Caretaker’s Log, Tuesday, March 17, 2015
I've decided today will be the day I clean the chimney. Karen had given me instructions over the phone when we talked last week. The fire has been extra smoky the last few days and I figure it's time.
I'm up and out of bed, have my coffee, work a crossword, eat breakfast, and just that quick a good part of the morning gets away from me. I go collect the tools I'll need, brushes, the ladder, trash bags, duct tape. And then I text Karen that I'm about to get up on the roof.
Do you have the InReach, she texts back with a smiley face. The InReach is the emergency locator device she left here for my use.
I text back: Ha. Yes. In my pocket. And I reminded myself of my rule to not fall off the roof.
A wise choice, she responds.
I disassemble the stovepipe. Of this whole endeavor that's what I’ve been worried most about, getting it taken apart and putting it back together. I duct tape a trash bag around the now open pipe and look around. Already there is a pile of creosote and soot around the legs of the stove. It's go time. I climb the ladder. I sing Chim Chimney from Mary Poppins as I make my way up. A sweep is as lucky as lucky can be. With my recent track record with fixing things, I could use some luck. I sing heartily.
Although I'm not quite ready for spring, here and now I'm very grateful that the snow has completely melted from this side of the roof. It's a little steep and I use the Boy Scout advice of at least three points of contact as I scurry upward.
I inch over to the roof pipe and work the cover off. It's caked in creosote. Looking down the pipe I can see how much has accumulated just in the time that I've been here. Paul and his son had cleaned the stove the day before I arrived. Constant use makes for messy pipes.
Karen had relayed to me that Paul and his son had struggled with getting the brush out. It’s a brush connected to a long pole that Greg had bought last winter. The previous method was one that created a little bit more mess down below. It was a brush attached to a long string that was then dropped down the pipe and pulled through from below.
Not wanting to get anything stuck in the pipe and be out my heat source, I decide I'll try a smaller brush first to see how hard it is to pull back up. This brush has a very short handle. I stick it in and start to pull it back up. But nothing. It's stuck and the only way it wants to go is down. So what do I do? I push it further down until I can no longer reach the handle. Because that’s smart. "Well, shoot," I say. This is not good. With my wheels spinning, I upturn the brush with the long pole and use it to propel the stuck brush farther down. I climb down the ladder, remove the trash bag, and look up the pipe. The stuck brush is only about halfway down. The pole is not long enough to push it any farther. I go search the barn for some stick or pole that is longer than what I have.
I find a stick that looks a little bit longer and take it up with me. With its help I push the brush down a little bit more. There's nothing around longer than that. What I need is something small and heavy that will sink past the stiff wires of the stuck brush and allow me to pull the rope with the brush attached to it through. This I think will bring everything out, including the creosote—which is the point.
I can't find anything small or heavy enough to do what I want. In the back storeroom I find some skewers and grab them. I find a ball of good string in the kitchen. I get the roll of duct tape.
If I can attach the skewer to my stick, tie a string to the skewer, attach the rope with the brush to the string, and get it all past the stuck brush then maybe I'll get somewhere.
Fortunately for me, I've probably seen every single episode of MacGyver at least once. So I know how to use duct tape. I attach the skewer to the stick with duct tape, loosely enough so that I can undo it when it's gotten passed the brush, but hopefully tight enough to keep it on as it passes those stiff bristles. Then I tie the string to the skewer, attach the rope with the brush to the string, and send it all down the pipe.
My stick is too short.
Picking up the pole, I duct tape it to the stick giving myself double the length and try it all again. I descend the ladder and go look up the pipe. The stick is there, but in the process of all the force my skewer has come loose from the stick and is above the brush instead of below it.
I go back up to the roof. Pull everything back out and go at it again. This time I put three sections of duct tape around the skewer on the wood stick. It'll stay put this time. The trick will be to get the duct tape off through the pipe from the room below.
From the room below, the stick with my skewer is within reach. I stick my hands up into the pipe and work the duct tape off. I have to get scissors to help. This is where MacGyver’s pocket knife would have come in real handy.
And then, like a well-thought-out miracle, the skewer is through and the string is right behind it. Behind the string is the other brush ready to act as a pushing mechanism for the stuck brush. Thus set, I go back up the ladder and pull out the stick and the pole and lay them on the roof just in case I need them again. Then it's back down. With amazing ease, with an easy downward tug everything is free, stuck brush, string brush, and a good pile of creosote and soot.
I've got sooty smudges all over my face, my gloves and hands are filthy, my sleeves are grimy, but I don't care. I've done it. I've cleaned the chimney. Thanks, Mary Poppins, thanks, MacGyver. Now it's just a matter of getting everything back together and putting things away.
I get most things put away and a good start on the cleanup. At a break point I eat some quinoa for lunch. While I'm waiting for my first mop to dry I call my mom. While we're talking, Michaela calls in. I ask her to call back. She does. When all the phone calls are through I mop the floor again.
I call my grandmother.
Then I take a much needed bath. Wash the soot off my face. Work the grime off my hands. Wash my hair. I start a load of laundry in the kitchen sink. I start a fire in the nice clean stove. It's a beautiful thing. It burns hot.
The cat and I do the evening walk around. The snow is down to 20 inches.
I make tuna for dinner because it's easy and it sounds good. I drink a can of coconut water.
I watch two shows. Drink a glass of wine. Call it a night.
Caretaker’s Log, Wednesday, March 18, 2015
It's morning. I get up. I drink a cup of coffee and work my daily puzzle before I go out and start the generator charge. I have my last fresh banana for breakfast. I finish the laundry I'd started last night. Wring out the water and hang it all to dry above the hot fire I've got going in the clean stove.
I don't know how the morning time gets away so fast.
I'm sitting at my desk reviewing yesterday's writing in preparation for starting today's when I look up to see Todd skiing into the yard with Lucy his dog beside him.
He's brought me lettuce, what looks like vine ripened tomatoes, an avocado, some celery, and three National Geographics. I invite him in for coffee. Remembering that Porgy had said Todd likes the occasional cocktail, I offer him some rum to spice things up.
"It's a little early, maybe," he says, thinking about it. "But it is tempting."
I look up at the clock. "I guess it is a little early." It’s 11:45 AM.
We settle for coffee and sit at the table and tell stories. He tells me about a Colorado kid who had been going after some geo-cache treasure or something somewhere close to the place where Todd is. The kid got spooked by a wildcat’s kill and lost one of his snowshoes under a log. Because of all of this he used his SOS device to call Search and Rescue.
"I don't know why he couldn't get his snowshoe out from under the log," Todd says. I don't know either. I sit and think about what would make me use my SOS device. Probably a bear attack or a broken leg. A bear attack if I was bleeding out and a broken leg if I couldn't get myself back to the lodge.
"I imagine he'll have quite a big bill to pay," Todd says of that Colorado kid. "Search and Rescue wasn't very happy with him."
"Do you think he got lost?" I ask, trying to give that kid the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he wasn't wilderness savvy. But then again, if he wasn't wilderness savvy why did he go out alone?
"I think he just panicked. He must have used a GPS when he went in because he followed the old horse trail to get where he was going. From the tracks I saw that's the way he went and it follows the river so it's easy to orient from. And then, he could have gotten out on the river. It's frozen and the easiest way to get anywhere if you don't have your snowshoes or skis."
At 1:15, Todd stands up. I ask him if he'll be kind enough to come to the generator shed and look at the generator with me so that when I have to change the oil in a week or so I’ll know what to do. He confirms the parts and then gears up and puts his skis back on. I thank him for the reading material and the food and the visit.
"Maybe I'll see you again," he says, and then he's off across the field and up the dam road. Lucy leads the way.
I eat quinoa for lunch.
Inspired by Todd's skiing in, I put my own skis on and go up the main road about half a mile. I haven't been out for a fun excursion for days. The snow is just the perfect consistency. It's good conditions. Occasionally I stop because it's nice to stand still with the skis on my feet and listen to the trees talk and groan and creak and whisper and sigh.
I'm back at the lodge fifty minutes later. I call the cat as I approach and she scrambles out of the roof and comes down. She and I sit outside together for a while.
The bulk charge is still running.
I call Grandmama while I make up my last kale salad.
The charge is done and I turn the generator off.
It looks like a snowstorm is on the way. Some flurries begin to jewel the air. Just when I’d despaired that winter was on its last leg.
I write. Todd's visit was lucky for me (I should've cleaned that chimney weeks ago). He helped me solve a problem I’d created for myself. He asked me how the writing was going and I replied, "Well, I'm trying to figure out how to explain why a door was unlocked at a secured location. I'm not sure it's believable right now." He doesn't even flinch. He could write himself out of that problem in his sleep. "Well," he says, "there was that guy who walked through the front door of the White House."
When I get back to work I look that story up and, sure enough, some guy had climbed the fence and walked through the unlocked front door of the White House because the Secret Service hadn't thought anyone could get that far. I get some good writing in thanks to Todd.
Around seven, I do the weather walk around. A little songbird sits on a rock in the river and sings. I stand and listen for a while. It's a cheery song.
Now the snow is coming down. I'm happy. I want winter for little bit longer.
Caretaker’s Log, Thursday, March 19, 2015
It's my dad's birthday.
When I go out to give fresh water to the cat and look at the numbers in the generator shed I hear a wolf’s starting yip. And then the full-blown responding echo of a pack. This is full-fledged howling. It's not even a full moon. It's daytime, for crying out loud. The sound is mournful, eerie, and echoes from range to range. Then silence. I take a step toward the generator shed and it starts up again. The lone wolf is somewhere to the northeast and the pack somewhere to the southwest. I figure they're singing a happy birthday song for my dad.
As I record the numbers in the generator shed and evaluate how much battery charge I have left I think of Todd’s story. If the Colorado kid had heard that resounding sound while he was out on his own I guess I could understand his panic.
On their fourth and final howling song, the cat emits a low possessive growl. I give her a skeptical look. She can't even take care of the mice around here.
It's colder today. Not even 20° yet. A dusting of snow fell last night. Just a dusting.
Three geese circle the back willows, honking as they go, and then they settle together in the reeds and fall silent.
I make a green smoothie for breakfast. I watch a video about the Oak Ridge, Tennessee Calutron work of the early 1940s. Then I write.
I write the afternoon away.
About four o'clock, tired of sitting, I go walk around the lodge and then visit with the cat. The day is nice. Bright blue sky, warm sun, gentle breeze, the trees stir with a soft song, two crows go by. I bring my book and read for a while in the fresh air, the cat sprawled across my lap.
I call my grandmother.
I write some more.
As I'm working, I see a dark shape fly by. I look out and see an eagle. I go stand on the porch and watch it fly. There are two. They circle the sky, making the rounds, keening from the heights.
Spring is an interesting time.
I eat quinoa for dinner garnished with guacasalsa and nutritional yeast.
I write down the weather data.
I write a little more.
Show time. Wine time. Bed time.