Sunday, March 5, 2017

A House Becoming a Home & the Leaves Changing Colors

When I first moved to Shaw island, I expected to stay the summer helping my friends grow veggies and hit the road once winter came, heading out into the unknown and living on the road as I had done for most of the two and a half years before. What happened instead was that I fell in love with the island and the lifestyle. The next major change of course came a bit later, that I met and fell in love with Marijke and we were married shortly after. I've been living on this tiny island for nearly 4 years now and I'm certainly not the same person as when I came here. It's not that my personality or values have changed, maybe just my direction and goals, and that the fire I had inside me during my 20's has become more tempered, like going from wild gasoline flames to steady glowing coal. Maybe that's just in our DNA when we hit our 30's, I don't know. I still dream of heading out on adventures at times, and I expect there are still a few ahead of me, but it's just different now. I've got a wife, two cats and a house full of stuff. And I don't feel like it ties me down, it is what makes where I am “Home”. My most important goals now are to have a strong relationship with my wife, buy a piece of land to shape and beautify, create and build things: both useful and simply for the sake of art, and to continue to take time to recognize and appreciate all that life has to offer, both large and small.

Is that just a pretentious way to say I'm getting boring? I don't think so, but who knows. All I can know for sure is that life is pretty excellent these days. In this post I finally bring summer to a close, settling into our new (rental) house and then spending a few days at the cabin to change the scenery and hike in the mountains.

I can't imagine a job where I work indoors, I just can't. Maybe if I become crippled or something… This was “just another day at work,” but the location was pretty excellent, a 200 acre estate overlooking the water and the Olympic mountains in the distance.

Blind Bay is part of my morning ritual, driving along its edge on my way to work it sort of tells me what the day ahead will hold in terms of weather, because it's the first place in the morning I'm no longer in the forest and can really see the wider world around me.

Most of the time my boss and I find ourselves working at houses in the woods, so this was a somewhat different day, working right on the edge of Eastsound. We were there to deadwood some big firs, where the first branch wasn't for about 60 feet and the views were pretty cool.

One of the many things that was left behind in the house when we moved in was a waffle maker, and it is something we have gotten a great amount of use out of. I'm not sure how the idea began, but other than a few times when we have been gone, we have had waffles together every weekend, our little tradition that we hope continues until we are old.

Old fields near the preserve. In the distance you can see one of the countless old orchards that seem to be everywhere on the islands.

Yet another great thing about the new property we moved onto is that I have my own shop space! This is an 'in progress' photo as I was cleaning and organizing the place, but it's great to have a nice dry space to store tools, work on saws, build things and be loud and messy. Still on the wall was a calendar from 1973!

Another day at work, another tree. This one we were speed-lining branches to the chipper. What that means is that you have a rope that you move up the trunk as you go, and using a sling to attach each branch to the line, you cut it free and the whole branch to slides down the rope directly to the chipper. It's a great technique when you have the space for it. At the same time, Dave was using his crane to haul away some logs from an earlier tree.

By now it was the end of September and although the sun was still shining, it would be time to start using the wood stove soon to heat the place. There was a big pile of firewood rounds already sitting in the driveway when we moved in, and an old carport right next to the house would work perfectly as a woodshed, so Marijke and I got to work splitting and stacking. The carport was so shaky you could move it with one finger, but I added some cross-bracing and fixed that right up. Much of the wood was old and punky, but there seemed to be plenty of it.

Fog rolling off the fields and into Blind Bay as the sun comes up. Always puts a smile on my face.

The clean-up of the property has been continuing (a project I am not a part of) and a lot of progress is being made. I think old cars and stuff like that are awesome, and I'd love to see someone take every single piece home and lovingly restore it, but the fact is that will never happen. The only way to deal with a mess on this kind of scale is what is happening right here: crush and cut the cars up, haul them to the scrap yard and melt them down to something useful again…

It's not often we have social activities on other islands, but a friend of Marijke's invited us to a concert and to spend the night at her place on Lopez. As we were in the ferry line on Shaw the guy who runs it overheard we were going to Lopez and asked if I could fit three kayaks on my roof rack. I'd never done it before, but I said I probably could and asked why. As it turns out, a group of 5 tourists had been camping, got cold and tired, and with the weather the way it was, were in no shape to paddle the rest of the way to Lopez where they rented the boats from. Luckily I'd be heading right past the rental shop, had all the straps I needed to tie down the boats and the space for 5 extra people and their gear, so we put the three boats on the roof, the people and their gear in the back, and headed off. It's always nice to help people out, and always fun to know you are prepared for unexpected situations!

Once on Lopez, we met Kristina and got a tour of the beautiful property/farm she lives on. I've been lucky enough to visit some pretty amazing places in the islands, and even so, this one stood out as being particularly nice. It had wonderful gardens for flowers as well as food, spaces for community events, a Waldorf school yurt, cool old barns, had goats and sold goat cheese, and much more.

The event we were on Lopez to attend that evening was a funk band playing the community center, so in the evening we headed to town. We were by a fairly wide margin some of the youngest people in the crowd, it was mostly people in their 40s and 50s, but on Shaw they would be in their 70s and 80s, so I guess that makes the audience relatively young! The band looked a little silly if I'm honest, but the music was fun and the crowd was dancing, so it was enjoyable and certainly not the kind of thing we get where we live!

Marijke and our friend and host for the weekend, Kristina. We went for a walk near town, then headed to the ferry home.

Ok, maybe this is a little cheesy… These are berries from the madrone tree, and I just thought they had a cool color to them. Apparently they are edible, but I've never tried them.

Our matching cars in the car port. The structure really isn't big enough for two cars, but I wanted to try. With one vehicle, it leaves a great deal of covered storage space and is yet another excellent feature of the property. Now I know cars are perfectly fine just living outside and uncovered, but honestly having a car port is really nice… and it gives me plenty of ideas for the kind of car port I hope to design and built some day when we have our own land.

So the house was built in back in 1968, and back then it must have had a hell of a view. Being just below the highest part of the island, sitting on the edge of a cliff essentially, and facing directly west towards the setting sun and San Juan Island I'm sure it was a sight to see. In the intervening decades the firs that were all logged off have regrown and completely closed in the house and the view. What's the point of living on 80 acres when can't see any of it? So anyways, this was the view from the deck when we moved in, and reclaiming some of the view was going to be a huge project but one I was looking forward to.

Luckily there was an obvious place to start removing trees, and by cutting down just two of them, I was able to open a view between the house and the meadow below. Suddenly, we were no longer just in a dark hole in the forest, things were opening up again.

As always, my eyes are always open for interesting creatures… Never seen one of these before on Shaw, not sure what it is actually.

Living in a tiny cabin was great and all…. But it sure is nice to be able to host friends when they come up to visit.

I'm not sure if this qualifies as 'great things left behind by the previous owner' or 'junk left behind by the previous owner,' but there was a large pile of cedar shingles next to what was now the woodshed, and cedar shingles make perfect kindling. Easy to split, uniform size, catches fire easily, and so on. Here is Marijke's pile after a short session with a hatchet.

Long ago I joked to Marijke we would have to buy a Dutch flag and fly it at our house, so as a surprise I ordered one online and put it on the wall in our porch area. She got a good laugh out of it and it's still there today.

Using my boat to commute between Shaw and Orcas for work is awesome, and provides me with stunning scenery like this frequently. Can't say I miss sitting in traffic one bit. (That's Mt Baker in the distance by the way).

I've been keeping my boat on a buoy in Blind Bay, meaning I have to use a rowboat to get to it from shore. It's a little bit of extra work, but worth it until I get a better place to keep my boat. This fiberglass rowboat Marijke is rowing was freebie.

Another fine example of the beautiful trucks all over the property.

As the summer ends and fall begins, my work on the view project continues right along. I'm only taking firs, all the maples, cedars and underbrush is staying. I clean up each tree as I go, burning the brush and moving all the wood off to the side. It's a huge amount of work and I'm doing it all by hand, but not only do I enjoy it, I've really improved my tree falling skills in the process!

Our house on the hill.

So a very fun thing about this project is the immediate satisfaction it provides. Each tree makes a large difference and going from the wall of trees as you stand on the deck to this view here feels great. There is a lot more to go, but being able to have that sense of open space on this side of the house, a real feeling of the cliff we are perched on, being able to see the colors and textures of the different trees and grass around and the incredible sunsets makes all the work totally worth it. We are also starting to see the other island in the distance as well now, which is pretty cool.

The firewood splitting is going well also, and it sure is satisfying to watch the shed fill up like this.

By this time it's mid-October and we have lived in the house for just over two months. The spring and summer have been wonderful but also grueling with everything that happened: Marijke coming back to America, getting married, cleaning out an entire house, moving and truly beginning our life together. Burned out isn't the right phrase, but we were both in need of a change of scenery and a little escape. So we planned a long weekend at the cabin, intending to hike in the mountains as much as possible, and set off.

The calm waters and sunset made for a spectacular boat ride to the mainland.

We arrived in Seattle fairly late, stayed with a good friend of mine and set off the next morning, but not before hitting up Vera's in Ballard for some old fashioned diner-style breakfast. Marijke thought it looked just like the old American movies (it is a bit of a time capsule) and there were even a pair of cops getting breakfast and a server who didn't care much pouring us weak coffee, haha.

Before heading to the cabin we swung my my parents house to say hi. My dad is currently working on a little shop space in the back yard. Obviously he also likes to build things and be creative, I guess it's clear when it comes form in me…

Heading east, over the floating bridge and into the Cascade mountains.

Not long after leaving Seattle, we had arrived at the cabin. The last time we were here was a few months back when Marijke had just come back to America and before we were married. This has always been a special place to me, as I spent so much time here growing up, and I imagine it will continue to play a part in our lives for a long time. As always, I am very grateful to have a place like this to get away to.

Being October, the fall colors were in full swing, and while the weather was a light drizzle much of the time, there were some fantastic bits of sunshine in between.

A bridge made from a crooked log as we made our way farther up the valley. It had been a very rainy few days, so water was flowing everywhere. In many places the trail was simply a stream, so it took a lot of effort and attention to try and keep dry.

This was our turn-around point for the days short walk. I forget how many years ago it happened, but a while back there was a large avalanche down this slope and huge numbers of trees were simply wiped away. It's pretty cool, when you look at the other side of the valley it also has a ton of trees pushed over in the same direction, lasting evidence that the avalanche went down the valley with so much force it went two or three hundred feet up the other side!

The next day after breakfast we drove out of our little valley and to the Snow Lake trail head. This is a well known and often extremely busy trail, but for good reason. It is very close to Seattle and it is probably just about the most stunning hike you can get to within an hours drive of the city. Lucky for us it was mid week and raining, so there werent too many people around.

The lakes outflow is the coolest I've ever seen: a log jam and a narrow slot between the stone, dropping out of view into the neighboring valley.

At about lunch time it began to rain harder, so we stopped to eat on the other side, admiring how the cliffs lead straight to the lake and the snow and ice hung above, waiting to be replenished by the soon to arrive winter snows.

After a beautiful but rather wet hike, it was nice to have a warm cabin to return to and we enjoyed dinner, beer and a movie on my computer.

The last and final outing on our little day-hike get away was to go towards the Kendal Katwalk and the Pacific Crest Trail. Because that section is at the very top of a ridge, that meant our hike was literally just walking up hill for 6 miles, haha. Most of that time was in the trees, but as the sun came out and burned off the clouds, it sure was beautiful.

Crossing a boulder field on the trail.

The weather was cool but clear and the rains from the previous days were still working their way downhill.

Eventually we finally reached the point where the trail comes out of the trees, into the rocky peaks and were greeted with an awesome view of Mt Rainier in the distance.

I love being in this kind of environment and Marijke was certainly impressed as well. Coming from a flat country, this kind of thing sure is different from where she grew up! In the end we turned around before reaching the Katwalk because it was very cold and we were running out of time, but it was still an awesome hike. I can't wait to return in the spring/summer to the area and take Marijke on some overnight hikes!

We spent the next morning taking it easy, doing a few projects around the cabin and returning to Seattle where we hung out with my good friends Dan (who also hosted us again, thanks!) and Brendan.

The next day we had breakfast at the same diner in Ballard as before, ran our 'mainland errands' and caught the ferry boat home to the island, where it was time to relight the fire and warm the house up again after our time away.