Green Wizardries, Going the Full Canadian, by Maxine Rogers
It is early morning as I write this and I am seated in front of a blazing-wood fire in a cool house in the snow. Soon, the house will be warm.
We have had a great snowfall, the likes of which I have never seen in over ten years on this island. I feel very lucky and a bit surprised that we still have electrical power. At the beginning of this snowstorm, we did lose power for a day but the heroic BC Hydro crews came out and set the island to rights, coming out on Christmas Day no less! But, I ask you, what would have happened if the ferry had not been able to run?
Sometimes bad luck arrives all at once in the form of heavy, wet snow, power lines down all over, the ferry can’t run due to high winds, the temperature drops, the roads turn to skating rinks and an important piece of safety equipment freezes solid on the ferry and they cannot legally put to sea without it being operational. By the way, this latter problem did happen this week and several sailings were cancelled before the crew was able to thaw out the mechanism. Well done that crew!
This scenario is possible but others are also possible on a more personal level. What happens if a person can no longer pay for hydro? What if they can no longer pay for or source propane? Hydro doesn’t have to go up so far to be unaffordable. Steady inflation is eating the value out of our dollar. People may have to decide between heating and eating. This is now happening in Western Europe due to the high price of natural gas.
I was talking to an older Denman resident about my story on Hay Boxes. He said most people here used to have them. People would put a stew to boil on the wood stove before they left for work off island. He said they would also heat a flat rock on the stove and put that in the haybox to warm the box up. I guess they left the rock in the box for extra thermal mass which is pretty clever,
They would put the boiling stew pot in the hay box and when they came back nine hours later, their supper was hot and perfectly cooked. I was joking with him that he could still do that in a power outage. He admitted that he had no wood stove and no backup heating system of any kind. I find this troubling.
I believe a wood stove is an excellent piece of emergency equipment even if you do not use it for primary heating and cooking as I do. Mine is a Nectre 550 stove built in Australia. It has a cook top and a baking oven. I just love it and recommend it highly. I don’t get kickbacks for this opinion either.
Having a wood stove and a supply of dry fire wood for emergencies is a really good idea. However, wood stoves are very expensive to have installed and not everyone owns their own home so how could they prepare for winter troubles?
We have an ancient Coleman white-gas stove which is suitable for boiling some water or even getting a stew up to the boiling point. This sort of stove has to be used out of doors but is very convenient for power outages that happen in the summer and people still need to boil a pot of coffee in the morning without heating the whole house with the wood stove. Such a stove could make life much easier in the winter power outages too.
One thing I hope becomes popular again is Stanfield’s long johns! I bought a pair of Stanfield’s under trousers this autumn and I love them! They are just the thing for working out of doors in the winter. They are also really comfortable to wear around the house with a wool sweater.
We are using substantially less firewood because of this. Burning wood contributes to carbon emissions so we want to burn as little as we can. The Stanfield’s long johns also make a great under layer for use with wet weather gear. I got the 80% wool really heavy grey ones. There are other sorts of long johns with an inner layer of cotton for people who don’t like wool next to their skin.
Before the really decadent portion of the twentieth century got going, everyone in the northern latitudes used to wear long underwear as a matter of course. This was indoor wear and, for men, used to be topped by wool trousers, a shirt, a wool waist coat, a wool jacket and if the person had to go out in inclement weather, a wool greatcoat would be thrown over the ensemble. The person wearing all that wool would be perfectly warm even in the, largely, unheated houses, in Britain. Exactly this style will not come back but a new style will develop as the cost of heating rises out of the reach of many.
I was talking to a young person about home heating and her house is largely unheated. She has indoor toques and outdoor toques. Indeed, she has light toques and heavy toques for both indoor wear and outdoor wear. I think having a good selection of toques, tams or berets is one of the best ways of staying comfortable in lower temperatures. She also has a collection of throws and lap blankets so she is ahead of the curve.
My husband and I always use sheepskin slippers inside and we have lovely wool blankets from Nova Scotia. They are so warm and cozy. We also use an old-style hot water bottle on cold nights. All of this is low tech and useful in a power outage or just to reduce ones consumption of heating fuels.
We visited friends recently and found them to be wearing the most beautiful fairisle sweaters with metal clasps on the collars. I asked if the sweaters were Norwegian and was told they had been bought used on Etsy and the couple is only buying previously-owned articles to combat the mountains of material goods being chucked away and wasted.
As Canadians, we used to be good at living in the cold. Come on, let’s go the full Canadian!