Friday, September 8, 2017

The Arrival of Spring and Another Big Step Forward

A lot of my posts start by discussing the seasons. Sometimes it's the season the post is about, but more often, it's about what is going on at the moment I'm writing, and how the post is about a few months before that...  Oh well. If I'm being totally honest, I'm less motivated to blog these days than I used to be. I'm not totally sure why that is, and I know people are still checking out my posts, so I feel like I should keep it up. Things are going well, and the new chapter in life I hinted at in the last post is that I've started my own business!  That is certainly a change from being an employee, but I'm doing the same work as before, so really it's just that I have more paperwork to do. That said, it is rewarding, but I'll get to that later on.  For now, here is how I got to that part.

Working on the north side of Orcas Island.  I was up a tree taking out some deadwood or something, I forget, when I looked out and saw a lovely rainbow.

Back  home I was still doing work to improve my view. I've found it's really hard to get the true perspective of being up a tree when you just have the camera in your hand, so this time I brought up a selfie stick, which I'm almost embarrassed to admit I bought... That said, it made for a pretty cool photo and one I've since used on the posters for my business, as well as on the back of my business cards. So it was worth it.

So although the interview for Marijke's green card, and the approval that made everything official happened in the last post, she still didn't have the actual card yet.  I think they told us it would be a month or so, but only like 10 days after the interview, my wife had the card in hand and the saga could finally and truly be declared over.

An old cabin on Shaw.

Looking down while doing a big tree removal.  The tree was dying, was surrounded in buildings and there was no place to drop it.  I think it was something like 130 feet tall, and was actually the largest fir removal I've ever done.

The tree was so large that after I'd exhausted the usefulness of my 361 with a 20" bar, I pulled up a 460 with a 32".  I dropped a few logs off like this, and then came down to pull the stick over.

Safely down on the ground, and a LOT of big wood for someone to deal with... Even though doing a tree this big is using all the same principals of a smaller tree, it's just not the same and takes a lot more ability and experience.  I was a little intimidated when I showed up in the morning but after 5 hours in the tree and it all going perfectly, it was a big confidence booster.

My 99 year old great aunt Wilma had just moved out of her home where she was still living unassisted (talk about good genes!) and into a home.  It was time to make a Seattle visit to see her, other family and some friends.  Usually when I come to Seattle it's a busy tip full of errands, so this was only about seeing people.  It made for a nice change of pace from the usual visits.

That night I went to a house party with my good friend Brendan, and a bunch of his birder friends.  The host of the party was also host to a house full of interesting birds, including this very chill owl.

While I was on the ferry home, I looked out on what was a lovely, clear day and saw the old ferry the Hiyu heading north.  This tiny ferry was retired many years ago, and was brought back into service as the inter-island boat for a summer, then retired again and sold.  When I later asked a ferry worker about it, he said it was headed north to a shipyard in Canada for some repairs and on to it's next stage of life.  I always enjoyed that little ferry, so it was fun to see it one last time.

For a while now Marijke had been a part of Island Symphonia, the island classical music group, and this was their Shaw concert. You can see her in the back standing up and being in charge of various percussion instruments.

Visiting friends on Orcas and enjoying their collection of animals that wander about the property.

Ah yes, getting stuck. I was at work one day, the customer had some trees on the low side of their fields where he wanted the chipper, and I drove right into the soft stuff and couldn't get out... I knew it was soft, but figured if I got stuck that I'd be able to pull the truck and chipper out with our other truck. No such luck. Nor could the tractor do it.  We ended up getting the truck out without too much trouble, but in order to get the chipper, which was axle deep in mud, Austen had to come back with his excavator.  At this point I was very much looking forward to dry weather again...

Another lovely day on the ferries.

Dinner with friends.

Tiny dinosaurs.  I forget the name of these, but if my memory is correct, they are the northern most lizard in North America.

I am always working to develop and improve where we live, and one thing we still didn't have until this day was a nice fire pit.  I collected rocks from the quarry, picked a nice spot in the lawn and came up with this.  I've got some cool pieces of wood to make benches with, but that step will come later.

Moss, wild flowers and the rusty saw blade on the edge of the clearing out our bedroom window.

At work with Marijke.  This days project was adding some post extensions to a fence in order to make it taller and keep the deer out of an orchard.

I've always really enjoyed humming birds but for some reason it took until this point to finally put up a feeder.  It hangs outside of our living room window, and by the second day it was there we would have 8 birds at a time jockeying for position.  It was a lot of fun to watch, but we were having to refill the feeder every single day they were drinking so much!

On my boat heading home from work.

Until this point we had been keeping our two cats indoors but it was finally time to let them explore, and explore they did, especially Baxter.  He loves to climb trees, and the big madrone on the corner of the house was no exception.

As part of letting the cats outside finally, we built a 'cat ramp', on the side of the house to the window in the laundry room, so they can easily go in and out as they please.  Here is Marijke making the steps.

I always have my eyes out for little creatures and spring brings plenty of them.

A large doug fir tree, mid-fall after pounding in a wedge to tip it over.  Probably one of my favorite activities, haha.

While I was out on the hillside falling big trees, I was also taking time to stop and admire the smaller and more beautiful things around me like this fairy slipper orchid, flowers that had only begun appearing in recent days.  We actually have a good number of them around the house, and they are always a fun little treat to spot.

As I was waiting at the Orcas ferry landing for my boss a few days later, I happened to look out the window back towards Shaw at just the right moment and caught a rare sighting, orca whales, an adult and a baby, in the channel.  Now they are fairly common around here, but they are usually spotted in other areas, the west side of San  Juan in particular, so to see them here was unusual and exciting.

At work with Dave the crane guy.  I'd brushed this tree out the day before as part of a large project, and on this day it was time to take the trunk wood down in sections using the crane.  This was actually my first ever crane job which was fun, and I look forward to more in the future.

I can't help myself, always catching snakes...

This is one of my favorite trees on the island, a mature big leaf maple on the edge of Blind Bay, draped with green-grey lichen and made even more pretty by the fresh spring leaves sprouting out.

Marijke watering freshly panted apple trees in the orchard where we worked on the fence.

It was still far too early to call it 'warm' out, but it wasn't cold at the end of work at least.  With the improving weather, Marijke and I have begun having 'deck beers' together, a wonderful way to relax a bit after a long day of work.

The sun, seen through spring showers from our deck.  It's been a real joy to watch all these maple trees below the deck leaf out.  When we moved in over the summer the trees weren't even visible, so to expose them and add them as a feature to our daily life is fun.

Looking over the mossy bald to the north of the house, this view is roughly from the new fire pit I built.

One more scenery photo... sunset out our living room window. Man I love this view....

This is both cool and a little sad, it's a violet green swallow, a very pretty bird that has recently showed up, flying over the meadow.  One of them flew into the living room and one of our cats got to it...

A better look at our wonderful deck.

This curved tree was one out our living room window that I wanted to take out, and as long as I was doing that I figured I'd better make use of the interesting log.  By using some painters tape to make guide lines, I halved the log as it stood upright, and set the material aside to make mirror image benches that will probably go around the new fire pit.

With the improving spring weather, clear views of Mt Baker are becoming common.

Passing the Shaw Landing (where the above view is) and heading into Blind Bay where I keep my boat.

With us well settled into the house and our lives by this point, it was easy to host guests and our first long visit came from Marijke's mom.  The first time I met Margriet was actually when I married her daughter, so it was nice to have her around for a length of time and get to know her better.  When she arrived, she brought a wonderful gift, a 'life painting' that is a custom painting incorporating elements of a persons life, and this one has elements of Marijke's life in the Netherlands on the left, life on Shaw on the right and other fun things like our two cats, haha.  It's a lovely piece that has a great story to go with it and it hangs proudly in our living room.

About to hop in my boat and go to work I noticed this large crab just below the surface, and stuck my waterproof camera down for a closer look.  I'm usually focused on life above the water, hopefully at some point I can explore more of what is below.

My boss Austen heading up a huge cedar on the north side of Orcas.

A close up of the life painting.

Since both Marijke and I work for and spend a good amount of time with the Rawls family, they invited us and Margriet over for dessert one evening and we had a great time snacking and chatting.

On the mainland with Margriet, we decided to go out to Mexican, something she had never had.

So I mentioned at the start of this post that I'm starting my own tree business, and this new (to me) truck will be the foundation of that business.

First off, the truck is a 2001 Ford F350 with the 7.3 diesel.  The previous owner was literally an older couple that really just used it for hauling their camper on road trips and kept wonderful care of it.  Not only that, but it has the most desirable motor, the powerful and ultra reliable 7.3, which only had 79,000 miles!  These things are known to hit 500,000, and others I was looking at often had 250,000, making this one hardly broken in.  I'm incredibly excited to have this truck for doing tree work in the islands and am lucky to have come across it because it is exactly what I wanted and extremely hard to come by.

So the business:  My boss told me he was planning on moving off island, and that I should start my own business to fill the gap in the market he creates by leaving.  Now I hadn't really considered having my own business before, but it all seemed to make sense and Austen was very willing to help me make it happen and has been a wonderful resource.  It's hard to say how everything will pan out, but this marks a big step in my life and one I am really looking forward to.  I know there is a lot of work ahead of me to make this a success, but I'll start small and simple, and see where the path takes me.  

Monday, May 8, 2017

White Snow & Green Cards

Spring is here now and life is popping up everywhere I look. It truly is a wonderful time of year and I look forward to talking about it shortly, but it's time to wrap up winter first. In the winter it seems that not only does the pace of the natural world slow down, so did the pace of our personal lives. I don't mean that in a bad way, it is a time of rest to some extent. Maybe I'm just used to a lot of fast change in recent months and maybe even the past few years, but there wasn't any of that during the period of this post. We got a new car, got snowed out of work a number of times, I did a lot of improvements around the property, and most importantly the green card process with my wife concluded. All important things, but nothing that altered our day to day realities. Anyways, life has been good so here goes:

People always complain about winter in the northwest (well, everywhere I suppose...), talking about how long and gray it is, but I work outside most every day and I see the sun frequently. This is some late December sun on the mossy cliff our house is built on, days like this are not so uncommon.

I'm a big fan of nature watching as anyone reading this blog probably knows, and although I actually know an embarrassingly little about them, watching the birds outside my windows gives me great pleasure. I put up bird feeders when we first moved in, but for whatever reason it took months for birds to start using them. That said, these days I often see probably 10 different types of birds a day at my feeders, often a dozen or more at a time, and need to refill the seed daily. I guess this is my “old man” activity.

New Years! I had some sparklers to light at midnight on the deck with Marijke, and we cooked up some traditional Dutch new years treats on the stove. It wasn't exactly a big party here on Shaw for us, but it was fun to mark the date at least.

So this is how I get to work every day. Living on one island and working on another presents some obvious challenges, and I can always take the ferry between islands but the schedule is limited and inconvenient. Then again, my boat isn't exactly easy… what I do is carry the small row boat from where I keep it next to the road down to the water, paddle it to the dock float in Blind bay where I keep my motor boat, pull it up onto the dock and then hop in the motor boat to take the mile long journey, no matter the weather, in my 12 foot aluminum boat to Orcas. We leave a car on Orcas that I can then drive to work once I'm on that side.

We weren't a water family growing up, our time was spent in the mountains. Although we did some nice river and lake trips, saltwater wasn't really on our radar. Out here of course it is a daily feature of life and even when the weather is terrible I love being out on my little boat; feeling every wave, seeing different wildlife and living in the moment, alone on the water.

….And sometimes I see other interesting things from my boat! (A few days later the boat was righted and towed way for repairs)

Even with the mountain of wood I split to get us through the winter, by early January it was clear we still needed a lot more. Our house is old and poorly insulated, it has huge single pane windows, the wood stove is old and inefficient (and a fireplace insert at that) and the wood we did have, much of it was a bit on the soft side from sitting so long before we moved in to get it under cover. That said, on 80 acres we had plenty of trees to choose from, so I spent half a day taking down, bucking and splitting some small standing dead firs, tossing them in the van and stacking them in the woodshed. I'll have a truck eventually, but I'm always happy and impressed with the usefulness of my full-size cargo van!

Another of the great old trucks on the property, on the list to be hauled away.

With winter usually comes storms, and with storms usually comes interesting tree work. While there was less than I expected this winter, we did get a few jobs such as this maple that split out (you can see where it broke from behind the cab of the machine) and landed on a tool shed. The excavator is a pretty new tool for the business and it's been a huge help for this kind of thing.

The other thing that comes with storms of course is power outages. Being prepared for extended events due to storms, natural disasters or human caused disasters is something I always keep in mind and I've got systems ready to handle at a moments notice. One evening during a predicted wind storm the power did go out and I sprang into action, setting up the generator to keep some lights, the fridge and a few other things on, as well as the portable propane stove, and jugs of clean water (since I don't have a 220 volt generator to run the well pump yet). Once all our emergency systems were in place…. The power came back on. Oh well, at least I was ready.

One day we had a job taking down a decent sized fir that was too close to the customers house, and while we carried most of the wood away, honestly we weren't so keep on carrying the biggest part up the stairs. What we did instead was ask if they were interested in turning the remaining curved log into a bench, and after doing it they were so happy with the bench they decided to redesign that part of the yard to make it a key part of the garden!

Looking down towards Eastsound and Canada in the distance.

New car time! Up until now Marijke had been driving my piece of junk $1,500 Ford Explorer, something that was literally an 'extra car I had laying around', and it was time for an upgrade. So we headed into Seattle and did the predictable thing, bought a used Subaru Outback. I'm a huge fan of the practicality of all-wheel-drive wagons, I had a Subaru Impreza in the past, and at one point my dad, brother and both sisters were driving AWD wagons at the same time as well! (three Outbacks and a Volvo XC). The car is in very good condition, it's a Limited so it has leather, heated seats and dual sun roofs, and Marijks is very happy with it.

Breakfast with my uncle Steve, who we stayed with while in Seattle.

That day also happened to be Marijke's 30th birthday, so while doing our 'mainland grocery shopping trip' I bought a little cake and surprised her with birthday candles while we sat in my van on the ferry back to the island.

Fence work in January isn't always pretty! This was more livestock fence building at the monastery and the ground was a soupy mess but we got the job done.

Playing at work.

My commute home from work is pretty awesome when the sun is shining, but even when it's not I still enjoy it. Until I started commuting with this boat, I'd spent very little time on salt water. Sure I've done some sea kayaking trips, spent a little time on sail boats and so on, but now I'm on the water a few days a week and I love it. It's peaceful, there is a lot to see and experience along the way and it's a whole new world that I get to enjoy.

More fun storm work! This was a pretty cool job, the tree was poorly rooted and blew over in some moderately high winds one day. After removing all the branches, most of which were on the roof, we put a pulley in a nearby tree and another rope-redirect on a truck, then managed to use a second truck all the way on the other side of the house to lift the log up and away from the house. It was pretty tricky rigging but worked out perfectly.

I've been getting my shop in order and hanging rusty tools on the wall for decoration. Having this space to keep tools and work on projects is awesome, I never want to live without my own shop again! (but I'll probably have to when we eventually move...)

It's only late January and still pretty cold. As a result, I'm burning a lot of wood and keep needing more.

Visiting some horses as we walked around the loop road.

A calm day on the water. This is Blind Island and the Orcas ferry landing in the distance.

It was at this time Austen and I started working with a new guy at work, also named…. Austen. He is a cousin of my friend out here, grew up around trees and logging, worked a number of seasons cutting trees for the forest service and has been with us ever since. It's nice to have another young capable guy on the crew and he's a lot of fun to work with.

Aww, my wife found me a skull!

I love to create things and while I wouldn't go as far as to call myself an artist, I certainly do enjoy creating art. In the middle of our driveway turn-around there has been this bare space that was bugging me for a long time, so I came up with something interesting to put there instead. I cleaned and leveled the space, collected rounded stones from the quarry and laid them out in a spiral, from smallest to largest, in the center of this cluster of trees. After that, I collected moss from all around the forest, and filled in the space between the stones.

Here is the finished product, I'm very happy with how it turned out.

And another thing just because I felt it looked neat… This is a piece of firewood that had a huge amount of dried sap on it. If you look at that concave spot above the dark black end, you can actually see what is a 1” thick chunk of sap. Once put in the woodstove, the piece ignited in quite a spectacular way.

Another beautiful day, boating home from work. It's been so long since I had to take the ferry boat to work I almost forget what it is like. I did enjoy the community/social aspect of taking the ferry because it's such a part of island life, but the schedule is just plain inconvenient.

So people sure complained that we had an especially hard winter this year and normally I'd say people just like to complain, but this year they weren't wrong. Up to this point we had a few cold periods and dustings of snow, which in itself is rare, but in early February we had our first period of snow that lasted a couple of days. Because of the snow work was called off (driving big trucks on snowy roads is a bad idea if you don't need to, etc) and I spent a few days being lazy on the couch and stoking the fire. Rare behavior for me… The birds sure were coming to my feeder though, as it was the only easy to find food while the ground was covered.

Of course snow makes for some beautiful scenery and it was combined with some wonderful blue skies.

Once things melted a bit, it was back to work. There was still some snow on the ground while we were out cutting, and as I was climbing a tree doing a removal it began snowing again. I'd never climbed in the snow (to be fair it was light snow) before, so that was a first!

With more snow coming down it was time to get home before things got worse. As you can imagine, boating home wasn't the most appealing prospect ever, but oh well, gotta get home!

I'd say there was a good chance I was the only person out in an open cockpit boat that day…

Not used to seeing this, our house covered in snow.

Now this is how to spend a snow day, sweatpants and cats!

And the warm fire.

The snow stayed on the ground for a few days, but as soon as it was gone, it was easy to find signs of spring if you looked. It was still only early February but we had the first few daffodils popping out of the ground.

Nice weather made for some great walks at the preserve.

It was at this time we finally began letting our cats outside for the first time, and while Sem is older and fairly reserved, Baxter here is young, curious loves to explore and climb trees.

Mt Baker, a ferry, ducks and the Shaw landing as I boat home for the day. Yah, I love my commute.

Believe it or not I don't only do things outside (though it is my preference). I also spent the winter trying to perfect my home office, including building nice wood stands for my computer (a laptop that sits upright behind the monitor) and my screen.

Baxter and bald-bellied Sem, sitting on top of the piano.

The float where I keep my boat does go dry or nearly on especially low tides and this was one of them. Also, proof not every day is sunny and bright out here!

In my quest to reclaim some of our views, the process isn't just about seeing sky but also about featuring the landscape and other trees. We have a ton of firs around here that are crowding the mature big leaf maples, so I decided to open the view out our living room window to this moss covered maple, and give it some more space. Looking out the window at this tree now is one of my favorite views we have.

The purple leaf plum in front of the house is starting to bud. Spring is close!

Marijke and I decided to have a fun day on Orcas so we took the boat. The water was a little choppier than usual but it was still a lovely day.

Hiking on Turtleback and admiring the valley below.

Shortly after, I was at work on Orcas when it began to snow, again. We could tell it wasn't going to let up any time soon and that we had better stop the job and get home before it was too late. I had most of the island to drive across, and the road was absolute chaos. Not that the snow was really that bad, but people just don't know how to handle it and weren't prepared for it. There were cars just parked on the side of the road everywhere and cars in the ditches all over the place too. A friend I know was passing the other way and warned me that farther along, the entire road was blocked by an accident, but I may be able to get around it on a back way. Somehow the back road was clear (I think most people were too scared to take it) and I made it to the ferry landing, stopping to rescue a little old lady who was stuck on the way. I later heard that something like 35 cars slid off the road just between town and the ferry that day…

A few weeks ago Marijke and I received a letter from the immigration offices that we had a date scheduled for our final immigration interview, the last step that would decide if Marijke would receive her green card and be able to stay in the country with me. Although we knew we had a solid case, submitted all the appropriate paperwork and had a lawyer helping us with the process, we were still nervous. The day before the interview we met our lawyer downtown at her office to prepare and hope for the best.

While in the city we spent the night with my parents, and that evening had a video chat with my older sister Holly. With Marijke and both of my parents there, Holly announced that she was going to be having twins!

The morning of our interview our lawyer met us at the somewhat intimidating Homeland Security office in south Seattle and we waited for our number to be called. The immigration officer turned out to be a friendly young woman who took us to a small impersonal office and began asking us a few questions, to start with mostly to check our personal information was correct. When she asked us to confirm our mailing address, she literally said “Now is this the address we send the green card to?” Suddenly we were feeling confident. When it came time to question me, she literally just asked if my name and birth date on the forms was correct. She asked a few questions about how we met and about Shaw, which she seemed sounded like a very cute place, and 10 minutes later the interview was over! We were told our case would go through one last review and to expect something in a few days.

We had to return home, so after a celebratory breakfast that the process was over we drove north. Before we had even reached the ferry terminal to return to the islands, our lawyer called us to say the immigration website had been updated and our case was approved! It's like the immigration officer just checked the 'yes' box on the computer as soon as we walked out off the room, haha.

And with that, Marijke was finally a resident of the United States. My wife and I finally had certainty we could stay together. The process we began about 8 months ago was over, and the whole thing was, by all standards, quick and painless. We had some German beer to celebrate, talked about how smooth everything went and felt a tremendous sense of relief it was finally over.

Whew, well that finally brings me up to the start of spring, I'm kind of not behind finally! Spring is all about the 'new,' and with that in mind the next post will be discussing the start of a new chapter in life, so check back for that in a little while.