Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Winter Cabin - third entry

The colour palette of the winter landscape was medicine for me.

Journal entry, January 1, 2011
The wind has picked up after two days of still. It just started a few hours ago. There is a low continual but fluctuating howl that it makes which mingles with the the sound of the tree canopies rubbing together. I admit it makes me feel uneasy. It sounds ominous. But I should be reasonable. I have had a lovely day. Tending to the cows was beautiful and methodical - I can't get over how magical these early winter mornings int he countryside are. Everything glistens with frost, including the whiskers on the noses of the cows.
* * * *
I encouraged Genie the dog to come back to the cabin with me and she watched while I hung my clothes to dry but she looked like she would have preferred that we were outdoors, so I grabbed my skates and the shovel and we walked down the trail to the lake. Genie put her nose into every second or third deer footprint that we passed (there were a lot of tracks) and when she found deer poo she rolled around in it with delight. I wondered if I would be able to smell a difference between snow and snow that a deer had stepped in. We arrived at the lake and I started to plough the snow. When it seemed like enough for a start, I put my skates on and began. It was great! I started to shovel in my skates but then I thought of trying to skate directly on the snow since it was so soft and light and not at all attached to the ice. I tried and it was MAGICAL!!!! I skated all around that end of the lake with abandon, making beautiful line patterns in the snow with each foot's glide. I skated fast and did clumsy twirls while Genie ran, full of excitement beside me. Our hearts raced and I'm quite certain that we were both filled with joy and renewal. To skate with only the shore of the lake as a border, completely alone in the silence of winter in such a beautiful place was a dream. After a half hour or so of this I dropped Genie off at her house and went back to the cabin. I read and cooked and wrote and ate and now it is bedtime.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Winter Cabin - second entry

Photos of the inside of the cabin:

I had just returned from a snowshoe walk - this is the porch.

The sunlit table with my tea and writing and crocheting.

A few drawings that I made while I was there.

The kitchen with drying dishes.

The loft where I slept and my improvised drying line.

The dear old 'Favorite Box 25'.

The propane range that made cooking much easier.

The sofa where I did most of my reading.

Here are a couple of journal excerpts starting with my second day at the cabin:

January 9, 2011
I had a nice morning: started a fire, ate breakfast, read, took a walk with my mom's snowshoes - snowshoeing was great, easier and more pleasant than I expected and the forest trails were stunningly silent and magical. The only sounds were me, the treetops rubbing and birds calling. It was a still life of white and buff and while I was stopped, surveying it, I locked eyes with a beautiful doe. We watched each other for only a few seconds until she went back to whatever she was doing. After a few minutes of watching her I decided to keep walking and my movement scared her away. When she started to prance up the hill I saw that there was another deer with her and they disappeared into the woods with much more grace than I could ever hope to have. I finished my walk with joy and returned to the cabin to prepare lunch.

* * * * * *
Sue and I discussed some details in regards to composting, firewood, chores, etcetera and then she took me to meet the cows and showed me how to take care of them. They are such lovely animals. They all approached me in turn to sniff and lick my hands. They are friends with Sue's dog Jeannie and the whole ritual seems great to me: give them hay outside in the yard and inside and two other outdoor feeding places, give them water from the well on the hill, shovel out their stalls and smash the ice on their pond's surface. I will be doing this every morning this week!

January 10, 2011
The days are passing quickly here - I didn't expect that. Today I did the cow chores, just me and the cows. It was pretty great. I spilled water down my boot which was very uncomfortable (it was -20 degrees or something) but besides that it was really good. Even smashing frozen cow poop to try to dislodge it from the stable floor was fun.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Winter Cabin - first entry

Last week I returned from seven weeks alone in a beautiful cabin in the forest in east-central Ontario. I have so many things to report and photos to show that it is very difficult to know where to begin. I suppose I will be posting in a long drawn out series. I kept a journal while I was there and I will include a selection of entries.

This started while I was away in Italy last summer. I was consumed by the idea of living a pioneer-style life in the wilderness of Canada. When I returned I began a search for a very simple place to live for a short time over the winter months in order to test out my idea for substance. Thanks to my friend Kate who found this cabin south of Bancroft last spring, I was able to see it myself on a trip that we took together for five days in October (see earlier post). Sue, the awe inspiring owner of the cabin asked if I might be interested in taking care of the place (her house, dog Genie, cat Molly, fish and 4 cows) while she went away for a week or so in the winter - of course I would! I deliberated for a month or so and then finally asked what she would think of me staying at her cabin for January and February, helping with chores, trying not to get in her way ... I imagined my time in the forest to be a test of independence, taking everything I needed with me there and relying on Sue only for drinking water and fire wood. I ended up with so much more but that comes later in the story. Anyway, Sue thought about it carefully and said yes! A price was agreed on and I began my preparations.

The cabin was built by Sue about 10 years ago I think. It is small and simple, bright and comfortable. There is no electricity or running water, but there is a propane range and a sink that drains into a bucket under the counter (one must not forget to empty it regularly). Drinking water comes from Sue's house, about a half kilometre away, and is transported on a sled in a big jug with a tap - Sue has made a perfect spot for it under the counter. The cabin is full of her inspiring solutions. The wood stove is old cast iron - really just a box with legs, a door and a stove pipe. It has scrollwork cast into its sides along with its name: Favorite Box 25. I often made the fire too hot and ended up sweating in my long underwear cursing my baking brain, opening windows to the -25 degree nights. There is a small wood pile in the front porch and a larger one out back that I kept stocked with sled loads of wood from the pile at Sue's house. I used my dad's axe to chop the odd too-large block of wood and also kindling, but I was a bit blue because I had fantasized about spending hours of every day splitting wood. I collected snow every day in basins to melt by the stove and had a pot on the stove where I heated it for washing. I always chose the cleanest looking snow for this purpose and was always surprised to find countless dark foresty particles in the melted water.

The nights were very special. It was dark early and without electricity I was left to rely on the warm glow of fire. My lantern, candles and the wood stove became very dear to me over long hours of straining to read and write with the silence outside disturbed only by the fluttering sound of the flames - except when the wind was whipping ferociously through the trees!

Here is part of my first journal entry:

January 8, 2011
I arrived at this cabin today and here I am in my long underwear and a big sweater vest and old down filled slippers from my mom, sitting in my winter hideaway with the sound of the fire and the light from the candles. It is 6:45pm and it has been dark since 5:30pm. I have a glass of wine and have just finished a beautiful beef tenderloin sandwich and read for a bit - but restlessly. I have unpacked nearly everything, the supplies meant to last me through two months of independence. My wonderful mom and I drove through a snowy wonderland to get here today on my favourite Ontario roads 512, 514, 516, and 28 plus a road we had never been on - Detlor Road. They were all so impossibly beautiful - all hills and forest, wild, basically uninhabited, some houses along the roads occasionally. There is a crust of snow/ice on every part of every tree and it makes for a magical complexity built of a myriad of greys. When we arrived, my mom and Sue and I loaded everything onto three sleds and pulled it down the path to the cabin (it took three trips) - winding around and up and down and through such peaceful white and grey forest to this lovely cabin that feels perfect for me.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

At Mom's house for Christmas

This is the back door of my Mom's house (it is the primary entrance).

My mom's kitchen: small and cluttered and perfect.

I was at my Mom's for Christmas. A cozy place on the edge of a small town, full of cooking and talking about what to do with life and eating and reading through cook books and listening to music and more cooking and talking and eating and trying new wines and well, celebrating I guess. My mom is passionate about food and almost every moment that we are together is spent on food: planning, preparation, cooking and eating.

The view from the house to the back yard

The view into the living room from the kitchen.

The all important bowl of clementines nearly lost in the chaos of the kitchen.

This year we found a fresh Ontario rack of lamb on our city grocery shopping trip (it is ridiculously rare to find this in the small town stores). She followed a simple recipe and it was incredible. Rub garlic on the meat, then smear amply with butter and leave garlic pieces on top and place on a rack or directly inside a shallow oven dish or pan. Cover the bone tips with foil. Let it sit like that for an hour or so, preheating the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit. Then cook for about 25 minutes per pound or until it is cooked to your liking. We served it with mom's garlic mashed potatoes (boil garlic cloves with the potatoes, drain and mash with just milk first and then add butter, salt and pepper and mash some more) and a simple salad of baby spinach with thinly sliced red onion on top with a drizzle of mom's favourite fancy sesame oil and salt and pepper. We were not particularly hungry for this meal since we had enjoyed filet mignon with asparagus for lunch and her favourite breakfast: poached eggs with bacon. It is always a race against time ... how many of our favourite meals can we fit into a limited number of days!?!

The rack of lamb ready to go into the oven.

Mom's gloriously messy kitchen table - Hallelujah!

When I opened my suitcase upon returning to Toronto I found many treats that she had snuck in while my attention was diverted. So sneaky and so generous and good.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Grandpa's Stuff

Last month I went out to Manitoba to my Grandpa's place and while I was there I took some photos of his collections of useful stuff ... I find these things intensely compelling and tenderly heartbreaking.