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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  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.

  • Harold McNeill

    January 13, 2019 |

    Well, my dear, it’s that time again. How the years fly by and the little ones grow but try as you may you will have a hard time catching up to your Daddy. Lots of love young lady and may your day be special
    Love, Dad

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Guess what? My response went to the Spam folder. Hmm, do you suppose the system is trying to tell me something?

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Thanks, Terrance. Your comment came through but went to the Spam folder. Have pulled it out and approved. Can you send another on this post to see if you name is now removed from Spam? I’m not sure why it does that. Cheers, Harold