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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Hiatus

I would like to apologize and explain my recent hiatus from this blog.

A couple of weeks ago, I was house- and horse-sitting at Garry Lean’s house. Between working on my classes and working with the horses, I simply was not able to spend any time on the blog. That weekend, I was also house- and farm-sitting at Russet House, leaving me little time to do anything between all the chores that needed to be done.

This past week has been a barrage of school assignments. I’m actually getting somewhat ahead, in preparation for Adar’s visit for the next ten days. Luckily, I now have every assignment that needs to be done during her visit finished, which will allow me to relax a little bit.

So, some of the highlights over the past couple of weeks…

1) I drove tractors! I ploughed the laneway at Russet House farm while Brian and Sylvia were away, and also drove them at Baxter Farms, run by Glenn Baxter who is the local tractor mechanic around here. I know this is a simple thing, but it was really a big accomplishment for me to begin my tractor learning.

2) I’m writing a crop plan. We are taking Market Gardening and Greenhouse Operations with Mark Trealot and the primary assignment in this course is to create a crop plan, which is the key piece of planning that every vegetable farmer goes through every year. It’s a lot of work, but saves a tonne of stress during the actual planting year. It’s nice to be able to look on a sheet of paper in mid-July and have it written out what you need to do, when your mind and body are already exhausted from all the stress of farming.

3) I’m learning about seed genetics. This is a really confusing subject for a number of reasons. First, there is a lot of biology involved which was never my strong suit to begin with. Secondly (and much worse), there is a LOT of misinformation out there. Seed genetics are closely tied to a lot of controversial topics in farming (GMOs, hybrids, etc.) and both sides of the controversy are very guilty of not giving honest information, which makes it very difficult to wade through it to determine how I feel about it all. I went to a Seed Saving course a couple of weekends ago which helped a lot, though admittedly it was talking to one of my instructors, Sue Chan, who was helping organize the event, who really made a difference. She’s AMAZING at explaining tougher topics.

4) It’s getting warmer! The tarp over my tent is a dark green on the side facing up, and with the changing sun, it is really heating up the tent. In fact, when I come home after school, my water, which will typically freeze solid overnight, is usually melted. I’m not sure how warm it gets during the day inside… but it is definitely above 0° C. Beautiful! I’ll have to turn the tarp over in the heat of the summer so the white side is up, but for now, this is perfect.

That’s all for now… I’ll have another post hopefully coming out tomorrow and then one on Wednesday…

Sincerely,

Adam

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

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

The Build

This weekend has been absolutely crazy. I’ve barely been able to process it myself, let alone put it into a form which would make sense here. Still, I managed to take some shots of the tent building process that happened on Saturday. It was incredible. This post is dedicated to Adar, Caitlin, Tim, Mike, Dave, Sylvia and my parents, who made this build happen. THANK YOU SO MUCH!! I will post more about the build soon… but school starts tomorrow and I’ve been going non-stop since Thursday.

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Shadow is the Russet House Farm Dog. In the summer, he herds cattle. In the winter time, mostly cats.

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We carried a load of pallets down a one kilometre laneway that was completely covered in snow. It was absolutely ridiculous. The fact that I had got quality help is evident from the fact that there wasn’t an open rebellion against me. There should have been. It was bad.

This picture also shows a bit of the site before any work was done.

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After we all had miniature heart attacks from carrying the first load, Sylvia and her 65 Massey Ferguson came to the rescue. She cleared not just the laneway, but also the very site where we were going to build, saving us about a week’s worth of manual labour.

Without this tractor and snowblower, there is no way we could have completed the build.

We drove the rest of the supplies down with my dad’s truck once the laneway was cleared.

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Mike and Tim are laying out the patio stones which were meant to act as support stones in the four corners of the tent. Mike (a landscaper and contractor) and Tim (a high school tech teacher and contractor) felt the stones would work better to balance out the floor. I was easily persuaded to listen to them.

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This is a good shot of the beginning of the pallet sub-floor.

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This picture is in the kitchen of Sylvia and Brian’s house. My parents showed up with chili my mom had made up the night before. We very much needed this lunch.

My mom rocks.

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Caitlin, Dave and Tim screwing in the plywood. Technically it isn’t plywood. I say plywood because it’s easier to say than OSB panels. OSB is cheaper and, for my purposes, pretty functionally equivalent.

Notice the one blue board. Dave named him Harvey.

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My dad helping to pull the tent down over the frame. In this shot, he’s inside the tent.

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Dave hammering in a t-stake that we’ll later tie the tent to in order to prevent it from blowing away. Despite the frozen ground, the fence post driver which he’s using (basically a big, heavy, metal tube) made really quick work of it.

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Caitlin, Adar, Dave and Tim, happy that the job is finished before the sun goes down.

Introduction: Part 3 of 3ish

Wow. It’s been too long since the last update. Winter has begun up in Thunder Bay, and as such I’ve been feeling a little bit rest-full as of late. I ask for your grace dear reader when I inevitably miss an entry or two.

Sometime in either late December or early January (depending largely on weather and on my post-Christmas-dinner coma) I’ll be heading onto a one acre field on Russet House Farm and laying down a wooden floor. Upon this floor, I will be erecting a wall or prospector style tent, which will form my accommodation for all of 2014.

I should at this point give the kudos (or possibly the blame) for this idea to Nick Cotter and Brad Farrish, two good friends of mine who proved that it could be done when they pulled it off over a winter semester a few years back. When I was considering this possibile living scenario, both were invaluable for encouragement and advice, and I probably saved myself a fair bit of trouble by listening to them.

The tent is large. 14 feet by 16 feet large. I really struggled with what size of tent to get. The major disadvantage of a tent of this size is that I’ll never be able to use it for backcountry winter camping, at least not without a snow machine and trailer with which to pull it. It is just too heavy for a toboggan. The big upside for me is that it is so big that it will be extremely livable. I can even put a full sized mattress in it (somethings that I’m definitely planning on doing). I decided that, for my immediate purposes, it was best to go with something that will give me room to move about, that enabled me to have guests over in relative comfort, and that was large enough to help me avoid feelings of claustrophobia.

My tent was made by Capital Canvas, a company based out of Victoria, British Columbia. Other than some issues with shipping which have since been resolved, I have been really impressed with the quality, service and price ($1400 for the tent, poles, an extra tarp AND shipping… considering how heavy the tent and poles are, the shipping could not have been cheap).

I picked up the stove this past weekend when I attended the North House Folk School’s Winterers’ Gathering (more on this soon!). The stove was made by Don Kevilus of Four Dog Stoves. I’ve had the privilege of meeting him several times over the last few years and I have a lot of respect for him and his craft. The stove is the biggest one he makes, something that will be very helpful keeping me warm throughout the winter and includes a four gallon water jacket which fits on the side so that I’ll always have hot water on hand (more than enough for a cup of tea and some washing water).

I was really hoping to post a picture, but the tent is currently drying in my basement and I was too tired to set it up. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of pictures in the new year. I have also decided to begin a new series next year, highlighting the more technical aspects of some of my equipment, where I’ll also share some very exciting news about a great partnership that I’m in the process of finalizing.

Next week, I’m going to be beginning a couple other series, and will also be reminiscing fondly on this year’s Winterers’ Gathering. That’s right… possibly THREE posts! (Though when I say that… I’ll probably cut it down to two.)

I hope you are all able to enjoy the snowy weather this week, that is if you’re living in a place that has snow. If not I will gladly enjoy the weather for you.

Sincerely, Adam.