This is a pretty common scene at the homestead
Since it was so nice out, we took the ducklings out into the garden to wander around. This was their first time outside, and they dutifully followed my step-son around and ate little grass hoppers out of his hands.
The chickens (we’re up to 13 now, with only Brownie remaining of the original flock of four) were quite keen on finding out what the ducks were and why they seemed to be getting treats while the chickens were not.
We only kept the ducks outside for a little while, and like any other pets, I assume that they’ll now be crying to venture outside all the time now. But like any other pet, they’re cute enough when they’re young to make up for any hassles they may cause.
Hi all, I know it’s been a while, and I am really sorry about that.
So, to catch you all up, I’ve gotten married, moved onto a great homestead and am working as the outdoors writer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. I promise to do a better job going forward of detailing our homesteading experience.
Anyway, to help soothe over any hard feelings about my lack of effort on Middle of the Trail, here’s a picture of our new ducklings, Forbin and Ophelia.
Welp, I finally got one of those fancy phones with a camera and the ability to connect to the internet. So if you’re interested in seeing lots of pictures of chickens and hiking trails, follow me on Instagram at @JALEVINE6
Oh, and if you follow me, I will follow you back!
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.
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.
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.
As is my new custom, I’m sitting at the table looking out the big window at the winter weather, and I’m sweating. The new stove is amazing, but way too large for my little cabin. A wealth of heat is not necessarily a bad thing in my circumstance, but knowing that the interior of the cabin is a temperature that in the summer I would deem too hot is a little disconcerting.
I open one of the windows a little more, since all four windows that open are already open. I’m greeted with sounds that are both welcome and unwelcome at the same time. The sound of snow and ice dripping off of the roof is nice, but the sound of freezing rain joining the melting is unpleasant. I woke up to about a half-inch of ice covering everything, and while I by no means got the worst of this storm, it is not enjoyable to be living through another ice storm. I can also hear the small stream out back, rushing like crazy. The stream really only flows in the spring normally, and to hear it running now makes a constant sound of traffic. It is eerily out of place here.
Around noon today I went out and started my car. I wanted to get as much ice off of it as possible before the second round of rain/sleet/freezing rain began. It was only a little below freezing, so the ice started to peel off, but because it was so thick, it took me most of an hour with the defroster and an ice scraper to get to the point where I could theoretically drive. The radio playing in the car told me to stay off the roads for unnecessary travel. But I was out of beer.
I had other reasons for making the four mile trip to the store. I only had a little gas in the car, and just in case I needed to use it as a generator for a few days, I figured I better fill it up. I also wanted to get the paper, and of course find out the gossip from whoever was working. I quickly discovered that the most dangerous part of my journey was the driveway. The main roads were fine, but I took it slow anyway.
I got back to the cabin and read the paper and did the crossword. Well, most of the crossword. Okay, some of the crossword. I found out at the store that we didn’t get the brunt of the storm. I’m glad for that, and that everyone around here seems to have power still. Not that it affects me, but everyone else I know relies on the power and phone lines.
It’s not that I got off scott-free though. My firewood is wet. Not all of it, but a decent portion anyway. The old metal roofing that I used had holes in it when I put it up over the summer, but during the summer and fall rains, very little water leaked through the roof and into the shed. The problem this time is that the eight inches of snow on top of the shed got iced up and couldn’t drain fast enough. Every little hole in the roofing started to leak, and that’s the end of that. There’s nothing I can do at this point short of moving all nine face cords or so into another shed that now contains tools, an old woodstove and lots of other crap. Not that I would move all that wood anyway, but that’s my only option.
I’ve been picking and choosing the dry pieces farther down in the wood stacks. I’ve also brought a bunch of the wet wood inside and stacked it behind the stove. That should dry it out pretty quickly. The biggest problem is that this weather is supposed to continue through the night and into tomorrow. After that it’s going to be bitter cold again. The cold will freeze the water onto the wood, and I’ll be thawing firewood for the rest of the winter. This is not something I’m looking forward to.
You’d think that after a full two years out here, I’d have all this figured out. But I don’t, and I’m okay with that. It’s a process, a learning experience. I’ve made many, many things better out here, but there’s some things I just can’t control. Like the ridiculous temperature swings. It’s sixty degrees warmer than it was last weekend, and by the middle of the week, it’s supposed to be almost fifty degrees colder than it is now. At least I don’t have to worry about the stove keeping it warm enough during the cold streaks. I just have to worry about having dry wood to put in the stove.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that this is the one-hundredth essay I’ve written in the Cabin Life series. I never expected the amount of readers that have found my stories interesting. Thank you for reading, I hope you get as much enjoyment out of these essays as I do. Thank You.