My Three Roommates: Cold

Note: If you’re enjoying reading about my Camp Life, I would like to suggest you check out my friend Spence’s blog, Rediscover the Wild in Wilderness. He’s also living in a wall tent (see, I’m not the only crazy one!) though he’s doing it up in Thunder Bay!

I was joking with a classmate the other day about my three roommates. Their names are Cold, Dark, and Loneliness.

Though I was joking at the time, I also must admit that these three have very much shaped how my life has been the past month. It seems that I am constantly doing battle with at least one of them, and am frequently struggling with all three at the same time.

I would be lying if I said it was easy or if I always enjoyed it. The fact is, this tent living is difficult. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t exactly realize just how hard it would be. How much work and frankly, how demoralizing it would be at times. Over the course of February, I hope to discuss all three and the affect that they’re having on me. Tonight, I will talk about the most troublesome roommate: Cold.

Those of you who are reading this will probably agree that this winter, thus far, has been one of the coldest winters in recent memory. Wherever you are, most likely, you have had to deal with the cold in some form or another. Perhaps you were caught in the ice storm that wreaked havoc all through the GTA over the Christmas Holidays. Perhaps you are one of the individuals who are attempting to heat your house via propane, and are now enduring a sudden shortage of this valuable fuel. Or perhaps you are simply walking from your house to your car every day. Regardless, you are experiencing the cold.

Living in a tent, the cold is an omnipresent presence. When I am in the tent, I know that the cold is nearby. Canvas walls do little to provide insulation, and I have become used to everything being in a perpetual frozen state. Shampoo. Peanut butter. Cooking oil. Beer (IS THERE NO JUSTICE!). Last night (Tuesday, February 11), even my mattress started off the evening hard as a rock due to  the -25 degree temperature. Needless to say, heating the tent is a constant source of anxiety and work for me.

Though I haven’t really done the calculations, I estimate that, over the course of the year, wood, and the processes of ordering, transporting, stacking, splitting and lighting it, have taken me an average of an hour’s work a day, and that’s ignoring all the problems that I’ve encountered (I’ll get to them soon). Think about that, an hour a day spent merely getting yourself warm. Then realize that without this warmth, you won’t be able to cook, have water (it’s all frozen) or do much of anything else. Try concentrating on any task, whether that be reading, talking on the phone or working on schoolwork, when all you can think about is how cold you are.

Of course, no tent living experience would be complete without near-constant problems arising. Uncured firewood (despite the seller’s promises); massive creosote buildup in the chimney; smoke filled lungs and eyes; accidently shearing the chimney elbows in half while cleaning it out; broken axe handle… I have learned and experienced quite a bit in the last month. There have been a few mornings where, rather than dealing with a fire, I just fled to the car as quickly as possible, and even one or two nights where I just curled up in my blankets and fell asleep in a very cold room.

That being said, there have been blessings as well. For example, I found a stash of beautifully dry old softwood in the field where I’m staying. It burns quick and hot, which is enough for me to get a fire going and throw some smaller pieces of damp wood on top. My girlfriend’s uncle donated a propane heater to the cause which provides a nice (usually quick) boost of heat, and when working in conjunction with the stove, can actually make it too hot (blessing of blessings! joy of joys!) inside the tent regardless of the outside temperature. And finally, there is my bed. With my mattress off the floor, a number of sleeping bags and blankets, and some lovely fleece sheets given by my wonderful girlfriend (perhaps in preparation for her March visit), I have yet to spend a cold, sleepless night. In fact, most evenings, even in -25, I wake up sweating due to being too warm.

Ironically, the few nights that I have slept inside (three nights during the Guelph Organic Conference and one night while visiting some friends in Peterborough last weekend), have, by far, been my worst nights of sleep. I have become not only used to sleeping in a cold room… I have become adverse to sleeping in anything else.

But still, last night (Tuesday, February 11), as I was struggling to get a fire going in a very cold stove, I couldn’t help but think how nice it will be when the temperature decides to go above the freezing point. I understand, now more than ever, the beautiful promise of springtime.

Sincerely,

Adam

P.S. I didn’t announce it, but February 7 marked my one-month stay in the tent. At that point, I had spent a total of 28 nights in the tent. To celebrate, I partied in Peterborough. I will hopefully be more on top of my anniversaries… maybe you can come and party with me the next time?

Ed. Last Saturday, Brian and I (and Brian’s friend Steve) each picked up one more bushcord of mixed wood from an Amish neighbour who advertised it in the paper on Thursday. While it was more expensive than my last load by $75, it is wonderfully, beautifully dry and lights up almost immediately. This is well worth the extra $75 to me. Also, for full disclosure, it got up to PLUS 4 degrees today, which is pretty much summer to me at this point (I was doing chores in a t-shirt). This new weather kind of makes me feel whiny for writing this post… but I also do not believe that we have seen the last of the cold this year.

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WB: The Seeds

By this time of year, farmers have already planned the perfect 2014 garden. In their minds eye, there are no plant diseases, no insect pests, no deer and the weather is always perfect. It’s a chance for them to spend a season in hopeful bliss, before the reality of the first frost-free day arrives. By now, many farmers already have their seeds ready, organized dutifully in shoeboxes, and are ready to go into the ground, or the soil in the sprouting room, very soon. This poem is found in Berry’s book “Farming: A Handbook.”

The Seeds

The seeds begin abstract as their species,
remote as the name on the sack
they are carried home in: Fayette Seed Company
Corner of Vine and Rose. But the sower
going forth to so sets foot
into time to come, the seeds falling
on his own place. He has prepared a way
for his life to come to him, if it will.
Like a tree, he has given roots
to the earth, and stands free.

On Shit

Note: If you’re enjoying reading about my Camp Life, I would like to suggest you check out my friend Spence’s blog, Rediscover the Wild in Wilderness. He’s also living in a wall tent (see, I’m not the only crazy one!) though he’s doing it up in Thunder Bay!

ed. I actually originally wrote this post a couple of Saturdays ago. It’s fairly normal for me to wait a few days between the writing and publishing of a post, to allow me a few read-throughs and edits before I publish it, though waiting over two weeks is strange. The reason I waited so long is because, through this specific post I use the word shit a lot. I’m aware that this word has a very visceral sound to it, and it can create a very strong reaction against it. I tried using other words, but none of them really fit. I suppose the reason that I prefer the word shit is because our reaction to the word is similar to our reaction of what the word represents. And that’s exactly the issue that I’m attempting to discuss here. That being said, if you dislike the term, I certainly would not be disappointed if you skipped over this post.

Shit is Old English. The word that is. Shit itself is probably much older. The word is Germanic in origin. Most of our cuss words in English are Germanic in origin. I was wondering about that. Turns out, when the Normans invaded what would become known as England, the Anglo-Saxon peoples that were living there at the time became a subjugated people. Anglo-Saxons of course, were Germanic. Their language became the language of the streets, the language of the uneducated peoples. Not like the Norman language, which was the language of the upper class, ruling elite. Thus, modern day English became a mix of French and German, with the lower class words becoming our cuss words. Technically, by cussing, you are celebrating the language of an oppressed people.

I was thinking these thoughts on Saturday (ed. January 18th) as I was mucking out horse and cattle stalls at a nearby farm. One of the advantages of living on a farm, one of the many advantages of living on a farm, is that the farmers know other farmers, farmers who always have a job to do for somebody with a strong back and a set of work clothes. On Saturday, I worked on the farm of Garry Lean (pronounced Lane). He’s an organic farm inspector and a trainer of other organic farm inspectors. Interestingly, I also met him several years ago in Thunder Bay when he was leading an organic certification seminar.

Mucking stalls is hard work. It leaves you tired and sore, and is an incredible work out. But that’s why I love it. I love cleaning shit up.

I first cleaned shit with Roots to Harvest. This is an amazing program that I was so incredible thankful to work with for the summers of 2011 and 2012. I’m not going to go into many details here, but at its most basic (and, in all honesty, too basic) form, it’s a program that gets teenagers to garden and farm. Throughout the summer, these youth get to work at many farms in the Thunder Bay area, and almost without fail, one of the key jobs is cleaning up shit.

Horse shit.

Cow shit.

Sheep shit.

Duck shit.

Rabbit shit.

Chicken shit.

Its funny to see youth come to terms with this. Often times, when first beginning the summer, the idea of cleaning shit is anathema to them. Their reaction makes sense. We don’t really care for our shit nowadays. We have elaborate systems to deal with it, systems which magically take our own shit and send it elsewhere. On a farm, at least on a small-scale one, there is no elaborate system. On a small-scale farm, the usual system is a pitchfork, a wheelbarrow and the aforementioned strong back.

As the youth are digging out the shit though, something happens. Suddenly, it becomes fun. I’m not exactly sure why that is. The work is hard, the days are usually hot and oftentimes, especially with the powerful ammonia pockets that often form in compacted sawdust, the lungs and eyes are burning. Normally, this is not a situation that leads to fun. My best guess is that there’s something almost liberating about being able to play with shit. Its a chance to actually get paid to break one of society’s biggest taboos.

On a small-scale farm like Garry’s though, shit forms another purpose. Shit is amazing compost. There are so many chemical and biological processes going on in it, it adds beautiful health to any soil. Its may be the biggest reason to have animals around a farm. I’ve heard of herds of cattle being used in areas that are suffering from desertification simply because their shit brings valuable moisture and microbiological life to it. Shit is actually restoring land!

After I cleaned out all the stalls, I went home to my tent. I don’t think I’ve described my toilet facilities, but I use a sawdust toilet. Basically, I shit in a bucket and cover it with a layer of sawdust that masks the odour while also helping with the composting process. When the bucket is full, I bring it up to the compost pit in the barnyard and empty it out. In a couple of years, that shit becomes beautiful soil!

In 1907, F. H. King toured farms in China, Japan and Korea. He described his findings in the book, “Farmers of Forty Centuries.” Apparently, farmers there had farmed the same land for 4000 years, and the soil was still incredibly productive. To put this in perspective, the United States has lost one third of its topsoil since it was settled. To be fair, China is, lately, also doing really bad in the soil building process. What was one of China’s big secrets that F.H. King had discovered?

Apparently, the Chinese knew about how amazing shit was! In fact, it was considered a gift to take a shit when you visited somebody else’s house! You were giving them the gift of fertile soil. Brilliant!

Harry Stoddart, author of “Real Dirt: An Ex-Industrial Farmer’s Guide to Sustainable Eating” and, more importantly, one of my instructors, describes peak phosphorus. I’ll let you read the book to find out more, but essentially, his argument is that we, as humans, are running out of phosphorus to put on fields, phosphorus which must be mined and transported thousands of miles from mine to farm. Meanwhile, we are each shitting out phosphorus into our elaborate systems where it ends up being “disposed” of.

Gene Logsdon, author of “Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind,” argues for another huge source of shit! In America, there are 73 million cats and 68 million dogs… which every year create a total of 190,000,000 tonnes of shit. Think of all that amazing fertility that is being thrown away every single day.

My point is that we as a society, really need to start dealing with out shit. We are getting to the point where we really can’t keep on trying to get it to disappear. We can’t afford to keep flushing it away and hoping that somebody else will deal with it. Shit is one of the best sources of fertility that we have, and considering the state of our topsoil, we need every extra bit of fertility that we can get. We need to get out shit together. Because if we don’t, we may be in deep shit.

Sincerely,

Adam

WB: Window Poems: 13

Note: If you’re enjoying reading about my Camp Life, I would like to suggest you check out my friend Spence’s blog, Rediscover the Wild in Wilderness. He’s also living in a wall tent (see, I’m not the only crazy one!) though he’s doing it up in Thunder Bay!

The following poem comes from a book called Window Poems. It consists of a number of poems that Mr. Berry wrote in “The Camp,” a cabin on the Kentucky River. Berry had known this cabin for a long time, had grown up using it, and when he first married his wife Tanya, they returned there. The Camp was primitive, kerosene lanterns, butane stoves and an outhouse without a door (the door after all would ruin the view). Obviously, there is much about this lifestyle that I admire. The poems contained in this book were written as Berry looked out the window of The Camp at the river.

13.
Sometimes he thinks the earth
might be better without humans.
He’s ashamed of that.
It worries him,
him being a human, and needing
to think well of others
in order to think well of himself.
And there are
a few he thinks well of,
a few he loves
as well as himself almost,
and he would like to say
better. But history
is so largely unforgiveable.
And not his mighty government
wants to help everybody
even if it has to kill them
to do it–like the fellow in the story
who helped his neighbor to Heaven:
‘I heard the Lord calling him,
Judge, and I sent him on.’
According to the government
everybody is just waiting
to be given a chance
to be like us. He can’t
go along with that.
Here is a thing, flesh of his flesh,
that he hates. He would like
a little assurance
that no one will destroy the world
for some good cause.
Until he dies, he would like his life
to pertain to the earth.
But there is something in him
that will wait, even
while he protests,
for things turn out as they will.
Out of his window this morning
he saw nine ducks in filght,
and a hawk dive at his mate
in delight.
The day stands apart
from the calendar. There is a will
that receives it as enough.
He is given a fragment of time
in this fragment of the world.
He likes it pretty well.