The horses get a visitor…

D&L had another doctor appointment in the big town about 50 miles away today so I came over to feed the boys their lunch.

While I was weighing out hay there was a great clattering in the far corner of the hayroom, and up over a piece of plywood against the outside wall there came a little cottontail. It hopped down on the haybales with an air of familiarity, and only then noticed an unwelcome human.

It’s under the pellet pallet in that picture, having objected to my presence, but you can click on the next pic…

…and that’s it standing at the door in front of the tractor. Nothing special, I just thought it was kind of funny that at least one rabbit – along with an unguessable number of rats – knows where its winter feed is coming from.

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This is odd.

I’m not a particularly introspective person. Navel gazing has never struck me as useful, in general, and for much of my adult life I was simply too busy, too harassed, to want to do anything with often rare free time but blow it on distractions or sleep. If I was ever presented with scenes or situations that might have triggered emotional reactions arising from things that happened in my childhood, most of which I don’t really remember, I would have rushed right past them or reflexively blanked them out. I certainly wouldn’t have dwelt on them.

I’ve lived alone in the desert for sixteen years now, at a much slower pace, and the best thing about it is that nobody else sets the agenda and nobody else enforces it. There is no carrot and no stick, and when bad things happen I am free to deal with them in whatever way seems right. Sometimes I even actually stop and smell the roses. Or the corpse flowers, whatever. What I mean: Sometimes I see something that makes me feel insecure and tense for no apparent reason. And sometimes I see something that makes me feel calm and happy. And when that happens, I’m free to stop and wonder why that might be, if I want to.

Like this…

Regular readers might wonder why Joel keeps talking about his stupid clothesline. And I have wondered the same thing. But ever since I put it up in early September I’ve enjoyed using – or just standing and watching – this thing. It makes no sense at all – I hung out wet clothes for years on clotheslines hung between junipers, and it was just laundry. But this feels different. When I was a kid, every back yard of every house had a couple of cruciform clothesline poles, which usually had laundry flapping between them, and apparently nothing bad ever happened to me concerning them when I was young. Or maybe good things happened. Maybe dangerous adults found them calming as well. I really don’t know. Frankly it feels kind of odd to even bother wondering about it.

Maybe this is perfectly normal. I really wouldn’t know.

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Huh. That actually seems to have worked.

I’m getting to an age where I have an excuse to pick my time to do certain chores. Not that I need excuses, most of the time, except to my own built-in Yankee work ethic, but still. I don’t need to pretend to be a tough guy. I could wait till the sun shined on the dirt pile and the woodshed bridge before I went out and shoveled.

There’s still plenty of spoil on the far side of the drainage ditch, from my constantly having had to dig it out the first few years. Lately it has gotten straight and slick enough that it doesn’t commonly fill up with ash mud when the gully runs. But those spoil piles are useful for building the annual plug under the bridge. Hopefully this will keep me from sewer pipe trouble during the winter.

Then when the sun was nicely warming the side of the cabin, I undid all yesterday’s work on the propane system. Put the bypass regulator back on and opened up both propane bottles, then cracked the supply pipe under the furnace and filled the bedroom with propane fumes. Opened all the windows and went into the main cabin to wash the lunch dishes. Came back in, lit the pilot, cranked the thermostat, and…

I’ll be damned. That actually worked. Apparently it just wanted a good bleed? I must remember that next time.

Now if it lights itself up at 3 am when the temperature’s downward slide passes 55o F, I’ll consider it fixed.

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Annoying chores…

We have a day or two of nice weather before more early winter is forecast. I’m trying to use it to get some annoying things out of the way. But at the moment I’m just waiting for the outside temperature to warm up. Having done all the necessary early things including Tobie’s long morning walkie, I’ve been trying to sit and enjoy a book for an hour but somebody

…has decided he doesn’t like that. Keeps walking over and placing his chin very precisely on my book, like he thinks he’s a cat and I’m committing the sin of Feline Ignorement. I’ve been trying to explain to him that he’s actually a dog: He’s perfectly welcome to lay here or on his bed but for the moment he’s had his tithe of exclusive attention. He wasn’t buying it. Finally gave up on the book and went to the desk beside his bed to do this blog post I should have done yesterday, and that was apparently what he wanted…

…because now he’s leaving me alone to work. Maybe he was really trying to guilt me into ceasing to ignore the blog.

Anyway: A couple of very annoying things happened more or less simultaneously last week… Continue reading

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Must be November…

Thursday and much of yesterday brought misery worthy of December. Yesterday afternoon the sun came out and melted the snow, and by 8:30 this morning I was working outside in shirtsleeves.

I’m still trying to work out how best to do my newest chore…

Thursday morning I mistook a brief clearing to be the end of the weather and hung out a bunch of towels. Guess how well that worked. But today I’m feeling better about this big load of general laundry. In summer it would all be dry before lunch: I’m not quite that optimistic but at least it’s supposed to be sunnier and less cold today.

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“Must smell all the white stuff!”

Right, so last night the wind came up and the rain turned into snow…

Not a lot, maybe an inch. But with the temperature crash and the heavy overcast, this time it stayed on the ground, so…

…this morning Tobie was all “So much white stuff! Must sniff all the white stuff! Why you always in such a hurry, Uncle Joel?”

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When Tobie is your lead dog…


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Into paradise, introduce inclement weather.

Yup, it’s November. It rained on and off all night long, waking me up repeatedly. And it has rained on and off all morning. That seep under Ian’s Cave is worse than it’s every been…

With not merely damp but wet concrete greeting me this morning…

I think I’ve identified the perfect location for the new sump that’s going in there, central to the dampest part of the floor but quite unobtrusive, right behind the bathroom door. I can run a hose from the pump behind the shower wall into the drain in the utility closet. Now I just have to negotiate who’s paying for it.

Naturally, since it’s cold wet and windy as hell, I had chores outside the Lair today.

SurvivalDave poured a new slab two days ago, trying to fit it in between Monsoon and the freeze. Since the freeze is supposed to start in earnest tonight, he wanted to to lay down plastic and straw today. Was able to scrounge just barely enough of both.

And then D&L had a doctor’s appointment, so…

…I got to visit the boys for lunch. But now we’re back, Tobie has had his mid-day feed and walkie, and I can sit with a good book for a while.

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When technologies collide…

I’ve been pleased as can be with the way my solar power system has functioned this past several years. It came to its current state of maturity maybe four years ago after a long period of gradual growth, and was really working fine on a smaller scale for several years before that.

But it turns out it was a damned good thing I grabbed the opportunity to double its capacity when I did, because two years ago my (Vintage? Antique? I’ve never been quite sure) old oven’s thermocouple crapped out and no generic replacement would fit. Big Brother generously financed a new oven. I carefully researched size and ability to convert to propane but did not ask what turned out to be an important question: Does the oven use a pilot light or an electric heater? I did not know that in the (many!) years since I’d last purchased a new major kitchen appliance, oven pilot flames had gone the way of the Bill Cosby album. Instead, new ovens light their burners with big power-hungry heating elements which were emphatically not designed for use with a tiny bank of lead-acid batteries.

Mind you, it’s not all bad. First, over months and years a pilot flame burns a lot of propane – and when you’re hauling it in eight gallons at a time, it really adds up. So an oven of newer design that’s not being used isn’t costing me anything. Second, this new oven bakes a very lovely loaf of bread.

It turned out that the old oven was the source of much of my dissatisfaction with my bread-baking talent.

There’s really only one downside, and I’ve easily been able to live with it. You need to pick your time. Baking at night is right out. Using the oven to take the chill off the cabin, always a sin because of carbon monoxide but a sin I admit I used to occasionally commit, is now not an option because the only time you’d need that is when it’s night or during a winter storm and those are the two times you mustn’t use the oven.

Whenever possible, I bake only during sunny days. I planned today as a baking day specifically because today was forecast to be sunny, and I stretched the old loaf a bit for that reason. But this morning, I got…

Not heavy overcast, but hardly a bright cloudless day. And it showed…

On a sunny day that would read in the 12.4 range, not really stressing the batteries at all. So not a show-stopper, but something I always have to keep in mind.

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Irony alert…

The one convenience store in the crappy little town nearest where I live was the last to drop an absolute mandate on wearing masks inside, long after everybody else gave it up as a bad idea, no doubt because it’s the only franchise store in town.

So I found this kind of stupidly ironic when I saw it late this morning…

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Be careful out there.

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Uncle Joel Fails Citizenship 101. Again.

Sorry for the long silence there, folks. Nothing’s wrong. Winter arrived and I went suddenly into cocoon mode like it was some inescapable lizard instinct. The good news is that I’ve already made inroads on that stack of books beside the bedroom chair. The bad news is that I opened my computer for the first time in days and found multiple emails from readers wanting to know where they should send flowers.

Yesterday I made an effort to break out of my encroaching hibernation…

The wind died and the temperature struggled into the high fifties, and I roused myself to take what might be the last bike ride to town of the season. Lethargy wasn’t the only reason for having to force myself to do it: I needed to accomplish something OFFICIAL. And we all know how that always goes.

Thing is, for various reasons Uncle Joel needs a bank account of his very own. I needed to walk into a bank and say, with Proud Righteous Citizenship ringing in my voice, “I would like to open a bank account.”

Needless to tell longtime readers that I had already procrastinated on this for weeks, waving away several opportunities. Why? Because Uncle Joel is not a good citizen. Uncle Joel’s papers are never, ever in order. This was not going to go well.

The last time I faced this issue, Landlady virtually led me by the hand into a DMV to acquire my very own Photo ID, so that I might (be virtually led by the hand into a Social Security office to) apply for Medicare. Both those incidents went reasonably well – astonishingly well by my standards – because one piece of paperwork I have oddly and ironically managed to hang on to all these years is a faded, dog-eared birth certificate. That document was all I needed to score an official ID, and the two documents got me through the Medicare ordeal. But would they be enough to convince a bank to take my money?

The answer, in case you wondered, is no. I am not yet sufficiently officially me to rate a checking account.

See, it’s things like this that sent me scuttling to the back of beyond in the first place. As I’ve said before, I like to imagine myself this rough tough Jeremiah Johnson throwback when all I really am is a paranoid, excitable, increasingly elderly gimp who can’t keep records.

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Huh. This was unexpected…

I knew it would get nippy overnight, but…

…wasn’t expecting snow, and…

…wasn’t expecting it to get quite this nippy.

I didn’t even have the woodstove set up yet. Happily that doesn’t take long…

Unhappily, this means we’re officially in Winter Mode. For the next five or six months. I hate winter, though not as much as I used to. In two months this’ll seem balmy.

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New seeps…

The wash ran five days ago – actually it ran twice that day – and parts of it still haven’t dried out which really says something about how saturated the ground has gotten during this long soaky Monsoon which I hope we’ve seen the last of.

And I have further evidence that the water issue at Ian’s place isn’t runoff so much as water percolating up from under the surface. Here and there in my stomping grounds are what some people call ‘springs’ – they’re really no more than seeps – and now there’s a new one not far from the Lair…

I’ve lived next to this bend in the wash for ten years now, and this was never here before in my memory. It’s been here all this month, and got a lot more evident this week after Sunday’s rain.

The wash is constantly re-sculpting itself – we live in what you might call a dynamic environment. Used to be there were two distinct channels in the part of the wash that flows past the Lair, with a little island between them that had been there long enough to grow thick with bushes. That island took a serious hit last year and is now almost entirely gone. Sunday chewed a new channel through it…

Another wet summer and I’ll just have a big wide wash to look across. Kind of miss that island, but everything around here changes. I don’t miss it as much as my big shady spot.

But anyway, I think that seep at the turn of the wash explains what’s going on under Ian’s place. There’s no obvious runoff that could explain why water is percolating up under his slab, but there really doesn’t have to be one. Now I’m thinking it’s just another seep, and my experience with Michigan basements reinforces my notion that the only thing that’ll fix it is to dig a sump under the floor and install a float pump.

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If you don’t want to be eaten…

…don’t act like food. It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.

Except of course in Massachusetts and similar places, where acting like food is pretty much the law. So how’s that coyote issue going?

Swampscott police said they got a call around 9:30 p.m. from a resident who said they were walking their dog on Rockyledge Road when a large group of coyotes surrounded them and wouldn’t back down.

When police arrived, they said they saw at least nine coyotes. The coyotes were scared off by the arrival of the police cruisers and the stroble (sic) lights. Officers escorted the resident and their dog back to their home without further incident, but police are now warning residents to be aware of their surroundings when walking at night when coyotes are most active.

Meanwhile here in actual coyote country I rarely ever see a coyote and virtually never while I’m on foot. And I rarely see coyote sign near where I live. Maybe it’s my bad breath. Maybe not.

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Autumn has come.

Getting into frosty mornings and ‘wait and see’ afternoons.

The weatherman says that Sunday’s all-day rain was Monsoon’s last gasp. The weatherman said that on the previous weekend as well, so flip a coin. But sooner or later the rain has to stop – if only to turn into snow. Maybe this is that ‘climate change’ we’ve been threatened with. Twelve years to global destruction, y’all.

Not long before it’s time to prep the woodstove for daily use. Not my favorite time of year. In fact my first five winters, before I moved into the cabin, were so protractedly unpleasant that I got kind of emotional about it. Took a long time to get over that, but now the Lair is snug and warm for most of each winter day excluding only an hour or so first thing in the morning before the woodstove takes hold of the situation. Even then, now I can retreat to the bedroom if I’m feeling especially old-mannish. So bring it on, I guess. Winter will never be my favorite season, but happily it’s not the ordeal it used to be.

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Get a load of this…

The rain started slacking off a week ago. Sunday and Monday it only lightly rained. Tuesday through Friday were beautiful; hardly a cloud in the sky.

Yesterday that changed. It threatened all day and rained hard after dark. This morning…

It’s mid-October, he cried. Stop already with the rain.

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Cutting some firewood…

This was anticipated to be a quite short session, because…

…I only had three pallets in my possession and next to no old scrap lumber fit only for stovewood. So I broke up the pallets yesterday, and…

…cut them to stove lengths this morning. Got no more than two wheelbarrows full.

That brings me to almost three full tiers, or something just over half a cord of tightly-packed old lumber for the woodstove. More than enough for a typical winter.

Of course I don’t plan for typical winters when I don’t have to. There’s still a bunch of driftwood I hauled out of the wash after last year’s epic Monsoon. It’s stored at what used to be my woodlot, and I’ll need the chainsaw for it.

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Somebody asked, “How is this Monsoon different?”

Exhibit A:

It hasn’t rained at all since Monday. Sunday and Monday it didn’t rain much. But there’s still standing water in the wash.

This never happens. I’ve never seen it in sixteen summers, except a couple of places far downstream where there are natural springs. Oh, quicksand for a day or two after a real heavy flood, sure. But visible surface water standing on wet mud for several days after light rain? Oh, hell no.

This was a wet summer but not exceptionally so. Last year we got sixteen inches on the year: In 2013 we got 17 inches in two months. My rain gauge says 10.8 for all of 2022. BUT in a wet monsoon most of the water normally comes in scary dramatic thunderstorms that mostly drain down the wash to who knows where. Almost all of this season’s rain has come in light soakers, and it’s been going on from June till October. I’ve never seen it last so long. So, we’re getting a lot more ground penetration than normal which is great for the plants, no doubt. But not so great for Ian’s floor.

Which, yes, has developed some big cracks that indicate not great things happening underneath. I’m surprised because we spent a lot of effort on getting things right before we poured it. But the dome is super heavy, and it’s on variable sand and rock, so…

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“Aw, c’mon, Uncle Joel!”

I’ve been gone from the cabin a lot this week, from Saturday morning. Morning and afternoon I take off for an hour and a half or two hours, up and across the plateau and then up T&S’s mesa to take care of their dogs and plants, either using T’s pickup (while it rained every afternoon, since the Jeep doesn’t have windshield wipers) or the ebike once the sky cleared on Tuesday. In either case, Tobie had to stay behind. He complained about it yesterday afternoon: This morning he outright rebelled.

So yeah: Enough was enough. This morning we took the Jeep.

Which is all he wanted.

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