Took part in The Mountaineer’s annual Mountainfest yesterday, and snowshoe-bushwhacked up the shoulder of Round Mountain, where we got this view of the Dix Mountain range of the High Peaks.
I’d like to tell you that it’s been a long couple of weeks out at the cabin. That, however, would not be the truth. The truth is, it’s been a couple of very lazy weeks lounging around in the comfort of an actual house. The weather has been terrible and I was having to hike into the cabin and my firewood is running low and I was sick of dragging a forty pound jug of water a quarter mile uphill twice a week. So I’ve been staying at my girlfriends with Pico and Herbie. And the Levine men have officially taken over the couch.
I’m still formally living at the cabin, but it has been a nice break. After three winters, I needed some time away from the work and cold and frustration of a house with no indoor plumbing. The chickens are still out there, and are doing well. As the days get longer, the nights haven’t been as cold, and they are doing fine. I go out to the cabin pretty much every day, so even though I was still having to do the hike in, at least I wasn’t having to haul my laundry and bags of dog food and cat litter up that hill.
But speaking of hills, a friend invited me to climb a couple of High Peaks this past weekend. I needed to get out of the house and just said yes when he texted me. I didn’t realize that it was going to be a twenty four mile ski/snowshoe/hike. But we headed out at about six am on Saturday to climb Cliff and Redfield mountains. Twelve hours and forty-five minutes later, we struggled out of the woods and back to my car.
I drove to my girlfriend’s and stumbled in the door. I literally could not move a muscle without moaning in pain, but I made it through the night without dying. The next morning, as I painfully and stiffly made my way across the living room, she convinced me that best way to beat the soreness was to go for a walk or hike. Now, keep in mind, she was not volunteering to go with me, just basically telling me to get out. I think my moaning may have been worse than I thought.
I decided to head out to the cabin to feed the chickens and make sure they still had water, and very gingerly hopped in my car. It’s about a twenty minute ride to the cabin, and every second of the way I was annoyed about the upcoming hike up the driveway. I could barely walk on the flat, warm floor of the house, how was I possibly going to make it up the driveway.
As I got nearer to the cabin, I noticed that my neighbors were at their camp down the road. I figured I’d take care of the girls and then head over to say high. But as I neared the end of the road by my driveway, I was taken by the most magical sight I could behold at that moment: My driveway was plowed.
I cracked a huge grin and smiled the whole way up the driveway. I knew that my neighbor had come down and plowed with his tractor, and I was so happy I actually whooped with joy. The thought of having a clear driveway again after two months was too much to handle. I hugged the chickens and rubbed Pico’s belly until he got sick of it and ran down the driveway.
I took care of everything at the cabin and went down the road to say thanks to the neighbors. I gave him a hug and promised to drop off a few gallons of diesel fuel in payment. This one kind act changed my whole outlook on the last month or so of the winter. It seemed as if so many problems had been solved by this one incredibly kind gesture. My mood was lifted and my spirit sunny. The neighbor s told me they were happy to help, but that they wouldn’t be back for a few weeks.
All of those warm feelings stayed with me until I got back and checked the weather forecast. Twenty inches of snow predicted. It’s amazing how fast the wind got sucked out of my sails. Not that it’s all bad. I know that the snow is here for a limited time, but it was so nice driving into the cabin a couple of times. I can’t thank my neighbors enough for plowing, even if the openness only last for a few days.
I purchase the Osprey Talon 33 backpack two months ago. I have used it in a variety of conditions and am pleased by its performance.
I bought the pack to use on search and rescue missions for Search and Rescue of the Northern Adirondacks, however I used it on several hikes and cross-country ski trips before being called out on my first search. I use the NASAR pack contents as a guide for what I should carry. I added some more stuff than they recommend, but also eliminated a few things. I see no need to carry a tracking stick when I have no idea how to use it effectively, but a folding saw can come in handy when you’re in a thick alder swamp with only a couple of feet of visibility.
The pack had some extra room in it even with all the stuff I carry. I use a couple of water bottles instead of a bladder, so with a bladder there would be enough room in this pack for a summer overnight. While out skiing with the pack the first time, I was satisfied with the way the hip belt carries the load. I did not have to deal with the pack shifting a lot, even over several layers of clothes.
I found that the small mesh pockets on each shoulder strap are very convenient for holding an energy packet or something else small. I didn’t want to put a knife in there as the pockets are open at the top, but securely stored my multi-tool in the zippered pocket on the hip belt. It’s easy to get to and in no danger of falling out. I stash a compass in the other hip belt pocket, but they are large enough for a small digital camera as well.
My favorite design feature of the Talon 33 is the number of pockets, with very little on the outside of the pack to get hung up on brush. After two days searching through alder swamps, off-trail through old growth and across rock ledges, the pack never got hung up once on any brush or rocks. I was able to move through the brush easier because of the streamlined design of the pack.
However, there are actually nine pockets in addition to the main compartment and the beaver tail. Two water bottle pockets on either side, one on each shoulder strap and hip belt, two on top of the hood, and a zippered mesh pocket on the inside of the hood. Small things are very easy to access while still being secure.
I put my personal identification, keys, and phone in a baggie and put them in the zippered mesh pocket. I kept a notebook and maps in the top pocket, rain cover on the side, and crampons and gaiters in the beavertail. I had no issue with a lack of storage with this pack.
The downsides are few in my opinion. The shoulder straps are comfortable, light, and airy, but a little flimsy. I can’t help but look at the padding through the mesh and wonder when it will start to rip. The back also isn’t quite stiff enough. I always carry a small foam pad to sit on, and it helped stiffen up the back a little bit. The location of the water bladder is in the usual spot against your back, so using a bladder will probably cause the typical back bulge and make it less comfortable.
All in all, I am really happy with my purchase. It does what I need it do, and even a little more.
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.
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.
Growing up, I lived in only two houses. Both had fireplaces, so fall was always special to me. From eating roasted pumpkin seeds in front of the fire to cuddling under a blanket and watching a movie while the snow fell outside, we usually had a fire going if we were home for the night. I miss those days, but I have taken a big step towards making the cabin more like the home of my childhood.
Last week, my new (new to me) stove was delivered and installed. There’s a shiny new chimney poking up above the peak of the cabin, and gone is the huge black box that was my old woodstove. Of course, on the day the stove was delivered, it was close to seventy degrees out, so I could not get a fire going right away. That did not stop me from sitting and staring at the new stove with its nice glass doors, just beckoning me to get a fire going and sit there enjoying the flames for the first time in years.
After the delivery guys left and the stove was all set, I had to do something to get myself away from the stove. I won’t lie, I was giddy like a little school girl getting a new doll or videogame or whatever it is that giddy little girls get all giddy about nowadays.
I tore myself away and took Pico for a quick walk down the road. We don’t get a whole lot of traffic down here, so for about a mile down the road, we’re pretty much assured we won’t run into anyone. I take these opportunities to let Pico run around and smell whatever animal poop may be on the road. He loves it, and I love seeing how happy he is to add his scents to the markings of bear, bobcat, and fox.
But believe it or not, I had yet to see a fox out here. They’re not uncommon in this area, and it’s rarely more than a couple of weeks between sightings when I’m driving to or from work or town. As we crested the small rise in the road near my neighbor’s camp, Pico stopped suddenly. I looked up, and down the road about a hundred yards there stood a small red fox, more brown than red really.
He had seen us too, and as I sternly whispered “stay” to Pico, the fox stood his ground. He was turned broadside to us, and the deep rusty brown of his fur was shining in one of the few sunbeams poking through the trees. He and Pico stared at each other for a few seconds before Pico gave a quick wag of his tail.
The fox responded in kind, and slowly made his way across the rest of the road and into the fall woods. Pico looked up at me with his goofy grin and trotted off the pee on some small shrub on the roadside. I decided that we should turn around there, instead of getting too close to where the fox had been. I didn’t want Pico bothering him, and I didn’t want him bothering us either.
When we got back to the cabin, I realized that that was the first fox we had come across, and probably the first fox Pico had ever seen. I liked his reaction, and even though that very same fox could eventually end up with one of my chickens as his dinner, I was glad to have seen him just the same.
I impatiently waited another hour for the sun to go down, and got a small fire going in the new stove. I sat there and watched the flames licking the top of the stove, glad to be able to add to the ambiance of the cabin. If this place was lacking anything, it was lacking a fire you could see. The weather has still been too hot to have another fire, but now I’m in no rush. The stove is here, and long nights of sitting in front of the fire are something I can actually look forward to.
The fire is crackling, the dew is settling and the full moon is so bright that I can clearly see the two does quietly munching on fallen apples in the lower field. They don’t seem to mind that Pico and I are outside, and quite frankly, I’m happy that they don’t.
Fall is here. About half of the hardwoods around have either lost all their leaves or are changing color as we speak. I think it’ll be a poor year for fall colors. Too many trees have already changed, and there are still plenty that are solid green. The colors are changing too slowly for there to be any real “peak” this year.
The other very noticeable change is the amount of daylight we are having. It’s starting to get dark around seven-thirty at night, as oppose to the nine or nine-fifteen of a few months ago. It’s more tolerable now, with the solar panel powering a couple of nice LED lights. But still, winter is coming and it won’t be all that long.
I’ve got a good stockpile of wood, well over two full cords, but I will still have to buy some to get me through. A few face cords should cover me, and I’m hoping that once the new wood stove is installed, it will prove to be more efficient than the old on. Even if it’s not, it will still be an improvement.
The shed is two-thirds full, and once it is really stocked up, I will feel much better. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that no matter what, I will at least have enough wood to get me trough my third winter out here. Plus, I have some extra in the old shed, acting as a security blanket, as well as insulation.
I’ve started picking some apples too. They’re not all quite ripe yet, but those that are have for the most part been good. Some are sweet and meaty, while two other trees are producing big apples that have a pleasant tartness to them. It’s fun to taste and look for good apples, and to know that pretty soon I’ll be filling my weekends and evenings making apple sauce, butter, jelly, and cider.
Well, the peaceful serenity of a crackling fire and chirping crickets has come to an abrupt end. Pico noticed (finally!) the two deer only a few hundred feet away. He barked as he took off after them, like he always does. He stood absolutely no chance of coming anywhere near catching a deer, but it was valiant, though loud, effort. Luckily for him and them that he doesn’t need to hunt for food.
Every once in a while, I reach for the faucet to turn on the water. This usually happens when I’m brushing my teeth, but even though there’s a dish rag hanging on the spout and I haven’t had running water in almost two years, this old habit dies hard.
Summer, on the other hand, is dying a very easy and quick death. As I walked out into the front yard this morning, I noticed a small maple that was almost entirely red. The birches are beginning to turn yellow and even the big cherry tree in the yard was not so green anymore.
The days have been warm and the nights cool, feeling more like the heart of fall than the end of August. This is my favorite type of weather, but I’m not quite ready for it yet. I still want some summer.
Even though we had a late start to summer and what looks like an early end to it as well, I have gotten a lot done, and had a lot of fun. The wood shed is built and half full, I got the house shed cleaned up and organized, and the chickens are happy in their coop and run.
But really they might not be that happy. I put them out in the run every day so they can eat bugs and plants and stuff like that. Every morning I open the coop door and they all fly right in to the run, and in the evening they hop back up the ramp and into the coop to roost for the night.
Since they’re only out during the day, the run is not built as a completely predator-proof structure. It’s very safe with chicken wire and metal roofing, but the end that I let them in and out of is just a mix of some wire, a piece of wood and some old plastic insulation. Like I said, this is built to keep them, not keep predators out. Still, every day when I get home I look into the run on my way up the driveway just to make sure all the girls are still there.
We had a pretty nasty thunderstorm come through yesterday while I was at work. I thought of the chickens, but was not too worried about them. However, when I got home, I noticed the insulation flapping in the wind. I had tacked it shut like always, but the wind had blown it wide open. There were no chickens in the run.
Pico was barking and Ed was crying at the window, and it had been a long day for Pico and the cats. I had gotten a flat tire on the way home and so they had been cooped up for ten hours or so. But I knew that if I let them out, there’s no way I would be able to catch the missing chickens. That is, assuming the girls hadn’t been eaten yet.
Even though I had kind of self-vowed not to get too attached to the girls, I was worried about them. There are so many wild animals out here that could easily snatch up a chicken and trot off into the woods. Chances are all I would find would be a couple piles of feathers to tell where the girls had been eaten.
Then it dawned on me. All along, when I fed the chicks, I had always called out “Hey Ladies!” ala the Beastie Boys. I was hoping that Pavlov was right and the girls would associate my call with the presence of food. I called out and within a few seconds, Midget and Brownie came out of the tall grass and trotted right up to me. I smiled and grabbed them and tossed them in the coop. I called out again and both Blondie and Whitey came out as well. I had to chase Whitey as usual but I finally caught her and put her in the coop as well. Blondie jumped in on her own when I opened the door. I tossed in a handful of bird seed to keep them happy. After all, my distinct chicken call had worked well, so I guess I want to keep them coming to it.
I just got back from the neighbor’s house, where we had a couple of beers by the fire. Even though I tend to have a beer by the fire whenever it’s not raining, it is nice to share the fire with friends. Plus, how often do you get to drive a four-wheeler to your friend’s house? On top of the pleasant evening, it is actually starting to feel like summer. We’ve had almost three whole days without rain. I am really excited.
There’s been a lot going on out here at the cabin. I bought a new woodstove and am waiting for it to be delivered. The new woodshed will be up and doing its job within a week. The chickens are growing and the coop will be built and operational in two weeks. The peas in the garden are growing like crazy, and the few that I’ve eaten were sweet and crisp.
But on another note, the snakes may be getting a little comfortable in the yard. Now, granted, I don’t mind snakes and appreciate the services that they provide, but I had a bit of a run-in with a few, and they’re getting on my nerves just a touch.
Last week, we had a warm, sunny day for the first time in a while. I got the four-wheeler going and took a ride down the road. It’s about a mile to where the pavement starts, and I cruised up there and turned around. Not long after I turned around, I was startled by something on the handlebars. There was a decent-sized garter snake winding its way around the cables and controls down back into the body of the machine.
The snake wasn’t big, and before I could grab it, it slithered down the controls and under the plastic body. I glanced down in there to see if it was easily accessible and noticed a bunch of stuff that kind of looked like a nest. When I leaned over a little farther, I could clearly see two more little garters curled up in the nest, and the one from the handlebars making its way around.
I was startled, but took off for home and figured I’d dig them out when I got back. I pulled into the yard and my friend pointed out to me that there was a rather large snake head poking out from under the seat, right where her legs had been dangling on our ride. Now, I’m not afraid of garter snakes and routinely remove them from places where I don’t want them (like in the chicken cage). But this one seemed big enough that if it did bite me, it would hurt.
Unfortunately, it’s head was resting directly on the release that would allow me to remove the seat and therefore remove the snake. It seemed pretty docile, maybe a little woozy from the ride, but I grabbed a glove and pushed the snake’s head back out of the way and released the seat.
As I pulled the seat off, I was amazed at the size of this snake. It’s body was wound around itself quite a few times, and it’s girth was enormous. I followed the contour of its body all the across the width of the four-wheeler and realized that this snake had a head at either side of the seat. This was two snakes, both equally large, wide and, luckily, docile.
I grabbed each one and tossed them into the long grass at the edge of the driveway. They were hands down the largest garter snakes I have ever seen, and the fact that they were that close to my crotch made me uneasy. I decided to leave the four-wheeler parked in the shorter grass, and walked over to the rock pile where it had been parked. As I walked up and picked up the tarp, I saw seven different little snakes take off into the grass. Hopefully they find a nice place to nest. It just can’t be in my house, car, or four-wheeler.