Monday 31 December 2012

Celebrating 2012, by Kira

Outside fun
Runny noses
Jamaican patties
Beer and Tea
Lego building
Talk of the coming year
It is going to be a great one.

Happy New Year!


Sunday 30 December 2012

Fear of Man

Natural wilderness is perfect in every single way.
Life and death ebbs and flows with balance and purpose.
Each creature holds a special role.
Each being belongs.

Human interference with perfection has disrupted the harmony.
But that's not say that ecosystems don't heal.
Nature abhors a vacuum and is constantly trying to right itself;
despite our efforts to control the equilibrium.

Predators have most often been feared by humans;
usually without good reason.
Even at the top of the food chain we are a fearful species.
So we lash out with death in a useless attempt to ease our fear.

Nature resists our ignorant efforts.
And yet we fail to learn.
Wolves and coyotes have always been shot on sight without provocation.
And though true wolves have receded to the last real wilderness,
coyotes persist in greater numbers than ever.

There is great debate in our part of the world.
Many people claim to have seen wolves around here,
but they are mostly coyotes.
The Algonquin area has a wolf population, but even those are a unique sub-species.

In truth, even the biologists are never fully certain.
Inter-species breeding has contributed to a wide variety of wild canids.
But they're largely coyotes out there.
Though many of them are large and awe-inspiring.

Having left the remains from our pig processing nearby in the woods,
it was inevitable that we would have visitors.
At first, the coyotes left the viscera alone; either because of territory battles
or maybe they wouldn't go through the open gate of the compound.

The ravens started the party in earnest, but the coyotes were not to be left out.
Every night now there has been howling close by.
And then Kira spotted one close to the house, on the hill behind the chicken yard.
It wasn't looking for chickens, but finishing off some leftovers from another hog.

I didn't know if it was a wolf or coyote.
After some more research it is still fairly clear that true wolves don't live here.
It doesn't diminish the majesty of the sighting however.
These are large canids that are truly beautiful and elusive.

I may be quick on the trigger with some of the farmyard intruders,
but we don't shoot coyotes.
Time and study has proven that shooting them does nothing but exacerbate their numbers and daring.
There is a line which I prefer they do not cross
but I won't start a war that I know I'll lose.

The sight and sound of them adds wonder and intrigue to the wild edges of our home.


Saturday 29 December 2012

Keeping Warm

Winter has set in quickly here.
Alternating days of snow and cold have provided a real Canadian Winter.
And though we managed to finish up most of the outdoor projects,
the house has yet to be prepared for the cold.

Our home was originally intended as a three season cottage.
There's enough insulation to keep us alive but it takes some extra steps to make it cozy.
Also, the windows are single pane sliders that do little more than keep the snow and wind from blowing in.
They even lack the proper plastic tracks intended to give good action and some weather seal.

So the windows need to be locked and sealed with weather stripping to cut the draft.
Shrinking plastic over the whole window adds an extra buffer against the really cold nights.
Without any attention, the cold air pours in through the window edges.
New windows are on the list of things to do.

The screened-in porch also gets plastic over the screens.
This helps keep the snow out so that our coats and boots have a dry place to stay.
It's nice to have somewhere to strip off Winter clothing before going right into the house.
Adding the sheltered space also adds insulation to the house by protecting the south wall from the prevailing winds.

Of course, we haven't done any of these chores yet, having just finished with some more important jobs.
But the weather forecast is calling for a cold spell and the winterizing tasks have suddenly become more pressing.
The less we do to keep the cold out, the more wood we burn, which is another issue in itself.

But we have come a long way since moving into our home.
The first Winter was not only cold but also wet from the ice dams on the roof.
Escaping heat melts the snow and it runs to the eaves where it freezes.
After the ice builds up, any water begins to accumulate and then creeps into the roof and down into the house.
We had water pouring through windows frames and even into the kitchen light fixture.
Steel roofing and some ventilation changes helped solve that mess.
Those were the days before we put a proper foundation under the house.
The wind would whistle underneath and freeze the shower drain in addition to making for really cold floors.

Regardless of how the indoor climate is,
our home is our shelter.
It kept us safe even when conditions were at their worst.
And though it's still a challenge during the Winter,
we're thankful to be indoors and protected from the wind and snow.
Even if some of it sneaks in through the cracks in the windows.


Thursday 27 December 2012

LEGO for Learning

Auren is five years old.
He has been playing with Lego for quite a long time now.
I remember when he started out with his first blocks.
There was a lot of fumbling and frustration, but within a week of play,
his dexterity caught up to his will.

His bin of parts has been lightly added to over the last year.
We found that more choice of parts made him less inventive.
But lately he has shown more prowess.
In a constant bid to impress us, the creations have become more intricate
and compelling.
It was time to step up the game.

In a bid to get him working on numeracy and literacy,
we have kept our eye open for tasks that allow us to sneak lessons into to something that is just plain fun.
And although Lego doesn't really fit that bill well, there is an abundance of developmental exercises and typical subjects involved that could be focused on as part of a learning program.
Project based learning allows a child to work through a challenge and emerge with new skills at the end.
Lego happens to encompass some valuable lessons and we will be capitalizing on Auren's love of Lego play to encourage new skills.

A contemporary argument against Lego is that the new kits preclude creativity by structuring the play excessively as well as by associating with popular films and characters.
I must admit my aversion to movie themed Lego, but the other argument assumes that parents leave kits intact.
Our method is simple.
Build it according to the instructions first, then modify it, then break it down to add to the selection of parts intended for free play and creation.
That way, there is the benefit of folllowing instruction, as well as breaking the mold in favour of creativity.

For Christmas, we bought Auren a massive and complicated kit.
The goal is the buiding and not the completion.
Within the kit there are complex geared mechanisms, an electric motor, pneumatically controlled cylinders, and over 2000 parts.
This build will be slow and methodical.
There will be discussion involving mathematics, size, shape, electricity, physics, pneumatics, gear ratios, problem solving, and whatever else crops up during the process.
It is also Daddy time which little boys need to stay focused and motivated.

We started with a little kit first as a warm up.
Auren will be doing all of the building;
I am facilitating.
(Perhaps also building the kit vicariously for the sake of the little boy inside the man.)
He was able to complete the little truck without much trouble, carefully following the instructions.
Once time and space availed to us, it was time to open the big box.

Organizational skill is key to a mechanical project like this.
If you keep everything straight, the job is as simple as 1,2,3.
The challenge is staying focused and persevering to the end.
But like I said, the journey is the fun and the final project will likely only stay in one piece for a day or maybe two.
Having built it, Auren will be armed with new insight on developing whatever creations his mind can conjure.
In fact, this product line lends itself very well to modification as well as upping the ante with robotics and additional power options.
There is even a line of renewable energy projects.
All of which contribute to an innovative mind.

The attention span of little boys is notoriously short.
But that's not because there isn't the capacity.
They simply need the motivation;
the most powerful being one-on-one time with someone they love.
Using toys for educating works great, but not simply because something is deemed educational.
It's important to tap into a natural inclination and make the best of established interests.

I am excited about this build for many reasons.
To spend time with Auren.
To watch him learn and grow before my eyes.
To help build a really awesome Lego kit.
But I am even more excited and curious to see what gets built after it's all done,
when he gets to build his own creations.


Friday 21 December 2012

Thursday 20 December 2012


I love to explore.
As a boy I spent countless hours on the move.
Forest and lakes, fields and swamps.
Even as an adult I yearn to see what's over the next ridge.
In this part of the world, the terrain is almost limitless.
It takes a lifetime to learn the expansive wilderness well.

Our township is almost entirely crown land.
That means our backyard is about 35,000 hectares.
It's watershed country so the wetlands go on forever.
There are steep ridges and different types of woodlands.
Wildlife is well represented.

Our hope is that the kids love to explore.
It may not be their way, but if it is, there's more than enough land for them.
They're interested so far.
There's no need to drag them out for a walk.
I asked them if they wanted to see a pond that they'd never seen before.
No arguments there.

Once out, they travel well without prodding.
The landscape changes every hundred meters around here,
so it's hard to get bored.

Animal sign is everywhere, as is fun plants and fungus.
Wildlife is scarce when noisy children push through the forest,
but tracks and scat make for enough conversation.
The kids are showing some interest in hunting and appear willing to work on keeping quiet.
We'll see.

The going is good when the way is clear,
but they're not ready for heavy bush yet.
Bogs and alder swamps, bramble patches and balsam thickets are too much for our kids.
At least until determination outweighs discomfort.
Some height would help too.

Auren is showing a great sense of direction.
He's practically ready for some orienteering training.
Fern is not quite there.
Although that doesn't stop her from voicing opinion on the matter.

There are many valuable lessons to be found in the wilderness.
But I have other motives for encouraging the kids to explore the land.
It gives us a chance to spend time with them in an environment that we prefer.
And I get to satisfy my own wanderlust.


Wednesday 19 December 2012

One More Time

Conditions were right for another attempt to bring wood in.
If you remember the last time, it didn't end well.
In fact, every foray in recent memory has been rough.
Entirely due to trail conditions.

Our trails are badly damaged in a few places.
It's the price we pay for abundant water sources.
Springs contribute to soft trails and it is impossible to traverse our woodlot without crossing several.
A few critical points are virtually impassable by tractor.
The solution is one quality trail through the middle with corduroy bridges where necessary.
It's on my list.

The new trail should be cut sooner rather than later.
Perhaps this Winter, if the weather favours bush work.
There has been enough time and experience to pay towards a proper roadway.
Our plans for the woodlot depend on being able to access it.

I did manage to get some logs to the house.
But after a few runs, any frost in the ground was broken up and gave way to mud.
Burying the tractor has been far too common lately.

Fetching the logs is quite simple,
provided there are no incidents along the way.
I have always thought of our trails as being in good condition,
but they need to be retired and repurposed for other activities.

It's easy enough to curse the equipment, but in all fairness,
if I keep on busting these trails up, only a tank will manage.
Dry weather makes it easy to forget about the mud-holes.
I had counted on a dry Autumn for easy skidding.
Though we are certainly happy to see the water table refilled,
despite the challenges of a wet roadway.

Most of the big logs are in.
The remaining large logs are up off the ground and should stay viable until I can get to them.
There is a wide variety of smaller pieces that have been left to be brought out with our old ATV.
It matters little if I don't get to it all.
There is no waste in the woods.
The trees are better off left to return to the forest floor.
Many of the next trees to be felled have been chosen.
Some for fuel, others for woodworking.
Thankfully, the next batch is much closer to home.


Tuesday 18 December 2012

Turning the Page

One more rainy December day gave me enough time to finish the roof.
The schoolhouse is covered now and can be worked on from underneath shelter.
It's a major deadline to move beyond.

Though the wind still whistles through, it won't take much to seal it all in.
And now I have a protected place to work on the remaining stages.
The pressure is off for the moment.

The first thing to do is to get some electricity and light.
Just a little temporary power for the time being.

I'm looking forward to making a lot of sawdust.
Nearly every surface will be dressed with wood of all different kinds.

Some bright light during these dark months is welcome.
There's time in the late evening for some work.
Jobs that are more fun than laborious.

There will be more than simply building going on.

Other woodworking projects are on the list.
This space will help those new beginnings.

What's that you ask?
It's a Shopsmith Mark V.

A multi-purposed woodworking tool that was developed sixty years ago.
They were made for decades and can still be purchased new.
However, there are many used units available these days;
if you know what you're looking for.

I'll enlighten you as I learn about it myself.

So it's time to move on.
Or at least, inside.