Almanack Contributor Justin A Levine

Justin A Levine

Having grown up in the southern Adirondacks, Justin has always been at home in the mountains of New York. After graduating from Paul Smiths College, he began his career in the environmental field working for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. After a brief five year detour to Florida, Justin returned to the Adirondacks to live off the grid in a small cabin with no running water or electricity.

Justin continues to work and play in the outdoors, and maintains a blog about living off grid, hiking, and being outside in the Adirondacks called Middle of the Trail.





Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cabin Life: The Wet Firewood

The Little StreamAs is my new custom, I’m sitting at the table looking out the big window at the winter weather, and I’m sweating.  The new stove is amazing, but way too large for my little cabin.  A wealth of heat is not necessarily a bad thing, but having the cabin feel like a too-hot summer is a little disconcerting.

I open one of the windows a little more, since all the windows that can open, are already open.  I’m greeted with sounds that are both welcome and unwelcome at the same time.  The sound of snow and ice dripping off of the roof is nice, but the sound of freezing rain is unpleasant.  I woke to a half-inch of ice covering everything.  I can also hear the small rushing stream out back.  It typically only flows in the spring, but now it sounds like constant traffic.  It’s eerily out of place.

Around noon I went out and started my car.  I wanted to get as much ice off as possible before the second round of sleet and freezing rain began.  It was only a little below freezing, but because it was thick and took me most of an hour with the defroster and an ice scraper.  The radio playing in the car told me to stay off the roads for unnecessary travel, but I was out of beer. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cabin Life: The Chicken Diapers

Midget, aka Little Jerry SeinfeldMy off-grid, simple living, homesteading lifestyle can sometimes lead me and my thoughts down very different roads.  For instance, if you had asked me five years ago, (heck, if you had asked me five months ago) what would be occupying my thoughts this winter, chicken diapers would not have entered my mind.  But here I am, wondering if and where I can get myself some chicken diapers.

Now, I don’t just go around thinking about chicken diapers.  I actually have a very good reason for shopping around for just such a thing.  It turns out that one of my chickens is a rooster.  Poor old Midget, who is no longer so little, started crowing the other day.

I had noticed some odd behavior a few days ago, but thought that maybe she was just being a jerk to Whitey.  I was watching the chickens in their run through the window, and saw Midget jump right on Whitey’s back.  Whitey is the one laying eggs, and maybe Midget was just a little jealous.  Nope, (s)he was horny. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cabin Life: The First Eggs

The First EggsYesterday morning, I let the chickens out into their run, just like I always do.  I sprinkled some food in there and gave them my customary “Hey Ladies!”  I’ve stopped trying to keep them in the run, as they seem to get out now whenever they feel like it.

Even so, I closed the plastic over the opening in the run, and went back inside to have some tea.  Whitey is far and away my most vocal chicken, and she was squawking up a storm.  I looked out to see her relentlessly attacking the plastic covering the opening, and as I watched, she escaped.  But to my surprise, she immediately hopped back into the coop. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cabin Life: The Escapee Chickens

Whitey and MidgetThe chickens have become escape artists.  I don’t know how they figured out the elaborate trap of chicken wire and plastic that comprises the door to the run, but they’ve managed to get out for two days straight.

I don’t mind letting them roam around when I’m around.  But as the weather gets colder and the predators get more desperate for calories, I’m thinking that the door to the run may have to be reconfigured.  It’s sad to admit, but my half-assed door can’t even contain a bunch of literal bird brains.

It is nice to see them out and about in the yard though.  They have thoroughly picked over the spots where the run had been, and have even seem to have found some food left over in those spots.  I like seeing them come running up to the front door when I walk out, or see them flying for twenty or thirty feet.  They appear to be happy and content, and their tail feathers are sticking up higher than ever.  I’m not sure how much I should read into the angle of their feathers, but I heard somewhere that if their tail feathers are up, then they’re happy. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cabin Life: Wrestling With The Dark

Recycled CandlesI currently have twelve independent fires going inside of my cabin.  The one scented candle is making the mixture of burning candles, lamp oil, and spiced apple almost pleasant. Almost.

This time of year is the roughest, psychologically, out here.  When the sun starts to dip before most people eat dinner, it’s tough for me to stay positive.  Especially on a day like today, when it was overcast all day and never really that bright out, the night seems just about unbearably long. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cabin Life: The Rain Barrel

First SnowThe snow is falling quickly and quietly outside.  I have a nice fire and a glass of bourbon to keep me warm and dry though, so all is right with my little world.

I love the first real snow fall of the year.  Everything looks so clean and neat, and the world is quiet.  The birds aren’t making any noise, the few deer that took off running when I let Pico out hardly made a sound, and tree limbs are hanging low, heavy with fresh wet snow.

This is isn’t the first snow of the year, but it’s the first one that might stick and be around for a little while.  Every night before now that I’ve had a fire, I didn’t worry about keeping it going all night.  The new stove cranks out heat, especially when it’s loaded with the dead elm that my friend dropped off for me.  In fact, tonight will the first night that I’ve had a fire where I won’t be going to sleep with a few windows open. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Mouse In The Outhouse

Fall ColorsWinter is approaching, and rather more quickly than I would really like.  Sure, I’ve got the new stove and a shed chock full of dry hardwood, but I have to admit that I’ve really enjoyed our summer-like fall.  “They” are calling for snow next week, but we’ll see what happens.

I had an inkling that this was coming anyway.  Yes, I know that it’s October and that it’s a reasonable assumption to think that we’ll be getting snow soon.  But last Friday, I got home from work and opened the front door.  I let Pico and the cats out to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather.  But when I went inside the cabin, I found a sight that told me winter was right around the corner. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Cabin Life: A Fox On The Road And A Fire In The Stove

The Lower FieldGrowing up, I lived in only two houses.   Both had fireplaces, so fall was always special to me.  From eating roasted pumpkin seeds in front of the fire to cuddling under a blanket and watching a movie while the snow fell outside, we usually had a fire going if we were home for the night.  I miss those days, but I have taken a big step towards making the cabin more like the home of my childhood.

Last week, my new (new to me) stove was delivered and installed.  There’s a shiny new chimney poking up above the peak of the cabin, and gone is the huge black box that was my old woodstove.  Of course, on the day the stove was delivered, it was close to seventy degrees out, so I could not get a fire going right away.  That did not stop me from sitting and staring at the new stove with its nice glass doors, just beckoning me to get a fire going and sit there enjoying the flames for the first time in years. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cabin Life: Fall Has Arrived

ApplesThe fire is crackling, the dew is settling and the full moon is so bright that I can clearly see the two does quietly munching on fallen apples in the lower field.  They don’t seem to mind that Pico and I are outside, and quite frankly, I’m happy that they don’t.

Fall is here.  About half of the hardwoods around have either lost all their leaves or are changing color as we speak.  I think it’ll be a poor year for fall colors.  Too many trees have already changed, and there are still plenty that are solid green.  The colors are changing too slowly for there to be any real “peak” this year.

The other very noticeable change is the amount of daylight we are having.  It’s starting to get dark around seven-thirty, as opposed to the nine or nine-fifteen of a few months ago.  It’s more tolerable now, with the solar panel powering a couple of nice LED lights.  But still, winter is coming and it won’t be all that long. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Cabin Life: Summer Accomplishments

The ScytheI’m sitting at the table on Saturday morning, looking out the big window at the layer of frost covering everything.  The car has a white windshield and the chicken coop has a good layer of frozen dew on it as well.  I guess now that it’s September, there are going to be more and more days like this.

Now that fall is almost here, I’ve been thinking back on the summer.  At the beginning, I was worried that this would be the summer that never was, what with snow until early June and then nothing but rain for quite a while too.  Then there was the heat wave, followed by more rain.  August was nice though.  It was hot but not crazy hot, with some rain here and there.  Of course, it rained almost exclusively on my days off each week, but what can you do? » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cabin Life: The Missing Chickens

The GirlsEvery once in a while, I reach for the faucet to turn on the water.  This usually happens when I’m brushing my teeth, but even though there’s a dish rag hanging on the spout and I haven’t had running water in almost two years, this old habit dies hard.

Summer, on the other hand, is dying a very easy and quick death.  As I walked out into the front yard this morning, I noticed a small maple that was almost entirely red.  The birches are beginning to turn yellow and even the big cherry tree in the yard was not so green anymore.

The days have been warm and the nights cool, feeling more like the heart of fall than the end of August.  This is my favorite type of weather, but I’m not quite ready for it yet.  I still want some summer. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cabin Life: Installing A First Solar Panel

The PanelWell, it’s finally happened, I have electricity.  Granted, it’s not much electricity, but it’s a start.  I don’t need enough to run appliances or a whole house, just enough so that my phone and computer don’t go dead, and hopefully a light or two to read by.

A few months ago I got an e-mail from a reader who said he had an old solar panel lying around and didn’t need or want it anymore.  It was mine, he said, if I just came and picked it up.

You never know who you’re meeting through an e-mail, so I was a little wary.  So, fighting the urge to tell everyone where I was going and with whom just in case I didn’t make it back, I drove the little ways to his camp.  I did bring my girlfriend with me, you know, for protection.  » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cabin Life: A Good Year for Jam

The JamWell, the fall-like weather continues, reminding me every day that winter is coming.  But there are still signs of summer besides the humidity to remind me that it’s only August.

For instance, we just finished up our second batch of jam.  The first batch was straight blueberry, and we got ten small jelly jars full.  This second batch was blueberry-raspberry, with a few random blackberries thrown in just for the heck of it.  This batch made twelve full jars, and it looks good. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Cabin Life: The New Chicken Coop

The GirlsIt’s another beautiful summer night with fall weather.

We had a bit of a milestone out here at the cabin this week.  The chickens are no longer residing in a large box on the porch, but instead are enjoying their new digs and much larger coop.

While it’s not quite done, it is habitable and since there are no building codes or inspections for small wooden boxes, I figured the girls could use the room to stretch their wings. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cabin Life: Building A New Wood Shed

The Wood ShedI really enjoy fall weather, but not in July.  The last few nights have been beautiful, but cold.  I really struggled on Wednesday over whether or not I should get a fire going in the stove.  I decided not to, based solely on principle that I will not use my woodstove in July.  I just won’t do it.

But it has made the evenings pleasant.  The water is warm when we go swimming, and the heat isn’t as oppressive as last week.  » Continue Reading.



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