I’ve never been a fan of winter, other than as a season one might choose to visit perhaps once a year, and for a very brief visit at that. Creamy freshly fallen snow on a steeply pitched roof, a weekend of skiing in Nagano or the Laurentians, hot mulled cider alongside a roaring fire—lovely. Endless forests of barren trees, slushy (and treacherous) mud-hued roads, steel-grey skies, frigid dampness plumbing the deepest recesses of one’s bones, not so much. One year in the mid-2000s I decided to tough it out in Canada, in retrospect, not one of my cannier moves. In addition to all the downsides enumerated above, factor in a ¼-mile gravel driveway only marginally passable after a snowstorm, even in a 4WD SUV; a relentlessly icy wind blowing in off the bay; short deep-north days when one’s trip to work is in the dark—both ways. Oh, and let’s not forget the propane bill, which totalled a whopping $700 for a month’s worth of what must be gold in its gaseous state. It was a chilly month, to be sure, but I dutifully set the thermostat at 66 degrees, wore a sweater routinely, and still got hit with the mother of all heating bills. I paid it, and then I promply wussed out. I figured, quite correctly, that $700 would go a good part of the way toward my total living expenses, not just heat, in some far-flung corner of the world, so I packed a small bag and a destination-appropriate Lonely Planet guide, and headed off for eastern Turkey, the Mediterranean city of Antalya, to be exact. There, as it turned out, I could spend my days and nights, including meals, a decent hotel, and incidentals, getting by on about $35 a day. For two people! So, to summarize: $1000-odd per month in Turkey, at the beach, in 75-degree weather with cloudless cerulean skies; or $700 just to heat the house in Canada in the dead of winter? Hmm, that takes exactly no brainstorming whatsoever.
What it does not take into account are the shoulder seasons, both of which can be lovely in Prince Edward Island, particularly autumn. The leaves of the birch trees in my front yard turn a stunning yellow by late September, and the maples and oaks are a riot of red and orange shortly thereafter. It is getting coolish by then, however, and I have become very propane-averse over the past several years; still, I am partial to staying at least marginally warm. So, I thought, let’s find a cheaper alternative. A windmill? Nah, too noisy. Pricey, too. Solar heat? Nope; you need the sun for that, and there is precious little of that small orb on view in the winter months in PEI. And solar is pricey as well. All in all, a wood stove seemed the best possibility. The best ones on the market run about $4000 installed, and as fuels go, wood is pretty plentiful and exceptionally cheap. Especially in my case, as I have about 25 acres of woodland here, and enough trees fall on the property every year to keep me in heat at least for the shoulder seasons, without resorting to cutting or buying any extra. Two strapping local lads installed the stove in my living room in about a half day, including cutting holes in ceiling, floor and roof for the chimney, cleverly routing it through a walk-in closet in my upstairs bedroom, with just a minimal loss in closet volume as the only (tiny, and thoroughly expected) issue with regard to the installation.
Naturally, the installation happened on the warmest day of the summer, indeed, the warmest day in several years; so it will have to wait until another day for me to light the inaugural flame. In the meantime, I will look at my handsome new wood stove, occupying its designated space near the entrance of the living room, kitty-corner to the TV, and just across from my favorite reclining leather chair. And my trepidation about the early Canadian onset of cold weather will recede for a while longer.