Friday, May 9, 2014

Hard Work and Watching the Seasons Change, Winter to Spring

Although hard to believe, it is already May (and I'm still playing desperate catch-up on my blog, which isn't so hard to believe). Although the weather has been sunny and beautiful recently, as I write this post it is raining and has been for much of the day. Not that it's a problem; after all rain is the fuel that drives the much of the beauty here in the Pacific Northwest. The bright green maple leafs that have gone from non-existent to nearly fully formed leaves five inches across, the bracken ferns popping out of the ground everywhere you look and the fresh growth on the tips of the doug firs that cover most of the island are a testament to that fact. That, and the fact the original farm garden is not only totally full but has expanded to double the size, and even that is filling up fast! Spring is an exciting time to watch when surrounded in nature and growing plants and I'm still sometimes blown away at how wonderful my new home is.

In less than a week my friend Stefan is flying out to Seattle. Stefan is someone I met while in the Okavango Delta of Botswana, while I was riding my single speed bicycle across the country and he was on his trans-Africa drive in his VW Bus. Our time together in Africa was truly unforgettable, and if you haven't already seen it I highly recommend you check out my blog post from that period:  An Old Volkswagen, A New Country and a House Full of Kids Anyways, on the second day of our time together in Africa I told him he ought to come visit me in America and we would do The Great American Roadtrip, and do it in MY VW Bug. It was a bit of a joke at the time, but now it is becoming a reality and I can't wait!

So back to this post. It's so old it starts way back in December and goes through the end of March. Because I want to actually get caught up soon, I'll try to let the photos do most of the talking. Just looking back on these photos reminds me both how far I have come in a few months, but how far the farm and properties have developed as well. It's a very satisfying feeling and I hope I can share a little of that with you here.

A while back my mother had ran into one of my middle school teachers in the grocery store and found out they were currently studding Africa. Given that I'd recently returned from my journey across the continent myself she asked if I'd give a presentation to the students. Naturally I said “Yes” and ended up giving a talk to most of the 7th and 8th graders in the school. I had a lot of fun doing it, and because the students and teachers alike were so interested, they actually cut the next class period so I could talk longer!

I grew up cross country skiing and racing with my family but because of my trip I had been gone so long I'd missed two winters! Having spent much of my life skiing two and three days a week this was obviously a situation that needed to be corrected, so on Christmas morning my dad and I drove up to Snoqualmie Pass , hiked up a logging road carrying our skies and found some good snow up on the top of the ridge. It was fantastic.

Great conditions up top.

Christmas day continued, which meant going to my aunt Kathrine and uncle Steve's place for the family dinner, then onto the Blue Moon Tavern that night to meet up with friends. This is an annual event where we do a 'white elephant' give exchange and have a wonderful time.

I returned to Shaw in the late evening, and got to watch the sunset behind the island from the ferry boat.

As I write this my cabin is fully built and moved into, but back then it was just an empty, raw wood box. Time to get to work!

The annual New Years Auction is one of the islands biggest social events, with all the money going to support the library.

A little New Years Day archery.

After finishing all the painting and installing the flooring, the cabin was ready to start moving into. I didn't have a final design for the whole thing, instead I decided to just try out and live with different elements slowly, then sort of let it happen naturally. After living in a tent for over six months (which wasn't bad actually), I finally had a nice place to call home.

Dinner on Orcas island with our friends Kelty and Sophie, more of the old Seattle crew who live up here in the San Juans now.

My place from the outside, with an unmistakable 'someone lives here' glow. At the moment the outside is only tar-paper with batons over it, but once the saw mill is up here we will make fir siding from trees on the property, which will look fantastic.

Squaw Bay, Shaw Island.

Nick and Ellen's place has a lot of firs around the house and one in particular had long branches reaching out far over the house. As I was up there pruning the tree, I took a few pictures looking down and thought they offer a pretty cool perspective on the property.

Cutting firewood. A few of us spent a few days just cutting and hauling firewood from a friends property. It was a ton of work but it's the kind of work I enjoy, plus it will keep us warm all winter in our wood stoves.

This is another of the firs around the house at Copper and it was covered in ivy. It had ivy up to three inches in diameter, which started at the base of the tree and reached around 60 feet to the top. It took me three days to remove it all, at times using a crowbar, but anyways, I made a super dangerous but fun rope swing in the tree!

The pond at Copper was so overgrown you could barely see it when I got up to Shaw. Slowly but surely, we have been clearing trees and exposing it, so it can be repaired, used and enjoyed again.

Dinner with friends.

A burn pile from the pond clearing project makes for a great late night campfire.

One of our friends on Orcas lives on a 400 acre (if I remember correctly) property and we came over to get the tour. One of it's many features is a cool old saw mill.

It also has a blacksmith!

And it was also muddy. We spent most of the day walking around in the rain seeing the huge property and loved it.

Back at my place.

One of the many rotten, overgrown buildings on the Copper property, haha. This was the farm house next to the old orchard, it was time to do some brush clearing so we could see the entire building and make an assessment of it's condition.

It was at this time Jon brought up a boat he'd just bought for $800 on craigslist, a little Rinel that has been great to have.

Taking a walk at the Cedar Rock Preserve on the south side of the island, it has some truly beautiful little beaches to explore and because it's Shaw, there is no one else around.

A marina on another island had a few dinghy’s they were giving away, so in Toad (one of Jon’s boats), Nick and I set out on a picture perfect day at about 4 knots to check them out.

Checking out some little marine life.

And towing home two free dinghys.

Washing pots so as not to risk contaminating the new seasons starts.

Hanging out at a friends place.

Oh yah, I'd forgotten about this. Jon went to get compost on the mainland, then the truck broke down with a full load in the back. I went over and towed the thing through the backstreets of Anacortes in the F-350 while he steered the dump truck up the hill to the shop.

The Mighty Hiyu! So the normal, and MUCH larger inter-island ferry boat broke down and they pulled out the Hiyu to take it's place until repairs were made. The small size was a challenge at times but it was great to see the little boat scooting around the islands and it was a ton of fun to ride, it felt so much different than the other boats of the fleet.

With Jon at the wheel, Jenn, Nick, Ellen and I headed to the mainland for a little farm field trip to an agricultural summit.

We all took a variety of classes at the event and while some were better than others, we learned a lot and had a good time.

Here we are taking measurements for the planned garden expansion. One of the many projects I'm happy to report has gone very well.

What can I say? I like picking up creatures. A little nature right down at the Shaw ferry dock.

One of my big winter projects was widening the road into the property so it was easier for cars and trucks to make it in; here Nick is standing in a cedar I just dropped to the ground.

I'll never get tired of the scenery up here.

Taking Jon’s boat out for a spin, and yes I cut my beard like that to intentionally look sketchy! Though I cut it shortly after...

Returning home in the sunset.

I can't even begin to explain how good this burger was. We may be cooking in a trailer, but we eat like kings!

This was certainly an exciting day on the farm, with the help from our friend Lincoln, there was finally a tractor on the farm. It's a 1960s Case Construction King 530, and while it looks a big rough and has a few leaks, is a pretty awesome piece of equipment to have.

Walking through one of the UW land preserves on the island that makes up much of the center of Ben Nevis Loop road.

Watching the Seahawks crush Denver in the Superbowl at our neighbor Shaun’s place.

Nick, Jon and I taking compost into the garlic area.

The tractor has a full sized and easily removable backhoe, so we spent a little time learning how to use it. Let me tell you, it's a lot of fun!

The inter-island ferry boats have puzzles at some of the tables to pass the time on the ride.

Hit by another cold snap in the beginning of February, it's been a cold winter. For the second time it got cold enough (a series of days in the teens and twenty’s) for the pond to freeze enough to ice skate on. Polly tested the ice before we got on though and seemed to have a lot of fun playing on it.

More tractor play.

Still below freezing outside, Polly came to my place to warm up.

Another big fire next to the pond, which also involved sliding around on the ice under the stars.  

By the beginning of February it was also time to start plants for the spring, so Ellen and Nicks entry way was turned into a greenhouse of sorts.

Jon diving headfirst into the dump truck to fix something.

I'd been slowly working on my place, and I finally got the folding bed designed and built, which was a huge improvement over having a mattress on the floor I had to move every morning just to walk around.

Back at the old farm house for more clearing. This days task was to remove the maple growing over the house and shading out the new fruit orchard.

New life in the hoop house, spring is right around the corner.  

Working with the tractor again and loving it. Jon moved these rocks and I rolled them down the hill to place as landscape stones on the path to my place.

On a visit to Friday Harbor I was the last car to fit on the ferry, had I missed it I would have had to wait nearly 5 hours! This was back when the little Hiyu was running, so space was tight. Haha, every time I see my car I smile.

More progress on the cabin, this time installing wrap-around shelving so I actually had some storage space inside and was another tremendous improvement.

After storm warnings across the islands we hurriedly moved cars and trucks into the middle of the field and spent some of the night listening to branches and trees breaking, hoping for the best. Luckily we had no damage on either property, but a large pine was blown over at the Sisters of Mercy, one of the two groups of nuns on the island. Had the tree been another five feet taller it would have touched the house, but there was no damage luckily and I had the tree cut and cleaned up in half a day.

At this point I had not been back on the mainland in nearly two months but I suddenly had a reason to return. Jon was going to bring Scheherazade the 34' sailboat he used to live on back in Seattle from the city all the way to Blind Bay up here on Shaw, a two day mission. It sounded like a trip I didn't want to miss. That night as I was packing my bags and looking forward to a leisurely motor/sail up Puget Sound it began to snow and I knew the boat journey was probably going to turn into an adventure... and it sure did.

Well, that's it for now. Stick around though because the next post will be a good one, covering the sailboat journey back to Shaw as well as a few other crazy boat adventures, the garden expansion, major work on my cabin, the true start of spring and so much more!

Thanks for reading!