Fire and Fury (and smoke)… like the world has never seen.


                                                 A Picasso -  Photo by Bruce Witzel

We’ve all heard the expression “business as usual”. However, considering current world politics I believe that many of us will admit that we live in unusual times.  Picasso illustrates it well. Life is such a paradox.

I imagine Tomas Merton calling out.

“Take thought, man, tonight when it is dark, when it is raining. Take thought of the game you have forgotten. You are a child of a great and peaceful race. You are son of an unutterable fable. You were discovered on a mild mountain. You have come up of the godlike ocean… Take thought, man, tonight. Do this. do this. Recover your original name.” 

(from Raids on the Unspeakable) 


Photo by bruce witzel - unknown artists


Recently I have kept a low blogging profile – partly from lack of initiative – more importantly, to focus on work and gardening as well as personal reflection and home improvement.


Garden from above



Fressh tomatoes from our garden Aug. 16, 2017 - bruce witzel photo



Telegraph Cove Kayakers, Aug. 5, 2017 - bruce witzel photo

Kayakers on Northern Vancouver Island


Here in British Columbia our recent provincial election of May 7th brought an amazing progressive shift. The Green Party won three seats and now holds the balance of power in the BC legislative assembly, in an agreement made with the newly elected New Democratic Party. This alliance holds a one vote margin over the Liberal party.


BC Election result 2017


The close election required 3 weeks of re-counts and one month of political negotiations before the “business oriented” Liberal Party was defeated in a vote of non-confidence on June 30, after almost 16 years in power. The Liberals do deserve parting credit for instituting the progressive British Columbia Carbon Tax Shift in 2008, the first jurisdiction in North America to do so. In this plan the Carbon fee charged on most fossil fuel transactions is then re-disbursed via tax credits – a sizable portion to lower income people. However, they dropped the ball in support of this important initiative, and then began to support various mega-projects like Site C damn on the Peace River and Liquefied Natural Gas development.




The current leader of the BC Green Party, Andrew Weaver, was originally elected in 2012. He is a well known climate scientist and a past lead author for the IPCC, the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change. He and his caucus is creating a big shift in the body politic and there’s hope it will spread.

Speaking of climate change, British Columbia experienced a record breaking heat wave a couple weeks ago. Coupled with extensive and growing wild fires since early April, the province is experiencing the worse fire season ever. Today it’s effected 894,000 hectares and fire crews have now reached day 100. Many of these emergency teams worked on the BC spring flooding immediately prior to the fires. 


Smoky skies  - fran guenette photo

Smoke on the lake comes from 100’s of miles away.


Tens of thousands of people and livestock have been  evacuated and many people in BC and nearby American states are experiencing health debilitating effects from the smoke.



Nasa Satellite Image – July 31, 2017 – Wildfire Smoke over British Columbia


The added financial burden is immense. A small example is that wood prices have skyrocketed as numerous mills have shut down due to the fires. This is one of many costs not factored into the true price of burning fossil fuel. 




Recently I finished a novel, Convenient Mistruths, by Geoffry Strong. He’s a local atmospheric scientist who recently came to our local library for a reading. Strong sets the plot of his novel in 2020 and the main setting is the Canadian North. Large scale Arctic drilling and rapidly melting perma-frost is occurring.

Amidst murder and intrigue, the author adeptly weaves into the story the science on climate change, meteorology and changing weather patterns as well as their social and ecological impacts. The novel’s Prologue includes a short vignette about a migrant family from Syria. It makes clear his family lost it’s home drought and desertification caused largely by global warming. Civil war is a mere side effect.

The main antagonist of the novel is a few ardent American climate change denialists – funded by Big Oil of course. The main protagonist is a Canadian law student who is spending the summer gathering testimony in the north. She has been hired by a large construction company to outline the legal ramifications of a proposed oil pipeline.

Meanwhile, a Russian Climate Scientist working in Siberia discovers that methane readings are going off-the-scale. Methane is a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent to global warming than Carbon Dioxide. An international crises ensues. Climate scientists and world leaders are left stunned. The urgency of runaway climate change stares humanity in the face.

Wow! Thumbs up to the author. This novel made me think about my own personal dependency on fossil fuel. Also, we use firewood to heat some of our home and water, so a lot of our energy requirements (including driving and flying) result in significant Carbon emissions.


Bruce with new stove just arrived - francis geunette photo

 Replacing our 24 year old woodstove


Our new alderlea woodstove Aug. 11, 20167 - fran guenette photo


Bruce with new stove


The novel also made me see that in general, poorer people have a small carbon footprint – they can’t afford many of the luxuries derived from my fossil fuel dependency. And yet, many who are downcast pay for climate change with their lives.


Charcoal drawing in Ottawa Art Gallery - artist unknown

Charcoal drawing in Ottawa Art Gallery – artist unknown


We must all work diligently to reduce our own carbon footprints. As a personal example, how do I connect my fuel addiction to my many other faults  – my arrogance, my quick judgements, my over eagerness, my heavy heart? And this is the tip of the ice berg. I need to match my action with my words – and to do this with genuine love and faith.


         the_dalai_lama__the_vancouver_peace_summit-500x500                                   Jesus-Holy-Wisdom-Robert-Lentz



In the closing lines of his 2011 book, Generation Us: The Challenge of Global Warming, Andrew Weaver says:

“It’s time to recognize global warming for what it is: the most self-empowering issue we will ever face. Every consumer of energy is part of the problem. Every person is therefore part of the solution. We are entering an age of creativity and innovation unlike any modern society has experienced before. Rather than fearing this change, we need to embrace it.”




In the paradox of it all I recall the words of Thomas Merton:

”I remain aghast at our own weakness, our own poverty, our evasions, our infidelity, our hesitancy…. In such a condition there is no use in forcing the issue. Great patience and humility are needed, and humble prayer for light, courage and strength.”


Photo below by Thomas Merton 1968 – Hut in the Himalaya’s

photo by thomas merton


In peace – Bruce

Ode to a little stream – Off Grid Power, Part 2: Micro-Hydro

MICRO HYDRO – a site specific ecological alternative to fossil fuel generators.

On Earth Day (a few posts back) I posted about our off-grid energy system and how it’s evolved since early 1980’s. Included were details of solar and wind power, with a promise to to expand on the micro hydro aspect of our electrical production.

I fore-warn you – this post is lengthy and quite comprehensive – lots of photos though. Here is part Two.


In mid 2009 we began our most recent energy system upgrade which involved months of planning, engineering and building new infrastructure. By February 2010 we had a new water powered turbine and a bigger solar array, up and running.

The little stream pictured below, now provides more than half of all our electricity. A good part of the success is because we conserve energy and use it efficiently.


Top of waterfall May 10, 2009 - 45 gpm waterflow - bruce witzel photo


Here’s the stream again – on it’s last tumble before it feeds into the lake.


Waterfall time exposure at the neighbours, Dec. 31, 2010 - bruce witzel photo


In our temperate rainforest along the the Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island snow melt from the mountains doesn’t last long  – even less so, with reduced snow pack due to climate change. Hence, the stream becomes a mere trickle in the summer months and the water powered turbine becomes in-operational.

During the other 8 to 9 months of the year the normal flow of the stream is nominally impacted by utilizing the hydro power system. Part of the reason for this is because water for the turbine is taken from a nearby tributary. Here, the intake also has a special stainless steel screen designed to protect all riparian life as well as to keep debris out of the penstock.


Coanda Filter Screen for water intake - bruce witzel photoIntake flume with Coanda Screen

Although the lake is excellent habitat for trout, they are unable to migrate more than 100 feet up the stream because of its numerous waterfalls. Also, salmon are unable to migrate into the lake past Bear Falls.

All these factors ensure the micro hydro system has a small ecological impact.

 Another view of the lake, June 15, 2016 - bruce witzel photo


The Installation of the Micro Hydro System:


Conceptualized Micro Hydro Plan from 1996


Micro Hydro  Study @ Lake 1996


Before installation, summer 2009:          After installation:

BEFORE -looking down


Looking down the flume from standing on the concrete wier, March 24, 2017 - bruce witzel photo








These two photos were taken in nearly identical locations looking down the stream. In the left photo I’m standing where the concrete wier (or dam) is to be built. The wier is shown in the foreground of the right photo. It diverts water out of the stream via a wooden flume and then into a 3” pipe (or penstock). The water flows through the pipe to run the turbine much further down the stream.


Sectional Plan (as built in 2009):


Micro Hydro @ Lake as built 2009


Looking up to the the site (before development).


BEFORE site  developed - bruce witzel photo

In the first stage of the project I used a chain saw, ropes and come-along to carefully cut and manoeuvre a large log (top left) that had originally fallen across the stream. Shored up with rocks, the log later became the base for the wooden flume.

 Oct 20  @ beginning -bruce witzel photo

A buried blue intake barrel is under the plywood on the right. The black pipe exits the barrel.


This photo shows the finished concrete wier that feeds water into the flume…

Wier and flume - bruce witzel photo


Here is some of the concrete formwork for the wier during construction, midsummer 2009. The two black pipes temporarily diverted the water flow of the stream. Note the reinforcing steel embedded in the stream bed and the metal chase that will later hold the wooden flume.

Formwork for concrete wier, August 2009 - bruce witzel photo (2)


These photos show the concrete wier, the wooden flume and intake screen built in place:


After concrete wier is poured - bruce witzel photo  After formwork of wier removed - bruce witzel photo

AFTER12 HRS RAIN - OCT. 21st - 4x7 inch flume is full - supplying probably 250 or 300 US gpm and stream still running full  

 Lower flume and screened intake, March 2010 - bruce witzel photo  Intake barrel - bruce witzel photo

To reiterate – the blue barrel is located below the wooden intake structure on the left.


Here’s the whole intake infrastructure operational. Notice that a large volume of water from the flume goes back into the stream. Only a small amount is required to run the turbine – about 60 gallons per minute to create full output of 1 kilowatt. 

AFTER - flume supplies hydro screen with abundance of water - bruce witzel photo


For the project could be properly designed, my wife Francis and I first measured the vertical drop from the proposed intake (above) to the proposed turbine site.

This diagram shows how we did this:


Measuring Veritical Drop.


We also had to measure the flow of the water, over a period of time. We timed how long it took to fill this 5 gallon bucket.


Proposed intake & weir @top of falls May 18 - bruce witzel photo


Peter Talbot of is a solar specialist and a leading expert in micro hydro based out of Vancouver, British Columbia. Consulting via email we planned and collaborated on the system, and he later supplied and installed the electrical components. His website includes the technical aspects of our new power system.

With compliments to Peter, I’ve included his written summary, along with a few of my added notations.


Pete Talbot of HomePower with a Siemens solar panel


Combination Solar, Micro Hydro and Wind Home Power System

– by Peter Talbot (with Bruce Witzel)


Statistical Overview:

  • Turbine: Bronze Turgo runner with four nozzles
  • Generator: Induction motor, 2 HP at 240 volts
  • Operating Head: 175 feet gross
  • Rated flow: 110 gallons per minute
  • Output: up to 40 amps at 28 volts nominal, or 1120 watts
  • Inverter: Magnum pure sine wave, 4.0 kW, 24 volts
  • Solar PV (photo-voltaic): 1000 watts
  • Wind Generator: 300 watts (now defunct, due to an extreme weather event)


This project was an extensive upgrade to an existing system that had been in operation for over ten years. However, the 300 watt solar array and 300 watt wind turbine was too small to supply sufficient battery charging for much of the year.


Our wind generator and lake sunset - bruce witzel photo


As is often the case with solar only systems, a gas generator was frequently used to top up the old battery bank.

Modified dog-house & generator shed - bruce witzel photo 









    The generator is housed in a re-purposed dog house and now rarely used.





 We did a complete rebuild and added 700 watts of PV with an MPPT tracking regulator and a 1 kw hydro turbine.


 Hydro turbine and transformer before installation - bruce witzel photo     Bruce Witzel at turbine shed during installation - peter talbot photo


In addition, new batteries, a new 24 volt inverter, controls and breakers were added. As is usually the case, it is necessary to convert over to 24 volts when DC power levels get to the 1 kW range.


The system includes the 1 kW solar because the stream dries up in the summer.


Cabin, wind genertor and solar panels, Feb. 22-2010 - bruce witzel photo


This project was in three stages –


First Stage:

We added 700 watts of new PV in the form of four 175 watt BP modules on a custom designed rack that would holt both the old and new modules. This was all fed to an Outback maximum power point tracking regulator.


Bruce Witzel building rack - peter talbot photo


Peter Talbot of Home Power, installing solar array - bruce witzel photo

Second Stage:

We installed am entire micro hydro system, capable of producing up to 35 amps at 28 volts for about 1 KW.

 Main flume and water intake with overflow (2), March 24-2017 - bruce witzel photo


Flume under construction with no water diverted - bruce witzel photo


The intake filter and flume feeds the 1000 foot long, 3 inch polyethylene penstock.


Bruce intsalling penstock


 3 inch diameter penstock for turbine and fresh water - Feb.2-2010 - bruce witzel photo



1 kilowatt hydro-turbine, March 24-2017 - bruce witzel photo     Turbine warning sign - bruce witzel photo

Turbine shed, March 25-2107 (2)- bruce witzel photo


 The penstock drops down about 170 vertical feet creates 72 psi of pressure at the turbine site. Here is the original pressure test at turbine site.


Pressure test Sept. 2009 -72 psi! - bruce witzel photo








                68 psi net pressure 145mm nozzle  = 79 GPM (calculate)  (nozzle is slightly larger than nine sixteenths of an inch)









The outtake pipe built under the turbine shed returns water back to the stream.

Turbine  foundation  with drainage system

Shed before turbine installed - bruce witzel photo        














Peter Talbot building turbine valves - bruce witzel photo

Peter Talbot – building turbine nozzles


Turbine with 4 nozzles, operational  - bruce witzel photo

Installed water turbine – operational


Third Stage:

The old batteries were replaced with a new set of 500 amp hour, 2 volt cells.


24-volt-battery-bank - bruce witzel photo

The new battery bank, with the lid not installed – the white pipe vents Hydrogen gas.


In addition, a new 4000  watt sine wave inverter and all necessary switching, regulation and protection completed the upgrade.


Witzel electrical room - peter talbot photo


The 12 volt system can also be charged from the new inverter using an existing old Todd 50 amp charger. 

The existing 12 volt wind turbine and two of the old PV modules were left connected to the existing 12 volt battery. This is used for LED and other 12 volt lighting and small electronics.


  foyer-lighting - bruce witzel photo

“The lovely home is equipped with all the modern electrical gadgets.”


Peter Talbot –  (original article here)


Bruce Witzel's Home Interior - peter talbot photo


Conclusion & Current Status of the System:

Over 38 years the system cost has added up to about $40,000, an average annual cost of $1050 per year.  

Today we were running the stream engine at 12 amps or about 250 watts, which brought us 6 kilowatt-hours of electricity over the past 24 hours. The solar panels brought in an additional 2 kilowatt hours, for a total of 8 kw-hrs. 


Cabin electrical meters - bruce witzel photo

in this photo we have a heavy load on – maybe the electric oven?

The fridge is running, we did 2 loads of laundry and a bit of cooking, I used the skill saw today, and now we have lights, computer, fan, etc. As Peter says – all the modern gadgets.

The battery is 72% full, and its charging at 1.2 amps or 30 watts. All in all – a good day, of off- grid living.


  Cheers ~ Bruce 









I put a capital N on Nature and call it my church – Frank Lloyd Wright


Celebrating Frank Lloyd Wrights 150th birthday (born, June 8, 1867)


Taliesin East, Spring Green Wisconsin - Frank Lloyd Wright's home, August 25,2015  - bruce witzel photo

Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Taliesin East -Spring Green Wisconsin – August 25, 2005


Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West - photo of a photo, original photographer unknown


“Whether people are fully conscious of this or not, they actually derive countenance and sustenance from the “atmosphere” of the things they live in or with. They are rooted in them just as a plant is in the soil it is planted . . . They now have a certain dignity and pride in their environment; they see it has a meaning or purpose which they share . . .”  Frank Lloyd Wright


Fennel in our garden - francis guenette photo

Yarrow in our garden – photo by Francis




Organic Architecture - Hanna's Honeycomb House - bruce witzel photo


Plaque at entry to Hanna House, Stanford California - bruce witzel photo


Hanna House Window Wall - bruce witzel photo

Hanna House by Frank Lloyd Wright – May 27, 2010


Office and library of the Hanna House - May 23, 2017 - bruce witzel photo






Hanna House patio - Bruce Witzel photo




Bruce at the living room entrance of the Hanna House on May 23, 2010 - buce witzel photo

“We no longer have an outside and an inside as two separate things…

they are of each other.”     ~ Frank Lloyd Wright ~



Cheers ~ Bruce


a flower - bruce witzel photo


There’s nothing we can do that can’t be done – Right Charles?

Charles Brandt Receives Award – On behalf of All of Us.


On Tuesday May 30, 2017  Fr. Charles Brandt received the British Columbia Community Achievement Award for his role in ecological stewardship.


Reginal Director Edwin Grieve awards Fr. Charles Brandt - kathryn Jones photo

kathryn jones photo

Comox Valley Regional District Director, Edwin Grieve, presented the award to Charles, who at 94, couldn’t attend the Provincial Award Ceremony in Victoria. Upon receiving the award Charles said, “this is an award to all of us, it isn’t just to me.”


The story goes back to the mid 1960’s, about the time Charles arrived in the Comox Valley to join a colony of Catholic hermit monks. They lived near the Tsolum River. On the mountain above them, the Mount Washington Copper Mining Co. operated an open pit mine for two years before going bankrupt. After the mine was abandoned, the site’s 940,000 tonnes of waste rock brewed sulphuric acid that leached copper and other heavy metals into the Tsolum River Watershed for 44 years.  

    Comox Glacier - Charles Brandt photo (2)  Comox Glacier (left) rises above Courtenay River estuary – the Tsolum River is a tributary. 

In 1985 Charles Brandt wrote a letter to the BC Ministry of Environment – it began with the words, “the Tsolum River is dead.”

Steel Head Society Letter written by Chalres Brandt


And so began an epic 30 year struggle that brought together a diverse group of stakeholders and agencies who worked to obtain funds and find the solution to properly cap the mine to stop the deadly pollution.


photo compliments Tsolum River Restoration Society









Charles Brandt during the mine reclamation project


After the reclamation work was finally completed in 2010, the salmon returned to the river within one year. As Charles explained at the meeting, “In 1984 we had 9 Pink Salmon return (to the Tsolum River), and then… we got the mine fixed. 2 years ago 130,000 pinks returned.”


Pink Salmon spawning grounds Sept 24 Oyster River - charles brandt


Many friends and collaborators came out to show their appreciation for Charles and his life-long efforts to protect local watersheds and change the human relationship with nature.


Friends and collaborters of Charles Brandt at the Comox Valley Reggional District Office, May 30- 2017 - photo compliments Kathryn Jones 

When Charles spoke at the award ceremony he reiterated the following:

We experience a sense of wonder and delight when we fall in love with the natural world. It is only when we love someone or something that we will save them. And we can only love someone when we consider him or her as Sacred. Only the Sense of the Sacred will Save Us.


Thank you Charles, for your steadfast and inspiring example. In this difficult moment of earth’s history, you give us hope to move forward as active agents of change – as surely as the river flows to the sea.


tsolum river under a bright blue sky - by Charles Brandt] (3)


From the BC Achievement Awards Website

Fr. Charles Brandt, ERM
Black Creek

Father Charles Brandt believes that it is humanity’s great work to transform our disruptive influence on the earth to a benign presence. As a leading member of the Tsolum River Restoration Society, in partnership with other groups, he spearheaded a campaign to get the old copper mine site capped at a cost of $4.5 million, which enabled the return of salmon to the river. Father Brandt has also volunteered with the Oyster River Enhancement Society contributing to the return of salmon and trout stocks to the once decimated river.


BC Achievement award Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 3.13.57 PM

(click to enlarge)

 Recognizing and celebrating the spirit, imagination, dedication and contribution of British Columbians to their communities.


 The recipients of the 2017 awards are: (click on recipient for details)






A comox valley river - charles brandt photo

 A pink salmon in the Tsolum River (below) – Charles Brandt photo 

Pink Salmon in the Tsolum River - charles brandt photo (3)

The worst sin to our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them;

that’s the essence of inhumanity.     ~ George Bernard Shaw


Thanks to Chris Hilliar and Kathryn Jones for assistance with this article – and to so many others who made this community achievement possible.  Cheers – Bruce

Bloom where you’re planted


Our Heritage

(borrowed, from the poem Desiderata)



You are a child of the universe,

no less than the trees and the stars;

you have a right to be here.



Rhodo on the lake May 21, 2017 - bruce witzel photo





Over exposed rhodo (2) May 21, 2017 - bruce witzel photo



And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.


Butterfly taking flight from sweet william - bruce witzel photo


Therefore be at peace with God,

whatever you conceive God to be,

and whatever your labours and aspirations,

in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.


Ducks on the Fraser River  - bruce witzel photo


With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,

it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

Free Book Offer: May 8-10, 2017

The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies. Two convicts are talking . . . Andy says to Red, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying”. A good bit of wisdom for each of us…

My wife’s Crater Lake Novels series follow similar threads. If you haven’t yet delved into it, for the next three days she is offering the first in the series for free. A burly logger friend of mine said to me after reading Disappearing in Plain Sight – “It really makes me think.”

You may (or may not) realize that in supporting indie authors, artists and musicians like this, it helps them become much more visible on social media. Please click onto Fran’s blog (below) for the free links. Francis has a background as an educator, a university researcher and a trauma counselor.

Oh, and by the way – if you don’t have a kindle it’s easy to get a free app for your computer. I’ll get back here at a later date, to tell you more about installing our energy system (Part 2). As for now, it’s time to get busy living.

Peace, wellness and good cheer – Bruce


DPS sale banner 3

Here’s your chance to grab the first book in the Crater Lake Series free of charge.

A Novel to Deepen One’s Humanity – Amazon reviewer

I rarely read contemporary novels (Marge Piercy and Barbara Kingsolver being notable exceptions), but once I read the first chapter of this one “just to check it out,” I was hooked. The psychologically-true and compassionate descriptions of each unique, complex character, blended with the real-life-like plot twists, kept me eagerly reading on. I resonated with the wisdom of the life lessons and insights each character developed, and their processes of growth and discovery catalyzed new insights in me. I appreciated the multisensory richness of the scenery, creating a vivid setting in which these extraordinary “ordinary” people move, stumble and grow in deeply realistic and moving ways. The plotting is intricate and well-woven, easy to follow if one pays attention — which is easy because the…

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Earth flag-a-flyin’  – 1987


Slide of the cabin about 1985! -bruce witzel photo



“As people alive today, we must consider future generations: a clean environment is a human right like any other. It is therefore part of our responsibility toward others to ensure that the world we pass on is as healthy, if not healthier, than we found it.”

~ the Dalai Lama ~



~ My Earth Day story ~



Part One – Fire and Rain


Things are never dull living off-grid and I’d like to illustrate by outlining the evolution of our home power system since 1979. 

First to get your attention, let me be blunt. The off-grid lifestyle is not for everyone and it does come with serious challenges – like the small forest fire we had here on the day Francis and I got married.


Really, this happened – August 16, 1997 . . .

 Fighting the fire on our wedding day! (scanned photo) Aug 16-1997 - photo by wedding guest


Francis describes it here in our wedding album.


From our wedding album - by francis guenette


View of our wedding from the windmill tower on August 16, 1997 - dave witzel photo


Smoke began to rise just as my brother Dave took this photo. In those days we had a marine radio telephone. We put out the call “Mayday, Mayday” – just like in the movies.


It took about 10 minutes to get garden hoses over to the fire site – the younger women instantly formed a bucket brigade.


Bucket brigade on our wedding day (scanned image) Aug 16-2017 - photo by wedding guest


Meanwhile, a dozen young men literally tore off their shirts to smother the flaming branches. Then the the water buckets arrived. . . after that the hose. Thankfully, by the time the forest warden’s helicopter landed on the beach below, we had already doused the potential forest fire. Talk about a close call!


Wedding fire, August 1997 - photo by a wedding guest


It’s a wedding story we and our 70 guests never dreamed to tell. When we cut the cake I was shirtless and covered in soot. Still smilin’ though. By the way – we believe the fire was started from a cigarette butt. Yikes!


In life, often alongside hard knocks come numerous rewards.


 Bruce with fresh produce


For example, along with the trials like the fire (and we’ve had two) we can always enjoy fresh garden produce, an idyllic waterfront setting and forested trails that we can wander through daily.


Sunset at the lake, June 22-2017 - bruce witzel photo (3)


And it’s with this amazing view Francis is inspired to write her growing popular novels.


Click here to see the cover and story-line of her latest work, No Compass to Right.


Fran at the real Crater Lake, Oct 16-2012 - bruce witzel photo



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Part Two – Living Off-Grid


So now (as promised) I’ll illustrate some remarkable energy alternatives to the destructive manner in which society uses power today. Some I’ve covered previously, but never in one post.


Although these examples are rural based, most of this technology is appropriate for city dwellers as well – especially solar.


A unique pesrspective of the cabin Oct 2-2013 - bruce witzel photo 


By way of introduction to our off-grid power system, Francis and I never cease to be amused when we drive into our local community to discover a power outage.


We have been able to avoid such blackouts because we produce our own electricity from a variety of energy sources – primarily green renewable energy.


 Cabin, wind genertor and solar panels, Feb. 22-2010 - bruce witzel photo


First and Foremost is the Sun.


Lake at noon, Dec 14,2016 - Solar South - bruce witzel photo


Solar power provides clean, quiet and economical power with minimal maintenance. I’ve come to believe it’s a good ethical choice to help reduce climate change.  


Cabin with solar panels, Feb. 20-2010 - bruce witzel photo

Solar electric array (left), 30 gallon solar hot water tank (center ) with passive solar gain windows of the cabin


For Francis and I, here is how we use solar energy. When sun shines through our South facing windows it is absorbed into the cabin and provide us heat. This is known as Passive solar gain. Separate solar panels create electricity and also help heat our water.


The electricity created is stored in batteries and hence we are able to cook with an electric convection oven, an electric conduction hot-plate, or a crock pot. Also, we use two solar ovens that focus the sun and trap the heat to achieve cooking temperatures high as 325 degrees F. 


Solar cooking at Fran's old apartment at Universtiy of Victoria - Bruce Witzel photo



During rainy and windy times we also use water power . . .

(and previous to 2012, wind power).



Overview of  wier, flume, intake and overflow, March 24-2017 - bruce witzel photo


Here’s our hydro turbine water intake. (I’ll give details about this in my next post).


Water intake overflow, March 24-2017 - bruce witzel photo


Like many country folk we use firewood for back-up heating –

for us, 1 to 2 cords each year.


Drying our firewood supply, Sept. 12-2012 - francis guenette photo


I’d be amiss not to mention the most simple way we use the sun – via photosynthesis that happens in our garden – again, details of this for a future post.


In our rural landscape, bears are integral to the local eco-system.


Bear passing by coldframe, July 9, 2015 - bruce wtizel photo

Lucky that Billy–Bob the Bear doesn’t like the Zucchinii in the coldframe – or potatoes either.


Part Three – Looking back


I began to build the cabin and homestead about 1978, much before Fran and I were together. Every single piece of building material was carried in by hand and wheel barrow, 70 stairs down and a 10 minute walk from the gravel logging road.


Our old boardwalk, now obsolete - bruce witzel photo

Old board walk is now obsolete


Imagine this ethos – a trail through the forest arriving to a cedar shaked cabin perched on a lakeside cliff – rough finish inside with kerosene lanterns, a woodstove, a propane fridge, a gasoline powered generator and no running water.


For some of you baby boomers this might conjure up memories of the back-to-the land movement. I was fortunate to be able to stick with it and made gradual improvements. We now have a driveway, (thank the Good Lord).


cabin & solar panels - mid 90's - bruce witzel photo

Cabin in 1998 with 300 watt solar array. The Yagi Antennae (left) brought cell phone service, transformative at the time.


Power-lines are still far away and four decades later in 2017, we’re quite happy not being connected to the electrical grid. We rarely use fossil fuel, except for our transportation needs (which is substantial). I envision the possibility of charging a plug-in electric vehicle, maybe within the next decade.

But for now, I’m talking about back-in-the-day.


Coming down our driveway, March 6-2013 - bruce witzel photo



The first shift towards energy independence began in 1982 with the installation of Photo-voltaic (PV) solar panels (seen below). It may superfluous, but I so enjoyed listening to my favourite cassette – Heart of Gold, anyone?

However, Neil Young came at a cost – in those days two 50 watt solar panels were expensive – 750 dollars each.


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 My first 100 watt solar array, with reflector.


Amazingly, today a person can purchase 40 times more solar electric output with the same amount of money as in 82’ (adjusted for inflation). In other words, the 1500 dollars I spent then for 100 watts of solar power would purchase 4000 watts today. Solar electricity has come-of-age.


Our 1 kilowatt Solar Array - bruce witzel photo

Now we have a 1 kilo-watt solar array, considered small by today’s standards.


The next addition to our system was a vintage used wind-charger. Placing the 50 lb. unit atop a 30 foot tower defied some basic laws of physics. Servicing it, took a bit of acrobatics. A downside to wind power, for sure.





One special joy came in 85’ when the solar water heater was added – it ended the dreaded body baths.


Solar Water Heater - circa 1986 - Bruce Witzel photo

 Solar water heater, 1986 


After 32 years we are still using this same simple unit that consists of a black heat absorbing water tank in a glass enclosure. I bought it second hand for $1200. It has no pumps or electronics. Each winter we drain the water out of the tank to avoid freeze damage.


Here on the west coast of Canada the weather is sufficiently warm now, so we re-filled it in mid-March to enjoy free hot water from the sun. 


 Solar hot water tank on Feb.18-2017 - bruce witzel photo


You can see the black tank behind the glass. It works like the solar oven. Focused and trapped sunlight heats the water. When we require hot water we turn on the tap at the sink – cold water enters the bottom of the tank forcing heated water out the top.


Of course as I continually mention, we always have unusual surprises. In 1987 a black bear attacked the propane fridge by tearing off it’s vent on the outside of the cabin. The damage the bear did to the back of the old fridge convinced me to change to a small but more efficient electric fridge now contained within the cabin – and 300 more watts of Solar Panels to run it.


Cubs - Bruce Witzel photo

Here’s Billy-Bob’s the Bear’s family. . . behind the cubs note the wind generator tower, now blown over from heavy winds.


When Fran and I got together in 93’ we plumbed in the main wood stove and the cook stove to provide even more hot water. We also added an on-demand propane water heater, which to our pleasant surprise we only need to use with company. (We average only 5 to 7 lb. propane per month). Oh – and Fran also bought her first pair pair of rubber boots.


Waterford cookstove - bruce witzel photo







In 97’ we converted the windmill to a state-of –the-art 300 watt air generator and to store all this energy we installed a newer (but used) battery bank. Unfortunately the wind tower was destroyed during an extreme wind storm in 2012.


Air generator and lake sunset -bruce witzel photo


In conclusion, conservation or living more with less – is key to our lifestyle. Over the years family and friends could attest to this, and also my constant reminder to turn off the lights. 


World spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis call us all to be better and more conscious conservers.


Dalai Lama - think of a mosquito



As Pope Francis has said in Praise Be: On our Common Home:


“A person who could afford to spend and consume more but regularly uses less heating and wears warmer clothes, shows the kind of convictions and attitudes which help to protect the environment. There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions…”


Pope Francis also said this . . .








Thank you all, for taking time to read this.


Please remember – Earth Day is Every Day



Cheers – Bruce




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