Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Brief Jaunt to the Desert

This post is a bit different from most because although the scenery of the San Juan islands sure is lovely, I do still manage to get away once in a while and this one is about a serious change of scenery: the desert southwest.  My friend Sam, who I've known since sophomore year of high school was going to get married in the summer and for his bachelor party a bunch of us friends were going to hike in the desert and then hit Las Vegas.  It had been quite a while since I'd had any real time away from home in a while and I was excited to go to a part of the country I've explored numerous times, but always find myself wanting to return to.  In order to get there however there is a bit more of life at home, then a short plane ride to another world.

Wedging trees over on a steep hillside on Orcas.  This was a fun project because by taking out some of the 'boring' trees we were able to expose a few big old firs with some awesome twisted branches, as well as the water beyond.

A centipede mom and it's babies I came across while moving some rotten wood. 

Exciting news for the Shaw Fire Department, we got a new truck.  Well, new to us at least.  It is a retired truck from the DNR and while we need to put a bit of work into it before it enters service, it is a much smaller and more maneuverable truck than any of our full size engines and will be able to get in places they would be unable to reach.

My current saw collection. Got a few more on the wish list...

We don't go to Orcas for fun very often but on this Saturday we did and grabbed a bit at the farmers market in town.

Marijke feeding the chipper as we worked together removing a group of half rotten trees.  I need to put a fresh set of knives on the chipper, but overall I am extremely happy with my purchase. 

As part of that same project we took down a big fir that was leaning over one of the old airplane hangers by putting a rope in it up high and pulling it over with the truck as I cut.

It was finally time for the change of scenery I talked about, and I headed south to Seattle where I met my friends early in the morning and headed to the airport.

We totally misjudged how long everything was going to take us and almost missed our flight, but as we ran through the terminal, reaching the gate expecting the worst we found the plane was actually delayed. Hurry up and wait I guess. 

It's nice to sit with old friends on a plane instead of total strangers.  I don't get to do that very often.

We arrived in Vegas and picked up our rental van, a new Ford Transit 15 seater.  It fit the whole crew and our bags and worked out perfectly.  You may recall I drive a Ford van, an Econoline that is 20 years older than this, and let me tell you they have made some serious improvements...

As soon as we had everyone and loaded up the van we hit the road, stopping for supplies and lunch.   We were headed for Coyote Gulch which is almost 7 hours away in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. 

Stopping for some delicious pizza in the town of Escalante as we neared out camp for the night.

That first night we turned off the paved road onto a decent dirt road, and found a big open space to set our tents a few miles from the trail head.  Sunrise on the surrounding hills the next morning was beautiful, but only a taste of what was to come.

The whole group at the trail head. All of us have been friends since high school at least, meaning a good 15 years together.

After walking down a sandy trail with some low brush, we quickly found ourselves walking on solid waves of stone.

I'd intentionally done zero research on where we were actually going, I guess I wanted it to be a surprise.  It is hard to make out what it actually there, but those dark, roughly horizontal spots are the top edge of what we were headed.

The hike in was only a few miles, but in the Utah heat it was still a bit of effort.  Before we knew it, we were right above the gulch and would be down soon.  That said, there is still no real sense of what you are about to enter, especially when you look out in every direction and see nothing but bare rock.

Besides starting at the ends of the gulch, there is only one way in and here it is.  We scrambled down the rock one at a time and while it required quite a bit of care, we all did just fine.

As soon as you reach the bottom of the rock, in front of you is basically a stream oasis.  Inside this narrow cut in the solid stone landscape it is cool, green and truly another world.

Once we were all down and together, we headed up the gulch, walking in the shallow, cool stream running down the middle and finding ourselves at the base of these sweeping, overhanging bends in the river course, hundreds of feet high.  I was honestly blown away, the whole place was so dramatic, the scale was just huge and the shapes seemed Dali-esque.

My camera doesn't have a wide angle lense which would have helped capture some of the scenery, but I think it's one of those places that is just impossible to capture.  No photo can share the sense of being under one of these overhanging bends, standing in a cool stream, in this cut in the earth in the middle of the desert and with the red and yellow stone all around you.

For a campsite we got one of the prime spots in the gulch, right under the Jacob Hamblin Arch, one of the most impressive stone features I've ever seen. 

I don't usually do this, but because I couldn't capture it in a way that gave it the slightest bit of justice, I'm going to share a photo from someone else that does a better job: Photo by Jack Brauer

That sandy patch with the little trees, that was where we would spend the next two nights. Simply amazing...

After making camp, we wandered along the valley, walking barefoot through the stream and marveling at this incredible place.

My tent, our crew, and what is probably in the top 5 places I've ever camped.

Relaxing in the stream. 

Cooking dinner in the evening, still perfect t-shirt and shorts weather. 

Waking up with the sun coming through the arch. As I turned and looked the other way between the walls of the canyon, I could still see the moon, still in the sky.

Scrambling up the loose stone under the arch.  A little sketchy to be honest.

We were going to be spending a second night in the canyon, so today was all about exploring.  Everyone packed up some food, water and we headed down stream, wading in the water barefoot mostly. 

Sam (the one getting married) taking a little dunk.

Around every bend was more incredible features.

We were hoping to get all the way to the Escalante River, but it was fairly slow going and we ran out of time.  This was the spot where we turned around.

A celebratory beer back in camp. (yes, we carried a 30-pack across the desert and into the canyon. and yes, we packed everything back out!)

Night two.

The way back out was hot and somewhat slow going.

Just like on the way in, we stopped at Escalante Outfitters for some grub.

With food in our bellies, we drove back south and all the way to Las Vegas, where we stayed at the Hooters Hotel. It was close and cheap.  And yah, it felt cheap.... 

On the strip.  To be honest, Vegas is about my least favorite place to be.  It looks interesting for a night or two, and is a good place to catch a show, but other than that, nothing about it appeals to me.  Then again, I live in the woods on a tiny island, soooo.... I'm probably not the target audience.

I think this may be the only time I've ever 'gambled'.  I put a dollar into the penny slot. At first I bet a penny, but it was going to slow and I was bored, so I bet 10c at a time (when is the last time you did anything for just ten cents?) and got up 43 cents, wow!  Then I got bored again, and hit the 10 cent bet rapidly until I lost "all" my money.  Thus started and ended my gambling career.

We actually had two nights in Vegas, they kind of blend together.

With a group as large as ours, it would up being cheaper to take a limo than rent taxis. 

Vegas is quite a scene.

An acquaintance had a fancy hotel overlooking the strip and we stopped in for a drink.

The view from the balcony. Eventually, it was time to return to our room and call it a night.

The next morning most of us were just ready to get out of Vegas, and rather than try and find something to do around the hotel or the strip, we just headed to the airport early.  The flight home was very welcoming, because we had clear views of Mt Rainier and the other things that make our part of the world special, and what makes me feel at home.  The desert is nice, and I will certainly be back for more of that (I'll probably skip Vegas), but snow covered volcanoes, this is where I want to live.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Multi-Faceted Growth

When I choose photos for my blog, I look over everything I’ve taken over a given period, usually hundreds or a thousand, sometimes more, and try to get that down to 40-50. It’s quite a task, and as always many details are left out, but I aim to include a representative sample of my life. It is usually progress on whatever is important at that moment, nature and how it is changing depending on the season, some wildlife. having fun with my wife, lots of tree work and finding a way to tell a coherent story. These days I’m leaning more heavily on the photos than the writing, getting lazy I guess, but I still feel the urge to document and share. I have actually been doing this since before social media was really a big thing, and I only post on Facebook once or twice a week at most, usually a nature photo I took, maybe some tree work or an activity with friends, but this blog, which started out to just document my travels in South Asia originally, soldiers on. When I started writing new posts after my trip across Africa, I actually started titling my documents ‘back in the USA post __’ because I thought being back home would be temporary and I’d be on the road again shortly. Then I fell in love with an island, a lifestyle, and a girl. Now I have a new place to call home, a new life, a wife and a business. Huh. As I type this, I am actually in Iceland, after spending two weeks in the Netherlands with Marijke and look forward to sharing that trip here eventually. I was also hiking in Utah fairly recently which was stunning, climbed Mt Baker with Marijke, my dad and Marijke’s brother Stijn and am trying to fit the new business into all of that. Anyways, this post covers about a month of spring, has a lot of bird photos and not a single tree work photo. See for yourself:

When I left off, Marijke’s mom was staying with us in our home, and after a few days it was time to head down to Seattle for more family time. I brought down the new truck for my parents to see, and we had a great visit.

As often happens we went on a walk through Kubota Gardens.

We were also near to Volunteer Park, so we found our way there as well. Margriet was very impressed with the trees.

Once that visit was over and we returned home, I found myself spending a lot more time than I used to in the office at my computer.  A byproduct of starting a business I guess, and I spent a lot of time procrastinating by watching the birds at my feeders that were just out my window. A welcome distraction, but the pigeons who have discovered the feeder are not so welcome....

This huge truck, one of my favorites from the large list of cool old vehicles on the property, has spent the past few decades just below the top of Ben Nevis hill. That era finally ended recently, when it was brought down as part of the property clean up, and a new owner for this piece of rolling art is being sought out.

A foggy morning as we look out the windows.

I probably mention this every year around this time, but my favorite color ever is sunlight coming through new spring maple leaves. I won’t pretend this photo captures it at all, but because I’ve put so much work into opening up space for the maples around the house again, I have had the opportunity to watch them leaf out and flourish, and enjoy it greatly.

My friends Brendan and Caitlin staying with us and enjoying a meal together.

This time of year of course is the annual Beltane party. Friends came up from far and wide, dressed in white, to eat, drink, dance and celebrate the new season.

Jenn cooking the awesome stew.

Some of the crew.

Marijke and myself at the finished maypole.

And as always, the feast is the most important part. Many of our friends are great cooks (I am not one of these people) so the food at our parties is always excellent.

After eating, most people find their way to the top of the hill. This is the actual top which is on my friends property, just opposite where the big truck was just taken from and the property where Marijke and I live. Nice to have such a good neighbor and neighborhood!

No party is complete without a bonfire and this evening did not disappoint.

I swear I work hard, but the photos in this post sure aren’t showing it! It was a nice afternoon, so Marijke and I went out for a little boat ride, a wonderful way to wind down after a long day.

So I don’t have any real work photos, but I haven’t forgotten the ferry pictures, I seem to always wind up with one or two of those. But it’s just so scenic, how can I not?

Seals, in their usual spot on the edge of Bling Bay.

A while back, when I got the truck stuck in the mud actually, I took down a huge dead juniper and saved some of the wood. In hindsight I should have taken a lot more, but I dried it slowly, sanded it and put a coat of poly on it to show off it’s colors. One is currently hanging in my hallway, the other I gave to my old boss Austen as a going away gift.

“Sup?” Found this little birdie as I was weed whacking along the road and yes, I moved it safely out of the way.

That very same day, Marijke and I decided to go for a wander around the property. At 80 acres, there are still corners we haven’t really explored and we set out to do just that. As we wandered through the woods and towards a mossy bald, I spotted a baby owl, just sitting on the ground. Being a favorite animal of Marijke, she was very excited to see a baby up close.

Owls are amazingly chill creatures, and it didn’t seem bothered by our presence one bit (we did avoid touching it or making any quick movements of course). After a minute of checking it out, I noticed the mom was actually sitting in a tree just about 15 feet from us, hardly paying us any attention and also seemingly unconcerned with our proximity to it’s baby.

The fun part of starting my business is buying all the cool new tools I’ve always wanted but could never justify before! I’ve made a number of large orders and tool purchases including this one, and there is more on the way.

And speaking of more, how about more birds? This is the nightly show out our window and it never gets old.

One day while Marijke and I were working together I came across some snakes and needed to move them out of the area where we were working. Being the little boy that I am, I caught one and showed it to my wife, only to learn she had never held a snake before! I had her take off her work gloves to really feel it, and she was quite intrigued by the way it wrapped itself and moved around her fingers.

Back in Seattle on a social visit, and happened to cross paths with my sister Robin who lives in Montana.

Games with friends.

No mainland visit is complete without a huge haul of supplies and this didn’t disappoint. I returned with the lumber to start building the chip box for my work truck, a few weeks worth of groceries, a lawn mower, a gas pole saw, new blower, wood cart, and much much more.

I’ve never had my own lawn to mow but the house does and it was getting long. On a whim I stopped by a place called ‘The Shop’ in Mt Vernon and found a well used but freshly tuned up Toro for $80 and couldn’t say no. It does a good job, and it’s satisfying to look out at a nice patch of grass beside the house, even if I’m mostly using it as a work space instead of using it to relax on…

Marijke’s symphony group was having it’s final concert of the season at the Orcas Center and then a dinner for all the members at the Outlook, so I tagged along.

I enjoy finding life in funny places, and while cleaning out my gutters one evening found this frog hanging out up there…

And as I got to the gutters on the other side of the house, I came across this bundle of recently hatched spiders.

My business paperwork was finally in order and while I haden’t even begun building the tool box in my truck, there was work to be done so I loaded up and began working. It is still very early in the life of my business, just a few months, but it really is a good feeling to work for myself and be responsible for every step of the process. So far everyone I’ve worked for has been extremely happy, and work is coming in at a good pace.

It is the time of year for the broadleaf stonecrop to bloom, and the tall stalks and bright yellow flowers really add a fun splash of color to the old quarry.

Our lawn was looking pretty empty and boring, just grass with a few doug firs, so Marijke spent the afternoon making a little garden space with rocks, logs, moss and ferns.

I usually spend my weekends working on my never ending project list, but this time we decided to spend the day having fun. While it is a bit of a journey in my little 9.9hp boat, we decided to go all the way around Shaw and to Friday Harbor. The weather was perfect, so why not!

A great blue herron standing in Blind Bay.

The north east tip of Shaw has a stunning view of Mt Baker, and with the timing of the ferry just below it, I couldn’t help but include this photo…

Victory, a beer in Friday Harbor! From there we returned to Shaw, enjoying the scenery, the fresh air and our circle around the island.

Of course the most important tool for doing tree work, besides the truck to get you there and the saws to cut the trees, is a chipper to deal with the material you put on the ground. I’d been watching craigslist, Equipment Trader, and arborist specific sites for a while now and was always coming up empty handed. For some reason, it is amazingly hard to find a good used chipper in the northwest. Eventually I found one on craigslist that was all the way in central Montana, so I hit the road for a long, solo, last minute road trip! The above photo is in Washington at one of my favorite views, crossing the Columbia river.

Montana was really georgous. I haven’t been out that way in a while, and although this sure wasn’t a sight seeing trip, I enjoyed it a great deal just from the driver seat.

After driving for 750 miles straight and sleeping in the cab of my truck in a Walmart parking lot, something I’ve never had to do before, I found the chipper and checked it out. Everything was as expected, so I handed over a pretty big check, hooked it to my truck and was suddenly the owner of a 2008 Vermeer BX1000XL chipper with only 1,500 hours. It is a 12” chipper, has a great auto feed, super adjustable discharge chute, 85hp Cummins diesel and weighs 4,200 pounds. To be honest it is a lot more than I was expecting on spending, but in the end I am really happy to have this machine and it ought to serve we well for years to come.

Once hooked up, I turned right back around and drove to Seattle, all 650 miles. The truck handled the extra weight no problem, just as I expected.

I started this post taking about showing my parents my new truck, now it was time to show them my new chipper. My mom made a great breakfast, and my bad had a few branches in the yard he wanted me to cut and chip, so after that was taken care of, I drove my new chipper to the ferry home.

Next post will have some tree work photos again, especially playing with the chipper, but is mostly about hiking in Utah and two nights in Vegas. It’s a serious change of scenery, so look for that in a little while.