Paying It Forward

Have you ever had one of those ‘twilight zone’ days where a lot of weird stuff happens, all on the same day?

Late in February I drove down to Napanee to run a bunch of errands. I went to the bank, picked up the printed copies of the community calendar that Michelle produces, and a bunch of other stuff. It was in the middle of our record 40 days of way below average temperatures. Part way to Napanee I noticed a guy standing at the side of the road so I slowed down, and then he kind of flagged me down. It was in an open area and the wind chill would have made it feel like -30°C so I was surprised to see a pedestrian out.

He came over to my car and asked if he could borrow my cell phone to call his farm, but of course, there was no signal. (We live in a weird “Bermuda Triangle-type of place where cell phones often don’t work.) His pick-up was stuck in a snowdrift, which had been created by the wicked wind that was blowing so hard. So I offered him a ride and he said, “Sure, take me over to that farm and I’ll see if I can call from there.” On the way he commented that quite a few people had passed him by without stopping. I said, “Well I felt obligated to stop for you because a couple of years ago I was pulling a trailer with a load of old hay and the tire went flat, and Jack Smith helped me. He spent ½ an hour dragging the trailer over to his compressor so I could pump up the tire and it was pretty awesome of him to help me.”

At which point he said “I’m Jack Smith!” Oops! Awkward! Yikes, what kind of country faux pas had I committed? To be honest, as he stood at the window of my car I couldn’t see his face, and when he got in to the car he was wearing one of those awesome winter hats with flaps you pull down over your ears that also cover up most of your face. (He sure needed that hat in those weather conditions!) In other words he was hard to recognize.

He was only 10 minutes from his farm so I wasn’t thinking in terms of it being him, and well, I don’t go out of my way to look other men in the face. Which I guess isn’t really a good habit but I promise that I would have noticed if he had been carrying an axe or something.

Once I figured it out that it was Jack I offered to drive him back to his farm. During the drive he made some comment about my political career, and it impressed me that he remembered me. Just after he had helped me with my flat trailer tire, I had taken Michelle to see his farm because his son had a large flock of the neatest heritage breeds of chickens I’d ever seen.

Note to self; look a man in the eye the next time I give someone a ride. It would be sexist to suggest that this probably wouldn’t have occurred if the person needing help had been a female, but that’s another blog.

After completing some of my errands in Napanee I was driving downtown to the bank and the car seemed to be handling strangely. I assumed that there was ice around the tires because there was a lot of snow on the road after the dumping we’d had the night before. As I drove further it got worse so I finally decided to pull over and clean them off. As I got out of my car a woman crossing the road in front of me was looking at the front tires and said, “It’s the other side.” I wasn’t sure what she meant until I got around to the other side of my car and noticed that I had a flat.

I’ve driving for 40 years and I’ve never had a flat tire. Why couldn’t it have happened on a nice warm summer day, as opposed to on a frigid day with a wicked wind chill? My first step was to clear the snow away from the tire so that I had room work. I got the spare tire out of the trunk and then panicked when I couldn’t find the jack! I use a jack all the time for various trailers and things and I was kicking myself for being so stupid as to take it out of the car and not put it back. But I always use the ones I keep in the truck. With more poking I found it, tucked under a plastic lip at the back of the indentation in the trunk.

One of my favorite movie scenes is from “A Christmas Story” where the 1940’s father gets a flat and then sets his watch to time himself on how long it takes him to change the tire, kind of like those NASCAR guys that change 4 tires in 12 seconds, but slower.

And yes, I was slower but I got it changed eventually. I drove on the spare to my local mechanic and he put a plug in it for $16 and it seems as good as new.

So this is a good thing. Now I know I can change a tire on the Civic. Or at least next time I’ll be faster and hopefully there’ll be less ice and snow. And when I stop to help someone in need I’ll check for axes, and whether or not I recognize them. I don’t need to try and create any other awkward moments in my life. I’m doing just fine in that department.

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The Small Pleasures and Infinite Miracles of (Modern Day) Country Living

Living off the electricity grid gives you get a unique perspective on things. Energy. Independence. Luxuries. Miracles.

Even after 17 years of living this way I find I’m still amazed at the wonder of the everyday and mundane things that make our lives so easy. I never appreciated them in the city. They were just there. But once I was involved in their creation I got a unique perspective, kind of like when you were a kid and you learned some amazing new mind blowing snippet of knowledge.

Michelle and I have come to have an attitude of gratitude in our lives. I’ve talked about it in my books, but one of things most associated with ‘happiness’ in people is gratitude. I am grateful to have been born where, and when I was, and I’m grateful for the infinite wonders modern life provides. And I won’t even go to smart phones and the interweb. Nope. Because you are much less likely to enjoy such technology if you don’t first have a toilet the flushes.

So here, represented pictorially are some of the things that I marvel at daily. (Or if I were Oprah … or Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, I would sing them to the tune of “My Favorite Things.”)

water faucet

Running water. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get water flowing out of a tap? You drill a well, put down a pump, it pushes the water up into a pressure tank, the water then flows through pipes throughout your house, and it comes out of that tap, under pressure, whenever you turn on the tap. The wonders never cease! I’m not just making this up, I marvel every time I turn that miraculous tap on. Wherever you live, every time you turn on a tap you should a say little thank you for the miracle that is running water. (Particularly if it is clean running water!)


light switchsmall

Electricity. I produce all of my own electricity from the sun and wind. Seventeen years ago solar panels were very expensive and Michelle and I spent a lot of money to purchase the various components of the system that powers our home so very efficiently. And every day I walk out to the battery room and see the glowing lights and hear the hum of inverters and I am awe struck with the wonder of it all. Making electricity is hard. And it’s expensive. “Grid Dwellers” as we call them, really have no concept of what’s involved, so they spend a lot of their own energy complaining about their electricity bills. If you don’t like your bill, cut the cord and try generating the electricity yourself. You’ll quickly find yourself telling utility workers that you see on the street how grateful you are for this amazing service they provide. A light switch or electrical outlet with an appliance plugged is a truly miraculous thing.



Firewood. This piece of wood came from a tree that grew on our property. It used photosynthesis to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and released oxygen back and it sequestered that carbon in its woody mass. And when I burn this wood it releases only the carbon it absorbed, so it is carbon neutral. But best of all, it will fill our home with wonderful, convective, bone warming radiant joyful heat that makes our northern winters bearable. By March I’m getting tired of stoking our woodstove, but I never lose the wonder at this incredible way to heat our home that our species has been using since we starting walking on two feet.

hot watersmall


Hot running water. No, it’s not the water one again, it’s hot water! Getting water out of a tap is hard enough, making it hot is ridiculously hard. Now if you have a natural gas pipe coming to your house it seems easy enough. But when you try and make it yourself, and you try and make it in an atmosphere-sparing carbon neutral way, it’s just a monumental challenge. Our solar domestic hot water heater is a thing of beauty and every time I wash my hands in hot water I am grateful to live in such a wondrous time.



Hash Brown Potatoes. These are potatoes that I grew, that I stored in our root cellar last fall, being cooked on a woodstove powered by wood I cut. They will give me the energy I need to cut more firewood for next winter. And they are insanely tasty. Seems pretty much like a cool closed loop to me.


scrambled eggs small

Scrambled Eggs. These are that scrambled eggs produced by our happy chickens. We feed them and give them warm water and treats all winter and they convert grains to amazing animal protein that will also power me to take on the day. And the eggs taste awesome. And the manure and straw I clean out of their coop is just the perfect supplement for our sandy soils. Oh how I love my chickens. And yes, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. (And no, they are not green eggs. I like to add some chopped spinach to my scrambled eggs.)



Oranges. And yes, we do have some luxuries in our life. I’m 55 and when I was a kid, getting a huge navel orange in my stocking at Christmas was a big deal, because we didn’t eat much fruit in the winter. Apparently there weren’t as many diesel trucks bringing this stuff to the north back then. So when I eat an orange I am in awe to live in a time when such unbelievable luxuries are available to us every day. I live like a king.

Life can be a very wondrous thing. I am truly grateful.

Paving the Woods

One of the nice things about living in the country is that there are unique days that happen only a few times a year. I guess this is also true in the city, like when flowering trees are in full bloom and smell so great, but I seem to be more aware of these special days here.

I always enjoy full moons when it seems like we have streetlights and I can walk in the woods at night. But one of my favorite times usually comes in March.

We had a lot of snow in February, a lot. It was to the point where it was up way past my knees so anytime I walked into the woods to cut firewood I basically had to plow a path as I went. It was exhausting. Even Jasper the Wonder Dog didn’t attempt it much and used a crazy leaping method to make any progress.

Last week we had some warm days so the volume of the snow was reduced greatly and as it melted it kind of settled from light and fluffy to a more compact and denser type of snow. Then a couple of nights ago it got down to 10°C below zero so the snow froze back up. And eureka, we now basically have snow as hard as concrete to walk on. It’s like the whole forest has been paved with concrete.

jasper walking on snowsmall

I absolutely love walking our property when the snow is like this. Not that I don’t love it without snow. But this is simply way easier going because the surface I’m walking on is smooth. I can cover lots of ground and it happens during a cold spell with clear skies at night and brilliant sunshine the next day, so it just feels fantastic to be out walking. It’s cold but the sun just has that feeling that spring will be here soon.

I love it but it’s like Jasper has been injected with steroids and he just runs incessantly. It’s like he has a winter’s worth of sleeping by the woodstove to get out of his system, and he is going to do it all today … on this walk!

jasper running

The only danger with this snow is if I fall through, which only happened to me once yesterday under some hemlock where the shade had made the snow really weak. Which concerns me about Jasper because he just runs full out and I figure if one of his legs goes through I’ll be dragging him back to the house and setting his broken leg myself. But he seems to have a good sense of the strength of the snow, or he just has that ultimate “No Fear” philosophy and nothing is going to stop him from sprinting, everywhere.

It’s a wondrous thing being the temporary custodian of 150 acres of forest. It takes a long time to walk it. We have a number of ponds and a couple of these really cool rock outcrops that you can climb up and look down at the world from above. It’s even more wondrous after the soft, deep snow has kept you close to the house for a couple of months and now you can explore the whole property, effortlessly.

I found an oak tree I had never seen before. It is massive. I’m thinking it’s probably at least 150 years old. It seemed to be growing on top of a rocky ledge and so I am amazed that it hasn’t been blown over in a big windstorm. Our house was built in 1888 so this tree was well established by that time. Just think of the wonders that tree has seen. Fossil fueled powered vehicles. The telephone. Home computers. The internet. Oh wait, that tree hasn’t seen any of that. All it’s seen is the other trees growing about it. And the squirrels, and owls. And foxes and deer that wander our property. I wonder if it’s noticed the gradually warming taking place.

We had a massive gypsy moth infestation 20 years ago which killed many oaks. But this one survived. It must be pretty resilient.

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The Wisdom of Words … for Babies

I continue to plow through a year’s worth of my Dad’s old “Economist” magazines, skipping the stuff at the front that is all about derivatives, fiscal management, quantitative easing, blah blah blah and reading the later stuff which is full of book reviews, science stuff … you know, the ‘fun’ stuff.

The February 22, 2014 issue has an article about The American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago. There was a review of the theory suggested by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University that last year’s (2014) polar vortex was indeed caused by the weakening of the jet stream, a result of the arctic warming 3 times as fast as the equator. This reduced the temperature differential that in the past had kept the jet stream less wavy and  our winters more moderate, broken up with periods of warmer weather. As writers in The Economist often do, they suggested that her theory needed to be proven in subsequent years. Well, this year we experienced “Polar Vortex II” in which February 2015 was the coldest one EVER in my part of the world, so take that skeptical Economist, Jennifer nailed it!

On a more enjoyable note there was also an article about research which shows that the more parents talk to their babies, the quicker the baby will develop vocabulary and ‘the better their intelligence develops.” It’s very cool and relates to how many words the child hears. And it is specific that the words have to be spoken to the child. For instance, having your baby sit between you and your spouse while you discuss Steven Hawkings “A Brief History of Time” and debate black holes doesn’t count.

I loved this article and it convinces me of why I have brilliant daughters. Their mother. I met Michelle in a high school classroom. I had gone to work on my Calculus homework after lunch because I was abysmal at the subject. My friend Linda brought Michelle to the classroom to hang out, and it was clear that Michelle didn’t need any additional work because she was smart. Michelle has proven this to me daily since 1975, including when we took a Calculus course together at Trent University in Peterborough. She got an “A” and I got a “D” because it didn’t seem to matter how well she explained stuff to me, my brain synapses just couldn’t fire properly to absorb it.

Which brings me back to our child rearing. It would be easy for me to say that I practiced this model of parental behavior by talking to my daughters when they were babies and toddlers. People who know me know would suggest that I am somewhat mildly verbose and would infer that this would have been the case. Obviously if I was changing a diaper, I would have chatted incessantly to my baby daughter. I’m pretty sure I did.

The problem is that our daughters were born in the first wave of video recording in which individuals filmed other individuals, as opposed to the second wave in which authorities film everyone else, often using drones. And so we are able to sit down and watch endless hours of our daughters as babies and toddlers and it is very clear who gets the credit for my daughters’ incredible intelligence. Alas, it is not I.

I did the bulk of the filming and in each case it is Michelle talking to our babies. Michelle changing a diaper while talking lovingly to our baby. Michelle sitting with our baby while reading them a book. Michelle feeding them while expanding their vocabulary. Michelle sitting at the dining room table as they got older working with them on math and printing and all sorts of other skills.

The bulk of the filming of me in my parental capacity was done on Saturday mornings when Michelle went out and I unplugged from our electronic publishing business and spent the morning with the girls. And intellectually, well, it’s not pretty. A typical Saturday morning play day, as filmed by me with the camera on the tripod is seeing how far the girls could leap from the couch to the cushions spread across the floor to break their fall. Or it may show a dance session with the girls getting an aerobic workout to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”. There is a great deal of fort building. Fort building in the bedroom under the bunk beds. Fort building in the living room with the IKEA couch cushions and a vast array of blankets stripped from every bed in the house. Fort building downstairs in the playroom of my office. Then there was the autumn ritual of building a pile using about 100 bags of leaves scrounged from the neighborhood, and the obligatory jumping on to the leaf bags from the back deck. And who knew that my oldest could push my youngest that high in a jolly jumper meant for solitary activity. Was that even safe?

Yup, it’s all there in low-resolution 8 mm living color. The reason that my oldest works at a educational institution and my youngest is working on her Masters degree in Applied Archeology is probably not due to my encouragement of their mini-mosh pit dancing to Robert Palmer’s “Might as well face it you’re addicted to love,” but in fact to Michelle’s sweet, adoring, never patronizing, talking with our daughters to help them develop vocabulary.

My daughters are exceptionally smart. They also have exceptional taste in music. I am constantly amazed by what great taste they have in music. I did that! Now that’s a real legacy!

Our eldest daughter has informed us that there will be a new addition to the family this summer and I, who still feels very much like a teenager myself, will become a grandparent. I’m going to have start practicising my proper grand child talk. No Tony Soprano potty mouth for this young one.  There will be lots of adult chat directed to the grandchild. And just the right mix of fort building. I’m going to focus on the fort building part.

P.S. My reading of The Economist is proof of the concept of “confirmation bias.” Years ago I would only have sought out the articles on climate change. Suddenly, the article on talking to babies was just as interesting!


Katie Archeologist

You Know That Guy, That Guy Who Snowblows His Lawn

Alas I have become THAT GUY. You know the one. Or perhaps you don’t. But there are people (mostly men) who snow blow their lawn. I am that man. I am not proud of this distinction. But it’s important for the planet. Let me rationalize …. er, explain.

We run a CSA which means we expect a lot from our soil. We grow quite intensively and do not add any commercial fertilizer, so we really have to work on supplementing it. I do some green manuring, but my preference is the real stuff … horse manure!

Right now our neighbor Alyce keeps her horses in the barn at night, which means there is a lot of manure when she cleans the stalls, and right now she is dumping it in a trailer for me. This is totally awesome. The challenge is getting this marvelous stuff into the garden.

For many years I spent most of the winter getting my rear-wheel drive Ford Ranger unstuck. It didn’t matter how much fresh wood I loaded in the bed of the pickup, with the weight of a trailer full of manure it was useless.

Now I have a 4-wheel drive Ranger which is totally awesome and every time I use it I ask myself why I waited a decade to get a 4×4. Now I can blast through snow and use the truck to make paths, but as I attempt to turn corners and move around, a trailer can still get bogged down. So it helps to have the snow a reasonable depth. And so after a recent snowstorm I used my snowblower to clear a path into the garden to allow access for the truck and trailer full of manure to enhance the soil, the healthy, organic soil. Hence, the okay-itude of me snow blowing the lawn to get the trailer there.

We’d had a good snow the previous night, 8” – 10”. I drove the truck into the paddock to get at some poplar I had cut, just to add some weight to the back. This was on top of about 4” of snow with a thick icy crust. I have to say, even with 4-wheel drive I “got’r stuck pretty good.” With a little bit of shoveling out the deepest ruts I got it moving and high tailed it out of there, but it would have been better if I’d cleared out the track first, with a blower.

For the first 14 years here we lived without a snow blower. We shoveled and paid people to plow us out, and we’re lucky enough to have a neighbor like Ken who would plow us out when he could. Then one day three or four winters ago we got a royal dumping of snow. And the guy who regularly plowed us out broke his plow. Then Ken broke his plow the same day. So we were stuck. We had nowhere to go, but after a few days with a snow-filled driveway I decided this probably wasn’t the best idea. I tried to hack a path out, but with my old 2-wheel drive Ranger, it was a useless.

There were no emergencies, no ‘lack of coffee cream’ crisis which required a trip to town, but being able to get out of our driveway seemed like a good idea.

I looked at buying a plow blade to put on the truck once I got the 4×4, but they are pretty expensive and I think probably pretty hard on a vehicle. So we waited until a spring sale (you know, when you don’t NEED the snow blower so it’s a bit cheaper) and bought a YardWorks Canadian Tire Brand snowblower. And there you have it. The Green Party just called and they want their membership back, because good environmentalists don’t own snowblowers. I get it. But it’s for an organic garden. And we live off the grid, so that’s okay, right?

We paid a little over a thousand bucks for this machine and about 6 times a year I walk into the house looking like a yeti (abominable snowman) after snow blowing us out and say the same thing every time. “Tell me again why we waited so long to buy a snowblower?” And as with all of our major purchases it came right out of my retirement fund which is almost completely depleted now, and as always I rationalized it by saying that if I didn’t get the snowblower I’d die a premature death and not need the retirement fund anyway. Now I will live to retirement age, and well, I’ll have to go and work at Canadian Tire, which would in fact not be such a bad thing and when I needed to get to work, I would be on-time because I could snowblow out the driveway without having to wait for someone to plow me out.

And that turns out to be the crux of the issue. Dependence on someone else. Independence. When you live off-grid and don’t rely on others for your electricity, or heat, or water, and a lot of other things, you can get pretty impatient about waiting for someone else to bail you out. I’m not saying that belonging to a community of people you rely on is a bad thing, but I think the more independent we each are, the more resilient our community. I love the quote from the new head of FEMA a while back … “Who do you think the first responder to a disaster is going to be? It’s your neighbor.” And if your neighbor is stuck in their driveway and they can’t get out because they don’t have a snowblower, or chainsaw to remove the tree blocking the driveway, or they have to stay home to babysit their generator to keep their pipes from freezing, well, they’re not much good to anyone. Get yourself independent, then be the first responder.

This is a theme from my book “The Sensible Prepper” which we were finally able to publish (Go here for more details and to order a copy!) And yes, you’re correct, I managed to turn the decadence of “Cam owning a snowblower” into “To be a super-hero first responder neighbor you NEED a snowblower”, but did you expect anything less? Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to snowblow because there’s a spot over by the chicken coop and I bet that if I clean it up the chickens would probably get out and wander around a bit on sunny days …

cam snowblows the lawnsml

I Love Lucy … and Haywire

I recently saw an awesome movie called “Lucy.” Scarlett Johansson plays a starring role in it. It’s so great I decided to buy it. So I asked Tim at the video store if I could buy his copy when he’s done renting it. “Lucy” is like a Jason Bourne movie with Scarlett kicking people’s asses …well kicking men’s asses … men who deserve to have their asses kicked.

It is so refreshing to see a Hollywood movie with a strong female lead. Hollywood is a dead zone in which the men are the heroes, with men rescuing women, women dependent on a strong man blah blah blah. I guess when producers are investing in a movie, they want to follow a winning formula, even though I’m assuming that half of their potential market is women, and surely they’re pretty tired of the formula too.

I didn’t like the premise of “The Hunger Games” in which teens fight each other to the death, but it was awesome to see Jennifer Lawrence (Spoiler alter) as the ultimate winner, outsmarting all those guys.

And my absolute favorite movie, EVER (well, today, anyway) is called “Haywire.” I’ve bought a (used) copy and forced just about everyone who comes to my house to watch it. Again it’s a Jason Bourne sort of movie, but with a woman kicking everyone’s butt. I starting watching this movie and didn’t know much about the lead actress Gina Carano. I wondered why I hadn’t seen her in any other movies. Well, it’s because she’d never been in anything before. It turns out that the director Steven Soderbergh had seen her fight. She’s a Mixed Marshall Arts (MMA) fighter. And she’s awesome … and terrifying. There’s a scene where she takes on Michael Fasssbender (Spoiler Alert) who is trying to kill her, and they just tear up this hotel room and well, Michael gets what he deserves.

Okay, so let’s hear it. But Cam, these are violent movies. Women should rise above this violence and use cooperation and their superior intelligence to avoid these situations. I’m with you. This is not the normal female response, but it’s just so nice to see such powerful, resourceful women. It’s so nice to see violent men getting back as good as they give. And yes, I do not advocate violence, but it’s a movie. And in a movie you have to suspend disbelief and just go with it and while I love Downton Abbey and all those romantic comedies that Michelle forces me to watch (and I have to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks to stay awake for), I do love action movies and I especially love them when women participate in the action, and initiate the action and just don’t look on forlornly, hoping that a man saves them.

My daughter introduced me to the Bechdel Test, which is a litmus test to assess the presence of women in movies. One of the questions that it asks is does the movie have two women who talk to each other about something other than a man? Wikipedia suggests that half of all contemporary films fail the test, which seems low to me, at least with the movies I watch. So I’m now starting my own gender bias assessment of movies before I invest any of my time watching them. I’m not even going to watch them if they’d got a man on the cover … which seems to describe more than half of the movies out there.

I’m hoping that producers and writers and directors will start to get this. I’m assuming that women want to watch movies about … well … women, or at least ones in which women play relevant roles. I was talking to my exceptional daughters about how NBC was showing Saturday Night Live from the 70’s and 80’s at 10 pm on Saturday (which I actually able to stay awake for!) and I couldn’t believe how few skits had women from the cast in them. Jane Curtin hosted the news for a while, but most of the female cast members played really small roles in the shows. Then you had Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in the late 90’s and they got more airtime, but I watched a fairly recent one and it was the same old thing, the majority of the skits were men. My youngest said, “Yea, I don’t even watch SNL because nothing they do interests me.” Are you hearing this Lorne Michaels? Get with the program? Enough of the whole ‘let’s focus just on the men’ thing.

How many women subscribed to Netflix to watch “Orange is the New Black”? Lots! Time to catch up Hollywood. Make more movies like “Lucy” and “Haywire.” Enough of the guy stuff. Now I’ll go quietly read some Jane Austen and try and find my happy place. Thanks for listening.


What Do Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall and I Have in Common?

I wrote a book with my close personal friend Stephen Hawking. I call him Steve, or Stevie. Jane Goodall also wrote a part of the book. And Desmond Tutu. And … well … okay I ‘contributed’ to a book with them and Mr. Hawking is not my close personal friend, yet. I’m sure he will be after he reads the part that I wrote.

I was asked to contribute to a book called “Global Chorus” edited by Todd MacLean. Todd knows my friend Jim Ferguson. I know Jim from radio broadcasting school, er, The Radio Broadcasting Program at Loyalist College in Belleville that I attended in my younger years.

Jim is one of those people whom I have run into from time to time throughout my life who have helped me to recognize that I have no future going in a certain direction. Jim has one of those mellifluous voices that comes through stereo speakers loudly and clearly and he possesses a natural gift to speak clearly, succinctly, and off the top of his head all day long without a hesitation or pause. I, on the other hand, do not have a good radio voice and I had to script everything I was going to say on air because otherwise I would stumble, so it just sounded like I was reading. The program was a 2-year course. I got a job selling radio advertising in Peterborough at the end of the first year, because I saw the writing on the wall, but I still managed to get my diploma by completing the required work. So when you see Cam Mather R.B.D., H.B.A., it sounds pretty impressive but it means “Radio Broadcasting Diploma, Half a B.A.” I intend to complete the second half of my B.A. in Women’s Studies when I’m 65 and tuition is free (or at least I think it’s free). Well, how likely is that professors will try and kick out the grey haired guy at the back of lecture hall?

I point out these shortcomings in my academic past to suggest that I am perhaps not worthy to be published in the same book as David Suzuki and Jane Goodall and Elizabeth May (leader of the Green Party of Canada) and Maya Angelou and Nelson Mandela. But Jim had recommended me to Todd who was bringing together authors and writers and Todd asked me to provide a contribution.

“Global Chorus” includes 365 contributors discussing their take on the climate crisis. Todd was obviously very successful in getting a large number of well-known people to contribute, which is a testament to his persuasiveness and that of his friends, and family who helped him, as well the gravity of the situation humanity faces with our treatment of the biosphere.

Todd has been on a cross-country promotional tour and is doing well getting publicity for the book.

I believe he’s into his second printing.

I’ve started to read through the book and it’s quite inspirational. My contribution is on page September 28. Temple Grandin is August 8. The Dalai Lama is April 18.

Todd asked for a one-page response to this:

“Do you think that humanity can find a way past the current global environmental and social crises? Will we be able to create the conditions necessary for our own survival, as well as that of other species on the planet? What would these conditions look like? In summary, then, and in the plainest of terms, do we have hope, and can we do it?”

In reading the book it’s interesting to see other people’s perspectives. There tends to be a lot of philosophy and a lot of the use of the word “hope” and future generations and the big picture stuff. From what I’ve read so far though, mine offers the best hands-on practical solution to the problem as you’ve read in my blogs … live your life as if there is a high-price on carbon, vote Green and lobby for the government to put a price on carbon … that sort of nitty-gritty stuff. After 30 years in the environmental movement I’m just not into rambling about that whole ‘hope’ and ‘the kids of the future’ thing because while the younger generation is doing some amazing stuff, a lot of them just have their heads buried in their smart phones and I don’t blame them because their parents are screwing up royally.

And since people just don’t seem to want to address the problem head on, the best solution is to put a high price on carbon and start ratcheting it up quickly so people get off their butts and do what needs to be done. This is why I’m putting all my energy into the Green Party right now. Once in power we will put a price on carbon and turn this monstrosity around before it hits the iceberg … although I’m not sure an iceberg is a good metaphor for the bad outcome from global climate change. Or maybe it is. The documentary “Chasing Ice” seems to show an awful lot of icebergs calving from glaciers.

I really liked Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute’s response, which is a very practical. And my neighbor songwriter Sarah Harmer focuses on the need to shift our focus away from the individual to the collective care of our communities. Olivia Chow, a Toronto-based politician (and widow of Jack Layton, leader of Canada’s left-wing NDP) starts her discussion of the need for government action with a quote from Jack that was widely publicized after his death several years ago.

“Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

To which I add … yes, and a price on carbon is a good start. And we should all stop flying. And start eating a locally grown plant-based diet. And install geothermal heating systems. And solar panels … Sorry, just couldn’t help myself.

*** Many thanks to D.H. and N. B., longtime readers of this blog, for their recent donations. We are very grateful for your support!

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If you’d like to order the book from amazon, please use this link. (We receive a very small commission when you use the links to amazon on our website. It doesn’t matter what you purchase as long as you link to amazon from here.)

Living Outside My Comfort Zone in the Snowpocalypse

Since we moved off the grid 16 or so years ago, I have spent a great deal of time doing stuff I’m not initially comfortable with. Much of this has been related to activities with my neighbor Ken who really personifies the “No Fear” moniker that many people like to emblazon on their t-shirts. Often the exploits of these people do not live up to the hype. The activity of climbing walls inside of a building with sculpted handholds and safety ropes comes to mind, but I really shouldn’t pick on any activity in particular.

I think I’m inspired to write about this latest escapade because it seems there is a growing portion of the population with a less than optimistic view of the future. These people often engage in activities on weekends to make themselves more resilient. I think this is awesome. People get out of urban areas and develop new skills and develop new networks of friends they can rely on, and anything you read on this subject will emphasize the importance of belonging to ‘community,’ regardless of whether your ties to a community are religious, geographic, familial, whatever.

Our neighbors Ken and Alyce have a tractor that they use to maintain their property and to move round bales for their horses. Ken has a snow blower on the back of the tractor that he uses to clear his driveway and laneways and he also does the same for a number of his neighbors. Ken and Alyce enjoyed a trip south recently and so I volunteered to look after the snow blowing. I had never used his snow blower but I had used the tractor, so I went over the day before they left and got a lesson on using the PTO and driving backwards, etc. That is the downside to his set-up, that the snow blower runs off the PTO and you therefore have to drive backwards to clear snow. But once you get the hang of it there’s no problem.

We’ve had this weird anthropogenic climate change/polar vortex-induced winter (sorry, but this is my bias) during which we had no snow at Christmas and almost nothing in January. I helped Ken attach the snow blower to the tractor midway through January because it was the first time we had enough snow to use it. As Ken and I sat at his dining room table before he left at the end of January he had the weather forecasts on his tablet and he insisted, “Look, there’s basically no snow predicted for the next two weeks.”

If anyone ever makes a prediction like this to you, head for the hills because fire and damnation are about to rain down on you. And as was to be expected I pretty much had to snow blow every second day while they were away.

One Sunday was a particularly challenging day. It had snowed all day Saturday but it was fairly light snow so I didn’t bother to snow blow. Maybe 4 – 6 cm (1-1/2 – 2-1/2 inches) had accumulated. The forecast called for it to snow all weekend so I figured I’d leave snow blowing until Sunday. On Sunday morning the snow continued but I thought I’d better bite the bullet and get’r done. There was a brutal wind, which usually I love because during the dark days of winter like this our wind turbine just howls and keeps our batteries full, and our fridge chillin’ and our TV casting the eerie blue light that I am so entranced by in the evenings.

By the time I had snow blown our driveway with our walk behind snow blower, the wind was blasting the snow around and along with the falling snow freezing rain was also falling. It -15°C (5°F) The Celsius scale is just way better than Fahrenheit when it comes to figuring out temperatures. Water freezes at 0°C. So anything below zero is cold. We tend to get freezing rain between +2°C and – 4°C, in other words the zone where the water droplets can’t make up their minds whether to be snow or rain. That day it was -15°C but we were still getting freezing rain. I’d never seen this before. It was kind of like on that movie “The Day After Tomorrow” or those other apocalyptic movies where crazy stuff happens.

It was dark, freezing cold, snowing, with wind speeds reaching gale force … oh yes, and we also had freezing rain. So off I went.

Usually when I’m working in these situations I have a backup plan. For example if “the trailer falls off the truck” or if “the truck gets a flat tire” or if “the ATV gets stuck,” I can call Ken. Well Ken was 2,000 miles away, so that wasn’t a plan that day. And there were literally no cars on the road because, well, it was really crappy out and the roads were ice covered and really, you’d be nuts to be out and about.

I got Ken’s driveway done down to the road, past his little bridge where you perch precariously over a 10 foot drop to a creek. He’s never installed a guardrail there and so it’s really fun to drive across the bridge on a tractor … while driving backwards … on ice …. Downhill … while snow blowing so you can’t really see where you’re going. I had done enough of his place for now and decided that I’d better do down to the barn later. I figured that I’d better get over and snow blow for Ken’s neighbors in case they had emergencies and had to get out of their driveways. At that point the snow blower broke. I was just engaging the PTO and the bolt from the PTO to the blower broke. I guess it serves as a shear pin. And there I was in the blizzard, with the freezing rain, and the gale-force winds, without gloves on so that I could replace the bolts on the PTO, asking myself, how did this happen? Aren’t most people snuggled up by the fire today? It was like the Talking Heads song “ … and you may find yourself, behind the wheels of a large snow blowin’ tractor and you may find yourself replacing bolts on PTO in blizzards … and you may ask yourself … how did I get here?”

Once I got it fixed I headed out on the road to snow blow at the neighbors. I put the tractor into a higher gear so I could get there faster, which meant that I had an additional wind chill. Usually I would wear ski goggles but they kept icing up from the freezing rain. So as I drove it was hard to see because my eyes were watering so badly. And of course, unlike western Ontario which is all nice and flat, I live in Eastern Ontario where the retreating glaciers carved deep holes for lakes and high granite ridges so all the driveways I had to snow blow have about a 70° incline one way or the other. Plus I was now at the end of 5th Depot Lake and because the wind was out of the east it had 7 miles of open lake in which to accelerate and really get nasty. The wind stung as it hit my face. No facemask or goggles could stop that wind.

I’m sure my neighbours appreciated having their driveways cleared. I know that I hate the feeling of being marooned because of snow. In my previous life in the city someone else plowed my snow. Someone else provided my heat and electricity and grew my food and fixed my stuff when it broke.

And there I was, the only personal out in the crappy mess, with howling winds and pelting freezing rain, and breaking equipment, and frozen feet … and it was all starting to feel pretty normal. You can’t train for this sort of weirdness. You just have to do it enough that when you turn around and see that the machine isn’t throwing snow anymore, you have to figure out why not. And if you want to get the snow moved and do the job, you just have to figure out a way to muddle through. It’s kind of terrifying. And kind of awesome. To use the title of a George Monbiot book…“Bring on the Apocalypse!”

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Don’t forget our new book, “The Sensible Prepper” is now available. Thanks to everyone who has ordered it! For more details go here.

As Quoted in “The Globe and Mail”

You may have noticed we posted a blog as usual on Tuesday this week, and then we posted again on Wednesday. There’s kind of a story to that, one that harkens back to the odd way the universe often unfolds for us.

Last week we had two bizarre coincidences related to back issues of The Economist and The Guardian that my dad saves for me. These accumulate during the growing season when I don’t have time to read much, and I get caught up on them in the winter.

On Tuesday I shared an article with Michelle about the story of the artist behind the “big eyes” paintings. We were both familiar with the paintings but didn’t know the story behind them. (

On Tuesday night we watched the movie “St. Vincent” and one of the previews for upcoming movies was for a movie called “Big Eyes” about this story. Now, I’m sure the Guardian story was related to the fact that there was probably a book about the story that had now been made into a movie, so I get that. But it just seems strange that I’d read a random article about something I’d never heard of and then saw a preview for a movie on that subject that night. What are the odds? Really.

On Friday morning I was reading The Economist from the week Nelson Mandela died and he was on the cover. There was a great obituary that I read to help fill in some of the gaps I was missing about his life. Michelle came home from Tamworth later in the day with our Friday night video. She had chosen it without any input from me or any knowledge of what I’d been reading. It was the movie “Mandela.” Do do, Do do (theme song from The Twilight Zone)

About a year ago we had just about completed our book “The Sensible Prepper” but it did not have the advance sales with our U.S. distributor to warrant a large print run. As the book business has evolved and our book sales have decreased, there was no longer an economical model for us to continue large print runs sold through a distributor. So we put the book on the back burner.

Recently we got back to thinking about finishing and publishing the book. We are using a service from Amazon called CreateSpace which is essentially a ‘print on demand’ service. You order the book, they print it. We make less money, but we don’t have to put up a whack of money for a big print run to get the ‘per book’ cost down, and potentially take a hit if they don’t sell.

We had the book ready for printing about a week ago and then I switched to getting the eBooks ready. We figured we’d pretend we were a real publisher and roll out the eBook along with the printed version. There’d be marching bands and parades to celebrate.

I had been struggling with the various electronic formats for eBooks … “ePub” for Apple, “.mobi” for Amazon Kindle … the regular headaches. I couldn’t get the table of contents to translate, blah blah blah. Finally on Tuesday morning I got the Kindle version working, it passed the test and we got it uploaded. It would be available for sale within 24 hours.

That’s when we got the phone call. It just seemed very strange to get the call the day the book was available.

There was this strange thing happening in Toronto. A ‘bunker’/’tunnel’ had been discovered in a conservation area near a university. The story led all the newscasts, local and national for the day.

Because the bunker was near one of the venues for next summer’s Pan-Am Games people seemed to freak out. Surely there was a sinister plot behind the mystery hole. On Monday night I heard the Toronto Police were going to be giving a press conference on Tuesday.

Every radio newscast on Tuesday led off with the “tunnel” story. After lunch we got a call from a reporter from The Globe and Mail asking for my comments on the bunker. Really? My comments? They asked if I thought it was the work of a survivalist? At that point I didn’t have much context about the bunker but it certainly looked well constructed and perhaps it was.

I suggested to the reporter how great it was the some people in the city had so much energy they could devote it to endeavors such as this. They moved a lot of soil in their excavation. But here was the problem. I realized it didn’t matter what I said, I was likely to be portrayed as the ‘survivalist’ preparing for the zombie apocalypse. I explained to her that our new book “The Sensible Prepper” is not a guns & ammo extreme survivalist book. It is a logical guide to some of the steps people in a technologically advanced society should take to deal with the potential outcomes of extreme weather that climate change is causing.

I suggested that FEMA and most governments in the developed world are starting to educate citizens that they need to stop assuming that power and water and food systems will always function uninterrupted. They are victims of their own success. Because we’ve had so many decades of reliable public services we can’t imagine a time when they won’t be there. And when some random flood or ice storm or Super Storm Sandy leaves hundreds of thousands of citizens without those systems, they are simply too overwhelmed to deal with the fall out. Is it ‘extreme’ to suggest to someone it’s not a bad idea to have 3 or 4 days worth of food and water in their home? Is it ‘radical’ to recommend someone in an apartment have a sterno stove to warm up some soup if they lose power for a week? I don’t think so.

Regardless, I got a sense that it didn’t matter what I said, the reporter was simply going to keep chatting with me until they got the response they wanted. And I made it very clear I was not a ‘survivalist,’ merely someone who had gone off-grid to reduce their carbon footprint and was merely passing along some of the things I’ve learned about living independently and ‘preparedness’.

And that’s how I got quoted in Canada’s National Newspaper … as a survivalist. Sigh.

Oh well, as Anita Roddick from The Body Shoppe used to say, no publicity is bad publicity. Mayor Rob Ford proved that for Toronto, right?

After I saw the details from the press conference I think there’s a very good chance it was built by someone prepping. If they’d moved the pile of dirt they dug up further away and spread it around it may never have been spotted. And if the police wanted to know whose hole it was, why didn’t they just put some of those remote cameras on it, the kind Canadian Tire sells for hunters? They were in such a panic to fill it in. If they’d been patient they could have asked the builders ‘what’s up’ because apparently they didn’t break any laws. And then whoever dug it could have had their 15 minutes of fame and been headline speakers at “The Survival Expo” in Niagara Falls this summer. That’s right. A whole weekend long expo about off grid living, homesteading, and prepping. I wish they’d skip the survival word, but extreme always sells better.

Apparently there is interest in this topic by the public. If you would like get a gentle initiation into the whole concept and help yourself relax and be mellow next time the power goes off, you can order “The Sensible Prepper” here.

Sensible Prepper CVR

The Sensible Prepper Has Arrived … Finally!

I was watching the news in January and saw a report on a fire at an apartment complex in New Jersey that affected 400 Sensible Prepper CVRpeople. That seemed like a huge number of people to be affected but the buildings seemed to be wood structures and the fire spread quickly.

The report included an interview with a family who had to leave their apartment very quickly, and they lost everything. How devastating. They starting talking about how they really had nothing, they had lost all of their identification, important documents … works. Yikes. Here’s a link to the news story;

A couple of summers ago I saw a report on Colorado I believe where torrential rains had washed out a number of bridges and people in between had to get out quickly because the bridges might be out for months.

And I thought, you know what, these people needed “Bug Out Bags.” I know, I know what you’re saying. Mather has cracked, and now he’s a survivalist and will soon be doing reports on the proper color of camo. Or you’re saying, “What’s a Bug Out Bag?”

Well that’s just it. That’s why I think this is an important conversation. A “Bug Out Bag” is simply a backpack you keep near your door in case someday some law enforcement person or someone in authority comes to your door and tells you that you have to evacuate … NOW! No time to start rifling through your apartment for stuff, you just have to go.

Extreme weather seems to be increasing the frequency of these events with extreme rain turning into floods, and multiple tornados ripping through areas and “super storms” too. There are all sorts of great fun for weather junkies but kind of disconcerting for anyone affected.

We have friends in Boston and this winter they have been buried in snow. It just doesn’t seem to stop. Transit has been shutdown, schools canceled, the city is closed. And in a tightly wound, technologically dependent society which uses a just-in-time model of delivering food and supplies to cities, it would seem that the times of assuming that someone in control will look after you are rapidly drawing to a close.

And that’s where our new book “The Sensible Prepper” comes in. This book evolved from our book “Thriving During Challenging Times” which posited that if those trying to govern our society just had to deal with climate change and extreme weather, or the economic crisis, or peak oil and resource depletion, or you name it, they might do it very well. But because these are all happening simultaneously they will be hard pressed to keep a lid on things. Our system is highly connected and tightly wound and complex systems like ours are very prone to shocks.

So, you should take some basic steps to make sure you’re not the person lined up waiting for bottled water that might not come today. So “The Sensible Prepper” is full of ‘Practical Tips for Emergency Preparedness and Building Resilience.” Nothing Mad Max/Book of Eli/The Road sort of apocalyptic madness and mayhem. I simply suggest that it’s time you took some basic steps to make sure you’re ready for the next disruption of normalcy that is becoming more common. My daughter who lives in downtown Toronto, in a wealthy, well financed, vibrant city was without power at her apartment for 7 days over Christmas last year after an ice storm devastated the electrical system. The system is too tightly wound. It is not resilient enough, so you need to be.

While Michelle and I live off-grid and power our home independently, our lightning strike damage which knocked out all our essential systems two summers ago taught me that I needed to have a better back up plan. It wasn’t the grid that went down, it wasn’t someone else’s fault, it was just Mother Nature doing her thing. It was a huge and costly hassle but it reminded me that I had to have a redundant system if I wanted to really achieve the goal most look for in power independence. In the book I share how to do that using the grid as your first source of power and then developing a backup system as well. And I talk about how do deal with food production and storage.

We also added a section on the basic emergency preparedness that governments throughout the developed world are now starting to suggest their citizens undertake. The systems that support us have been so dependable and robust for so long we’ve just come to accept that they will always be as reliable and a whole series of circumstances from budget-challenged governments to extreme weather are working to undermine that great record. No one is to blame, you should just make sure you’re ready if and when it happens.

That’s all. No camo required. No guns and ammo, although I do discuss security issues. Here are the details and a table of contents.

We really struggled with the title for this book. Some people have never heard of “prepping.” Thanks to National Geographic’s “Extreme Prepping” show others just assume this involves installing a concrete bunker in your backyard and spending weekends learning knife fighting. Sorry, no such fun in our book. But the reality of putting some extra canned goods aside with a way to cook them in your apartment in a blackout is prepping, so we just decided to call it what it is. In the old days this is just what people did. Today, we have to make a conscious decision to make ourselves more independent. And this is a good thing. It’s not radical or extreme, it’s just smart.

The past 17 years of our lives have been a constant upheaval for Michelle and me. We left a comfortable suburban life to move off-grid when the technology was still in its infancy and there was no good information on how to do it. We gave up a stable source of income to publish books about renewable energy and sustainable living and saw that evaporate with the economic collapse in 2008. We have scrambled to replace that income and have adapted to a new reality of drastically reduced income running a CSA, while loving it. It can feel like crap while it’s happening, but when you sort the mess out it feels amazing. The more you plan for an alternative future and realize that change is the norm, the easier it is to deal with it, should it begin to affect you. We are very proud of this book and we hope our readers will learn from our experiences.

The publishing industry has completely been reinvented since we entered it a decade ago. As you may recall from previous blogs, we were reluctant (and hard-pressed financially) to print a large quantity of this book and then have to warehouse them. With this book we are using a print on demand process whereby we print small quantities of books as you order them.

You can also order our book through by clicking here.


Michelle and I have a supply here at Sunflower Farm and would be happy if you ordered them from us directly. Since we can’t compete with Amazon on price and shipping what we’d like to do is that if you order the book from us at $19.95, we’ll include a copy of “Little House Off The Grid” for an extra $5.00. We’d be happy to sign the books if you’d like. Shipping will be a flat rate of $15.00. Visit here to order your copy

And here’s the challenge I make to you. I am confident that at some point, if you follow a few of the suggestions I make in the book, you’re going to be grateful you did. Even it’s the time you’ve got a minivan full of kids when you pull up to the gas pump with the tank on empty and realize you left your purse/wallet in the hockey change room. You’re going to reach under your seat and pull our some cash and say, “Man did that avert a huge day-ruining mess! Great idea Cam!” That would be my main hope. Should there be something more extreme than a forgotten wallet in your future that you’d taken steps in advance to deal with, well, then, my work here has been successful!

Happy reading.

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Our next workshop here at Sunflower Farm will take place on Saturday, April 25th. We call it The Hands-On, Solar Powered, Off-Grid, Personal Independence and Resilience, All You Can Grow, Ready for Rough Times Workshop. Covers just about everything doesn't it? For more information and to register, go to
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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their business, Aztext Press. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is a sought after speaker for conferences and keynotes and has motivated thousands to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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