Staying Warm

image

Up until last night, I was sleeping on a mattress on the ground. While this worked, and while the mattress was thick enough to provide me with enough insulation, there was always a big draught along the first foot or so above the floor.

Last night, I finally purchased some lumber and constructed my bed “platform.” I use the term platform rather than frame because quite simply, this is more than a frame. It is a solid two feet above the floor, not counting the mattress. This allows me to stay above the draught, but also to easily store Rubbermaid containers underneath of it. Last night I was lying in bed, and even though the wind howled fiercely (even worse than here, but this time, no harpoon came through the tent!) I was untouched by it!

Advertisements

WB: To Know the Dark

Frequently, I find myself returning to the tent at dark. This will likely change as we gain more daylight, but for now, I am usually traveling the last kilometre or so by foot with only the moon to guide me. I came across this poem recently which encouraged me to continue to refrain from using a headlamp on my evening walks.

To Know the Dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

– Wendell Berry, New Collected Poems

Open for Visits

I have yet to figure out the correct way to tell new acquaintances that I am living in a tent. I don’t blurt it out, though if it comes up naturally, I won’t go out of my way to hide it. It’s a strange subject to broach. I know that upon stating that I am currently living in a tent, that this will become the conversation. I suppose that this is to be expected. Very few people know somebody who has done it, at least as a long-term living option,  and it is certainly a new conversation for them to have. I don’t dislike this conversation actually, it is simply that I enjoy having a full range of conversations.

Furthermore, upon revealing that I am living in a tent, I become known as “The Tent Guy.” My entire identity is quickly condensed into that one simple aspect. I am Tent Guy. I suppose that this is preferable to being known as “That Guy Who Messed His Pants” or “That Guy Who Talks to Himself” or “That Guy…. you know… That Guy.” But still I am hesitant to become a single definition too early on in the conversation.

The last issue for me is that I do not know exactly how people will react when finding out that I am intentionally living in a tent. In my experience, there are three distinct reactions that people have.

The first is that people think I am a complete idiot. Usually the response is a dropped jaw and a penetrating look of disgust. Living in a tent is not only so far from their own experiences, it is actually beyond what they consider to be in the realm of allowable experiences. They cannot remotely fathom the idea of somebody doing this. There are some days I certainly agree with them.

The second reaction is that people think I am a badass (it should be noted that I use this term in a positive way). This is an interesting reaction because it has both positive and negative ramifications for me. On the positive side, I earn a lot of respect immediately. This builds immense social capital, making all future social interactions much smoother. The negative side of this reaction however, is that I now have a level of badassery to live up to. If I were Apartment Guy, nothing would be expected of me. I could live a completely normal life and that would be okay. Tent Guy however, has to wrestle packs of coyotes, quote Thoreau and eat cattails.

The final reaction is possibly my favourite. “You’re crazy.” It’s usually said or thought with a slight smile and perhaps a small shake of their head as they come to grips with what I said. My favourite part however comes next, in the pregnant pause that arrives just after they pronounce their honest (and at least partially correct) judgement. It comes when I see them look off, losing eye contact with me as their mind turns inward. Because a part of them, maybe a tiny part but a part nonetheless, wants to be able to do this. Maybe not quite this exact experience, but something similar. They, like so many of us, are living good, honest lives that, we are afraid to admit, are perhaps a little bit boring. They like the idea of living “simply,” of being out in it all, of having just a little bit of adventure.

At that point, I am quick to invite them over, perhaps for dinner, perhaps to help stack wood, or perhaps just to see the place. Almost always, I receive an enthusiastic reply. So far, I have had three people over to visit, not including my amazing build crew to whom I am still completely overwhelmed with thanks for. All of my guests have left hoping to come back, and maybe even bring other friends with them.

I love being Tent Guy. I love being able to share with new friends and old this amazing experience, whether it is via this blog, or, better still, through visits in real life, preferably with a nice tent-cooked meal and a bottle of wine. I hope that as the year progresses, I will continue to share this place with many more friends, helping each one of them to grow in their own badassery.

Sincerely,

Tent Guy

WB: Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

The following poem is perhaps the best known of Wendell Berry’s poems. The Mad Farmer character appears throughout Berry’s poems. He has his own voice and way of doing things that I appreciate. I’m sharing this poem because today, in the Russet House Farmhouse, there’s an autographed copy of it hanging on the wall. Mr. Berry autographed it in pencil, meaning that, with time, it will fade.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

A Glorious Learning Opportunity #2

I am tempted, by my own desire to appear impressive, to focus only on the good parts of tent living. Of eating a glorious steak that I once knew when it was still only a bull calf while sitting around a crackling stove listening to an  owl hooting outside.

The reality is that the positive moments have occurred and they far outnumber the negatives. The problem is that the negative moments can be pretty big. When one is living in the tent, something that, in a house would be a mild annoyance at best, can actually be quite destructive and even potentially deadly.

I will now relate one such story… though I should start by saying that you shouldn’t worry too much… I didn’t actually die in it.

As you will know (since I am sure you have poured over every one of my entries and marveled at my photographs), I finished building the tent last Saturday. You will also remember that we guyed out the tent with t-posts.

Guying out the tent is crucial. The tent is a gigantic piece of canvas, which could, in certain situations, be easily confused for a sail. The guying out process helps to ensure that the tent stays in place (more or less), which is, at least from my limited perspective, preferable to letting it cartwheel across frozen fields in the middle of a January night. The thing is, that t-stakes are fairly expensive, almost $10 each, and, I am in the mind to save money as much as possible. My original plan had eight t-stakes, one in each corner, and one in the middle of each side. When looking at my site, I realized that I had a beautifully thick forest on both my Northern and Western sides, which would act as a great windbreak for the most powerful and coldest blasts of winter air. With this in mind, I decided forego extraneous stakes and only put one in each corner, believing that that would be sufficient.

On Sunday, Adar and I returned to the tent and I lay a heavy tarpaulin over the tent, once again tying it only to the four t-stakes. The tarpaulin, it should be noted, can also, in certain situations, be easily confused for a sail.

On Tuesday afternoon, my first day actually living in the tent, the wind was furiously buffeting the South-Western side of my tent, eagerly finding the gap between the tent and the tarpaulin, causing the tarpaulin to rise and fall, crackling with each gust. I should really have been paying more attention. I began to unpack my things, beginning the long process of organizing a tent and making it generally livable. The wind continued to hit. The tarpaulin was flapping more than I would have liked it to. I really should have been paying more attention.

When wind blows against a house, it is easy to push it out of mind. You may hear a rattling burst of it as it hits the windows or finds a crack underneath a particular draughty door. Perhaps, as you open the front door, the wind will rip it from your hand swinging it wider than you feel comfortable and testing the hinges in a way they were never meant to be tested. Or perhaps it will slam said door behind you, hitting you forcefully on the backside or slamming closed in a perfect mimic of a preteen tantrum.

When wind blows against a tent, you know it is happening. You hear the snap of the tarpaulin against the canvas above you, you feel the canvas walls shaking, perhaps you even see a little puff of smoke shoot out of the air intake on the front of your stove as the flue backdrafts. And you can tell when a particular gust is just a little bit more powerful than the ones before. But, perhaps, you have never really lived in a tent that, let the reader remember, can,  in certain situations, be easily confused for a sail. Perhaps you are used to living in a house, in which a wind storm the likes of this will, at most, make you reconsider going to the mailbox. So you do as you have learned to do and you push it out of mind. I really should have been paying more attention.

When the wind hits, especially a magnificent burst that whole-heartedly outpowers every gust that you have, as of yet, experienced, when it hits after all the previous gusts have caused the tarpaulin to strain the t-posts that they are attached to, gusts that, individually are too weak to loose the post, but collectively can cause enough structural weakness in the soil around the t-post… you can see it. You can see that suddenly, the roof above you is letting in more light than you are used to. You see, not clearly but through the canvas, that it appears, as if, in the North-East corner of the tent, there may not actually be a tarpaulin there anymore. You see this enough to be confused by the sudden change in your environment. But you do not see it enough, at least in the time that you were given to see it, the time that lasts perhaps the half second that a burst of wind takes to blow, to understand what this means.

You do not see the t-stake, still attached to the tarp but now free of its earthly confines, as it launches itself heavenward in a fit of ecstatic passion, thinking perhaps, at least as much as t-stakes are able to think, that perhaps this is what an angel feels like. You do not see the t-stake reaching the maximum height of its trajectory, soaring beautifully through the air, before succumbing to the omnipresent force of gravity coupled with the its still attached earthly tethers and plummeting down from its celestial voyage like a wrought-iron Icarus.

Now picture the final battle of Moby Dick, as Ahab harpoons the great white whale. But picture it from the perspective of  Jonah, who admittedly was not in that particular whale but who, in my retelling of it, was. Unlike Jonah however, you are not repenting of your disobedience to God. You are doing the much more mundane task of organizing your underwear drawer while wondering why exactly it is so suddenly bright in the North-East corner.

And then the harpoon comes through the roof.

There are a lot of things that go through the mind when something completely unexpected happens. It’s always amusing, in hindsight at least, to review the mind attempting to come to grips. Why is there a hole in my roof? Why is there a long piece of metal coming through my roof? Why is the t-stake no longer where we had both seemingly agreed that it should be?

There is the sudden realization that the tarp is now flapping wildly in the breeze, perhaps getting dangerously close to the scalding hot stove pipe.

And then there is the realization that, had I not been organizing my underwear drawer, but instead, had I been organizing my pantry in the North-East corner of the tent, the story of my year in a tent would have had an unexpected twist that not even Shyamalan could have predicted.

After cussing in a way that would perhaps have made Jonah’s sailor friends blush, I ran out, armed with a roll of sisal twine that I had purchased the day before and tied down the flapping Southern edge of the tarpaulin to the grommets in the tent side. I ran up to the barn at Russet House, grabbing the t-post driver and ran back to the tent, hammering the errant t-post back into its home.

The wreckage is fairly big. Three holes are in the tent. Two of them are minor, but the third is over a foot long from tip to tail. Other than a perfect circle where it had melted after connecting with the stove pipe, the tarpaulin was unharmed and covers the holes enough that, temporarily at least, they have not given me too much grief. I will sew them up soon.

The following day, I purchased four more t-posts, hammering them in thoroughly and connecting them with twine to keep the tarpaulin as taut as possible, hopefully preventing future gusts of wind from effectively weakening any one post enough to repeat this episode.

That evening, the evening where I almost met my untimely demise in a way that would have made Meliville proud, I cooked a glorious steak that I once knew when it was still only a bull calf, sat down around a crackling stove and listened to an owl hooting outside.

Living in a tent is a beautiful experience. But, like anything new, there is a lot to learn and many trials to overcome. Like my instructor Gavin Dandy of Everdale said in his first class though, you learn five times more from a mistake than from a success.

Here’s to a year of learning.

Sincerely,

Adam