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A Winter in our Cabin

By: Garth Horne

It was the time in our lives when all our stars aligned! I had just retired with a pension, the last of our children had moved out and we sold our home in the city. Our original plan was to build a retirement house on our cabin lot in the country and rent somewhere while it was being done.

However, we decided to take a walk on the wild side and try to live in our cabin during the build. I need to describe our ‘cabin’. It had barely survived a move from its previous location, no indoor toilet, only seasonal running water, old windows, minimal insulation, a wood stove was the only source of heat and we shared the building with assorted wildlife.


The Fall was idyllic finally having a large chunk of uncommitted time for the first

time in 30 years. It was an opportunity to explore nature and outdoor activities.


But winter was coming! I got into a routine of cutting and splitting wood, trying to fix our above ground water line and pump so it would not freeze and somehow winterize the cabin.

Everything was ‘seat of the pants’ planning. We stacked bales of straw over the water line and built a small pump house with a light bulb in hopes of protecting it from freezing. We also stacked bales of straw around the base of the cabin to prevent heat loss. Then winter struck with a vengeance! Our water line froze, the light bulb in the pump house burnt out and the pump froze and cracked. Without running water we used a 40 gallon water barrel we filled from the lake. We kept a big water pot on the wood stove to heat water for cooking, dishes and bathing. 


I had stacked a big load of old bricks around the wood stove to help retain heat. However, the weight from this, in addition to all our stored household goods and furnishings from the city, caused that side of the building to sink. Unbeknownst to us the wall had separated from the floor! My wife started complaining about a draft, which I ignored, till one day I saw snow coming in the corner behind the stove. It took 3 days of crawling in the ice and muck under the cabin using a bottle jack to re-raise the floor.


At night the temperature in the cabin usually dipped to 6-8C, but on a cold night, if you placed your water-glass by a window you had ice cubes in the morning! Because of the cabin’s layout heat did not circulate well. My solution was to chainsaw holes in the walls to help transfer heat to the kitchen and bedroom. We ran out of wood so I had to scavenge any downed or standing deadwood in the woods and any spare boards from inside the cabin to get us through the winter. 


The roof started to leak and dripped through a ceiling light fixture on to our kitchen table, so we bought a huge tarp and strung it over the roof . Our quaint summer cabin was starting to look like a hillbilly shack! The water from the kitchen sink stopped draining, so I cut the pipe under the house to let it drain directly. Unfortunately, this saturated and softened the ground under the back of the building which sank and caused our doors to no longer open or close.


Not everything was one disaster after another. There were idyllic winter days spent skating or playing hockey on the rink we created on the lake. Spending entire days outside in winter was rejuvenating and invigorating. People mistook the weathered colour of my face for a southern tan. Some clear winter nights spent outside by the lake were near euphoric, admiring the glistening stars while listening to the ‘singing’ of the lake as the ice shifted and moved. 


That was 10 years ago, and our life has moved on, and the retirement home was built, and life became much more predictable, but sometimes I do miss those days of basic living!

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