Monday, March 16, 2015

A Busy November

Fall is generally a slow time of year. The garden is just about empty, the sun is gone and our friends (for the most part) stop coming up to visit. Although I think it is a much needed break for all of us, it doesn't mean there is nothing to do on the island or around the property. The daily task list wasn't as long as it is in the summer, but there was still never a day where we lacked projects. I want to cover a lot of time here quickly, so I might as well jump right in.

Being in Alaska and Seattle for the previous month, I was excited to return home to see what I'd missed in my time away. After packing up my things and driving onto the ferry, I had a nice view of the dramatic fall sky from the front end of a nearly empty boat, as many fall sailings tend to be.

For being such a small quiet place, life on Shaw is pretty dynamic. After a day of work on Orcas I stopped off at Nick and Ellen's to see what had happened since I'd been away and was impressed with what I saw. Near the house, 10 50 foot planting beds had been created where the garlic was going to be planted, and just above that Ellen and her friend Rosemary had broken ground, planted and mulched to create the herb garden. In addition to that, Nick had borrowed a tractor and tilled up a large amount of ground around the existing garden for the upcoming growing season, and a number of beds had already been formed and mulched. It was still late October, but planning ahead and breaking ground for the spring and summer is exactly the kind of things that still keep all of us busy year around!

Over at Brendan’s place I got a tour of his new RV, a 24' Winnebago. He had been renting this house over the summer, but because he was away so much doing kayak guiding on San Jaun Island, was hardly in the place. The owners were going to be moving in, so in need of a new place Brendan decided to buy an RV and park it on Nick and Ellen's, which made a lot of sense to me.

Just a few days earlier, on the same day I'd returned to the island actually, Jenn and Jon got Marshall, this adorable little chocolate lab puppy.

Now that I was back home, to really feel at home I decided I'd better run a chainsaw for a while.

In home, warm, comfortable and cooking breakfast.

Even though I'd just returned home, Nick, Ellen and I decided to run back to Seattle for a Halloween party with our friends. Usually it feels like a big mission to go back to the city, and while it does take a fair bit of time and energy we managed to get there, have a great time at the party, have a lovely breakfast with Nicks parents the next morning and head back to the island with stops at Costco, Fred Myer and SunLand for compost in just about 24 hours. As for costumes, Ellen was a tiger tamer, Nick was the tiger and I figured I might as well be Jesus, as I've had way too many people tell me I look like Jesus anyways.

Back at work on Orcas we had a few good sized firs to remove from right next to a house. To make the wood hauling much easier, we hired a crane to move and haul away the logs.

The next day my boss and I worked on another tree with the same crane operator. This tree was a huge, dead white fir just on the edge of Eastsound and was a lot more work than a typical removal due to it's size. We first speed-lined all the branches and top, then dropped chunks of wood until the stick was low enough to reach with the crane. Wood was then hauled away in three loads using a 10-yard dump truck. Back when I did tree work in Seattle we did a lot crane work and although there isn't much need for it out in the islands, it was fun to have another job that required it to keep the skills in mind.

An evening burn pile.

In order to prepare the site where Brendan was going to park his RV, we first had to level the area. Luckily it was a pretty flat area already and didn't require much work to get it situated.

In order to maintain CPR certifications, there was a night at the community for all of the Shaw Aid and Shaw Fire members to learn and refresh skills.

The next day Kelty and Sophie came over from Orcas to hang out and we decided to tromp around through the woods and look at all the mushrooms popping up. Now I don't know much about all the incredible diversity of fungus out there, but they sure are interesting to look at. Looking back now, it was defiantly the perfect time of year for mushrooms and the time with the most appearing by a mile. In a period of maybe 30 minutes we probably found 40 different types of mushrooms in all shapes, colors and sizes.

Dinner that evening.

The garlic beds that had been created while I was away were close but not quite ready. Brendan, Ellen, Nick and I spent the bulk of the next day doing final shaping and raking of the beds, then got all of the garlic planted. It was a fairly long day, but planting garlic isn't too strenuous and it felt good to make so much progress.

Over on Orcas Island the state was putting on a two day Search And Rescue training class for first responders in the islands. Being part of Shaw Fire I thought it might be interesting and agreed to go. The class was taught by a man who had been doing SAR for decades around the country and everything from simple missing persons to large scale disasters. Although it didn't have a lot of application to what we might have to deal with on Shaw, it was very interesting to learn a bit about search tactics and all the issues that come with organizing a large search group.

It is very, very easy to get rather insular and stick to 'your own' island. Personally other than work on Orcas, I never really go to the other islands. Today was a day to spend some time on Lopez, thanks to our friend Shannon who lives there. I had not spent any real time on Lopez since I was a kid, so it was fun to see it again finally. The first thing I noticed was just how different it feels. To me I think this was largely a factor of how flat and open everything is, as opposed to the thick forests and hills that make up Shaw and especially Orcas. Because of this, Lopez has been one of the bigger islands for agriculture, and it felt really strange to me seeing so many houses near to each other instead of tucked away into the trees. I also noticed a lot of houses felt like they were in a 'normal neighborhood' sort of setup and even had 'typical' looking yards with grass out front like in the city. It felt very strange to me.

Shannon lives in a charming little house with her dog Lula. We hung out for a while and talked while she made the best biscuits and gravy I've ever eaten.

After eating, it was time to go on a walk. We drove out to Iceburg Point on the south end of the island and hopped out of the car to explore a bit. It was a cloudy but beautiful day full of dramatic clouds and rain far off shore. As we walked around the coastline we were treated to a stunning sunset before turning back to catch our boat home. Lovely day.

Sure it was mid November and the garden hadn't gotten much attention in a while, but I was still able to pull some fresh veggies out for dinner!

Brendan’s RV now in place.

As part of the brush clearing that needs to be done around the property, I put in some time clearing a thicket of overgrown shrubs between the knob and the pond. It is an especially wet part of the property and the goal was to remove the brush so we can drive the mower and other vehicles around the knob easily, as well as to be able to finally see the ground where the pond was leaking out towards. As always, clearing brush I found interesting things on the ground including a nice deer antler and these little salamanders which were under a rotten log that needed to be moved.

At Wednesday fire drill we spent most of the evening doing some cleaning and organizing of the station. Because we were preparing to do a controlled burn of a house, we were going to do a series of trainings in it first. One thing we were going to do was fill the house with smoke and do some training moving through a smoke filled house on SCBAs. Because none of us had used the training smoke bombs before, we decided to light one outside of the station to test it out. Que the most underwhelming thing ever. We all pretty much just stood and laughed at how weak it seemed. That said, when lit inside a house it produced more than enough smoke and made for a great training tool.

Goofing off while tree climbing on a job.

More fire department activities. On this particular day, a fellow islander had a rotten old wood shed near to their house they wanted to get rid of. None of the material or firewood was any good, so for a training exercise we got to burn it down. I had the honor of pouring on the diesel.

The shed burning, with a bunch of firemen watching from a safe distance, hose at the ready.

There was also a burn pile they wanted to get rid of, so we brought our 4x4 brush truck onto the field and light that off as well. Let me tell ya, there is no better way to start fires than diesel and a propane torch.

hanging back at Ben Nevis.

At this time, mid-November, we got a little cold snap that froze the ponds over except for the small area the ducks kept clear. Now it didn't get cold enough to skate on the ponds like years past, but it was below freezing for a few days, something that doesn't happen very often in the islands.

Skull art. These are just various skulls we have found on the ground around the property.

Fire drill and more SCBA training. Let me tell you, doing things in the dark is SO much harder than during daylight hours.

I had some business to take care of in Seattle, so I made a run back to the mainland. To kill some time, my dad and I decided to go for a walk in Volunteer Park, a place where my dad used to work many years before. He still works for the Parks Department and knows everyone well, so we wandered to the parks greenhouses to say hi to a few co-workers and have a look around.

After getting $2,000 in cash and driving a ways south of Seattle I got what I came for, this 'lovely little' 1996 Ford Econoline van. Just check out that awesome lumber rack! I had big plans for it.

And here is a big van of big plans: I decided it was time to move onto Nick and Ellens property and build myself a new cabin.

It was actually just during my time in Alaska (the previous post here) where I decided it was time I wanted to make the move and when I returned to the island I discussed it with my friends and made it official. The Ben Nevis property is lovely, the tiny home was a ton of fun to create and live in, and Jenn and Jon have been wonderful, but they have a kid on the way and I was looking for a place with more room and of my own design. This was going to be a big project, I've never designed and built a cabin before, but I was excited for the challenge and started buying supplies to start building.

Back at work on Orcas, Austen and I spent the day dropping big hemlocks around a house on the east side of the island. Due to when we got finished with the job and the boat schedule, Austen invited me to have dinner with his family where we obviously goofed around a bit. I have to say, I'm lucky I've got such a good boss.

So in the last post I bought the Explorer, now I just bought an Econoline. When I bought the Explorer I wasn't planning on building a new cabin yet, otherwise I would have never got it. But I had both now, and rather ironically both my 'new' vehicles were 1996 Fords, in the exact same green/gold two-tone color scheme with tinted windows. So 90s.

It was the holiday season and today was Thanksgiving. Although I'd just been in Seattle to get the van and cabin supplies I returned again to have dinner with my family and then friends.

Friday morning it was raining in Seattle, but that didn't stop me from accepting Dan and Maria’s offer to go for a walk around Discovery Park, my favorite park in the city. We took what we call “the slippery trail” (for good reason) from the upper parking lot to the beach below.

A classic gray Seattle day. Although it lacks the obvious charm of a sunny day, I find a lot of enjoyment in these kind of dark drizzly days as well.

That evening we had “friends-giving”, a thanksgiving dinner with friends the day after thanksgiving. Every year there seems to be more and more food, including the annual deep fried turkey or two. It was without a doubt the largest amount of food I've eaten in quite some time. Delicious.

Back home on Shaw I was wandering around the meadow on Copper and saw this bard owl sitting in the tree line, watching. We had been hearing and seeing it fairly regularly, but today it was flying around the meadow during the day, seemingly watching us.

Throwing some brush out of 'Bone-crusher' the farm truck and into the burn pile.

On the east side of Orcas doing some tree removals. If you look at the top of the hill on the right side of the photo, you can see the top of Mt Baker poking out. It sure is nice having a job that takes you to such beautiful places.

Here are a few of the trees we had to remove at that property, decent sized hemlocks that were rotting and leaning towards the house. We ended up running a few hundred feet of line to a pulley redirect and pulling them away from the house using a pickup truck, which was pretty cool.

And here is the other big news of the post, Nick and Ellen had been looking for a tractor for months and it seemed like they found the one to buy, a nice little John Deere 790 with a loader, backhoe and mower. It was over on the Olympic Peninsula which meant two ferry boat rides away, but we left Shaw for Anacortes, then hopped on the Coupville - Port Townsend ferry. I hadn't been on this particular route in years and years so it was fun to ride it again. It was also interesting, although mostly disappointing, to ride on that particular boat, the Salish, one of the new type that will be coming into the fleet in upcoming years. Parts of it were interesting and thought out, but other things like the passenger layout in the side rooms seemed like a poorly designed afterthought, not to mention the even lower height restrictions the boat has for vehicles...

We rented a U-Haul transport trailer and headed to meet the guy on craigslist who was selling the tractor at his house. To be honest I know very little about tractors, but it seemed like a solid tractor that would fee the properties needs very well and after a little test and negotiation Nick decided to go for it.

With the tractor on the trailer, towed by my new van (which did great by the way) we headed back towards the ferry boat and towards home.

Naturally we missed the boat we were hoping to make, but that was not too much of a problem. We caught the next boat under the fading sunlight, then dropped the trailer off at another U-Haul location on Anacortes. From there Nick simply drove the tractor onto the boat just like you would with a car, across Shaw Island and to it's new home.

Back at Copper, Ellen and Brendan were home and excited to see the important new addition to the farm. We stood around talking about our little adventure and about the tractor, excited to explore the new projects this new tool would make possible.

That's it for the moment, the next post will focus mostly on the construction of my new cabin on the Copper property as well as the usual other adventures along the way such as Christmas in Seattle, an extremely unfortunate house fire, tree climbing and more. See you back shortly, I'm actually getting caught up so I can report on our major spring progress in the coming weeks! In recent days we have put in a lot of work breaking ground and expanding the garden, and there are already a number of different veggies in the garden right now as well as a huge number of flats in the green house and the germination station. Spring is coming and I'm excited to share it with you all.