Sometimes you need to remove a shadow…

It’s nine days to the solstice. I took this picture at about quarter to nine…


…and if Landlady’s batteries were under any evening load at all this picture would not be acceptable. In fact this only happens in the month or so before and after the solstice. But if the house were occupied…


I would suggest that this tree be sent to meet Juniper Jesus. Or at least severely trimmed. Landlady prefers a tree there to a stump, so there it stays. But come the day the house is occupied, that rule may need to be revised on the first winter it becomes a problem. Shadows are one good reason to position solar panels as high as possible – of course there are also good reasons to keep them low, like snow removal. Either way: Location, location, location.

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Laddie’s licking himself raw again.

There has to be a way to persuade him to stop this.


I really thought we were past it, it hasn’t happened in months. He arrived with a bloody sore on the same paw from obsessive licking: After a few weeks he let it heal, then promptly licked a second one right next to the first. That one healed, and all seemed well. I figured it was a stress thing, and that it tapered off because he had accepted his new home. He’s a nervous, serious little dog but he doesn’t seem at all unhappy. Then just now he took it up again. Always the same paw, but I don’t get the impression there’s anything wrong with the paw. He doesn’t favor it at all, he just gets into this obsessive licking mode and that’s where he always goes. Don’t know what to do about it.

The sky cleared after a few cloudy days, and all the moisture froze out of the atmosphere overnight…

Should have anticipated it and parked the Jeep where early sun would thaw it out. Now I doubt I could even get the door open, but that’s okay. It’s not as cold as the frost makes it look, and lately I’ve been back to walking to morning chores and not even using the Jeep very much. I should leave the hood open to discourage rats nesting on the engine. In fact I should get into that habit, I think: A neighbor does it and it seems to have solved her problem.

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I can’t recall why I didn’t do this last winter…

I certainly meant to. But it was probably a money thing.


When I lived in the RV I scrounged every 30-pound propane bottle that came my way. I think I topped out at six at one point. But some of them were quite elderly and the valves aren’t forever. You can get the valves replaced but (surprise!) it costs slightly more than the cost of a replacement bottle.

Anyway attrition brought me down to four, which was still more than enough when the only propane draw was the cookstove. The moment I lit the pilot on the bedroom heater, it became an issue. I bought one last winter and intended to get another but for some reason probably involving poverty never got around to it. Now I’ve hit the mark where every single empty bottle doesn’t become an immediate action item.

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Because I’m a putz, I guess…


Hand hurt all the way home. 🙂

And that was all that was on the card for 3 days, too. I know they’re around, even saw a doe yesterday, but they haven’t been coming to the waterer or at least the camera doesn’t think they have.

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I feel I should apologize for the light posting…

Winter has come to the Gulch, and I have settled into winter mode which is just plain slothful. I do my daily chores and then I sit in my chair and read. This does not make for scintillating TUAK posting.

Normally it’s been my habit to fill in the gaps with snarking at the news I read on the Internet. But lately I’ve been almost completely indifferent toward it all. I surf the news a little bit, but none of it seems worth spending any mental bandwidth on. So those filler posts haven’t been happening, and sometimes I’m down to struggling for a single post a day.

Sorry about that – wish I could say I anticipate it changing soon.

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Frugality v. Comfort

Woke in the middle of the night to the sound of heavy rain on the bedroom’s metal roof. Kind of comforting, since I’m convinced that the roof is tight and the rain won’t come in and wreck my wallboard or grow mold in my insulation. Plus a rainy night means heavy cloud cover which means the morning won’t be very cold – and it wasn’t, the outside temp was high thirties and the inside was in the low fifties.

I used to have a rule, back in the unheatable RV trailer that served as the interim lair: I heated with propane, which cost money I didn’t have and needed to be hauled from town which back then was often catch-as-catch-can, plus propane was also needed for cooking. I can battle cold with a few layers of sweatshirts but I can’t cook beans that way. So the rule was: Never run the heat when the indoor temperature starts with the number 5. And seldom when it starts with 4, in actual fact.

Of course the perception of heat and cold is often very subjective. This morning the thermometer said 51o which just isn’t very cold, but I felt cold. Still it wasn’t likely to get much colder, so for a couple of hours I resisted lighting the woodstove. I’ve largely shaken off the chimney fire phobia caused by the Great Stovepipe Fire of 2012 and can run the woodstove without a lot of tension but I can’t say even now that I get any pleasure from it. If I don’t need it to keep from shivering, I don’t use it. And anyway, thanks to Patreon and regular gifts from Big Brother and dependable weekly access to town the propane situation is a lot less problematic than it used to be. I can sit in my bedroom reading chair with the temp in the low sixties without feeling completely dissolute.

This morning was different: Maybe it was the unfamiliar humidity but I just couldn’t get warm. So I’m putting on my vest over my hoodie, and then I dig out my half-gloves, and finally around the time Laddie started clamoring for a proper walkie around seven I said “screw it” and lit the fire I had laid the night before. And now the cabin temperature is climbing – and I felt a little silly for even going to the bother of toughing through a chilly morning in the first place, when ten years ago I’d have beaten myself up for wasting fuel.

It’s kind of a thing I’m working through, I guess. My physical situation is much more comfortable than it was ten years ago, when at the same time my physical condition is not as good. I’ve got old injuries bothering me for the first time since I (thought I had) healed from them in my 20’s, new injuries that apparently don’t plan to ever entirely heal, and my back pain shows signs of wanting to become chronic. I can’t just shrug stuff off as easily as I could as little as ten years ago. Fortunately I have more resources than I did then, and I need to relax a little more about using them.

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Possible problem with the water pump: Learning from my many mistakes

Longtime readers know that problems with the water system situated on the top of the ridge between Ian’s place and my own are not unknown. We’ve had fittings freeze and break, an unburied manifold freeze and just seize everything up, flexible pipe kinks, one-way valve failure, and out-and-out pump failure.

The problem with all of these is that if someone is not in the habit of checking the water level in that big beautiful water tank…


…the first clue of a problem is water ceasing to flow through the pipes to the kitchen sink, yard spigot, and all-important Genuine Flush Toilet. That’s bad.

Which is why last winter, when a fault developed with the float switch inside the tank, I didn’t get all worked up. I tried to fix it in the spring by replacing the float switch itself, and when that didn’t work I decided, “screw it.” Because over the previous winter I had finally, out of necessity, developed the useful habit of checking the water level every week or so. By backing off the tech a level and manually flipping a switch whenever the level got low enough to justify running the pump, thus forcing me to periodically check the tank…


I gained a useful several weeks of warning when something – inevitably – went wrong. It’s a 2500 gallon tank. I don’t have a shower – I don’t actually use that much water, and especially not in winter.

I say “inevitable” because it really is. That one time the pump failed, which is the one thing I can’t fix on my own, an internal diaphragm was attacked and gradually defeated by the chemicals in our very hard well water. That situation has not been corrected, and as far as I know can’t be corrected. Therefore the pump will fail again. I took two precautions against that day: I revised the inside of the pumphouse to allow me to pull the pump out myself, rather than recruiting Ian or Neighbor D as with the last two times the pump needed pulling out of the casing…


…and I begged a spare pump from Ian. See, I can pull the pump but I can’t repair it: I have to wait till Landlady comes up, send it to Ian, wait for him to send it to Sun Pumps, wait for them to repair and return it, then wait for Landlady to come back here. Last time it took like six weeks, as I recall. Ian, smart guy that he is, saw the wisdom of that and now I know exactly where there’s a safely-stored and clearly-labeled box containing a brand new 12v Sun Pump.

The existing pump is still humming away down there, but I’m beginning to fear it’s not actually pumping water…


…because I’ve been running the pump but the water level is either not rising or is taking its dear sweet time. I’m getting a little worried – but not very worried, because precautions!

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Hm. There’s a skeleton in the chicken yard.

Neighbor L likes to bring all her kitchen scraps, scraps by the bucketful, to feed the chickens. I, and certainly the chickens, think this is a very fine thing to do. And there’s nothing wrong with bones, chickens are definitely omnivorous.

I did get a moment’s pause when taking a turn through their yard this morning, though…


An intact chicken carcass, picked clean. I knew where it came from, in fact I probably dumped it there Monday without paying attention. But I did take a minute to count the chickens before I left…

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I have swaddled the chickens in black crepe…

Via Claire, I have learned that this has been declared a “national day of mourning“ – which translates, I gather, to an unscheduled day off with pay for government ‘workers.’ Actual useful government workers such as firefighters and workers that government poobahs find important, such as valets and VIP security, should report as normal.

As for you taxpayers, dry your eyes and get to work. That lavish state funeral for the ultimate forgettable State apparatchik isn’t gonna pay for itself, you know.

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Look! It’s Sasquatch on the game camera!

Yeah, this has been the first cold snap of winter, and it’s welcome to leave. As little effort as the weather put into warming up yesterday and as quickly as it went below freezing last night, I knew this morning would be one for the special gear.

This is stuff I might not pull out five times in a winter…

The Mad Bomber hat…


The snowmobile gloves…


And the feels-like-you-taped-a-brick-to-your-foot Sorel boot.


The only one of these I actually bought was the hat, and even that was modeled on a hat Claire sent me years ago that I loved except it was too small. They came from neighbors at different times, and I bring them out annually with a certain amount of affection. Along with the lined pants which I don’t recall where I got those, and the reader-gifted Carhartt coat that gets used a lot more than five times per winter.

With all the snow that evaporated when the sun hit it yesterday I knew the frost would be really thick this morning so I parked the Jeep down the driveway where the early sun would hit the windshield and keep me from having to walk to Landlady’s to tend chickens, which had to happen pretty early because their water would be frozen. Brought a gallon of known-to-be-liquid water from the Lair: The water stored in the powershed was probably not frozen, but it’s a long cold trip and why be disappointed?

Then after tending chickens, stop by the watering station to tend the game camera, and break ice.

And that very incomplete little drama was all that was on the memory card. I’ve often wondered how much the camera misses – There’s no way to know, but I know it misses stuff. That should have shown the bundled-up geezer trying to break ice with a small stone, failing, going back for a big stone, and then hitting the ice five or six times. It missed most of that.

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Neighbor L had to leave to deal with a family emergency…

…and bless her heart she texted me to get my laundry over there early so she could wash it before she left. Just as well if that delayed her departure because the road was really slippery first thing this morning. So I did morning chores early, which I had intended to do anyway because the chicken water was sure to be frozen, and then I met her on the road later in the morning to get the laundry, and then at noon I went out again to feed and clean up after D&L’s horses because they were at the big town about 50 miles away for a doctor appointment. So a busy morning followed by a whole afternoon of sitting inside staying warm.

By far the coldest day of the season so far. Anywhere the sun didn’t directly shine, the snow didn’t even start to melt. On the other hand it was a bright still day, so I guess maybe the storm is behind us? Not sure.

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Stupid cookstove propane…

I can’t honestly say it always picks the coldest morning to empty the bottle. On mornings where it does, though, that’s the way it seems. There will be lots colder mornings than this one in the next few months but this one will serve as cold enough to be unpleasant. Yet there I was…


Had to change bottles before I could make coffee. And breakfast. I think next year I may invest in a second bypass regulator, though this is a very minor hassle compared to having only one bottle on the bedroom’s regulator. A cookstove bottle lasts six weeks or more unless I’m doing something sinful, like heating the cabin with the stove. Which I confess has happened but not in the past couple of years. Glad I built that shelf over the regulator, which is right under the cabin’s main drip edge. Cold doesn’t affect it but ice can, and there was quite a lot of dripping yesterday before the final show which was late enough for the air and ground to have cooled enough not to melt the snow. First light I have to clean off the solar panels, but it won’t matter: Today is supposed to be cold and clear.

After seven years! Seven years! I seem to have finally sorted this “heat with a woodstove” thing out…


…though it still takes a while for the main cabin to get up to “take your coat off and stay a while.”

Not that Torso Boy cares…


While I was sweeping snow off steps and swapping frigid propane bottles he was quite content to keep the already-warm bed warm – you know, just in case. He’s very unselfish that way.

Later, while I was eating breakfast and knew without looking that he was behind me waiting his chance to guilt me out of the last bites, I looked around and found him lying on the main cabin tiles with his belly pointed at the woodstove. Reminded me of his reluctance during yesterday’s final walky. It was snowing and the wind was in our faces, blowing what must have been most of a gale on the ridgetops though of course our hollow is usually somewhat protected. He didn’t want to go out and he didn’t want to proceed, and it was clear he was objecting to the weather. Finally he ran to a nearby bush, gave it a token squirt and ran straight back toward the porch, leash be damned. And I imagined the conversation, had he been able to talk…

“Are you insane? What kind of weather is this? Your management is as bad as anything I’ve seen. Why do you want…There. I have peed on a bush. Now I’m going inside where it’s warm, and you can do as you like. Um…after you come open the door and give me a cookie.”

“But Laddie, you’re from Wyoming!”

“I know, right? And then they wanted me to move from there to fricking Montana! Which is closer to the Arctic circle! Oh, what I had to do to get them to roll the dice again! I had to be a dick to a border collie every single day. A border collie! I could have been killed! Finally I got the hot desert I had craved. Now you tell me there’s snow here, too? I’d pee on your bed – except now it’s my bed, so…”

Seriously, I’m not making this up. A Wyoming dog that gives every indication of hating snow and cold.

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Maybe someone knows the answer to this draft-related question…

The military draft, that is. I know numerous Regular Readers are old enough to remember Viet Nam even if you missed your chance to visit. This morning I was reading an article that incidentally mentioned Mohammed Ali being stripped of his title for refusing induction, and it reminded me of a question I often asked during that period but never heard a good answer: Why did eligible people who objected to the draft ever register for it in the first place?

I mean, one of the more iconic protests of the time involved people publicly burning their draft cards, right? Brave enough in its way but it does imply that at some point in the recent past they visited a draft board office and registered for induction. Doesn’t that act comprise a statement that you are indeed willing to submit to induction and fighting in the war? It’s not like there was some other place besides VN where lots of draftees got sent.

There might be some perfectly logical reason for it but I don’t recall ever hearing it. Why did people willing to refuse induction ever submit to registration in the first place?

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“Because I don’t want to” is not a good reason not to do it.

And that is seriously the worst thing about engaging in farm-like stuff.

Early this year I got tired of the wind destroying the latch on the cheap crap chicken house door. So in April while Big Brother and I were in the big town about fifty miles away buying bedroom trim we stopped in a Tractor Supply and bought a big chunky latch and a couple of carriage bolts – and it’s a good thing he was there because the wind was trying so hard to blow the door open that I would never have gotten the holes drilled for the bolts if he hadn’t been inside holding it closed. Haven’t had any trouble with the door since then.

But this afternoon I was sitting around reading and the wind was blowing so ferociously that I really started worrying about that door. And the very last thing on earth I wanted to do was suit up and go out in the winter storm – which has unambiguously arrived, make no mistake – and drive all the way over to Landlady’s place to reassure myself that the chickens hadn’t blown away. I wanted to put on a movie or something and just sort of wish it away, right? Because that’s what a one-legged old fart from Detroit should do with a stormy Sunday afternoon.

But that’s not what a chicken farmer would do. He, stalwart salt of the earth that he is, would shrug into his Carhartt coat and go check the #%€£¥ chicken house door. That’s why chicken farmers get the big bucks, or something.

Let it be said that I shrugged into my Carhartt coat and drove all the frickin’ way to Landlady’s place to check the frickin’ chicken house door.

Which was fine.

And now Torso Boy, Henry McKenna and I are gonna spend a little quality time watching a movie together.

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Remember last year I saw a white mule deer?

Not white white like an albino, whiteish with gray or brown shading like unto a regular deer but with very light color where the good camouflage is supposed to be. Did a very little research and learned that that’s a thing with mulies: Not common but not all that rare, and must truly suck in an area where they’re heavily hunted.

Well, it’s almost two years later but the Gulch isn’t heavily hunted and she’s alive and well. I thought I caught a glimpse of her on the game camera once before but couldn’t be sure in the IR. This time she sauntered right up to the camera in daylight.

And BTW, just to punish me for hubris the weather socked in hard and is now snowing and blowing and bids fair to keep right on doing it till the end of the ice age. So goodbye cruel world but also nyah nyah because I saw that coming and got my outside morning chores done early, the woodbox overfloweth, the cabin is toasty and I may actually dig out my hot chocolate or something equally suburban just to further tempt Nemesis.

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TUAK has been getting spam-bombed for several days now…

…and I’ve grown tired of sorting through scores of vaguely sports equipment-related spam comments for fear of accidentally discarding a good comment that didn’t belong in the spam locker. But my sense of duty has limits and they were exceeded this morning. So if you left a comment that should have appeared but didn’t, I probably got lazy and bulk-deleted it. Please accept my heartfelt apology and try again.

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I roll my eyes in the weather’s general direction…

You know that devastating winter storm that was going to kill us all like unto doomed extras in a preachy global warming movie? Yeah, apparently it wasn’t important after all. I guess the weather just decided, “Oh. Well, if I can’t ruin Landlady’s weekend what’s the use of wasting a great storm ruining Joel’s?” Like I don’t count for anything.

So we did have freezing rain and snow for a while Friday morning but then it just lost interest or something. Yesterday morning the clouds broke up; there was a fairly unpleasant wind for a while but I didn’t even wear my winter coat to town and mostly didn’t suffer for it.

Not saying Landlady shouldn’t have cancelled, because the scheduled work for Friday wouldn’t have happened and the road through the prairie between us and the big town about fifty miles away can get extremely unpleasant during this sort of spell; actively dangerous in fact, with whiteouts and black ice and wind that will knock your ass right through a guardrail and over a cliff. And before she even gets to that she has to cross a high mountain range where the snow can hit “turn around if you value your life“ levels. Why suffer through all that for hours just for a chance to rusticate in the cold and accomplish nothing? No, she made the right choice. I’m just saying that of course as soon as she made it the weather decided to go all ironic just to be a dick.

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Oh, I hate to spend money…

…but I love topping off my bottles. So today, having settled the pressing matter of how much it would cost to get the Jeep out of hock, I topped off propane and Jeep fuel and bourbon as well as drinking water. 🙂


Also dropped $65 bux on that sixth propane bottle I’ve been holding off on, which – when it arrives next week – will give me two bottles for every station. Four for the bedroom, two for the kitchen. And then I’ll feel more secure about cooking and heating gas. Technically the bedroom heater is still classed as a dispensable luxury, but it’s a “luxury” it took me no time at all to grow sinfully used to. Sure is nice not to dread throwing back the blankets in the morning.

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How not to design a cabin for winter

The front of the Secret Lair peaks at 14′, which in addition to making for a mighty peculiar-looking structure in a 12×16 cabin can also make heating the thing in the morning a gradual matter. There were reasons for doing it, of course: It permitted a 6×12 sleeping loft, and also encourages venting through the loft windows during the hot months. But it’s a disadvantage in winter and shouldn’t be done for laughs. When I first wired the place I did rig a ceiling box and wall switch for a ceiling fan, as well as space over the Lair’s vestpocket bathroom for the blades. But I went quite a long time without one not so much because of cost but because the electrical system wasn’t initially up to running one even on sunny days. Providentially I inherited a big fan with a cracked housing from a neighbor who was scrapping it at roughly the same time I got my current scrounged but much expanded battery bank. So running the fan before sunrise is no longer a ridiculous thing to do, and the years-long problem of the Lair’s absurdly high ceiling is now largely compensated for.


It was overcast all night so never got cold at all – but I was still able to bump up the indoor temperature 20o in an hour. That used to take much longer on the rare mornings I accomplished it at all. I tend to be scrooge-like about fuel, since at some subjective point it’s easier to just put on a sweater.

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Private to Landlady…


Freezing rain with a light coating of snow. Everything’s covered with ice.

You made the right call.

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