Small News

Photo by June Hunter

I walk around the neighbourhood several times a day during nesting season, checking in on the crow news — taking photos and making mental notes of how things are with the various crow families I’ve become acquainted with over the years. 

At this point I’ve got so many crow-notes stuffed into my head, I’m not sure where to start unpacking them. 

Rather than trying to cram all the news into one post, I think I’ll go one crow family at a time, starting with the Pants family in the next post.

First though, I have to tell you about this morning’s drama. 

We’ve had nesting bald eagles in the neighbourhood for years, so all through each nesting season the eagle parents scour the area for baby eagle food, always followed by a loud and angry crow posse. This morning I happened to catch some of the action from relatively close quarters when the eagle landed in the school grounds at the end of the block.

The crows, backed up by screeching gulls, seemed even more loud and frantic than usual.

So impassioned, in fact, you can see one crow in the video below whacking the sitting eagle hard enough to cause it to fly off.

The reason they were so mad? It looked as if the eagle had scooped an entire crow’s nest right out of a tree. You can see a glimpse of the nest in the video below.

In the end, the eagle dropped most of the nest, although there was something still gripped in its claws as it flew off.

The eagle population is part of the reason the crows are changing their nesting habits. 

Local ornithology expert, Rob Butler, who spoke about crows last weekend on local CBC Radio show, North by Northwest, mentioned this change: crows who had previously chosen high nest sites for protection against ground based predators (raccoons, cats, coyotes) are now picking spots in lower, less eagle-accessible trees — even selecting quite small street trees they calculate will be awkward for raccoons to scale.

I’ve certainly noticed that our local crows have rejected the once-coveted penthouse suites in the Notre Dame poplars this year in favour of much lower and more camouflaged trees. Marvin and Mavis have picked such a low, mid-street location for the nest this year, it would be quite the drama if the eagle swooped that low. 

If you think being dive-bombed by a crow is exciting …!

The Pants crow family, who I’ll be looking at next time, have long been fans of the low-rise nest building solution and we’ll have a look at what they’re up to this spring.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When Edgar Met Geordie

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For two years after Molly died we were a one-cat, no-dog, household. It was a situation that could not last. It is, after all, a truth universally acknowledged that life is incomplete without a dog.

I thought, since we’d be quite old by the time this new dog was in its senior years, we should get a small lap dog. Having cared for several large dogs in their geriatric years, it seemed that a dog that could be moved without a winch might be a good idea. This pronouncement was met with some mockery from my family, since the last time we’d been looking for a dog I’d started out seeking a Cairn terrier … and yet we somehow ended up with two labradors.

The main requirement for this new dog was, of course, that it be Edgar-approved.

Via a series of fortuitous circumstances Geordie ended up on our doorstep.

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Not a lap dog, in size or temperament, and yet still somehow perfect for us.

I’ve outlined the whole story of how he got from a shelter in California to our house in Gone to the Dogs, but this post is more about Geordie and Edgar’s relationship.

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It took half an hour to persuade the very nervous Geordie to enter the house on his first visit, so he was quite happy to leave Edgar well alone for the first little while.

But, timid or not, he was still a puppy and eventually he had to go check out the regal ginger being on the chair. After a few respectful sniffs, he got a bit carried away and Edgar had to resort to a fierce hiss and rapid fire series of (clawless) paw swats.

Luckily Geordie is a very quick learner and, although he needed a few reminders in the early days, he has now fully absorbed the lesson that Cat is King.

You may have noticed in recent posts that Edgar sometimes like to sleep in Geordie’s bed, although he has a perfectly fine cat-sized one of his own. This was a pattern set early on, when he would claim Geordie’s special sleeping mat.

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He would also eat the food right out of Geordie’s bowl.

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Geordie learned at the feet of the master, even adopting Edgar’s signature “crossed paws” poses very early on. Either that or they are just naturally demure soul mates with excellent posture.

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Treat time — cats go first.

They’ve been together now for just over four years and have settled into a mellow groove, Edgar gradually passing on his wisdom to the young acolyte.

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Group effort to remind the humans it’s dinner time.

While Edgar has a number of other fine canine acquaintances, it’s really hard to imagine a more perfect full-time pod-mate for him than Geordie.

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Edgar: A Short History

I am asked so many things about Edgar. How old is he? What kind of cat is he? Has he always been this cute? How does he get on so well with the dog?

This blog post (apart from a shameless excuse to post adorable older pictures of him) is an effort to answer those questions.

Who am I, really …?

We think Edgar is about 11 now. He was given to my daughter, Lily, when he was a few months old by a friend of hers who was moving and couldn’t keep the kitten. I didn’t meet him until he was about a year old and Lily moved back home, bringing Edgar with her, in 2010.

The friend who gave Edgar to Lily owned his mum, who was a pure Scottish Fold ginger and white cat.  Scottish Folds are known for their tiny folded ears, large eyes and propensity for quirky poses. All are descended from Susie, a Scottish barn cat born in the 1960’s.

The background of Edgar’s father remains a mystery as his mother got out of the house one day, and …

A typical Edgar pose.

As a half Fold, Edgar has inherited most of the typical characteristics. His head is somewhat smaller and less fuzzy than a pure Scottish Fold, making his eyes look even more enormous, and his general demeanour, even more owl-like.

I didn’t see him as a kitten, so I can’t say how cute he may have been then.

But … fear not, Lily found some photos, given to her by her friend,  that she has kindly forwarded to me.

So, yes, pretty cute, I’d say …

Edgar and his brother with their mum.

Edgar has been with us for ten years now. Lily moved out again, but kindly left Edgar with us, as he has more room to range about the house here, and someone is always home. These are the logical reasons. There was also the small matter of me refusing to let him go.

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He is, after all, an invaluable office assistant.

… and the best possible role model for a relaxed approach to life.

When Edgar moved in with us, I was a bit worried about how he and the dogs would get along. Back then we had two of them — brother and sister yellow labs, Taz and Molly.

Luckily all three of them shared an interest in repose, so things worked out very well. Edgar is a very easy going cat and takes most new things in his stride.

He’s always been an indoor cat and seems very happy to be that way, enjoying his social life via the pals of various species he finds himself housed with.

Taz and Edgar were good buddies (sharing similar ultra-chill temperaments) and often chose to hang out together.

Taz and Edgar, pursuing a shared interest.

Unfortunately Taz died at 12, just a year or so after Edgar arrived, leaving Molly (with her slightly more uptight personality) and Edgar to maintain a cool but civil relationship for the next couple of years. As she got older, deafer and slower, the two of them became closer.

Molly and Edgar

Once Molly died (at a venerable 15) there followed a long period in which Edgar was the only quadruped in the household. He seemed just fine with that too.

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Edgar with Christmas Lights

Edgar on his ladder

Edgar loves Christmas — not because of the decorations — but because of the ladder that comes out to assist with the hanging of them.

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Standing up to receive a treat.

His days as an only-pet ended in 2016 when Geordie arrived in our lives.

More on When Geordie Met Edgar in the next post …

 

Urban Nature Challenge

“Explore your own neighbourhood,” advises our provincial premier, John Horgan for this long weekend in British Columbia.  We’re all being asked to stay relatively close to home to limit the spread of COVID-19. So, much as I long for the forest and mountains after weeks and months confined to the city, I decided have some fun and set myself a real Urban Nature Enthusiast challenge.

Geordie and I heading out on our urban nature safari.

We headed out to one of the least promising-looking locations, nature-wise, in our East Vancouver neighbourhood.

Our destination was the old Grandview Hydro Substation located at the noisy intersection of First Avenue and Nanaimo Street. This cavernous space is a perennially popular filming location for the local movie industry. From what I can discover, it was built in 1937 as a substation for the BC Electric Railroad Company to help power the old interurban rail lines that once criss-crossed the city.

As the traffic roared past, Geordie and I scouted around for some interesting moss, lichen or rust. I wasn’t really expecting to find much in the way bird life, but the trilling, whistling sound of many starlings lured me around the corner of the building.

The east side of the substation is covered in a cascade of ivy and, at first, that’s all I could see. It took a few moments before I realized that it was alive with starlings; specifically, fledgling starlings, merrily feasting on the ivy’s dark berries. Very few adult starlings were around, making it seem like a massive starling nursery — a relatively safe place to leave the kids while running errands.

Roll call at the starling nursery school.

Apart from the starling crowd, there were some robins and sparrows also enjoying the dining facilities. Nearby, a pair of crows seemed more focussed on another project.

These two were industriously flying back and forth to a nearby tree with a succession of twigs, mud and grass.

First, some structural stuff …

… and then some soft furnishings …

… finally, some scraps of cedar bark fibres, which crows often use to line the nest for its antimicrobial properties.

I thought that was a pretty good dose of urban nature for a trip to an old substation in a busy traffic area next to a gas station and was about to call it a day when I noticed the swallows.

At first I thought they were just more starlings darting around in the sky, but  I could see they were much smaller and more erratic. When one swooped only feet from my head I realized they were Violet Green Swallows!

I tried for quite a while to get a photo of them flying, which is hard enough because of their speed and random direction changes, but just about impossible in an urban area with all the power lines and poles getting in the way of the camera’s focus.

I found the best strategy was to focus on one bird when it stopped on a wire and hope that some others would fly close by. I just had my light “walking” lens with me, so success was limited, but here are few shots of the magical substation swallows.

I grew up in a very industrial part of a northern English town and I spent my childhood playing along the Newcastle quayside, discovering places like this all the time. Forgotten by the grown-ups, slightly dirty, dodgy and dangerous,  but full of adventure and new understanding for free range kids. My substation outing reminded me of those days, and the sense of having made small but amazing discoveries.

If you’re looking for something to do, I really suggest setting yourself an urban nature challenge, checking  out some new part of your local neighbourhood. It’s important to give it a a few minutes of waiting and watching to see what’s going on in the slightly hidden world of nature in the city. Bring the kids — they love a good expedition and, if it helps,  imagine it being narrated by David Attenborough!

A small chickadee making himself heard over the river of traffic.

Marvin and Mavis Nesting 2020

I know I haven’t written about my crow neighbours for quite a while. There are a couple of reasons, apart from the distraction of Edgar and the Cabin Fever series.

One: I have just SO MANY images and stories filling up my brain and computer, I’m having a hard time knowing where to start. But, since it’s also time to start thinking about the 2021 City Crow Calendar, it’s time for a dive into Crowlandia.

Two: it is nesting season, which fills me with a certain level of anxiety. Like most of us, I already have a bit of an anxiety surfeit,  so I was trying to keep a slight emotional distance from the rough and tumble of the bird reproductive season.

But I know it’s hopeless, I can’t stop myself from getting invested in the drama.

I’ll start with a bit of an account of Marvin and Mavis’s nesting season so far. I worry especially about these two as they are my regular visitors and, over the past years, I’ve seen them lose three seasons’ worth of fledglings — to racoons, falling-out-of-tree mishaps and bald eagles.

Marvin and Mavis’s nest, May 2019

For the last two springs, they built their nests high in the Notre Dame poplars.

While those trees have the advantage of height and protection from ground predators, they are also a favourite buffet for the local eagles and hawks. All of the local crows seem to have come to the same conclusion, as I haven’t seen any of them building nests there this spring, although they’re still popular with smaller birds.

Marvin and Mavis got an early start on this year’s nest building back in March, choosing a nice dense pine tree. I’m not sure what went wrong with that project, but by April they were real estate shopping again.

They turned their attention to the dark red-leaved plum trees on our street, which offer great camouflage for dark coloured birds.  A couple of problems arose there.

First of all, Mabel and her mate got an earlier start, with their substantial nest all finished in another plum tree weeks ago. With the added advantage of two youngsters born last year hanging around as nest helpers, they’ve been able to wage war on Marvin and Mavis whenever they start a new building project.

Marvin and Mavis warding off a Mabel clan raid from our roof.

On the lookout for incoming raiders

Marvin and Mavis persevered, however, and managed to start a nice looking nest in one plum tree at the far end of the block from Mabel and co.

While it’s wonderful that many people, forced by the pandemic to slow down and stay close to home, have started appreciating their bird neighbours in a new way, it’s also true that it’s given people more time to become very particular about their gardens. Unfortunately for our intrepid couple, the humans whose house they were building in front of decided they did not want to experience the thrill of a crow’s nest so close to them, and started to knock the partly built nest out of the tree. I did try my best friendly Crow Evangelist pitch to get them to leave it alone, and I thought I’d made some progress, but by the next day the nest that Marvin and Mavis had started rebuilding was gone again, so I guess not.

Having read the writing on the wall, M & M selected another plum tree. This is where they are now — trying to be very quiet as it’s rather too close for comfort to Mabel’s nest. Luckily, all of the crows now seem to have entered the “witness protection” phase of the nesting season where they’re all just trying to be invisible from any potential predators.

Mavis checking out the view from the new nest.

Fingers crossed for them this year. I don’t think they have eggs in there yet as both of them have been coming to the house to visit several times a day — for pep talks and some peanuts.

I’m trying not to draw too much attention to their nest as they try to keep a low profile, and hoping that things go well from now on. Fingers crossed for some little Marvins and Mavises this year, even as I try not to get my nerves too jangled at every twist and turn of the nesting tale. I’ll keep you posted …

Some other posts about crow nesting seasons:

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Charm of Goldfinches

While social gatherings of the human sort are still not an option, we’ve been lucky to host a succession of very charming avian guests in the garden lately.

This week seems to be goldfinch week out there, with beautiful singing and frequent flashes of saffron in the foliage … and at the fountain.

The recklessness of some of the flying manoeuvres I’ve witnessed today lead me to believe that a new generation of goldfinches have come to play. You know when you have to duck to avoid finch/human contact that you have some L-plated flyers in the ‘hood.

Juvenile American Goldfinch

Junior goldfinch taking a breather.

A few years ago we only had house finches coming to the garden. About five years ago the goldfinches finally arrived, but the house finches disappeared. I thought they might be fundamentally incompatible, but last year and this year, both kinds of finches seem to be happy in the garden, along with a gang of feisty siskins.

Male House Finch feeds a nesting Female.

Fierce little siskin bossing Norman the Nuthatch about at the feeder.

This week’s warmer weather inspired me to set up the mister at the bird bath. First customer was a rather excited female Anna’s hummingbird.

Hummingbirds don’t normally frequent the bird bath as they get all the liquid they need to drink from nectar, and the water in it is too deep for them to bathe in. For bathing they prefer either a mist or a shallow water receptacle, like the leaf I noticed a hummingbird bathing in last year.

Birds like the white crowned sparrow below, however, are very, very happy with a regular bird bath — as long as it’s kept nice and clean, with fresh water added daily.

Our hummingbirds also seem to enjoy the fountain, where they can dart under the falling water for a quick feather refresh.

The goldfinches are also big fountain fans for some reason.

Freshly bathed and ready to impress some lady goldfinches.

I hope that you’re also managing to spend some time with feathered friends.

Last week’s local newspaper, the Vancouver Sun, featured a story Backyard Birding Takes Flight about the delight that people stuck at home are finding in getting to know their avian neighbours, and the joy of discovery to be found within their own neighbourhoods. I do hope this is something we’ll take forward with us long after the COVID-19 situation has passed. You will notice that Norman the Nuthatch and one of my Steller’s Jay photos are featured in the article, and I am quoted in it.

You can read the article online HERE.

Treat yourself this weekend to just a few minutes of bird watching. You don’t have to go far at all and you can maintain your social distance. Tomorrow, May 9, offers the chance to do that and be part of a world wide community of bird enthusiasts contributing to science for the Global Big Day of bird observing and counting. You can spend all day doing it, or ten minutes. If you want to add your findings to the overall count, you’ll need an eBirds account. It’s totally free to sign up and participate.

I can honestly say that thing that calms me down the fastest in these days of specific and generalized anxiety is to just stop what I’m doing, step outside and look around to see what the birds are doing. Sometimes a minute does it, sometimes a whole hour is required. Often there seems to be nothing of interest going on, but there always is if you just take a few deep breaths and wait. Common birds doing their normal amazing things, and occasionally a rarer bird. Either way it’s time well spent.

Swainson’s Thrush in the garden last week — only the second one I’ve ever seen.

 

 

Edgar Update

Some days have us all feeling rather tense …

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… while other days are just so relaxing …

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Edgar’s days are mostly of the chilled out variety and he is a very good influence on his fellow pod-mates.

Geordie, before Edgar’s life lessons …

… and after …

For his human housemates, Edgar promotes rigorous adherence to a daily stretching routine. He likes to keep a very close eye on his students, sometimes making social distancing on the yoga mat a bit challenging.

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The arrival of some warm May weather is very much appreciated by both Edgar and Geordie.

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blossom Geordie

Edgar has such a wise little face, you can read into his expression whatever advice you most need at the moment … “all will be well,” “be kind, be calm,” “give me tuna treats.”

On Sunday I chose to interpret his look as “make some cinnamon buns today” and, what do you know, it turned out to be the perfect recommendation!

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Cabin Fever Series IV

my cabin in winter

This is the hardest of the Cabin Fever series to write as I’m trying to think about what I took away from my cabin years. Difficult because there is so much.

After a lot of thought, I think I can place most of what I learned under two broad headings: space and connection.

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The Quesnel River at the end of Seven Mile Road.

Space

I think of this as both time and distance.

Walking for hours and knowing I would not see another person all day.

Talking and singing (very badly) to myself with only the trees to judge.

Walking in the dark and knowing the way by the slight curve of the road and the barely visible outline of black trees against navy blue sky.

These are all things I haven’t done for decades, but I still remember those ridiculously free feelings as if they were yesterday.

Photo by June Hunter

And time. So much time.

There were lots of things to do, of course — chopping wood, hauling water, keeping fires going in the winter, but so much time left for dreaming.

Of course, I had no electricity, so news of the outside world was limited to static-garbled scraps from the William’s Lake radio station, intermittently and randomly snatched from the sky by my old battery-operated radio.

“Come on over to the Boitanio Mall, climate controlled for your comfort …”

“Billy Jack, could you please come pick up your egg delivery from the train station as soon as possible. They’re hatching and running around …”

quesnel river leaf

Limitless hours were left over for chasing random thoughts, reading books from cover to cover in one go, watching clouds, examining the light on a leaf. My Kodak Instamatic wasn’t up to capturing most of this, but that love of  waiting and watching, now part of my photography, was hatched (like Billy Jack’s chickens) back then.

Photo by June Hunter

When I first arrived in Likely, however, I was quite afraid of all that space. I worried (and I know this from the one lonely diary entry I wrote in that whole period) that I might be hollow inside, and that I’d become filled up by the space and there’d be nothing of me left.

At the same time, I felt a bit claustrophobic, surrounded by miles and miles of trees.

I couldn’t say when those fears left me. I know that, at some point, I started thinking of the trees as my friendly neighbours and I guess I just stopped worrying about whether I was hollow or not.

If I’d set out to “find myself” I guess I must have just stumbled over myself one day without really noticing at the time.

Photography by June Hunter

Yikes!  Not a Sasquatch — just me with frozen hair again.

 

Connection

While much of my Cabin Fever Series has been about me being alone out in the woods, the fact is that I couldn’t have done any of it without the support of a lot of other people. Even if I didn’t see people for days on end, I knew I was part of a community.

Back then the mail was delivered to Likely’s post office (a series of boxes at the gas station) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Mail Days everyone from a fifty mile radius came into town, ostensibly to check the mail, but mainly to see each other. The Likely Bar was the community centre.

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I can’t remember how we arranged this, with no phones, but on a Mail Day I knew I could rely on a ride into town (about 15 miles away) from one of my Seven Mile Road neighbours. And I knew that if, for some reason, I didn’t show up — someone would come to check on me.

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The Road to Likely

Should I feel the irresistible urge for human companionship, on a non-Mail Day,  I knew I could always walk the couple of miles to my nearest neighbours and be welcomed in for a game of Bear Trap and several cups of well-percolated coffee.

Some of those Likely people who let me live with them when I was cabin-less, who loaned me tools, brought me firewood, gave me lifts, and even taught me to use a rifle (bear-in-the-cabin situation, luckily resolved without my having to practice my limited firearms skills) are still good friends today, forty-plus years on. In better days ahead, we should have a Likely bar reunion!

The present-day downtown Likely.

And it wasn’t just the Likely community I felt supported by. Old friends and family wrote to me often, and some even visited me in my little cabin, including my friend from Wales who helped build the cabin and gave me my first driving lessons. My very first lesson ended up in a ditch, but hey …

And my parents, my lovely Mam and Dad … many of you wondered how they fared, worry-wise during those years. I like to think that (without the torment of minute by minute Tweets or Instagram posts) receiving only occasional vaguely worded letters from me, they had just the most general idea of what I was up to. I hope that might have helped with the “no news is good news” frame of mind so valuable to the parents of absent children.

I was always hoping for a letter with my mother’s handwriting when I picked up my mail. I’ve saved many of her letters, and I use fragments of them sometimes in my images, as a thread of ongoing connection.

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Photo by June Hunter

My parents never once wrote that I should drop everything and come home immediately, for which I am forever grateful. Once those days were long and safely over, I did tell them some of the more hair raising stories and we had some good laughs.

Mam, Dad, June, flamingoes

Me and my parents when I was living in Vancouver, with Finlay and some flamingoes we picked up on a road trip to the Rockies.

Now it’s my turn, as the mother of young adults, to chant the No News is Good News mantra when they’re off doing inadvisable things. My son thoughtfully gave me a Guatamalan worry doll after his last trip to help with that. What’s that saying about karma …?

Worry Doll

For those of us lucky to be just waiting things out at home during the time of COVID-19, not working on the front lines, and fortunate enough to have a safe and comfortable space to be sheltering in, these past few weeks have been a new and strange kind of space. Connections are being forged by our common effort to protect each other, as well as via the myriad ways of staying in touch online — boomers Zooming, my kids playing out dramatic Dungeons and Dragons campaigns online, WhatsApping, FaceTiming, pod casting, blogging …

For myself, it’s had me looking back on my Cabin years with great gratitude, as I was privileged to have so many life style choices available to me — and the fact that I’m posting online about a time when there were no lines to be on, seems strangely cyclical.

Lastly, a few more random things I took away from those years:

  • Hot running water is amazing. Showers in particular
  • Ditto, being able to listen to music whenever you want.
  • You can get by with very little.
  • If you’re going to be alone a lot, never, ever watch horror movies: advice I follow stringently to this day.
  • Life is better with a dog. A cat is nice too.

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Finlay and our old cat, Elvis, as a kitten.

Edgar and Geordie

Current companions, Edgar and Geordie.

 

See also:

Cabin Fever Series I

Cabin Fever Series II

Cabin Fever Series III

 

 

 

Cabin Fever Series III

By the summer after its construction I’d gradually moved into the cabin and furnished it with a combination of second hand finds and lop-sided shelving whipped together from leftover two by fours and small logs. I even acquired my own cast iron wood stove which required a team of friends to haul down to the cabin.

House & Home or Dwell magazine, it was not — but it was home sweet home to me for a couple of years.

cabin kitchen

I even purchased my own vehicle that summer — a 1962 Pontiac Strato Chief with a slightly sparkly aqua coloured paint job — a real steal at $120.

june and pontiac copy

The fact that it wouldn’t start, and the small matter of the trunk lid not being attached to the rest of the car, were minor problems compared to my inability to drive.

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The gas tank also had a tendency to come loose …

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By the next winter, however, the trunk lid was attached via barn hinges and rivets, Jack (Likely’s miracle mechanic) had got it running relatively reliably and … drumroll … I’d learned to drive it.

It went to Mexico and back, I converted it into a sort of camper, complete with curtains and I lived in it for a couple of tree planting seasons too. I even sold it to someone else after all that for $50, and she also learned to drive on it, so it really was one of my best investments.

Jack's Place

As chaotic as his place looked, Jack could lay his hand on any part or tool instantly — as if by psychic means — and he could fix just about anything.

The next summer, while I was tree planting, my brother and a friend stayed at my cabin and added a front porch, which gave Finlay a nice spot from which to survey his kingdom.

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At night the coyotes across the creek would try various calls to lure Finlay from his porch. The “hey, let’s play,” “female in heat,” and “wounded coyote” strategies were all employed at various times, but Finlay was a smart dog and he wisely ignored them all.

finlay on cabin deck

A year or so later I moved away from Likely, leaving the cabin as it was in anticipation of my eventual return. In the end though, I never did live there again. After a year in Nelson I ended up moving to Vancouver and eventually going back to school. I did. however, make trips back up to Likely from time to time and would visit the old cabin, which remained miraculously intact for years.

Below are some photos from the 80’s during a trip back there. Having been empty for years, it was a bit mouse nibbled and cobwebby, but it seemed as if time was frozen — a micro-museum of hippy life, complete with myriad jars of herbal teas, dried flower arrangements and fragments of artwork worked on by cabin lamplight.

cabin living room

The living room with stairs up to the loft.

flower arrangment

bedroom in cabin

The luxurious loft.

teas in jars

june and finlay on cabin deck

Finlay, excited to be back on his porch.

By 1990 the cabin was gone, burned down just before my parents finally got up there for a visit. My dad was a great woodworker, so he’d been anxious to see my handiwork. I never was as good at woodwork as I was at knitting, so perhaps it’s just as well  the cabin lived more perfectly in his imagination. We did all trek into the site and stand by the ashes, so that was a pretty special moment — although short, because we were being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

visit to old cabin

Phillip’s mom, Ollie; Phillip (with our baby daughter Lily on his back; Finlay; my mum, Rita; my dad, Jim; Cait, daughter of Richard and Denise, from whom I inherited the log cabin many years earlier; Phillip’s dad, Joe.

I still go up there every few years to visit friends and we always make a trip to try and find where I lived, although it’s completely wooded over again now. Gold mining has been conducted down there since my time, so even the creek seems to have changed course over the years.

When I remember that time my thoughts vary between thinking how utterly crazy I was, realizing how very lucky I was to have the opportunity, and trying to collate the things I learned from that time.

My next post will be an effort at expanding on that last thought.

 

If you missed them, here are previous posts:

and the final one:

 

 

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Cabin Fever Series II

cabin in winter

At the end of the last post I had acquired my house building book, an idea, and a few logistical problems.

the site

Privacy and neighbours were not going to be a concern, at least.

The first job was to pick a site. I should mention at this point that I didn’t own any land. Not the land that the log cabin was on, nor the land I was planning to build on. The area was part of a mining claim that no-one had currently claimed. At that point in the mid-70’s no-one seemed to care overly much about small construction projects on Crown land. Not, of course, that anyone ever came out to check back then.

trail to cabin

The trail down to the creek. Photo taken years after the cabin was gone, around 2018.

The site I had picked out was a flat shelf of land close to the creek where I was going every day from the log cabin to get my water, about a fifteen minute walk in from the road via a narrow and fairly steep track.

The next issue was the small matter of building materials. I’d decided that log construction was definitely beyond my capabilities and that, in the circumstances, a frame and plywood construction would be more practical.

I did, however, need some logs for the foundations, so a friend with a chainsaw came by and felled three trees for me on the bank above my chosen building site.

And so began the summer of the come-along.

“What is a come-along?” you might well ask. I know I’d never heard of such a thing until someone loaned me one for this task. Anyway, it’s a hand-operated winch with a ratcheting mechanism that allows you to move much heavier objects than you could by hand.

Comealong

I should say at this point, that I could easily have asked someone to help me with this project, but I was stubborn and felt I could, and should, learn how to do this myself.

That whole summer was spent discovering different ways to use a come-along incorrectly — plus, several novel potential ways to injure yourself.

Once again, however, the forest gods must have been watching me, as I  miraculously survived the process, unscathed except for some blisters. Should you ever find yourself with a come-along and some logs to move, let me share some important do’s and don’ts.

First, don’t start dragging the log across the face of a slope parallel to the grade. If you do, it will roll down the slope in a much faster, and less controlled way than you had in mind. Especially DO NOT stand downhill from the log!

Also, if you drag the log at a right angle down one slope to a flat area, the nose of the log will dig itself deeply into the flat area. You will then spend several days of excavating to free it.

It took, as I recall, about six weeks — during which time I learned to drag the log at an oblique angle across the downhill slope, and to make rollers from bits of wood to stop the nose of the log digging in to the “steps” on the way down.

Oh, and patience. I learned a lot about that. Nevertheless, I’m sure the trees and wildlife for miles around heard more swearing that summer than ever before.

By the end of summer I had all three logs down to the flat area where I planned to build, but was a bit stymied as to how to get them all perfectly aligned. Luckily two tree planting friends happened to stop by just then, and the three of us got the logs more or less level and parallel.

lumber sizes

Now I needed the rest of the supplies — milled lumber and plywood. The fact that I didn’t drive complicated things, but by ordering from a small family-run mill on the other side of Likely, I was able to get it all delivered. Of course, with no road into the cabin site, the best they could do was leave it on the landing, about 20 minutes walk from the cabin site.

Cue more swearing as I spent several weeks carrying and dragging all the wood down the trail, piece by piece. I’d carry a sheet of plywood on my back and sometimes, if I started to run downhill, I’d feel quite close to achieving primitive flight.

finlay in creek in winter

Finlay surveying his new neighbourhood — the creek bed mostly frozen over in winter.

Eventually all of the supplies were on-site and just needed assembling. Again, I could have made this a lot easier on myself by simply buying a couple of cases of beer and getting all of the local experienced cabin builders to come over and whip it together in a day or two. But Fair Isle Sock Knitter Extraordinaires do not take the easy path.

I had to admit though, that lumber construction was starting to look logistically quite different from knitting.

It was hard to see how one pair of inexperienced hands could physically accomplish the task. Fortunately a friend arrived from Wales as I was trying to figure out next steps.  He’d never done anything like this either, so we’d spend each evening poring over the “Illustrated Guide to Housebuilding” by kerosene lamp in the breezy log cabin and then head down the hill to try and put what we’d learned into action. Our vocabularies suddenly expanded — words like  “joist,” “sill,” “studs” and “gable end” were bandied about as if we actually knew what we were doing.

framing

Getting it framed, super-well insulated, and clad in plywood started after the tree planting season, and took the rest of the summer, fall and into early winter. Unfortunately I seem to have very few photos of all of this industry, which as a photographer drives me mad. I was still using my old Kodak Instamatic at that time, and I imagine I was saving all funds for building supplies rather than photo developing.

Below is one of the few pictures I can find. You can see that I’m using a Swede saw. All all of the lumber was cut using hand saws due to my abiding fear of chainsaws. No wonder it took us so long!

cabinbuilding june

frozen

Me, hair a bit frozen, towards the end of construction.

By the time we were ready to put roofing paper on the roof, it was very cold and starting to snow. Roofing paper is impossible to work with in the cold as it becomes brittle and breaks, so we worked out the following system.

One of us would be up in the log cabin at the top of the hill. That person would cut the roofing paper to length in the warm cabin and then roll it up, tuck it under one arm, and run at at full tilt down to the new cabin. There, the other person would be stationed on the cabin roof with a broom to sweep off some of the snowflakes that were falling, and, between us we’d attach the pre-cut piece of roofing paper before it got too cold and broke into pieces.

And then repeat. And repeat.

cabin with laddeer

Ladder set up on the roof for scrambling up with rolls of roof paper.

That part definitely wasn’t in the Illustrated Guide, but somehow it worked and the roof was on, just in time for winter to start in earnest.

my cabin in winter

outhouse

Five star outhouse. A bit chilly in the depths of winter, but great view.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode: moving in and furnishing my cabin.

 

 

If you missed it:

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