Friday, December 19, 2014

The Long Days of Shaw Summer

It's early December by now which is hard to believe. The winter has brought regular rain which has turned the ground into a soggy mess and stopped us from being able to do certain kinds of work, occasional freezing temperatures make for added challenges with water systems and our friends from the city have finally stopped coming up to visit and help on projects. The biggest effect of winter however is the short days. Getting dark at 4:30 is a real productivity killer when it comes to what we do up here, 90% of it outside. It makes me wish for the long days of summer when we could work outside until almost 10pm. That said, the increased inside time means there is no excuse not to continue playing catch-up on the blog here and this post is about way way back in July, when we were right in the middle of those long summer days.

Every time I see this photo (and the rest of the series) I'm still blown away. I was actually on my 4,500 mile Western USA road-trip when this photo was taken (that post can be found in my previous post here,) but I'll tell this story anyways. So my friend hit a deer on the road at night because they are so prolific here on Shaw Island and seem to have a suicide wish. Anyways, the guts were taken out, then Brendan and Nick dumped them in the meadow with a motion sensing game camera on the pile to see what happened. They were dumped out at night and then in the morning the gut pile was discovered by the birds of the island. The first was a lone raven, then a group of turkey vultures, then within minutes a group of bald eagles took over and feasted. Eventually the birds managed to get along, as many as 14 at a time, and share the gut pile. In less than an hour it was completely gone.

The series of photos is amazing, and can be viewed Here.

Due to my road-trip I'd been off-island and away from home for nearly a month. Coming home to the beautiful, green meadow again was a real treat.

The big spring project was to expand the planting area for the farm and upon my return it was full of wonderful and delicious veggies. It's great to see this kind of progress and so satisfying to see crops growing.

Jon and Brendan hanging out at the 'dining car' and overlooking the empire.

The early season crops were all planted at the Ben Neivis property and much of the later crops were planted at the Old Copper property. All spring this section of garden and a part of the original farm had been too wet to plant, but by now it had dried out, been amended with compost and planted with squash, kale, chard, lettuce, basil, peppers, tomatoes and more. In this photo we are installing the tomato cages to tie the plants to when they grow large enough. The irrigation was all done with drip tape, and the black plastic helped keep things warm as well as suppress any weeds. It was a very effective solution and the whole area produced amazingly well.

Back in April Nick and Ellen got 20 baby chicks and by this time they had grown a great deal and now had a coop of their own with a large protected outdoor run. They run around the property freely (but go inside at night) happily scratching in the dirt as chickens should, and produce more eggs than any of us can possibly eat!

Without a tiller of our own yet, we borrowed one from the Sisters of Mercy, just one of the groups of nuns on Shaw. It hadn't been used in years, so we cleaned it up and tested it out for them, at the same time using it to accomplish a little work that needed doing. It's great to have such a community here helping each other.

With summer here the ball field needed watering to be green(ish) for the big 4th of July softball game coming up, so part of fire drill for a few sessions was spent watering the grass, haha.

Jon making the CAS boxes for the farm. The wood is from cedar trees I cut down in order to widen the road, then Jon used his band-saw mill to turn the logs into lumber and then into boxes. I think the trees were cut, wood milled and boxes built within a quarter mile radius, it doesn't get much more local than that.

Nick and Jon washing, weighing and bundling radishes to sell.

Walking around Reef Net Cove to explore the beach on a cloudy northwest day.

Returning home to Shaw from work on Orcas, the island to the north. I always love it when I'm put in the front of the boat!

In my long quest to prune all the trees around the house and other buildings, this is one more done off the big list. You can see my shadow about half way up the trunk of the tree.

Fire truck washing and barbecue at the community center.

This is what it looks like when I do work for people on island, my Baja Bug covered in chainsaws and tools. It is pretty absurd but it works and puts a smile on my face every day.

One thing that the Old Copper property has that I really enjoy is all the bulbs in the ground. Every spring and through summer all sorts of beautiful flowers pop up in seemingly random places, adding a splash of color and life to previously empty lawn.

Hanging out with friends on Jay's 'boat', also known as the Blind Bay Ychat Club, or among us as the Party Barge.

This particular day was actually the longest day of the year, the reason for the get together, and we ate, drank and made merry knowing while there was still a great deal of summer to be had, they days were already starting to get ever shorter.

Summer is the time for friends to visit (everyone wants to come when the weather is good and I don't blame them!) and it was a busy summer for sure. There was literally never a week without one or five or ten guests. I guess it's the 'Field of Dreams' tactic, if you build it, they will come. None of us who actually live up here return to the mainland or the city much and instead our friends come up to us! Here one of my good friends Dan is eating a breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes I cooked for us.

Inside of the Shaw Island General Store, the only store on the island.

The deer up here are prolific and often fearless. I wasn't joking about that one that got hit by the truck at the beginning of the post...

Nothing quite like our favorite barefoot lawn games with our favorite people.

Old Copper at night.

Back at Ben Nevis where about 2/3s of the crops are planted things are coming along well.

Trail building with Dan. I've mentioned it before but the Ben Nevis property contains the highest point on the island and we intended to build a top notch trail to the top.

After planting the garlic in the winter it was finally time to harvest the crop. Other than having to do regular weeding due to a major thistle infestation the crop has been very easy and low maintenance once in the ground. We gathered boxes, pulled the garlic and filled two or three trucks full.

The initial garlic curing process was started in the greenhouse. Last year there were some issues in the curing process, bu this year everything worked wonderfully and the crop was very successful.

When you start to see reptiles out you know it's summer!

In the end of June a lot of friends came out on the same weekend, so naturally we put them to work.

I've written about it before but in addition to climbing trees for work I try to climb for fun as well from time to time. Because I have two complete tree climbing setups I can teach friends the basics and bring them up trees as well; in this case bringing my friend Kevin (who had never done this before) about 120 feet up a fir.

Putting people to work in the garden.

Jon running the saw mill while I cut up pieces for various projects.

Moving wood to the burn pile for a bonfire that night.

I told you we had a lot of friends up!

One nice thing about doing tree work is that you get to work at different places all the time. Todays job was for a customer on Obstruction Island, a tiny island off the southeast of Orcas Island. It only has 12 or so full time residents and the only way to bring a vehicle over (which is restricted to special purposes) is with a private landing craft. The boat beached itself on the shore, they laid out rubber mats over the sand so I wouldn't sink in, I put the truck in low-range 4x4, crawled carefully off the boat then floored it to get up the steep and slippery 'road' onto the island. Not your usual commute to work!

After a long day of work on Obstruction Island I actually left the truck for my boss to pick up another day (due to the schedule of the landing craft) and the people we worked for took us back to Orcas Island using their very nice boat. It was a beautiful day and this was our view of Mt Baker from the boat as we ended our day.

Ah yes, the bat. It's not totally wild out here but we certainly live closer to nature than most people. I was opening my wood stove to burn some paper or something and much to my surprise a small brown bat fell out! I'm used to seeing them fly around at night but in my wood stove, in my home, during the day was a new one for me. I took a few photos and carefully moved it outside.

Harvesting in the garden. Things are really starting to get in full swing at this point.

Ah yes, the bird. A day or two after I found the bat, I found a bird stuck inside my cabin. Because the door was open (as it usually is during the summer) it managed to fly inside, got confused by the window and then got stuck between the window and the back side of my desk. To show it's gratitude for rescuing it, the bird thanked me by pooping on my speaker and desk...

For another day of work my boss and I headed over to Lopez Island for some work at a property on the north shore. It was great fun climbing the big firs right on the coast with my boss Austen and because the 4th of July weekend was coming up we got to watch people bringing out all their fancy boats to the islands from the mainland.

Loading up the weekly CSA box for delivery on Shaw. We had so much wonderful produce the biggest challenge was getting it all to fit in the box! This photo is about half way through the process of loading them with what we grew and while I can't remember exactly, there was probably something like 20+ different items.

Independence Day weekend was in full effect and on the 3rd of July there is a fireworks show in Deer Harbor on Orcas Island. To take full advantage, we all climbed aboard a friends beautiful sailboat and headed out to BBQ and enjoy.

It's a lousy photo, but the show was launched from a barge in the bay with all the spectators floating around it. It may not be the same scale as the fireworks shows I grew up watching on Lake Union in Seattle, but it was a lot more fun.

Without a doubt, Independence Day is the biggest event on Shaw Island. We have an extremely small community out here but for the 4th of July it seems everyone and their friends show up. Last 4th of July I was in Seattle, as I had only returned from my year and a half crossing of Africa the day before, so this was my first here on Shaw and I must say I was impressed.

The big events are the parade (which lasts about 10 minutes and goes from the Community Center to the state Park, the barbeque, the softball game and the next days market, dessert auction and raffle. As a member of the Shaw Volunteer Fire Department I had the honor or driving our 1958 Chevy fire truck in the parade, throwing candy out the window for the children along the way.

As mentioned, the parade ended at the state park where parade awards were passed out (second hand sports trophy’s) for 'best of' in different categories and everyone ate hot dogs and baked beans.

The annual soft ball game. Judging by some of the unfamiliar faces and amount of home runs hit, I think there may have been a few ringers from other islands (or *gasp* the mainland!) on the teams....

Our own private BBQ after the game, with Sam manning the grill.

That night we all headed through the woods to Reef Net Point, where there is a view of the fireworks show that takes place on Lopez Island across the water. To keep ourselves busy both before and after the show, we had our own large stash of fireworks to light off from the beach.

At the community market the next day we had a farm stand, with Ellen, Jon, Jenn and Nick schmoozing and selling delicious veggies to our fellow islanders.

The auction inside had probably half the islands entire population and was a ton of fun.

That night we tried to play pick-up-sticks but Boomer kept disrupting the game. In the end she ended up laying down where we were trying to play, so the new game became trying to pile all the sticks onto her before she moved.

With the holiday over and our friends gone it was time to get back into the garden and back to work.

On the top of Ben Nevis Hill some night hawks had laid two eggs and a few of us had been watching them for weeks. It was very cool since the birds lay the eggs on the ground, and to distract predators from the eggs the mom who would be sitting on the eggs will move away from the nest, pretending to be injured. This is a technique to get predators to chase the mother and distract it from finding and eating the eggs. Other than us watching it, this must have worked because in early July the two eggs hatched and two amazingly cute chicks were born. Brendan said the birds were so soft it felt like holding a dandelion seed head.

Back at work on Orcas. Here Austen is using the mini excavator to feed the chipper wood from some trees over a parking lot that were becoming hazardous.

As always, food is important to us and here is Jon cooking up some delicious pizza for a late night feast.

Speaking of Jon, he was about to to get some ducks. To prepare for their arrival he build this great little duck house with a roof that easily lifts up to collect eggs and clean out bedding.

What would summer be without swimming? After work I met my friends Kelty and Sophie in Moran State Park for an afternoon at Cascade Lake, where we hung out at the Lagoon. Talk about a perfect day.

Friends: Jay, Sazzy, Sarah, Cylus and Polly.

Jon's ducks arrive!

Afternoon eats.

As I said, what is summer without swimming? It's great on the property to have such a big pond that we can swim in, even if there is a leach of two!

As many of my posts do, this one also ends with a trip to Seattle. With much of my family and friends back in the city, I find myself making somewhat regular visits. Summer weather in the islands is usually absolutely perfect and this day was no exception, making for a wonderful boat ride back to the mainland.

This summer I'd really hoped for the opportunity to have my grandmothers to come out and visit to see where I live and what I'm up to out here. Unfortunately it didn't happen, so I did the next best thing, stopped by for a visit, showing these same photos and telling stories in person. My grandmother Rosemarie for example had a recent surgery, so I visited her during her recovery. Maybe we can make it happen this upcoming spring or summer, I certainly hope so.

That's it for this edition. I've got a lot more I want to share (and still a few months of catching up to do before I'm up to date) and now I've go the time and more importantly the motivation to share it again. I think the next post will cover life all the way into the Fall season, after that probably one dedicated to my tiny home, then a trip to Alaska, winter life and finally up to date with my current and very exciting project and life change. Stick around, there is much more to come and thanks for reading.