My Three Roommates: Dark

As mentioned in my previous post in this series, I have three roommates who are far from welcome, Cold, Dark, and Lonliness. Last time, I discussed Cold, today, I would like to introduce you to Dark.

We, as humans, tend to try and avoid darkness. It is, most likely, an evolutionary behaviour since our eyes are terrible at seeing in the dark. We prefer daylight. It allows us to avoid unpleasant surprises that may result in death or injury, whether that is a sabre-toothed wolf hunting our early brethren, or simply a hole in the path that we fail to see while dragging a load of wood in a toboggan to our camp… something that has personally happened to me many times. All in all, our preference for light is fairly understandable.

We surround ourselves with light, as much as we can. From a simple campfire or handheld torch, to gas lamps and through to modern electrical light bulbs, we try out very best to overcome the darkness. It is not rare to drive through either a city or a rural area at night, and see a building fully lit, every window beaming the soft yellow glow of electricity, whether somebody is there or not. While I believe this is a massive waste of electricity and a prime example of human folly, I also understand it. We are afraid of the dark.

In our modern cities, light pollution has effectively cut us off from the stars above. Entire generations of children have never seen the night sky, have never learned the constellations, have never celebrated under a full moon, or been awed by shooting stars or the northern lights.

Living in a tent, I do not have to worry too much about light pollution. Russet House is far enough away that even if they were to turn on every light, a fact that is unlikely as they are very frugal about their power usage, it would not impact me in the slightest. Walking to my tent at night, I can see one neighbour’s halogen security light shining through the trees, and I am also aware of a glow in the sky to my south from what I presume to be another neighbour not too far from me. All in all, I am free to enjoy the stars throughout the evening.

And I do enjoy the night. I do enjoy darkness. I have yet to light my pathway going to my camp, even though it has caused me to stumble a few times as mentioned above. As Wendell Berry says, “To know the dark, go dark.” Darkness provides the world with another layer, another way of seeing and experiencing. Trees, snow, buildings, tents, everything is subtly different when lit by a thin crescent moon on a hazy night. And there are few things more wonderful than standing in the middle of an open snowy field, lit by the Full Snow Moon of February, and simply marveling.

But I must also be honest, at times, the Dark makes tent living especially difficult. When one lives in a tent, the Dark disallows much work to be done, even though the body and mind are still fit for doing it. It is difficult to read, to write, or to even see inside the tent. It is unsafe to do much axe-work, though I will admit, I have chopped more than my safe share of firewood by headlamp (I had a rule prior to this year to never cut wood after the sun has gone down. This is a personal rule I am very ashamed to have broken many times in the past two months).

As well, there are times where the Dark can be oppressive. It, like its brethren Cold, is always there in a tent. No matter how much light I have around me, Dark is always there, biding its time until its temporary banishment is over and it can return.

I have assembled, while living in the tent, a number of tools to help me with the banishment of Dark. I have a headlamp that I wear all evening, and an overhead LED light, both of which are more than adequate to light the room while their batteries are strong and fresh. In the cold however, this does not seem to last too long. As this winter has continued longer than most locals expected and has been much colder than anybody has ever remembered it being, batteries have been a bit of a struggle for me.

I tried Kerosene lamps. They give off a nice soft glow and work well with the romantic “pioneer” motif that I have going. Had I spent money on good lamps, they would probably work well too. Sadly, I sprang for the World Famous brand lamps from Canadian Tire. I feel confident giving a review on them. They’re absolutely terrible. I purchased two, thinking I could hang one on each end of the tent, providing me with wonderful light to play my harmonicas and wax poetically by. They both broke through regular use in a matter of weeks days. I should clarify, technically they DO work. They also give off terrible black smoke, flare up (picture having a lantern fully engulfed in fire hanging just a foot or so below the peak of your cotton tent), and leak Kerosene terribly. Living in a tent, I am learning to be content with the risk of fire, but these firebombs were just too much for me. They are now sitting patiently in storage, waiting for me to figure out what to do with them.

Candles are nice. They work well, give off a nice glow, can adapt to my lighting needs (many are lit when I’m entertaining, few are lit when I’m reading by myself) and are quite reliable. That said, they tent to melt quicker than I would like and are a constant expense.

Depending on the evening, I primarily use both candles and my headlamp, though recently, with the warmer summer temperatures, I have also put new batteries in the LED light, making the tent exceptionally bright, at least until the batteries fade out.

As another blessing, tonight is the night to change the clocks ahead. Though this means I will once again be waking up in the darkness, it also means that I will have an extra hour of the day after class with which to chop some wood and do my chores. Or at the very least, it will allow me to see the holes in the path before I fall into them. Hopefully.

I will be blogging little over the next week as Adar will be in town, though I do have a couple of small posts that will be coming out.

Sincerely,

Adam

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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.