D. Schumilas/D. Happner
The 2010 Fox
ďI went down, down, down in a burning ring of fire ÖĒ. Yes, this year I just have to choose that Johnny Cash song, Ring of Fire, to start the newsletter.
There we were, sitting in our comfy chairs, watching a movie when Don sniffs the air a bit and jumps up. Iíve long gotten used to him smelling things long before I do. He has sniffer equal to most wild animals. I call it his ďhideous great hooterĒ, a line stolen from the Beatles movie ďHard dayís NightĒ. Somethingís burning!Ē he announces, ďItís cloth!Ē I still donít smell smoke and I know there is no cloth hanging near any wood burning appliance (because Iím paranoid about such things), but like his, my head is spinning around, smelling in all directions. He looks down his shirt and my eyes follow to see a small round orange glow from a hot cigarette ash. ďItís me! Fire!Ē he shouts. So began another year with Ma and Pa Kettle in the bush cabin.
2010 goes down as the year our propane fridge became possessed and started acting like the antichrist. It would wait until we were in a deep sleep, then set off a false carbon monoxide alarm, or a low battery alarm (with brand new batteries) or some other unhappy alarm not in the manual Ė then it would freeze the eggs and melt the freezer, all the while consuming large quantities of propane. In the nice weather, it never failed to empty its tank late at night when I was fast asleep, needing to get up early for work. Not wanting to wake me to help, Don would go it alone, knowing it would not be fun. The antichrist would call a swarm of mosquitoes to greet him. What is this power mosquitoes have over wrenches, screws and bolts? The wrench would suddenly no longer fit, as he tried to change the tank, hold the flashlight and swat mosquitoes, cursing as appropriate. Although it ran on a fairly regular 24-26 days/tank cycle, in the winter the fridge always seemed to run out of propane when it was -40. It seemed incredibly bizarre to us to go out in the extreme cold, to burn fuel in order to cool down a bit of food. Iíve always said there is something fundamentally wrong with the human world.
We sold the antichrist (very cheaply), doubled our solar panels and bought a DC fridge. Itís a new energy efficient chest style model, wired directly to the batteries (you may recall we live off-grid with a solar-wind power system). Itís quite big. I have to dangle over the edge to reach to the bottom and occasionally I fear Iíll fall in, the lid with slam shut and Iíll become a Dawncicle. Most days, I love it!
We had an Energuide audit done last year and decided, since the program was terminated, to put a move on and get some home improvements paid for. Our plywood siding had become quite weathered after 10 years of no maintenance. We were refunded for the costs to cover the place with rigid foam insulation and house wrap. We feel somewhat like fine consumer goods, packed in a box, tucked in with packing foam and shrink wrapped in plastic! We still havenít decided what kind of final outside packaging (siding) we will have, but that is next summerís project. It was worth doing because we think we are burning about 30% less wood so far this winter, and it has been cold for December. The weasel isnít entirely happy with the sealing up of the place. We see its tracks all around the outside but it canít get in. Neither can the mice, which is wonderful!
We arenít too sure what the birds think of the styrofoam house covering. The pair of woodpeckers probably wonít like it. Most of the year, the male woodpecker is content to whack his head on dead trees to get insects. At mating time, he has to show the female just how good he would be at getting food for the family, so he whacks his head on whatever makes the loudest sound - which used to be our house. Some days we feel like characters in a Woody Woodpecker cartoon.
We also replaced 2 insulated chimneys and a couple pieces of metal roofing around them. Late last winter we had a chimney fire and it got so hot it melted the aluminum chimney cap on top. Aluminum melts at 1200 įF. That was scary. Neither of us thought that chimney could withstand another hot fire. The new chimneys are rated to withstand 2100 įF - hope thatís enough! The chimney job hung over us all summer. We knew we needed help but could not find anyone to hire. Plus, it rained every other day and we wanted 3 clear days in case we ran into trouble. We got the weather, but it was +28 įC, really humid and the metal roof was baking temperature. When you canít hire anyone, itís time to turn to your best friends and Robbie came through for us. He brought a friend, Glenny, spry enough to joyfully perch on the steep slope and help wrestle things into place. Don did the really hard work dancing around the ridge cap - how does that expression go? - like a cat on a hot tin roof!
2010 was also the year for buying something new and needing to replace it under warranty. This happened for a mosquito magnet which wouldnít run a new gas tank for Donís car which wouldnít fill and an exercise bike with a faulty tension cable.
The mosquito magnet was advertised as a biting bug vacuum that sits in the yard and does magic without any human help. The ads show it catching a pound of mosquitoes in 48 hours. We certainly had that volume. At first, our unit wouldnít even stay assembled. The battery pack kept falling apart. We contacted Koolatron, the manufacturer, and they sent us a new battery pack. Then the unit would light but not run. We overrode the safety shut-off, forcing our machine to run for an hour, and we managed to catch one mosquito! I wrote a scathing email and the BC distributor paid the courier shipping to send our unit back to the U.S. for investigation. Eventually Koolatron sent us another unit which they pre-tested. After these false starts, Iím pleased to report that the mosquito magnet worked great. We started catching hundreds of biting bugs immediately and it really made a significant difference in the yard. Unfortunately, it took so long for the company to get us a working model that we missed much of the mosquito season. (We killed the last biter Nov 5!) The unit came with an octenol attractant which draws some (but not all) varieties of mosquitoes. CBCís national radio science show, Quirks and Quarks, did a segment on mosquitoes and we learned that those pesky ankle biters are actually drawn to smelly socks. This year we plan to hang dirty socks beside the octenol in hopes of increasing the catch!
Itís great that companies offer and honour warranties but it sure can be frustrating to spend an hour assembling, trying to decipher Chinglish instructions, only to find that you have to disassemble the beasty and repack it in the original box. The exercise bike was such an event. Itís a good thing that Don likes puzzles.
Wind did a number on our tent garage, bending and breaking the metal pole frame. This was last yearís antichrist which caught a big wind, inverted and took off like a hot air balloon with Don inside. Don rebuilt it with a wood frame, well anchored into the earth, with a strand board roof. He draped the plastic garage over his frame and it fit like a glove (well, with a bit of coaxing, threatening and cursing). Iím sure in time weíll toss the plastic and finish it all with plywood.
The Makita cordless tools continue to get well used. We were so impressed with the performance of the lithium ion batteries that we bought a cordless vacuum cleaner. Itís awesome! Iíve been eyeing a pair of winter boots with rechargeable lithium ion heaters in the soles but at $300, they will have to sit on the store shelf.
Generally violence and technology do not go well together, which continues to frustrate me. We rely so much on computers these days and I know that smacking it will only increase the repair bill. My car radio, on the other hand, allows me this option. Itís really old and has taken to cutting out whenever I go over a little bump. If I wait, it comes back on with the next bump but Iíve taken to giving it a little smack. Itís not the violence I enjoy but the fact that it comes back on after I rap it. Don says I should buy a new car stereo - but then Iíll have no outlet for my frustration. This reminds me of our carpentry projects. Iím sure a skilled carpenter (like Donís son, Bramm or our luthier friends) take great satisfaction in planning, measuring, cutting and hanging the project, which fits just perfectly. We always seem of have to get the boot in for it to fit Ė which is followed by a small amount of satisfaction.
Our winter yard community are all getting along well Ė a weasel, a rabbit, 2 woodpeckers, 2 bluejays, 3 whiskey jacks, a few ravens, a number of chickadees, regular visits from deer, occasional visits from owls, a nuthatch, grossbeaks and redpolls and very occasional visits from a lynx, a few wolves, a martin and the odd moose. When magpies show up, the community peace falls apart. Magpies have overpopulated the west because of ranching and the lack of predators. They travel in gangs of bullies. Theyíve learned not to come around here much because they get shot. Whiskey jacks (grey jays) despise magpies so much that they wonít peck at a dead magpie carcass Ė in fact, they wonít even go near it. This is the only meat Iíve known whiskey jacks to refuse. The weasel happily makes off with them though.
Our crows take off to warmer climates for the winter. They are amazing birds Ė so smart. I heard a radio program about them and that sent me reading Ö I have to tell crow stories. The Carrion Crows of Sendai City, Japan, love the walnuts that grow there but have a tough time cracking them. So, a crow sits on a traffic light with a walnut in its beak. At the red light, it swoops down and drops the walnut in the path of traffic, returning for the harvest at the next red light, after the passing cars have crushed the nut. A guy in Toronto put out a string of corn chips and watched a crow gently stack them up, without breaking one, grab the pile at the bottom and fly away with all of them.
Another guy reported watching a crow and a gull on a rooftop. The gull was eating something and the crow came behind and started pecking at its tail feathers. The gull turned to attack and the crow retreated. The crow continued with the tail pecking until the gull decided to attack. The crow was ready. It easily outmanoeuvred the gull, flew over it, grabbed the meal and disappeared.
Crows can learn to imitate human speech. I read a story from a family that found a crow with a broken wing in their yard and nursed it back to health. One day the crow entered the conversation with, "Does Hammacher Schlemmer have a toll-free number?"
We really appreciate the emails, letters, cards and phone calls that seem to come with the holiday season and hope 2011 brings all of you health and happiness.
Lots of love,
Dawn and Don
PS. 2011 marks 25 years together for us. Wow! How lucky we have been!