Winter Landscape

Winter Landscape

An important survival skill, when living a life of isolation, is to structure time according to conditions. Winter, bringing dangerous driving conditions, and requiring strategies for domestic heat, alters the daily landscape. Travel becomes a complex challenge, vulnerable to unpredictable circumstance. In the winter our world shrinks, and we are made aware of the forces of the natural world. How very different this is from living in an urban setting, even in a small town.

After enjoying the freedom of movement afforded by clear driving conditions and temperatures above freezing, I have been slow to adapt to winter conditions. It is time now. The world has turned white. The roads out are capricious. The masonry heater must be fired several times each day. The seasonal people have all fled this natural environment for urban comforts and conveniences. Attila is seldom seen in daylight; neighbours are only seen from a distance.

My world transformed slowly, over the course of a few weeks. My first, unthinking, reaction has been to spend copious amounts of time working on my computer projects. I began to notice stinging eyes, aching neck and wrists, and shortness of breath when moving about. Oh dear! Inactivity, the real challenge of confinement, requires conscious effort to overcome.

To prevent myself from spending too much time at the computer keyboard, I have setup my timing software to allow 30 minutes of computer activity, before freezing the computer for five minutes. When the computer freezes I get up to stretch and putter around the house. That gives me 10 minutes of activity every hour. This does not provide me with enough consecutive movement to give my system a workout. But it is far superior to working through the entire day on the computer, which I am quite capable of doing, without even noticing. Perhaps too, it is time to commandeer the kitchen cart as a standing computer desk; at least occasionally.

In the realm of the printed page, a few shorter paragraphs are easier to digest than one very long paragraph. So it seems with time, short broken segments of time seem much easier to digest.

The wind abated somewhat last night, so Attila and I went for a walk during the evening. By the time Attila gets home it is dark outside, so we walk in the dark. There are no lights, other than the neighbour’s dim beacons of domestic habitation, so it takes a few minutes for our eyes to adjust to the dark, so that we can see our way down the road. It is difficult though, for Attila to find time to go for a walk, as he has worked long hours during the day, and must chop wood, and keep the heating system going, when he comes home from work. We both enjoy it though, when we manage to get out there together.

Tonight Attila is exhausted, he had a busy, busy day at work. After bringing in enough wood for three firings, he begged off being awake and headed early to bed. I will stay up to close down the masonry heater when the fire is spent, and then I will follow his example and take myself off to bed. It is getting colder, we are expecting a low of -13C, then down to -17C tomorrow night. With the 40 to 60 km per hour winds, the wind chill bites.

Worldly Distractions


Date: 9:50 PM EST Wednesday 27 November 2013
Condition: Cloudy
Pressure: 101.3 kPa
Visibility: 16 km
Temperature: -9.1°C
Dewpoint: -12.6°C
Humidity: 76%
Wind: NW 24 gust 39 km/h
Wind Chill: -17


“By learning to discover and value our ordinariness, we nurture a friendliness toward ourselves and the world that is the essence of a healthy soul.”
Thomas Moore
1779 – 1852


  1. Bex

    Tell me, do you heat solely with wood? When the last of the fire goes out before bed, does it get very cold overnight? Or does the stove continue to put out heat.

    When we were first married, we had a wood-burning stove and one time something went wrong and it filled the house with heavy smoke – I thought I would suffocate from it. After that, we axed it and went with the heating system…

  2. First let me say that we have the most amazing wood heater known to man, invented thousands of years ago, it is better than anything modern humans have come up with and by comparison wood stoves are just plain silly. It is simple, safe, efficient and expensive to install.

    Yes Bex, we heat solely with wood, and have done so for nine years, since we moved to this house in the country.

    Short answers:

    It gets cooler but not cold overnight and the stove puts out heat for two days after full charging.

    We have never had a problem with smoke from the masonry heater, it remains completely closed while the fire is burning, and burns its own smoke, so that the exhaust from the chimney is almost clear, almost always.

    Long answers:

    The heater puts out the most heat when it is burning full throttle, the fire chamber can reach 1800F degrees at that point, and then a few hours after the last flames have flickered out, the refractory cement begins to release heat.

    There is a lag time though, and we must anticipate temperatures for two days in advance to make sure we have the correct size and number of firings to keep the house a steady temperature. Sometimes the weather takes us by surprise and then it can get a bit chilly in here, about 15C, which is not wonderfully comfortable for an old gal. And when we have been away overnight, it will take us a day to recuperate the charge in the heater, so it will be chilly until we catch up. I am not above wearing winter boots and my parka during those adjustment periods.

    When we moved here we knew electric heat was a problem. I researched options and decided I had to have a masonry heater. We paid a lot, more than $10,000 to have the inefficient fireplace removed (11 tons of bricks and cement were carried out the sliding glass door that summer) and the new masonry heater custom built from a kit, by a stonemason. We gave up a lot of other things to pay for the heater, but felt lucky that we were able to attain it. The masonry heater has paid for itself, in savings and in reliability.

    Masonry Heater

    “A masonry heater (or masonry stove, ceramic stove, tile stove) is a device for warming an interior space through radiant heating, by capturing the heat from periodic burning of fuel (usually wood), and then radiating the heat at a fairly constant temperature for a long period . The technology has existed in different forms, from back into the Neoglacial and Neolithic periods. Archeological digs have revealed excavations of ancient inhabitants utilizing hot smoke from fires in their subterranean dwellings, to radiate into the living spaces. These early forms have evolved into modern systems. Evidence found from 5,000 B.C. of massive blocks of masonry used to retain heat foreshadowed early forms of fire hearths that were used as multifunctional heating sources. Later evolutions came in the Roman hypocaust, Austrian/German kachelofen, baths) using the smoke and exhaust of a single fire. In Eastern and Northern Europe and North Asia, these kachelofens (or steinofens) evolved in many different forms and names: for example the Russian Stove/Fireplace (Russian: Русская печь), the Finnish Stove (in Finnish: pystyuuni or kaakeliuuni, “tile oven”) and the Swedish Stove (in Swedish: kakelugn, “tile stove” or “contra-flow stove”) associated with Carl Johan Cronstedt. The Chinese developed the same principle into their Kang bed-stove. The masonry heater has gained renewed domestic popularity recently because of its heating efficiency.” source:

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