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

    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

  • Terrance

    January 5, 2019 |


  • Harold McNeill

    December 23, 2018 |

    Thanks Sis. I will be uploading as Hi-Def so the photos can be viewed full screen. Brother

  • Louise

    December 21, 2018 |

    Amazing collection of photos of the weekend ❤️❤️

  • Harold McNeill

    December 21, 2018 |

    Hi Dave,

    Not sure if you are the same Armit as was at Oak Bay PD or not. Interesting to see your comment on Danny Cain and your birthdays and family friendships. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 19, 2018 |

    Thanks, Lynn. It appears there was a problem with the comment system. Cheers, Harold

  • lynnmcneill

    November 19, 2018 |

    Hi Harold – looks great!

  • Maurice Smook

    August 13, 2016 |

    Hi Jillian,

    I don’t know if you are still checking this site but I had to respond again. February of 2017 it will be 72 years since this battle occurred.

    What caught my attention about this incident was on the Go Deep Documentary that aired on the History Channel. First of all I never known that this battle having ever occurred.

    According to my grade 3 teacher WW2 had never occurred. That grade 3 teacher stated that the WW2 and the holocaust was all propaganda. All of my classmates they believed her. I hate to say this but all I knew was that soldiers shooting at each other.

    I almost was expelled from school. My

    Mom my Dad my brother and my Uncle would have been arrested for propaganda. I paid the price. It was ironic a grade 5 teacher told me that Smooks are all commies. Dad was Conservative.

    All the Smooks that I known are all Conservative. If I had the money I would have loved to sue those two teachers.

    As I said I never heard of this Battle. If it were not for that program I would have never had known.

    I started to do more researching to find out more about the history of this battle. The narrator of Go Deep mentioned the names of the pilots who died that battle.

    I missed 20 minutes of that program but the camera crew had the camera’s pointed towards the sign with the names of the deceits. That is how I known.

    According to the narrator There are three who are still missing. W.J. Jackson, Harry Smook and A. Duckworth. A couple of months ago the staff of Go Deep have located Harry and A. Duckworths aircraft. This is on you tube. Harry and A. Duckworth craft is approx 650 feet deep in the Fjord. The individual who is heading this expansionary mission made it known he will not rest until all three of the missing pilots
    will be retrieved. I am sure that A. Duckworth’s kin are hoping for the same.

    What really puzzles me is that I have sent emails to the Smooks. Not one ever replying. I presume its the same with you. Sad. Dad rarely spoke about his family. It appears there is a big secret of the Smooks. I too assume Harry is a kin to my Dad. Harry maybe a 4th 5th cousin to my Dad. I too would like to know. Harry and A. Duckworth served and died for our country. The other is W.j. Jackson – who is also still missing – having died for our Country.

    In conclusion I still ask myself why is this a huge secret.

    If you are still checking this site please contact me. Maybe we may be kin.

    Take care.