Cabin Life – # 55

Black-capped chickadee through a dirty window
I woke up this morning, as usual, buried by animals.  Ed was lying on my chest, Herbie was at my shoulder flicking me in the face with his tail, and Pico was on my left, resting his head on my open hand.  It was nice and warm in the cabin even though I hadn’t gotten up all night to feed the stove, and I would have been content to lay there for a while before getting out of bed.

I thought about how my car was buried in a snow bank halfway up the driveway and how it’s going to take an hour or so to get it free.  I thought about how I’m still not done shoveling more than a week after our first big snowstorm.  I thought about how nice the bed felt.  Then Ed stretched and farted, and I jumped out of bed more quickly than I would have liked.  Pico and Herbie didn’t wait around in the danger zone either.

I fed the animals looked out the big window.  It seems like it is getting light a little bit later, but the reflection of the snow definitely helps the pre-dawn light to shine a bit brighter.  I checked the seed levels in the two bird feeders and decided that they don’t need to be filled today, but that I probably will fill them, just to put off shoveling my car out for another few minutes.

The feeders have been active this winter.  Last year, I had mostly black-capped chickadees, with an occasional visitor such as a house finch or blue jay.  But this year, there is an almost constant presence of chickadees, and white- and red-breasted nuthatches.  And from what I have observed, the red-breasted nuthatches are, well,  jerks.

All three species are pretty small birds, able to fit in the palm of your hand.  But the red-breasted nuthatches are the smallest, with the chickadees in the middle and the white-breasted nuthatches being about the same size as the largest of the chickadees.

There are two feeders, each with two sides to feed on.  At any given time there may be a couple of chickadees on one of the feeders, but then a red-breasted nuthatch will fly in and take over one of their spots.  Even when the other feeder has no birds on it, the reds will chase off a chickadee.  The white-breasted nuthatches don’t seem to be involved in this and generally take off before the reds have a chance to run them off.  The chickadees always share the feeders.

Even though I’m fairly short, I’ve never suffered from “little man syndrome,” that particular attitude short guys can get where they feel the need to overcompensate for their lack of height.  They like to start bar fights for no reason and generally see everyone as a threat.  I think this is what’s happening with the red-breasted nuthatches.  They’re small, so they’re just kind of overcompensating.  They’re not violent, but they’re not passive either.  The other birds seem to have figured out that this is just the way it is and they don’t bother fighting back.  They just get out of the way.

I know that if these birds thought that the seed in the feeders was a limited resource, they would guard and protect the feeders.  But because they know that there is ample food for all, there shouldn’t be that much competition.  I like having the variety of birds that come to the feeder.  It’s interesting to me and it’s the perfect reality TV for the cats.  I like watching them sift through the seed for their favorites.  I like watching them take an impossibly small seed and grip it in their feet to peck it open.   But I like it even more when all the birds can linger in peace eight inches from my window.

Cabin Life – #54

Nick's Place
The snow is still falling, but not as fast and furious as it was earlier.  I heard on the solar radio that this is now called Winter Storm Euclid, but I think most people will remember it as the Blizzard of 2012.  I’ve got about twelve to fourteen inches on the ground, and it is still coming down.

I woke up early this morning to a text message from a friend letting me know that she had made it to Colorado alright.  The sun wasn’t up, but it was starting to get light out, so I got up and fed the pets and the woodstove.  The stove was cranking and it was pretty warm in the cabin.  I hadn’t done anything different in terms of what or how much I burned, but it was noticeably hotter in here.  When Pico and I went out for our morning relief, I figured out why it was so warm inside.  There was eight inches of snow on the roof providing a lot of extra insulation.

The next thing I did was to wax up my skis and get dressed for some outdoor activities.  After getting about a quarter mile from the cabin, I was glad I had set out early.  The snow was getting deep and it was hard to glide when I was breaking trail.  I could have followed Pico’s path, but that quarter mile would have turned into a half mile the way he runs all over the place.

Pico didn’t mind the new boots I had put on his feet, and the two of us made our way down to the little lean-to, named for the kid that built it, Nick’s Place.  It’s only about five feet high, eight feet wide and six feet deep, just enough for a couple of people to sleep in, though I doubt anyone has stayed there in quite a few years.  I’m always a little worried though, that when I round the corner of the trail and Nick’s Place comes into sight that some hermit or drifter will be staring out of the doorway at me.  It hasn’t happened yet, and since not even my landlord has seen the thing, I doubt if anyone will wander out here and find it.  But I always get just a little tense when I get close.  The more logical fear when it comes to the lean-to is that Pico will run in there and be face to face with a porcupine or raccoon.  He’s marked the area well, and hopefully my fears don’t come true.

Last weekend, I took Pico, a folding saw and some loppers to clean up the trail to the lean-to.  I’d like to make this place a little more accessible, and the first step in clearing out the existing trails.

From my cabin, I take the road that leads to Upper Camp.  About half way to Upper Camp there is a junction trail that goes off to the right.  It passes one of the old hand-dug wells and follows a stone wall to a large ash tree.  From there, the trail continues straight to a little clearing where all the pine trees were cut to build Upper Camp.  But the trail to Nick’s Place goes right, through a break in the large stone wall and meanders off into the woods.  I clipped some branches and small balsams that had started to grow, and pulled a few dead trees out of the way that fallen across the trail.  The trail then empties into an open glade, which in summer is beautiful.  Moss lines the ground and the thick clumps of balsam and spruce give off a classic Adirondack aroma.

There are thick evergreens that surround Nick’s Place, masking it in the woods.  Nick was the son of the previous owner’s and he did a nice job building this place.  The front is about half closed in but there is a doorway and a window, and the roof provides a little overhang so that snow doesn’t make its way inside.  After cutting out a few trees, you can see the lean-to from the where the trail enters the glade.  At least I don’t have to get too close now to see if anyone is living in there.

But this morning was not a work morning.  Pico and I just skied out to Nick’s Place and then bushwhacked up into the woods, heading towards the clearing up above.  I’d like to mark and cut a trail from the lean-to to the clearing, and found a pretty good route up there.  Of course, the route I took this morning is now covered in snow, and I’ll have to mark it another time, hopefully when there is not a blizzard going on.  It’s just one of the perks of doing this type of thing out here.  I get to ski it once, then ski again to mark it, and then ski it again to cut it out.  I could have done all that today, but I’m looking forward to having to do the route a few more times.  You know, as long as I don’t run into anyone along the way.


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Cabin Life – #46

There’s snow flying around in the air.  It’s been snowing on and off all day, with some sticking to my car this morning, but there’s none on the ground.  I noticed the slightly silvery coloring of the pines and hemlocks from snow sticking to the branches, though.  I’m glad it’s not sticking on the ground yet, but it won’t be long, and even though it’s been cold, we’ve been lucky that the snow didn’t start flying a week or two ago.

They say that this is the remnants of Hurricane Sandy, which at the cabin turned out to be a whole lot of nothing.  We had a wind storm last winter where I could hear trees coming down with a fair amount of regularity, but this past Monday night didn’t add up to much.  There was one branch down on my road, so it turned out I didn’t need to bring my chainsaw with me.  But I guess it’s good that I was prepared to cut my road clear to get to work.  Or maybe it’s not good.  I don’t know.

The one thing that struck me about Sandy was that everyone was preparing for the worst.  They were prepared to not have power for days or even weeks.  And I realized that the phrase “Oh no, the power might go out” really doesn’t enter my day-to-day conversations any more.  I bought some extra food just in case Sandy became another Ice Storm like in 1998.  That storm is my reference for everything now.  I always say to myself that I better be prepared for these storms just in case it’s another Ice Storm.

I have nothing but sympathy for those who were actually affected by the storm.  I can’t imagine being stuck in New York City with no power.  But for the northern Adirondacks, it was just another storm with lots of rain and not so bad winds.  I wasn’t that worried about it for the obvious reason that power outages don’t affect me.  Just one more way in which my life is simpler out here.  And it’s one more way in which this type of life is easier to handle.

Cabin Life – #15

Pico and I went snow shoeing for probably the last time today.  I wanted to get out before all the snow is gone, and I think there’ll be enough left to ski on tomorrow.  But the snow is going fast, almost as fast as it came.

In the last two weeks, I’ve gotten about two feet of snow out at the cabin.

Black Capped Chickadee

The plow guy had to come three times in four days, after having been out here only three times in the last three months.  But now it’s about fifty degrees, and the forecast calls for warm for the rest of the week.  It’s starting to look like winter might really be over.

I missed this part of the Adirondack spring last year, as I was still living in Florida.  I missed opening the windows and letting that clean-smelling breeze roll through the house.  I missed seeing people’s super white arms emerging from t-shirts for the first time in months.  I just plain missed the change in the seasons.

Jacksonville, FL is far enough north that there is kind of a “winter,” where it does get cold for a couple of months.  The palm trees stay green and you might need a hat and gloves in the morning, but that’s about all you get out of the change of seasons.  There’s really only two seasons:  Hot, and not as hot.

The lady bugs have been proliferating around and on the big window.  I keep catching glimpses of them out of the corner of my eye, and thinking that someone is coming up the driveway, but that’s not really all that likely.  Now that it’s warm, the snow is melting, and there are brown patches of dead grass peeking out, I can’t help but feel some sort of satisfaction.  Back in October, I thought that living off the grid for the winter would be a huge challenge.

It has been.  But not one that has broken or defeated me.  If anything, I am stronger, both mentally and physically, than when I moved out here.  This winter was an experiment in self-reliance.  Not that I haven’t gotten help along the way, but being way out here is something that you have to experience to truly understand.

And really, isn’t life all about the experience?

Snow’s going fast

The snow is melting fast.  It’s been warm and sunny or warm and rainy for a couple of days.  Early spring this year apparently.


Cabin Life – #9

I like sitting at the table in front of the big window and seeing the wood smoke drift out towards the driveway.  Sometimes the smoke catches the sunlight and throws a blast of light into the cabin, sometimes it casts a shadow.  The blue jays haven’t been around much lately, but the nut hatches are getting closer and closer.

I’ve seen some black-capped chickadees (yes, I’ve learned the difference) in the apple trees.  They always seem to hang out in the trees where there are no rotten apples still clinging to the branches, but in the barren trees.  I figured they would want to pick apart the apples and get the seeds, but I guess not.  Maybe they have enough food without going through all that work.  That’s what I love about nature, you never really know.

I’ve been hearing a moose near-by.  Not too far from hear, on Normans Ridge Rd., was where some of the first confirmed sightings of moose were back about ten years ago.  My “neighbors,” who have not been seen since hunting season, supposedly captured the moose on their game camera.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they were near the cabin.  They tend to like heavily wooded areas, and except for a few acres of cleared land right around my cabin, it’s pretty wooded up here.

The forest is really nice.  I like all forests, but the land here is just amazing.  There are tight clumps of evergreens amid huge, open stretches of hardwoods.  The rabbit tracks dart from evergreen to evergreen, and the birds hang out in the bare hardwoods until Pico and I walk by.  Then they scramble to hide themselves among the green boughs of the white pine, red spruce and eastern hemlock.

There’s definitely been some very cold snaps, even for this mild winter.  Twenty below zero hasn’t been all that uncommon so far, and when it’s that cold, even the trees have a hard time staying alive outside.  Maybe that’s something that most people don’t think about, that trees and plants are living things that are subject to the same survival scenarios as any wild animal.  Day after day and night after night, they stand against the cold, the wind, the weight of the snow.  And sometimes, just like people, they snap.  The weight of the world tears them down against all odds, and then some puny human like me comes along to cut up and split their remains for next year’s fire wood supply.

Cabin Life – #8

My hands are beat up.  I guess that shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but the combination of old scars and new wounds (fine, they’re more like boo-boos, but whatever) represent the bulk of the physical hardship of living out here.

The quarter-sized scar on the back of my right wrist is courtesy of the wood stove, as is the small scab on the back of my right thumb.  Next to the burn on my thumb are two little marks where large splinters were pulled out.  The back of my left thumb knuckle got skinned the other day while cleaning the chimney.  And my left middle finger got nailed grabbing wood out of the shed.

One of the apple trees

There are also the pre-cabin scars like the one on my index finger from where the first knife I owned folded up on me while I was up in the apple tree at my parent’s old house.  Plus the one on my right palm that ended with seven stitches after jamming my hand into a pile of broken glass at the bar during work.

There’s no doubt about it, my right hand takes the brunt of my abuse.  I just read “The Old Man and The Sea” and that had a similar theme, but the old man thought his left hand was weak and stupid.  He relied on his right hand and never had any doubts about its usefulness.  I don’t think my left hand is useless, and in fact I have to admit that if I was going to lose a finger, I would prefer that it came from my right hand.  I need all the fingers on my left hand to play guitar.

One nice thing about the mildness of this winter, so far anyway, is that my feet haven’t been as frost bitten as I thought they would be.  I developed frost bite on my feet years ago.  Cramming my feet into ill-fitting and stiff down hill ski boots and skiing over one hundred days per year pretty much sealed my fate.  I should have chosen boots that were comfortable, but I wanted racing boots even though I sucked at racing and was only on the team to get the free skiing.  The tables have turned now, and since I no longer get free skiing, I no longer get frostbite.  Truth is, I’d rather hit the slopes and deal with the frostbite.

Cabin Life – #7

The shadows are getting long, and it’s only 4:00 in the afternoon.  There has been a noticeable difference in the amount of daylight from a month ago though.  In the beginning of January, I would have put my headlights on at this time.  But not today, because spring is coming.

It’s early February, and I can’t help but feel a certain amount of accomplishment.  When I moved into the cabin back in October, it seemed like winter was going to be a long, harsh struggle to survive.  I’ve had a good winter so far.

It’s been a remarkably mild winter though, and that has a lot to do with how it’s been going.  There have been lots of days with temperatures above freezing, and if all the rain we got had been snow, then I would guess that there would be about another three feet of snow on the ground.  Plus, the plow guy has only had to come twice, saving me a ton of money, and him a lot of veggie oil (his truck is a bio-diesel).  He did get stuck last time, and I mean way off the driveway stuck.  I helped him out and our efforts eventually took two hours, two shovels, my Jeep and his back-hoe.  But the effort was successful, and I get a free plow the next time it snows.

The wood is holding up really well too.  We cut, split and stacked about

The Old Plow

nine and a half cords of wood, which you can visualize as ten rows of split wood, each four feet high and twenty feet long.  I’ve only burned about two and a half cords so far, which means lots of dry wood for campfires this summer.

Analyzing my experience so far, I’m amazed at how long it took to get some of the little things down.  Like making sure the fire stays going all night instead of getting up three times to put wood in the stove.  Or making sure that I buy lamp oil for the kerosene lanterns.  Or planning ahead to make sure I have enough water for a few days.  My friends are remarkably generous with their drinking water, and for that I am very thankful.

It’s been a lot of work living out here, and the work is far from over.  But so many of the chores are enjoyable, that the days seem to go by kind of quickly.  I walk up to the other cabin out here a couple times a week to make sure that it’s still standing, no one has broken into it, and that there are no tree limbs sticking out of the roof.  Carrying a few arm loads of wood inside every day and splitting the bigger pieces gives me a little exercise, as does finding small logs in the woods and dragging them out to be cut up for next year’s fire wood.  I wish I could attach some sort of harness to Pico so that he would drag them, but I know that he would not want to do it.

The one thing that surprises me the most though, is the fact that I’m really enjoying living like this.  Sure, if it was my property I would invest in some upgrades like solar panels and a well, but I have really not been missing any of the things that we take for granted.  The transition to life off the grid really hasn’t been painful, and that’s really comforting to me.

Cabin Life – #5

Bitter, bitter cold.  The HIGH temperature yesterday was 1.  About 8:00 this morning, the thermometer in my car read -18.  And that was after the sun had been up for a while.  It hurts to do anything outside when it’s that cold, and I’m pretty sure that I would rather die than go to the outhouse right now.

There’s really no difference to the feel of the air whether it’s twenty below or thirty below.  Both temperatures are equally hellish.  It’s not like when the temperature goes from thirty to forty above.  Forty degrees is a really warm day up here this time of year.  I would have my windows open, there’d be people walking around in t-shirts.  But trust me, when its more than ten degrees below zero, it is all terrible.

I’m chicken sitting, otherwise I wouldn’t go anywhere on a day like today.  The car gets started at least thirty minutes before I leave to let the engine and parts get warmed up as well as the heater.  She starts fine, but there are always

The front door hinge inside the cabin

horrible sounds when it’s this cold out.  The Jeep doesn’t want to go anywhere either and it makes its protestations known.  Too bad, I got chickens to take care of.

So much time and energy are devoted to dealing with the cold when it is like this.  Two nights ago, it was well below zero, and when I went to put the chickens away for the night, I noticed that there was no light coming from the coop.  I checked inside, and the heating lamp was not on.  It was a frantic scramble to check the extension cords and make sure they were plugged in.  Hands freeze and become useless very quickly when they have to be shoved into the snow searching for a little piece of wire.  And I have to be careful opening the door to go in.  The tiny bit of moisture on my hands from the snow freezes to the doorknob, and I have to exert a little extra effort to “let go” of the knob.

Once inside, my face and hands start stinging.  I was outside for maybe five minutes.  I check all the places where I think light bulbs could be: basement, garage, linen closet.  Finally in a back corner of the basement, I find the light bulbs.  I love compact fluorescent bulbs to save money, but in this case they’re useless.  I need a good old fashioned incandescent, one that sucks up the juice and spits out a ton of heat.  I don’t know enough about chickens to know how well they’d survive a winter up here with no shelter, but I do know that I don’t want to report a dead chicken to Amy.  Even if it would be a delicious tragedy.

Another option if I can’t get the lamp working is to bring them into the garage.  It’s warmer and sheltered, but then I would have to clean up all that chicken crap in the morning.  Plus, they probably wouldn’t want to leave the garage, meaning that I would have to catch each one and carry it outside.  If you’ve never hung out with any chickens, they’re kind of dumb.

Luckily, it was just a burned out bulb, and I found one halogen light that seemed to throw some heat.  The next morning, the chickens were all still alive, so the bulb must have at least helped.  After checking the coop for eggs and finding two frozen ones, I guess that chickens can survive pretty cold temperatures.



Cabin Life – #4

Woke up normal time, between four and five in the morning.  I usually get up a few times a night to stoke the fire, but the stove has been burning well for the last couple of weeks.  I still like to get up and throw a couple of logs on, and to be sure the fire doesn’t go out, I set an alarm for 10:30pm, 12:30am, and 2:00am.

Got up, checked the fire, finished the book “Boomerang” that I got from the library and tried to fix my car window.  The driver’s window is stuck about halfway down, and since its winter, I really need to get it fixed.  But I don’t feel like going anywhere today, especially since I have to drive with the window down.  No, it’s better to put some plastic over it and wait a day or two to head to the mechanic.

Getting up so early and often generally requires that I take a nap during the day.  Since I get up so early, nap time is usually around 9:00am, which sounds weird, because most people have just gotten out of bed or are just getting to work.  But by nine, I’ve been up about five hours, and it’s nice to get a little more shut-eye.  When I lay down, the wind was blowing and the sky was overcast, but it was warm and there was a steady pat-pat-pat of water dripping off the roof.

When I woke up around noon, I glanced out the big window and could not see the trees on the other side of the yard.  They are maybe 150 yards away, but it was a white out.  The wind was raging, and snow was blowing everywhere.  The screened-in porch had about a half inch of accumulation despite the screens, there were a few inches on the ground while Pico turned white with snow after about a minute outside.

Since I had plenty of water in my brand new 5 gallon jug and lots of food, hunkering down didn’t seem like such a bad option.  It would be downright enjoyable if I had another little nine volt battery so I could listen to NPR once in a while, but I killed the last battery yesterday.  With all this indoor time on my hands, there’s really only one thing to do:  Clean.

I had a roommate for the last couple of months, but he’s gone now, so I set to making the cabin a little less like a weekend retreat and more like a home.  The biggest thing I have to do is the dishes.  There’s four knives, a bowl, a fork, and a small sauce pot to be washed.  It’s not that I don’t eat at home or cook, but I generally use paper plates and bowls, along with plastic silverware and cast-iron pans.  I know, I hate using the disposable stuff, but it’s really hard to do the dishes out here with no running water.  Plus, at least the paper dishes can go into the stove and produce some heat for the place.  Using the stuff twice, that’s my justification.

The propane stove is lit and the tea kettle is on.  There’s a big Tupperware in the sink to hold the hot water.  I have dish soap and a dish rag too.  Then the process begins.  I’ve put the five gallon jug on to two small pieces of 2×4 to raise it a little.  I wash in the hot water, rinse with the cold water.  It’s enough of a pain that I am still going to use mostly disposable stuff, but it only takes a few minutes to wash the dishes.  Trust me, this is a big step up in lifestyle.

I rearrange some other things so that I can sit on the couch in front of the big window and decide that that’s enough productivity for one day.  After all, I got all winter out here.  The storm is still blowing and the forecast now says that the high temperature tomorrow is going to be 1.  There’s about 6 inches of snow on the driveway, and I have to get it plowed for the first time this year.

But it’s nice to just sit inside by the fire once in a while.  There’s subtle pops from the woodstove and all three animals are snoring.  The sound of a fat cat snoring makes me want to crawl back into bed, but I have to head outside and get another arm load of wood.