Thursday, June 19, 2014

Family Time and the Start of a new Growing Season

The sun is shining, hummingbirds are flying around my window, I spent the morning harvesting, washing and weighing veggies from the garden and I can hear my friend Jon whistling and building something in the distance. Yes, the road trip around the American west (which will be the subject of the next blog post) was great, but it does feel good to be home again. This is also my final 'catch-up' post' meaning I'll finally be current again and try to keep it that way!

As I wrote about last post, I was returning to Seattle to see my family. I am one of four kids, and by this point it had been something like four years since all of us had been together at the same time. My sister Holly was coming from Alaska, my brother Brian was coming from southern California and my sister Robin (who we were picking up from the train station in this photo) was coming from Montana.

One of Holly's friends has a place on Cannon Beach, Oregon, so after picking up Robin I climbed in the Suburban with the parents and we headed south to Oregon where we would meet Holly and spend a few days. The house was about two blocks from the water near the iconic Haystack Rock and although it was a bit gray and windy it was great to relax and spend some quality family time.

My brother Brian arrived a few days later in Seattle and finally we were all together again. Part of the occasion was my grandmothers 90th birthday, and a celebration was being held at my aunt and uncles place.

The guest of honor, my grandmother with an outfit my sisters bought for the event. The celebration was wonderful, a number of old friends showed up and my grandmother described it as one of the best days of her life.

Until now, none of my siblings had seen where I live on Shaw Island beyond this blog, so we loaded up the cars and headed north.

The ferry out of Anacortes.

While I was away Nick and Ellen received their order of 20 chickens, so naturally we all had to go check them out. I grew up with chickens at our house in Seattle and the few weeks when they go from a cute little chick to a full grown chicken are always interesting to watch.

I wanted to give my siblings a tour of the island, so the next morning we borrowed some bikes from Nick to ride around Shaw.

Just us triplets at Southbeach. From there we went to visit the nuns at Sisters of Mercy and as luck would have it they had just made fresh cookies which they were happy to share with us.

As usual, I'm picking up critters. We are trying to encourage snakes in the garden to eat slugs, but I'm not sure if those efforts are working or not.

The space where Jon is starting his edible mushroom garden.

Skinning rabbits. I have to admit, after watching the process and eating some rabbit meat I'm not really sure why anyone would raise rabbits over chicken, but maybe I'm missing something there.

Watching the chicks at Copper. They sure grow fast!

One of the big focuses of recent fire drills has been learning the trucks for a new state requirement, and all of them are pretty easy to drive with the exception of Tanker 55. This truck has a non-synchronous 13-speed split transmission and while it's certainly cool to learn, it is a fair bit more complex than driving anything else.

With spring in full force, berries are starting to form. I'm excited for later in the season when they are actually ripe.

Ellen taking a snack from the garden while we work. This is some kale that was over-wintered and while at this point it had bolted we left it in for a while since it was attracting a lot of good pollinators.

Carole and Brud, some long time islanders and all around great people had all of us over for dinner at their wonderful house. It was great to chat with them and hear stories of island life from decades ago.

Nick and Ellen wanted to grow some hops and we had the idea of growing them up the side of two large firs in the middle of their meadow. Here I'm installing some eye-bolts at around 35 feet and creating a system that allows the whole thing to be lowered to the ground for harvest, then pulled back up the tree; all from the ground.

One of the many things I like about my job doing tree work is that it brings me to a lot of different areas of the islands (primary Orcas though). This was the view from one customers houses looking north towards Eastsound and onto Canada.

Cooking dinner in my cabin. Although I've found one or two small things I wish I'd done differently when building the desk, all things considered it's working out great and I'm happy with what I built.

Back on Orcas for work. The job wasn't very exciting, just cleaning up downed branches along the roads at a housing development but hey, work is work and I can't complain.

Some people sit in traffic on the freeway to commute home from work. I ride an awesome boat between beautiful islands.

Learning about Engine 52 at fire drill. It's our smallest truck, but is a 4x4 which is very helpful in a rural setting like Shaw Island.

Another day of work. This was just another clean-up kind of job, but the guy we were working with was using his tractor with forks to pull apart the piles and bring it to the chipper and was one of the better equipment operators I've seen; and that is always fun to watch. Plus, it was another gorgeous spot overlooking the water.

Brendan, who I've been friends with since seventh grade finally moves to the island! With this, my group of friends has three different houses on the same road!

One of the annual spring traditions at Ben Nevis is the Beltane party. We have a bunch of friends over, get some work done, wear white and dance around a may pole! It looks a bit like a cult, but it's a ton of fun. Here we are making some task lists to help stay organized.

Weeding the garlic, a weekly task that is made much more pleasant with a lot of friends!

As with any kind of farming, water systems are critical to success. This water tank is I think 2,800 gallons and was moved into place above the garden expansion for watering the fruit trees and lower vegetable garden.

After completing a few more jobs on the farm, everyone put on their white party clothes and we all got ready to do the maypole.

Winding round and around, laughs and smiles abound!

All done.

The group photo.

Any party must be accompanied by a large feast and that is something we do very well up on Shaw.

The bonfire that night bringing an end to yet another wonderful event with our friends.

Brendan hosting a small housewarming dinner the next evening.

The hoop house starts are looking great.

For my upcoming road trip, I had a lot of work to do to my car in order to make it more comfortable. I've had the thing for years but getting ready for the trip was finally giving me the motivation to get some work done, haha.

Here you can see the garden expansion, this was all just meadow last year and now it's growing veggies! This is the kind of progress we all love to see, not to mention it was a necessary expansion for the farm. For an idea of scale, the large beds in the photo are each 50 feet long, so that gives you an idea how much we are growing right now.

My place, under cover of the big leaf maple trees around it.

Although most people have never heard of Shaw Island outside of the San Juan Islands themselves (and why should they, its a small place) if someone has heard about Shaw it is usually about the nuns on the island. There are two groups on the island actually and I'm friends with the Sisters of Mercy, but the other group, Our Lady of the Rock, is the one people are similar with. On this day I dropped by for a tour of the property and to learn about what they do, lead by Tari, one of their interns.

They have a huge and beautiful piece of property, believe things like farm work are a form of prayer and raise heritage breeds of animals. As we were lead around the property we stopped to feed some of their cows.

Curious sheep.

They have their own chapel, which is a real piece of art.

Another project they do is make and sell raw milk from the cows as well as cheese. This is the inside of the cheese room where we got to learn a bit about how its done and try some of the rich and complex tasting cheese.

Llamas and alpacas also roam the fields of the monetary, as well as pigs, chickens. After living on the island for something like 10 months, it was great to finally meet some of the islands well known residents, learn about what they are doing and see a bit of their very impressive property and operations.

At this point it was only two weeks or so until my friend Stefan was to arrive for our road trip, so we had a little skype session to do some planning. Boomer (the cat) was there to supervise.

Now it was really crunch time and I still had a lot of work to do on the car. Here I am installing some sound deadening material to make the ride quieter.

Nick and Ellen getting ready for an afternoon kayak.

The upper garden (which we refer to as zone one, the lower expansion is zone two) is starting to come in well.

Stefan’s arrival was only a few days away by now, so I packed up my car and headed down to Seattle. As usual I went over Whidby and when I got out to admire the Deception Pass bridge as I often do, I was there right in time to see a tug boat pulling a log-boom under the bridge, very cool!

Once in Seattle I gathered all the necessary camping gear from my parents house (thanks!) and washed the car. Nearly everything was ready now, and I was looking forward to showing Stefan around Seattle, around Shaw and around the entire American West.

Whew, after months of slacking on the blog I'm almost, sort of, a little bit caught up! You will certainly want to check back for my next post, as it will cover our road trip around the west and will be a good one I promise. We drove roughly 4,500 miles, passing through places like Mt Rainier, the redwoods, Yosemite, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and much more! I've sorted the photos already, it's just time to sit down and write it. Thanks for reading and check back soon.