Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Grand, and Project Filled, Summer

We're having a shortish summer here this year.  Three months instead of a little over four since Bob has to get back to his four month Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum docent training.  We're hoping to make it up a bit by coming back for Christmas and New Year.

As usual, our summers are filled with projects, from making curtains to fire pits.  As our time here draws to a close, we're getting things wrapped up and enjoying every moment.  A sampling of what we've accomplished...

Part of Bob's duties as board member in charge of fish, lakes and
 forests, he helps with the farmed trout deliveries to Deer Lake
Fish delivery bonus.  Meet Guiness, a 50 day old captive bred Northern Goshawk
traveling with the trout deliverer, a certified falconer.
This bird actually allowed these resident kids to pet him!
Provisioning is my weekly 'project'
Bob's built four of these bird houses, suitable for either American Kestrels
 or Screech Owls depending on where you hang them

Bob built a new set of stairs to access the area off the front deck
(where one of the other projects resides...see below)

My birthday present this year...a camp fire pit off the front deck. S'mores!!!!
Babies on board...House Wrens moved into this bird house,
one of three we installed on the back of our cabin, and
now we can hear the chirps of the hatched chicks

Friday, July 12, 2013


Of the blog.  The resurrection of the blog.  The cabin we resurrected, Phoenix-like, out of the ashes of the Hayman fire, three years ago.  There were a lot of hopes and dreams and fantasies associated with the build, and I documented many of them in this blog.  Well, we’re on summer number three, and things are starting to settle. As with anything you pour your future into, the reality of that future is always different from that envisioned.  Some things don’t materialize the way you expected; others are more magical than you dared imagine.  Intentions are based on many things, but outcomes are often determined by the behavior of others.  One thing I’ve learned this year -- everybody gets to make their own choices...including me.  This acknowledgement of only having control over yourself (best-case scenario), has been a little sad and a LOT freeing and joyous.  Positive change is good and I’m working on that (now and forever) in myself, and hoping others will do the same.  In the meanwhile, the Welcome sign still hangs outside our cabin door whenever we are in residence.

Monday, July 2, 2012

JUNE -- Heaven and Hell (or damn close by)

Colorado Columbines appeared very early this year
After anticipating our second summer at the cabin since, well, since leaving last summer, it was heaven to finally hit the road and return to our “other” home.  It was a joyful second home-coming, returning to a finished, furnished, and equipped cabin (unlike the first year) where all we had to do was to move in our provisions and settle in for the next four months.  
Lemon glazed vegan gems
Batty for bat boxes (the first of eight)
We were quick to renew old routines and start this year’s special projects, hiking almost daily, fires in the wood-burning stove to take the morning chill off the cabin, catching up with our Colorado friends, tending to the forest, and for Bob, constructing the first of many bat boxes.  There were cookies to bake and the local libraries to visit, and gatherings with friends and family, impromptu or otherwise.  Mountain life is good.

Salads, not soups, as the temps rise

The hummingbirds, mostly Broad Tails, are drinking the quart feeder dry twice a day.  If they run out they fly up to us and hover less than a foot from our faces, essentially ORDERING us to provide a refill, FAST!  Since we no longer seed feed (too much of a bear attractant) we have to work at birding a bit more than we’re used to, but we are enjoying the local birds which are quite varied and interesting even though it is harder to pick them out in the forest than perched on a saguaro.  We enjoy the gyrations of the turkey vultures pivoting in the updrafts in the valley off our front porch.  Chickadees hang upside down on the aspen branches, checking for insects.  Nuthatches walk headfirst down tree trunks communicating to each other with their weird muted nasal calls.  A Townsend’s Solitare sits on a tall snag at the top of our hill every evening at sunset to serenade us with its lovely and varied song.  We’ve had two bears -- that we know of -- outside the looks to be the same one from last year, only bigger and with an more beautiful cinnamon coat, and one a small yearling, about the size of an English sheepdog.  I’ve been working with the Bear Aware program here, helping to educate humans about living in bear country.  
Movie night, outside
Despite our elevation of 8,600 feet, we are not exempt from global warming trends.  We’ve had some very warm weather for here -- not as hot as the 109 degree day I spotted on the Tucson weather forecast, but we’ve now had a few afternoons in the low 90’s...nothing to complain about so long as you find a shady spot to share with a cool drink and a good book.  Even here I am at times reluctant to turn on the oven to roast some veggies or tofu or bake cookies.  Last night we decided to watch a DVD outside, instead of in the warmish cabin.  We put the laptop on our little bistro table and us in comfy camp chairs, and watched Sideways (again) with our towering red rocks adjacent to the cabin as a dramatic backdrop -- sort of like a drive-in movie in a dramatic location sans the big screen and the car.  
The heat has had other consequences, aside from lots of salads.  The forest is dry and getting drier by the day.  Wildflowers that were in such early profusion when we arrived a month ago are shriveling now, the scant tenth of an inch of rain we’ve recorded in the past month not enough to sustain their enthusiastic spring growth.  Dry warm air, wind, and a crunchy forest are not a good combination and Colorado is battling several wildfires, a few of them big ones.  We are particularly sensitive to forest fires as this new cabin stands where the original cabin stood for 40 years before burning in the Hayman fire ten years ago.  
The Waldo Fire, two hours old,
viewed from near the cabin
We’ve seen at least half a dozen smoke plumes from fires as near as ten miles away and have been enlisted by the local volunteer fire-fighting force, the Mountain Communities Fire Protection District, as we have an excellent long view from the southeast to the north.  We followed our tireless neighbor Todd -- site manager of the adjacent retreat, father of three (soon to be four), EMT and chief firefighter of our local station -- through locked gates in the back country to last week’s meeting at the firehouse where we filled out volunteer applications.  Before the meeting could start the volunteer firefighters were called out to battle a few of seven manmade fires set in two hours by an arsonist.  It’s one thing to have dry lightning start a fire in a tinder dry forest.  It’s harder to understand someone who’s either clueless or feels that the fire ban doesn’t apply to him.  But someone deliberately setting fires, multiple fires (over two dozen so far)!!!???  Utterly mind-boggling.  Cabins can be rebuilt, but forests could take a thousand years to return to their current maturity.  

The last few weeks have been tough.  Rumors of nearby fires have abounded, some true (and quickly extinguished), and some simply rumors.  We’ve had days choked with the smoke of fires near and far.  The Springer fire between Florissant and Lake George was scary enough, but was soon overshadowed in a huge way by the Waldo Fire on the western edge of Colorado Springs.  
The view from Divide, eight miles west
after being evacuated from Woodland Park,
five days into the Waldo Fire.  Grim.
 Finally I packed us an evacuation bag of a few changes of clothes, things for the dog, important papers and our laptop, binoculars, and cameras just in case we find ourselves in the line of a wildfire and are ordered to get out quickly.  I was glad I had when the Waldo fire blew up the day we were in Woodland Park trying to reprovision.  We could see a thin column of black smoke near the Ute Pass (Hwy 24) driving into town and by the time we’d gotten the bulk of the grocery shopping done it was churning.  We tried to stop at our favorite Asian restaurant only to be told it was under mandatory evacuation.  Suddenly I wasn’t so hungry.  We tried one more shop on the west end of Woodland Park but it was the same story.  Heading 8 miles further west to Divide, I popped into the the smallish grocery to get a few things missing from my shopping list, and in the ten minutes it took me to get out it now looked like Mount Vesuvius was erupting just down the road.  Lunch and the Florissant library evaporated from out to do list and all we wanted to do was get back to the cabin.  A neighbor called saying she’d gotten a reverse 911 call that she didn’t hear all of, but the word evacuation had been used.  I called the sheriff and was told that we were on pre-evacuation and to get ready to leave and wait for word.  This later turned out to be an error on the Sheriff’s department end, but it did tend to focus the mind.  Waldo now seems to be pretty well contained, but we are aware that until we get a good dose of soaking rain we are in a Red Zone fire area.  Forest fires have always been part of life in these mountains, but never has it been so pervasive.

Never too early to indoctrinate the youngest member of the tribe
into the Healthy Forest Initiative tools of the trade
Still, we are grateful to be able to be in our mountain cabin enjoying the relatively cooler weather, our local friends, and visits from Colorado family.  This montane environment is so very different from that other landscape we also love, the desert southwest.  Both places wait for the summer monsoon with its quenching rains, and it cannot come soon enough.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Christmas Diaries, Part Last

The End of the Year, and of the Diary

[With our departure date for summer at the cabin fast approaching and before this becomes a Christmas in July story, here's the final chapter of our Christmas trip.]

There was a nice shift in our mood this morning.  Bob managed to get on the Internet last night at the Ranch House and a review of his email confirmed what we’d expected -- that there was nothing urgent that had been misguidedly sent via email while we were essentially off-the-grid.  We noted that watching the fire behind the glass front of the wood-burning stove is far more interesting that most of the things you see on TV.  And realizing that we’ll be gone from here in just a few days had a way of sorting us out too.

We had a really good visit from a neighboring family (mom and dad and three youngsters, two of whom were part of the home school Bob helped out with last summer) this morning.  It was fun to put the apple juice on the stove with the mulling spices and pull out the cranberry loaf.  While the boys played upstairs in the loft, alternating between working on the current jigsaw puzzle, playing a game of Sorry, and perusing The Dangerous Book for Boys (a great favorite of my husband’s grandsons), we sat downstairs and chatted, delighting in their tow-headed two-year-old daughter.  They had happy news of expecting another baby in August, and we were all glad that we’d be here for that addition to their family.  It was a good visit, and visits are so important up here where you can go days without an interchange with anyone except your husband or your dog.  Living in such a remote location, especially at a time of the year where there are so few others around, can be challenging, but the challenge is tempered by the pleasure in solitude.
After lunch it was my turn to try the loaner snowshoes.  Bob had given them a go the day before and was quite enthused about them.  I parked myself at the end of the deck, a perfect chair height, and Bob helped me into them (a pleasure in itself).  I had a brief case of the Uh-Oh’s as they were being strapped on, a short case of dejavu from my brief, and miserable, attempts at skiing -- first husband (ski patrol) sending me off with no lessons, finding my attempts at the rope tow hysterical, my falling as I tried to ski off the chair lift and being unable to get up while those behind us basically skied over me sidesplitting, and then sending me down alone while he, off-duty, attended to two women with broken legs, my mission to get the ON-duty patrol to come do their jobs.  

The climb up with the tube;
mind the stump...
I had what was probably a quite moderate and very wide slope to navigate down a couple hundred feet.  As I snow-plowed as carefully as I could, back and forth across the slope, making little downward progress, something went wrong and I found myself in a huge face-plant with my legs crossed and my skies, which hadn’t released, doing a deep face-plant of their own.  I couldn’t move and couldn’t see.  At least I’d had my poles appropriately strapped to my wrists, so after a minute or two of trying to twist out of the position I was in, and failing, I began stabbing wildly with my pole for the ski releases.  Just about then I heard someone ski up, stopping with an experienced swooshing sound, and say with a slight chuckle, in the most gorgeous male voice I’d ever heard, “Do you want some help?”  And I will never understand this, but I said “No”.  Humiliation?  Fearing that he’d be Robert Redford?  That I’d rather die?  He said, “Are you sure?”  And I, of course, said “yes”.  So.  He skied off and I kept stabbing wildly and finally, mercifully, I got one ski off and could untangle myself and and remove the other.  I tucked those skis under my arm, walked down the hill to the ski patrol booth, completed my mission, and never, EVER, put them on again.  
So it was a bit unsettling to have Husband Number Two affixing some different, but just as implausible looking snow gear onto my feet with which I was going to have to get up and move.  But these were shorter and fatter and were for anything but going fast.  In fact, I found them pretty darn easy to walk in as we headed down the drive and up to the saddle.  Heading off-road, down the slope and into the forest, was wonderful...we were in one of my favorite parts of our land, heading back towards the benchmark that I always seek out whenever we near that corner of the property.  I took two tumbles, the first probably tripping over a piece of downed wood under the snow -- or maybe over my own snowshoes, and the second near the benchmark as I tried to turn around.  The good news was that it doesn’t hurt when you fall down in a couple of feet of snow.  The not so good news was that it was reminiscent of trying to get up with skis on, but not quite as difficult.  But for the really great news -- this husband didn’t laugh.

A kid again...
With this snow sport success (well, not a failure anyway) under our belts our walk the last day before leaving found us in the meadow.  Huge fat inner-tubes lay at the bottom of a steep embankment, the "sled" run we'd been told about.  Our 60-something selves gave in to our inner child and we each, after wondering about the wisdom of it, took a turn trudging up to the top of the hill, plunked down in the tube, wondered if we were completely mad, and scooched on the snow until gravity took over and the thrill unleashed joyous whoops (mine was more of a scream).  Those few seconds of pure joy was the pinnacle of the Christmas trip for me, and will inspire other slightly risky, slightly imprudent, but inspiring decisions in the year to come.  A good way to end 2011 and start 2012.  

It can't get better than this!
And summer is not that far away.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Christmas Diaries, Part 11

Just a Touch of Cabin Fever, December 28th
We’ve had just a touch of cabin fever the past couple of days.  It came on shortly after a too brief visit from our friends across the lake...just enough time for a cup of tea and a little get-away from their own kids and grandkids, a half an hour stolen from the afternoon they were heading back to town.  They’d bought us a pair of snowshoes to try out, and we had dueling conversations in too small a space, and it left us feeling a little bit lonely when they left too soon.  

The sun set just as they were leaving, shortly after 4 PM.  The winds that had been kicking up for a couple of days whistled around the corners of the cabin.  We thought it would be a good night to pull out the Netflix DVD we’d brought with us, and we set up the laptop on the coffee table and got lost in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.  
Dreaming of the ease of summer hiking...
In the summer we make regular weekly trips to town to provision, poke through a few shops, make a stop at the hardware store, visit the farmer’s market, have lunch, and most importantly, go to the library.  The cabin gets no cell phone reception and we don’t have Dish or a TV.  We have a land line, but no Internet which is the hardest to deal with.  We can go to the Ranch House, a mile up the road, and hope the satellite Internet is working and hasn’t had it’s daily megabyte allowance used up by someone downloading 47 pictures of a new granddaughter.  Even in Tucson we eschew cable, but do enjoy streaming Pandora during the day and an episode of something or the other on Netflix most nights.  We are on the computer at that “other” home quite a bit, and like email and using the web for news and as a reference.  We just plain miss it here, especially without our weekly wallow in it at the library.
...while enjoying the novelty of winter hiking
After about a week of being in the cabin with no trip to town in sight, having fully provisioned for two weeks due to the shortness of our visit and the iffiness of the weather, our joy and the novelty of being at the cabin and the magic of a couple of snowstorms began to collide with missing our normal mod-cons and our primary summer activities that keep us outside most of the day.  
We’ve actually be doing great with outdoor time, walking two or three miles a day along with other outdoor chores like snow shoveling and firewood hauling, but next winter when we come up we’ll have more outdoor toys (snowshoes at a minimum) and some better winter gear so that we don’t feel quite so cabin bound.  We know this is a fast moving “fever” and our bliss will be back soon.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Christmas Diaries, Part 10

Boxing Day, December 26th 
Pygmy completes the Nuthatch Trio
After another good, deep cabin sleep, we woke up to a relatively warm, 28 degree, dawn.  High thin clouds turned shell pink in the early light.  Most of the snow was out of the trees.  The weather forecast called for a warming trend, and no hint of a coming storm that could complicate our departure a week from now.
I enjoy Christmas, but when it’s over, it’s over.  I still enjoy the lights and decorations and the tree, at least until January 1st, but in the music department, I’m done.  It was great to find a little early Jackson Browne on the iPod, and turn up the volume while doing a little cabin-keeping.  
We had a new visitor, and some old friends show up at the bird feeder.  I’m thrilled to have the two Nuthatches -- the white-breasted and the red-breasted -- at the feeder, but I noticed a new bird today.  It looked like a Nuthatch, but different...smaller and a softer gray with a slate gray eye-bar.  Juggling my binoculars and my bird book while reaching for the camera, I discovered it was the Pygmy Nuthatch, a new bird for me here.  A Trio of Nuthatches to complement the Trifecta of Juncos!  Also at the feeder were a pair of Cassin’s finch, the crimson tinted head on the male a dead give-away and such familiar feather friends from the summer.  Now if only the Evening Grosbeak would make an appearance.
When we left in early October the elk were bugling all over the hills surrounding the cabin.  We saw them frequently, along with the deer and even bear that call this habitat home.   Oddly, aside from birds we’ve see no wildlife this trip except for the odd tree-squirrel.  During our walks we always look for animal tracks in the snow.  Rabbit tracks are everywhere, almost more like a full body impression.  Lacy rodent tracks etch the surface of the snow.  And today we saw deer and elk tracks, lots of them, where yesterday there were none.  The meadows were a maze of rambling tracks, crisscrossing each other.  Wherever they went to weather out last week’s storm, they’re now back.  We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled.
Suddenly, tracks galore!
We have a swing at the top of the rocks behind the cabin, a favorite sunset spot for us for many years now since long before we decided to rebuild the cabin...the Trailer Days.  My romantic husband thought we should head up there late this afternoon to watch the sun set over the snow-covered hills.  I was less sure about this, but game, so we bundled up again and climbed around the backside of the hill to the swing, cleared off the day before by Bob, and mercifully dry.  It took about 20 seconds, enough time of one big appreciative “ooh-ah” at the spectacular view all the way to the distant mountain range, to acknowledge that with the stiffening breeze it was bloody cold.  Having trudged up there against my better judgement, I was determined to wait the five minutes to see the sun disappear behind the nearby mountain.  That done we beat a hasty retreat with our disgusted dog, and spent the next our in the warmest part of the cabin, the loft, finishing a new jigsaw puzzle of a wildlife scene in the Sonoran desert, a location and topic that helped banish the chill.
Dinner done, Bob returned to his Kindle and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, an astonishing novel by Jonathan Safran Foer.  I’d finished reading it since arriving at the cabin an suggested it to him as a possibility following his finishing rereading Jeff Shara’s books on the Civil War.  I’m happy to report that he’s hooked, even though he’s having a little shut-eye, stretched out on the couch with his sleeping Kindle in his lap.  Lots of fresh, chilly air at near 9,000 feet will do that too you!  I think I’ll try to quietly bundle up one last time and take the dog out for the last time today...could be exciting as it’s gotten quite windy outside -- I can hear it and the swaged Christmas lights are dancing on the front porch.  It will certainly feel even colder than it is with the wind-chill factored in.  No worries... warm bed snug with flannel sheets awaits.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Christmas Diaries, Part 9

A merry, and very white, Christmas!
Christmas Day
Merry Christmas!  What fun to have it be a snow-filled white Christmas, the first we’ve had together, and the first for me in a long, long time.  We watched the sun hit the mountain across the valley, coffee in had, fire roaring.  We tossed an extra ration of seed out to supplement the feeders for the cold and hungry birds.  It was a bright clear day and we had a piece of the Cranberry-Orange Walnut bread to hold out for a big brunch later in the morning -- a big scramble of potatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, olives, tofu, and spinach...well seasoned and very welcome.
Around 1 PM our newly arrived neighbor buzzed over on his ATV to invite us over, their present opening session and lunch finished.  They have family with them, their daughter and her husband and two grandchildren -- all of whom we’ve known for some time now.  Just before leaving the phone rang and it was my daughter, calling to wish us a Happy Christmas from her husband’s family home in San Luis Obispo.  After a good long and cheerful conversation we headed down the hill and past the lake and headed up their steep drive to their cabin.  The drive was being plowed by none other than Santa!  Or at least it was being cleared by a guy driving a tractor with a plow who was wearing a Santa Hat.  
What sleigh?  What reindeer?
Margaret and Harry’s cabin is one of my favorite places to be, and nothing is better than coming in out of the cold to their enchanting space with a fire roaring in a  big stone fireplace.  There was a real Christmas tree decorated with flickering lights, incredible German decorations and music boxes, and a huge spread of homemade traditional Christmas cookies, some from recipes over 100 years old.  I’m always grateful to be in these friends’ presence.  Soon we were joined by “Santa” and his Dad, visiting from Texas.  Conversations swirled in the cosy cabin, sugar cookies were washed down with hot tea, and every where you turned there was someone else you were anxious to talk to.  Margaret encouraged us to stay for dinner, but she already had a houseful and we made a plan for them to pop over to see us in the next day or two, and made a date for them to have dinner with us late in the week.  It was a bit of a shock to step out into the late afternoon cold, the sun close to setting, but we had our own warm cabin to return to, and a dinner already prepped to finish up and pop in the oven.
Holidays are a bit of a test with our newish vegan diet.  I make the rare exception for desserts or dishes that I figure contain some butter, eggs, or milk.  And it can be challenging to come up with something fun and satisfying when tradition dictates a roast turkey or beef occupy center stage.  We had all the sides instead -- roasted acorn squash with a maple syrup glaze, a truly delicious vegan bread stuffing baked in a pan, homemade whole-berry cranberry sauce, and steamed broccoli.  We ate a little too much, out of obligation, and passed on dessert after having had our fill of Margaret’s wonderful cookies.  
Just before 9 PM, our usual bedtime (if we last that long), the phone rang and it was my husband’s grandsons.  Sitting next to him on the couch I could hear their excited voices, but not every word.  An animated discussion about glow-in-the-dark dinosaur puzzles and rocket ship PJ’s followed.  Snow levels of here and Denver where compared, and sledding possibilities in both locations discussed.  Tentative plans were made for a quick trip to Denver to see them before heading back south to Tucson.  For my husband especially, a perfect end to an otherwise very special Christmas.