For our fifth workaway of the trip we house sat a straw bale house in Ontario. The owner was away studying in Toronto for three days a week and because the house was completely off grid it needed someone to look after it. He also had two pets to walk and feed, Frankie the dog and Pumpkin the cat. Frankie was a large mass of long straggly hair and unbridled affection. When you stood next to him he would lean against your legs and give you some much needed warmth in the sub zero temperatures. Pumpkin was more reserved, as cats tend to be, but very vocal. He would constantly meow and purr when you were around and had an adorable habit of climbing onto your shoulders and then perching there. They coexisted peacefully most of the time, apart from when Frankie’s pre-mealtime frenzy was at its peak.


Our daily routine quickly became established. Wake up, clean the snow from the solar panels, walk and feed the pets, have breakfast and then relax with a book and some coffee. Although our host liked to avoid caffeine, his historic love of coffee meant that he still provided excellent beans and brewing facilities for his guests. He also patiently showed us a few cryptic crossword clues and we were hooked. We made sure to buy the latest edition of The Globe And Mail before we left Canada just so that we could have one last go!


There was a set trail through the property’s woodland that we would use to walk Frankie. After taking it almost 20 times we became very familiar with its bends and rises. Small landmarks became shared knowledge; Frankie’s favourite peeing place, the sharp bend that meant we’d passed halfway and the squirrel trail that signalled the presence of home just around the next bend. It was a challenge at times due to the snow, at one point I even had occasion to use some snow shoes which are excellent if a little cumbersome.


On the days we were left alone we ventured to the nearest town, Buckhorn, to buy some luxury items, send some postcards and buy beer. Walking down the steep, snow covered drive required trepidation, there were patches coated with ice beneath a light dusting of snow that guaranteed a tumble. Pumpkin followed us most of the way and gave us his usual vocal support. Once we got down to the road it was an easy walk into town. Normally the pavement on the bridge would be 50cm deep in snow but someone had decided to drive their snowmobile along it recently which did an excellent job of packing it down.


It was a very eye opening experience, being completely off grid. My initial thought about what would cause issues was electricity usage but actually the one large bank of solar panels provided enough power for us to use electronic devices as much as we normally would, even toasters and televisions. Water supply and usage was what surprised me. Realising things like how much water is used when you flush the toilet or simply running the water waiting for it to get hot from the boiler. I’ve been told all these things by various information sources over the years but suddenly being disconnected from mains water really reinforces the message. It also showed how easy it is to massively increase the efficiency of your own resource usage just by being a bit more aware of your consumption.


I am so glad that we made the extra push to experience the Canadian countryside. It was beautiful, and getting to feel -20°C was a brand new sensation. However it was definitely nice to return to the milder climes of New England!


Full pictures from our time in Buckhorn:

7 thoughts on “Life in a haystack

    1. I think you can recycle them but at special facilities, not just in with your regular plastics.

      From what I’ve experienced the wind makes all the difference, we were in -7 in Toronto with lots of wind and that felt far worse than the relatively calm -20 in Buckhorn

  1. Oh, they had some snow in Canada as well😁?N.B.We had those milk bags in Holland when I was growing up! The plastic involved in them is a lot less (harmful?) than in the milk bottles they have here in Britain nowadays, possibly.

    1. Haha, some yeah, but it was more expected in Canada.

      The milk bags were clever! I don’t know why they aren’t more popular elsewhere

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