Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A New Wife and a New House

First off, I'm posting this pretty quickly after the last post, so if you haven't seen the previous post about Marijkes return to America and our wedding, check that out. This post picks up right after the wedding, going from mid July when we began living together in the little cabin, shortly there after finding a real house to live in, the process of cleaning and moving, filing Marijkes immigration paperwork, lots of stuff in the trees and then a celebration with family in Seattle in early September. It was a busy time and a lot of hard work for both of us but as we say, “the island provides.” Everything went smoothly and it's been a great foundation to build our marriage on for these first few months.

When I designed and began building the cabin at my friends place, I was a single guy with no goal or expectation of finding a relationship on a tiny island of retirees, so winding up married was a bit of a surprise. Two people living in the small space was certainly not impossible, but it was going to be a bit of a challenge. Remember we hadn't ever lived together, only started seeing each other 8 months earlier and now were married and living in essentially a one room cabin with no indoor bathroom. I guess you could say the situation got us to learn more about each other very quickly!

One day I was sitting in the cabin and noticed an awkward looking creature running across the meadow, so naturally I ran after it to have a look. It was a river otter, which are quite graceful in the water but on land look like an over-caffeinated inch-worm with a limp. Anyways, they are known to occasionally go after chickens and their eggs so I kept an eye on it to ensure it didn't head that way, and then watched it dive into the pond, come out the other side and run away into the woods, probably to the next pond on another property.

There was plenty to do on the farm, and with the garlic crop recently harvested it was time to clean and process all of it. It's a rather tedious job that requires cutting off the leaves, cleaning each head with a toothbrush and sorting it by size, but when working with friends becomes a social activity and is actually kind of enjoyable. One of the few farming tasks you can do sitting down.

On the outside I may appear to be a 31 year old married man, but on the inside I'm still a little boy who likes to catch snakes…

This whole time Marijke and I had been searching for a house to move into on the island and had no luck thus far. Shaw is a very small island after all, so rental houses are pretty much non-existent here. But just a few days after our wedding that changed: out of the blue, I received a call from another islander asking if we had found a place yet. When I said no, she told me that she had a place that may be perfect for us.

Shortly after, I met her to look at the house and the property. It is an 80 acre piece of land with a house built in 1968, with two 2000' airstrips, aircraft hangers, numerous outbuildings, ponds, meadows and moss covered balds. The house had been unoccupied for the last two years, there was a fair bit of junk around and things were rather overgrown, but I like a challenge and it did indeed seem like a perfect fit for us.

This is the primary airstrip on the property (there is another smaller one as well) and the largest on the island. It doesn't see much use these days, but it is still maintained and usable.

The previous owner was a pilot, heavy equipment operator and prolific collector of vehicles large and small. A major cleanup effort is under way and mostly complete now, but tucked away in every corner of the property were dozens and dozens and dozens of old trucks, cars and more. I'm a fan of old vehicles myself, and to me some of these trucks are really beautiful!

As a heavy equipment operator he built many of the roads on Shaw and had the tools left behind to prove it. Parked all over were a crane, multiple bulldozers, cement trucks, road graders and at least a half a dozen dump trucks.

It wasn't time to move in just yet, so Marijke and I continued to make it work in the cabin for the moment. I was going to work on Orcas as usual but Marijke was in a sort of limbo. She was no longer an intern at the monastery, the life she had known on Shaw thus far, but without her work permit, she was unable to get a job in the country. So she filled her time helping on the farm, still visiting the monastery and doing odd jobs here and there.

An evening walk at the preserve. This time of year both of us spend a lot of time outside, which helps a great deal living in a small space.

Still getting used to having a wedding ring on my finger. And the green stuff? That's what happens every Sunday from pruning the tomato plants.

One of Marijke's duties while she was an intern was hand milking the cow Claire pretty much every day. She really loves being around and working with animals, and missed that connection after leaving the monastery, so she would still visit on occasion and say hi.

Passing ferries on my way to work.

Wednesday fire drill.

I'd been looking for an outboard motor to put on my boat for a while and through craigslist found one that fit the bill, so we made a mainland supply run and on the way back stopped at Cabela's, not because we needed anything, but just to show Marijke the place. It is one of the huge ones with fish tanks, giant taxidermy displays and all manor of other things like that. Marijke was not impressed. Haha…

By now it was the end of July and time to start cleaning out the house we would be moving into. As I said before, it hadn't been used in two years, the previous occupants were rather elderly, and it showed. The house was still full of furniture, the kitchen cabinets were still full of dishes and there were even still some clothes in the dressers. As Marijke says “It's like someone just took their toothbrush and left.” The house was a time capsule!

The house is a good size, around 1,500 square feet, with a large porch, master bedroom, two bathrooms, a laundry room, office, guest room, nice living room and kitchen. There is even an attic and basement, a rarity in the islands. On the west side of the house there is a 900 square foot deck, which is awesome. This photo shows the office as we found it, still full of books, papers and everything else. We had a lot of sorting, boxing and cleaning to do.

A curious dragon fly on a sunny summer day.


As I said earlier, I finally bought a 9.9hp outboard motor for my 12' aluminum boat. The purpose of this is to free myself from the ferry boat schedule when commuting to and from work on Orcas. Having to catch a 7am boat when work doesn't start until 8am, and sometimes only having a 3pm or 6pm ferry option to get home meant a lot of waiting around. Having my own boat, something I should have done ages ago, finally solved that issue. The weather was nice, so Marijke and I took it our for a spin.

A man and his boat.

I've never been a big water/ocean guy, the mountains have always been more my style growing up, but living here changes that. Maybe I'll get a bigger boat some day if the need arises, but I know better than to do too far down into that money pit! I can detach the motor and carry it myself, and with help I can even get the boat on the roof rack of my van. For the foreseeable future, it's perfect.

At work we had a pretty large job that I'd be doing the climbing on, a big leaf maple that was 3/4s dead and partly hanging over a house. It was a two day job and a lot of fun, far more interesting and technical than climbing a straight up and down doug fir.

Looking down from the only live stem in the tree.

On the first day we got most of the brush off the tree and finished it on day two. Then it was time to take down the trunk wood. Luckily we had space to let it all drop instead of having to lower it out on ropes, but at times we used tag lines to help pull pieces down as I cut. This was my first time in a tree with a 32” saw, so that was pretty cool!

All done.

This whole time we had been collecting documents and filling out forms for the immigration process. Now that we were married, Marijke and I were direct family and I can then sponsor her legal residency in America (her “green card”). This has involved a great number of things, such as tax records and pay stubs from work, birth certificates, school transcripts, letters from friends and family about our relationship and photos of us together to show it is a 'real' marriage and not a ploy just for a green card. It has mostly been straight forward, just collecting the right papers and checking the right boxes, but I'm glad we decided to have an immigration lawyer help us through the process. Once we had everything on the list, we mailed a fat packet of paper to our lawyer and crossed our fingers.

Work cleaning out the house also continued. We essentially went room by room, emptying everything out, washing down the walls (which changed color because they had such a layer of dust built up on them), removing the furniture we didn't wish to keep and cleaning the furniture we did.

Found this moth laying eggs on a piece of ocean spray one night.

As part of our floor to ceiling clean of the house, naturally we washed the carpets as well, and believe me, they needed it. This photo is in the master bedroom, which has some pretty nice looking pine T&G paneling.

The house was still a long ways away from clean (we had a few rooms to go) but we had done enough by mid August, about a month after the wedding and Marijke moving into the cabin, for us to move into the house while we continued our work. We had a celebratory drink of cheap champagne that was left over from the wedding and while I can't remember this day exactly, I'm sure we got right back to work scrubbing!

We are only renting, but to have a house of our own (with an indoor bathroom! Haha) to live in and a piece of property where we can have our own quiet space is wonderful.

Funny enough the property we moved onto neighbors our friends land, we are even on the same loop road! So when a group of friends from Seattle came up for the weekend, we didn't have to go far to join the celebrations.

A look at the house from the outside. It's a pretty dull looking rectangle of a house to be honest, but the interior is well laid out and it's our own space which is what really matters. The house is surrounded by beautiful trees, moss, and sits on the edge of a cliff looking towards the setting sun, I have no complaints!

The cleaning continued. The kitchen is dated looking, but is extremely functional. Every single surface was vacuumed, opened and disinfected on each surface, front and back, inside and outside. It took a few days but was worth it.

This is the best side of the house, the 900 square foot deck. As I said, the house is literally on the edge of a cliff, beyond the deck to the left in this photo is about a 30 foot drop off. It is currently overgrown, but below it is a big meadow, the north end of the secondary airstrip, and if you look closely there is even a bit of a water view in the distance, as well as the neighboring island. All of this is visible through the huge windows in the bedroom looking west and in the living room that looks south and west. My big project for this property will be to remove a lot of trees and reclaim the view, which I'm sure was spectacular 50 years ago when the house was built.

Because the house was built on a 'mossy bald' (bare rock covered in a thick layer of moss, almost no soil so to speak), the trees that have managed to take hold in this environment are very, very slow growing. A small fir, say 35 feet tall and 10” in diameter can be deceptively old. I removed this branch off such a tree, about 3” in diameter, and found the branch alone was around 80 years old!

The living room is coming together! Ok, so Marijke didn't let me keep the speakers setup like that, but the rest of the stuff has remained the same. As I said earlier, all the furniture was still in the house, so while we removed a lot of things, we kept what we wanted to use and that was a huge help since all I had was a futon and a folding table. The matching flower pattern couch and love seat are very 70s, but are actually quite comfortable.

The other side of the living room is the 'heart' of the house, the wood stove that provides us with all of our heat. I know I'm old school in this regard, and it's probably in large part because I cut trees for a living, but I'd take wood heat over any other type of heat every time. Again, it has a very dated look to it, but I love it. This was originally an open fireplace, but a wood stove insert was added later and while it isn't nearly as efficient as a freestanding wood stove (and it's an insert from the 80s), it has been getting the job done just fine. The large firewood storage space left of the stove is a great touch, something I hadn't thought about before, but something I'd like to incorporate into any future house of mine given the opportunity. And the mantle above the stove is a great place to display some of my cool nature items.

Looking off a dock, at the marine life just below the surface. I've done a bit of diving in warm waters (the Philippines, Thailand, South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania) but never in the northwest where I live. I'm very curious what it looks like down there, maybe one of these days I'll get around to it…

Another day at work and another tree to climb. Doug firs usually grow straight and tall, but this one, growing under the shadow of larger and older trees sought light and took a huge curve, overhanging an important water system. That made it a high failure risk and it needed to be removed. Luckily I was able to tie into the taller neighboring tree for safety, but getting it down safely was a fun challenge.

Back home, living on 80 acres gives you a lot of space to wander around, and when the previous owner collected cars, trucks and heavy equipment, there is cool old stuff all over the place. This huge International bulldozer is just one such piece of equipment parked under the trees.

Continuing the walk around the property, this is one of the 3 large ponds on the property, and not even the largest of them. It sits next to the airfield and attracts a lot of ducks and other wildlife.

Of the many ways we lucked out with this house, another was that there was already a huge pile of already bucked firewood rounds right in the center of the turnaround next to the house. I cleaned out and reinforced an old carport (it was so shaky you could move the whole structure with a single finger) to become the woodshed, and set to work splitting wood.

At this point Marijke had still not really seen me climb and cut trees in person, so she accompanied me on a job one day to see what I really do. Unsurprisingly, she found it a bit scary. But she also wants to learn how to do some of this kind of stuff, so while she is not ready to use a chainsaw just yet, I helped teach her how cut down a tiny little tree with a handsaw, and she got a good laugh out of it.

The view from our living room and deck. The house faces directly west, providing a tremendous view of the sunset, but over time the trees have really taken over. In the next two or three posts, I'll show the process of reclaiming some of the view.

By this point we finally had the house pretty much done and invited some guests, the three interns at the monastery, over for dinner as a little housewarming party.

A bad ass picture I got of my boss Austen on a removal job one day.

Because we wanted to keep our actual wedding ceremony so small, just immediate family and a few friends for Marijke; my aunts, uncles and grandparents were not in attendance. That said, we still wanted an event to include people, so we returned to Seattle for a dinner with the wider family. It was held at my aunt Katharine and uncle Steve’s house near the wonderful Volunteer Park, which we took a walk in that afternoon before the event.

The view towards downtown from the top of the water tower.


We had wonderful dinner that evening with the whole family and then shared photos and stories with everyone on the big screen TV.

The visit to Seattle to share wedding photos and celebrate with my family was great, but then it was time to catch the ferry back to Shaw. We still have a ways to go before everything in the house is 'finished', but it does feel like home.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from recent posts (marriage excites people I guess!) and while I know I'm way behind, it gives me a bit of extra motivation to put more effort into the blogs again, both in terms of keeping up and in terms of writing a bit more story and thought instead of simply photo captions. Next post will cover a bit more than a month, mostly projects around the house, work, the transition into the fall season and a trip to the cabin for a few days of hiking. Bye for now.