“I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
I cut a small flap in one of the quilts hanging along the walls of the camper to allow me to open it and allow a little light in on my bed. In this way I was given enough light to read in the winter without having to get out of bed. It was a clever alteration, and I was quite proud of it, I did not realize then just how many times I would have to improvise and find new ways of doing things in order to survive.
They say pragmatism is the first real American philosophical system. I can understand the birth of this movement. It came from the fact that people settling in a wild, unknown land had to improvise and make do. It also taught them to think outside the box and address problems in unique ways which had never been utilized before. It could be something as simple as using a book to level a table, or it could be something like trying to figure out how you are going to live when the water is frozen over and the pipes of the hand pump is frozen solid.
This discovery also led to the uncovering of several shattered and frozen jars in my larder. The month of November was nature’s first real attempt to challenge my way of life. I moved the jars into the camper as much as I could and wrapped the remaining jars tightly in the sleeping bag before setting them back in the cellar.
The camper itself was freezing cold and while I could keep myself warm in the sleeping bags other things were going to freeze over exposed out in the weather. I started a campfire and placed embers around the water pump to try to thaw the pipe. I had several block of ice in the camper which had frozen over in the night. Some of them were deep enough that I could break through and get to the water to drink, but this supply would run out shortly.
As I warmed myself and the water I had over the campfire while trailing hot embers over to the hand pump, I realized there is a better way to solve my problems.
I had constructed a small pile of stones which I set off next to my wood piles. These were stones that I had dug out of the ground while clearing the area for my garden. I began going back and forth between the pile and the fire and setting the stones into the embers of the fire to capture the heat. I took them out after an hour and placed several of them around the hand pump and the rest I place in my heavy deep pot and put in the camper on top of the stove which had been serving as a bookshelf. To my delight, the camper heated up pretty quickly and my insulating quilts kept the heat in, making it even uncomfortably hot after awhile.
It took me some time to figure out how to regulate my new thermostat, but it was yet another example of pragmatism and necessity being the mother of invention. Now every evening and every morning I would heat my stones and place them around the hand pump as well as in the camper and over the cellar. I then turned my attention to the issue of the wood for the fire.
Lighting the wood had been getting more difficult as it was exposed outside to the elements. Snow and rain made the wood wet and difficult to light. During the summer I had stored some wood under the camper to keep it dry during the rainy weather, but I did not think this would be enough in the winter, especially if we got a serious snowfall. The fire pit itself was also at the mercy of the elements and I could soon wake up with the pit filled over with snow as well as the wood being buried under the camper. I needed a way to keep both protected from the winter.
The solution to the keeping the wood dry I found very quickly. I piled the as much wood as I could into the bed of my pick – up and pulled the plastic sheet over the top and secured it to the bed. This would keep it elevated as well as dry for the most part. I moved the truck closer to the trailer and the fire pit to make it easier to get the wood out and require me to clear less area outside and keep it free of snow.
The task of keeping the fire pit clear was more difficult and had me stumped. I seriously began to wonder if I was going to have to use the propane after all to heat the camper. It would be easier and I would not have to worry about the snow. I could just lie in bed all day and read books all winter. The temptation was strong, but it went against everything I had set out to do.
Another problem presented itself as well, since my toilet trench was well away from my campsite, I would have to keep a long path clear, not to mention trying to go the bathroom out in the freezing snow and rain. I remedied that by the use of a bucket which I could leave outside and just dump, when it was needed. It seemed a little disgusting, but again pragmatism must prevail and I needed to be above such things when dealing with issues of survival.
The fire pit was not as easy to address. I needed to find a way to keep it relatively clear, but placing a sheet of a cover on it would cause it to become buried under however much snow might happen to fall. I would have to dig down in order to just get to it and the snow would still be packed up all around it making it difficult to light, since the heat of the fire would cause the snow to melt and water would continuously run down into the fire, putting it out. I needed to find a better way.
During the summer I had not had to worry about this since I could just go in the camper to escape the rain, and live without a fire for a few days, but in the winter that would not be an option. I needed the fire to heat the stones to keep the water flowing and the preserves from freezing.
It was finally Mr. Chowning who came up with the idea that made my winter survival possible. He had come over to check up on me and make sure everything was going well. I explained my dilemma as well as several that I had already solved and he shook his head knowingly. He told me that while he was in the army one of the things they did to keep warm during the winter was to start fires in old fuel barrels. He actually had one that was a little worse for wear, but would serve the purpose I needed it for. We went to his place and got the large metal barrel and I set it up outside my camper and filled it with wood. There was a loose fitting metal lid which I set on top which would keep the snow out and it stood well off the ground and would not be easily buried.
At his insistence we also hooked up one of the propane tanks to the camper, just in case of a blizzard. I humored him by doing it, but I vowed to myself never to use it. It was however no small comfort to know it was there. I accepted that his concern for my well being was a part of the community which most of the extremists of the movement never dealt with; I still had people around me who cared for my well being.
It struck me as odd one day during the harvesting when Mrs. Chowning and Mrs. Bordley as well as Mr. Tyler were all here helping out with making the pickles and preserves that, this was far from the ideal lone woodsman I had envisioned when I set out upon this way of life. It was even commented that my presence was actually helping to bring the community closer together. It was quite rare for everyone on the island to hang out together. As it was with me back in my former life, they usually just passed each other with a courteous “hello,” and a quick exchange of pleasantries.
It seemed that in my own discovery of a connection with the land, I was helping others to realize it as well.
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