Notes from Windward: #66

The Windward Blog

what we're working on towards the end of October

  October 21:

the thermal tank area clean and leveled

     Kerry and I took advantage of another cool dry day to tackle the task of gathering up the left over fill dirt from around the thermal tank, and getting it moved over to begin the process of backfilling the other tank, the one that will be the fish pond for the mini-aquaponics system outside of Vermadise.

four front-bucket loads later, the south side of the tank is backfilled

     Backfilling this tank is less complicated since it isn't insulated--it's just a matter of hauling in enough dirt to fill up the spaces around the tank.

katie adding more rocks to the retaining wall

     Meanwhile, Katie was working on adding more rocks to the yurt's retaining wall. It's one of those tasks which will forever change how you look at the old rock fences you see in parts of the country where the pioneers had to struggle to clear land so that they could farm. There's a lot of sorting and stacking involved, but there's also a lot of satisfaction when you find the right combination and the wall comes together soundly.

  October 22:

can you spot the propane tank?

     The yurt has a propane heater in case we get an intern that wants to come during the cold months, but we didn't want the necessary propane tank to detract from the yurt's natural appearance. And so we ran a copper line some distance from the yurt and hid the tank in a cluster of trees. Well, Katie took that a step further and found a hollow section of oak truck that would fit over the tank making it all but invisible.

a higher view shows the tank hidden in the trunk

     Made more progress on the stack stone wall, but one picture of a stack of rocks looks a lot like any other such pic, so here's a shot of Kerry and Katie taking advantage of a stop by the Klickitat this afternoon to pick some walnuts.


  October 23:

more than half-way backfilled

     The weather is holding clear and dry so we're continuing to focus on work that will become more difficult once the rains come to stay--the weather's been drier longer than usual, so we're making the most of it while we can. Part of that work involved moving another four front-loader buckets of dirt over to continue back-filling the fish tank.

     We didn't run into bedrock here so we were able to get the tank deeper into the ground than was possible with the thermal tank, which is good but it does make for a good deal more hole to back-fill. Still, it's a finite job and if the weather holds tomorrow, we should be able to check one more task of "the list."

Katie's retaining wall is more than half-way done

     Katie's doing a great job on building the yurt's retaining wall, although she did note today that it's taking more rocks than she expected. Fortunately, rocks are one thing we'll never run short of here--it's just a matter of taking the back-hoe out into the woods and fetching more of them.

  October 24:

the retaining wall is finished!

     Katie worked late into the evening to finish up the remaining section of the retaining wall, and it really looks good. Way to go, Katie!

the fish tank is back-filled

     The other major step achieved today involved finishing the backfilling of the fish tank, the second of the concrete tanks that we had brought in this fall. At this point, almost all of the work that we needed to have done before the fall rain gets serious is done, so we're feeling pretty good about what we've accomplished.

  October 25:

laying down the liner

     Our goal for now is to wrap up the various internship projects as the season comes to a close. In today's case, that involved laying down the first section of pond liner in the hay barn before the next load of hay is due in tomorrow. We put the first load on the north side of the barn and then hauled the remaining alfalfa over and stacked it on top so that the older hay will get used up first. Now that the liner's in place, we'll go ahead and store the rest of this year's hay on the barn's new moisture-proof floor.

a partial bale showing the "good stuff" that used to be wasted

     One reason for this project was to allow us to capture and use the highly nutritional parts of a hay bale that used to be lost. In the pic above you can see the leaf and flower dust that's fallen onto the liner as the bale is separated into "flakes," high protein food which now can be swept up and fed to the rabbits.

  October 27:

     Our work truck had a break-down the other day, but while we knew that the rear end wasn't functioning, we didn't know if the problem was in the rear axle or in the rear section of the transfer case. Well, today we started the process of tracking down the failed component which turned out to be the rear end's pinion gear. As you can see from the pic, there's not much left.

the pinion gear is gone

     Worst case involves the purchase of a new ring and pinion set plus bearings and gaskets, so it's not as bad a breakdown as it could be, but it's going to be a while before the work truck is back on line as we survey our other options (which hinge greatly on the availability of a used replacement axle).

     In the meantime, we're fortunate to have Big Red as our back-up work truck. It can't pull the really heavy loads up the grade from the river the way that the main work truck can, but it's still hefty enough to bring home hay a ton at a time. Our hay supplier has our hay stored inside, so we'll just keep bringing it home a ton at a time as the weather permits.

Big Red brings home the hay

     Another before-winter-comes project involves closing in the southern end of Vermadise. It's core structure consists of bends of one and a half inch diameter pipe, so in order to have something to affix the plastic to, we have to fit and attach pieces of wood to the pipe. It's a slow process involving multiple trips down to the landing to use the wood shop's bandsaw to cut curves to fit the arch, but like most projects around here, we take it a step at a time and just keep at it.

wooding in the southern end of Vermadise

  October 30:

     The summer internship program has drawn to a close as Kerry, Katie and Virgil head south to see some west cost sights such as San Francisco and the Grand Canyon before making their way back home to the northeast. Indeed, they headed out just in time to escape the arrival of the winter's first cold spell. Like most weather around here, this cycle isn't predicted to last more than a couple days, but since it's taking the night time temps down into the mid-20's, it's another good spur towards getting more of the pre-winter preparations accomplished--there's no such thing as being too ready for winter in the woods.

     The feeling here is that the daily blog has served the point of getting across something of the rhythm of life here by showing how our casual work-style is effective at moving our mission forward without burning people out. Now that winter is just about here we'll be doing more inside work, and naturally that includes dealing with some of the paper work that always has to be done in order to keep any organization operating. It's not what anyone would call fun work, but it certainly is more pleasant to do on a cold morning with a cup of hot cocoa and a gentle wood fire keeping you warm and cozy.

     We've learned a lot about how an intership program might work within the context of our organization, and in the near term we're going to be turning our attention to the process of finishing up the documentation of what we've done this summer--for example, there's a series of articles that need to be written about our visit to the county's landfill, the power plant where they burn methane drawn off the landfill to generate electricity, and how all that is relevant to what we're doing here and why.

     Also we're looking at ways we can help the internship program function better. To that end we'll be working on some structural developments aimed at helping the interns arrive better prepared and more able to take advantage of the experience. Sustainability is both complex and subtle, and an eighty-four day internship isn't time enough to do much more than take in some impressions of how sustainable systems evolve and function, so the better prepared the interns are when they arrive, the more effectively they'll be able to participate, learn and grown.

     Still, development work goes on here year round, and so we'll still do progress updates here in the Notes to keep you abreast of what sort of things we're working on, but it just won't be on a daily basis. Instead we'll go back to reporting on our various projects as a series of subject-specific entries rather than the all-together way that we've been discussing them in the general blog.

     It's been quite a summer, and a lot has been accomplished. We hope that you've enjoyed following along with our adventure, and that you'll keep visiting on a regular basis as the next stage of our adventure unfolds.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 66