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The Back Forty


Willow House is situated on 65 acres. The forty acres at the rear of the property are forested. Sunday was a beautiful day, sunny, positively balmy for February. The thaw has melted away a lot of snow and what is left is compacted and frozen enough to walk on, so we decided a walk in the woods was in order. The trails through the forest were once used for taking out wood. They have been poorly maintained over the past few years, but are still clear enough to offer an easy hiking surface.


The winter woods have a tranquil and restful feeling, but the plentiful animal tracks and trails give evidence to the lives being lived beyond our gaze. Coyotes, foxes, raccoons, deer and squirrels had all left their marks, although the melting snow had distorted many prints. Here, the cloven hooves of deer have left deep impressions:


Wherever the snow had melted away, the bright green of Fan Clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) was visible. For Themarvelousinnature‘s take on this interesting and ancient plant, visit her blog entry here.


The forest has many young trees and few large, mature ones. Tree stumps and an occasional stack of firewood testify to the logging that has been done in the past.



One of the most majestic trees in the forest is this towering Eastern White Pine (Pinnus strobus), which was spared the woodman’s axe.


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There is a monster living in the garden. A fire-breathing, smoke-belching monster. I’m in charge of feeding him.
Here he is:


This monster eats wood, and lots of it. He requires feeding first thing in the morning, last thing at night and once or twice over the course of the day, depending on how cold it is. He is the central feature of the complex heating system that came with Willow House, an outdoor wood burner. Outdoor wood burners enjoy modest popularity in rural areas, owing in part to the availability of relatively cheap firewood, and in some cases, woodlots. Theoretically, we could cut our own firewood and heat the house cheaply with the 40 acres of forest on the property. The system has one very appealing feature. It allows you to use wood heat without the disadvantages and safety hazard of having an open flame inside the house. The wood burner heats water, which enters the house via underground water lines that terminate in a complex tangle of hoses.


The water heats air, and the hot air heats the house via a forced air furnace.


The system is a decade old or more, and not as efficient as newer units. There is also a bit of a leak in the line which requires topping up the level in the water pipes from time to time. When the water lines are refilled, the excess water begins to spill out onto the roof of the wood burner through a safety valve, which makes a wonderful sputtering, hissing cloud of steam. It’s a labour-intensive system, demanding regular attention, but it does keep the house at a reasonably comfortable temperature round the clock.


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We Move to the Country

Strictly speaking, we have lived in “the country” for a long time.  Both my husband and I grew up in suburbia.  However, it had long been my dream to live in the country, owing in large part to my affinity for horses.  So it was that the home we bought at the time of our marriage was an old farmhouse on five acres on the western fringe of the Greater Toronto Area.  At the time, it was at the farthest edge of what was considered commuting distance to Toronto, and I travelled via GO train to a job in downtown Toronto every day.  That was more than 30 years ago.  Our three daughters grew up in that house, horses and pets came and went, gardens grew, life was lived.

Much has changed over those 30 years.  Development has crept rapidly across the GTA. Nearby Milton is one of the fastest growing towns in Canada and our once-rural home is now close to heavily populated suburbs. Our own lives have changed with the years as well. Our children have fledged and retirement lies but a few years distant.

We began to consider leaving our longtime home and seeking a quieter, less expensive area, outside of the sprawl of the GTA.
As all three of our daughters now live east of Toronto, we began our search about 2 hours east of home, north of Belleville.  As time went by and we failed to locate our ideal property, our search parameters expanded eastward.

We finally settled on a house with 65 acres located about an hour south of Ottawa, and some 5 hours from our GTA location. We took possession of the new place in November, 2008, overlapping the purchase with the sale of our first house, allowing for the gradual transfer of 30 years worth of life to a new location.
So it is that I find myself admiring a new view on this frosty February morning. As I look out the back door, I enjoy a quiet anticipation of all that the new year will bring as we explore life in new surroundings.

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