Big fat flakes of snow are blowing around outside. They seems to hover just before hitting the ground, then linger there for a few moments until they are just a plain old drop of water or two on a blade of brown grass.
Its nights like last night that make me wish I had a better camera. The sliver of moon was visible in short glimpses through dark and gray, wispy clouds. The kind of shot that your eye can see, but that my cheap digital camera would capture as a small blurry light in an otherwise black screen. No hint of clouds, no depth to the picture, and most importantly, no sense of the natural beauty that my own eyes can see. I don’t get upset when I can’t get these shots with my camera. Most of the time it’s enough just to witness the scene, but I do desire to share some of these moments. » Continue Reading.
Since I have taken up the business of growing, canning, and preparing all kinds of food from scratch, I have found that life becomes hectic at certain times of the year. Summertime is just mayhem, with berries and summer fruits demanding attention, as well as the garden crops coming in.
In the fall there is pork and venison sausage making, and apples – we spend several weeks brewing hard cider every year. That’s followed by the fermented goods (sauerkraut, kimchi, and the like).
Then the holiday season comes, with its cookies, pies and feasting, followed shortly thereafter by citrus fruits which just scream “I need to be a marmalade!”. » Continue Reading.
There’s a soft, wet blanket of snow covering everything. It’s also eerily quiet. The last two mornings I’ve been woken by a yellow-bellied sapsucker banging on the metal roof of the wood shed. And the morning before that, Pico woke me up barking at the turkeys that were walking by. Today, the birds are silent. The rabbits that are all over out here are brown on top and white on the bottom.
It’s an interesting sight as they sprint down the road in view of my headlights, then dart off into the woods. All winter, I saw lots of rabbit tracks, but no actual animals. Now that there is no snow and they are that awkward combination of colors, I see them all the time. Their winter camouflage obviously works well. » Continue Reading.
Do you have questions about the connection between last year’s flooding and global climate change? Are you skeptical about the causes of climate change? Are you looking for options to cut your energy bills and reduce your dependence on fossil fuels?
An upcoming Community Climate Forum is expected to address all of these issues, and more. The forum, sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Adirondack Program and the Adirondack Green Circle, is scheduled for April 22, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Pendragon Theater in Saranac Lake. » Continue Reading.
I found an old set of horseshoes in the lower field the other day. It has been a nice addition to recreational life out here at the cabin. I had some friends over to play, and according to Adirondack rules, each participant had a beer in one hand. No setting it down to throw, no cheating with non-alcoholic “beer.” And of course, upgrading to whiskey or tequila gets a nod of approval from the fellow participants.
Even though I am very secluded out here, I’ve found so many pieces of evidence of the continued presence of humans that it’s hard not to think about how others have lived on this particular piece of land. I only found the horseshoes because one of the stakes had a faded orange flag on it. When I went to investigate, I found the shoes, and it took a little while to find the other stake because the field is overgrown. » Continue Reading.
The afternoon sunlight slants against the birdfeeders, giving them a golden glow. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost seven at night, when it was not that long ago that the sun was going down at about four-thirty.
During the really dark parts of the winter, it was hard not to go to sleep at six PM. With only candles and oil lamps, night was difficult to fight off, and more often than not, I fell asleep on the couch with a book on my chest and my headlamp still on. Now that it’s light so late in the afternoon, I am actually having a hard time filling the days. Not that I’m just sitting around doing nothing, but I feel like I should be working until six or seven. It is nice to take a break and realize that it’s dinner time, though. The wood I cut over the winter is drying nicely, the deer have been coming back to the yard, and luckily there hasn’t been any sign of bears. The chickadees have been using the feeders less and less, but the squirrels are still hitting them pretty regularly. My focus has definitely shifted from cold weather preparation and existence to outdoor projects. The compost bin is complete, and so is a small cold-frame I put together from scrap around the property. The leaky porch roof now has a rather large hole in it (my fault) and is in dire need of repair, so that’s the next big project. I’ll probably have to move a generator from Amy’s house up to the cabin to charge batteries and run a saw for the roof project. It’s weird to think that other than charging my phone in the car, this will be the first time that I’ll have electricity at the cabin.
October to April with no power at the house seems like a long time. But it went by pretty quickly. I did go through a lot of 9-volt batteries powering the clock radio. I also burned about three shoe-boxes worth of candles, as well as a gallon or so of lamp oil. I’ve burned about four cords of wood, but the stove won’t needed much longer. The two and a half gallons of gas I bought for the chainsaw is just about gone, and I finally added a gallon of gas to the four wheeler. I really wish that the four wheeler would start in the cold, but now that it is running, I’ve been having a lot of fun just driving it around.
Unfortunately, Pico can’t come along on these rides, because he’s continually trying to bite the tires, and that’s no good. The bugs are out, but nothing is biting yet. A friend of mine saw some mosquitoes, but he said “they were too stupid to bite me.” Let’s hope they stay that dumb all summer.
Well, spring has been officially here for more than a week now – and the unusually warm temperatures sure have me ready to get out in the garden and get planting. And I don’t think I’m alone. Nurseries and garden centers in the area are scrambling to get their plants in earlier than usual to meet customer demands. But this recent cold front has helped snap me back to my senses, at least for a few days. We might be having an early spring, but we still have a good while until the threat of spring frosts are over. Not that a little frost bothers our hardy North Country native plants.
Labrador violet (Viola labradorica), a great native groundcover with beautiful purple flowers and foliage, was flowering through the snow at the nursery last fall on October 29 and it is already flowering this spring! Now that is what I call one tough little plant.
So instead of rushing out and buying a bunch of plants, now is a great time to do some planning if you haven’t already. Just like you should have a grocery list when you go to the store to keep yourself from buying too many unhealthy (but all too tempting) snacks, you should have a plan before you arrive at the nursery (And of course part of that plan should be to buy native plants – but more on that in future posts). Otherwise, those displays of pretty flowers will suck you right in!
Remember, when selecting plants for the garden, whether native or not, always keep in mind site conditions such as sun, soil, and water. You also want to be sure to think about your zone. If you keep these things in mind, they can help stop you from those impulse plant purchases for plants that may look pretty in the catalog or on the shelf, but just aren’t meant to grow in our area. If the right plant isn’t in the right place, you can have the greenest thumb in the world, but still not be able to make it grow.
Plant Hardiness Zone Maps help gardeners determine which plants are most likely to thrive in a location. Even when gardening with native plants, you have to keep zones in mind. For example New York State covers zones 3-7. So there might be plants native to southern New York zones 6 or 7, but they aren’t for us – since the park is mostly zone 4.
If you are an experienced gardener, you are probably very familiar with what zone you are gardening in – or at least you might think you are! In late January the USDA released a new version of hardiness zone maps for 2012.
Hardiness zones are based on the average low winter temperature. Zones are divided by 10 degree increments, with a and b subsections for 5 degree increments. In the new 2012 maps many locations across the country shifted and became a subsection warmer. So if you were a 4a you might now be a 4b, and if you were a 4b you might now be a 5a. This new map is based on 30 years of temperature data, from 1976-2005, and was created with new and improved algorithms that took elevation and other terrain features into account. The old maps were based on a shorter and older temperature record, and simpler modeling, so they had become outdated. The new maps are much more accurate for our current conditions.
Another great thing about the new map is that it is also now interactive – so it is much easier to see exactly what zone you are in. You can just enter your zip code and ta-da – the site will tell you what your new zone is! Click here to go to the USDA website and enter your zip code to try it out.
Take a look at the map and see if your zone shifted. If it did, there might be some new plants that you might want to go ahead and try out this year that you hadn’t tried before. I wouldn’t go out and plant a dozen of something new, but maybe get a few and see how they do. I know I might add some Sweetspire, Itea virginica, a great native alternative to the popular non-native butterfly bush, to some of my own gardens and see how it does. According to the new maps – it should do just fine! But I think I will do some testing on my own first for my own specific site conditions. After all, algorithms and equations are great, but they aren’t Mother Nature!
More info on local weather and gardening from Cornell Cooperative Extension can be found online.
Photos: Labrador violet flowering in the snow last October, and already again this spring.
Pico and I went snowshoeing for probably the last time today. I wanted to get out before all the snow is gone, and I think there’ll be enough left to ski on tomorrow. But the snow is going fast, almost as fast as it came. In the last two weeks, I’ve gotten about two feet of snow out at the cabin. The plow guy had to come three times in four days, after having been out here only three times in the last three months. But now it’s about fifty degrees, and the forecast calls for warm for the rest of the week. It’s starting to look like winter might really be over. I missed this part of the Adirondack spring last year, as I was still living in Florida. I missed opening the windows and letting that clean-smelling breeze roll through the house. I missed seeing people’s super white arms emerging from t-shirts for the first time in months. I just plain missed the change in the seasons.
Jacksonville, FL is far enough north that there is kind of a “winter,” where it does get cold for a couple of months. The palm trees stay green and you might need a hat and gloves in the morning, but that’s about all you get out of the change of seasons. There’s really only two seasons: Hot, and not as hot. The lady bugs have been proliferating around and on the big window. I keep catching glimpses of them out of the corner of my eye, and thinking that someone is coming up the driveway, but that’s not really all that likely. Now that it’s warm, the snow is melting, and there are brown patches of dead grass peeking out, I can’t help but feel some sort of satisfaction. Back in October, I thought that living off the grid for the winter would be a huge challenge.
It has been. But not one that has broken or defeated me.
If anything, I am stronger, both mentally and physically, than when I moved out here. This winter was an experiment in self-reliance. Not that I haven’t gotten help along the way, but being way out here is something that you have to experience to truly understand. And really, isn’t life all about the experience?
Justin Levine is living off the grid in a cabin in the Adirondacks with his dog Pico and blogging at Middle of the Trail.
Logging by hand has to be one of the most pointless and inefficient activities I have engaged in so far. I have been “cleaning the woods” as it were, dragging out large limbs and cutting dead trees to get wood for next year’s firewood supply. This year’s supply is large, but the quality of the wood is not that good.
When we moved here in the fall, my then-roommate and I didn’t have the money to buy firewood, and since we had fifty acres at our disposal, we figured we could cut, haul, and split our own wood. Luckily, we found a pile of logs that had been cut three years ago. It was mostly soft wood like white pine, spruce, and poplar (aspen), but it was free and dry. » Continue Reading.
There’s a half dozen black capped chickadees hanging around the cabin now. They finally found the bird feeders, though the blue jays have been scarce. One of the jays was hanging out in an apple tree this morning, but I haven’t seen them at the feeders in a few days.
I was recently asked why I decided to live off the grid. Long story short: It’s free and I can’t afford to pay rent. But when I really think about it, this has been a long time coming.
The idea of being self sufficient has always appealed to me. I just couldn’t afford to buy a piece of land to do this on, and until this winter, I had never been lucky enough to have someone just offer to let me live in a place for free. When Amy asked if I wanted to stay out here, I didn’t even think about it. I just said yes. I’ve usually moved around a lot, mainly because I get restless, and the grass is always greener somewhere else. In 2006, when I moved to Florida, I was in desperate need of a change. I had battled depression most of my life, and Jacksonville seemed like a good escape. Eventually, I manned up and sought help for my depression. And part of my therapist’s plan was to help me realize that I could do what I want with my life and not be afraid of the consequences. After all, it was my life to screw up.
The more I thought about this new, happier phase, the more I knew that I couldn’t keep living in Florida. I gave up two jobs, health insurance, vacation time, a pension, lots of friends, and agreed to a long-distance relationship all to move back to the mountains and work a seasonal job with no benefits so that I could hike and play with my dog Pico. I knew that I would be broke and I didn’t care.
I think that’s why I am adjusting so well to living off the grid; because I’ve been mentally preparing for it for years. And now that I’m actually doing it, I couldn’t be happier. Sure, I’m broke, single, and have to ask friends if I can take a quick shower at their houses (They always say yes!) but what could be better than having an adventure like this? When I look back twenty years from now, I know that this time will have been a major turning point in my life.
The experience I’m having is already shaping the future me. I’m making plans for a cabin of my own, looking for land, and reading and taking classes on farming, homesteading, food preservation and draft horse handling. I’m not shy of hard work, and when I can afford some land, I plan on building a log cabin and living off the grid. But, since I’m not the Unabomber, I will also have solar panels, running water and indoor plumbing. Plus I’m pretty sure the Unabomber didn’t have a blog.
Justin Levine is living off the grid in a cabin in the Adirondacks with his dog Pico and blogging at Middle of the Trail.
The Adirondack Almanack is a public forum dedicated to promoting and discussing current events, history, arts, nature and outdoor recreation and other topics of interest to the Adirondacks and its communities
We publish commentary and opinion pieces from voluntary contributors, as well as news updates and event notices from area organizations. Contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The information, views and opinions expressed by these various authors are not necessarily those of the Adirondack Almanack or its publisher, the Adirondack Explorer.
General inquiries about the Adirondack Almanack should be directed to editor Melissa Hart.
To advertise on the Adirondack Almanack, or to receive information on rates and design, please click here.