Notes from Windward: #56

Hard Freeze Moon

A cabin on the Klickitat
With the coming of fall, the grass withers and the leaves start to turn, but it isn't until a hard freeze that the winter pageant gets underway in earnest. The hard freeze kills the delicate chlorophyll in the leaves, and within days the maples and alders lose their deep summer green. The more rugged yellow and red pigments are what give fall it's glorious colors.

The Klickitat River gorge, with its solid walls of summer green, is soon flecked with explosions of gold. And where folds in the canyon walls channel enough moisture to sustain a string of maples amid the evergreens, the eye is delighted by what appears to be golden waterfalls cascading down to join the river. In places, it's like a great panoramic poster that nature seems to have draped just for our enjoyment.

Fall colors on the Klickitat
The first rains soak right into thirsty clay and don't make it into the courses of the thousand small creeks that feed the Klickitat. Later, once the surface layer is wet, the creeks will start to run again and the river water will become cloudy. Sometimes, when a portion of the canyon wall gives way and slides into the river, the river water will even take on the look of chocolate milk, but for now, the river is so clear and crisp that you can see fish swimming over the pebble bottom. Strolling along the bank, it's hard for the heart to imagine wanting to ever be anywhere else, even as the memory reminds one that the river's dark side will return soon enough now that the Hard Freeze has come.

Mike lays out new sewer pipe
Different folk tend to do different things around Windward. For the most part, the divvy is sort of a free form expression of interests, vision and necessity. People work on the part of Windward that's most interesting to them, with the result that our progress is often a patchwork sort of affair. Since there are many more things that are worth doing than there's time to do them, we figure in the end it will pretty much work out. One of our key people was Mike, and his interest was in doing things outdoors and woodsy. Our ground is rocky and most of the water, power, sewer and phone lines had to be dug by hand; specifically that is, by Mike's hand.

A key task "before winter comes" involves finishing an extention to the sewer line. One of Windward's core missions is to provide shelter for people in crisis, and at this intermediate stage in our growth, having an appropriate place to put someone up is always in short supply. We started out with raw land, and have come a long way. Still, while we're working toward our goal of sustainable living close to the land, we have to attend to the needs of the present. Sewer lines aren't glamorous, but they are necessary, and Mike's work is highly appreciated. City folk tend to take such things for granted; country folk can't afford that luxury.

No sharp turns allowed
This is what four inch sanitary pipe looks like. It comes in 20' sticks and has to be installed with very gradual curves and joints. Most people would think that there isn't much to digging a ditch, which isn't true at all. Almost everything about self-reliance is more complex than it looks, and this no exception. If the ditch isn't dug at the correct depth and slope, the pipe won't pass the waste along to where it needs to go. Passive systems are best, but there's a lot of technique and skill involved in building a system that works by itself. That's another reason why our growth has been slow; when you're living on the learning curve, sure and steady is the right speed. Our goal is to get it right the first time, even if it takes a good deal of time to do that.

Burning out an oak stump
Another important point is that the bottom of the ditch needs to be undisturbed soil. If you dig it too deep, and then try to fill it back in, there's always going to be some settling over time. If that happens a little, then you'll get a dip in the pipe which will tend to collect first water, then waste, and then you'll have a problem. If that happens a lot, then the pipe will break and you get to dig it up and fix it. That's bad enough, except that you won't actually know precisely where the break occurred, so you'll have to dig up an entire section in order to make the repair. It's definitely one of those jobs that needs to be done right the first time.

4 wheel drive really helps
After the rainy season starts in October, the issue of moving vehicles across sloped ground becomes substantially more tricky. Our soil has a high clay content, and when it gets wet, it gets very slick. While you can get around for the most part with 2-wheel drive, the slipping and spinning that's involved leaves unsightly marks on the land. 4-wheel drive puts half as much stress on each of the drive wheels, so it doesn't mark up the ground as much, if at all.

Bob2 did the steering
One advantage of the Hard Freeze Moon is that in the early morning when the ground is frozen, you can still move around freely. Once the sun starts to melt the top surface of the frozen clay, all bets are off.

This window in time offers our last chance to get vehicles and large items moved into place for the winter, so when Mike finished the ditching, Bob2 and I pulled one of the RVs into that space. A bit of blocking and leveling, and it will be ready for winter storage.

Ian and Ann telling stories
The cold nights of the Hard Freeze Moon bring a special joy to the last warm days of fall. With the coming of the rainy season, the fire ban is lifted, and the process of clearing brush and low limbs starts back up again. One of the deeply satisfying pleasures of life close to the land comes from gathering with friends around a fire, telling tales and dreaming dreams as the golden sunset gives way to the starry night sky.

While Starry and Scher hang out by the fire
Ian will be returning to his home in Maryland to work the winter season, and after a day of packing, he joins Ann by the fire. She's taking advantage of the pleasant fall weather to clear the area around her trailer of brush and branches. Keeping Ann company are Starry Night, our herd manager, and Ann's daughter Scher, who is cradling a young chick.

Sunshine, our herd queen suffered a stroke in May of this year, and while she can't use her hind legs, she still holds court in the barn. We're expecting Starry to become the next herd queen, but for now she seems content with more of a management/oversight role. While she spends most of her time overseeing the herd, Starry often comes and hangs out with the two leggers when they're doing something interesting.

Meanwhile, Karen's
in the kitchen baking
Once the rainy season settles in, there's nothing that dispels the damp and cold like fresh baked cookies from the kitchen. Karen has been doing a good job of seeing there's something special in the kitchen at the end of the day; everyone appreciates that!

With lots of hands reaching for the cookies, it's quite a challenge to keep fresh baked goods around. Finding a way to keep cookies from going stale isn't a problem at Windward.

A bald eagle
watches the river
There's an eagle that lives nearby. Sometimes he watches us from the top of an old Ponderosa pine that crests the ridge at the top of the breaks. Other times, I see him watching us from a perch down near the river as we wind along the Klickitat. Once, as Ian and I were heading out on a long and demanding journey, the eagle flew along side us as we started the long grade down the breaks to the river.

I really like having an eagle for a neighbor.

The Hard Freeze Moon is waning, and soon the frosty mornings will give way to fog, snow and serious cold. Perhaps it's the knowledge that it will be long months before the chill of winter gives way to the blush of spring that makes these last days of fall so precious.

A rainbow rises
out of the river
I'll close out these memories of the Hard Freeze Moon with this remarkable shot of a rainbow rising out of the Klickitat. A storm front had just gone through, something which happens almost daily during this season of transition; as I started the drive down the breaks to the river, the sun broke through the clouds.

I was taken by the beauty of a rainbow arching majesticly down below me into the river. It was breathtaking, and while this digital picture doesn't do justice to the reality, I hope you'll enjoy it. There's an old legend that there's a pot of gold to be found at the end of a rainbow; there certainly is something very precious at the end of this one.

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