Saturday, February 20, 2010

Has Spring sprung?

Third day in a row that it's been above freezing, which is odd this time of the year. Maybe Spring is coming early, or maybe Mom Nature is just gearing up for a really nasty end-of-winter cold snap. Hard to tell, so we're just enjoying the warm temps and sunshine as long as it lasts.

We only need to keep the stove barely going, and just making meals is pretty much enough to keep the tent warm throughout the day... so we don't have to spend all our usable hours collecting deadites for firewood. We took another set of bearings and have cut another 100 or so yards of trail and will continue on that heading until we reach the center marker. Trail vs. driveway -- trail is wide enough that we can get the ATV down, and driveway is wide enough that we can get the truck down (without folding in the mirrors LOL).

Once we get the trail cut we can widen it and hopefully straighten it out a bit, cuz right now we're meandering a little as we lose sight our landmarks in the denser patches of trees and have to navigate around deadfalls and tussocks buried under the snow.

We did try to take the Billy Goat through, but only succeeded in snapping the starter pull cable. Figures! But I guess running a brush mower through snow banks might not be that effective anyway. So we'll get a new cable when we're in Fairbanks next, and just continue clearing the trees out of the way in the meantime. Once all the mud from Breakup dries up it'll be easy to take the Billy Goat through and munch up all the rest of the stuff. And while it's still muddy we can winch out the stumps we left behind and that'll make mowing even easier. Can't do much else here during mud season unless you want to get stuck!

Once we clear out the main trail we'll probably take more scouting trips into the rest of the property, see if we can find more cool and nifty locations. It's funny how deceptive 80 acres can be. On one hand it's a LOT of space, but on the other hand it can seem really small. I mean, when there's a clear trail of sorts, it hardly takes any time (comparatively) to walk the distance north to south (our short distance) or east to west (our long distance). Diagonal is the hard part since there isn't any survey trail cut in that direction... which, of course, is the path we're cutting in for the driveway!

Of course, we're not contending with understory and brush this time of year, just snow... maybe that makes a difference. Right now, it seems weird that we stopped to build the tent platform here instead of continuing just a few hundred yards to the sentinel tree; but I remember how horribly time-consuming and grueling cutting in this far was during the summer/fall with the tussocks and mosquitos. Kinda why I want to get the trail at least mostly cut in before it gets too warm!

Saturday, February 13, 2010


It was almost above freezing today, so after we did our daily deadite patrol we decided to go on a little scouting foray around the property.

Even with the GPS, hiking through the snowy woods was a bit of a challenge. It's amazing what a couple of feet of snow and bizarre sun angle can do for your sense of direction. It totally changes the landscape and makes you lose track of where you were when you saw something before, and some pathways are no longer obvious or navigable. Luckily I'd marker painted/taped a few trees this summer or we never would have found some of the things we wanted to check on (we remembered to add marker points on the GPS this time!). Of course, I did paint some of the path arrows on the ground like an idiot, those were totally useless buried under the snow.. DOH!

But we did manage to find our center marker again without getting too lost, and two of the major landmarks we wanted to check on.

The first one is what we call the "Sentinel Tree", it was pretty easy to find this one once we got close enough to see through the other trees. I'd estimate this baby is about 150' tall, and I can just barely wrap my arms around the trunk. It's the tallest & biggest (living) tree in this section and has a commanding view of the acres around it. One day, when I'm feeling frisky (and G-man isn't there to stop me with his safety concerns), I'll have to scamper up there to see what I can see.

There's a reasonable clearing of sorts right here, and the few larger trees we'd have to clear are the right size and straightness to make building logs for the main house. So, we might consider putting the Shanty here and spreading out the rest of the homestead from this point. It is a little closer to the northern and western boundaries than ideal; but we'd have plenty of room to expand to the south and east, which would keep any buildings from blocking the sunlight on the pastures/fields/garden..

But we somehow managed to lose the "Secret Garden" for a while and had to backtrack our trail a few times. It's a circular clearing right in the middle of some really big trees, with a large clearing of sorts just on the other side of them.  We were hoping that there was a spring here since it was really lush and almost boggy in the summer, but we couldn't see any surface water, ice or melted areas. One might still be a spring there, making it a little warmer, as the snow isn't as thick there. There has to be some reason such a large stand of trees popped up right in the middle a huge chunk of baby trees. At the very least, it does indicate that there isn't much/any permafrost right here... so we might be able to sink our pier footings if necessary. We'll have to come back and check it again after Breakup; maybe do some probing to see if test holes fill up with water. It would be excellent if we could drive a shallow well right here since it's located a convenient distance from our center marker which is pretty much a huge clearing just begging for pastures and buildings.

I also wouldn't feel too bad about cutting down some of the larger trees around the "Secret Garden" since they're weather bent.  Yeah, this is not an example of a prime building log! Although it could make a pretty neat set of (non-load bearing) porch posts and railings. I feel bad about cutting down larger trees that aren't large enough to use as house logs since it takes forever for trees to get big here; but these bent trees are going to break or fall down on their own soon enough, so cutting them down and making firewood or something decorative out of them doesn't bother me as much. I'm sure plenty of folks think I'm crazy (or a bleeding heart tree-hugger) for taking the extra effort and time to bend my driveway around or move where the house might be located just so I don't have to cut down a nice tree... but, hey, with 80 acres I'm positive that I can find a building site that doesn't require me to needlessly murder too many perfectly good trees just because they're "in my way" :D

Both these locations seem to be reasonably sound, and are apparently well-sheltered during the winter if the number of squirrel's nests we found are any indication. The number of squirrels nests, hare trails, and porcupine tracks we found also mean that the soil in this area might be decent enough to grow the garden in, or at least the pastures, since there is all sorts of munchy debris at the base of all the trees. Gotta figure that if the wildlife think a place is a good home, with good food and good shelter, it might just be a good place for your home, too.

Of course, that means you might have to contend with your place being overrun with squirrels... and we all know they're annoying and theiving little bastards! Porcupines and a big hyper dog with a high prey drive might be a bad combo though! Ripley is pretty good at keeping the hares at bay so far, so hopefully they wouldn't survive scavenging in the garden too well (but that's what electric polywire is for anyway!). At least we didn't see too many large animal tracks at either of these locations, so it looks like they aren't on any major migration or foraging paths... good to know!

If the weather holds out, we'll probably venture to the east or south sections that we really haven't explored much yet. Who knows?! We might find the ultra-perfect site right around the corner :)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Jeans and a T-Shirt

Ok so today we're still experiencing our February heatwave. It was about 30 degrees, nice weather not too cold, not too hot. Problem is when you've acclimatize to -20 or so, when you rapidly warm to these kinds of temperatures, you seriously feel it. Maybe it's just dressing inappropriately, your so used to sticking on sweaters, jackets long johns, three pairs of gloves and two hats that you routinely dress for cold, and when it's not, you suffer in the heat. I was out on deadite patrol, and when I came in I had sweat running down my nose.

Anyway... I noticed that we have 24 followers, which is about 20 more than I'd expected when we started this. Hello to those relative newcomers and welcome to our humble blog. So must be going dinner's a-cookin' on the stove, and I need to get used engine oil off after giving an oil change to our generator.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Veritable Heat Wave

Well, it's about 10F today and when you're working out in the sun and out of the breeze, it's downright toasty.  I actually had to stop ramming trees and peel off entire layers because I was sweating like a dog... not just unzip, but remove. And I didn't have that many layers on to start with! If I'd removed any more, I'd've been out there in just my thin silky thermals.  It's the first time this winter I've had to come inside for a break in order to cool down :D

This sunny warmness is supposed to last for a few days (at least), so hopefully we can get more of the driveway cleared and stock up on firewood so we're well ahead of our burn rate again. It'll be nice to be able to work on the homestead projects instead of just planning them. With any luck, we'll actually have most of larger trees cleared out of the "driveway" so we can run the brush cutter as soon as the snow melts and the mud dries... which would leave us a lot more time to focus on scouting building sites and getting the shanty up this summer.

We're hoping to get a couple raised beds started for the garden this year, too. We'll be a bit late planting, so don't know if we'll get much of a harvest, but it will be nice to feel like we're making some amount of progress towards food independence. We might even get lucky and have this summer's major projects finished, or at least at a good stage, so one or both of us can afford to go out hunting and fishing some this summer/fall. We can all have dreams, right?! LOL

Now, if only it would warm up enough (and stay that way!) so I didn't have to wear gumby gloves and franken boots!  You know you're living the good and simple life when you anxiously await the return of manual dexterity.  Of course, it'll also be extraordinarily nice to be able to spend more time outside than it actually takes to get dressed to go outside ;)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Beware of snow drifts!

After taking a few days off to recuperate from a dislocated shoulder, I went out to help G-man gather more firewood yesterday. We've cleared the immediate area around the tent of "deadites" and are now making a concerted clearing effort in the direction our driveway will continue on once spring gets here. Well, the snow in that area is pretty much untouched, just a few rabbit tracks and places where Ripley has gone bounding after them. Since these trees are long dead and it's been so cold, anything under about 6" diameter you can pretty much just wiggle around until it breaks off at the stump... no chainsaw required... so I was trudging through the knee-deep snow cracking off the littler stuff while Gungnir was focused on the larger stuff and cutting my piles of smaller stuff down to fit into the sled with the chainsaw.

I came upon a clearing that didn't have many trees, but a lot of fairly decent-sized deadites on the other side. The snow was pretty even, with just a few little hillocks to indicate that there were a couple of small saplings hidden underneath, so I picked a pretty direct route across the clearing trying to avoid the saplings since they like to trip me. Unfortunately, you never really know what's beneath the snow... or what's NOT beneath the snow!  I got just about dead center into the clearing, and had a terrifying split-second when my leg went down through the snow, up to my knee, and just kept right on going! Apparently, I'd just found a ditch hidden in a snow bank. I concentrated really hard to keep upright and just go down, rather than pitching forward and possibly impaling myself on something or ending up buried face-down in snow.

So there I was, right leg buried hip-deep in snow and left leg bent backward behind me at a awkward angle and absolutely nothing around me to grab hold of to drag myself out except a tiny sapling. The snow is too fine and powdery to offer enough leverage to hoist myself up with my hands, and any amount of wiggling just let the snow filter in and pack tighter around my leg... like quicksand. I was stuck good and looking rather stupid wiggling and humping around trying to extricate myself, I'm sure. I wasn't in any serious danger (and a tad embarassed), so I didn't want to yell (to be heard over the cahinsaw) for G-man to come help me because he'd come running thinking I was dying... and possibly get caught in a drift as well!

I just sprawled there for a second and collected my thoughts. I tried wading slowly forward... nope, that didn't work. I tried leaning backward to try to scoot out on my butt... nope, that didn't work. I tried hefting myself out using the sapling... nope, that didn't work and succeeded in killing an innocent baby tree. So, I sprawled there some more and figured that maybe quicksand was a good enough analogy and maybe I could get out of this snow drift the same way you'd get out of quicksand... leaning forward and slowly swim your way out.  So that's what I did, gently leaning forward so I wouldn't sink too much, and sort of breast-stroking in slow motion until I could feel solid ground beneath me again. Whew! Crisis avoided :D

I'm sure I looked right hilarious stuck in that little snow bank. Thank goodness it wasn't deeper. But I learned my lesson... no trudging through the snow without a stout walking stick anymore!! If I don't find the hole before I step into it, at least the stick can give me leverage to get my skinny butt back out.  Who knew walking in your own "back yard" could be so treacherous LOL!