Wednesday, April 30, 2014

An Object at Rest will Stay at Rest

Caretaker’s Log, Sunday, April 27, 2014

For no good reason I wake up in a grouch. It’s 26 degrees outside and snowing. I should be happy. Maybe my mood is growling because I’ve got a lot to do today and my motivation is leaning me towards sitting on the couch all day. By a lot I mean I have to water the plants and chop wood.

I sit on the couch.

I’ll feel motivated once I get moving, I’m sure.

I get moving. I water the plants.

At 10:08, after checking the generator shed’s lights, I put on the skis. Conditions are completely unfavorable for cross country skiing. My mal humor is not helped by sinking, skis and all, practically knee deep into snow that should not be this soft when it’s this cold, again and again. I only make it as far as the fence at the culvert before calling the whole thing off. With some swearing I turn around and head back to the Lodge. This jaunt was not exercise enough to release any endorphins and I breathe deep to still my fuming. “I’m not in the mood, Cat,” I say in response to the cat’s meow as I approach the porch. I take the skis off just after 10:30.

It snows from 9:00 to about 2:00. I chop wood with the snow falling over me. I chop until I have what I hope is a week’s worth of wood.

When it’s stacked and I’m finished with my chores, all two of them, I sit on a front porch chair with my legs stretched out before me as the snow blows over me, around me, on me. The cat jumps on my lap. She starts up toward my face and I push her gently down. “Not that close. Not that personal, Cat,” I say. She turns and makes herself at home, occasionally kneading her claws into my leg.

My bad mood dissipates as the sun comes out, briefly, and warms me through my snow gear, as the snow falls like cold magical stars around me. Spring. Winter. Spring. Winter. Winter.

I stir up the last of the gluten-free pancake mix and have pancakes and coffee for my 4:00 lunch.

Despite the consistent snow of the day there is only a trace amount left on the ground, the roofs, the tree branches—not enough to measure. Where did it all go with it staying so cold all day? It’s a thawing spring mystery.

Inside, I stoke up the fire so hot that I have to go outside without my coat on to cool off. It’s dark and I don’t have my flashlight with me. Behind me, I hear a loud splash in the river. And then a second one. The cat, twining around my legs, is unaffected, so I am too. Mars is still brightly red in the east, southeast sky.

It’s still really hot inside.

I eat the last avocado half from Todd’s care package and a can of pineapple for dinner.

I expect to hear from my brother, after all it is Sunday night. But there’s no call. He messages me to say he’d called and I hadn’t answered. I must not have heard the phone while outside. But no, the phone is dead. There’s no dial tone when I pick it up. Spring messes with the phone lines. I’d been warned.

Caretaker’s Log, Monday, April 28, 2014

I wake up tired after dreaming about chasing down lost luggage all night long.

It got down to 7 degrees and the snow is solid again.

The phone is still dead.

Taking advantage of the cold and the hard ground, I clip into the skis at 10:51. It’s nothing like yesterday. My pace is fast. I take less gasping breaks than I have on previous runs. I make it to the ice-slick top of the eastern slope at 11:33. The quick moving dark cloud coming from the north brings snowflakes with it. The snow swirls around me and I feel like I’m in some perfect winter capsule. The snowstorm passes and leaves me alone. 

The wind, left to its devices, pushes the trees who creak with eerie disconsolence (which should be a word), and chases snow devils along the ground and up the hills.  

After a five minute respite, I lace my boots up tighter for the downhill run and at 11:38 with a second snow cloud making more winter around me I turn for home.

The ground is slicker than it was two days ago, three days ago. I don’t feel the grip of the skis underneath me as I begin my tentative descent, and then the iced down snow propels me forward. I have two spectacular wipeouts with flying snow, tumbling me, and air-slicing skis! I have several other less impressive falls, and one long great semi-controlled speedy downhill run. Successful in that I am going about 8000 miles per hour and don’t fall at the end to stop. My eyes are shedding water like tears as the snow blows in my face, freezes my ears, and fogs up my sunglasses. I feel alive. What a run.

Back at the Lodge, I sit on the porch for almost an hour in the sun, in the snow, in the wind. Snowstorms come in from the north like they’ve got appointments in the east they’re running late for. The sun plays in between them. I sit there on the porch, content like the cat who’s sprawled out nearby, thinking, “A body at rest stays at rest.” Thinking that I could sit here all day without moving, an inert object, unacted upon by any external force. 

There’s no reason to move. I’m solid with idleness.

My face, below my sunglasses and my winter cap, gets sunburned.

I Skype with my sister Michaela. It’s her 33rd birthday.

Then I work a 500 piece puzzle and finish listening to an audiobook I’ve turned on here and there over the past few weeks. The night gets away from me this way.

Caretaker’s Log, Tuesday, April 29, 2014

It’s 57 degrees in my room when I wake up. The blue sky is visible through the skylights. So many times I start off my mornings by singing, “It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.” This day is no exception.

Through the bathroom window I see that some creature has left a line of fresh tracks in the front yard snow. Maybe it was the cat.

I open one of my two cans of coconut milk to put in my coffee. Because there’s no time like the present. There’s nothing like having good coffee in the morning.

The phone is still out.

I get an email from Karen with some possible solutions to fixing the phone problem. Part of that is checking to see if the walkie-talkie receives a dial tone. It does. Neither the manual nor the emailed instructions actually tell me why this is good and how it can be used to fix the problem. I read it all over three times to make sure I’m not missing some step. I email Karen about the walkie-talkie dial tone success and the incomprehensibleness of the information from Loring (the former owner and troubleshooting expert). She emails me back that she hadn’t understood either and that maybe we’ll just wait a few days and see if the phone fixes itself.

I watch a red tailed hawk soar.

For lunch I make a decent broccoli, spinach, green bean with rice sauté. I was needing some variety and it hits the spot. Person cannot live on pink soup alone.

I save, at least temporarily, one of the ground squirrels from possible demise by the cat. The foolish thing is taking residence awfully near the porch.

The geese are in a frenzy.

I settle on the couch to read and fall asleep for half an hour.

I start a new 500 piece puzzle while listening to P.G. Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves.

I’m going to go to bed early tonight.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Strange Man Comes to Call

Caretaker’s Log, Thursday, April 24, 2014
The bulk charge was at a healthy 58.6 volts at ten this morning, the highest I’ve seen it go in about a week.

It’s overcast again today and still under freezing. Flurries are dancing in the air—some kind of interpretive dance for the end of winter. I have a nice fire blazing.

I have milked the heavy whipping cream container for all its worth. It was enough to gooden two cups of coffee. I’m drinking them Alice in Wonderland tea party style. Or double fisting it, maybe.

My hair is in severe need of a washing. So are my clothes.

I’m reading Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac at the living room table, watching the world through the window and reflecting on things like, “There are degrees and kinds of solitude. An island in a lake has one kind; but lakes have boats, and there is always the chance that one might land to pay you a visit” when I see blue. A human shaped blue. A human shaped blue heading down the ridge toward me. 

I put on my coat and go stand on the front porch to watch this human snowmachine up.

We introduce ourselves and shake hands.

It’s Todd, my nearest neighbor. Karen had told me that he occasionally comes over to check in and see how the Darwin’s caretaker is doing. He feeds the elk at the elk reserve and also caretakes a friend’s property just miles and miles away.

“I brought you a care package,” he says, and hands me a ziplock bag. It has a head of romaine lettuce, two mushrooms, an avocado, a handful of grape tomatoes, and four chocolate eggs. His dog Lucy sniffs my hand and then goes off to explore.

“Would you like to come in for some coffee?” I ask.


He would and he does. As he walks in, he compliments me on my housekeeping. “You keep things real clean. Not all the caretakers are so neat,” he says. This, as my grandmother would say, tickles me pink. I’m immensely proud of myself, of the compliment.While we have two cups each (not Alice in Wonderland tea party style) he tells me the chipmunks are really ground squirrels, that spring is something when the river rises and things come to life, that the little dead owl the cat left me was possibly a saw-whet owl and that there are probably bird identification books on one of the shelves. He says, “Gol durn,” and “Well, durn,” to express amazement and interest.

He tells me of the little one room lodge that’s just over the ridge where some professor comes each summer to live. When we go outside he points it out to me. It looks easy to reach. Before Todd leaves he asks me if there’s anything I need him to do. It’s a kind offer. I thank him for it and for the care package while he packs Lucy up and then rides off.

I stand and watch until they’re out of sight. It was just like I expected, even after 21 days of being alone, I knew that at any moment someone would come down through the trees. My southern hospitality didn’t fail me. Although it’s not until he’s gone that I think that I really should have offered him some pink soup. There’s still an awful lot.

With new places to find, I rig the yellow snow shoes with bungee cords and take off across the field. Whole patches of snow shift as I walk. I head for the professor’s summer home. I want to see it, I want to see this property from that ridge. It’s not easy going. The snow shoes and I make our way around the visible river, through the reeds and new growth, and across the way.

I almost make it. The river thwarts me. The incline to the ridge is just before me. But I have one frozen expanse to cross. I stand on the edge of it, evaluating how thick the ice is and if it’ll hold my weight (I know better than to try), or how much of a circle I’ll need to make to circumvent the river when suddenly, the ground caves out from under me and I drop calf deep into slush and water. My shoes fill and I struggle to pull the water and ice weighted snow shoes out so that I can pull myself out as well. It’s not so easy to do. Now I’m down, grasping behind me for the reeds, trying to get upright again. I feel like a greenhorn as I get myself to solid ground and readjust the snow shoes. That’s one way to learn the lay of the land. 

It’s a wet-socked trudge back to the Lodge.

The good news is that my water proof pants are really water proof.

Back at the Lodge, I wash my hair. I wash some of my clothes. I stoke up the fire and hang my socks to dry, put my boots up near the fireplace. There have been insincere flurries all day long.

I’ll make it to the professor’s house another day.

Caretaker’s Log, Friday, April 25, 2014

It’s snowing in earnest this morning. I’m drinking my coffee black.

I take a ski lesson from 10:12 to 11:30 on distance. I do a major review of flat land and uphill. Then I have a great refresher on downhill, and a new lesson on controlling edges on downhill curves. It’s really fun.

The skis are leaning up against the wall again and it’s 39.9 degrees. The sun is peeking out and the sweet trace of last night’s and this morning’s snow is already melted away.

The sun has its moment. Now the clouds are taking the hour.

All the icicles have fallen off the eaves.

At 5:00 it’s 38.1 degrees. It’s raining just a little. I’m sitting out on the porch and the cat is being greedy for attention.

I take out the trash, tying up what can’t be burned and burning what can be in the incinerator. Now there’s a kind of rain-snow happening. When I take the weather I record the 0.06 inches of precipitation.

I see something dark and big on the northern slope—a quick glimpse of movement as if a moose or an elk were lying down. And then there’s nothing else to see.

Caretaker’s Log, Saturday, April 26, 2014

The ground squirrels are out in force today already. There is a dusting of snow from last night.

I go for another ski lesson at 10:10. This time I head up the main road. It takes me fifty-three minutes to get to the gate. It’s all up hill. The entire way. I’m not kidding. 

At the gate, I sit on a rock and catch a breather, tighten up my boot laces, and then put the skis back on. It takes me thirty-nine minutes to get down. 

The snow conditions are not as nice as they’d been yesterday and I don’t get the downhill speed I’d hoped for (this might be fortunate since the curves are much tighter and I’m still not very good with slicing edges). Six times I get in a groove and feel that I’m really cross country skiing. Sliding along at a smooth, quick pace. I feel athletic and capable. An equal amount of times I hit a bad patch and sprawl out in deep snow, glad no one is around to watch me struggle out of the holes and back to my feet. I feel clumsy and all thumbs.

Back at the lodge, with granola cooking in the oven, I call my grandmother. While we’re talking I see some birds out of the corner of my eye. “Can you hold on a minute?” I ask her. I put the phone down and run for my camera and the binoculars. Two red tailed hawks are hanging out together, flapping their wings, standing next to each other, chilling—and then one takes off. Soon after, the other flies away too, over the fence and eastward.

I make a salad with the things that Todd brought me, lettuce, mushrooms, and half the avocado. I add in things that I have on hand, tahini, homemade dressing, goat cheese crumbles, sunflower seeds, and a touch of agave nectar. Damn, that salad is good.

The mountains look bare, bereft without snow.

Whatever is coming down from these dark grey clouds looks an awful lot like rain. This weather makes me sleepy.

I read and watch the rain change into snow.

Now that’s a pretty snow.

After recording the weather, bringing in some wood, and feeding the cat, I go sit on the porch log for about half an hour to watch the snow come down. The cat takes advantage of my presence.


It’s so beautiful. I’m glad I don’t have any other place I’m supposed to be. This is a place where winter can happen.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

An Infestation of Beavers

Caretaker’s Log, Monday, April 21, 2014
The float charge I’d worried about last night is back up to 56.4. This is good. This is reassuring. 

While the ground is still hard enough to tread upon, I take an hour walk around the property perimeter. I follow the river, annoy the geese, upset a few chipmunks. The birds are singing. When I see the bridge I say aloud for all the wildlife to hear, “This looks safe.” They don’t issue any warnings. No one stops me for a toll. I cross, pausing half way over to stop and take some pictures of the water.

Back at the Lodge the wind is too gusty to properly sunbathe on the front patio. I go inside. Wanting warmth, I go out to the sauna and fire it up. I sweat it out for a while in comfortable relaxation.

After the fire is out and I get cleaned up, I go around back to view the river and the north mountain and the descending sun and discover that there are at least three beavers. I watch them slip in and out of the water and wish my camera had a better zoom. 

Before I check the weather I start up some soup. Cabbage, beets, carrots, zucchini, garlic, and a miscellany of spices are the mixture I use. It turns pink. There’s a lot. I don’t know how I feel about this soup.

I eat the last of my sweet potato soup for dinner.

Caretaker’s Log, Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Morning again and I’m up and about. Mornings are the best time when there is heavy whipping cream to put in good coffee. I work a crossword puzzle, mess around online for a bit, check the generator shed, pet the cat, make granola.

While the granola is turning golden in the oven I sit on the porch and listen to the snow melt and the birds gossip.

I vacuum the living room, the kitchen, the alcove.

I eat a can of pineapple chunks.

My mom calls.

The pink soup turns out to be all right after all. Especially with the rice which I make just the way Peruvian Geraldine taught me to make it. She’d be very proud.

Feels like a storm’s coming in.

Caretaker’s Log, Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It’s three weeks today that I’ve been here. The time is an uncanny marker. I don’t really know what I mean by that.

Sometime during the night it snowed. Just a dusting. The ground looks cleaner. Colder.

I’m drinking the last of the heavy whipping cream in my coffee this morning.

Karen emailed me to say if I would inventory the storage room freezer she’d pay me a little bit. I might have done it for free, but the cash is nice. This must be why God invented Paypal. So I amble to the back room and inventory the contents of the freezer. Most of the meat is labeled and I guess at weights. Beef, approximately two pounds, 8 packages. That kind of thing. There are a couple unidentified and unidentifiable packages. I think I call them all chicken. This is what happens when you ask a vegetarian to inventory meat. There is also a section labelled “Good Leftovers.” 

I inventory those and am glad I’m not required to eat any of it. The frozen vegetables are of three kinds: spinach, green beans, and broccoli cuts.

It hasn’t gotten above freezing today. Playing in the freezer or playing outside—it’d all be about the same temperature. There’s blowing snow coming in from the north.

While I’m on a roll, I inventory the items in the kitchen freezer. Then I put all this information in an Excel spreadsheet and email it off to Karen.

My day’s work done, I heat up some pink soup and rice. The phone startles me just as I’m picking the bowl up to take it to the table. I talk with my grandmother. I get a few bites of soup when my mom calls. She asks me about a quinoa recipe and then we ring off. I’m almost done with my late lunch, early dinner when my sister calls. It’s like a switchboard grand central station around here this afternoon. Thank you for calling. How may I direct your call? It’s nice.

When I go to check the generator shed I see one of the smallish beavers. I’m starting to distinguish between them. Not all beavers look the same.
I see the kingfisher again. It’s flashy and quick.

Besides standing to do all the inventorying I haven’t been very active today. I feel restless so I lace up my boots and go wade through the snow up to the far fence edge. If nothing else, I’ll have stronger legs when I leave. I climb up on the fencepost and sit with the snow flurries brushing my face. The sun glows against the thick clouds. 

I pause to look in the water (is it Kinky Creek or the river here? I don’t know) and see another beaver. A close up of a beaver! He turns tail and dives under water before I can get a picture.

This place is infested with beavers.

At 7:32 it’s snowing like crazy.