Cabin Life – #64

There’s a gentle thud as another icicle falls off the roof and lands in the soft, Melting Snowheavy snow on the ground.  It’s not that warm today, but warm enough to sit out on the porch and read for a while.  I needed a winter hat to sit out there, though the sun was warm when it poked out from behind the clouds.

There’s a noticeable difference in the amount of snow on the ground.  It’s not really melting, but it is disappearing.  Almost like the surface of the snow isn’t changing, but just sinking closer and closer to the ground.  The days haven’t been very warm, but we’re starting to get those days when it feels a little humid out.  This is the snow’s way of saying goodbye I presume.

While it hasn’t been warm enough to let the fire go out in the wood stove, I have been able to get by burning softwood during the day.  And a single load of hardwood has been lasting me all night.  It’s a far cry from January and February when I would have to get up a few times per night to add wood to the stove.

I’ve been stretching the hardwood supply and I think I’ll be all right for the rest of the year.  I’m hoping for a warm April, and can’t wait for the flowers to start blooming and the leaves to start growing.  Even though I know that my allergies will not be easy to deal with.

I’ve been wondering why this winter seems more difficult than last winter.  I think the biggest reason is that the novelty has worn off.  Last year there was furniture to move, wood to gather and split, property to explore and the adventure of a new endeavor.  I haven’t felt any of that this year.

I took several steps to make life out here easier this winter.  From the lights to the radio, and having established a procedure to wash dishes, this winter should have been a cake walk compared to the unknowns of last year.  But now all the chores that were novel last winter are just effort this winter.  Hauling in water is a pain.  Cleaning the chimney is no fun.  Getting up at four in the morning to put wood in the stove is, well, work.

I think that though the freshness of the experience has worn off, it’s been a good reminder of how much I can do without.  I have no intention of ever moving back “on grid,” but I also have no plan of living the rest of my life deprived of indoor plumbing.

While I sit out here and crank my radio, I like to think about what my own off grid house will look like.  There will be a heat source other than a woodstove so I can leave for more than twelve hours at a time.  There will be hot running water and an indoor toilet.  Once I get settled, I do not want to have to keep a toilet seat hanging on my wall above the wood stove.  Sure, it’s nice for now, but I really don’t want to be that guy for the next forty or fifty years.

I’ve learned a lot living out here and no matter where I go from now on, I will take these lessons to heart.  Plus, I would have a hard time learning to pay bills again.  That’s the one thing that, even though I was able to give it up, really keeps on giving back to me.

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Cabin Life – #40

I’m a traitor.  I went to Vermont to go hiking this week.  A friend and I hiked Elmore Mountain to an old fire tower.  The fire tower was open to the public even though it was decommissioned, which is a big change from New York.  Most of the fire towers here have had their first two flights of stairs removed, with the small, obligatory “Warning” sign attached somewhere. 

When I went over Sunday afternoon on the Port Kent ferry, the overwhelming view of both Vermont and the Adirondacks was still green.  The shoreline of Lake Champlain on both sides of the lake showed little sign of the cooling temperatures of mid-September. 

I met up with Mike in Montpelier and followed him to his house somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  It was well after dark by the time we got there.  We had a small fire and a couple of beers while Pico and Mike’s dog Sadie wrestled with each other and barked at the coyotes howling in the woods, not too far away.  We could hear cows mooing on a neighboring farm and a heavy dew started settling in while the fire died down.

When I woke up the next morning, I glanced out the window to see a gray sky and a fire red maple.  The feeling of waking up on an overcast day with a hike planned was somewhat offset by the brightness of the tree.  The window was open and the coolness made me both wide awake and reluctant to get out of bed. 

I knocked on Mike’s door to wake him up for the hike, but he and Sadie were already awake.  After a beautifully fatty breakfast with a lot of coffee, we headed north to Elmore State Park to climb the mountain.  It was a nice trail, and because it was Vermont, basically everyone else we saw had a dog, so Pico and Sadie had plenty of butts to sniff along the way.

When we were done with the hike, we headed back to Mike’s place so I could go home and he could drive down to New Hampshire for a three day hiking trip.  I got back on the ferry in Burlington, and soon realized that the boat was going backwards.  Or, more accurately, the cars were facing backward. 

As the ferry left Vermont, I watched as the lake gained in size while the buildings and boats shrank.  Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield stood idly by while we went west across the lake.  I got out of the car and turned around.  Looking at the Adirondacks from the ferry with Vermont at my back, I realized that I while like the vibe of Vermont, it’s not the Adirondacks.  And I love the Adirondacks.

Ausable Marsh

Pico and I hiked the Ausable Marsh Wildlife Management Area trail a few weeks ago.  Here’s a few shots from the marsh.  I don’t know wildflowers, so if any of you know what these are please clue the rest of us in with a comment.







Cabin Life – #36

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.

Lake Champlain

Cabin Life – #36 will be out next Tuesday…

Popped up over night and disintegrated two days later.


Driftwood and Valcour Island


Great Blue Heron wading along shore


Hiking up the hill out back. Wasn’t that long ago…


Cabin Life -#34

I like bees.  They really don’t bother me that much.  It’s not like I want to get stung, but they tend to leave me alone, maybe because I don’t freak out when they fly near me.  I understand those who are allergic or just don’t want to get stung, though. 

I remember vividly the first time I got stung by a bee.  It was at our house on 5th Ave in Gloversville, and I was already strapped into my car seat in the back.  Mom was locking up the house or grabbing something from inside, and when I shifted in my car seat, the bee stung me right on the butt.  I don’t know if I started screaming (I couldn’t have been more than fifteen at the time) and I don’t remember the aftermath, but the sting itself is clear as day.

At work there is a window air conditioner.  I was mowing the lawn and noticed a lot of bees around near the a/c unit.  I stopped to watch, mainly to see if there was a ground nest nearby.  Watching the bees for a minute, I realized that they were going to the ground under the a/c to drink, not because their hive was down there. 

With the ridiculous drought going on, I’m not surprised that the bees are hanging around a reliable source of water.  It’s fun to sit a few feet away and not really be in any danger of getting stung.  As long as I don’t get too close or let Pico run through them, I figure it’s safe to hang out and watch.  I won’t bother them if they don’t bother me, and the feeling so far seems to be mutual.

Cabin Life – #33

My garden is a joke.  I tried, but the spot is just not very good.  Too little light and mediocre soil make a great combination for disappointment.  The peas are doing alright, and the lettuce is coming along, but the basil and carrots are struggling.  Even my tomatoes are pathetic.

It’s a small raised bed made with flat stones.  I didn’t do any real prep to the spot though.  There was a rotten tree trunk in the middle and I pulled that out and added a little top soil, but not nearly enough.  I weeded and turned the soil.  I should have added more soil and some composted manure to help.  What the garden really needs is to have a few trees cut down.

I like the idea of raising my own food, but it requires prep work that I just didn’t do.  I have no problem learning from my mistakes, and take this as a lesson learned.  But I also like the idea of creating an environment that brings some wildlife into the mix.  At first there were the usual worms and bugs, but then I noticed a little hole in the middle of the garden.  Only about an inch across, I figured it was nothing.  The plants didn’t look any worse for the wear, so it just went ignored.

A week later I noticed another hole that went down under the rocks, and even caught a glimpse of the tail end of something, but with no tail.  Later that night I took Pico out and saw two Northern Leopard frogs side by side in the garden.  I’ve seen these little guys before but never knew what they were.  There’s now three of them in the garden most evenings.

There’s no bugs other than some bees and flies in my garden.  The frogs seem to be taking care of the slugs and snails, which is nice.  The plants aren’t doing very well, but at least it’s not because they are being attacked by insects.

Cabin Life – #32

The baby osprey are getting big.  They poke their heads up above the lip of the nest and look down on us.  The chatter they make is for food, though, not because I’m standing about twenty feet below their nest.  The people and the cars and the bikes don’t seem to bother this particular family. 

Their nest is built on top of an electric pole right behind the entrance booth of the campground.  It’s about three feet across, sits right on the electric feed for the whole park.  It stinks pretty bad right now, as there hasn’t been any rain to wash the area in and below the nest.  The shrubs and pavement are splattered white but amazingly no one has gotten hit.

The osprey are a big attraction along the road, with three nests.  But the ones at the booth are my favorite.  Watching them circle around with a bullhead in their talons they seem so graceful.  It’s another story when they are getting chased and harassed by birds one tenth their size.  I’ve seen the osprey running from little red-winged blackbirds and even the great blue heron has chased them off a few times.

It’s great to be able to watch a bird daily, just going about its life.  Lot’s of people ask if they are eagles, but once they get a good look at the birds, it’s apparent even with the similar white heads that they are not.  And while it would be great to have eagles nesting right there, the osprey are good enough company.

Cabin Life – #30

I was slapping myself stupid trying to get all the mosquitoes.  There was a nice breeze coming off the lake and the fire was helping keep them down a little, but I was still getting eaten alive. 

I threw another piece of wood on the fire.  It was some leftover wood from last year’s hurricane that had blown down during the storm.  The red pines that came down around here were huge old trees, but growing in sand a lot them just tipped over.

Back in the cabin, the woodstove hasn’t been used in months.  I think back to all the winter nights when I really would have liked to see the fire.  But my stove doesn’t have any glass in it, just a big black box.  A little bit of light is nice when the sun goes down at five in the afternoon.

Most nights this summer have too hot to bother with a fire, even outside. The heat coming off the fire mixed with the stagnant humid air is just not too enjoyable.  The only thing making up for it is the late evening swims to cool off before bed.  And that’s a far cry from getting up three times a night to stoke the fire.

Cabin Life – #29

A cast-iron pan, quart pot and tea kettle.  It’s hard to believe that I spent six months pretty much just using those three utensils to make all of my meals.  And it’s not that I’ve been eating out a lot or eating unhealthy meals, but with only a little propane stove to cook on, I got by with the bare minimum of dishes.  Plus it was really hard to wash dishes with no running water.

Another blogger told me to use spray bottles to do the dishes.  Put warm, soapy water in one and clean in the other to save on water, since I was filling a five-gallon jug every couple of days and hauling it to the cabin.  It was a great idea and definitely saved on water, but I found that using the spray bottle to rinse was just not effective.  The wash bottle was great, but I still just ran the spigot on the jug to rinse.

After reading Pete Nelson’s recent article on trail food, it reminded me of the best meal I have ever eaten.  I’m lucky to be in a family that likes to cook, and I’ve eaten at some amazing restaurants, but even though Aunt Jen’s crab cakes literally make my mouth water, they pale in comparison to the meal my buddy Derek and I made when we were hiking in college.

We set out from Gloversville very early one morning to do an overnight hike and knock out a few High Peaks.  After driving about three hours to get to Keene Valley, he and I started (with what I would now consider to be insanely heavy packs) along the trail.  After climbing Whale’s Tail, Wright, and Algonquin, we sat down on the leeward side of Boundary to make dinner before continuing on to Iroquois.

The wind was blowing and it took a while to get my little stove going, but we had our one little pot and enough water to cook.  Once the water got boiling, I dumped in the box of instant mac and cheese.  Then we added the pre-made “cheese” sauce and the coup de grace, a can of tuna.  I have never enjoyed a meal so much, and I know for a fact that it was the best meal I’ve ever had because it’s something like twelve years later and I still think about it. 

There was one other time I made this same meal at home.  It was terrible.  I ate about half and then threw the rest away.  I couldn’t believe that something that had been so good and so rewarding at one time, could be so outright awful on another occasion.  Clearly, the mac and cheese with tuna was only good because of the exertion we had put in prior to eating it.  I don’t know if Derek remembers this particular dinner, but I do.  And I will never eat it again.