Saturday, May 31, 2014

Spring Is Here and New Life Surrounds Us

Welcome to the latest installment of my blog, as I type this I am laying in a tent, at the base of Mt Rainier and have just completed the first day of the road trip around the American west with Stefan. Things are going wonderfully so watch for that post in the upcoming weeks, but in the meantime I need to look back in time to February! Just as I said in my previous post, it's amazing to look back at these photos and see how much we have all accomplished since then and we've had a hell of a good time doing it. Sit back, relax and let me take you on another tour of life on the island.

So Jon wanted to bring his sailboat up to Shaw from Seattle, and it was an adventure I wasn't about to miss. It began to snow the night before and much to my surprise there was nearly five inches in places when I woke up. Although it didn't hinder us at all, it was a bit of a sign of troubles to come.

I had a lot of my possessions in storage at my parents house that I was going to bring to Shaw via the sailboat, so while I did that the other guys, Jon, Nick and Jay, dealt with the boat. Many disasters followed, such as it not starting, it dying in the Ballard Locks, and having to tow it at points with the 2hp dinghy, but eventually they got it to Shilshole Marina, out on Puget Sound and I met them to hear the story, then sleep on the boat for an early start the next morning.

Having a long day ahead of us, we woke well before sunrise and set off. The weather was bad. Rain, wind, waves and all still in near total darkness. Undeterred, we put on our foul weather gear and set off under motor power. Our next disaster came in the form of looking back and realizing the dinghy we were towing had broken loose and we had no idea where it was. We doubled back and somehow spotted it, recovered it and reattached it, then the next problem came when the motor was continually dying. We eventually tracked this problem down to an oil leak at a sensor, and after an emergency stop to buy an entire case of motor oil, figured out how to make it work. We ended up having to set an alarm, and ever hour we had to add a quart of oil, as it was leaking out into the pan below at a pretty steady rate. Once we figured that out we only had a handful of other major disasters before coming up with a system, and once that was in place it was smooth motoring north.

At the helm. Weather was bad the entire time, and we headed north into the night, eventually navigating into a harbor for the night totally by instruments, followed by a much needed and delicious dinner.

Having figured out the engine problem the day before, the second day of the journey went wonderfully and the weather couldn't have been better. We did some motoring, some sailing, and managed to pass through Deception Pass perfectly, before refueling in Anacortes, crossing the Straight and finally arriving in Blind Bay, at home on Shaw. It was a two day journey, but to all of us it felt like a week. That said, it was a great little journey and I'm certainly glad to have come!

It's been an extremely wet winter out in the islands. Many of our fields seem to have turned to marshes, there is water flowing everywhere, and a large portion of the garlic had become standing water, necessitating some emergency drainage ditch work using a near by stick!

I'd been slowly building the shelving in my place, and once it was all finished, I went out in the rain to collect cedar branches from a tree I cut down while widening the road to use as trim on the edges of the shelves. This is my 'nature shelf,' a few of the natural items I've collected on the island, around the state and beyond.

Picking up lumber on Orcas. Yah, I use my Bug like it's a pickup truck...

Surprise birthday cake for Justin.

Jenn and Ellen planting seeds in the garden. This is a really exciting time, a signal spring is right around the corner and everything is about to explode with new life again! Also, just as the two previous photos, lots of smiles around the island.

Early spring flowers over at Copper.

The starts in the hoop house are looking great!

I tend to stay to myself a lot on the property, so partially as a way to introduce myself to fellow islanders I put on a presentation of my trip across Africa at the Shaw Island community center. A few of my friends from Orcas showed up, and around 25 or 30 Shaw residents were in attendance as well. I'm not very experienced talking in front of people, so I was nervous about doing it as I'd never given a presentation like that before other than a very casual one at my old middle school, but everything went great and people really enjoyed it. Months later, I still get comments on the island about it and how much people enjoyed it and were impressed by what I did, so I suppose it worked.

A little bit of fun on Jons boat. Here Nick was laying on the bow to try and improve the balance and see if we could pick up a bit more speed. (it didn't really work)

This is all just groundwater flowing out of a small part of the meadow. My drainage in the garlic was working well, but there was standing and flowing water everywhere. It's the first winter anyone has actually lived on the property, so it was a great learning experience and will be an excellent guide on where we need to dig drainage ditches to improve things in the future.

Over at Copper, Nick and Ellen ordered 8 fruit trees and I helped plant them in what was the old orchard on the property. It will be a lot of fun watching these trees grow and produce fruit, probably for the rest of our lives.

Talk about beautiful. So this was a big moment for me... taking the early boat from Shaw to Orcas. The reason this was a big moment was because....

...After three years of 'early retirement' and a life of travel, I finally got a job again!

Back in Seattle, before I became a full-time traveler, I did arborist work; climbing and pruning or removing trees. I sort of always thought it was a temporary gig (even though I did it in Seattle for 3 years), something I started doing back when I was taking a year off of college, but the truth is its work I enjoy and there are a lot of opportunities for employment in the field here in the northwest. I finally decided I needed some money (and some responsibilities again), so I researched companies based in the islands and found one that I thought would fit. It was with a man named Austen Ater and his company Eventide Arbor Care. I have very high standards when it comes to who I work for and they must line up with my own personal ethic of responsibility and professionalism. After emailing Austen totally of of the blue and chatting with him for half an hour or so, we both decided to give it a try. My first day wasn't climbing or pruning, it was actually stump grinding, but from the beginning it was clear we could work very well together and that makes all the difference in the world.

Since that first day I've worked part time with Austen and Eventide, and I can't imagine a better fit. Hes a great guy, has an excellent clientele, and there is a good diversity of work. I love getting back up in trees again and imagine I'll stick with him for a good while to come.

Back at Ben Nevis Farm, Jon was using the backhoe to break up the meadow for the garden expansion. We desperately needed more planting space and since we hadn't been able to secure a rototiller for the tractor yet, we broke ground using what we had.

Sunset from the top of the hill.

The weekly farm meeting, this time held in the cook trailer.

Cloches in the garden to give our starts a little extra heat to germinate.

More tree clearing with Nick at Copper. This is at the edge of the meadow, where a beautiful big leaf maple was being crowded out by a cedar and fir. Ceder and fir grow everywhere here, and we decided to favor the maple, as it had really nice structure and given more space could become a gorgeous tree.

Cleaning tools. Yes, it looks a bit like a STIHL advertisement, and yes, that is my preferred brand. (STIHL, if you are listening, I'd love if you gave me a free MS201T)

Jen holding barbed wire for one of Jon's new projects, an edible mushroom garden in a shady grove of trees at the base of Ben Nevis Hill. Another interesting new project I'm curious to watch evolve and grow.

So for the longest time I'd been meaning to join the Shaw Island Volunteer Fire Department, and on this day I finally did. I attended my first meeting, and while I wasn't official as of that night and could not handle the hoses or drive the trucks for the nights drill, it was great to watch, meet some of the other guys and finally start the process. We are a small community here on Shaw, and although we are lucky to have very few problems with fire on the island, we all still need the security of knowing there are people to help when something does go wrong. I'm looking forward to being one of those people, learning how to use the equipment and contributing to the community.

Back on the farm, Jon and I chipping fir bark that fell off our firewood and repurposing it to become mulch for the paths in the garden.

The garden looking awesome, and ready to burst with new life.

Ah yes, the joys of rehabilitating an old farm. This is one of the old rotting and sagging buildings over at Copper. We hope to turn it into a farm stand for this season, but first we had to empty out all the old chicken supplies, piles of rotten lumber, hay and other assorted things a previously neglected farm tends to accumulate. We made major progress though and hope to have it up and running soon.

Back at work. With Eventide Arbor Care, most of the work is on Austen's home island of Orcas and on this day we had the pleasure of doing a deadwood prune on a massive garry oak. This is a species of tree that people are trying to rehabilitate on the islands and Austen and I spent a good two hours pruning this gorgeous tree together, as we also had the pleasure of a great view over Massacre Bay and the other islands.

Friends at the top of Ben Nevis enjoying the sunshine of spring.

Another boat adventure. Nick found a $500 boat on craigslist over on Center Island and borrowed Jon's boat to head over and check it out. The weather and sea were quite rough on the journey over but we made it and the boat looked ok. While the primary engine was toast (as explained in the ad) the kicker was supposed to work. Nick bought the boat and we set off, him in his new toy and myself in Jon's. About a minute and a half into the journey home to Shaw the kicker died... We side-tied the two boats together and while I captioned the working boat and pulled the broken boat, Nick tried to fix the kicker motor. Alas it was not meant to be, and we spent the next three hours or so moving two boats with a single 28 horsepower two-stroke engine. Eventually we made it back to Shaw, but it wasn't the easy journey we had hoped for.

Throwing gas on the fire.

So my group of friends has been slowly moving up to Shaw Island, and the latest member of the crew is one of my oldest friends (since 7th grade) Brendan. Through the help of one of our island friends LaRen, he is renting a house not only on the island, but on the same road as all the rest of us live on! This was the first day any of us went to check out the property and house, and we were all excited for him to get out of Seattle and make the move final.

Speaking of friends from Seattle, a number of them were up for the weekend (Noel, Brendan and Sam, in the middle here) and we put everyone to work digging a drainage ditch around the future farm stand. As I've talked about earlier, the ground here is WET and without some property improvements, there was literally a stream running through the building. Everything went great this day and we managed to divert the water away from the building and have a good (but muddy) time doing it.

Planting starts in the garden, it won't be long before we are harvesting and eating these!

Yah, I really can't complain about my commute to work...

Back on the farm the garden expansion is going well. Still lacking a rototiller for the tractor we ended up breaking up the sod with the backhoe, and while it wasn't ideal it certainly worked. Once that step was finished, we had to break it up further by digging fork, then with the walk-behind was able to do the rest.

Major progress on my tiny cabin, I built the platform that will serve as my couch, the guest bed and underneath will be storage for my clothes and other items. I have to say 83 square feet isn't much to work with, but it's a great little puzzle and I'm loving the challenge of figuring out how to make the most of it.

Wacky boat adventure number three. So our friend Jay got a free houseboat over in Friday Harbor. Basically it is a homemade dock with a small cabin built on top of it, made to look like the pilot house of a ship. It is maybe 40 feet long and 16 feet wide, as well as a second dock section that is maybe 30 feet by 12.

It had been sitting in the harbor for years rotting away, until it received an eviction notice. Hence giving it away. Jay said yes, and Jon and I, as well as Shaun jumped at the opportunity to help bring it over. The tied three boats to it, Shaun's 120 or so horsepower, Jon's 28 and Jays 9.9. After a cleat ripped loose and we nearly smashed a sailboat in the harbor everything went smoothly and the weather was perfect for it. At one point, despite all boats pulling, we were doing .5 knots! However once the tides were once again in our favor we hit something like 5 knots, and were able to bring it back to Shaw and into Blind Bay without incident, where it will serve as the Blind Bay Yacht Club Headquarters, which is essentially a place for Jay and his friends to hang out, BBQ and drink beers. Perfect.

The inside. It began to get cool and the sun went down while we were towing it, and we were actually able to have a fire inside and warm up, it was awesome! That night more island friends came out and we ended up having an inaugural party on board, the first of many I'm sure.

Back on the farm doing our weekly weeding of the garlic. The thistles are prolific in this area of the garden, especially the southeast corner and if we don't keep after them the weeds will overwhelm the entire field.

Over at Copper, Ellen had been working on clearing out an area of ugly shrubs that stood between the house and the meadow. She wants to turn it into an herb garden, but our initial attempts to pull the stumps out with the truck were unsuccessful. It was raining out, but I hung around and helped dig stumps for an hour or two and we were able to get the area cleaned out with a little hard work.

You know it's getting warmer out when you start to see reptiles again!

More major progress in my cabin. After a lot of thinking, one rough sketch and a few hours of work I had myself a custom desk that fit my existing drawers, stereo, computer and the oven that is revealed by lifting up a panel, with all the pots, pans and other dishes in a drawer underneath. I have to say, working on this tiny cabin is one of the first real things I've designed and built, but it's turning out wonderfully.

Because the meadow was broken up with the backhoe, it was still in rather large clumps and our walk-behind rototiller was unable to break some of it up. As a result, we had to bust out the hoes and break it up a bit smaller first. It was hard work but Daisha played some ukelele to keep us entertained and as always, the hard work paid off.

Smiles all around. It was warming up so until we got the irrigation system re-installed we did a bit of hand watering.

My favorite part of spring time so far has been watching the big leaf maples go through the process of budding than leafing out. When I can combine that with watching beautiful birds, well, I sure can't complain.

Ah yes, it wouldn't be rural living without getting trucks stuck from time to time. It started out by trying to get the dump truck to the bottom of the garden expansion to unload it into the new beds. However the ground was still to wet, and it got stuck. No problem, we can pull it out with the tractor. Nope. Oh well, we can unload it with the tractor and drive it to the beds. Nope, now the tractor is stuck! We eventually got the tractor out (after much effort), and had to unload all the compost into wheel barrows, then push those uphill into the beds, then wait another week or so until the ground was dry and hard enough to get the dump truck out. Lesson learned.

Sun's out, shirts off!

Back at work on Orcas. As I think I talked about earlier, at work we get to visit and do tree care in a lot of beautiful places and this was certainly one of them. The bay was perfectly smooth, the sun was out and the trees were green. As we worked, I got to watch a sea plane land and then take off again, and a eagles flying around. Not too shabby for a days work.

Friends hanging out at my place. So I'd built the platform the the couch, but still didn't have any cushions. As seems to happen on Shaw, I looked at the free-bench and someone was giving away a free futon! We picked it up and it fit almost perfectly with what I had already built, so now I can comfortably relax on a couch that doubles as a bed and can even fit four guys. Not bad for 83 square feet.

Ah yes, the cows. I woke up one morning and saw three cows standing in our meadow. Strange, we don’t own any cows... but they were obviously the three cows that stay in the pasture across the road from Ben Nevis, so we called around, notified Jan the owner and the hunt was on. They spook easily and roamed the island for the next few days, until one morning we got a call they were spotted in a nearby meadow. Dan, Nick, Jon and I quickly came to help and after positioning ourselves at various points in the cross-shaped meadow tried to corral them back into the pen. They spooked again and took off into the woods, but I caught a glimpse of them and with radio in hand, ran wide through the trees, got behind them, radioed to Nick their position and the two of us were able to coordinate our movements to chase them back into the meadow, where the others were waiting to chase them back into the gate. After spending the next hour or so helping rebuild the area of fence where they got out, Jan gave us a nice bag of meat and eggs as a thank you for our work. It was greatly appreciated, but to be honest I had a lot of fun doing it anyways and didn't need any kind of payment.

Planting starts in the garden.

Another weekend, another group of friends coming up to spend time both working and relaxing on the island. Here Dan is doing work on the trail to the top of the hill.

A nice day on the water.

Stop! Hammock time!

It was time to return to Seattle again, so I hopped on the ferry back to the mainland and was treated to crystal clear skies and the wonderful views of Baker we get out here in the San Juans.

Every time I return to Seattle I do the same thing: take the early boat off the island (7am), drive over the Deception Pass Bridge, head south down Whidby Island, take the next ferry and stop at the Lake City Dicks Drive-In for lunch before heading to my parents house. It's a classic Seattle burger shop, a place I have fond memories of since I was a little kid, and just about the only fast food I eat. It's not always easy to leave the island, but a cheese burger, fries and chocolate shake always make it a little easier, haha.

I returned to Seattle for a sort of family reunion. My older sister lives in Alaska, my brother lives in southern California, my other sister lives in Montana and as a result it had actually been a few years since we had all been together! I was really looking forward to the visit, some family time down in Oregon and then getting the chance to show my siblings a little bit of Shaw Island. That, as well as more spring transformations, new chickens, our annual spring celebration, preparing my car for a drive around the American west and more are all part of the next blog post, so look for that soon. Until then, thanks for reading and safe travels to all.