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 2, 2012

Cabin Life: Keeping Up With The Joneses

The tea kettle is warming up on the stove so I can have the first of many, many cups of tea today.  There’s cough drop wrappers strewn about the table and all of my handkerchiefs are in the laundry basket.  I hate being sick.

The worst part about this particular cold is that I finally took a day off from work and had to spend it lying on the couch doing nothing.  It was a beautiful day yesterday, with the first real snow of the year settling on the ground.  Being in a snow belt, I got a few more inches than most people and if there was any possibility of being able to breathe through my nose, I would have loved to go out for my first cross-country ski of the year.
» Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cabin Life: The Thanksgiving Bet

It’s Thanksgiving week, and there’s no snow on the ground.  There’ve been some heavy frosts, and I’ve had to scrape my windshield most days in the last week.  Right now there’s a heavy frost covering the apple trees and the sun is coming up over Whiteface.  I really wish my camera battery was charged.

When I was growing up, I had a running bet with my grandfather that there would be snow on the ground Thanksgiving morning.  We always hosted dinner, sometimes with more than twenty people, but Grandpa would always walk in and give me five bucks and not say anything to me.  I would grin and pocket the money, happy in my ability to predict the weather.  Of course, most years, there was already snow on the ground before Thanksgiving, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that I had a pretty good streak of winning that bet.
» Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cabin Life: A Day At The Cabin

A reader recently asked me what a normal day out at the cabin was like.  Unfortunately, most of my days consist of getting up, going to work, and coming home to go to bed.  But on the weekends and when I’m not working, I’ve settled into a nice routine mixed with plenty of different chores.  No, not chores.  Activities.

Pico or Ed usually wake me up on the weekend, so I get to sleep in until about six.  After ignoring them for an indeterminate amount of time, I relent and get their food.  Then Pico and I take a walk up the Right Trail to the Upper Camp.  I check the log cabin that’s another quarter mile or so into the woods.  I live in the middle of nowhere, and Upper Camp is even closer to the center of the middle of nowhere. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cabin Life: The Day’s Worries

There’s big fat flakes of snow slowing drifting down out of the sky.  I just threw a few logs in the wood stove and the small waft of smoke that escaped is mixing with the aroma of the black beans I’m simmering on the stove.  It’s a nice night to be out here in the cabin.

Ed’s curled up next to the computer and his tail is leisurely hitting the back of my hand.  Herbie’s asleep and snoring on the foot stool near the wood stove while Pico is contentedly laying on the bed.  The temperature is supposed to go up a little in the next few days, but for now, it feels like winter.  If it does warm up, it will be a nice treat.

My parents came up this weekend to help stack the wood in the shed.  Four cords are in there, along with the other four stacked outside under tarps.  It’s nice to be all set with heat for the winter, bringing a deserved sense of satisfaction in having taken care of that one aspect.  When you live in nature, like most Adirondackers, you try to control what you can, knowing that you can’t control it all.  No one knows what type of winter it will be, but we can get ready the best we know how, and in the spring take pride in the fact that we made through another one.
» Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cabin Life: Leaving Storm Worries Behind

There’s snow flying around in the air.  It’s been snowing on and off all day, with some sticking to my car this morning, but there’s none on the ground.  I noticed the slightly silvery coloring of the pines and hemlocks from snow sticking to the branches, though.  I’m glad it’s not sticking on the ground yet, but it won’t be long, and even though it’s been cold, we’ve been lucky that the snow didn’t start flying a week or two ago.

They say that this is the remnants of Hurricane Sandy, which at the cabin turned out to be a whole lot of nothing.  We had a wind storm last winter where I could hear trees coming down with a fair amount of regularity, but this past Monday night didn’t add up to much.  There was one branch down on my road, so it turned out I didn’t need to bring my chainsaw with me.  But I guess it’s good that I was prepared to cut my road clear to get to work.  Or maybe it’s not good.  I don’t know. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cabin Life: Sights And Sounds

The silence out here can be both comforting and disconcerting.  It’s not that there’s no noise, because there can be a lot.  But often, it’s just the wind in the trees.

There was one neighborhood in Jacksonville where I heard sirens every night.  For two years.  A woman had her purse snatched in broad daylight, and she was a cop.  I heard gun shots a few times and more domestic disputes than I care to remember.  I heard kids crying for hours on end and guys blasting rap at four in the morning.  There was a lot of noise in that place.  The apartment I got after that one was a few blocks from the ocean and on Sunday mornings, when everyone else was at church and Pico and I played Frisbee, I could clearly hear the rolling sound of the ocean. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cabin Life: Sweeping the Chimney

The nights are longer and cooler and the daily high temperatures are lower than the summer lows.  I’m glad for the solar lights strung around the cabin.  They cast a pleasant blueish glow without being blinding.  Wearing a headlamp literally all time last winter really got old, and it’s nice to be able to see without one.  Now I can find my glass of Maker’s Mark without burning batteries.

Ed got another mouse last night.  He can never get them during normal waking hours, only in the middle of the night.  So, after work, I didn’t do anything that could be called “chores” or “work” or anything like that.  I sat on the boulder that serves as my front step and played guitar.  I let all the animals out to enjoy the warmth of the afternoon sun.  Pico ate grass and layed around, Ed went out hunting, and Herbie was somewhere doing whatever it is fat cats do. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cabin Life: What Is Living Off The Grid?

I had a great trip to South Carolina last weekend for a friend’s wedding.  Shorts and flip flops all day was a nice change from the jeans and sweatshirts our weather has required.  And for some reason, this trip has caused me to think a lot about what it means to live off the grid.  Maybe it was all that time spent on planes breathing recycled air.  

I’m not sure, but I do know that I consider myself off the grid with no running water, electricity or even indoor plumbing.  But I have cell phone service and my blog has a Facebook page.  How off the grid is that?
» Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Cabin Life: A Bear And The Bizarro World

If you’ve never heard of Bizarro World, then you didn’t read Superman comics as a kid.  Well I didn’t either, but I learned about it in an episode of Seinfeld.  I am in my own personal Bizarro World right now, flying about thirty thousand feet on my way to South Carolina via Chicago.  And I can’t think of any place that could be farther from my simple lifestyle.  This is as far from simple as you can get.

The guy sitting next to me has commandeered the armrest, which I guess is alright since we’re in an exit row.  You have to take the good with the bad.  I’m also pretty sure he is reading  what I write.  It’s OK for you to keep the armrest; I have the aisle, and that’s a fair trade.

It has been simple out at the cabin.  The leaves are gorgeous and in the Northern Adirondacks peak leaf season is just about over.  The red carpet of leaves on the trails is so bright it almost hurts your eyes, and the yellows, oranges and golds overhead create the appearance of a nice bright day even when it’s overcast and rainy.  But those random shafts of light that penetrate the trees bring out so much color it’s a wonder to behold. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cabin Life: An Early Winter?

The nights and days are cool, the leaves are bright and the fire wood is getting stacked in the shed.  The field is turning brown, even with the fall rain, and neither of the streams are running.  It hasn’t really been that cold, but it is coming.

Ed crashed around last night, and I thought he was going to have a mouse.  He didn’t, but it wasn’t from lack of trying.  There was a mouse turd on the table though, so the mice are definitely trying to move in for the winter.  I checked the small hole in the floor where the sink drains out and the steel wool was gone.  I shoved some more in there to try and keep them out.  I don’t have anything against mice per se, but I don’t want them in my food or on my bed or on my table.  Or in my cabin, actually. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cabin Life: A View of Vermont

I’m a traitor.  I went to Vermont to go hiking this week.  A friend and I hiked Elmore Mountain to an old fire tower.  The fire tower was open to the public even though it was decommissioned, which is a big change from New York.  Most of the fire towers here have had their first two flights of stairs removed, with the small, obligatory “Warning” sign attached somewhere.

When I went over Sunday afternoon on the Port Kent ferry, the overwhelming view of both Vermont and the Adirondacks was still green.  The shoreline of Lake Champlain on both sides of the lake showed little sign of the cooling temperatures of mid-September. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cabin Life: The Fat Cat

It’s a writing in the hammock kind of day.  The sun is shining, but the pines are giving me enough shade to stay cool.  It is that particular brand of fall day when it’s a little hot in the sun and a little cool in the shade.

Herbie the Fat Cat is what’s on my mind.  The middle child of my pets, both in age and in size, Herbie is a great cat.  He doesn’t do anything and it’s wonderful.

I got Herbie almost ten years ago, mainly as a friend for Ed.  I was travelling a lot and Ed was pretty wound up back when he was around two years old.  So when my friend said she had a big lazy stray that she had taken in, I went and met Herbie. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cabin Life: Early Fall

Pico was just digging in the ground, making a cool spot to lie down in.  After the rain we got last night, the disturbed ground had a nice, earthy smell to it.  A week ago, it would have been just dust, floating up into my face and choking me.  Now it smells good.

This is my favorite time of year.  The leaves are starting to change color.  There are bright yellows and orangeish-reds.  Most of the trees are still green, but that just makes the few that are changing really stand out.  They look striking.

The road is covered with dead leaves that blow around on the dry days.  The good news is that since there are dry days, there must be wet days.  The rain we’ve gotten isn’t making up for summer, but at least it’s raining once in a while.  We needed the water, and it’s also nice to get a free car wash now and then too. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cabin Life: Lying in the Hammock

I love lying in the hammock.  There’s a cold beer on the upright log next to me and Pico is lying on the other side.  Shamelessly, I use Pico as a push off to swing the hammock.  He weighs enough to absorb the push, and seems to be content with the petting.  Luckily he hasn’t attempted to join me in the hammock yet.

There are a couple of spider silks strung between two branches, and the afternoon light is glinting off of them.  When the light breeze blows, they disappear and then reappear as a shimmer in the middle of nothingness.  I can’t see where the silks tie into the leaves, but the suspended middle of the strings is visible more often than not. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cabin Life: Considering the Drought

It’s dry.  Too dry.  I dug a hole the other day and it was like digging in a sand box.  A foot down and the dirt was still bone dry.  I only remember one other drought like this, when I was at Paul Smiths.  Doc Kudish pointed out to me that the leaves on the trees were actually wilting.  The same thing is happening now, and there’s even a few that are starting to change color.  And it’s not because it’s been cool out.

Both of the spring-fed streams that run through the property are dry because the water table has dropped so low.  There are no blueberries, which is a shame because wild blueberries are hands-down one of the greatest foods known to man.  We did get some rain earlier this week, and it was much needed, but it’s not enough to make up for what we haven’t gotten over the course of the summer. » Continue Reading.



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