Saturday, February 7, 2015

Late Summer, the most beautiful time of year

Welcome back to the blog, continuing to document my life on tiny Shaw Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington. As I've been sorting these photos from a few months back, it's amazing to see how far things have come. The birds are mature, there is now a tractor, a huge amount of tilled area to expand the garden, a new crop of garlic in the ground, a wedding and much more. Some areas of the Old Copper property my friends own are almost unrecognizable from their state a few months back thanks to chainsaws, shovels and hard work. But as usual I'm getting ahead of myself and I need to write a brief report of the time frame these photos cover, mid-July to the end of September, probably the most active and picturesque time of year in the islands.

I don't leave the island too often, but when I am in Seattle I do my best to make it a worth while and multi-purpose trip. On this day it started with a little roof-top fun and a football game at my friends house.

The three things that tempt me back to the city are friends, family and supplies. On this day my mom and I canoed across Lake Washington from Seattle to the east side to visit my great aunt. My family has had a lot of good adventures in this boat!

Returning to Shaw and to work. This is a job site on Lopez Island, where my boss and I did some removals and pruning. The island across the water is Shaw, so from the top of the trees I could look over and see the coast where I walk and a number of properties I'm familiar with.

Home from work and crab season is in full effect. I think it was this day when both customers I worked for tipped me in fresh caught crab, and I came home to crab dinner over at the Copper property. No complaints here!

Ellen's new project, four muscovy ducks. Raising animals is a goal for the property, and starting with chickens and ducks is a good way to start learning. These little fellas were awfully shy at first but have grown fast and free range around the place like they own it now.

The always popular camp fire hang out sessions, a regular feature of summer.

A weekend with a bunch of Seattle friends coming up means putting them to work! This is the rather tedious process of processing garlic from the harvest, but with a few friends and a few beers can be a lot of fun.

Back at work, doing a pine removal near a house.

We rarely take this truck out of it's building, after all it's a 1958 Chevy, but for fire drill this evening we were doing an exercise using nearly all of the trucks. Since Nick and I live closes to Engine 54, we climbed in and drove to the main fire station to check in.

Now here is a type of tree work we never got to do back in Seattle. This particular job was to clear out an entire hillside for a new house. Logging and working with excavators is a little different than the small pruning in tight back yards I used to be doing!

Summer means more time hanging out on the water and today that meant another BBQ on the 'Blind Bay Yacht Club,' out friends free barge.

I know very, very little about dragonflies but they sure are amazing to watch. Often as we worked, we would be surrounded by seemingly hundreds of the things, buzzing around in search of their own meal from the garden.

Speaking of the garden, man it looked good this time of year! (and was tremendously productive as well)

This part of the property, which we call 'The Knob' is a rocky outcropping in the middle of the meadow and has been a big project of mine. Like the rest of the property, it had become extremely overgrown during the time of the previous owners and I decided to clean it up. I removed probably 40 trees smaller than 8”, saving the healthier and more dominant trees, giving favor to ceder and maple since the area was mostly fir, and cleaning up the downed brush on the ground. The end goal is to turn it into a park-like space, with a solid bed of thick moss on the ground, big leaf maple trees overhead and a trail leading to a gazebo or something at the top.

The evening sun on Blind Bay, taken from the roof of a fire truck while refilling the tank after drill.

I used this photo in my previous blog specifically about my tiny house, but here it is again. Dan, a good friend from back in high school (blue shirt) brought up two of his friends to the island to hang out. I ended up playing host in my little space which was a lot of fun. On this particular evening, we decided to test out having four people up on my folding bed as I hadn't done it before. It's not a ton of space (I guess 4 people in a bed never is...) but it felt rock solid and something I certainly haven't seen in any other tiny home!

Another photo of my cleaning up of 'The Knob'. This stage was to expose the stone that was hiding beneath layers of brush, weeds and fir needles. I actually swept every part of this stone with a wisk brush to expose the stone, the moss and the roots from the fir above that are cracking the stone as it grows. What was previously burred is now a beautiful feature on the property, visible from the house and something that really lights up in the setting sun.

Haha, the Post Office meeting, I'd forgotten about this until now as I'm writing the post. So this was a representative of the US Post Office coming to 'listen to the community' but it was really just about cutting services on the island. Let me tell you, you haven’t seen angry until you've seen half of Shaw Island showing up to fight cuts to our little post office! I loved the enthusiasm we showed as a community, but of course they reduced the hours anyways.

Ellen, packing CSA boxes to be sent out. Every single week, the boxes of our veggies looked simply amazing.

Garlic on racks and continuing to cure.

Back in the garden squash was in full swing and there seemed to be at least a wheel barrow full coming out every single day.

Ellen up close and personal with her lovelies.

Something I'm still not very good at is making reasons (other than work) to spend time on other islands to just explore and have fun. Today was just the day for that and Brendan and I headed into Moran State Park on Orcas Island. The park is huge, encompassing some wonderful lakes, waterfalls, old growth trees and the highest point in the San Juan Islands.

This is the view from the top of Mt Constitution within Moran State Park, 2,399 feet up and looking east towards the mainland and Mt Baker, one of Washington’s many active volcanoes.

Keeping with the theme of 'lets have fun on Orcas', I spent the night with my friends Kelty and Sophie, then went for a walk the next morning on a day of especially low tides. This is me walking through the water at North Beach on another picture perfect day.

Exploring Crescent Bay on the other side of the island (a few minutes walk in this area), catching crabs and trying not to get sprayed by clams.

That afternoon we met up with Kelty after work and headed back into Moran State Park and the wonderful Cascade Lake, home to one of the best rope swings I've done in a very, very long time. Yah, I need to do this more often.

Hanging out in the shallows.

Home on Shaw and still playing with wildlife. These little tree frogs are everywhere this time of year.

This was a fairly interesting day of work, a house that had burned down on Orcas and burned many of the surrounding trees. Here Jon is using a tractor to help pull over this big cedar as my boss cuts it at the base.

The bush beans were quire productive and it was easy to go out at nearly any time and pick a good size box of different varieties.

Weekly farm stand at the ferry dock.

Another fun little summer jaunt away from Shaw was the San Juan County Fair, held in Friday Harbor over on San Juan. We got to look at local crafts, watch the 4H animal show, eat greasy fair-food and watch some surprisingly good young circus performers. I've gone to agricultural fairs frequently in my life and always enjoyed it, however it was never as relevant to my life back then as it is now, so it's a lot of fun to see.

This was a big day on the Ben Nevis trail, the day Dan, Kevin and I finished building the switch-backs and stone retaining walls. This was probably the most difficult part of the trail and it was saved for last, the final stretch connecting the heart of the property to the top of the island. We worked all day digging dirt and stacking rocks to create the section of trail and I have to say it has turned out wonderfully, as it has a great sense of flow as you walk up and down.

Just a pretty picture of the boats going between Shaw and Orcas one morning.

Brendan playing with Jons ducks.

Harvesting in the garden.

This is what counts for a traffic jam on Shaw Island.

The flowers in the Ben Nevis garden were looking great.

One of my other big clearing projects was to clear around the pond at Copper. Here Nick is taking out the last trees that were surrounding the pond, a group of medium size alders. There is still more work on the pond that needs to be done, but with the post finally exposed, we can move to the next stage of cleanup.

Because of course I do tree work, my boss has a 12” chipper and let me borrow it for some brush chipping on the Ben Nevis and Copper properties. We had brush piles staged and when the chipper came we chipped into and filled the dump truck five and a half times in something like two and a half hours of chipping. It was hard work, but it yielded two big piles of wood chips to be used for various projects on the properties and feels a lot better than just burning brush. A small chipper is probably a reasonable investment.

Nick working the ferry dock.

Wednesday fire drill in the station, this was the first day Brendan joined us after signing up. I have to say, I never really pictured myself on a volunteer fire department, but I love doing it out here, both for the community support aspect of it, as well as the fact it's just plain fun.

The garden is full of more varieties of tomato than I can keep track of and it's always great to walk through and snack as you work.

One day I had a surprise phone call from down at the ferry dock, I had unexpected visitors on island! My friends Kevin and Jamie had sailed up to the San Juans from Seattle, and for various reasons I didn't get the message they were coming. When they arrived however, they asked the person working at the little general store if he knew me. Of course it was my friend Izzy working the store and of course he had my number. Small island. So I stopped what I was doing, picked them up at the dock and gave them the tour before rowing out to their sail boat to watch the setting sun and be fed a delicious dinner made partly with fresh veggies harvested that day. They are currently taking a year long, round the world trip and having a great time from the looks of it.

In the effort to expand the planting area on the Copper property, Nick borrowed the nuns tractor and tiller for a day. Being that it was summer, the ground was pretty hard and the tiller wasn't able to get very deep, but it was a good test for the equipment, to learn about the soil and to get a head start on the next round of tilling.

Ellen working on the pond clean up project. After all the trees and brush from the edge of the pond was finally cleared, the next step was to pull out all of the sticks, logs and other debris from the waterline. There is more work to come, but the water is looking much healthier now and there are even a group of ducks who fly in and sit on the pond regularly.

As usual, I'm picking up weird creatures.

As a thank you to my boss for borrowing his truck and chipper, I gave him a box of produce that we had grown. I wanted to try and give him a little of everything we had coming out of the garden at that point, and by the time I was done I had an overflowing box with nearly 30 different crops that probably weighed over 40 pounds! I don't even want to know that that kind of thing would cost at a grocery store...

My commute home from work does not suck.

...and neither does my job.

Yet another thing I need to be taking advantage of out here but am still not doing, enjoying the fabulous kayaking in the area. This was Brendan going out for the day and Boomer was awfully curious what this weird thing on the car was.

I can't help myself.

The ducks, about two months old now. They were intended to be laying ducks, however somehow they ALL turned out to be males! This of course leads to a distinct lack of duck eggs and instead just a pack of dude-ducks who are very aggressive towards each other. Oh well, they will taste great at dinner I'm sure.

After many years of service, Brud was finally stepping down as head of the fire department, this was his retirement party at the community center and the new chief presenting him with his old helmet as a parting gift.

The big weekend was finally upon us, Jenn and Jon's wedding. The ceremony was going to be held on the top of the hill, the reception was being held at the community center and most of our friends were camping in the north meadow. I offered to host Sazzy and Polly in my place, and they clearly found it comfortable enough.

Polly heading over to our camping friends early the next morning.

Our friend Shannon made the wonderful wedding cake, this was the often scary task of transporting such a thing from the house down to the reception.

Hangin' with the boys before the ceremony.

The ceremony went beautifully. Held at the top of Ben Nevis hill, the highest point on the property and the entire island, we were all surrounded by clear skies and the neighboring islands as the vows were read. From there, it was down to the community center for the dinner and reception, which went well into the night and only had one medical emergency!

After a lovely post-wedding brunch, we got back to work. It was getting late in the season by this point so we had to get into the garden and start harvesting everything that was close enough to ripe, especially the tomatoes. Thanks to many helpers it went fairly quickly, but we still picked until it was dark. What we ended up with was more than we could handle, and friends were encouraged to take as much as they wanted.

Many great days end with friends around a campfire and this day was no exception. By now it was only the last few holdouts still on island from the wedding, so we at the last of the food, drank the last of the beer and told stories into the early hours.

Although I didn't do any of the planning for the wedding, hosting a wedding on the property and dealing with that many people is a lot of work for everyone involved. I was in need of a break of some sort and that meant going to Alaska. This wasn't a spur of the moment trip however, it had been planned for some time. I'd be going up to help my brother in law finish their cabin before winter set in. I was really looking forward to it as a change of pace, some time with family up there and a chance to learn some new skills in the process. That trip will be the focus of my next blog post, so look for that coming up shortly. Until then, thanks for reading.