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 was recently interviewed by the Buffalo News for an article on the challenges that two escaped killers face in the woods of the Adirondacks. The article gives great insight into their mental states, and helps explain why they have been able to be elusive for so long. You can read the full article here:
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!
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.
My off-grid, simple living, homesteading lifestyle can sometimes lead me and my thoughts down very different roads than most people. For instance, if you had asked me five years ago, heck, if you had asked me five months ago what would be occupying my thoughts this winter, chicken diapers would not have entered my mind. But here I am, wondering if and where I can get myself some chicken diapers.
Now, I don’t just go around thinking about chicken diapers. I actually have a very good reason for shopping around for just such a thing. It turns out that one of my chickens is in actuality a rooster. Poor old Midget, who is no longer so little, started crowing the other day.
I had noticed some odd behavior a few days ago, but thought that maybe she was just being a jerk to Whitey. I was watching the chickens in their run through the window, and saw Midget jump right on Whitey’s back. Whitey is the one laying eggs, and maybe Midget was just a little jealous. Nope, (s)he was horny.
And much like adolescent males of our own species, Midget’s mounting fiasco was awkward and over quickly. I didn’t really put a lot of thought into it until the next morning. I had let the girls out and was back inside when I heard an odd sound. It happened again quickly, and I easily placed the noise as that of a rooster crowing. I ran to the window to see Midget all puffed up and strutting around. Then he crowed again.
It was not the regal, wake-me-up-for-chores crowing, but unmistakable nonetheless. It sounded like he was going through puberty, with his voice cracking and the crowing kind of unfinished. Instead of cock-a-doodle-do, it was more like cork-a-do. But he was persistent and actually made some progress by the end of the day.
I’m not going to lie, I like Midget. He follows me around the yard when he’s out and has never run when I’ve gone to pick him up. But I don’t want a bunch of little chicks running around either. There’s no way they’d survive during the winter anyway, and I definitely don’t want a bunch of little chicks stuck in a box in my cabin.
And this is what brings me to the diapers. I’m wondering if there is a contraption that will help Midget keep it in his pants, but if not, I’m only left with a few options. Eat him, give him away, or keep him. I could keep him alive this winter, but it will be tough. Without the other chickens to cuddle up to to keep warm, I’ll have to take some extra steps to prevent him from freezing. But I would like to have some more chicks in the spring.
Keeping Midget is the option I’m leaning towards right now, but if I can’t find some chicken diapers, I may end up with big pot of Midget soup.
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.
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.
I have a love-hate relationships with the morning. I am a morning person, and like getting up early and maybe even accomplishing a few things before work. On the other hand, I hate getting up. I like lying in bed with the animals and listening to the birds chirp. I like flipping the pillow over to get the cool side one more time before I roll out of bed.
During the winter, it’s easy for me to get a good night’s sleep. The sun goes down before dinner, so by six or so in the evening, I’m ready for bed. I struggle to stay awake, and light every candle and lantern in the cabin to keep myself up so I don’t end up sleeping twelve hours every day. But now it’s tough to go to bed. The sky is light until after nine and the sun is up so early that I’m usually awake before my alarm goes off.
Sometimes getting up early has its benefits. Last week my days off were actually pretty nice. Cool, but at least not rainy. All of the piles of stuff in the yard that I can ignore all winter because they’re covered in snow were in full view, mocking my laziness in cleaning them up. I don’t really need three huge piles of wood in the yard. The bag of returnable bottles from two years ago should probably have been disposed of a long time ago. And the fifteen or so shingles that were left on the porch roof before I rebuilt it actually had grass starting to grow up through them. It was time for my spring cleaning.
I spend most of the winter inside the cabin. Of course I go skiing and snow shoeing and have a social life, but I don’t hang out outside at my cabin all that much. It’s cold and there’s snow everywhere, so being out in the yard is not that much fun. But this week, I made the outside a little more usable doing what normal people call yard work.
That bag of returnable bottles? Re-bagged and donated to charity. The shingles? Bagged and tossed in a proper disposal bin. I could have dragged them up to one of the old dumps, but adding new stuff to the old dumps seems wrong. And as for the three big piles of wood, I cleaned up one of them. The other two are ok, but the one junk wood pile has been bugging me, and now it’s gone. That makes me happy.
I have a huge stack of wood for outside fires in front of my cabin. I have been looking at the same pieces of wood and blue tarps for two years, but the pile is stacked neatly, and it’s too big to move so, I have no choice but to be content with it where it is. The other pile of good firewood for next winter is now sitting in the middle of a large weed-whacked area. It seems out of place, but I’ll soon be building the new wood shed and this stack will be moved under a roof soon enough. But the third pile was the ugly, unwanted bastard of my wood piles.
Rotting stumps, huge pieces of old driftwood, and even some forty year old plywood made up the third pile. There’s still nails in the plywood and after sitting directly on the ground for the last couple years, the wood in this pile was not so choice. I have an outside fire almost every night. It’s a pleasant way to kill a few hours before bed, and also use some of the junk wood and clean it up a little bit. After weed eating around the fire pits last week, I made a concerted effort to get rid of the bonfire pile. Not by having a bonfire, but by cleaning it up.
There’s an old hitching post in the yard that had some old logs stacked in it. I don’t know when the logs were placed there, but when I went to move them I found that they were more soil than wood. I shoveled them out and wheeled it all into the woods. Then I took a couple of old two-by-tens that I had laying around and attached them to the bottom of the hitching post to make a proper wood rack. I pulled the plywood off the bonfire pile and started stacking the wood in the new rack. I was left with three wheelbarrow loads of wood that was too rotten to burn, so back to the woods it went.
I threw an old chain on my chainsaw and ripped the plywood into burnable-sized pieces. I then found an old sheet of tin roofing that was so bent and mangled that it would never sit flat again. I screwed this to the top of the hitching post and stepped back to admire the new wood rack. There’s a big ugly brown circle in the yard where the wood was, but that will be grown over in a year or two.
As I stood there approving of the job I had done, I realized that I had spent the entire morning moving a little firewood about twenty feet. It seemed like a waste of time until the next night. It rained all the next day but cleared up that night. Instead of digging around for dry wood under the rotten and rusty-nail laden plywood, I casually walked up to the new rack and got a few pieces of dry wood for the fire. The irony is that now that the rack is built and the wood neatly stacked, I don’t want to burn the wood anymore. It just looks too nice where it is.