Monday, May 8, 2017

White Snow & Green Cards

Spring is here now and life is popping up everywhere I look. It truly is a wonderful time of year and I look forward to talking about it shortly, but it's time to wrap up winter first. In the winter it seems that not only does the pace of the natural world slow down, so did the pace of our personal lives. I don't mean that in a bad way, it is a time of rest to some extent. Maybe I'm just used to a lot of fast change in recent months and maybe even the past few years, but there wasn't any of that during the period of this post. We got a new car, got snowed out of work a number of times, I did a lot of improvements around the property, and most importantly the green card process with my wife concluded. All important things, but nothing that altered our day to day realities. Anyways, life has been good so here goes:

People always complain about winter in the northwest (well, everywhere I suppose...), talking about how long and gray it is, but I work outside most every day and I see the sun frequently. This is some late December sun on the mossy cliff our house is built on, days like this are not so uncommon.

I'm a big fan of nature watching as anyone reading this blog probably knows, and although I actually know an embarrassingly little about them, watching the birds outside my windows gives me great pleasure. I put up bird feeders when we first moved in, but for whatever reason it took months for birds to start using them. That said, these days I often see probably 10 different types of birds a day at my feeders, often a dozen or more at a time, and need to refill the seed daily. I guess this is my “old man” activity.

New Years! I had some sparklers to light at midnight on the deck with Marijke, and we cooked up some traditional Dutch new years treats on the stove. It wasn't exactly a big party here on Shaw for us, but it was fun to mark the date at least.

So this is how I get to work every day. Living on one island and working on another presents some obvious challenges, and I can always take the ferry between islands but the schedule is limited and inconvenient. Then again, my boat isn't exactly easy… what I do is carry the small row boat from where I keep it next to the road down to the water, paddle it to the dock float in Blind bay where I keep my motor boat, pull it up onto the dock and then hop in the motor boat to take the mile long journey, no matter the weather, in my 12 foot aluminum boat to Orcas. We leave a car on Orcas that I can then drive to work once I'm on that side.

We weren't a water family growing up, our time was spent in the mountains. Although we did some nice river and lake trips, saltwater wasn't really on our radar. Out here of course it is a daily feature of life and even when the weather is terrible I love being out on my little boat; feeling every wave, seeing different wildlife and living in the moment, alone on the water.

….And sometimes I see other interesting things from my boat! (A few days later the boat was righted and towed way for repairs)

Even with the mountain of wood I split to get us through the winter, by early January it was clear we still needed a lot more. Our house is old and poorly insulated, it has huge single pane windows, the wood stove is old and inefficient (and a fireplace insert at that) and the wood we did have, much of it was a bit on the soft side from sitting so long before we moved in to get it under cover. That said, on 80 acres we had plenty of trees to choose from, so I spent half a day taking down, bucking and splitting some small standing dead firs, tossing them in the van and stacking them in the woodshed. I'll have a truck eventually, but I'm always happy and impressed with the usefulness of my full-size cargo van!

Another of the great old trucks on the property, on the list to be hauled away.

With winter usually comes storms, and with storms usually comes interesting tree work. While there was less than I expected this winter, we did get a few jobs such as this maple that split out (you can see where it broke from behind the cab of the machine) and landed on a tool shed. The excavator is a pretty new tool for the business and it's been a huge help for this kind of thing.

The other thing that comes with storms of course is power outages. Being prepared for extended events due to storms, natural disasters or human caused disasters is something I always keep in mind and I've got systems ready to handle at a moments notice. One evening during a predicted wind storm the power did go out and I sprang into action, setting up the generator to keep some lights, the fridge and a few other things on, as well as the portable propane stove, and jugs of clean water (since I don't have a 220 volt generator to run the well pump yet). Once all our emergency systems were in place…. The power came back on. Oh well, at least I was ready.

One day we had a job taking down a decent sized fir that was too close to the customers house, and while we carried most of the wood away, honestly we weren't so keep on carrying the biggest part up the stairs. What we did instead was ask if they were interested in turning the remaining curved log into a bench, and after doing it they were so happy with the bench they decided to redesign that part of the yard to make it a key part of the garden!

Looking down towards Eastsound and Canada in the distance.

New car time! Up until now Marijke had been driving my piece of junk $1,500 Ford Explorer, something that was literally an 'extra car I had laying around', and it was time for an upgrade. So we headed into Seattle and did the predictable thing, bought a used Subaru Outback. I'm a huge fan of the practicality of all-wheel-drive wagons, I had a Subaru Impreza in the past, and at one point my dad, brother and both sisters were driving AWD wagons at the same time as well! (three Outbacks and a Volvo XC). The car is in very good condition, it's a Limited so it has leather, heated seats and dual sun roofs, and Marijks is very happy with it.

Breakfast with my uncle Steve, who we stayed with while in Seattle.

That day also happened to be Marijke's 30th birthday, so while doing our 'mainland grocery shopping trip' I bought a little cake and surprised her with birthday candles while we sat in my van on the ferry back to the island.

Fence work in January isn't always pretty! This was more livestock fence building at the monastery and the ground was a soupy mess but we got the job done.

Playing at work.

My commute home from work is pretty awesome when the sun is shining, but even when it's not I still enjoy it. Until I started commuting with this boat, I'd spent very little time on salt water. Sure I've done some sea kayaking trips, spent a little time on sail boats and so on, but now I'm on the water a few days a week and I love it. It's peaceful, there is a lot to see and experience along the way and it's a whole new world that I get to enjoy.

More fun storm work! This was a pretty cool job, the tree was poorly rooted and blew over in some moderately high winds one day. After removing all the branches, most of which were on the roof, we put a pulley in a nearby tree and another rope-redirect on a truck, then managed to use a second truck all the way on the other side of the house to lift the log up and away from the house. It was pretty tricky rigging but worked out perfectly.

I've been getting my shop in order and hanging rusty tools on the wall for decoration. Having this space to keep tools and work on projects is awesome, I never want to live without my own shop again! (but I'll probably have to when we eventually move...)

It's only late January and still pretty cold. As a result, I'm burning a lot of wood and keep needing more.

Visiting some horses as we walked around the loop road.

A calm day on the water. This is Blind Island and the Orcas ferry landing in the distance.

It was at this time Austen and I started working with a new guy at work, also named…. Austen. He is a cousin of my friend out here, grew up around trees and logging, worked a number of seasons cutting trees for the forest service and has been with us ever since. It's nice to have another young capable guy on the crew and he's a lot of fun to work with.

Aww, my wife found me a skull!

I love to create things and while I wouldn't go as far as to call myself an artist, I certainly do enjoy creating art. In the middle of our driveway turn-around there has been this bare space that was bugging me for a long time, so I came up with something interesting to put there instead. I cleaned and leveled the space, collected rounded stones from the quarry and laid them out in a spiral, from smallest to largest, in the center of this cluster of trees. After that, I collected moss from all around the forest, and filled in the space between the stones.

Here is the finished product, I'm very happy with how it turned out.

And another thing just because I felt it looked neat… This is a piece of firewood that had a huge amount of dried sap on it. If you look at that concave spot above the dark black end, you can actually see what is a 1” thick chunk of sap. Once put in the woodstove, the piece ignited in quite a spectacular way.

Another beautiful day, boating home from work. It's been so long since I had to take the ferry boat to work I almost forget what it is like. I did enjoy the community/social aspect of taking the ferry because it's such a part of island life, but the schedule is just plain inconvenient.

So people sure complained that we had an especially hard winter this year and normally I'd say people just like to complain, but this year they weren't wrong. Up to this point we had a few cold periods and dustings of snow, which in itself is rare, but in early February we had our first period of snow that lasted a couple of days. Because of the snow work was called off (driving big trucks on snowy roads is a bad idea if you don't need to, etc) and I spent a few days being lazy on the couch and stoking the fire. Rare behavior for me… The birds sure were coming to my feeder though, as it was the only easy to find food while the ground was covered.

Of course snow makes for some beautiful scenery and it was combined with some wonderful blue skies.

Once things melted a bit, it was back to work. There was still some snow on the ground while we were out cutting, and as I was climbing a tree doing a removal it began snowing again. I'd never climbed in the snow (to be fair it was light snow) before, so that was a first!

With more snow coming down it was time to get home before things got worse. As you can imagine, boating home wasn't the most appealing prospect ever, but oh well, gotta get home!

I'd say there was a good chance I was the only person out in an open cockpit boat that day…

Not used to seeing this, our house covered in snow.

Now this is how to spend a snow day, sweatpants and cats!

And the warm fire.

The snow stayed on the ground for a few days, but as soon as it was gone, it was easy to find signs of spring if you looked. It was still only early February but we had the first few daffodils popping out of the ground.

Nice weather made for some great walks at the preserve.

It was at this time we finally began letting our cats outside for the first time, and while Sem is older and fairly reserved, Baxter here is young, curious loves to explore and climb trees.

Mt Baker, a ferry, ducks and the Shaw landing as I boat home for the day. Yah, I love my commute.

Believe it or not I don't only do things outside (though it is my preference). I also spent the winter trying to perfect my home office, including building nice wood stands for my computer (a laptop that sits upright behind the monitor) and my screen.

Baxter and bald-bellied Sem, sitting on top of the piano.

The float where I keep my boat does go dry or nearly on especially low tides and this was one of them. Also, proof not every day is sunny and bright out here!

In my quest to reclaim some of our views, the process isn't just about seeing sky but also about featuring the landscape and other trees. We have a ton of firs around here that are crowding the mature big leaf maples, so I decided to open the view out our living room window to this moss covered maple, and give it some more space. Looking out the window at this tree now is one of my favorite views we have.

The purple leaf plum in front of the house is starting to bud. Spring is close!

Marijke and I decided to have a fun day on Orcas so we took the boat. The water was a little choppier than usual but it was still a lovely day.

Hiking on Turtleback and admiring the valley below.

Shortly after, I was at work on Orcas when it began to snow, again. We could tell it wasn't going to let up any time soon and that we had better stop the job and get home before it was too late. I had most of the island to drive across, and the road was absolute chaos. Not that the snow was really that bad, but people just don't know how to handle it and weren't prepared for it. There were cars just parked on the side of the road everywhere and cars in the ditches all over the place too. A friend I know was passing the other way and warned me that farther along, the entire road was blocked by an accident, but I may be able to get around it on a back way. Somehow the back road was clear (I think most people were too scared to take it) and I made it to the ferry landing, stopping to rescue a little old lady who was stuck on the way. I later heard that something like 35 cars slid off the road just between town and the ferry that day…

A few weeks ago Marijke and I received a letter from the immigration offices that we had a date scheduled for our final immigration interview, the last step that would decide if Marijke would receive her green card and be able to stay in the country with me. Although we knew we had a solid case, submitted all the appropriate paperwork and had a lawyer helping us with the process, we were still nervous. The day before the interview we met our lawyer downtown at her office to prepare and hope for the best.

While in the city we spent the night with my parents, and that evening had a video chat with my older sister Holly. With Marijke and both of my parents there, Holly announced that she was going to be having twins!

The morning of our interview our lawyer met us at the somewhat intimidating Homeland Security office in south Seattle and we waited for our number to be called. The immigration officer turned out to be a friendly young woman who took us to a small impersonal office and began asking us a few questions, to start with mostly to check our personal information was correct. When she asked us to confirm our mailing address, she literally said “Now is this the address we send the green card to?” Suddenly we were feeling confident. When it came time to question me, she literally just asked if my name and birth date on the forms was correct. She asked a few questions about how we met and about Shaw, which she seemed sounded like a very cute place, and 10 minutes later the interview was over! We were told our case would go through one last review and to expect something in a few days.

We had to return home, so after a celebratory breakfast that the process was over we drove north. Before we had even reached the ferry terminal to return to the islands, our lawyer called us to say the immigration website had been updated and our case was approved! It's like the immigration officer just checked the 'yes' box on the computer as soon as we walked out off the room, haha.

And with that, Marijke was finally a resident of the United States. My wife and I finally had certainty we could stay together. The process we began about 8 months ago was over, and the whole thing was, by all standards, quick and painless. We had some German beer to celebrate, talked about how smooth everything went and felt a tremendous sense of relief it was finally over.

Whew, well that finally brings me up to the start of spring, I'm kind of not behind finally! Spring is all about the 'new,' and with that in mind the next post will be discussing the start of a new chapter in life, so check back for that in a little while.