Saturday, March 25, 2017

Here Comes The Snow: Wrapping up an Amazing Year

Well, with this post I'll pretty much finish 2016. All in all, it was a pretty awesome year: starting with a great trip in Mexico, returning to the island and Marijke, deciding to get married, taking our road trip from the island down to LA, the wedding, moving into a house together and getting settled as a new couple. When the year began I sure had no idea it would end this way, but I couldn't be happier. This post is about the last part of the year, November and December, which was mostly settling into the house, work (as usual) and the holidays.

I've always been a cat person. My family had both a cat and a dog growing up so I've experienced both, but cats just suit me better. Luckily Marijke is the same way. When she came to America she gave away her cat Freddy, so now that we were settled in a house together, it was time to get some cats for our 'family'. The shelter on Orcas had plenty to choose from, and we ended up taking two, Sam the black cat, and Baxter, the orange one. Sam is older, fat and not very social, so the shelter was impressed when he approached both of us, and I guess that is what sealed the deal to pick him. Baxter is young and curious, so the mix seemed like a fun idea. As I write this a few months since getting them, both have turned out to be excellent cats and a great deal of fun to have around.

On the subject of the house, this is the crazy basement it has! On one end there is a door, and that leads into this, a cement floor and bare rock all around. I guess they started breaking out rock for the basement and decided that was big enough? This also shows yet another interesting technique employed in the construction of the house, those vertical pieces holding up the main beams under the floor are actually pieces of rail road track! This space was the worst mess of the house by a wide margin, but by cleaning it and adding some ventilation it has proved to be great storage space.

There was still a great deal of work to do on the view project, and it was what had been occupying much of my free time and energy. Some of the trees were very large, up to 130' tall, and falling them whole would put the brush/mess well beyond the burn pile you can see in this photo. So as a way to contain the mess and cleanup, I climbed and limbed many of the trees until I could fit the top in the clearing I'd made.

In this photo, I am in probably the largest trees of the project, one of the 130 footers. I went to 70 feet, limbing it as I went up with a 20” chainsaw (361) and there I took a whopping 60 foot top. I'd never taken one that big before (it's probably pretty uncommon for anyone to actually) and scary isn't the right word, but it was pretty intense. Really you are just doing all the same stuff as usual, just on a bigger scale, but that means it's got to be just right. It sort of felt like slow-motion when it started to go over, and once it did, it sure had a long ways to fall. All in a days work, right?

Marijke helping me drag and toss limbs onto the burn pile.

November came, but so long as the ground was still solid enough to drive on, there was fence to build. Morning sun at the monastery as we loaded up tools and tractors, sure is a nice sight compared to the rain we could be having.

Some mornings my leaving for work line up perfectly with sunrise, and for a few days we had a number of incredible ones in a row. This is a photo I took from my driveway looking down the runway before heading off to the boat.

Marijke, Baxter, Brud and Carol, a little visit and housewarming gift from some fellow islanders.

As you probably know, I'm always keeping my eyes out for wildlife, and while I see a fair bit at this house what I do miss out on is the deer. Having previously lived on the edge of a large meadow, I'd practically watch herds pass through every day, but now that I'm in the trees and on a lot of moss covered rock I seldom see them around the house. I miss watching them actually…

The Boy Scout motto is 'Be Prepared' and that mindset is certainly important when living on an island with no stores. We do some of our grocery shopping on Orcas island, but to save money we do as much as possible in big trips on the mainland. Looking at this picture now I know its a while ago, because for quite some time now we have switched to using (and often filling) two whole carts.

Back in August we mailed off Marijke's green card application, but at the same time she also applied for her work permit so she could legally work in the U.S. Luckily that is a faster and easier process than the green card, and three months later the work permit arrived in the mail, finally allowing her to get a real job. It was a nice moment because it was an important step in my wife being able to establish herself in this country, and it also felt like a good sign for our green card application, even though we knew that was still a long ways off.

At the monastery building fence.

Ah yes, this was an interesting tree job. If you look above the cab of the crane, you can see a large fir trunk leaning into other trees. On a windy day it uprooted and lodged itself in the tops of three other trees next to a driveway. Dave the crane guy devised a rigging solution that involved hoisting me up and dangling me over the leaning tree to install a large pulley, then a 3-1 system using other trees and the cranes winch to partly right and then stabilize the leaning tree.

We decided it was more stable to keep the tree at a bit of an angle, so keeping it attached to the crane and using two other guy-lines to further stabilize it, I then climbed it and treated it like any other removal. It felt a little sketchy, but it all went perfectly.

A nice fall day and a look at the view progress. It's awesome to see the water and San Juan island out my windows! By this point I've done the bulk of the trees on the right side (minus dropping those three sticks) and soon the focus will turn to the tall trees on the left.

Speaking of dropping the big standing sticks, that was the next stage of the project. Having an open field to drop things into makes for great learning opportunities to practice wedging trees against their lean, something I took advantage of when using my new 36” bar.

Heading to Friday Harbor for dinner and a movie with the wife.

Walking on the late boat back home to Shaw.

Dropping trees is the easy part, once they are down I had to actually clean them up. And I spent days and days feeding the burn pile with branches. At least the smoke looked kind of cool with the sun shining through it.

The house is very much a product of it's time, and then the 'upgrades' were the products of their time as well. Both bathrooms were actually carpeted, which honestly is disgusting in a bathroom… I guess people were into that in the 80s? Lucky for us though the carpet was just installed over the original late 60s flooring so after a couple of hours time we were back to an easily cleanable surface. Also, why they installed a heater into the wall, but no exhaust fan is beyond me…

In a previous post I mentioned the shop space I was cleaning out and by this point I had the place knocked into shape. It's awesome to have a shop to work on my chainsaws, do woodworking projects and generally be loud and messy. Yah, I'm loving having my own shop. I keep telling Marijke she is welcome to use it and hang out there as well, but she has yet to take me up on the offer…

By now it was Thanksgiving and my parents were up to see the house, stay with us and spend the holiday together. It also marked an anniversary for us, because it was after Thanksgiving dinner just one year earlier that Marijke and I started seeing each other. If back then you were to tell me I'd marry her 8 months later and be hosting my parents in our home for dinner in a years time, there is no way I'd believe it. Anyways, while the bird was in the oven we drank wine and played games.

With just four people we decided a whole turkey was unnecessary, so we cooked a chicken instead. The fun thing about that was it was actually a chicken raised by my friends and processed by Marijke and friends on the property where I built the cabin. She is normally a vegetarian, but knowing where it came from, seeing it grow and being part of the butchering and cleaning process she ate and enjoyed the bird as well.

I've mentioned the giant clean up project on the property where we live, and here is another fun part of it. This crazy truck here is the work-horse of the whole thing, a 6x6 truck with no cab, a keg gas tank, wood bench for a seat, manually adjusted boom and winch, all for yanking other trucks out of the forest and hauling them to be scrapped. I love this thing, so much awesome.

Being the holiday season, it was time for the annual holiday bazaar in the community center, always a good way to chat with your neighbors.

One of the many benefits of living on 80 acres is that you can walk out your door, into your 'backyard' and cut your own Christmas tree! We had done a scouting mission earlier, and once we found our favorites again, weighing the pros and cons of the various small trees, decided on a great little doug fir and carried it up the runway and to our front door.

At the time it began we didn't know what was coming, but as it turned out this winter was one of the coldest and snowiest in a very long time. Most years there is snow on the ground once or twice, but this winter there have been probably 5 or 6 times, and extended periods of well below freezing temperatures that kept the snow around. This was the first snow of the winter as it came down, but there would be a lot more headed our way.

Looking up at our house on the cliff from the meadow below.

And the opposite view, this is from the house looking down. I love this photo because you can see a light dusting of snow on the moss, logs below waiting to be processed, the meadow, the water, San Juan island and the setting sun. I'll never tire of this view.

Our Christmas tree, all decorated and lit up.

With Marijke's work permit arriving a month ago and being able to finally work, she signed on with Jack and we found ourselves working together often. Not so long ago we met while I was building fence on the monastery, now we were building fence there together. You may notice the frozen puddles on the ground, as we were once again in the middle of a prolonged period of below freezing temperatures. As long as you keep moving, you don't get cold!

Looking at my little 'weather station' on the deck during that round of cold. I think it was below freezing for over a week, very unusual, so when it also snowed during that period it stuck around for a while. I grew up skiing and love the snow, but honestly I prefer to just visit it than live in it. Snow just makes everything outdoors vastly more difficult if not impossible, and due to bad road conditions I had a few days off work because if you can avoid driving big trucks with trailers on snowy roads, you should.

Eventually the snow did clear up however, and it was back to Orcas and back to work. That made me happy.

Somehow despite owning a GoPro camera for years, and having done tree climbing for years, until this video I'd never really combined the two. So I attached the camera to my helmet and videoed the tree removal process, limbing the tree, taking the top and rappelling down to drop the stick.

This video is one I made of the view project, me taking a 35 foot top at about 75 feet from my point of view, and at the same time Marijke filming from the deck to get the overall perspective. Made for some pretty cool footage if I can say so myself!

Looking towards Mt Baker on the mainland and a ferry boat setting off from Lopez.

One of the island traditions is Carol and Bruds Christmas party, a fun time for everyone to get dressed up, have a few drinks and celebrate the season.

Annnnnnd another cold period. Deciding to make the best of the bad weather, I thought we should make smores in the wood stove. I guess smores aren't a thing in the Netherlands, so I had to explain the whole thing to Marijke, but she got a kick out of it and we had fun doing it together.

A bald eagle in the trees.

A while back my boss got a mini-excavator for the business and we have finally began to really utilize it on jobs. Most of the time we have just been using it to move logs, but it's also awesome for pushing or pulling (small/mid size) trees over, grabbing huge bundles of brush and yarding material up and down hills. I'm looking forward to using the machine more and seeing how much it can increase our abilities as a company.

A rainbow over the water, seen from our living room.

It was just about Christmas by now so Marijke and I headed to Seattle for a few days to spend time with my family. I know I already said something kind of like this about Thanksgiving, but I'll say it again, last year I was bringing her to Christmas with my family before we were even calling each other girlfriend and boyfriend, now we are coming back married. It still blows my mind some times.

Anyways, I convinced my family to come to Whidby island to meet up at our boss Jacks' family holly tree farm and on the way there we stopped in Coupville to visit a funny little store, 'A Touch of Dutch'. The place had all sorts of weird Dutch things, mostly food and treats, as well a few other European goods. There is this big controversy in the Netherlands about 'Black Pete', the helper of Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa), if it is racist or not, and of course we got to taking about it with the woman who owned the store. She was a little awkward about it, but she said she had some Black Pete Christmas ornaments 'in the back' if we wanted one and because it was so funny we couldn't say no. We also bought some Dutch cookies to share with family members and some chocolate.

Shortly after, we met my parents, sisters (out from Alaska and Montana) and sisters husband at the holly tree farm where my boss on Shaw’s family has a gift shop, sells Christmas trees, holly wreaths and does horse drawn carriage rides and carols. I've been hearing about this operation for ages, ever since I first started working for Jack, so it was great fun to finally get to experience it and to share it with my family as well.

At my parents house with siblings and spouses.

A great gift we received from my older sisters husband Rob was this sign with our names routered into it, as well as a cow for Marijke and trees for me. It's a cool, personal and handmade gift, which now is mounted on our front door.

Christmas dinner at my aunt and uncles house.

By now I've posted about this tradition many times, but on Christmas for the last 7 years, my friends all meet up at a bar once all the family dinners are done. It's probably one of the biggest 'friend events' of the year and always a lot of fun once the gift exchange starts to get heated.

But Christmas and family time was still going strong the next day, and we had another wonderful meal with my uncle and grandmother.

All the meals with family were great, but the big highlight of Christmas was heading to the cabin with the family. This is how we grew up: parking at the trail head, strapping on a backpack and skiing into the cabin for the weekend.

All of my family skies, but it was the first time ever for Marijke and she was excited but unsure what to expect. That said, she did fantastic for her first ever time skiing and loved it. I had a ton of fun skiing into the cabin with her, telling stories about how we did this as kids, and giving her a few technique pointers along the way.

We arrived in the late afternoon and Marijke still wanted to do some more skiing because she was having so much fun, so after dropping our packs her and I headed back out until nearly dark. She has always impressed me with her athleticism, and her first time on skies was no exception.

Because we had to return to the island, we were only able to spend one night at the cabin. After the customary pancake breakfast, we broke trail through about 8 inches of fresh snow back to the road, and after clearing the snow off the car we headed back to Seattle, did our grocery shopping and caught the ferry back to the island.

Once home, Marijke hung Sinterklaas and Black Pete on our Christmas tree, we unpacked the van and laid on the couch, tired but satisfied with the wonderful holiday visits.

With that, 2016 is just about at a close and what a year it was. The next post will be covering most of the rest of the winter: lots of tree work, snow, Marijkes birthday, time on my boat, getting stuck in the mud, property improvements and the conclusion of the green card process. Hope you enjoyed this post, and always more to come.