Welcome back!

So apparently I disappeared throughout the summer. There was the occasional post but it’s really difficult to keep a blog up without regular computer access…

Still, I have some incredibly exciting news regarding this weekend, news that I will share next week at some point.

Today however I got a Steamwhistle stein from the LCBO and so, in honour of local beers and Oktoberfest… Prost!

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Moving Outhouses…

Near my tent, there are three outhouses. Being a single individual, I decided early on that I would only worry about keeping one stocked with necessities (bucket, toilet paper, sawdust, farmer’s almanac). I chose the one the faced East in order to catch the early morning rays.

Last week was my last week of class for the semester. As a celebration, I invited the students and faculty of the program out for a bonfire and potluck. It was a beautiful evening by the way. Since I was hosting so many people (at least compared to the camps’s usual population of one), I decided to open up another outhouse and stock it with a bucket, toilet paper and sawdust (I decided against purchasing another farmer’s almanac). This outhouse faces South. It doesn’t get the early morning rays, but it does get light throughout the day. It is nice to change views every now and again.

A few days ago, I needed to use the facilities later on in the evening. When I opened the door of the first outhouse and entered, there was sudden frenetic activity above me. I fled the outhouse followed closely by a robin. Apparently few beings, whether humans or birds, enjoy sharing an outhouse, at least a single seater outhouse.

The following day. I decided to check out the outhouse in the day and sure enough, in the rafters, there was a small robin’s nest. A robin’s nest? In an outhouse? This is no place for a nest I thought. After all, I am a human being. I certainly should receive preference over a bird for my use of the outhouse. So I picked the nest up, ensuring that there were no eggs in it, and flung it out the doorway.

I used the outhouse then. I was convinced that I, in my human righteousness, had been right in my indignation. As I sat there however, I began to think. Thinking is usually a side effect of using an outhouse.

I have three outhouses. I don’t really need three. I don’t really need two. One would certainly suffice.

A robin doesn’t use their nest for long either. Though I don’t know how long a robin sits on her nest, I know that certainly, it will not be long before she and her fledglings have left it.

I do enjoy the robins. They are a very welcome sight in the springtime, especially after this long winter.

By the end of the session, I realized how unfairly I had treated the robin.

I reached down, gently handled the nest, and returned it to it’s perch, hoping that Sister Robin would forgive me for my insolence and not mind it being somewhat more tussled than she had left it…

Last night, I peeked in the building and looked up at the nest. Sure enough, there was Mother sitting vigilantly in her home. I decided to start using the South facing outhouse only.

It’s nice to have neighbours.

 

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

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.

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