Cabin Life – #71

Spring has decided to show up fashionably late.  I woke up to snow the last St Regis Summitcouple of days, and even though it’s been melted by lunch time each day, it has been discouraging to say the least.  However, even with the new snow showers, it is clear that winter is gone, even if spring hasn’t set in completely yet.

Pico and I went hiking the other day up St. Regis Mountain.  It was a crisp morning, but with clear skies forecasted all day, it seemed like a great opportunity to hike one of my old favorites before the bugs are out in any sort of force.  We set off and wandered through the woods down behind Paul Smiths and up the mountain.

I remember this trail well, as I worked as the summit steward on St. Regis when I was in college.  I definitely needed more time to get to the top than I did ten years ago, but Pico and I were on the summit soaking in the sun by ten in the morning.  It was sunny and clear and windy, allowing us to see the views with no obstruction.  There was a slight haze in the air, but not enough to ruin the sights.

As I sat there eating a candy bar and letting Pico wander about, I wished I had brought a jacket to cut the wind.  Sure, it was sunny but there was still a chill to the morning wind that made me not want to linger too long on the open summit.  The sun was warm but the air was cold and I could clearly still see plenty of ice on the lakes and ponds stretched below me.  Pico drank some water from a puddle and we headed back down the trail.

By the time we got back to the car, it was almost hot out.  Almost.  You know, hot for spring.  It’s amazing how different sixty degrees can feel in the fall compared to the spring.  In the fall, I would have been bundled up in jeans and a flannel, but in the sixty degree spring, I was changing into shorts and flip-flops just for the drive back to the cabin.

When we got back out to the cabin, I sat in the sun and just enjoyed the spring-time “quiet.”  There are a ton of birds around the cabin now, including robins, juncos and one of the largest hawks I’ve ever seen.  There is a lot of chatter and various birds hanging out in the apple trees together.  The woodpeckers are pecking away, looking for both food and a mate and the black-capped chickadees are flitting about in the yard, largely ignoring the feeders.

Last year, I didn’t keep the feeders full in the summer.  There are bears and red squirrels out here, along with other animals that I really don’t feel like attracting to my cabin.  But I think this fall I’ll start filling the feeders a little earlier, so that I get some of these other birds to stick around.  It’s not that I blame them for heading south for the winter, but it would be nice to share the cold with a few more wild friends.  I just prefer the birds to the bears when it comes to my wild companions.

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Cabin Life – #53

Wood Shed Latch
Well, the world didn’t end, so we got that going for us, which is nice.  In fact, on the official first day of winter, we finally started getting some snow.  It rained all day, then switched to the very fine snow that blows around and looks like it’s snowing like crazy.  I woke up hoping to go skiing, but there’s still only an inch or so of snow on the ground.  I really want to go skiing.

The fine snow somehow makes it through the screens on my porch, coating everything out there.  I always try to sweep the porch before walking on it too many times, but Pico doesn’t care if the porch is clean.  He loves the snow.  When I let him out, he usually stares at the screen door like it’s the biggest barrier he’s ever seen.  But when we get snow, he noses open the door and takes off to prance around in the fresh white stuff.

Coming home last night, I drove through the white tunnel that is my road.  The balsams and pines that line either side of the road were coated in white, the branches just starting to droop a little bit under the weight of the snow.  I didn’t see any tracks across the road or going up the driveway.  Maybe it was too windy last night for the animals to be moving around much.

But on my way out this morning, I had a big fat bobcat run across about twenty feet in front of the car.  The first time I saw a bobcat was on the way up St. Regis Mountain.  When I was in college, I worked for a couple of summers as a Watershed Steward, which included a few days per week hiking to the very top of our little watershed, which was the summit of St. Regis.  I started walking up there one morning, my car the only one at the trailhead parking lot.

The first half or so of the trail is rolling, open woods.  Just before I started heading up the steeper, rockier part of the trail, I took off my baseball cap to wipe my forehead.  When I took off the hat, I caught a glimpse of some movement a few hundred yards ahead of me.  I looked more closely and saw the bobcat just staring at me.  The cat looked pretty small and leisurely walked off.  He was on the rock, so I didn’t see any tracks, but it was nice to see the cat.  The Paul Smith’s mascot is the bobcat, and it was nice to see one so close to campus.

The bobcat I saw this morning was at least twice the size of that other one.  The short little tail was sticking up as it took three leaps across the road.  I stopped to look at the tracks in the snow, and it’s paws were bigger than Pico’s.  I could still see him walking off into the woods, over a dead birch tree that was on the ground.  He didn’t even look back at me, totally unconcerned that I was only a dozen or so yards away.  I hope he stays in this neck of the woods and makes an appearance once in a while.  As long as I don’t see those big tracks on the porch, we’ll get along just fine.

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Cabin Life – #1

There’s a pretty good storm blowing outside, not as bad as it sounded in the forecasts though.  I realized yesterday, before the storm, that I was pretty much stockpiled to the point of being okay for a few days if things really went to hell.  The forecast was for rain, sleet, and snow with ice accumulations.

Everyone started talking about the Ice Storm of 1998.  More than 4 inches of ice built up on trees, power lines, and everywhere else.  The North Country was paralyzed, and there were numerous deaths from the storm.  A lot of people also died when they ran their generators inside their houses, and succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Sunrise over Whiteface

I don’t have to worry about any of that because I don’t have power at all.  Ever.  The cool way of saying this is that I live “off the grid.”  It’s not so much a choice as an adventure though.  Carving a living out in the North Country is not easy, but I lucked into one of the best friends I’ve ever had.  And just when I desperately needed a cheep place to stay, Amy came through with an offer of no rent in a one room, 400 square foot cabin with no electricity and no running water.  The trade off is that I do a lot of work on the property, and she doesn’t have to worry about someone breaking in to the place again.  Plus, now I live close enough to chicken-sit when she’s out of town.

The cabin sits on an amazing piece of property in Vermontville, NY.  Fifty-two acres is just about the right amount of room for Pico to run around on.  There’s trails and open woods that are just begging to be skied and snowshoed.  The place is a simple affair, brown with white trim, a sagging porch, and attached woodshed.  In the fall when it rained, the leaky porch roof afforded no protection from the rain.

After being here for a few months, I’ve gotten to know the property and get into a pretty good routine.  Paul Smiths isn’t far from here, and the gym provides a much needed daily dose of Sports Center, as well as wi-fi and plenty of good books at the library.  Pico and I go for a walk or ski pretty much every day, and the deer prints of the fall have been replaced by rabbit tracks.  The rabbits seem to be particularly fond of the area around the outhouse.  I’d prefer not to know why, exactly, that is.

Having no electricity means that your life suddenly revolves around the creation and maintenance of artificial light.  I am frequently seen out at a nice restaurant in town wearing a small Petzl headlamp around my neck.  There’s also the big Mag Lite with the LED bulb that is so bright it freaks me out like being hit in the eye with one of those laser pointers.  I sat down today and fixed three more oil lamps.  It’s really nice out here at night now, especially since the nights are so long.  At least we’re getting a little more light each day.

Before the snow came, that Mag Lite would illuminate three does that were in the yard every night.  I knocked down some rotten apples that were still clinging to the trees and put out some old corn that I had found in the shed.  There was also the gray fox by the wood pile, and the blue jay that flew into the window and was stunned, but still ate some Ritz crackers and then took off.  The sound of wildlife and absence of other sounds is wonderful.

Sure, it sucks to have to go outside to wiz when it’s -5, but the stars that can be seen on those nights almost makes me forget the bone chilling temperatures.  If only people in cities could see what I see, a lot fewer people would be afraid of the dark.