A diary of the projects, hurdles, rewards and family life at we recorded at Wise Acres, our former homestead in Horsefly, BC. (Careers and teenagers have forced us back into the city, at least for a little while.)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Some magic isn't...

This photo of last week's hoar-frost is far better than any of the snowblower we have.

Whenever I visited my farm-raised (free-range?) cousins, something would break down (a snowmobile, a dirt bike, an old Datsun pickup, or a chainsaw...), and they'd spend an hour fixing it. It was magic to me when they got it working again - the seemingly random little jiggles and jostles of a choke or a throttle somehow did the trick.

I'm pretty excited to say that the magic is gone (is that the first time that phrase has been uttered?), and I can see the science behind it all now. Having had to get the chainsaw or snowblower working when they didn't want to has taught me a few things about combustion engines.

A related lesson was that the snowblower should be covered. It wasn't, and one day a week ago I started it, but could not get the 2nd stage auger (which blows the snow away) to move - it had been frozen to the body after a recent thaw. I chipped away at the ice, and eventually got it running again. It was too late though, and after 10 somewhat successful minutes, the auger stopped, and I smelled burnt rubber.

A quick review of the manual indicated the auger belt was the culprit (or more accurately, the victim) - I opened the covering and confirmed it. I was able to find the belt online and ordered it. Today, after some wrestling, the snowblower works again.

Each little repair, each sequence of failure and success, reinforces the feeling of rightness. I appreciate and will always seek out specialists when the situation calls for it, but I'm moving that line of distinction out bit by bit. Engines and machines aren't magic...

Hoar-frost though, that's magic.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Do those look like udders to you?

Yes, that is a picture of 'Brownie's' back side. We are about six to eight weeks from discovering if our sheep are in fact pregnant for sure. They do seem to be quite eager to see me at feeding time...a possible sign that they are in the last stage of their pregnancy. My neighbour Gigi suggested that if they develop teets or udders, that will be a sure sign. So every now and again you will find me crouched on the ground in the sheep pen staring up at their undersides. The sheep are a little curious about this new pastime...but mostly remain unphased by what us strange humans get up to.

This is Brownie's better side :)

So while we are waiting for our little lambs we have been busy getting the sheep shed ready. We got the bulk of it done in early December...when the weather was a frigid -35 degrees celsius. Brrr!

This is the mostly finished product...the metal roofing will be put on in the spring.

The barn is divided between the chickens on one side...

and the sheep have the other, slightly larger side...

Erich is getting quite good at these beautiful "Z" doors :)

The chickens are looking so much healthier and have even begun laying for us again!! This week-end I will be spending some time removing the straw from the chicken side, which I discovered is not the greatest bedding for chickens...and replacing it with wood shavings. A recent visit to our cousins who build timberframe homes ( Zirnhelt Timberframes) has provided us with a wealth of chicken bedding...

woo hooo....I tell you the things that I get excited about these days :)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Our wood situation

When we moved to the property, our agent mentioned something about us having "ten years worth of wood piled around the place". Apparently, the previous owner had been quite good about staying on top of cutting down the trees affected by the pine beetle. He had cut everything to fireplace length and stacked it in neat piles all over the property.

In early October, we noticed most of our fellow Horseflinnians stacking nicely, split logs in woodsheds or along side their homes. We marvelled at the sheer volume of wood they had prepared. We had some family over for dinner one night and they asked us if we had our winter wood ready...to which we replied with confidence, oh we have plenty stacked pretty close to the house. They smiled...you do have electric back-up heat as well right? Hmmm.

We had about three times the above picture, stacked along side of our house. Then in early December we were walloped with almost two feet of snow and -30 temperatures. Suddenly most of our wood was completely inaccessible. We have been able to dig out several piles from under the snow but the distance to our house has definitely multiplied. Just yesterday I was digging out this pile...

it is about 70 feet from our house. It felt like a mile as I was hauling my utility sled, loaded down with wood and falling into pockets of waist high snow every ten feet.

Most of what is left of our wood stash is also "unsplit"...which means fully round logs instead of nice quartered pieces of wood which catch quite easily. The unsplit stuff is okay, it's just to get the fire going again in the morning, etc., the split ones come in handy...not to mention that some of the big logs are just too big for the woodstove, so really need to be split to be used.

More lessons learned and...I think woodshed may have crept up in priority for the to do list.

Oh how I covet my neighbours beautifully split, stacked, accessible wood pile :)

Snow Growing on Aspens

We're one month into winter-the-season, and there's likely almost 4 months left of winter-the-reality, and I can see how it can start to bring people down. Folks crave southern climes, sunny beaches and lighter clothes.

But winter here redeems itself. The girls are outside every day for a few hours, and there are phenomena that are truly awe-inspiring.

We've had fog over the past few days, but it's still been below freezing. The result is the growth of frost on any and everything - branches, fences, weather stations (which I have to knock off or the anemometer doesn't work).

UPDATE 1: No we didn't get 20 Icelandic horses recently :)...these were taken at Big Bear Ranch, next door.

UPDATE 2: Joanne rightly guessed this was hoarfrost, which, till now, I'd only experienced in novels (much like gibbous moons).

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Dilemma: Sustainability versus the Snowblower

image courtesy of Andrew Burgess

An advantage of being a purist, I suspect, is that many decisions are made for you. We are far from being purists, but I suspect even they face the same challenges that creep into our everyday lives: organic versus local/grain-fed/free-range; recyclable plastic versus single-use glass; or even polyester versus wool.

We had a huge amount of snow in December. I was ready to shovel it all. Really, I was. We have a local fellow to plow the driveway, but there are several kilometres of paths that need clearing (you doubt? spend a day shoveling them and tell me there were less that a few kilometres!) The work seemed worthwhile when we considered the impact a snowblower had on the environment, and in it's use of non-renewable energy.

Then we lost a whole weekend to shoveling. Suddenly all our projects, and our holiday planning, had to be put on hold for a week. The snowblower was now deemed a necessity (and we got one that week).

So how do we reconcile this? I've been going over this for a few weeks now, and running ideas past other sustainably-goaled folks.

Some decisions are clearer: we got a gas-guzzling truck (a Honda, but a truck still) because our van kept getting stuck, and we plan on doing more towing and hauling. It supports our greater goal, and there's no real alternative.

A snowmobile, on the other hand, which would make some of our winter chores (hauling wood) easier and way more fun, does not justify it's gas-guzzling existence to us. I see other folks whose livelihoods depend on traveling over snow quickly feeling otherwise, justifiably.

But the snowblower comes with a clear alternative - hard work. Getting one feels lazy.

This leads to the question - what is our goal here? If we truly want to lead simpler, Nearing-modeled lives, the projects would wait, and the shovel would work. But what I think we are aiming for is a balanced (albeit Nearing-inspired) lifestyle with certain sacrifices in ideology made in favour of painting the bigger picture. It's to acknowledge that sometimes to get to our destination, we take shortcuts on the journey.

It's not perfect, but it's conclusive enough to let me sleep better at night. Or maybe that's just one of the benefits of a snowblower - no sore back!