Just for the record…

We made it below zero this morning. Just barely. But the deed was done.

It’s still forecast to get into the forties today, but it’ll have to get a move on. Almost 10 ayem and it’s still 15o. Sunny out but cool enough indoors I’m debating relighting the woodstove.

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This is getting to be a regular thing…

D&L had another series of doctor appointments in the big town about 50 miles away, and got an early start. So…

…at about 11:30 Tobie and I had a nice Jeep ride to visit Coal and Doc. The chore was somewhat complicated…

…by the mess all that snow from night before last made of their corrals. Happily, Coal chose to do his business indoors but Doc’s was pretty much mixed with seven inches of snow. And since the temperature was still in the teens…

It was necessary to break up the ice on the waterers and clean it out with that old heavy-duty shit fork.

This is by far the coldest cold snap of the winter: It’s the sort of thing I normally expect right around the turn of the year. By and large the winter has been mild and dry, and it’s kind of a shame it felt like it needed to make up all the effort. But so far nothing has broken and nothing important has frozen, and it’s supposed to get milder tomorrow. Also – I know I say this a lot but it’s important – the cabin’s a lot easier to keep warm now than it was ten years ago. I’m actually typing this in shirt sleeves. And now I’m off to bake bread, which will warm it up even more.

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This is a new low…

How cold is it? It’s so cold…

…that not even Tobie wanted to be out in it. Halfway up the first rise he started prancing like a Lippizaner horse, trying to keep at least one paw away from the snow and frozen ground at a time. At last, before we even got to the driveway, he stopped and took a massive dump right in the path – he has never done this before – and then immediately wanted to go back home. So did I – but ironically I needed ice for the cooler so we had to continue to Ian’s freezer. Also ironically, I could have saved the trip if I’d just put the ice jug out on the porch overnight.

Yesterday never got out of the 20’s. Today’s supposed to be even colder, and tonight might go below zero for the first time all winter. But it’s forecast to get milder starting tomorrow. The only outdoor chore I have planned is horses’ lunch.

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Tobie sucks at tug’o’war.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is impatient.

A little morning sun has gone under heavy overcast and I’m waiting for the forecast snow to begin again. Tobie had lunch and an EXTREMELY truncated mid-day walkie, which set him up till a little after two when I received a visit from The Toy.

The Toy, as currently configured, can be used in a number of entertaining way. There’s 1) the always-popular Fetch, 2) a sort of frisbee-fling that works a lot better when I’m upright, bipedal and stationed at the kitchen corner, and 3) tug’o’war.

That final game is not really recommended, since Tobie never really got the hang of it. He doesn’t seem to understand, or understanding does not seem to agree, that the objective is to tug, not to make war.


Inevitably, when the first few solid tugs don’t win him the game, he tries for a toothhold closer to the source of the problem. Indulging him in this is a good way to get bitten by a large dog.

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“Are you okay?”

When I start getting emails from (multiple!) readers, I know it’s time to heave out of my chair and explain myself.

We got some variety overnight…

A proper snow at last. For the past several days it’s just been cold, rain, spitting snow, and (yesterday) lots and lots of wind to the point where I began to fear for my roof covering.

I’ve just been cocooning through it. I’m about 7/8 of the way through Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle trilogy, possibly the most dense series of books I ever read: Makes the first three books of SoI&F read like Harry Potter. And yet somehow it has held my YouTube-addled attention throughout. Yesterday one of the ubervillains got impaled with the business end of a cello, something you would only expect to find in a Stephenson novel.

Yesterday people started asking “are you okay?” and the answer isn’t really entirely “yes.” This whole thing with winter deciding to play catch-up in one week has coincided with an odd soreness and swelling on the distal end of my stump, a sort of all-too-literal proof of the old joke that your feet are there to keep your legs from fraying on the ends. I’m not sure exactly why that is* but between that, the weather, and a box full of good unread books I have declared the outside world an object to be utterly ignored for a while. I’ve spent most of the past few days sitting in my reading chair with the prosthesis right off and propped against the wall over there. Think of it as turning the act of boring poor Tobie into a spectator sport. But I am sorry about the extended silence. There’s just been nothing whatsoever going on that’s worth talking about.

Speaking of Tobie, he is informing me in no uncertain terms that it’s far past time for his long morning walkie. With all this snow it’s going to be a shortish morning walkie but he doesn’t know that yet. And since it’s like 14o out there and windy, I’d better suit all the way up for it.
* There is the small issue that by mid/late winter I’m not really bathing as often as would seem quite right if I didn’t live alone. Coupled with the usual amputee’s circulation issues, this can lead to painful and unfortunate skin issues right where you put all your weight against latex. But I learned my lesson about that DECADES ago, and sort of invest in antiseptic wet wipes that I expend through the winter. Hasn’t entirely helped in this case.

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Coldest night of the winter

Due, I presume, to so much of January being so overcast, this hasn’t been a winter for particularly cold nights. In fact…

This is the first morning on record we even got into single digits – though a few times we only missed it by the numbers to the right of the decimal point.

Yesterday was beautiful to look at – from the other side of double-paned glass – but windy as hell and barely above freezing. So no wonder it got cold overnight. Today, …

…absolutely lovely. Above forty before noon, hardly any wind, nary a cloud in the sky. Perfect for leaving the cabin to get done a bunch of mundane little chores that pile up when the weather is unpleasant like laundry, battery maintenance and knife sharpening. Tomorrow’s supposed to be warmer yet, well into the fifties, but not as sunny.

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How you know you’re finally over your chimney fire phobia…

You start getting lazy about cleaning the stovepipe.

I had a chimney fire eleven years ago – very different circumstances, wrong stove, wrong pipe, wrong wood – and it scared the ever loving shit out of me. Understandable, I suppose: I’d only moved in a few months earlier and the cabin took me years to build to the point of habitability. Was it really going to be that easy to burn the whole thing down?

Money is always an issue but by early the next winter I could get a better stove, and not long afterward I started burning old pallets and lumber instead of juniper, and logically I should have put my fears of a repeat behind me but fear often has very little to do with logic. For the next three or four winters I scrubbed the stovepipe weekly and I was terrified of a big hot rumbling fire even though I knew – logically – that those cool smoldering fires were what earned me the quick creosote buildup in the first place.

Very gradually I got over my fears to the point where I was only diligent about pipe scrubbing, no longer neurotic. Took me longer to enjoy the sound of a rumbling stove, but at least I wasn’t shivering in an overcoat for fear of lighting the fire. Now this winter I finally seem to have shaken off the increase in heartrate every time the fire really takes hold – and sonuvagun what with everything that went on last month I completely forgot the January stovepipe scrub*. Made up for it this morning, but considering how long it has taken to relax and learn to love the woodstove, for once I’m almost proud of my sloth.

*It needed it, too. One of the disadvantages of the loft and the resulting high ceiling is that the stovepipe is really long and has a hard time heating up its whole length. So I get more buildup that I’d have with a short double-wall pipe. Mostly just soot, but I don’t want to find out (again) how much creosote.

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OOF. Maybe I do it because it’ll feel so good when I stop.

I think this might be the first time I ever paid over $100 at a time for a load of propane. Almost – almost – makes me wonder if it’s still worth doing.

On the other hand…

Now that I’ve done it, it’s nice having every bottle full of warmish bedroom. And I unloaded them during winter’s abrupt return: Yesterday it was sunny and above 60o, this afternoon it’s below freezing and snowing. So at least psychologically my timing was perfect.

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Well, here we go again…

I got the Jeep back with its somewhat-repaired transmission about a year ago, and I guess I should be glad I got that year. The transmission has never been right – and this afternoon it decided it didn’t want to go into reverse.

I left it pointed toward the wash, of course I can’t back into my usual parking place and I have to take it to D&L’s tomorrow morning because a propane run is not optional.

I might be able to sort it out myself: It could be a problem with the linkage because Neutral is still Drive and Reverse seems to be Neutral. Found out about it too late in the day to get very enthusiastic about crawling around under the Jeep. And D&L’s yard is big enough to turn the Jeep around in. If this nice weather holds I’ll see what I can see tomorrow after the morning water run.

The poor thing has spent nearly its whole life off-pavement, and it really is coming apart like an old toy.

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“Shoulda named him Rain Man.”

The boys know the drill by now, it’s happened so often. As soon as I pulled off the road and got out to unlock the gate they started heading for the barn.

But my part of the drill keeps changing. Now, I’ve laughed at my friends D&L for their – shall we say detail-oriented – methods for years so I’m not sure how much of this is them and how much is the boys – but on the other hand the boys don’t get ridden much anymore so some of this may be neurosis born of boredom. Either way…

Coal doesn’t care what you do. “Give me my food and go away” is his whole message at lunchtime.

But Doc…

…has gotten positively autistic about it. And the rules keep changing. I mean, it’s always “if the peas touch the mashed potatoes I am going to go berserk and break things,” but last time while I knew that I MUST NOT PUT THE HAY IN WITH THE FOOD PELLETS, it was still okay to serve the hay in a tub. Now, I was warned he doesn’t want it in the tub anymore: He’ll kick the tub out into his corral and stomp it around until it spills the hay out on the ground. So instead I was instructed to a)feed him the hay LAST, and b) pour it out on the mat next to the food tub.

And apparently I did it right because everything remained tranquil.

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When little chores become big ones…

Tobie’s having a good week: Since certain properties changed hands a year or so ago and I (untimely, no?) got out of the chicken business, I’ve not been doing as much back-and-forth and so Jeep rides have become a rare treat for the puppy. But my few remaining fulltime neighbors are out of – well, actually they’re visiting towns, and animals still have to be fed. So off we go, bumping along in Uncle Joel’s worn-out Jeep to Tobie’s delight.

Though not always to mine – One thing I had to do this morning was open up S&L’s new chickenhouse to let the few remaining hens out to their fenced yard. Did that easily enough, but when I checked their waterer and found it virtually empty I searched in vain for a way to fill it. The storage bottles were empty and – this being winter – the outside spigots were turned off and drained. I ended up driving all the way to Ian’s place…

…where I store my reserve drinking water, picked a bottle that’s been in storage longest and that I’ve wanted to use up and refill anyway, then driving all the way back to S&L’s and then back home. Which turned a short chore into a long one, but that’s the way it goes sometimes when you’re making it up as you go along.

Took so long Tobie’s gonna get another ride in just an hour and a half because I also have to give D&L’s autistically spoiled horses their lunch. And that’s a whole separate funny story.

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Senior Day at the Palace of Food

I went to the Palace of Food with D&L this afternoon, and we happened to get there just as the store was packed with a bunch of armed greybeards hitting it for their monthly storebought-food binge. Like, um, someone you know. I like to think of myself as kind of a unique individual but in that store at that moment you might have gotten the idea that once upon a time I was sold in cellophane-front packages in a chain of toy stores.

And I laughed at the thought that this would be the perfect moment to introduce the most Marin County person you know to that store, just to see if it really is possible for the top of someone’s head to blow off…

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Of the best-chosen place – and the stupidest animals – in the world

Saturday morning I got a call from Neighbor D, who wanted a run to the landfill. D&L are going through one of their now-common periods where they’re simultaneously having mobility issues so (though it wasn’t mentioned) he needed the help, and also by tagging along I could empty one of my garbage barrels. I don’t generate a lot of non-compostable garbage, but what there is does tend to pile up so I was happy to tag along.

And on the way, as always I was struck by the wisdom with which this particular landfill was located. Landfills are usually unfortunate necessities, basically destroying large tracts of land that could otherwise have been put to more pleasant purposes. This particular one is set in a veritable moonscape

…of literally no use to man or beast. And I’ve never seen one more busily managed – it’s constantly being dug up, re-terraced, filled by trucks from all over the county, and enthusiastically re-buried. It’s like they have a very detailed 3D map of the same few thousand cubic yards of regolith and they’re determined to use every inch in the most efficient manner possible. I’ve been here over sixteen years and they’re nowhere near filling it up.

Meanwhile, (much) closer to home…

Yesterday there was one mouse frozen in the porch’s very busy bucket trap. I determined to wait till it melted in the afternoon to get it out, then the chore completely slipped my mind. This morning there were three drowned and frozen bodies there.

Which means two separate rodents climbed the ramp to the inviting liquid in the bucket, looked down on their very dead cousin, and each of them said to itself in turn, “Wow, look how well that worked out for him. Can’t wait to try it myself.”

This is like the third time this has happened – since cleaning the bucket trap is not my favorite chore and easily forgotten. And every time I am struck by the apparent fact that I have actually located and identified a species of creature stupider than a chicken – which is quite a sight to see.

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Tobie Loves his Toy.

It’s really funny. He has expensive toys, like the Kong. He has edible toys, like the leather bones. But his all time favorite toy is a dollar store rubber tire with a rope, second of its name.

None of the earlier dogs even seemed to understand the concept of toys.

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Tobie knows what time it is.

But he doesn’t necessarily care.

Uncle Joel has been reading his book most of the frickin’ afternoon. It is now approaching one of the most sacred moments of the day: Evening, with the Giving of the Evening Meal and the Taking of the Evening Walkie. I say ‘approaching,’ because it’s not really that time yet at all. Tobie, a bit of a heretic, isn’t really all that tied to sacral bells.

Tobie at 4:30, half an hour before the Official Moment…

Tobie at 4:45, having reliquished all attempts at subtlety…

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Tobie Gets Uncle Joel’s Attention…

I’m in the middle of a Neal Stephenson reading festival that may take up all of 2023. Seriously I have only read three Stephenson books and they touch all three of my modes of reaction: One is utterly forgettable, one is okay but so self-consciously cute I’m distracted by actually being able to hear the author preening in the background, and one (Cryptonomicon) is one of my all-time favorite books. But I never really wondered what else Stephenson may have written in his career until my recent houseguest showed up with a literal paperbox filled with – often ponderous – tomes. So that’s been keeping me busy through the recent winter weather.

Of course when Uncle Joel is reading he spends hours and hours in a chair a whole room away from Tobie, and very obviously paying as little attention to him as is conceivably possible while still being awake. And my big brown kibble-eating puppy is only going to put up with so much of that at one time.

So at some point in the morning – and again at some point in the afternoon – I know I’m going to get a visit from The Toy.

Tobie posing prettily with The Toy

And Uncle Joel will get absolutely no peace until we’ve dealt with the Case of the Bored Puppy. Humans have certain responsibilities.

It’s actually good, in its way. By the time Tobie breaks out The Toy, the batteries are nearly charged so it’s time to get actual chores done. Without something that can’t be ignored to get my out of my chair I might not notice the day has gone till twilight – and the floor isn’t going to vacuum itself. But it’ll have to wait till we’re done with The Toy.

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Getting an early start…

Not as cold as predicted – I’m going to regret these insulated BDU pants – but plenty cold. A dusting of snow overnight and then the sky cleared, so everything’s covered with a carpet of crystals reflecting in my headlamp.

A couple more frozen-in customers for the bucket trap – I think these are numbers eight and nine, but I’m losing count. They must hit it early evening while the bucket’s contents are still liquid. Can’t imagine they’d have much trouble escaping from the surface of the ice. Also don’t understand why so damned many mice are coming up on the porch. What’s there for them?

Inside the cabin, it’s toasty as can be. Really starting to regret the insulated BDUs, in fact. But I’m outside. And the thing that got me out in the cold before daylight…

Yesterday was cloudy all day – looks like today won’t be, but there’s no way to be sure. And frankly in previous times I wouldn’t have let one cloudy day bother me, but this morning I looked at the abnormally low battery voltage and thought, “There’s no reason to let things go from ‘not great’ to ‘bad’ since now I don’t have to.” So I went out and started the Honda, plugged in the new charger, and…

Hey presto, I can light my bedroom lamp without guilt.

Now to get Tobie’s morning walkie out of the way so I can lose all this padding.

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Here we go again…

Welcome to sunrise in the desert…

Boy, this has been a gloomy January. I note with hope, though, that the forecast for the week has been revised overnight to ‘not quite so depressing as we thought.’ We’ll see. Meanwhile I’m starting a Neal Stephenson reading festival with some gifts my recent houseguest brought me.

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Got a call from Neighbor D yesterday…

His tractor wouldn’t start, …

…and he was convinced that something cataclysmic had happened to the electrical system because when he tried to crank the starter there was a SNAP and everything went dark.

To mollify him I checked all the fuses – they were all fine – and then I checked the actual symptoms myself. Because sometimes the starter motor/starter solenoid can make some pretty serious sounding noises when there’s nothing wrong with the whole thing beyond a dead battery. And after a few mid-teens nights, a dead battery in an unheated barn wouldn’t surprise me at all. Plus I know that they principally use the tractor to move horse manure out to their far fenceline, and that’s not enough running time to keep a battery charged.

The battery was in fact dead. So…

Almost audibly repressing an “I told you so,” because I asked them when they ran water out to their barn why they didn’t do the same with electricity, we dusted two years’ worth of barn dust off his generator* which to my very great surprise started up with only a little extra prompting. And it turned out that the battery didn’t want to take a charge, so I’ll probably be going back later today to help him get it off the tractor so they can get a new one in town.

But at least it wasn’t anything serious. Bucket’s already full of horse poo.

*And may I say that this particular Chinesium Champion generator is the proverbial exception that proves the rule: I hate the things but this one has run for going on 20 years, sometimes involved in serious construction work with long intervals of inactivity when it should have quietly died, and it has needed repair only three times: A starter rope, a carb overhaul, and a new voltage regulator. I know because I did all those things to it.

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Say! Maybe I’ve got a shot now.

You know, one of the harder truths a desert hermit needs to really internalize if he ever hopes to achieve a quiet, contented inner life is something Young Joel would have CONSISTENTLY found very hard to accept. And that truth is that there’s one thing that is definitely over

But you know…


Ladies, the line forms on the left. Send pictures of your dogs first.

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