We knew that chickens would eat mice, but had no idea that the ducks would. The ducks were walking across the yard and Cactus took off quickly and caught this little guy and killed it. I stopped watching after that.
We got some heavy, wet snow last night and with the leaves still on the trees, it’s caused quite a mess. We lost three of our five apple trees that are producing, including hundreds of apples that hadn’t ripened yet, and about 30 other smaller trees plus a bunch of branches. Didn’t lost power, and no real damage to anything.
The ducks, though, are unfazed.
The chickens are happily pecking away in their new coop and run, and I do feel better having them in a fully insulated coop, now that the night temperatures are getting into the single digits. They’re all huddled on the perch, snuggling to stay warm. At least now I can flip a switch and they have heat. Last winter it was warming a piece of granite on top of the woodstove and then running it out there to try and keep them warm. I like that they won’t be in my living room this year. At all.
But the weather has limited the outdoor activities. I don’t mind warm rain or cold snow, but cold rain is annoying. I don’t want to go hiking and there’s no snow for skiing, and with such a little piece of property, even mine and Pico’s walks have to be on the road. It’s not too bad, but he is still getting used to the leash again, and I miss being able to just let him run around unattended.
One benefit of this type of weather though is that I don’t feel too bad doing indoor projects. A couple months ago I made a new cutting board for us and read that it could be sealed with beeswax. I had a huge block of wax around, and so I spent the evening melting wax, rubbing it on the board, and then heating the whole thing in the oven over and over to make a nice sealant for the cutting board.
I used the board the next day, and most of the wax came off when I washed it. Seemed like a good idea, but in reality, it just didn’t pan out. I got some mineral oil and treated the board, and it’s now nice and waterproof. But I still have a huge block of beeswax just hanging around.
So I had to figure out what I was going to do with the wax. I didn’t want to make candles, as I used to make them all the time out at the cabin. I would make them all the time by melting down the little stubs of the candles I burned for light. So as I was sitting on the couch one day, my stepson asked if we had any lip balm. His lips were chapped and he wanted some relief.
I ordered empty lip balm tubes and picked up some peppermint essential oil and coconut oil in town, and waited patiently for the tubes to arrive. And as soon as they did, I thought I’d have my answer of what to do with all that beeswax. Making the lip balm should have been really simple. Melt the oils and wax together, pour it into the tubes, and let them cool.
I would have done the whole melting process on my woodstove, but hey, now I have a microwave! We gathered all the materials, and he was pretty excited. After making him wash his hands a couple of times (who knows what a nine-year-old is doing when out of sight) we got into it. After thirty seconds in the microwave, the beeswax was barely melted, but that was apparently enough for the microwave. It was dead. It was also bad timing, since I had promised this kid his very own lip balm.
We moved to the range top and managed to melt enough to make a few tubes of the lip balm. It’s got a menthol-coconut taste that all three of us love, and it actually works really well. Plus, since it’s in tubes, he doesn’t have to stick his nasty fingers into the stuff to put it on.
I love having the convenience of modern appliances, and the fact that whole process didn’t require a headlamp was a really nice touch. But I was reminded of the fraility of those electronics. Sure, it would have been slower to do this on the woodstove, but at least the woodstove wouldn’t have died in the middle of it.
Hot showers. Man, I could literally write an entire column about how much I love hot showers. It is such a pleasure to take a shower each morning. I used to get up and throw wood in the stove and then stand there and let the heat wash over me for a while before I got my day going, but now I can let the heat of a hot shower actually wash over me. It’s one of the main reasons I get out of bed every day. Well, that and work and animals to take care of and my soon-to-be wife and stepson. But really, the shower is the best part of my morning.
It’s nice to be back after the summer hiatus. Audrey didn’t want to move into my cabin, and I can’t say I blame her. And her apartment was only a little larger than my cabin, and just as drafty. So we looked for a house to rent starting in the spring, and found one rather quickly. The rental housing market up here is cut-throat, and we were lucky to get into a house that we could afford with floors that weren’t too uneven and decent windows and insulation. Three weeks after we moved in the house was sold, and we were on the hunt again.
It took us most of the summer to find another house to rent. We found one and have now settled in. Well, physically anyway. I am still in awe of the wonders of modern living. Light switches and hot water and indoor pooping are all wonderful things. Unfortunately, the light switches are in odd places so I’m still sporting the headlamp every single day.
And despite the changes, Pico is still lying on the couch next to me and Midget is crowing in the yard. We’re working on a new coop for the flock, which has grown and changed some. We have four new girls, but Blondie was causing trouble, so I took her to a friend’s. We lost one hen a few months ago to a fox in the yard, but other than that the girls are doing good. We get far more eggs than we can eat, and two of the new hens haven’t even started laying yet. We’re going to be giving away a lot of eggs.
As I get used to modern amenities and family life, I still think about the cabin a lot. It was harder to move out of that place than any other house I’ve lived in. Hell, most of my apartments I couldn’t wait to get out of. But that cabin was more than just a house, it was home. It was a part of my everyday life. And that’s the biggest difference I’ve found. I don’t care about my house now so much. But the loss of the cabin has been replaced by my new family, and it’s definitely been a worth-while trade.
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.
Experience the excitement of living off the grid, while enjoying the beautiful sights and sounds of Mother Nature right outside your door!
I’m looking for a roommate who isn’t afraid of roughing it and having some adventure! You will get back to nature by having to venture outside to use the bathroom, regardless of the temperature. Oh, and forgetting the warm toilet seat hanging over the stove when you go to the outhouse in the middle of winter should be the definition of adventure in the dictionary! You will make faces and sounds you never knew were possible, but don’t worry, there won’t be anyone to see or hear you except the birds! (I won’t be able to hear you because the outhouse is quite a walk from the cabin. Privacy at its best right there!)
You’ll also become a lean, mean, healthy machine! The quarter-mile walk from where you can park up to the cabin will ensure that you’re getting plenty of cardio! It’s like a double bonus when you forget something small in the car and have to go back for it too! You can walk almost a whole mile before you get to the cabin if you manage to just leave one important thing in your car! Not only that, but you’ll be expected to carry a forty pound jug of water up the long, snowy hill to the cabin at least a couple of times per week, so your arms will be big around as tree trunks!
And speaking of tree trunks, you can really commune with nature by helping to cut down trees for our firewood! Hippies rejoice! You will literally be hugging trees every single day of the year! You’ll help carrying the logs down to the cabin, get to gently caress them as you set them up for me to split with a huge metal maul, and then get to stack them in the most efficient and fast way possible. You can then round out the beautiful circle of life when you bring the firewood in to burn in the woodstove! Give your woodland buddies a little smooch before confining them to a slow, smoky, and brutal death!
And that’s only the beginning of the benefits! Buy some books and get a library card because you will be the braniac your mom always knew you could be! With no TV, movies, or internet, your brain will get to be as sharp as the chain on the chainsaw. You can read about taking care of chickens or which type of lettuce will grow best in the garden or try to identify which type of snake just slithered in through the unscreened and open front door and other exciting things! Gone will be the days of lying around on the couch rotting your brain on the boob tube. You’ll be so starved for amusement that you won’t even be able to blink when there is a TV on near you due to the complete lack of visual stimulus that a completely unbroken white landscape provides.
As mentioned above, you’ll have complete and total privacy in the outhouse. But living in the middle of the woods at the very end of a dead end road with a quarter mile of trees and hills separating you from the closest motor vehicle also provides a ton of solitude! It’s so liberating being able to walk around naked inside the cabin with no fear of anyone just walking by and seeing your birthday suit! Of course, since we’ll be roommates, we may have to figure out a birthday suit schedule. The hours allotted to nakedness will depend on your facial hair and gender.
I’ll expect you to also do half of the household chores. These won’t occupy more than fifteen or twenty hours a week, and really aren’t so bad. You’ll have to help with the dishes, and as we have to carry water in to wash dishes, you will be tasked with making sure that you have enough water to actually wash the dishes. Allowing my dog to simply lick the plates clean can only be done at my discretion. Oh, and there is no indoor plumbing at all, so when washing the dishes, you will have to keep an eye on the bucket under the sink that catches all the water and waste from brushing our teeth and dishes and cooking. When the bucket is full, just take it out and dump it on the compost pile, not so bad, right?! But since you’re at the compost pile, go ahead and spend five or ten minutes stirring it.
There’s also carrying in firewood every single morning and night, and even sometimes in the middle of the night. It’s a rare treat to see how clear the skies and how bright the stars are on a crystal clear, moonless winter night! You’ll forget all about the bone crushing temperatures that would kill you in less than a half hour if you were to fall on the ice and knock yourself out! Plus, you’ll get to know the cute girl at the hardware store because you’ll be there every week getting batteries for your headlamp. In fact, you can probably get to know her well enough to ask her out! Of course, convincing a member of the opposite sex to travel two miles down a dirt road to walk a quarter mile into the woods with you might be a tough sell. But hey, weirder things have happened!
I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not all glory and sunshine and fun little jaunts to the outhouse. There are a few downsides, too. The cabin only has single-pane windows and no insulation. But, this just means that you’ll get to snuggle up tight in your favorite sleeping bag with a rating of twenty below zero! There is also no way for any sort of professional or volunteer help to get here. That means that the cops, volunteer fire department, or ambulance will be around to help if you cut your leg with chainsaw or fall off the roof cleaning the chimney or break your ankle walking to the woodshed. But you will become far more self-sufficient and your tolerance for pain will get to be much better! Now that I think about it, it is all glory and sunshine! Give me a call to schedule a meeting, I pinky swear I’m not a serial killer.
Rent is very cheap for females lacking facial hair and males with lots of facial hair. The rent goes up depending on the combination of those two factors.
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.
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.
I can freely admit that I am not an expert in basically anything, but let me give you some advice: Don’t share your four-hundred square foot anything with a dog, a cat, three hens, and a rooster. Now, nothing against the chickens, but they are noisy. And stinky. And no matter what, the rooster will crow whenever he feels like it, regardless of your sleep schedule.
With temperatures predicted to be about thirty below zero without the wind chill, I decided that the time had come to let the chickens have a nice warm night inside. Now, keep in mind that the chickens had not ever been inside my cabin. Nor had Pico ever been separated from them by nothing more than a blanket. Needless to say, I did not get much sleep last night.
For instance, did you know that roosters crow all the time, not just in the morning? I did, but I did not realize how often Midget would crow. I did not realize that every time he crowed, Pico would answer with a round of barking. I also did not realize the scope or variety of odd, obnoxious, and just plain weird sounds that the chickens would make when they spend the night just a few feet from my bed.
It has been an absurdly cold winter, and even though the chickens had made it this far with nothing more than a little frostbite, thirty below turned out to be the line I drew in the sand. I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon trying to decide the best way to house them inside my cabin. Not having a dog cage or anything of the sort, I had to improvise.
I grabbed the large black sled I use for hauling firewood and brought it inside. I commandeered an old blanket and draped it from the sink down to the sled to create a chicken tent inside my cabin. Then I spent the better part of half an hour rounding up and corralling the chickens so I could catch them. Midget and Brownie were easy, and even though Blondie tried to hide, she was still relatively easy to get a hold of. Whitey, on the other hand, is sketchy. I mean seriously sketchy. She reminds me of one of those movie characters who thinks the government is on to them, and goes to extreme lengths to avoid being caught. Except in this case, I actually was trying to catch her.
I managed to get my numb hands on her after quite a while of trying. She was not happy about it, but when I deposited her in the chicken tent she seemed to settle down. There was food and an unfrozen bowl of water in the sled, along with her compatriots. Midget however, was not so fond of the tent. I could hear him clucking and occasionally crowing. I could also see a small part of the blanket moving when he walked around inside.
Now, this tent was not set up to be a perfect place for them to live. But it was a necessity, and managed to keep Pico and Herbie out, while somehow managing to keep the chickens in. For a while.
This morning, I decided that I should put them outside, but not until the sun came up. Unfortunately, even after the sun came up, it was still well below zero outside, like twenty below zero. I had to run to town, and decided that Pico should come with me. He’s not a killer per se, but I have no doubt that he would have found his way into the chicken tent and caused havoc. Best case scenario if I left him home: Chicken crap everywhere in my house. It was not a risk I was willing to take.
So off we went, while the chickens camped out in the balmy interior of my cabin. When we got home, I was torn on whether to put them outside. It was sunny and deceivingly nice looking outside, but the temperature never really got above zero. With Midget and Whitey showing frostbite on their combs, I decided that I would not subject them to the move from seventy degrees to ten below zero. But that was before Blondie and Midget found an escape route.
I was sitting at the table chatting with my girlfriend when we heard some commotion and looked up only to see Blondie strutting around the carpet at the front door. Midget popped out as I was watching, and Whitey was trying very hard to follow suit. I shoved Whitey back into the tent and grabbed Midget and Blondie and put them back too. The sounds that followed convinced me that they would benefit from some fresh air and freedom. I may have also figured that I would benefit from them getting some fresh air. I again grabbed Midget and Blondie and transferred them outside. After an hour or so, I figured that I may as well put Brownie and Whitey out too.
Now, I wasn’t trying to torture them or cause harm, but the outside space seemed to do them some good. They got a few hours out in the sun, and I managed to round them up with less effort than yesterday. Now they’re back in the tent, making crazy sounds and stinking the place up. Luckily, the weather should be getting warmer in a day or two, because honestly, they are not good roommates. I’m not sure how this reflects on me, but they are also not the worst roommates I’ve ever had either. I guess I’d rather listen to a rooster crow at five in the morning than listen to some guy scream at a video game at four in the morning. You know what, this doesn’t reflect on me at all. At least this time I’m in control of when the obnoxious roommates move out.
Well, the low temperature last night was still above zero for the first time in a week. It’s not much, but it’s something to look forward to. And then tomorrow they’re saying that the highs will be above freezing. It has been a wild winter so far, weather-wise.
While the rest of the nation was experiencing record cold last week, we were watching the snow melt and the ruts in the driveway disappear. Then we had bone chilling cold with nasty wind. So much so that if I didn’t check the chicken coop every hour or so for eggs, the eggs I did find would be frozen and cracked.
One nice development out here at the cabin is that Brownie the chicken has started laying eggs too. Nice light brown ones that make the egg carton look so pleasant. With Whitey and Brownie laying now pretty much every day, I’m getting more eggs than I can eat. At least when I find them unfrozen.
But back to the weather. It was so windy the other night that I actually had to prop one of the chairs up against the door to keep it from blowing open. The corner of the old woodshed roof lifted and had to be repaired (the people who built it only used about twenty screws for the eight sheets of metal, so no wonder it pulled away from the shed). I’ll have to keep an eye on it the next time it gets windy like that.
The one upside of the wind is that I had several trees come down. I could hear the popping and crunching of branches falling all night a few nights ago, and when I took Pico for a walk to check on the upper cabin, I found about a half dozen green ash trees down.
This was a huge bonus for several reasons. First, they fell right across the road to upper camp, making them very easy to get to. I can use the sled to bring firewood back or let it sit until spring and use the four-wheeler. Either way, it’s a bunch of wood that I don’t have to work too hard for. For once.
Second, and more importantly, with the ridiculous cold we’ve had, I am burning through wood faster than ever. And it’s not the stove. The new stove is far more efficient. I get about eight hours of burn time with three big logs in there when I put it on the most efficient mode. The old stove would have needed six or seven logs jammed into it to last that long. But, it’s just been so cold that I can’t have the stove shut down all the way for the most efficient burn. I need some air getting in there so that the temperature in the house stays comfortable.
With the wood shed about halfway empty, and three solid months of non-stop burning left in the winter, I’ll be dipping into next year’s firewood before the winter is out. It’s a good thing I started working on that in the fall. I already have about three cords tarped and split, so when the shed gets empty, I have a little safety net. It’ll just mean more work and more money next winter, but I can’t stop burning wood and just turn on the furnace.
I have to admit, I kind of miss the days when the heat was just on. It didn’t require any work or effort, just had to set the temperature and go about your day. And sure, the wood stove keeps it steadily comfortable in here, but at what expense? Year-round work trying to find and cut and haul and split and stack and carry and burn wood. It’s a ton of work, and then add to it the unpredictable length of winter and it becomes a lot of stress too. Luckily for me, one of my favorite ways to relieve stress is to cut trees up with my chainsaw.