Farewell to the Winter Farmhouse

I · March 14, 2021

Well, I’m back home. After two months living in an old farmhouse in the country, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had some new experiences, learned about myself and where I want my life to go over the next few months, and experimented with different ways of living from what I’m used to.

See this earlier post for more information about this living situation.

Wood stacked on the porch

Interesting Stuff that Happened

Some fun and challenging things happened during the time which are out of the ordinary for me. These are the kind of things that don’t tend to happen in the suburbs.

Skating on Wild Ice

The property I was renting backed onto a river, which when I arrived was frozen on the sides but not in the centre. Over the course of my stay, there was a magic period during which the entire river froze over but before any snow fell on the ice to make it unskatable. I took this opportunity to skate along the frozen river. I think I’ll write another post about this experience and the safety precautions I took, but for now I’ll just say that skating turns out to be an awesome means of travel when not limited to the confines of a rink or pond. I’ll be on the lookout for opportunities to do this again in the future.

Standing on clear river ice

Cross-Country Skiing on Frozen Lakes

The river mentioned in the previous section led to a couple of lakes, which froze even sooner than the river did. After enough snow had fallen, I waxed up my cross-country skis and travelled along the river to get to the lakes. At first, I was apprehensive going out onto the snowy lake so far from shore. Then, I saw some fresh snowmobile tracks and skied along in them (if the ice was strong enough for a snowmobile, it was strong enough for me). This was pretty fun, and I even skied all the way to a small island. It was surprising how non-flat the crusted snow on the frozen lakes was. The wind shaped the snow into drifts larger than your average ski mogul.

Skiing in snowmobile tracks on a frozen lake

Wild Animals in the House

There were mice in the house. This was mostly new for me, and having to set traps (to the owner’s specifications) definitely was.

At two points, I think I saw an ermine in my bedroom. They eat mice, so I saw it as an ally more than anything.

Smoke Alarm and Cold Days

I didn’t notice it as it built up, but at a certain point every time I opened the door of the wood stove, a bunch of smoke poured out. This eventually culminated in setting off the smoke alarm, which in this house automatically alerts the fire department.

(Side note: to air out the house that time, I opened a bunch of windows. The temperature was -20 outside, which cooled the house quickly enough that the pipes to the kitchen sink froze. That was another learning experience.)

After that, I stopped using the wood stove for a few days while I waited for the guy the owner hired to come clean the chimney. I used electric heaters during this time, at one point overloading a breaker and having to climb down into the cellar through a trap door to flip back the breaker switch.

The chimney situation was eventually resolved. During the resolution, I ended up on the roof hitting the chimney cap with a broom while a French-Canadian man yelled up tips from below.

Lessons from Experimenting with Different Ways of Living

In my journal, I tracked a few ways that this experience was different from my usual lifestyle. Here are the results of these.


I was alone in the house and didn’t really see anyone in person. However, I had video calls for work every day and I kept in touch with family and friends over the phone. So all in all, not really a great experiment in social isolation. Nonetheless, after about six weeks I felt like I’d prefer to be able to see my family again in person.

A Simpler Lifestyle

Once again, this variable wasn’t actually super different from my normal lifestyle. The main difference was using a wood stove as my only source of heat. I have a few observations about this:

  1. It is significantly more time-consuming than using a standard furnace: Due to the time spent splitting wood and tending to the fire, I’d say it took up an extra hour or so of my time every day compared to just having a house with a thermostat.
  2. Outside temperature matters more: Since the wood stove was more or less limited in its output, a particularly cold day meant that it would be colder than usual inside no matter what I did.
  3. Unevenly distributed heat is nice: Since the wood stove was in one room of the house, the heat would radiate out from there. This meant this room could be substantially warmer than the rest of the house. This was mostly an upside, since it meant I could attain coziness levels sitting by the fire that are hard to match in a house with more modern heating.
  4. Splitting and processing wood is fun. Having to split my own wood was mostly an enjoyable form of exercise, although sometimes it felt like a hassle. It was cool to have a new activity to optimize and improve at.
  5. Fire is satisfying: There’s no getting around it - burning things is fun. Starting a fire and gazing into it while sitting in a chair beside the wood stove is a rewarding, relaxing, and wonderful experience.

The wood stove

Simpler Food

I used this time as an opportunity to try eating simpler meals than I was used to. Nuts were my only snack. I made mostly barley and lentil dishes with frozen vegetables, as well as some pasta, tuna salad, and eggs. I’d make a large batch whenever possible, and usually ended up eating the same thing for all meals a couple days in a row. I brought a small spice kit and a few condiments.

A pot of lentils, barley, and frozen vegetables

What I learned was that I don’t need to have as much variety as is typical in our culture. Given salt, basic spices, and condiments (especially mustard and hot sauce), I can pretty much enjoy anything. I learned that I value low time cooking and cleaning much more than variety and quality of food.

Less Blue Light after Dark

The lights in this house were mostly incandescent, meaning they had a warmer colour. I also tried to avoid turning on more lights than necessary after the sun set. The hope was that this would guide my circadian rhythms to make me more tired at bedtime better than having lots of brighter, cooler-coloured artificial light would (more about my theories in this post).

I noticed myself getting more tired earlier on. I also found I slept better, although I think the cold also had an effect here since I tend to sleep better in the cold.

Candles Only

For a few days, I tried using candles as my only source of artificial light. I thought this might be interesting to try.

Holding a candlestick holder

It turns out that it’s not that hard, and I stopped when I did because I felt like I wasn’t learning anything new anymore and it was more of a nuisance than anything. I appreciate the convenience of electric light more than I did before, although there is something to be said for the unique character of candlelight.

Going Forward

I’m glad to have had this experience. I’d like to do something like this again, but with some changes.

More Rustic

If I were to do something like this again, I’d want it to be in a more rustic environment. The wood stove was good in this way, but the place still had internet and many modern conveniences. I think it would be interesting to try living without these for awhile, somewhere in between living in a normal house and camping in a tent.

Not Doing a Job

If I were to do this again in a more rustic setting, I would need to have more free time to spend getting the truly isolated rustic experience. I said in the section above that I didn’t want internet, so that automatically excludes doing my normal job anyway.

More Remote and Isolated

If I were to do this again, I’d want to be more isolated. This house was definitely more rural than I’m used to, but I could still hear cars from the road when they came by. I’d like to do this somewhere further off the beaten path, someplace I could almost forget that there’s an outside world.

More Local Places to Go

There were lots of woods in the surrounding area, but I couldn’t go in any of them since they were private property. If I were to do this again, I’d like to do so in/beside a provincial park, national park, or general Crown land so that I could spend lots more time exploring.

Sunrise over a frozen river

Have you ever done something like this? Would you? Let me know in the comments below.

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