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



DPS sale banner 3



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.


 slides0079 (2)

 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





37 thoughts on “MY EARTH DAY STORY

    • Thank you kindly Joshi. Speaking of green, in the British Columbia election yesterday, 3 greens were elected! There’s a good chance they’ll hold the balance of power. I just had to tell someone. 🙂 Keep up you good work of catching the essence of our humanity in your portraits. I am always moved by the people you photo. Peace.

  1. Very commendable – I admire your dedication …. and the quote from the Dalai Lama is just brilliant!
    I try to do ‘my bit’ where I can and was amazed to find that Great Britain’s National Grid has just managed it’s first coal free day since the industrial revolution – quite an achievement!

    • This is an amazing achievement Noeline. Wasn’t it only about 60 years ago during the great smog crisis that killed so many Londoners that broad awareness of the danger of fossil fuels emmissions first began? This milestone of a Coal free day for Great Britain is such a hopeful sign for all the world. And I’ve always been encouraged by the Dalai Lama’s words too. Thanks. Wonderful hearing from you with this good news.

      • You’re right – 60 years. Sometimes it feels that we’re making no progress at all so achievements like this are wonderfully encouraging – as long as we continue and don’t rest on our laurels!

  2. Wow, excellent work, what a great story! When I was young I lived for a short time in Colorado..before it became popular, we had neighbors not unlike yourself. Boy howdy, bears and freezers though. This neighbor had, 2-3 freezers destroyed.
    A fact of life.

    • The bears have an amazing sense of smell, and they have an amazing memory and sense of place. They always return here, especially when our few fruit trees are in full production. Over the years, the bears have enjoyed the apples and pears more than us. I wouldn’t mind sharing so much if they didn’t tear off the branches. Thanks for dropping over and enjoying a few of the stories and photos. Cheers and best regards – Bruce

    • 🙂 Fran and I (& family and friends) were glad too! Thank you for your own role modeling, David. Telling, hearing and sharing our stories is important because it gives us a diverse perspective of the world. For me it brings me hope … and I almost always feel joy when I see and here about your journey and your extended community David. I feel apart of it. As always… a deep thank you.

  3. Bruce, I am impressed at your continued dedication and perseverance. This is a lifestyle that (as you stated) is not for everyone. I lived this life for twenty years in Florida with my first husband. We built a geodesic dome, and he still lives there, partially powered with solar electricity. Keep up the excellent work!

  4. Talk about a wedding to remember! Thank you for sharing your beautiful words and photographs – it reminds me of the changes, no matter how small, I can make to bring care and mindfulness to the beautiful planet we enjoy.

    • Yes, Angela. 7 small things x 70 x70 x 70…. they add up, and then the change is come. Dalai Lama’s Mosquito anology sums it up well, eh? Hope you like the cover and story line for Fran’s upcoming novel. I’m half way through it, reading as the editing is done. No Compass to Right is another gripping read… funny, as usual, with tough issues being covered (like fundamentalism), but I’d better say no more. 🙂 So glad you enjoyed this post Angela…. peace and love to you and all, and Pennsylvania.

    • Thanks Rosaleine. Yes, those bears… we’re not so much afraid as them, as cautious. However, they do provide a challenge especially with our fruit trees. The jury is out on who’s winning with the ongoing saga. It us who moved into their back yard. Let me tell you, when someone here says “bear”, our awareness arises.

  5. Thank you for sharing your Earth Day post with us. Greetings from Lasqueti Island, our part of this blue planet.

    • Thank you kindly Diane. Good posts you have on recycling and re-purposing. And good luck with your novels. As you read, my wife is a novelist too.

      On the next post I’m working on about off-grid, it’ll be slightly more technical. It’s a piece I’m building on that my friend Peter Talbot wrote for his website about installing our newest off-grid upgrade. Since you liked this post, I’m quite confident you’ll enjoy the next.

      I appreciate your comment, and thanks for the eco-logical awareness you bring over on your blog. Be well, in Carolina. Cheers – Bruce

    • Got behind on replying to comments Priscilla… Happy earth day to you too (and you’ll get, I mean today!) Thanks for sharing this with your family. Too often, things in life are “romanticized”. This post didn’t cover a fraction of the trials. After I wrote this post, Fran and I noticed that our compost toilet fan had stopped working. In the next day or two I’ll be climbing up 35 feet to the roof peak (with safety harness and tool belt) to replace the fan. Reminds me of those old climbs up the windmill tower.

      • I certainly appreciate that it’s a lot of hard work, not a romantic notion, but a heartfelt commitment to a high standard. I do admire you both!

  6. What an adventure. You show us that to live simply is to live well. I hit the “Share on Facebook” button. This is a beautiful story that deserves to be shared. Thank-you.

  7. Thank you Bruce for that delightful story and your personal story of conserving energy, which encourages us to remember that every day is earth day – we’re also part of the energy of the sun and the wind.

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