I was recently interviewed by the Buffalo News for an article on the challenges that two escaped killers face in the woods of the Adirondacks. The article gives great insight into their mental states, and helps explain why they have been able to be elusive for so long. You can read the full article here:
Cabin Life – The First Fifty, is in electronic book form on Amazon. It is on sale for 99 cents, this week only! There are a few previously unpublished essays in there from the first year I lived at the cabin as well. And even though it says Kindle edition, you don’t need a Kindle! It can be read on Mac, PC, iPhone, Android, and iPad with a free app!
Be sure to like Middle of the Trail on Facebook for more pictures and daily updates and follow @JustinALevine for whatever it is I do on Twitter.
Rainy and in the forties. This is the worst type of weather I face all year. I know, the snow is just gone, and I had to have my chickens live in a tent in my kitchen for a few nights, but hiking in and saving the chickens from the bitter cold were easy decisions. This weather presents a much tougher decision: whether to burn the precious little dry wood I have left.
Even with a few weeks off from the cabin this winter, my wood supply is quite low now. The wood I found over the winter isn’t quite dry enough to burn, and it’s a tough call to use up wood when it’s still above freezing. If the temperature doesn’t dip too low, I’ll bundle up with a sleeping bag and run the little propane heater for a little while in the morning before it warms up outside. But this cold damp calls for a fire.
I’ve got the glass doors wide open, and the fire is crackling away behind the grate that keeps the sparks in. I didn’t realize how much of a difference the new stove really made until just the other day. I had a fire going with the grate in place, and when I came back in I noticed a smell I hadn’t smelled in some time. The cabin smelled like wood smoke, and it was actually pleasant. That smell had been ruined for me by the old woodstove, which used to belch smoke inside with such regularity that I was sometimes called the Walking Woodstove.
I like being able to hear the pop and crackle and have an unobstructed view of the flames. Sure, it’s not all that efficient to use the grate, but honestly, I don’t want it too hot in here. The trouble with the temps in the forties is that it’s too cold not to have a fire, but too warm if I do have a fire. And there’s the rub.
It’s just another one of life’s seasonal transitions out here. I have to make calculated decisions on heating and the wood supply. But I also have to be comfortable. It can be a grueling choice to make. There have been, however, several choices I’ve made recently that were considerably easier.
The first was to order more chickens. Amy and I split an order, and I picked them up from the post office yesterday. The little chicks were peeping like crazy in the seat next to me on the way from the post office. With the weather being so damp and cold, the chicks will be staying at Amy’s for a couple of weeks. Plus, I don’t want Midget to get too rough with the new girls. They have to be big enough to put him in his place, even if judging by the behavior of Whitey, Brownie, and Blondie he is quite the charmer.
I’m excited to expand the group with a few new girls. A silver laced wyandotte and three Auraucanas are going to be joining the flock in a couple of weeks, just when the weather gets nice. In addition to these four new girls, I took a fertilized egg from each of my current girls to Amy’s. She has a hen that’s very broody right now, and I thought it would be fun to see if she’ll hatch some of Midget’s offspring. This hen was just sitting in an empty nesting box when I got there. She’s so intent on sitting on eggs that she wouldn’t get up when I pushed her. I had to lift her butt and put the eggs down underneath her. She made a quiet noise and settled back in, so we’ll see how it goes.
And finally, as much as doubling my chicken flock may impact my life, this final decision will no doubt have a bigger impact. I’m sorry to say, but I will in all likelihood not be living in this cabin at the end of the year. I asked my girlfriend to marry me, and for some strange, unknown, and possibly unknowable reason, she said yes. And fortunately or unfortunately, my little cabin is no place for us to start our lives together.
I give her a lot of credit for putting up with my living situation for so long. For almost two years she has never once complained about the toilet paper being in the oven, or having to hike in, or being covered in dog fur when she leaves. I guess I owe it to her for us to find a place that has indoor plumbing, electricity, TV, internet, a refrigerator, and an oven. I can go either way on the electricity or TV, but my bride-to-be deserves nothing but the best. And in my opinion, indoor plumbing is the best. Jeez, I’ve been out here too long.
Experience the excitement of living off the grid, while enjoying the beautiful sights and sounds of Mother Nature right outside your door!
I’m looking for a roommate who isn’t afraid of roughing it and having some adventure! You will get back to nature by having to venture outside to use the bathroom, regardless of the temperature. Oh, and forgetting the warm toilet seat hanging over the stove when you go to the outhouse in the middle of winter should be the definition of adventure in the dictionary! You will make faces and sounds you never knew were possible, but don’t worry, there won’t be anyone to see or hear you except the birds! (I won’t be able to hear you because the outhouse is quite a walk from the cabin. Privacy at its best right there!)
You’ll also become a lean, mean, healthy machine! The quarter-mile walk from where you can park up to the cabin will ensure that you’re getting plenty of cardio! It’s like a double bonus when you forget something small in the car and have to go back for it too! You can walk almost a whole mile before you get to the cabin if you manage to just leave one important thing in your car! Not only that, but you’ll be expected to carry a forty pound jug of water up the long, snowy hill to the cabin at least a couple of times per week, so your arms will be big around as tree trunks!
And speaking of tree trunks, you can really commune with nature by helping to cut down trees for our firewood! Hippies rejoice! You will literally be hugging trees every single day of the year! You’ll help carrying the logs down to the cabin, get to gently caress them as you set them up for me to split with a huge metal maul, and then get to stack them in the most efficient and fast way possible. You can then round out the beautiful circle of life when you bring the firewood in to burn in the woodstove! Give your woodland buddies a little smooch before confining them to a slow, smoky, and brutal death!
And that’s only the beginning of the benefits! Buy some books and get a library card because you will be the braniac your mom always knew you could be! With no TV, movies, or internet, your brain will get to be as sharp as the chain on the chainsaw. You can read about taking care of chickens or which type of lettuce will grow best in the garden or try to identify which type of snake just slithered in through the unscreened and open front door and other exciting things! Gone will be the days of lying around on the couch rotting your brain on the boob tube. You’ll be so starved for amusement that you won’t even be able to blink when there is a TV on near you due to the complete lack of visual stimulus that a completely unbroken white landscape provides.
As mentioned above, you’ll have complete and total privacy in the outhouse. But living in the middle of the woods at the very end of a dead end road with a quarter mile of trees and hills separating you from the closest motor vehicle also provides a ton of solitude! It’s so liberating being able to walk around naked inside the cabin with no fear of anyone just walking by and seeing your birthday suit! Of course, since we’ll be roommates, we may have to figure out a birthday suit schedule. The hours allotted to nakedness will depend on your facial hair and gender.
I’ll expect you to also do half of the household chores. These won’t occupy more than fifteen or twenty hours a week, and really aren’t so bad. You’ll have to help with the dishes, and as we have to carry water in to wash dishes, you will be tasked with making sure that you have enough water to actually wash the dishes. Allowing my dog to simply lick the plates clean can only be done at my discretion. Oh, and there is no indoor plumbing at all, so when washing the dishes, you will have to keep an eye on the bucket under the sink that catches all the water and waste from brushing our teeth and dishes and cooking. When the bucket is full, just take it out and dump it on the compost pile, not so bad, right?! But since you’re at the compost pile, go ahead and spend five or ten minutes stirring it.
There’s also carrying in firewood every single morning and night, and even sometimes in the middle of the night. It’s a rare treat to see how clear the skies and how bright the stars are on a crystal clear, moonless winter night! You’ll forget all about the bone crushing temperatures that would kill you in less than a half hour if you were to fall on the ice and knock yourself out! Plus, you’ll get to know the cute girl at the hardware store because you’ll be there every week getting batteries for your headlamp. In fact, you can probably get to know her well enough to ask her out! Of course, convincing a member of the opposite sex to travel two miles down a dirt road to walk a quarter mile into the woods with you might be a tough sell. But hey, weirder things have happened!
I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not all glory and sunshine and fun little jaunts to the outhouse. There are a few downsides, too. The cabin only has single-pane windows and no insulation. But, this just means that you’ll get to snuggle up tight in your favorite sleeping bag with a rating of twenty below zero! There is also no way for any sort of professional or volunteer help to get here. That means that the cops, volunteer fire department, or ambulance will be around to help if you cut your leg with chainsaw or fall off the roof cleaning the chimney or break your ankle walking to the woodshed. But you will become far more self-sufficient and your tolerance for pain will get to be much better! Now that I think about it, it is all glory and sunshine! Give me a call to schedule a meeting, I pinky swear I’m not a serial killer.
Rent is very cheap for females lacking facial hair and males with lots of facial hair. The rent goes up depending on the combination of those two factors.
I sat outside most of the afternoon, relaxing in a lawn chair enjoying a good book. As I sat there soaking up the sun, the snow melted around me. The chicken coop roof is clear after being baked in the sun all day, and the snow fossils of old footprints are appearing and melting again in less than a day.
The chickens have been enjoying the warmer weather and longer days too. For a couple of months, I hadn’t gotten more than an egg per day from the three girls, and sometimes not even that. But in the last week, I’ve gotten more than a dozen eggs as they’ve been basking in the sunlight.
The chickens are eating better too, finding food in the melting snow that they missed the first time around. Unfortunately, they are not the only ones scratching around for food by the chicken coop.
A few nights ago, we got a few inches of snow. I woke up and let the girls out and fed them. In my early morning haze, I failed to notice the set of tracks going from behind my cabin, around the coop and run, and then off into the woods via the left trail.
An hour or so later, after I had made some coffee, I looked out the big window and finally noticed the tracks. I was looking at them puzzled, knowing that Pico often walked a similar route around the coop. But then I noticed that the tracks came from my left, behind the cabin. This is not an area that Pico frequents.
I grabbed my camera and went out to do some tracking. I immediately noticed that the tracks were smaller than Pico’s. Working backwards from the coop, I followed the tracks around the cabin to the window right next to my bed. This sly little fox had walked on the snow right up to my window without ever waking up or arousing Pico. What a lousy guard dog.
The fox had come from the direction of the Upper Camp, and even crossed paths with some rabbits over by the woodshed. The previous night I hadn’t locked the chickens up because it was going to be warm, but from then on I have locked them up every night.
I’ve only seen the fox tracks one other time, but it still puts me on edge. I know it won’t be able to get the girls at night when they’re locked in the coop. I just hope that the fox isn’t desperate enough to come around during the day.
The sun is shining later and later each day, and some of the snow is melting and dripping off of the roof in front of the big window. It’s officially been spring for almost a week now, but don’t bother telling Mother Nature that. The forecasted thirteen degrees below zero tonight isn’t as bad as the negative twenty-three we got a couple of nights ago, so I guess, in a way we are getting more spring-like temperatures. But again, temperatures in the negative teens aren’t that spring-like to me.
I’ve been back at the cabin full time, and having a few weeks off from living out here was definitely nice. After three winters having to haul in water and use an outhouse no matter the temperature, the shine of living off grid has worn off. I still enjoy many, many aspects of it, but this winter has definitely been a mood killer for me. I was able to tap a few of the maple trees the other day and start collecting sap, but it’s been slow going with the cold returning. And the hike up the driveway isn’t any easier than it was in February.
But while the winter goes on, I cling to the knowledge that spring is indeed near. I certainly don’t feel alone in my antipathy towards winter at this point, but there are still some advantages to having this much snow on the ground.
Last night I was driving home just after dark and spotted a flash of white on the side of the road up ahead. Yes, I know that everything is covered in snow that there are “flashes of white” literally everywhere, but this small patch was moving quickly. My initial thought was that it was deer hopping the snow bank to head into the woods. But with the more than two feet of snow on the ground at my cabin, deer tracks are something I haven’t seen in quite a few months.
I instinctively tapped the breaks and looked for another deer. Usually when there’s one, there’s more, and hitting a deer and wrecking my car at this point would probably make me throw up my hands and move back to Florida. I looked up and saw a spread of wings in front of me, and realized that it wasn’t a deer but the tail end of a rather large owl taking off that I had caught a glimpse of.
The owl wasn’t very far in front of me, but I never got a good look at it because it was flying directly away from me. It had a wingspan of a couple of feet and was certainly impressive in size, but what species it was I couldn’t say.
I wondered why the owl had been on the snow bank so I stopped to have a look. I had obviously interrupted a kill in progress, and after snapping a few photos, I moved on. I didn’t want to keep the owl from his fresh meal. Plus, after this rough winter, I kind of feel like all of us up here are in it together. Even the animals.
I’d like to tell you that it’s been a long couple of weeks out at the cabin. That, however, would not be the truth. The truth is, it’s been a couple of very lazy weeks lounging around in the comfort of an actual house. The weather has been terrible and I was having to hike into the cabin and my firewood is running low and I was sick of dragging a forty pound jug of water a quarter mile uphill twice a week. So I’ve been staying at my girlfriends with Pico and Herbie. And the Levine men have officially taken over the couch.
I’m still formally living at the cabin, but it has been a nice break. After three winters, I needed some time away from the work and cold and frustration of a house with no indoor plumbing. The chickens are still out there, and are doing well. As the days get longer, the nights haven’t been as cold, and they are doing fine. I go out to the cabin pretty much every day, so even though I was still having to do the hike in, at least I wasn’t having to haul my laundry and bags of dog food and cat litter up that hill.
But speaking of hills, a friend invited me to climb a couple of High Peaks this past weekend. I needed to get out of the house and just said yes when he texted me. I didn’t realize that it was going to be a twenty four mile ski/snowshoe/hike. But we headed out at about six am on Saturday to climb Cliff and Redfield mountains. Twelve hours and forty-five minutes later, we struggled out of the woods and back to my car.
I drove to my girlfriend’s and stumbled in the door. I literally could not move a muscle without moaning in pain, but I made it through the night without dying. The next morning, as I painfully and stiffly made my way across the living room, she convinced me that best way to beat the soreness was to go for a walk or hike. Now, keep in mind, she was not volunteering to go with me, just basically telling me to get out. I think my moaning may have been worse than I thought.
I decided to head out to the cabin to feed the chickens and make sure they still had water, and very gingerly hopped in my car. It’s about a twenty minute ride to the cabin, and every second of the way I was annoyed about the upcoming hike up the driveway. I could barely walk on the flat, warm floor of the house, how was I possibly going to make it up the driveway.
As I got nearer to the cabin, I noticed that my neighbors were at their camp down the road. I figured I’d take care of the girls and then head over to say high. But as I neared the end of the road by my driveway, I was taken by the most magical sight I could behold at that moment: My driveway was plowed.
I cracked a huge grin and smiled the whole way up the driveway. I knew that my neighbor had come down and plowed with his tractor, and I was so happy I actually whooped with joy. The thought of having a clear driveway again after two months was too much to handle. I hugged the chickens and rubbed Pico’s belly until he got sick of it and ran down the driveway.
I took care of everything at the cabin and went down the road to say thanks to the neighbors. I gave him a hug and promised to drop off a few gallons of diesel fuel in payment. This one kind act changed my whole outlook on the last month or so of the winter. It seemed as if so many problems had been solved by this one incredibly kind gesture. My mood was lifted and my spirit sunny. The neighbor s told me they were happy to help, but that they wouldn’t be back for a few weeks.
All of those warm feelings stayed with me until I got back and checked the weather forecast. Twenty inches of snow predicted. It’s amazing how fast the wind got sucked out of my sails. Not that it’s all bad. I know that the snow is here for a limited time, but it was so nice driving into the cabin a couple of times. I can’t thank my neighbors enough for plowing, even if the openness only last for a few days.
The wild winter weather has continued. Tonight it’s so warm that even several hours after the sun went down, there is still a steady drip-drip-drip coming off the roof. In the forties tomorrow, the season just can’t seem to make up its mind.
That’s not to say that it has been an easy winter. And to me, there has been a recurring theme out here at that cabin that demonstrates this better than anything else. I have had a steady supply of small rodents around the house looking for food.
When I moved into the cabin a few years ago, Amy not so light heartily called it the “Mouse House.” Since then, it has been cleaned up significantly. With Ed and Herbie running nightly patrols, the mice moved out and other than a very occasional rustling in the walls, I have not had to deal with any other rodents inside the cabin.
That is not to say that there is a lack of small rodents at the cabin. Red squirrels used to attack the bird feeders on a regular basis and there is a family of mice living in the outhouse. There are certainly plenty of places for them to hole up for the winter out here. Unfortunately, they seem to have decided to try and spend nights in a couple of buckets I have. This has resulted in me finding more dead rodents in the last month than I’ve seen in well over two years.
The first one was a mole that for some reason climbed into the open bucket in the outhouse that holds the lime. The lime is the off-grid version of a vanilla candle, and is essential to using the facilities. I was not surprised to find the little bugger frozen solid in a bucket that offered no food or shelter even though I had no idea why it went in there. I buried him… Unceremoniously.
About a week later, I spent a nice comfortable night watching TV and soaking up electric light and flushing toilets at my girlfriends, and when I got home in the morning, I found what I think is a rock vole frozen to death. This was in another small bucket on the porch in which I keep some chicken food.
I use a combination of store-bought chicken feed and winter wheat, and when I was making a mix of the two, I had a small amount of the wheat left over. This is a bucket that I can understand the rodents trying to get into at least. It was frozen solid, and since there was only a little wheat left in it I just tossed the vole and wheat into the woods. Hopefully something eats him before he thaws and smells and Pico eats him.
And even though there was only a little wheat frozen to the bottom of the bucket, the very next day there was a deer mouse in the bottom. This was the first of the three rodents that was still alive when I found it, and since it hadn’t been living inside my house, I decided to let it take it chances back out in the wild.
As I laid the bucket down out front, the mouse scampered off. It went a few yards down the trail towards the chicken coop, and then stopped. I went inside to get the camera, and when I came out again, it was making a big loop over the snow back towards the woods. I watched it run and leave a neat little trail across the snow. I got cold and went inside, knowing that I wouldn’t get a good shot of the mouse now.
Later, as I made my way to the outhouse, I noticed that the mouse tracks went right under the shed. I took a little solace in the fact that it’ll be around for the rest of the winter. I like having the wildlife around, even if it does require me to perform funerals on occasion.
Winter is really upon us now, finally with some snow to go along with the bone and soul crushing cold. It’s a mixed bag for me, us getting a bunch of snow. With snow comes a lot of hardship, and also some benefits too.
One of the immediate benefits of the eight or so inches of snow is that my cabin is much better insulated. The old pink fiberglass insulation in the attic is more for show at this point than actual insulating value, but the snow on the roof just bottles of the heat from the stove and makes the cabin much more comfortable.
However, I may think the cabin is more comfortable simply because I now have a third of a mile to hike up to it. Not being able to drive right to the cabin raises a whole host of issues. I can’t use the car as a generator to watch TV and keep the chickens warm. I can’t warm up the car before I leave when it’s thirty below outside. If I forget something in the car, it’s getting frozen and staying there overnight most likely.
But it is nice to be able to just step outside and go skiing. Pico’s getting more exercise since I can actually enjoy the outdoors. When it’s not thirty below. And I like the way everything looks, and how the snow helps reflect the light of the late afternoon sun. One thing that I have been keenly noticing, is the gain in daylight.
Even with the electric lights, it is still difficult to maintain a somewhat normal schedule due to the lack of sunlight. But we’re up to almost eleven hours a day, and I have been literally basking in the added light. Not outside of course, but while lying on the couch.
I’m happy that the chicken tent has not had to make a re-appearance, and that the girls and Midget have been content in the coop. The additional snow makes the coop more insulated too, and even though they have no idea why, I’m sure they’ve been happy in the warmer digs.
So all in all, I guess I don’t mind the snow. It’s the middle of February and won’t be here long. I missed a lot of the winter not being able to ski or snowshoe, but I’m also looking forward to not having to drag my clean laundry up the driveway in a sled.