Sunday, July 5, 2015

Life Gets Better and Better

Right now life is busy, busy, busy. I've taken a second job in addition to my tree work, and combined with the farm work I do it means I'm scheduled for doing physical, outdoor work six days a week. Life in the islands always shifts into high gear in the summer time, it's a feast or famine kind of place, either it is the slow quiet winter and you don't have a lot of work, or it's summer when you have too much work. As they say up here, “In the islands you either have two houses and no job, or two jobs and no house.” Not that I'm complaining, life is good and it always has been up here. Everything is beautiful, the farm is really starting to fill in and look amazing, work (both jobs) is going well, friends and family are always dropping in to say hi. This post covers all that and more, detailing April and May and as always showing off some of the most beautiful scenery our little corner of the world has to offer. Enjoy!

So one day as we were all meeting up for weekly fire drill we arrived at the station to find there was a humming bird trapped inside. It was trying to get out a closed window in the upper level of the building, so without any fires to tend to of course, Brendan and I went on a rescue mission using one of the big fire ladders. I climbed up and grabbed it, then passed it to Brendan on the ground. It was tired and scared, but after sitting on an open hand outside and using a gentle blow, it took off, free again.

A little work on my shower. I'm doing the whole thing in cedar which smells great, and will age well, helping the structure blend into the woods. As I've mentioned before, my shower that was supposed to be temporary has become much more elaborate and permanent, but it's one of the most fun and enjoyable showers I've used, so I'm certainly not complaining!

If you are in the garden with your friends and you are not laughing, you are doing something wrong. It's amazing to look back at this picture when we were only just getting plants in the ground. As I write this now, the garden is full and beautiful, so it's fun to see where we started not so long ago. (planting lettuce)

Shortly after, my mother Chris and sister Robin came up for a visit. Naturally it went from sunny to overcast for their arrival, but it was great to see them and show them the cabin I'm building. From their visit with me, they went on to spend a few days on Vancouver Island as well and had a lovely time.

I don't leave the islands very often, but Chad, a friend I've known for around 12 years had some tree work for me to do and it was a great excuse to have a visit with him and his great little community in Indianola, WA. This is the small cabin he lives in, and it served as some inspiration for what I'm building actually. To see it again after starting construction on mine gave me a better way to appreciate it and to contemplate design choices, so along with getting a lot of work done and some great time with my friend, it was educational as well.

I spent the weekend doing some tree work for a variety of Chads neighbors and friends which was a lot of fun for me, as well as had the chance for some seriously delicious meals. On most Sundays, there is a brunch restaurant run out of someones house that attracts interesting people from all over the small community. It's my second time enjoying it and it was just as great as I remembered it!

Back on the islands and back up the trees. This was a prune job in a big doug fir on the northwest coast of Orcas Island. A fun job and a truly stunning location.

With the coming of summer means time to start watering the ball field at fire drill. It's doesn't make for the most technical drills, but it is always good to spend time with the equipment to keep everyone fresh, and it's nice to try and keep the grass green at the same time.

This time it is me with a hand-full-o-humming-bird! This one found itself inside my cabin and needed rescue to return safely to the outside world. Amazing how small and light they are.

It's time to start squash! With most of the early season plants either in the green house or in the ground, it was now time to get on top of the later season crops such as winter squash and even a few melons.

So on this day it was finally time to say goodbye to the ducks. They were brought to the property with the idea of providing eggs, but then it turned out all four were males! They then bumbled around the property making noise and messy poops for the next 8 months or so until it was finally decided to butcher them. It was the first time doing ducks for any of us, and although I'm sure we could get much better with practice, plucking them was such a time consuming mess I never want to do it again...

Big news, Nick and Ellen are having a baby boy! None of my friends have kids yet (although one couple is just about to have their baby as well) so it's a big deal, I guess we are starting to be come adults now? Well, at least some of my friends are, I'm not sure I'm ready yet!

Momma and her chicks. Four were hatched from eggs on the property, and ten more were bought at the store. The hen took them all in and it has been great fun watching them grow. The best part is when they are climbing all over her, very cute.

 The Mausoleum, a structure on San Juan Island built in the 1930s by the McMillin family. It is a pretty strange place really, out in the woods and completely different from anything else I can think of out here but it's an interesting piece of island history and fun to see.

Beltane! This is one of our annual parties on the island, where we dress in white, have all our friends come up, dance around the May Pole and have a feast and fire. As usual, the weather was perfect and a great many friends showed up. It is a celebration of life and new growth and fertility, and this year there were for the first time, four pregnant women!

Setting up for the group photo.

One of the things our friend group does best is cook, and cook we did. I'd say it was probably the best feast of any of the years we have been doing the party, so that was great. After everyone ate, the bonfire was lit and people stayed up late into the night enjoying the wonderful evening and company.

Polly and Marshall in Jon's dump truck.

Back in the garden we were still working on expanding the usable space, this time tilling up a section where corn will be grown, a crop we have not tried before.

As always, good food and good friends.

Life in the loft. A while back I insulated, paneled the walls and trimmed the windows in the loft with the reason being that by finishing a small section, I could live in it while working on the rest of the place. By square feet, its about the same size as my previous tiny house but lacks many of the features it had. That said, it's serving its purpose well and keeping me dry and comfortable as I work on the place. It's really been great how I've been able to reuse the desk/kitchen unit from the old tiny home, as well as much of the other materials, saves me a lot of time and energy!

This is a tree I took down on Shaw with Nicks help, looking down at him while I'm still on the trunk. It was a dead fir, maybe 110 feet tall and the largest removal I've ever done actually. It was a lot of fun though, and I got to use one of my new tools, a 1.5 ton capacity rope-puller that allowed me to pull it over against it's natural lean and where I wanted it to go instead. It did make me want to buy a bigger chainsaw though, since my 046 with a 28” wouldn't even reach through the thing when I was still over 40 feet up!

The main level of my place, all cleaned up and organized.

And the inter-island ferry, heading towards Shaw.

You know spring is here when you start seeing butterflies again.

It is still early, but the garden is coming along very well and we generally feel like everything is on schedule for a successful year. All of our irrigation is done using drip-tape, which is an extremely easy, flexible and water-efficient irrigation method, one I'd recommend to almost anyone growing food on any sort of larger scale than a backyard hobby garden.

Brendan makes delicious pizza (the dough as well) and these were no exception.

The arrival into Friday Harbor.

Lighthouse Point.

The sunset from the Westside Preserve, where I watched the sun going down as birds and seals played around us and the lights of Victoria BC twinkled in the distance.

Yah, San Juan is a pretty beautiful island as well.

Home on Shaw and it was back to work as usual. Here Nick is taking an “I'm exhausted” break from hauling brush.

With spring here the General Store has reopened for the season. It is basically just a small grocery store, and while I don't use it often, it's great to have it back open for little things from time to time. On this particular day, Nick and I were getting ice cream cones!

My work on Orcas is pretty fun, not only because I like climbing and cutting trees, but also because of all the wonderful places it takes me. A large portion of the work we do is at water front properties, so I have the chance to see some of the most beautiful parts of the island, places the general public never gets a chance to visit.

Proof it isn't always sunny and perfect out here in the spring/summer! An early morning ferry trip. The boat out of the Harbor and back to Lopez/Shaw/Orcas leaves at 6:10am, and on that particular early morning, it was so foggy you couldn't see 100 feet ahead of you. That said, it did clear up and become a perfect sunny day by about 9am!

Rather unexpectedly, I was offered a job on Shaw working for one of the mainstays of the community, Jack. Now there are very, very few jobs on Shaw because it is such a small place, so simply having work on-island alone was exciting, but more importantly he is a great guy and I know I'll have the opportunity to do a lot of new kinds of work and learn new skills in the process. On this particular few days, we built a new cattle fence across a meadow and I learned a great deal in a short period of time.

The garden is starting to look great!

Because this is the first year doing this much farming on the property, we are continually expanding the planting area. Again, here is Nick running the tiller for upcoming planting beds.

To the right of the tractor in the previous photo you can see a small wood building that was the old pump-house, sitting in the middle of the garden. Inside this building a pair of barn swallows have decided to make their nest and lay some eggs. I can't say they are too happy about us continuing to use the building as tool storage, but they are a lot of fun to watch fly around and I'm excited to see the eggs hatch. Also, it's fun to see the swallows have used chicken feathers for bedding!

Badminton break.

My sister Holly and her husband Rob were down in Washington from their home in Alaska for a visit and decided to come up to the island, along with my dad, for a visit. Rob was especially excited to come, because I've been up to Alaska twice to help him work on their cabin, and it was during the second trip that the idea for my current cabin was born.

At the top of my to-do list, and the thing I needed the most help on, was installing the metal roof. I've done three-tab plenty of times but metal roofing was new to me and I wanted help with the install so I didn't make any mistakes.

That same day a load of compost came for the garden, much needed soil amendments for the areas of grass that we had just recently broken up to transform into garden space.

The roof and chimney done! Thanks to the awesome help I was no longer being kept dry by a blue tarp, haha. Having these things done was such a relief for me, as the chimney and roofing were the two major things I'd been needing help to do, and were holding me back from making progress in other areas. With them now completed I was feeling a lot better about the project and can move on to other things I know how to do myself.

There was still time in the visit for more work, so as along with the chimney and roof, we finished all of the wiring AND all of the insulation! Not only that, but my dad and I finished putting up the cedar on the shower! Talk about getting some great help, I'm so thankful for what turned out to be a truly fantastic work weekend!

It wasn't all work with the family though, Holly and Rob went for a kayak one morning and a bike ride around Lopez, and the next day my dad and I went for a kayak as well.

Don, Holly and Rob, thank you so much for the help! Maybe next time you come, I'll have siding up, haha.

I'm still a little kid at heart, so I love finding and catching snakes (as well as other critters). We were moving some things around in the garden, and underneath some plastic sheeting and wood found a number of snakes, including this one who was very aggressive. After a few photos, we herded them away from where we were working so as not to accidentally hurt them.

Spreading compost on the lower expansion zone where tomatoes, peppers, squash and melon will be going.

In preparation for an upcoming road trip across Vancouver, BC, I decided to transform it into a bit of a camper, or at least to put a bed inside. Much to my good fortune, the bed and bed platform I built for the cabin worked inside the van with only minimal alterations, making for some very comfortable sleeping and a great deal of storage underneath, designed to fit the Rubbermaid bins I already had for easy organization.

Amazingly it was only the day before that Nick was spreading the compost on the lower expansion, and by the end of this day we had ALL of the beds formed, including making them into mounds for squash, putting in the drip tape and the plastic covering. Not bad work eh? I can't wait to get plants in the ground and watch them fill the space.

Thanks for reading everyone, I hope you are still enjoying what I have to share here. Be sure to check back for the next post, as it will focus completely on my road trip. The whole trip went great, with lots of beautiful scenery, fun small towns, good wildlife, friendly people and only one major instance of car trouble!