Crackling Fire on a Cold Winters Day

Written by Harold McNeill on September 14th, 2015. Posted in Tim Hortons Morning Posts



September 15, 2015 (Photo, thanks Alysha):  A glass of wine, some mood music and the first crackling fire of the year.  In terms of comfort and ambiance, there is nothing finer than a log fire.  (Lexi is actually snuggled between our feet.)

Link to full set of photos for this story.
Part 1  Link to a Magical Summer
Link to full set of photos for Part 1.
Part 3  The Magical Gardens of Adam Szczawinski

Summers of my Youth

In the summers of my youth, the work was not done without having set aside an abundant supply of wood for those deep cold prairie winters as that was our primary source of heat.  Here in Victoria, it’s not as deep and not as cold, but winter in Canada is still winter and as Canadians we love those crazy cozy log fires.

As Lynn and I recently installed wood burning insert our quest for good wood is ravenous. Drop a tree anywhere within a ten block radius and we hear it fall even when no one else can. With our gear ready and trailer hooked up, we can be on scene in less than ten minutes and first in, first cut and you own the tree, that’s the tradition. More than once we have been warned off by Hydro, but if Harold Cutting Woodwe’re lucky and they’re busy, we can have the choice parts cleaned, cut, loaded and gone before they even arrive on the scene.

While it only takes a medium gale to produce copious quantities of street wood here on the Island, those winds do not usually begin until late fall and the wood won’t be dry in time for the current winter. If you don’t have a plentiful supply in reserve, you pay the going rate of about $200 per cord for split and (sometimes) dry, second choice stuff from a jobber or upwards of $300 from an established firm.  Link: (Victoria Firewood)

May 2015: Harold with his new Husqvarna chain saw working peacefully cleaning up the property next door.

Early this spring it was our good fortune to get ahead of the storms when the property immediately across the street was being subdivided for three homes. As the one acre lot was filled with old fruit trees, maple, oak, cedar, fir, etc., there was more than enough for a two year supply and with a warm, dry summer, most of it would be ready for a fall start.  So with chainsaw, hardhat and ear protection in hand, we began cutting, hacking, bucking and dragging that fine wood across the street to our front yard.  But, as we all know good things don’t always last.

Police Intervention

The cutting was moving along nicely until one day a full contingent of Joint Forces ERT members descended upon the site demanding to know what in hell we were doing attacking their house with a chain saw.  As you might guess, at this point I was Police Takedown Finalspread-eagled against the back door tighter than a stun gun implant. Giving way to automatic weapons, flash bangs, tear gas and pepper spray in bottles as big as dive tanks, seemed the only reasonable response. Running, at least at my age, was not an option and as I stood pasted to the back door Dad’s words rung in my head: “never bring a chainsaw to a stun gun practice.” I was just lucky Lynn was nearby to capture the moment otherwise no one would believe me.

June 2015:  With all those tasers pointed at my back, it’s a wise man who stands perfectly still.  More photos of the raid in the attached album.

After I was allowed to lower my hands and kill my chainsaw, I produced ID and explained I had permission from the developer to cut the trees. This helped to settle them down as much as those high testosterone ERT people can settle, and after that they even let us watch as they attacked that house with everything they had. The windows, doors and walls were putty in their capable hands and an hour after they arrived, every nook and cranny of that house had been searched with the precision of a brain surgeon.

The next day they even sent in one of their heavy-duty police battering rams to finish what they started. Soon nothing remained of that poor little house, but better to go out with a bang than a whimper, I suppose.

A Timely Summer Visit

Later in July with our front yard covered in wood, it was our good fortune to have Lynn’s brother Barry and his wife Nancy stop by for a visit. As they have long been wood burning folks, Barry, who soon tired of losing 20 pound Springs at the Trap Shack out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, suggested we take a break for a day, rent a splitter and get to work.

It only took a few hours of bucking and splitting to have three and a half cords of split wood on the lawn, then over the last week ofBarry Nancy and Jay week of August and into September, Lynn and I had it all it tucked away in the three woodsheds sprinkled around our property. As we were also able to salvage a lot of small dry slash, we cut that up for stoking and from the old cedar fence we torn out, enough kindling to last at couple of years.

July 2015: Barry, Nancy and Jay working hard to clean up the last of the logs.  Harold was in the background bucking.

While we’ll probably never recover the cost of the insert by lowered electricity bills, the ability to have that bright warm fire going every day during the winter is worth every penny.  Also, there is something invigorating about doing your own work to prepare things that you normally buy, things like electricity or natural gas. Clearly this is not possible for everyone, but for those who can, a little bucking, hauling and splitting is great exercise and gives one a sense of purpose.

Now that September has arrived with somewhat of a vengeance (as those back East have reminded us), we need not wait for the normal chill of late fall to start piling wood on the hearth for those long evenings of playing cards, scrabble or just snuggling by the fire with a bowl of popcorn and a good movie.  If you happen to like that sort of thing you are always welcome to drop by and share a little of that down home warmth from days gone by.

The two of us are such lucky people.

It was indeed was A Magical Summer and next up is a short story about our faithful helper, The Little Trailer that Could.


Link to full set of photos for this story.

September 2015: Two of the four small woodsheds on our property.



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  • Harold McNeill

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Rick,
    Great to hear from you and trust all is going well. Our family members are all doing well but it must be pretty tough for a lot of people. I had once heard you were going to do some writing but never heard anything further. I would be most interested, but do you think the OB News have archives back to that time. Any link or information you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Did you keep copies? Regards, Harold

  • Rick Gonder

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Harold
    About 22 years ago I spent several weeks going through the OBPD archives. I wrote several stories that were published in the OB News. Feel free to use if they are of value to what you are doing.
    Keep this up, I’m enjoying it and it brings back memories.

  • Harold McNeill

    April 12, 2020 |

    Hi Susan,

    Glad you had a chance to read. I decided to update these stories by proofreading as there were several grammatical errors in many. Hopefully, many of those glaring errors have been removed.

    Many of the stories carry a considerable amount of social comment regarding the way the criminal justice system is selectively applied. Next up involves a young woman from near Cold Lake, Alberta, who was abducted by an older male from Edmonton. Her story is the story of hundreds of young men and woman who have found themselves alone and without help when being prayed upon unscrupulous predators.

    Cheers, Harold

  • Susan

    April 8, 2020 |

    Great read, Harold!…and really not surprising, sad as that may sound.
    Keep the stories coming, it is fascinating to hear them.
    Love from us out here in the “sticks”, and stay safe from this unknown predator called Covid.

  • Harold McNeill

    February 17, 2020 |

    Update:  Times Colonist, February 16, 2020, articles by Louise Dickson, She got her gun back, then she killed herself,” and,  Mounties decision to return gun to PTSD victim haunts her brother. 

    Summary: I don’t know how many read the above articles, but they contained the tragic details about young woman, Krista Carle’, who took her own life after suffering for years with PTSD. While tragedies such as this play out across Canada every week, the reason this story resonates so profoundly is that the final, tragic, conclusion took place here in Victoria. Continued in the article.

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  • Harold McNeill

    February 15, 2020 |

    Testing the comments section after changes made. Updated: February 10, 2020

    Further to the update below (February 1, 2020), I note that since the government announced a “No-Fault” insurance plan for BC, Robert Mulligan is taking a slightly different tack, suggesting that no-fault will only increase the problems by taking away the right of an injured party to sue.

    I’ve copied just one sentence from Mulligan’s longer discussion, “And I think people don’t like the idea that somebody who’s, for example, was drunk and ran into you and you become a quadriplegic is going to be treated exactly the same way you would in terms of getting benefits (go to minute 00:15:26 to see his full comment)

    Statements like this appear to be simple fear-mongering. As was the case in the past, people who commit criminal offences, as well as other forms of negligence while driving, may well lose their insurance coverage and in all likelihood would be sued by ICBC to recover costs of the claim. (Link here to Mulligan’s full conversation on CFAX radio)

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    January 5, 2020 |

    […] 28. The past as a guide to the future (Part III): Over the past 60 years, many activities the police once performed as a natural part of their daily duty, eventually became incompatible with achieving their basic goals. What happened? (August 2019) […]

  • McNeill Life Stories Why I stand with science? - McNeill Life Stories

    November 11, 2019 |

    […] During the Ice Age, the Earth’s average temperature was about 12 degrees Fahrenheit colder than it is today. That was enough to keep snow from melting during the summers in northern regions. As snow fell on the snow, glaciers formed. (NASA Earth Observatory) […]

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    September 18, 2019 |

    […] The Federal Conservatives and Seymour Riding Association complied but one day later those memes will be shared by every third party social media site and by thousands of supporters where the message will be taken as a statements of the fact.  Five years from now those memes will still be circulating. (Link here to background on the SNC Lavalin matter) […]