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:
Yesterday morning, I let the chickens out into their run, just like I always do. I sprinkled some food in there and gave them my customary “Hey Ladies!” I’ve stopped trying to keep them in the run, as they seem to get out now whenever they feel like it.
Even so, I closed the plastic over the opening in the run, and went back inside to have some tea. Whitey is far and away my most vocal chicken, and she was squawking up a storm. I looked out to see her relentlessly attacking the plastic covering the opening, and as I watched, she escaped. But to my surprise, she immediately hopped back into the coop.
Normally, she’d be out and about pecking at the ground, but for some reason, she had gone willingly into the coop. I’m not sure why, but I thought that maybe she was laying an egg. I haven’t had any eggs from the girls yet, but I was expecting them any time.
I went out and looked into the coop. She was in there, in the back corner, not making any noise. I opened the door to the nesting boxes, but there were no eggs. I looked back in at Whitey, crouched in the corner in a small depression in the straw and balsam boughs. All of a sudden, I spotted a smooth white shape right next to Whitey’s feet. Sure enough, it was an egg.
But Whitey was still crouched there in the corner, and quite frankly, she looked constipated. Her body was heaving a little bit and her neck was working its way in and out. Unexpectedly, she dropped an egg. It made a dull thud as it hit the make-shift nest, and Whitey looked considerably relieved. She made a few small noises and took a few steps.
In my excitement, I grabbed a small wooden cane that’s been hanging on the porch since I moved in. I used the curved end to reach into the coop to fetch the eggs. Whitey was not happy about this. She started yelling at me as I reached in and grabbed the eggs. The one she had just laid was still warm, but the other was cold.
I can only imagine when the cold one was laid. As far as I know, Whitey is the only one laying, so it was probably a day or two old. Luckily it’s been cold enough to keep the egg refrigerated for me. I washed the two eggs, and later cooked them for lunch. It wasn’t much of a lunch, as these were small eggs. Deep golden yellow yolks made the scrambled eggs look almost like sunset.
They were delicious, though I’m most likely a little biased. But it was sweet to get something out of the chickens other than a peck to the eye.
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.
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.
I really enjoy fall weather, just not in July. The last few nights have been beautiful, though cold. I really struggled on Wednesday on whether or not I would get a fire going in the stove. I decided not to, based solely on principle. I will not be using my woodstove in July. I just won’t do it.
But it has made the evenings pleasant. The water is warm when we go swimming, and the heat isn’t as oppressive as last week. On top of the coolness of the nights, they have also been really clear. With a big moon in the sky and the stars shining, it’s been great. As the moon moves to one side of the sky, the stars come out on the other, making a whole-sky panorama with the Milky Way visible on one end, and nothing but the slate gray sky around the moon on the other.
Now that the wood shed is done and partially stocked, I’ve been able to relax a little bit after work. Ed and Herbie get to go outside for a while and the chickens have been enjoying eating bugs and grass in their run.
I was sitting on the boulder that serves as my front step the other evening, letting the day’s accumulated warmth keep me comfortable. Pico and Herbie were lying in the dirt by the car, but Ed was not immediately in sight. I then noticed something moving off to my left in the taller grass. A lifetime of toys and free food have left Ed lacking in the hunting skills department, but he still gives it a good effort.
I watched as he not-so-subtly snuck down through the grass and toward the chicken run. It took him a while to get up the nerve, but he finally launched an attack and ran smack into the fencing. He seemed to have taken the girls by surprise, but they were safe the whole time. They squawked and ran around a bit, but settled back into the rhythm of being chickens. Ed settled in at the end of the run and hung out for a while to watch them, no doubt dreaming of hunting glory. Soon, they’ll be bigger than he is, and I’m not sure how Ed will handle that, psychologically.
After watching Ed for a few minutes, I glanced over at the new shed. I have a full cord of wood in there, and will need probably another two full cords to get through the winter. I like the way the shed turned out, and with a grand total cost of about fifteen bucks, I think it was a good project to get done.
My dad had come up to help me build it, and along with my friend, we built the whole thing in about four hours. I used a bunch of old lumber from underneath Upper Camp and only had to buy a box of wood screws. The old metal roofing has holes in it, but they’re small and it will keep the vast majority of rain and snow off my wood. It’s comforting to have it built, though now I really feel the pressure to get it filled. Unfortunately, I’ll have to buy some fire wood this winter, but it won’t be as much as last year.
When my neighbor came up to brush hog the lower field, he noticed the new shed. He said that he’s built a few sheds, and the biggest problem is that when you build a new shed, you fill it up, leaving you no choice but to build another shed at some point. I like building things, so this wouldn’t be so bad, but luckily this new shed will be filled and emptied by the time next summer roles around.
Now I just need to figure out what else can go into a shed, so I can build another one.
I have a love-hate relationships with the morning. I am a morning person, and like getting up early and maybe even accomplishing a few things before work. On the other hand, I hate getting up. I like lying in bed with the animals and listening to the birds chirp. I like flipping the pillow over to get the cool side one more time before I roll out of bed.
During the winter, it’s easy for me to get a good night’s sleep. The sun goes down before dinner, so by six or so in the evening, I’m ready for bed. I struggle to stay awake, and light every candle and lantern in the cabin to keep myself up so I don’t end up sleeping twelve hours every day. But now it’s tough to go to bed. The sky is light until after nine and the sun is up so early that I’m usually awake before my alarm goes off.
Sometimes getting up early has its benefits. Last week my days off were actually pretty nice. Cool, but at least not rainy. All of the piles of stuff in the yard that I can ignore all winter because they’re covered in snow were in full view, mocking my laziness in cleaning them up. I don’t really need three huge piles of wood in the yard. The bag of returnable bottles from two years ago should probably have been disposed of a long time ago. And the fifteen or so shingles that were left on the porch roof before I rebuilt it actually had grass starting to grow up through them. It was time for my spring cleaning.
I spend most of the winter inside the cabin. Of course I go skiing and snow shoeing and have a social life, but I don’t hang out outside at my cabin all that much. It’s cold and there’s snow everywhere, so being out in the yard is not that much fun. But this week, I made the outside a little more usable doing what normal people call yard work.
That bag of returnable bottles? Re-bagged and donated to charity. The shingles? Bagged and tossed in a proper disposal bin. I could have dragged them up to one of the old dumps, but adding new stuff to the old dumps seems wrong. And as for the three big piles of wood, I cleaned up one of them. The other two are ok, but the one junk wood pile has been bugging me, and now it’s gone. That makes me happy.
I have a huge stack of wood for outside fires in front of my cabin. I have been looking at the same pieces of wood and blue tarps for two years, but the pile is stacked neatly, and it’s too big to move so, I have no choice but to be content with it where it is. The other pile of good firewood for next winter is now sitting in the middle of a large weed-whacked area. It seems out of place, but I’ll soon be building the new wood shed and this stack will be moved under a roof soon enough. But the third pile was the ugly, unwanted bastard of my wood piles.
Rotting stumps, huge pieces of old driftwood, and even some forty year old plywood made up the third pile. There’s still nails in the plywood and after sitting directly on the ground for the last couple years, the wood in this pile was not so choice. I have an outside fire almost every night. It’s a pleasant way to kill a few hours before bed, and also use some of the junk wood and clean it up a little bit. After weed eating around the fire pits last week, I made a concerted effort to get rid of the bonfire pile. Not by having a bonfire, but by cleaning it up.
There’s an old hitching post in the yard that had some old logs stacked in it. I don’t know when the logs were placed there, but when I went to move them I found that they were more soil than wood. I shoveled them out and wheeled it all into the woods. Then I took a couple of old two-by-tens that I had laying around and attached them to the bottom of the hitching post to make a proper wood rack. I pulled the plywood off the bonfire pile and started stacking the wood in the new rack. I was left with three wheelbarrow loads of wood that was too rotten to burn, so back to the woods it went.
I threw an old chain on my chainsaw and ripped the plywood into burnable-sized pieces. I then found an old sheet of tin roofing that was so bent and mangled that it would never sit flat again. I screwed this to the top of the hitching post and stepped back to admire the new wood rack. There’s a big ugly brown circle in the yard where the wood was, but that will be grown over in a year or two.
As I stood there approving of the job I had done, I realized that I had spent the entire morning moving a little firewood about twenty feet. It seemed like a waste of time until the next night. It rained all the next day but cleared up that night. Instead of digging around for dry wood under the rotten and rusty-nail laden plywood, I casually walked up to the new rack and got a few pieces of dry wood for the fire. The irony is that now that the rack is built and the wood neatly stacked, I don’t want to burn the wood anymore. It just looks too nice where it is.
It’s dry. Too dry. I dug a hole the other day and it was like digging in a sand box. A foot down and the dirt was still bone dry. I only remember one other drought like this, when I was at Paul Smiths. Doc Kudish pointed out to me that the leaves on the trees were actually wilting. The same thing is happening now, and there’s even a few that are starting to change color. And it’s not because it’s been cool out.
Both of the spring-fed streams that run through the property are dry because the water table has dropped so low. There are no blueberries, which is a shame because wild blueberries are hands-down one of the greatest foods known to man. We did get some rain earlier this week, and it was much needed, but it’s not enough to make up for what we haven’t gotten over the course of the summer.
There haven’t been as many fires this year though. In 2002 there was more than three hundred and twenty fires all over the Adirondacks. I was listening to NCPR one day and they had a story about a huge fire out west that had burned thousands of acres and hundreds of millions of dollars of property. They then switched to local news. The story was that there was a seven acre fire threatening a lean-to.
We’ve got it pretty good compared to a lot of the country. Almost seven million acres burned. It’s hard to believe that the acreage burned nation wide is the same as the entire Adirondack Park. Just imagine if about one-third of New York State was on fire. Luckily it’s not, and I guess that’s something to be happy about, even during this drought.
“The Walking Woodstove.” That’s what one of my buddies called me. And I have to admit that this is not a disputed nickname. I had to wash my clothes at Christmas time because “You live with the smell, so you probably don’t notice how strong it is.” Alright, I get it, I smell like a freaking campfire. I could say that I’ve invented a new cologne called “Flaming,” but that’s not true. I just stink like fire.
The stove in the cabin looks really nice. But it sucks. There’s a multitude of problems with the stove that I’ll get to in a minute. But first, I want to address this inhumane, ignorant, and self-righteous campaign against all of those people who smell like fire. Sure, as in any large group there’s going to be a few arsonists included, but for the most part, we who heat with wood are hard-working and upstanding members of the community. Just because I give off the aroma of a burning barn doesn’t mean I’m responsible for the Great Chicago Fire. This discrimination needs to stop.
Now, the woodstove. This thing is a piece of junk, and I think I know why. Most likely it’s a crappy woodstove because it’s actually a coal burning stove. Huh. I was initially told that it was a woodstove that could also burn coal. Turns out that the opposite is true. Well, I’ve been burning wood in it for three months now, and I’ve only had one chimney fire.
It was a cool, but not cold, weekend at the end of October. My then-girlfriend was coming to visit, and I thought that I would get a little fire going just to take the chill out of the cabin. After getting a fire going, I was cleaning up a little and I started to smell something funky. Not like burning wood, but something definitely burning. I checked the stove, and it seemed fine; I checked the crawl –space attic, and nothing was going on up there. But I kept smelling it, so I grabbed a flashlight and went outside just to make sure the roof wasn’t on fire or anything crazy like that.
I got outside, and lo and behold, there were flames shooting out of the top of the chimney and big hunks of hot coals falling onto the roof. Luckily, it was during a rainy spell and the roof didn’t catch fire. I called Amy real quick, told her what was going on and asked the address so I could call 911 (I didn’t think this place had an address and I’m kind of disappointed that it does). I figured it would take about 30 minutes for the volunteer fire department to get here, and I didn’t want to wait until the roof actually caught on fire to make the call.
To my surprise, the first firefighter showed up about five minutes later, followed by a neighbor that Amy had called. The neighbor and I put out the fire in the stove, but by then the flames had died down to nothing, and the roof was still not on fire. Whew.
The rest of the department got there, and everyone was very nice and didn’t seem in the least bit pissed that I had called them for no reason. I think they were happy that they got to take the truck out, but that none of them were ever in danger.
One unfortunate side effect of living in a very small town is that everyone knows your business. Lots of people are in the fire department and lots of people listen to scanners, mainly because they like to help each other out if it’s a real emergency. All I garnered was a bunch of “Chimney fire, eh?” comments from behind hidden smirks every time I went to the store. Thanks for noticing, guys.
Oh yeah, the stove. The door is too high on the fire box, so every time I open it to put in a log, a bunch of smoke rolls out and that’s why I smell like a fire all the time. Plus, the firebox is too deep, so no air gets to the fire unless the door is partially opened. This means that smoke is rolling out of the woodstove many, many times a day, again, causing me to smell like fire all the time.
If I had to give you one solid piece of advice for heating with wood, it is this: Don’t buy a coal stove. Buy a woodstove. And be proud of your musky aroma.