The Subterranean Homesick “End of Winter” Blues

I am very grateful to have had the good fortune to move to paradise when I was 38 years old. Michelle and I worked very hard running our business in the city and we scrimped and saved and got out of the city before I lost my mind. (Many would dispute whether we got out in time, but I like to think that we did.) Then for the last 15 years we have worked hard to upgrade every system in the house, make and expand gardens and heat sustainably with wood. It’s been absolutely fantastic. I am grateful I got here when I was young enough to do all of this. I do not own a tractor. I do not own a backhoe. I do not own an ATV. I have used my back and my arms fueled by Michelle’s fantastic granola, and with the help of some stored sunshine (fossil fuels) in my chainsaw and rototiller.

This winter has given me pause to reflect on how grateful I should be, because it’s all finally catching up with me. This winter I’m feeling really “bagged.” It could be a variety of things. I think on one level I’m still exhausted from last summer’s drought, both physically and emotionally. I am one of the rare farmers who take climate change and its ensuing droughts personally. We went 8 weeks without rain at the height of our growing season (while running a CSA) and I feel like Mother Nature was trying to punish me. It must be for past life wrongs because I’ve been on my best behavior for years.

My fatigue might also be related to Michelle’s mother’s death and my grandmother’s death and too many other deaths within our circle of friends. I’ve heard that elderly people often die during the dark days of winter. This winter proved that theory for me.

I could suggest that I’m not getting enough protein and that’s why I’m more fatigued but ever since we acquired our own chickens I’ve been eating more animal protein from their eggs than any time since I became vegetarian 23 years ago. Obviously, my apologies to our vegan readers. We have awfully happy chickens, though. Michelle spoils them.

Do we have to come out? It's snowing again!

Do we have to come out? It's snowing again!

chicken-close-up

So I’m starting to think it’s just the weather and the time of the year. February and March have traditionally been really great for sun around here. These days are usually cold and brilliantly sunny and the solar panels will be just ‘cookin’, going full tilt charging batteries, heating water and powering my electric chainsaw. This winter, any time I’ve looked at the 7-day weather forecast there has rarely been more than one day of sunshine. Just cloud. Not near enough precipitation, just cloud. Many cloudy days we’ve been getting just enough juice to keep the batteries charged but we haven’t had any of those nice long stretches of sunshine when the hot water tank gets scalding and I’m able to cut up piles of firewood.

I get a sense that a lot of people are in the same boat right now. From talking to my friends, there seems to be a low-lying depression/lack of energy everywhere. I even noticed it in the locker room recently after a “Happy Hockey” game. Usually when you get a bunch of endorphin-energized males together after a game they rib each other mercilessly. Last week it the locker room was quiet. No cutting remarks about whether the colour of that hockey jersey is chartreuse or yellow. No sarcastic comments about what “plants” Cam has started under his grow lights. (Seriously guys, its just peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and sweet potatoes. Honest!)

I do think this is age-related but also caused by a lack of sunlight. Two weeks ago, Saturday was a beautiful sunny day. I started cutting a hundred-year old white pine that had blown down on the east side of our property. I easily cut about 4 weeks’ worth of firewood. Then I got back to the house and cut down a massive poplar that was too close to the horse barn. Poplars grow fast but they are weak and have a tendency to blow down in big windstorms. While the prevailing wind probably would have taken it away from the horse barn, I thought it would be best to take it down in a more controlled fashion. So I made my directional front cut, made the back cut, put in my wedges and started pounding with the sledgehammer, and I dropped it to within a foot of where I wanted it! What a blast! Then I cut it up, and had another 4 weeks worth of firewood. (I use soft woods like poplar during the fall and spring when I don’t need as much heat from my woodstove.) After lunch I went back to the pine in the woods and hauled a whack of it up to the road. And yes, AS ALWAYS, it was at the bottom of a gully, so it was uphill all the way. I’m getting my hauling done while we still have snow on the ground since I use a large plastic toboggan to drag it. Then I went back to the house, cleaned the chicken coop, spread the straw and chicken manure on the gardens, and then hauled and split more poplar.

It was like I’d taken steroids, but I think it was just the sunshine. I had energy to burn! So did our dog Jasper, because if I’m going full out during the day, Jasper goes full out and then some, so he had a really good work out after too many days spent moping around the house. I slept like a log that night and so did Jasper!

snowcovered-wood-pile

Next year's wood

Next year's wood

This makes me glad that I didn’t wait until retirement age to move to the country. I know how much I have accomplished here in the last 15 years, and with the way I am slowing down, I know I won’t accomplish quite as much in the next 15 years.  At the same time I am starting to realize that my joints might not last forever and with the way our healthcare system is going there might be any available for me when I need replacements.

So this week I used up my Canadian Tire ‘points’ (for our American readers, this is one of those reward programs offered by a credit card) and put them towards an electric log splitter. I love splitting wood. It is one of the most Zen-inducing things that I do. But I’ve got tennis elbow even though I’ve never lifted a tennis racket, so I’m going to try to relieve a bit of wear and tear on my elbows and my back. Plus it was $200, half-price on sale, so it was basically a reward for being a Canadian Tire customer. Man do I feel special!

In the meantime I will eat more broccoli, keep my face in the sun (when it’s shining) and be out in it every minute I can, using my solar-powered electric chainsaw and solar-powered electric log splitter.

I love winter but bring on spring!

* * * * * * *

Michelle’s Note: Thanks to our readers for all of their amazing suggestions for inspirational quotes on our last blog post! You provided us with so many good ones that we still can’t decide! In fact Cam has suggested that perhaps we need to find a way to make it easily changeable so that we can cycle through the best ones. I’ll keep you posted on what we finally do with that big piece of barnboard over our fridge!

its-snowing

Also: Just a reminder that our spring workshop will be held here at Sunflower Farm on Saturday, May 4/13. Go here for more details.

9 Responses to “The Subterranean Homesick “End of Winter” Blues”

  • You can tell that Cam has a foot in both worlds … I think he means “soft wood,” not “software” although I am sure that there are days he’d like to run some software through the log splitter!

  • Cam Mather:

    I’m still testing the log splitter but I’ll blog about it eventually. I’m being cautious at first, just using it on easy software without alot of knots, but I’ll work my way up. Cam

  • queen of string:

    We have the 4 ton log splitter from canadian tire and we have been really happy with it. The bolts on the side rails failed after 2yrs, but tbh, that had more to do with us splitting things bigger than it’s posted limit. I wouldnt bother buying the 4 way split accessory they also carry, we have had no luck with that at all.

  • Wendy:

    I have lived in the Pacific NW all my life and I can attest that the weather can have a profound impact on how you feel. I have noticed that the winters have just gotten wetter over the past few years. Maybe it’s my age, not sure. Around here you might get a one day of sun and then 10 days of rain. I grew up in Portland, Oregon but have lived in Olympia WA for the past 17 yrs. Living near a rain forest doesn’t help. So, I get the feeling of being on steroids when the sun comes out. We had a day of sun last week and I ran myself ragged and would have kept going until dark if I could have. Hang in there. Yes, spring is here! I’ve been marveling at the smallest of buds coming from the trees and the bulbs finally breaking through. At least you have snow. I get very happy with the snow when it does happen here (very rare). Everything is so bright and beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful here and VERY Green! But, sun for a couple of days in the winter would be nice :-).

  • Neil:

    What American readers may need more an explanation of than the points program is that a store called “Canadian Tire” actually sells about a zillion other hardware, houseware, sporting goods, outdoor clothes, etc, etc, in addition to tires!! I think they are/were even selling fresh foods at some locations to compete with WalMart… milk from Canadian Tire? Hmmm. Seriously, though, let me know how the splitter works. I saw one on sale there this week or last but wasn’t sure if it would have enough power to get through hardwoods like elm or dense straight grain woods like ash or maple.

  • Tricia:

    Glad to see a new blog post….we were spoiled for awhile and I missed them:} And yes….blah!

  • I’m sure it’s the weather. Last week I was singing the same blues and telling a friend that I couldn’t even get excited about the garden yet. Everything I do I am forcing myself to do it. We will get better, soon.

  • I just read this and understand exactly what you mean…. I have always found winter a difficult time (one of the reasons I left the UK 52 years ago – God help us – was that from November to February it was grey and raining). Having tried cross country skiing for several years I finally realized that I don’t like cold weather that much so I either travelled or hibernated. However when we get a sunny day – suddenly life gets better and there is an air of optimism.
    Keep up the good work – I enjoy the blog.

  • Ken and Madeline Snider:

    Cam wehad a speaker at our latest Probus meeting. His name is Richard Tunstall B.Sc;N.D . He is doing organic farming just outside Brantford. He hadn’t heard of you but I thought we would let you know of him. He has Heart’s Content Organic Farm just outside Brantford heartscontentfarm@gmail.com

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. 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 available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people 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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