The chickens have become escape artists. I don’t know how they figured out the elaborate trap of chicken wire and plastic that comprises the door to the run, but they’ve managed to get out for two days straight.
I don’t mind letting them roam around when I’m around. But as the weather gets colder and the predators get more desperate for calories, I’m thinking that the door to the run may have to be reconfigured. It’s sad to admit, but my half-assed door can’t even contain a bunch of literal bird brains.
It is nice to see them out and about in the yard though. They have thoroughly picked over the spots where the run had been, and have even seemed to have found some food left over in those spots. I like seeing them come running up to the front door when I walk out, or see them flying for twenty or thirty feet. They appear to be happy and content, and their tail feathers are sticking up higher than ever. I’m not sure how much I should read into the angle of their feathers, but I heard somewhere that if their tail feathers are up, then they’re happy.
At least they have been putting themselves to bed every night. Usually just past dark I’ll go out and all four of them are huddled up on the perch inside the coop. They snuggle and cuddle and have so far kept themselves warm, but we haven’t had any of those bitterly cold nights. Yet.
Since the solar panel has been working well, I figured I should buy a heat lamp for the chickens. It won’t be long before it gets really cold, and since I don’t want to have four more roommates for the night, I have to heat the coop somehow.
I bought one of those cheap clip-on lamps, an extension cord, and a pack of light bulbs. I honestly cannot remember the last time I bought light bulbs. It felt weird. But I came home and set to installing the heat lamp.
Now, for most people this would entail screwing in the light bulb and then plugging in the cord. That would be the end of it. But for me, it involved almost two hours worth of work which included two hand drills, a hammer, chisel, a new hole in my house and an eye pecked by a chicken.
The only drills I have are two hand-crank augers that I picked up at the junk store in Saranac Lake. For five bucks each, they were a good deal. That price however, does not include time used in actually cranking those things. With an electric drill it may have taken me fifteen minutes for the entire project. But with the low speed of a hand-cranked drill, I could not spin the size bit I needed to be able to fit an outlet through it.
I did manage to make a nice circular mark in the linoleum floor indicating where exactly I needed to remove material. But that big bit was not spinning anymore. So, I pull out a small bit and start drilling. All the way around the hole marked by one bit, I had to make twelve very small holes. After that, I used the chisel to knock out the hole.
I then had to go outside, remove some of the stones that line the base of the cabin, and reach up to feed the extension cord up through the newly made hole. Of course, me crawling around on the ground attracted the attention of the escapee chickens. Midget, who is now full sized, has no fear of me and runs up to me all the time. This time however, she decided that she would be content to just peck at my face while I was on the ground with both hands occupied searching blindly for a one inch hole in the floor.
As I closed my eyes and turned my head to avoid the love taps from Midget, I finally found the hole. But of course, the cord did not fit easily through the hole. I jammed it in there and went inside to pull it through the rest of the way.
I pulled the cord up into the cabin and plugged it in to the inverter. I had left the lamp in the “on” position so that I could turn it on and off from inside just by pulling the cord from the inverter. I proudly plugged it in to see if it was working, and sure enough, it was. I then proceeded to watch two hours of TV on my computer using the battery. As dusk turned into darkness, I thought maybe I should turn on the light for its first night of use. But I had drained the battery watching TV. Luckily, it wasn’t that cold out last night.
This time of year is the roughest, psychologically, out here. When the sun starts to dip before most people eat dinner, it’s tough for me to stay positive. Especially on a day like today, when it was overcast all day and never really that bright out, the night seems just about unbearably long.
In order to fight of the dark, I light candles and have battery powered puck lights going. The one electric light I have is lit up by the door and my best oil lamp is burning bright on the table next to me. There’s also my ubiquitous head lamp hanging around my neck, though I’ve gotten better this year about not wearing it in public so much.
I brace myself for the onslaught of long, long nights by knowing that before the end of the year, the days will be getting longer. Perhaps it’s only a couple of minutes a day, but I remind myself every day that after the winter solstice it will get better.
I don’t know why the dark beats me down so much, but I bear it alright. Not grin and bear it, mind you, just bear it. On nights like this all I want to do is be inside a nice, brightly lit house. It seems so much easier to just flick a switch instead of digging out an old half-candle and match it up with one of the holders. Then I have to keep an eye on them since I don’t know which candles will be dripping like crazy. I also have to get to them and blow them out before they get too low into the holders, otherwise I’ll be grabbing a screwdriver and digging out what little wax remains.
All in all I guess it’s not too bad though. I re-melt the stubs into new candles, thereby recycling even the meager little inch of wax that otherwise would go into the garbage. Compared to my first winter out here, this place is like the Las Vegas Strip at night. But that’s only a relative observation.
To be honest, I have to choose the stress of basking in darkness for an inordinate amount of my day, or deal with the worry that accompanies having a dozen fires going in my very dry wooden house. At least I’m not worried as much about the woodstove, but I do think a few more electric lights may be on order soon.
I love the first real snow fall of the year. Everything looks so clean and neat, and the world is quiet. The birds aren’t making any noise, the few deer that took off running when I let Pico out hardly made a sound, and tree limbs are hanging low, heavy with fresh wet snow.
This is isn’t the first snow of the year, but it’s the first one that might stick and be around for a little while. Every night before now that I’ve had a fire, I didn’t worry about keeping it going all night. The new stove cranks out heat, especially when it’s loaded with the dead elm that my friend dropped off for me. In fact, tonight will the first night that I’ve had a fire where I won’t be going to sleep with a few windows open.
It was gray and cold all day, but above freezing. It rained and misted and was foul, but then the snow finally started to fall. We’ve all known that winter was coming, so there is no surprise here, but hoping for a nice easy winter like the one two years ago may be asking for too much. The skier in me wants to see the snow fly, but the off-grid, no plow-guy-lined-up me wanted a nice easy winter. With all the rain we’ve been getting though, it was only a matter of time until it turned into snow. So be it.
After letting the chickens out yesterday morning, I went to wash my hands. That’s become my morning ritual, mainly because the chickens are kind of gross. I mean, they poop a lot, and there’s no way of taking care of them without getting some on my hands.
The big white rain barrel I’ve kept all summer has been great for this, and I even took to leaving a bar of home-made soap out on the rock next to the barrel. Then the soap started to disappear. I don’t know what was taking it or why, but I still have quite a few bars left to get me through for a while.
The problem yesterday wasn’t a lack of soap though. I brought some out with me to use right away, but when I tried to turn the handle on the barrel, it didn’t move. The water wasn’t frozen solid, but the handle and nozzle were. I had to bring my soap back inside and wash up. Not that big a deal, you might think, but to me this means a lot.
First, my wash water is gone for the winter. I’m back to using my precious drinking water to wash, and to give water to the chickens. No more getting all nasty and just washing up outside. Now I have to somehow pre-wash my hands so that my drinking water jug doesn’t get contaminated. I have a feeling that I’ll be melting a lot of snow on the stove this year.
The other thing that I’ll miss about the rain barrel is the feeling of back up and security. This was not water that I would drink, but coming off the metal porch roof, it was fine enough for the chickens, cats and Pico. It would also have been fine for washing dishes if it really came down to it as well.
Now, it’s not that I’ll be hurting for water, there are a few places where I can fill my jug, so I’m not losing any sleep over the loss of the rain barrel. But it was a stark reminder of the comforts of summer, and the lack of ease of winter.
Winter is approaching, and rather more quickly than I would really like. Sure, I’ve got the new stove and a shed chock full of dry hardwood, but I have to admit that I’ve really enjoyed our summer-like fall.
“They” are calling for snow next week, but we’ll see what happens.
I had an inkling that this was coming anyway. Yes, I know that it’s October and that it’s a reasonable assumption to think that we’ll be getting snow soon. But last Friday, I got home from work and opened the front door. I let Pico and the cats out to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather. But when I went inside the cabin, I found a sight that told me winter was right around the corner.
The big window was literally covered in ladybugs. The little ladies and gents like to winter in houses, and since my place is the only building around for quite a distance, it only makes sense that they would seek shelter with me. But the amount of ladybugs trying to get into my house told me that there would be cold and snow before the forecasters ever did.
Shortly after that, I made a trip to the outhouse. I don’t talk about my outhouse a lot because I figured that not many (if any) of you would really want to hear about it. But don’t worry, this story will not be rich in detail.
My outhouse is a piece of junk. It was apparently built for people even shorter than me, and has at different times been used for target practice. So despite the small door and low ceiling, there is actually quite a bit of cross-ventilation created by the small holes where the twenty-two caliber shells went through the walls.
As I was sitting there, I heard a familiar sound. It was the scratchy scramble of a mouse. There are a couple of mice that call the cabin home, but so far they stay in the walls and don’t really bother me. But a mouse in the outhouse, that’s something new.
I glanced around and noticed some small pieces of paper trapped in a spider web near the upper corner. I had accidentally left the toilet paper holder open, and the mouse had helped itself to some of the wrapper. As I looked around, I also noticed that one of the pieces of plywood that make up the ceiling was peeling apart. I caught a glimpse of something moving up there and decided that this was a better setup than having them move into the cabin.
A few days later, I was again entering the outhouse and movement caught my eye. Three very little mice were scrambling up from the seat to the ceiling. They were in no hurry, and mama mouse leisurely followed them up the wall and into their little nest.
I have to admit, those little mice were awfully cute. I had no intention of evicting them from their spot, and just need to remember to close the toilet paper holder. And at this point, I honestly hope they have enough shelter to get them through the winter. I mean, they did pick a crappy place to live.
Growing up, I lived in only two houses. Both had fireplaces, so fall was always special to me. From eating roasted pumpkin seeds in front of the fire to cuddling under a blanket and watching a movie while the snow fell outside, we usually had a fire going if we were home for the night. I miss those days, but I have taken a big step towards making the cabin more like the home of my childhood.
Last week, my new (new to me) stove was delivered and installed. There’s a shiny new chimney poking up above the peak of the cabin, and gone is the huge black box that was my old woodstove. Of course, on the day the stove was delivered, it was close to seventy degrees out, so I could not get a fire going right away. That did not stop me from sitting and staring at the new stove with its nice glass doors, just beckoning me to get a fire going and sit there enjoying the flames for the first time in years.
After the delivery guys left and the stove was all set, I had to do something to get myself away from the stove. I won’t lie, I was giddy like a little school girl getting a new doll or videogame or whatever it is that giddy little girls get all giddy about nowadays.
I tore myself away and took Pico for a quick walk down the road. We don’t get a whole lot of traffic down here, so for about a mile down the road, we’re pretty much assured we won’t run into anyone. I take these opportunities to let Pico run around and smell whatever animal poop may be on the road. He loves it, and I love seeing how happy he is to add his scents to the markings of bear, bobcat, and fox.
But believe it or not, I had yet to see a fox out here. They’re not uncommon in this area, and it’s rarely more than a couple of weeks between sightings when I’m driving to or from work or town. As we crested the small rise in the road near my neighbor’s camp, Pico stopped suddenly. I looked up, and down the road about a hundred yards there stood a small red fox, more brown than red really.
He had seen us too, and as I sternly whispered “stay” to Pico, the fox stood his ground. He was turned broadside to us, and the deep rusty brown of his fur was shining in one of the few sunbeams poking through the trees. He and Pico stared at each other for a few seconds before Pico gave a quick wag of his tail.
The fox responded in kind, and slowly made his way across the rest of the road and into the fall woods. Pico looked up at me with his goofy grin and trotted off the pee on some small shrub on the roadside. I decided that we should turn around there, instead of getting too close to where the fox had been. I didn’t want Pico bothering him, and I didn’t want him bothering us either.
When we got back to the cabin, I realized that that was the first fox we had come across, and probably the first fox Pico had ever seen. I liked his reaction, and even though that very same fox could eventually end up with one of my chickens as his dinner, I was glad to have seen him just the same.
I impatiently waited another hour for the sun to go down, and got a small fire going in the new stove. I sat there and watched the flames licking the top of the stove, glad to be able to add to the ambiance of the cabin. If this place was lacking anything, it was lacking a fire you could see. The weather has still been too hot to have another fire, but now I’m in no rush. The stove is here, and long nights of sitting in front of the fire are something I can actually look forward to.
The fire is crackling, the dew is settling and the full moon is so bright that I can clearly see the two does quietly munching on fallen apples in the lower field. They don’t seem to mind that Pico and I are outside, and quite frankly, I’m happy that they don’t.
Fall is here. About half of the hardwoods around have either lost all their leaves or are changing color as we speak. I think it’ll be a poor year for fall colors. Too many trees have already changed, and there are still plenty that are solid green. The colors are changing too slowly for there to be any real “peak” this year.
The other very noticeable change is the amount of daylight we are having. It’s starting to get dark around seven-thirty at night, as oppose to the nine or nine-fifteen of a few months ago. It’s more tolerable now, with the solar panel powering a couple of nice LED lights. But still, winter is coming and it won’t be all that long.
I’ve got a good stockpile of wood, well over two full cords, but I will still have to buy some to get me through. A few face cords should cover me, and I’m hoping that once the new wood stove is installed, it will prove to be more efficient than the old on. Even if it’s not, it will still be an improvement.
The shed is two-thirds full, and once it is really stocked up, I will feel much better. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that no matter what, I will at least have enough wood to get me trough my third winter out here. Plus, I have some extra in the old shed, acting as a security blanket, as well as insulation.
I’ve started picking some apples too. They’re not all quite ripe yet, but those that are have for the most part been good. Some are sweet and meaty, while two other trees are producing big apples that have a pleasant tartness to them. It’s fun to taste and look for good apples, and to know that pretty soon I’ll be filling my weekends and evenings making apple sauce, butter, jelly, and cider.
Well, the peaceful serenity of a crackling fire and chirping crickets has come to an abrupt end. Pico noticed (finally!) the two deer only a few hundred feet away. He barked as he took off after them, like he always does. He stood absolutely no chance of coming anywhere near catching a deer, but it was valiant, though loud, effort. Luckily for him and them that he doesn’t need to hunt for food.
I’m sitting at the table, looking out the big window at the layer of frost covering everything. The car has a white windshield and the chicken coop has a good layer of frozen dew on it as well. I guess now that it’s September, there are going to be more and more days like this.
Now that fall is almost here, I’ve been thinking back on the summer. At the beginning, I was worried that this would be the summer that never was, what with snow until early June and then nothing but rain for quite a while too. Then there was the heat wave, followed by more rain. August was nice though. It was hot but not crazy hot, with some rain here and there. Of course, it rained almost exclusively on my days off each week, but what can you do?
Last night, I rebuilt the fire pit in the side yard. It was working fine, but I wanted a larger one out there. I dismantled the old pit and built a new one, about twice the size. The funny thing is that I didn’t add any rocks to it. The old pit just had so many rocks laying around not performing any function that there was a ready stockpile handy.
I got a fire going to enjoy the new pit, and since it was still daylight out and I was out of beer, I thought I’d do some work on the side yard. I tend to call this area the front yard, since this is what I see when I look out the big window. But my front door faces another direction, so the side yard it is.
In a way, the side yard is a much more active place than the front yard. I park and walk through the front yard a lot, and that’s where the big fire pit is as well. But the side yard is where the chickens are, the junk wood pile, the compost bin and the more manageable fire pit are. It’s also where the solar panel and the remnants of the garden are located.
As I stood there surveying the yard wondering what project I could start, I decided it could be something fun. The woodshed is done and almost full and the chickens are happy in their coop. The main projects I wanted to get done are done.
I’ve wanted a horseshoe pit out here for a while, and this seemed like a good time to start it. However, the most level part of the yard was covered in small balsam sprouts and other brush. I had already cleaned up the entangled pile of old metal roofing and burned a bunch of old lumber that was slowly rotting away under the apple tree. The ground was clear of debris, but not of brush.
I went to the shed and grabbed the scythe. I had never actually used one of these before, but when I saw leaned up against the outside of an antique shop, I had just given in to the impulse and purchased it. For twenty bucks, I got the scythe and an extra blade.
Walking back to the side yard with scythe in hand, I figured it would be best to have on steel-toed shoes. So with the proper foot wear in place, I attacked the lower part of the side yard with the scythe. I started out small on the goldenrod and tall grass, but soon got adventurous and tried my luck on a couple of the small balsams. To my amazement, the scythe sliced right through them. This was getting fun.
The huge blade on the scythe made short work of the brush, and I so had cleared a lot more than I intended to. There’s plenty of room now for the horseshoe pit as well as a couple of raised bed gardens. I had decided to do something fun for the night. I may have sweaty from all the work of swinging the scythe, but it sure was fun to me.
Every once in a while, I reach for the faucet to turn on the water. This usually happens when I’m brushing my teeth, but even though there’s a dish rag hanging on the spout and I haven’t had running water in almost two years, this old habit dies hard.
Summer, on the other hand, is dying a very easy and quick death. As I walked out into the front yard this morning, I noticed a small maple that was almost entirely red. The birches are beginning to turn yellow and even the big cherry tree in the yard was not so green anymore.
The days have been warm and the nights cool, feeling more like the heart of fall than the end of August. This is my favorite type of weather, but I’m not quite ready for it yet. I still want some summer.
Even though we had a late start to summer and what looks like an early end to it as well, I have gotten a lot done, and had a lot of fun. The wood shed is built and half full, I got the house shed cleaned up and organized, and the chickens are happy in their coop and run.
But really they might not be that happy. I put them out in the run every day so they can eat bugs and plants and stuff like that. Every morning I open the coop door and they all fly right in to the run, and in the evening they hop back up the ramp and into the coop to roost for the night.
Since they’re only out during the day, the run is not built as a completely predator-proof structure. It’s very safe with chicken wire and metal roofing, but the end that I let them in and out of is just a mix of some wire, a piece of wood and some old plastic insulation. Like I said, this is built to keep them, not keep predators out. Still, every day when I get home I look into the run on my way up the driveway just to make sure all the girls are still there.
We had a pretty nasty thunderstorm come through yesterday while I was at work. I thought of the chickens, but was not too worried about them. However, when I got home, I noticed the insulation flapping in the wind. I had tacked it shut like always, but the wind had blown it wide open. There were no chickens in the run.
Pico was barking and Ed was crying at the window, and it had been a long day for Pico and the cats. I had gotten a flat tire on the way home and so they had been cooped up for ten hours or so. But I knew that if I let them out, there’s no way I would be able to catch the missing chickens. That is, assuming the girls hadn’t been eaten yet.
Even though I had kind of self-vowed not to get too attached to the girls, I was worried about them. There are so many wild animals out here that could easily snatch up a chicken and trot off into the woods. Chances are all I would find would be a couple piles of feathers to tell where the girls had been eaten.
Then it dawned on me. All along, when I fed the chicks, I had always called out “Hey Ladies!” ala the Beastie Boys. I was hoping that Pavlov was right and the girls would associate my call with the presence of food. I called out and within a few seconds, Midget and Brownie came out of the tall grass and trotted right up to me. I smiled and grabbed them and tossed them in the coop. I called out again and both Blondie and Whitey came out as well. I had to chase Whitey as usual but I finally caught her and put her in the coop as well. Blondie jumped in on her own when I opened the door. I tossed in a handful of bird seed to keep them happy. After all, my distinct chicken call had worked well, so I guess I want to keep them coming to it.
Well, it’s finally happened, I have electricity. Granted, it’s not much electricity, but it’s a start. I don’t need enough to run appliances or a whole house, just enough so that my phone and computer don’t go dead, and hopefully a light or two to read by.
A few months ago I got an email from a reader who said he had an old solar panel lying around and didn’t need or want it anymore. It was mine, he said, if I just came and picked it up. You never know who you’re meeting through an email, so I was a little wary. So, fighting the urge to tell everyone where I was going and with whom just in case I didn’t make it back, I drove the little ways to his camp. I did bring my girlfriend with me, you know, for protection.
He was nice enough to pick us up at the boat launch and give us a ride out to his camp. It was a nice place, bigger than mine, but much better set up. He had running water, internet, and a beautiful location right on the water. We got the solar panel and hung out for a little while, then headed back to the car.
I’m sad to admit it, but that was almost three months ago. For three months, I’ve had this solar panel sitting in the cool shade of my shed, doing nothing. I even had the charge controller and a deep cycle battery, but was too busy (lazy) to get around to hooking the thing up.
So this week I pulled everything out to the yard and set I up just to see what would happen. The charge controller showed a charge, and I was angry with myself for putting off what turned out to be a ten minute job.
I left the panel out all day in full sun and went to town to buy an inverter. I picked up a nice one and did some other errands before getting back home in the evening. I was excited and ripped open the package for the inverter and hooked it up. It immediately started flashing and beeping, and not in a good way. The charge was too low on the battery to power the inverter.
No big deal I thought, it’ll take a couple of days for the battery to get fully charged. But, since everything else seemed to be working, I set the panel up in its full-time place on the south side of the porch. I moved the battery onto the porch and drilled a couple of small holes for the wires to run through. I then fed the wire through, and the positive wire was about eight inches too short. Of course.
The next day I went to the hardware store (again) and picked up some wire. The thing was now fully set up and actively charging. But not fast enough. I took the battery to work the next day and plugged it in to the trickle charger.
Now, the battery is fully charged, the panel is up and running and hopefully it will be enough juice to keep the battery charged. It’s a big step up in the cabin life, and the prospect of having light this winter is very exciting.