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.

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