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Happy Cold, Cold, Very Cold New Years!

There’s nothing like the present when trying out a new thing.  I’ve winter camped before- any climbing we’ve done in the Ghost Valley in Alberta required a sketchy truck drive, a long hike, and then a cold camp.  Being two, or three guys, and naturally without the absolute NEED to share a tent (ie. a narrow bivvy on the side of some cliff), we opted to each set up our individual little nylon tent, and then freeze solidly for the 12 hours of darkness.

I’m older, wiser, and will be sharing the tent with my wife and little ones.  As well, this makes a perfect warming shelter (which will be its primary use) when doing bush work, maple syrup…etc.  I ordered this from which is a funky little shop in Port Credit that specializes in more heavy-duty outdoor gear.

When I was younger, travelling lighter, and had pre-kid disposable income, and spending my non-work days doing kinda fun stuff in the mountains, I was really, really into the ultra-light gear.  I wanted packs and jackets and tents that weighed about nothing, and with which I could get a good, full season of use, a second season of duct-tape-patched use, after which I would pitch the tattered, ultra-light rags and start.  If I used that same gear in the tree, anything Pata-gucci or ArcTear-it, I believe it would last a good couple of months or so…

But, as my leisure time has become, well, work time ( three mouths to feed, and counting ..), and I began to realize a penny saved is sure better than a penny charged on credit, I slowly began migrating to the burlier, heavier, and more enduring winter gear.

Which lead me to purchasing the 20lb Tent and 10lb Wood Stove, which is about 6x the weight of my old MSR Fusion tent, BUT will probably out last it by a ten-factor.


Practice Camping with a bail out a scant few hundred meters away. It is only about -15 in the mid day. At this temp, it’s pretty easy to keep the tent balmy warm.

And, it was in this canvas palace that I spent the closing nights of the New Year.  It was hovering around -30, and I was a bit sick with a bout of the flu, but I really, REALLY wanted to test it out.

So, how did I fare?  Set up took about 45 minutes, all told, and that’s for an amateur (I’d set it up in practice, once, and then spent some time on trying to figure out everything that went wrong the first time).  I’m pretty good with knots, being an arborist and all, so that bit went easy, and my commitment factor was pretty low.  This was in the folks-in-law’s orchard- their big, warm, heat-pump heated house was only a few hundred meters away.

I could bail so long as Grandma remembered to keep the door unlocked.

I hunkered down with an oil lamp, a wool blanket, a small stack of green Ash, and a well-thumbed book (Little House in the Big Wood). My wife left me to help tend the boys around 10:00 pm or so, and there I was, alone, in the Wild… sorta.

I did hear a Coyote, at some point, I think.  Mighta been Grandma’s furnace kicking in…

But, this was a practice run.  I was mildly uncomfortable all night, due to the fact that I was using green wood, which probably could have used another split.  I had the draw and damper completely closed on the Kni-Co wood stove, which tempered the heat ALOT (before going to bed, I had the tent roasty enough, even in -30, to just wear a flannel shirt).  I could have stayed roasty if I didn’t mind restocking the stove every hour, but I would probably have minded that.  Oh, and I might not completely close the draw next time- I had a bit of a head ache in the morning, and keep forgetting my kid’s names.

At any rate, I got some patchy sleep, but was refreshed enough ( headache excepting…) the next morning to hang out a bit longer, read more about little Laura and Mary, and Ma and Pa Ingalls, and then go for a snow shoe run and then help with the New Years dinner preps ( I might have laid out the forks, don’t remember- that dang closed damper!).

Winter camping is hard to fake. One night does not a respectable trip make, and it takes a degree of practice, and routine, to make it work so that your wife and kids don’t end up hating you (it, life…) someday.

Practice makes perfect.  We’ll try it again next weekend, when, once again, the weatherman is calling for -30.



Arborist as Athlete

I went for a run today.  It was an easy one- a MAFF run, where I keep my heart rate low for the duration, and I trudge along, un-glamourously for a while.  What was it -20?  Was that it?  It felt really cold for the first 10 minutes, less cold for the next fifty, and I had to strip off my neck guard, my mitts, and open my running jacket, under which I had just a running shirt for the last bit.

I love winter Trail Running.  I just think it was probably something God had in mind, you know, when he decided about winters.

“Well, food will be scarce, and it’ll be darn-ed cold as heck, but the trail running will be epic.” — God

It’s one of those amazing things about winter.  It gets dark early (or stays dark late), so when (if) you strap on your headlamp, and you head out the door, there is a feeling of… I don’t know.  Awesomeness.  You’re cold, and it is dark, and you’re wondering why you didn’t just hang out with the internet and a coffee, and yet, it is, often… well, firstly, it’s often absolutely quiet- just crunch-crunch of snow.  The air has that cold clean smell, and the fog of your breath occasionally flashes through the headlamp.

I like that bit.

Then, you trot until you run, and when the trail narrows, you are running in shadows and it is exhilarating.  Even running MAFF runs, slow and steady, feels fast.  The shadows move and dance, and occasionally amongst the shadows you see the eyes of a coyote- like two gleaming, golden coins hovering in the dark.

Super-cool stuff.

So, while it’s bitter cold, and dark early and late, and tying knots can be numbing, and climbing with the screaming barfies is not entirely fun, and while machinery breaks, and brakes freeze, and you spend your mornings cold and then sweaty, and then chilled, in a tree, and the winds can be brisk, and your gear can be insufficient… I wouldn’t trade Winter for anything.

Christmas, of course,  is just the most wonderful day when spent with Family, and is only made better by the Cold and the Snow.  Frozen wood splits so easy by axe, and anytime you can light up a fireplace, or a wood stove, is magic.  Hacking away on snow shoes or skiis, up and around and about the cliffs and forests of Eramosa Creek, or Hockley, little guys beside (oldest) or in tow (youngest) is just Life…

And, of course, the winter trail running.  Let’s not forget that.




Easy Days… when the body is feeling it.

Today was an easy day- well, in a manner of speaking.

According to the TCIA, the vast majority of Forestry injuries occur on Monday and on Friday.  The also tend to occur in the afternoon, toward the end of the day, and, often not part of the professional stream of arborists and forestry workers (ie someone’s son-in-law running saw on their weekends).

There are 80 fatalities per year of 40,000 tree workers in the United States, or about 1 in 500, every year, for the duration of one’s career.

You have to be careful.  So, Monday is an easy day.  Today, we dropped a large ( 100′ by 20″ dbh) dead Poplar Tree.  A few dead ash as well- they were back leaning, and so have to use some rigging in order to bring the trees back over center, and to fall them in the direction we wanted, which was away from the high-voltage power lines.

Bucking with bucking wedges.
Bucking with bucking wedges.

Now, I was feeling Sunday, mostly because we worked Saturday, and then I ran Sunday.  Didn’t mean to make it a big run- just a few km, but it was raining, and cool, and Cath and the boy’s were away, so I just kept adding, and adding, and adding the clicks, and two hours or so later, I finally was back at the door.

You see, to be in this game, you have to have your head, and your body.  The head- hey, a great wife, cool kids, and focus is what matters- if the home is looked after, you can keep your mind on important things (like safety knots, chainsaws, wood integrity… etc).

As for the body, well, you don’t get without training.  I climb all week, but if I’m not doing cardio- whether on a bike or in sneakers – if I’m not doing those things, I won’t have the energy to climb that rope, every day, day-in, day-out,

When a ‘quick Sunday run’ becomes an epic, you don’t go hard on Monday.  You drop a few trees, skid some logs, and get ready for Tuesday, when you really might have to be switched on.


I smell like fish… Adventures in Organic Orcharding.

Not a great smell. It’s part of the job.

Today, I took a break from CLIMBING all day to get some work done in the Apple Orchard.  There was a few things to get in order- it was quarter-green, so we had to fertilize.


If you read on the left, it says Liquid Fish Fertilizer, which is emulsified fish bits, and smell exactly as you would expect.  Of course, add in molasses, and your organic spray concoction smells like ginger bread cookies dipped in emulsified fish parts.  Now, the way this all works in our small orchard is we mix this in ( 1 gallon fish, 1 gallon molasses) with 53 gallons of water.


The 55 gallon tank does the orchard perfectly in one run- 150 trees plus the nursery.   It’s a Walco Sprayer, and runs about 1000.00 Canadian.  Has a PTO driven pump, and connects to the drawbars, and is light enough to man-handle to the three point hitch.


There’s a gun and extendable boom sprayer- but I use the gun as it allows us to soak the lower trunk and the drip line accurately- conserving the mixture and not wasting money fertilizing orchard grass.

We finally got the last of the root stock planted.  We get our root stock from – mostly we deal with Lawerence Martin, whose excellent and knowledgeable.  Pat is using the Broadfork to break a grow for the new root stock.


If you’re interested in a really great piece on the apple tree, Michael Pollan’s Botany Of Desire is my suggestion.  Apple seed (you know, the one’s in the core of your apple) will not grow an apple true to their original fruit.  So, that Honey Crisp you had for lunch is actually grown from a tree that was grown from a scion that lends its heritage (however many iterations ago) to a single Honey Crisp tree, originally grown ( by pure chance) in 1960 in Minnesota.


So, we bench grafted and planted our first 50 trees earlier this year, and these 50 root stock we  planted today will be bud grafted in August.  Our scions are chosen from the existing stock, and we’ve got some pretty cool heritage apples (although less than we once had after the vole devastation of 2014) and some great relatively obscure but, nonethless, more conventional apples.

So, that was our day.  Sprayed the orchard.  Broke a whole bunch of ground.  Planted. Mulched.  Oh, and began prepping the garden for Spring Planting.