17 December 2007


L found the beaver lodge by following coyote tracks in the snow. This picture is of the breathing hole on top of the lodge. What you can't see is the smell of large wet rodents and the warmth escaping from the hole.

This one's a classic.

Calm after the storm

Shack in a storm

We had a good, old-fashioned Canadian winter storm this weekend. Lots of snow and wind. We were snug as bugs inside, though. No one strayed too far from the woodstove all day.

07 December 2007

All you can eat

We're all standing in line at an all you can eat buffet. Of course, it's only all you can eat for the first billion or so people in line. This is the main idea of the book Radical Simplicity which I mentioned in a previous post. It's a pretty challenging book in that it's hard to argue with anything the author says, and damned hard to accept. His premise is that there are roughly 4.7 acres of bioproductive land available for every human on earth, and North Americans are using 6 times our share on average. He outlines what kind of reduction in consumption and lifestyle, including healthcare and education, would be required to share the planet's resources equitably amongst all 6 billion of us. Your spouse, kids and mother would not approve.

We've heard it all before, but Jim Merkel, the author, makes the point very well that we in North America are the biggest part of the problem and it becomes quite clear that unless you believe that somehow we're more equal than everyone else, our ecological footprints are outrageous. Trying to reconcile this knowledge with a conventional middle class life is proving rather difficult for me. So don't read this book. You'll start writing preachy blog entries and trying to figure out how a family of 3 can live on $15k a year.

05 December 2007

The Story of Stuff

Check this video out. The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard, is a very well done short film. Watch it with your kids. Annie manages to explain an awful lot of how the world works in 20 minutes.

03 December 2007

Santa Paz in snow

Somehow the snow, cold and short days are much more acceptable at Santa Paz than in the city. I could hole up here until spring.

02 December 2007

End of an era

The first snow of the season was too much for the barn roof, although we weren't present to witness the collapse. So the barn which has presided over Santa Paz for who knows how long has finally succumbed to gravity, time and decay. Speaking of which, I wanted to mention something here about L's birthday, but it seemed in poor taste.

A brisk start to the day

7:00 am: Temperature -15C. Windchill -24C. Invigorating.

20 November 2007


We had the pleasure of watching thousands of white geese along with some black geese and a few ducks heading south overhead the Shack on Sunday. They were moving along at quite a clip, and were really really high. I expect they were snow geese, both white and blue morphs. I'm not sure what the ducks were, but there was some definite "quacking" mixed in with the "honking" in one of the groups. (Click on the picture to see a larger image.)

Any Canadian who watched tv in the sixties and seventies will appreciate the above video. You gotta love the soundtrack.

19 November 2007

Swamp surprise

We have owned Santa Paz for just over 6 weeks. Before this weekend, we had never walked the back half of our property. There was a lot of scrubby bush that is very difficult to navigate. As the fall has progressed, and some of the vegetation has died back, it's become easier. We have looked at maps and Google Earth, but hadn't actually bushwacked our way much beyond what we could see from the house. On Saturday, we finally made our way back. We were floored (in a good way) to discover this large beaver marsh. The beavers are obviously still very much present, as evidenced by the many recent stumps. We walked back to a fence which we assumed was the back boundary of the property, but have subsequently discovered is not. Our neighbour assures us that our property line is roughly another thousand feet beyond the fence. So, we have more exploring to do. And some work to make a trail.

10 November 2007

Christmas is cancelled

The annual Christmas marketing onslaught has begun. My usual Christmas stress and anxiety have also returned, and now I know why.

I spent a little time on the Global Rich List yesterday, and came to an alarming conclusion. I entered the amount of money I thought I'd spend on Christmas this year, and found that $500 is more than 15% of the world's population earns in a year. Then I looked in a very thought-provoking book, Radical Simplicity by Jim Merkel, at a table which shows carbon footprint as it correlates to annual income. Someone earning $500 per year has a footprint of 1.5 to 4 acres. $500 spent largely on CCFC (cheap crap from China) has got to be at the high end of the range. When you compare that to the bioproductive land available per person of 4.7 acres, that Christmas spending is starting to look like a crime against humanity.

As a somewhat thoughtful atheist, I can't find any reason for me to participate. There is the nagging thought that it's for kids, but the irony of using up that much of the planet's resources for children's benefit is too much. The Standard Canadian Christmas is cancelled at the Shack. We'll probably mark the longest night with an appropriate beverage, but please, no Solstice cards.

09 November 2007

I'm rich!

Not feeling very well off these days? Check out the Global Rich List for a little perspective. If you're not feeling wealthy yet, look at this photoessay for more insight. So what does an ultrarich person like me do with this new awareness? I've just gone from vague dissatisfaction - to finding peace with having enough - to feeling guilty at having way more than everyone else all in one fell swoop.

05 November 2007

Dream kitchen

This kitchen is powered by a 1937 Findlay Condor, built in Carleton Place, Ontario. Luckily, it was a relatively popular model in its day, so parts are available. I have a romantic notion about using a wood cookstove, and it will be interesting to see how the theoretical and actual experience compare. I have ordered a book, Woodstove Cookery by Jane Cooper, to help me out. What I really need is an experienced woodstove cook to demonstrate. Luckily, I have a family with healthy appetites who will help me eat the experiments.

04 November 2007

31 October 2007

Hot and heavy with a cute Norwegian (stove)

This smart little stove is efficient, beautiful and amazingly high tech. It's 350 lbs of pure cast iron. The picture shows the inaugural fire. I think it's a fitting replacement for the old Franklin, which could not be salvaged. This marks a new level of comfort at the Shack.

Santa Paz endures an outrageously tall chimney for a night

The new stove and chimney were installed the other day. The chimney was obviously erected by someone with some kind of psychological condition relating to masculinity and poor aesthetic sense. I found this very disturbing.
After a sleepless night (mine) and some whining and cajoling, the chimney was brought down to a much more seemly height. I already felt a little bad about marring her beautiful and original appearance with a shiny chimney, but neither of the brick chimneys would have been suitable for actual use. Now the house is warm , safe and not too silly looking. I hope she approves.

29 October 2007

A first look

We showed up at the Shack this morning to find the garden plowed. The ground was frozen because it was cold last night for the first time. It's much easier to visualize as a garden now. I've picked a spot for the compost pile. I'll be collecting lots of leaves and weeds this year to get a start on compost for next year.

We've been buying our vegetables from Bryson Farms for about a year now, and really learning to a) eat lots of veggies and b) enjoy some pretty unusual leafy green oriental veggies. I'll definitely be planting lots of those cool season vegetables. Maybe by next summer we'll no longer require Bryson Farms to keep us in good local food.

22 October 2007

A chipmunk poses

M spent some time taking pictures of the locals yesterday. I love this portrait of Roo.

Steve has a weird dream

This is the story of Steve, the bat. Steve was hanging out one day, bothering no one. His sleep was disturbed by a balding fellow wielding a mason jar. Steve decided the best thing to do was go with the flow. He wasn't feeling all that energetic anyway, due to his having been woken from a very deep sleep. He stepped onto the jar, closed his eyes and went back to sleep. He had strange dreams of large creatures watching him, but stayed on the edge of the jar until night, when he joined his bat friends in the sky.

21 October 2007

What is it?

This strange machine has not been identified by any Shack visitors so far. Any ideas from the blog world?

16 October 2007

The milk house

This beautiful old shed is the former milk house. I can't imagine storing milk or making cheese or butter in it, but that's what was done. We're way too germ-phobic to even consider doing something like that now. I am looking forward to trying some traditional food storage ideas like using lactic fermentation for vegetables, or storing things in oil, without using heat or refrigeration. I'll monitor the temperature in the cellar this winter to see if its feasible to use it for a root cellar. The only problem I can see is that it might get too cold in the winter when the house isn't heated.

15 October 2007

It's the end of the world as we know it. And I feel fine.

In a hundred years we'll all be dead. Those of you that aren't may wish you were. Mother Earth will probably feel a little better after shedding a few billion viral humans, though. This moment of despair is brought to you courtesy of Blog Action Day, a day for bloggers everywhere to blog about the environment.

On the taking it one day at a time front, it was a lovely cool fall day today. I spent the day digging holes to check out my soil and marking out the garden, L put cedar shingles on the screen house roof, and M finished knitting a very funky hat. It doesn't get much better than that.

Yesterday, I reread The Humanure Handbook, by Joseph Jenkins. This is the ultimate in putting your money where your mouth is, or your shit where your compost is, anyway. Who knows? The outhouse does require a pretty significant remodel (and relocation) pretty soon, maybe we'll really go green, er brown, and compost everything. Better than shitting in your water, anyway. Happy Blog Action Day!

11 October 2007

In the mood for food

This is the apple orchard so far. Actually, it's one tree. There are other apple trees but no apples on any of them. Unfortunately, these apples are so mealy, I'm not sure they're good for anything.

Our neighbour has offered to plow the garden this fall, I just have to mark out where I want it. Since I won't have running water in the garden, I'm going to space things out quite widely, so it will be much larger than my previous intensive garden. A book which I've been studying pretty carefully is Gardening When it Counts by Steve Solomon. In addition to the how-to stuff, he talks about gardening to maximize nutrition. The subject of declining nutrition in food is covered very well by The End of Food by Thomas Pawlick, but Mr. Solomon offers some solutions. He also runs the Soil and Health library, which everyone should visit.

08 October 2007

Stitch the chipmunk

Stitch, the chipmunk, spent lots of time fetching peanuts and stashing them. He didn't seem bothered by having to get them from M's hand. It was a pretty good deal for them both. He got the peanuts, she got to interact with a wild creature. A small step towards a reasonable life.

We've arranged for a new woodstove and chimneys to be installed next week. This will be a pretty big leap in comfort at the Shack. It will seem less like camping when we have heat and cooking facilities. We do have to acquire and process some firewood, though. We will have to buy it this year. Even though we have lots of firewood on our 50 acres, it's all still standing upright and connected to its roots. Neither of us has any particular experience or expertise in lumberjacking, but we'll learn.

03 October 2007

Thanksgiving at the Shack

We're spending this weekend at the Shack. Dinner will not be cooked on the cookstove. Too many creatures in the chimney would be disturbed. The weather is forecast to be very warm, so we won't need to have any fire going indoors. Cocobean and Cheerio, the rats, will be coming with us. I wonder what the country mice will think of them?

28 September 2007

A psychic squirrel

L was at the Shack on Wednesday, building an outdoor shower. A red squirrel was chattering incessantly, and suddenly stopped. L turned to look at the squirrel, only to see him running away from the barn. Seconds later, part of the barn collapsed. So now, if we want to go into the barn, I guess we should bring a squirrel.

19 September 2007

A sober second look and a barn full of coffins?

We spent some time at the Shack yesterday. L is having a momentary crisis of confidence in his own judgement, but I'm ok. The cellar is scarier than we first thought, but I think the thing to do is take a deep breath and do nothing for a while.

We discovered a stash of 2 dozen or so coffin-sized wooden boxes in the barn, each containing a large model of some industrial machinery. They were once on display at the Montreal Museum of Modern Art, and are destined to turn to compost with the rest of the barn, unless we recycle the plywood. The soon-to-be-former owner of the property is the artist.

16 September 2007

Thinking about the garden

This is where the garden will go. I hope to prepare enough soil this fall to plant some garlic and maybe even some asparagus. Mostly, this fall will be about figuring out what kind of soil, drainage, light, wind breaks, and wildlife there is. I also have to figure out how I'll water the garden. I want to plant berries, fruit trees, and nut trees, so I need to figure out where they'll go as well. This is very exciting!
Only 2 weeks until we actually own Santa Paz!

15 September 2007

Santa Paz

Yesterday we brought some paperwork over to the current owners of the new farm. They told us that the farm has a name; "Santa Paz", which means holy peace in Spanish. Apparently, this is from a previous owner who escaped there to work on an essay for a Spanish course in 1967, and described it as such to the class during his presentation. The name stuck, and the property has gone by that name, through successive owners, to this day.

09 September 2007

In which we undertake to buy the farm

51 acres. Rustic log cabin (more than 150 years)Used as a country cottage. Old cedar barn. Very peaceful; wildlife. Located in the Glengarry Highland Games country between Montreal (120km) and Ottawa (75km). Furnished, lawnmower included plus some tools. Surface well, no electricity no running water.Easy access to all services in Maxville and Alexandria and to highway 417.

Who wouldn't jump at a chance like that? Well, most people, I guess. It was love at first sight for me, though. We just need to get all the legalities out of the way, and we'll be proud owners of a 19th century farm.


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