and on. I could have stayed up all night listening to those accents if I didn’t have to be up by 6 am to start picking lettuce.

After they headed out to the guesthouse I fell asleep to the sound of the most enthusiastic laughter from the guesthouse. Clearly our houseguests were enjoying their stay in Canada so far.

In the morning Michelle helped with picking and packing the CSA boxes until 9 or so when the band members started getting up and coming into the house. Michelle served them some coffee as they took turns showering. (They were heading somewhere else for breakfast.) I came and went as often as I could since I appeared to be on top of the CSA box organization. And it was truly a joy to sit and learn about Ireland and Irish culture. I asked lots of questions based on my misinterpretation of their country and learned so much. And they continually reminded us how ‘brilliant’ they thought our place was, even more so in the daylight. I have now incorporated brilliant into my every day vocabulary. I have also perfected (or enhanced) my Irish accent, which I spoke to myself for two days before their arrival. I believe I only attempted to use it once that morning and they didn’t seem to take offence, which was good since it was used in with the greatest respect for their culture and the history of my community.

I must also say they were some of the most gracious guests we have ever had. Each of them thanked us many times for our hospitality, which, since I kept tromping in with mud covered work boots, was most reassuring.

We gave them all copies of our book, “Little House Off the Grid” and I don’t think I need to elaborate on their choice of words to describe it. And they happily returned the favor with the most detailed verbiage from each member of the band signed onto their CD. It’s a good thing CDs haven’t shrunk in size, or they would have been hard-pressed to fit it all in!

Four Wind signed CD

Before they left we did our ubiquitous photo in the front of the solar panels, which was their request. After living with solar power for 18 years I assume everyone is ‘over’ solar panels, so it’s always joyful to meet new people enthused about their brilliance. It is a very cool way to live and I never tire of people reminding me of how great they think it is. I need a reminder of this to sustain me during the dark months of November and December that approach on the horizon.

Four Winds Sunflower Farm

We have had many people visit Sunflower Farm, now from all over the world! Each time someone comes from a faraway place I’m always worried about how well we’ll get along. And each time I am amazed about the similarities of people and how much I enjoy their company. Each time they leave I feel I’ve made new friends and miss them. I hate to travel because I hate to leave this place, and I’m always so pleased when someone from faraway can bring his or her world to me for a while.

Four Winds CD Cover

Michelle and I have been enjoying the “Four Winds” CD immensely. We discovered Celtic music a few decades ago when we toured the East Coast of Canada and Cape Breton Island in particular which has nurtured it’s Celtic culture so well. And now, any time we want to we can fire up the CD and spend some time in Ireland. “I’ve got to tell ya, it’s brilliant!” (Said in my awesome new authentic Canadian attempt at an Irish accent)

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Spaces for the October 24th workshop here at Sunflower Farm are filling up. If you are planning to attend, please be sure to let us know.  Visit http://cammather.com/off-grid-retreat/upcoming-workshops-at-sunflower-farm for more details and to register!

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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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