Notes from Windward: #60

Greetings to one and all from Walt at Windward:

With winter finally behind us, we're starting to shake off the effects of the season and get on with the activities of spring. And so, it's time to sit down and bring the "away team" up to date on what's happened since the last update.

Winter was kind to us this time, which was good since the flu season hit with a vengeance. Four of us came down with that type A flu that was going around, and that pretty much tells the story of our January. When you're lying there thinking that you really do need to get up and update your will, well that's a serious case of the flu. We were especially concerned when Fern came down with it, but frequent trips to the doctor kept a close eye on her progress, and in time she was on the road to recovery as well.

Heather is continuing to recover from her back surgery, and is currently working her way through physical therapy. After months of not being able to leave her trailer and even come up to the kitchen for lunch, it's good to see her back on her feet and out there checking on the lambs.

Joyce is sticking pretty close to her computer these days as she works toward the deadline for completion of her fifth book. This one is entitled "Mothers, Daughters, and Traditions" and will be published by Simon and Schuster for Mother's Day 2001. One of the many interesting things about this book involves the way it's grown out of conversations she's had with other women over the internet.

Cindy's been enjoying her work with the census. She's on the team that works with group housing situations, something that her experience with Windward gives her a leg up on.

Danny was just up for a visit, and settled the contract for the construction of the foundation and septic system for his cabin. With that work out of the way this summer, he should be ready to have the shell put up next year.

Gina had been working extra shifts over the winter at her job in The Dalles, but she's cutting back to part time for May and June in order to focus on working in the garden. One of the income strategies that folks use at Windward is to work off-site during the parts of the year that aren't conducive to the sort of work they personally want to do, thereby being able to cut back or stop off-site work entirely when the weather is right for what they do want to do.

Tamara is a junior in high school this year, but she's already starting to take a series of college level classes. She attended high school in Goldendale for the first two quarters this year so that she could take that most important of high school classes - driver's ed.

Now that she's past that most important of teenage milestones, she's starting to get some of her initial college work underway. Washington has a program called "Running Start" which allows gifted kids to start their college work as much as two years early. This way, she'll "graduate" from high school with most of her AA work already done and paid for.

While all the humans made it through winter okay, we did lose an old friend. Lambie Pie, our ten year old ram (and that's pretty old for a ram), passed away in his sleep. We had hoped that he would have one more summer to bask in the sun and enjoy his retirement, but it wasn't to be.

On the other hand, Hinde did make it through just fine. She's the ewe who was attacked by the bobcat last fall and lost one entire ear. The cat cut her up in the process, and we were surprised that she didn't succumb to her wounds. Not only did she pull through, but she fattened back up to her usual bulk and is currently the proud mother of two fine lambs.

It is interesting to note that this year when the other sheep head off into the woods to graze, Hinde keeps her lambs and herself within a stone's throw of home. I'm guessing that she's had enough excitement to last a lifetime. For those who say that sheep are stupid, well, Hinde's one ewe that doesn't have to be told twice that there's no place like home.

February started the year's new lamb crop. It's always invigorating to see the life cycle start over, and find out who's going to provide new ewe lambs for the herd. We're very impressed with the mothering tendencies of the Karakul sheep, and given their skill at what they do, I expect that the flock is going to continue to develop in that direction. Joyce has been very successful at marketing the karakul wool over the internet, so we have a ready market for all we can produce.

We'll always want to keep a variety of wool lines so that we have a range of materials to deal with. You use different types of fiber for different activities such as handspinning and weaving, felting and batting. Wool isn't a "one type suits all" sort of material, and by keeping the different lines in our flock, we're assured of having whatever we need for our projects.

March is a hard month, because while the snow is melting, the ground is too wet to do much. Every year we wind up digging out a couple of vehicles since even though the ground may look fine, it's actually very soft and any vehicle that gets off the hardpack is in danger of sinking to the axles before you can say "don't do it."

Bob2 and I took some time out in March and went upstate to be trained as licensed trappers. The best way we can see to protect our flock and herd from the predators is to maintain a perimeter of traps so that when the cats and coyotes start hunting on our land, there will be a way to take them out before they settle in for the season.

So far, Bob's proud of his initial success which consists of eliminating three skunks that have been treating Windward as a target rich environment. They'd gotten way too comfortable plundering our ducks and chickens. It's very infuriating to come across a hen sitting on her nest, who's been killed by a skunk. Especially so since they just eat the head and leave the rest of the hen to rot. This year, thanks to Bob's trapping, our chickens and ducks are able to sit their nests in peace.

Now that April is here, the construction work is back on track. Job One involves finishing the work on Finney Trailer. That 12x60 unit has what's known as a "push out," a section that's 14 feet wide and extends out from the main body some 9 feet. When extended, it makes for a living room that's more than 20' wide, something which will be very handy for giving classes on a rainy day, or for community get-togethers.

The problem is that the trailer wasn't designed for snow country, and the roof on the pushout is too flat to be effective at shedding water when it's covered with a foot of snow. The fix requires constructing another roof over the pushout, one with a greater pitch. Since this is on the north side, that will also help keep the pushout warmer in winter, and cooler in summer.

And while we're doing that, it makes sense to extend the new roof another eight feet in order to create a "mud room." The pushout has a door that will become Finney's main entrance, and this new 8'x8' space will increase Finney's livability, cut down on heating costs, and provide storage for Cindy's canned goods.

This tendency for our projects to evolve is pretty much standard practice here. The process of design is collaborative, and as folks see things coming together, ways to improve the design and enhance the utility become apparent, and we make changes accordingly. It's the sort of thing that would drive a construction company nuts, but we're doing this work for the sole purpose of making ourselves happy, and if we want to change something, we figure, "why not?"

Come April, the ground is drying up enough that we've been able to rototill the garden areas in preparation for the initial planting cycle. Because of our four-legged crew, we have to have serious fences around our garden areas. The goats are very happy to assist with the chore of weeding the garden, but unfortunately, they define "weed" a bit too broadly for our purposes.

We get double use out of the garden area by using it as a winter pen for the sheep. That way, we don't have to haul manure and compost in the spring, since the sheep have already deposited it where it needs to go. All we have to do is rototill into the soil in order to incorporate the added manure and bedding. Part of the joy of building a sustainable program lies in finding similar ways that the system can work itself.

After harvesting the annual crop of rocks, we're ready to get a sizable plot of potatoes, onions and garlic into the ground. We're at 2,000' in elevation and the soil's slow to warm up, so it's too soon to look at the more traditional garden crops, but the itch to plant is too strong not to be getting something into the ground.

Other projects underway involve finishing the power and septic tank projects started last year. While the new electric line is already up and running, there's still the task of getting the ancillary systems buttoned up and finished. While the trench was open, we also laid an additional 1 1/2" diameter conduit to carry phone, video and data lines. We're currently working to get those lines fully finished, and the rest of the trench filled in. It's often the detail work that takes the longest to do, and when it's done correctly, it looks like nothing was done anyway.

Another sign of spring is that we've already had our first hatching. Heather found one of the hens sitting in some tall grass as if she was setting a nest. When the hen hopped up, four little chicks came screaming out of the grass trying to catch up with their mama. Now, four days later, she's still got those four chicks, so she's evidently pretty good at mothering.

This is usually the time that I start to replenish my woodshed, the idea being to get the wood cut and stacked before the summer heat sets in. It's not only more pleasant to do such work this time of year, by getting it in early, the wood will have all summer to fully dry. The difference in heat value between summer dried wood, and dead wood that's cut in the fall is quite noticeable.

Anyway, I'm temporarily shut out from my woodshed because one of the ducks decided that it made a great nesting site. No big deal, and it's been fun to watch her watch me as I go in and out of my place. At first she hissed at me, but by the end of the first week, she decided to just ignore me. That's worked pretty good so far, and she should be hatching out her ducklings in another week.

Our practice is to not interfere with laying and setting, since we want to select for hens who are good mothers. Most birds are hatched out of incubators these days, with a result that the mothering instinct is getting very spotty in the birds you buy.

On the other hand, once she hatches them out, we swoop them up and put them in the brooder. That ensures that they stay warm and safe, and have open access to food and water. By using the brooder, we only lose about 10% of the hatchings by the point they're six weeks of age, whereas the hens lose on average more that 80% of the chicks they hatch. It's hard on the hen to have her chicks taken away, but the statistics make a strong case that this is a situation in which intervention is warranted.

We had 11 people living on site through the winter, and have five more due in the next 30 days, so it's going to be crowded around the dinner table for a while. Our conditional use permit allows for 21 full time residents so there's still room for more good people, but it's exciting to see the growth. Part of that is the usual fluctuation between winter and summer, but part of it does represent a growth in the number of our core members.

The growth is also important because of how it translates into progress on our projects. I often think of what we're doing as being similar to a large boat being rowed up river. It takes a certain number of people working the oars just to keep the boat even with the current, but once you have enough thrust to move up river towards your goal, then each additional rower makes a remarkable difference in headway.

Said another way, if you have six dollars in income, and are paying out five dollars in expenses, then all you're able to invest in growth is that one surplus dollar. Now, if another dollar comes along, the increase from six to seven may not seem like much until you realize that the additional income will enable you to double the amount you can invest each month. Since the construction of facilities is capital intensive, any increase in capital makes a noticeable difference even a short ways down the road.

In the midst of the more mundane projects such as septic systems and roofing, we're looking forward to doing some fun things with renewable energy this year. Bob1 is going to be up for four months this summer, and he and I will be installing the off-grid power system for our water supply. When completed, it will use a combination of solar and wind power to pump the water out of our well and up into our 3,000 gallon storage tank.

While we'll continue to take advantage of the cheap hydroelectric power that's available here near the Columbia River, we also want to continue to insure that our essential needs can be met regardless of what's happening with the power grid. Going without power for almost a week in the dead of winter can really make a lasting impression.

Given our focus on construction, we decided to not host formal sessions of The Old School this year. We figured that we only could invest time and effort into one formal activity this year, and things feel into place on something that we've been wanting to do for quite a while - Chess Camp. That will be happening over the 4th of July weekend, and should be a lot of fun as city kids get to study under some master level instructors, and get to hang out in the woods and meet the goats.

On the other hand, many of the folk who enjoy The Old School will be coming up for an informal session over Memorial Day weekend anyway, so if that's a time that you might enjoy coming up for a visit, drop us a note.

That's about it for now.

with best wishes,