Thursday, February 28, 2008

Almost leaving

Warm, sunny (mid-50s!)

When I first worked here eight years ago, I never thought the place would grip me. I saw adults who devoted gads of time, energy, and love to a summer camp, and I thought it was sweet, in a way I’d never want to be. That first summer I explored during my time off, following the creek to new, adventure-worthy places. I discovered dangerous trails that weren’t being used but were exhilarating. I stretched my hammock between cedars and relaxed before realizing I didn’t really know how to get back. I hiked in the dark, daring myself to never bring a flashlight. I didn’t think much about how the place was affecting me; I was really only exploring because the rest of my job was unduly frustrating. But now that I honestly look at it, this is where I began to love exploring—that aimless, trailless wandering that now is my favorite thing to do in the woods.

Today I took my lunch to the river, basking in the ridiculously warm sun, and then hopped rocks upriver. I’ve taken this route a few times before, but this time I cut back up to camp a little bit sooner, and found a majestic snag I’d never seen before. Its bark was mostly gone, and its grain whorled, almost spiraled, shades of red-brown striping toward the deep blue sky. Just when I think I know the ins and outs of camp—which toilets are likely to spew, which cabins are likely to have graffiti, which parts of the river are likely to be submerged during which season—I realize I don’t know much of it at all.

I think it’s impossible to spend a lot of time here and not succumb to its grip. Once camp has gripped you, it’s even more impossible to leave without feeling a certain wistful gloom. Driving the road into camp always feels right, and getting out of the car feels even better. There’s a certain energy in the air that makes you hop out and check on everything—the buildings, the river, the little trails you hold dear. Camp is like a friend you’re always happy to see. On the sad occasion you and that friend have been apart for awhile, you stay up late exchanging stories, and you go to bed satisfied, comforted, and peaceful.

I kind of wish these were the only things I feel going to bed in Slanty tonight, for what could be the last time in a long time. The reality is that we’re likely to be apart for a little while. But it has been a magnificent re-acquaintance, a lovely winter in the woods.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pool supplies

Warm, overcast (mid-40s)

Here’s a scenario for you. It’s 1982, and you take care of a camp. Your camp has a pool, and you want to accessorize it, so you order catalogs from the leading pool supply providers. Maybe you buy stuff, maybe you don’t; either way, you shelve the catalogs for future use. You have limited storage space, so when they send you new ones in 1983, what do you do with the old catalogs?

Apparently, if you’re the previous caretaker at this camp, you keep them. You keep every year of every company until you leave, for some hapless assistant to find in 2008. I found them shoved in several milk crates, mixed with sensitive personnel information and food budget receipts. And I thought, This is hoarding. I kick myself for keeping this dumb little ceramic cat a distant uncle gave me in Sweden, but at least I’m not keeping completely useless pool supply catalogs. Was this caretaker thinking of writing a history of chlorine delivery systems? Did he get a good chuckle every time he saw a cover featuring early 1990s hot pink ad design?

Sorting through this stuff made me seriously think about how much junk exists in the world. For every guy who keeps pool supply catalogs, there must be a thousand people who keep every bank statement they’ve ever been issued, every envelope they’ve ever received. And will these people determine what historians think of 2008? Is history based on the hoarders? Will someone someday find a bunch of pool catalogs and think we were aquatic mammals?

NOPE! Because I recycled them. Ha.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Warm, unsettled (high 40s!)

Today I walked back to the scene of the crime, and examined some cinder blocks. In one of those cruel twists of fate, I couldn’t even tell anything had gone awry at the site of my finger-breaking. Sigh.

But it’s beautiful outside, and today I ate lunch next to the river, sitting on a big rock on the rocky beach. The sun hit my back just so, and I could have sat down there for hours, watching the water go by and the occasional cormorant flap down the canyon. Life feels kind of rushed now that my finger is broken (I’ve been driving a lot, and everything seems to take longer), so it was nice to just sit back and watch the water.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Back to work

Warm, dry (mid-40s)

Well, we all knew my responsibilities would shift when I broke my finger, but I have to admit it’s kind of weird to be assigned office work out at camp. I’m tackling files and other junk in a basement, poring over old food receipts and employment applications. I’m sorting through it to figure out where we should put all this stuff, but you want to know my honest impulse? Throw it all in the recycling dumpster. Do we really need to know how much money was spent on food during a week in March of 1992? Do we need to see exactly what the cook bought?

I was rolling my eyes at the futility of this project when I found a folder full of old documents, most of them items of correspondence from 1964. They went back and forth between the head of camp and the regional head of the Forest Service. Apparently the Feds wanted to build a road right down the middle of camp, where the meadow buildings are. I read the Forest Service’s dispassionate letters, and then marveled at the writing skills of the camp director, who moved me near to tears with her descriptions of the power and importance of camp in the lives of young women. It was nice to sit there for a few minutes, lost in the camp of 1964, before moving on.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Warm, sunny (mid-40s)

Today was a holiday! Hooray! Marc came with me to work, and we started the morning on a job I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time. It involved moving cinder blocks from a pretty little wooded area to a more appropriate place for cinder blocks. I was pleased as punch to be doing this, making camp just a little bit safer. I threw away a bunch of broken blocks, and moved a bunch of intact ones to a new, organized pile. Things were great until somehow—and I’m not even sure how it happened—I dropped one on my finger.

Here’s me, an hour later:

So the typing thing is going a little slowly. The finger is broken in two places. I don’t know what the prognosis is, but really? Moving cinder blocks? I suppose I should be grateful it was cinder blocks, and not the table saw.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Cool, showery (high 30s)

Heh. I forgot to stock my little woodshed, so now, in my desire to have a lovely fire every night I’m here, I’m slowly burning kindling. Why didn’t I, upon realizing my mistake, simply scoot down in the truck to get some wood? Because I had just been listening to a radio program about predatory cats, and then the program switched to a discussion of the criminally insane, and really, at that point, no way was I going out there. So I’m watching cedar shakes burn, knowing I’m going to have to add more wood quite soon.

Today provided plenty of opportunity for adventure: We started turning the water system back on. You would think that with all that work we did to winterize the system, it would be pretty easy to just turn the valve and let ‘er rip, but ohhh no, there have to be broken bits here and there. We started out fixing little stuff—a valve here, a leaky end there—and then realized there was nowhere near enough water pressure at Raker. So we set out looking for a leak, and it turned out it was, oh, right in front of the dining hall, a fifteen-foot fountain, spewing attractively in three directions. The source of the fountain was a section of pipe that had been forced up and broken by a Bigleaf Maple root. Tractor, pipe cutting, and pipe threading tools later, the pipe was back in business. Now there’s just the rest of camp to turn on… It’s already been a process. I got facefuls of water a few times today. And I broke a toilet tank. Hooray.

I just added more shingles, and a Doug-fir branch. The latter is burning bright, but I’m guessing it’ll only last a few more seconds. When I was searching for things to burn a few minutes ago, I thought of the people in the world who actually need campfires, and how they burn anything, like dung, or tires, or whatever, just to survive. It made me feel more than a little spoiled. I thought I was working exceptionally hard earlier tonight, because I had to peel six apples without a peeler. This thought of having to burn dung to keep warm, or to cook some rotting piece of meat, puts things into a little bit of perspective.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Cool, dry-ish (low 40s)

Today I finally fulfilled one of my long-term goals: I took a truckload of nasty old paint, finish, and unidentifiable liquid junk to the Hazardous Materials place in Oregon City. It was a scary thing, driving all this nasty stuff down the highway, with people tailing me and me thinking about all the horrors that would occur if they hit the back of my truck, but it was also very satisfying. I’ve been looking at that stuff in the Stink Shack for years now.

Sometimes, when I’m frustrated by the presence of things like rusted out paint cans and boxes of battery acid, I forget how very important this place is to people. But when I was at the “recycling center” for this stuff, I tried to explain where it had all come from, and before I said camp’s name, the lady in charge said it herself. I don’t know if she went to camp here, or has just heard of it, or if her mom went to camp here, but it was strange to think that this job—which involves getting dirty and doing menial tasks—has real meaning to some people. A lot of my friends have barely heard of this place, but a whole lot of other people have, and still care about it in a way that impresses me.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mother hen

Warmer, drier (low 40s)

I wandered down to Uncle Toby’s at the end of my work day, and holy smokes, the roof is gone! I don’t just mean the shakes; they also took off the boards. It’s great—from Raker you can see right down in there. It’s amazing how much is happening to that building.

It’s also amazing how much of a mother hen I’ve become about it all. I didn’t go to camp here as a kid, and I don’t work here every summer, but the meaning of this place is beginning to sink in. I don’t know why, but I’ve been finding reasons to stroll by Uncle Toby’s every afternoon after work. I tell myself it’s for purely constructive purposes (i.e. to see how they’re doing the construction), but I’m finding more and more that it has something to do with making sure they’re doing right by my building. My building? I don’t own the place. No one owns the place. I don’t even really enjoy watching skits performed in the building. But it’s come to mean something to me over the years, and when I walk down there, I see all these construction people who have no idea what the building means, who don’t start every little project by looking around wistfully.

I found out tonight that Slanty was built in 1947. I guess we celebrated its 60th anniversary by putting a ceiling in.

I’ve taken out five spindly green spiders tonight. It seems they moved in over the weekend. Hmph.

Friday, February 8, 2008

R2 and me

Warm, wet (low 40s)

I could stare out Slanty’s windows for a whole day, I bet. Watching the light pass through the forest, and the fog roll in and out, is pretty amazing. I keep thinking one of these days I’ll see a herd of elk down below, but so far they’ve eluded me, and that’s okay. I like the view, even without charismatic megafauna.

Today I finished vacuuming heaters, replacing smoke detector batteries, and putting up refrigeration temperature charts. I like going into every major building in camp, but I could do without the heaters. By the end of the day I was dragging that ShopVac around as if I had walked a thousand miles with it. When it rained, I stuffed it into the passenger seat, and for a moment pretended I had a little R2 unit riding around with me. But I couldn’t muster up much affection for the thing when it kept blowing dirt in my face.

Well, it’s weekend time. Woot!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ancient ruins

Cool, damp (low 30s)

My last service project of the winter! We took out an old Suzie behind a lodge, ripping out old toilet holes, old pipes, old concrete, and bits of an old septic tank. It was supremely satisfying. I think that in total, today, we busted out about twenty old toilet holes. Woo hoo!

And now I’m tired and damp, and ready for bed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Short, unlike the rain

Cool, rainy (high 30s)

Woo, is it pouring! Today was nice; I enjoyed the dry, overcast morning, puttering around doing all sorts of stuff. When it started to rain, I moved inside to vacuum heaters and replace smoke detector batteries. Yee-haw. However, it was better than working outside in the rain, which I’ll be doing tomorrow, winning some more teenage friends with adventures involving pouring rain and abandoned bathroom pieces.

That is all.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Nitty gritty

Cool, rainy (mid-30s)

Every time I see the warning label on a little wall-mounted space heater, I think, Yeah, of course you would be able to clean this thing out every six months. How hard is it to remember to prevent fire? It’s clearly a good priority. And really, vacuuming out a little heater isn’t a big deal. All you have bring is the vacuum, extension cord, and appropriate screwdrivers. Then you unscrew the cover, blow the dust out of the parts, vacuum up some of the dust, and put it all back together. No biggie, right?

Yeah… for the first one. Maybe even the first five or so. But there are forty-four of these tasks distributed throughout camp, and many of them are accessible only by ladder. Blowing them out means blowing nasty brown dust right back into my own face, and coming out of the whole adventure with black snot. It’s pretty awesome.

As you might predict, I only found time to clean six of these heaters today; after a few, the rain stopped, and I made it outside to work on some prettifying projects. This month is creeping up to be crunch time here; construction has finally begun on a few buildings, and we’ll also need to be getting ready for the rental season. It’s hard to fathom that the winter is coming to a close. I’m not really ready for it to end; I’m not eager to stop having evenings to myself, and I’m also not excited to see camp off just yet. I guess it’s the nature of seasonal jobs, but that doesn’t make it easy.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Driving rain

Cool, pouring (low 30s)

I didn’t make any teenage friends today, that’s for sure. I would imagine it’s a pretty quick way to make enemies: Tell a group of people they’re going to spend the day fishing old pipe out of the woods while getting soaked to the bone and cold to boot. It was a lot of work, but we pulled the plastic pipe out all the way to Walker Creek, and much of the metal pipe out as well. It was pretty delightful for me, seeing all that pipe come out of the beautiful woods, but I don’t think it had the same significance for the kids who didn’t want to be here, doing the work.

I don’t understand what compels people to toss garbage in the woods. It’s an enduring and maddening mystery at my job here; it drives me absolutely crazy. I don’t understand how you could abandon a water system and then not take it out. I don’t understand how you could put tractor parts out in the elements and watch them get covered by blackberry brambles. I don’t understand how you could leave rusting metal or open septic tanks. But these are the things people do. It’s bizarre and troubling. Someone should do a study, and then come up with some way to prevent this sort of stuff. Sheesh.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Revenge of the rodents

Cool, rainy (low 30s)

Hoorah. Let’s all throw a party, shall we? Someone make little paper hats. Food? Yeah, bring along some insulation, or a few chips, and the guests will be fine. Yes, let’s have a rodent party. My house, 10:00 at night. Perfect time.

I am not pleased about this party. I thought they were gone. I’ve seen a few mice flitting about the room recently, and while that didn’t make me ecstatic, at least they aren’t big and hairy. (They’re just little and hairy.) I can’t believe the nerve these mice have, by the way, darting right in front of a big, nasty predator like me. Why, I ought to run over there and… catch one, with my bare hands. Yeah, right.

The troubling part isn’t the mice. It’s the thumping sounds coming from my kitchen ceiling, thumping sounds that are suspiciously like the sounds I used to hear when an entire family lived in there. This makes me sad. I just noticed the other day that when I walk in, Slanty smells nice, like food and woodsmoke and cedar, whereas it used to smell like rodent urine and little else. So I would like it to continue to smell good. This would take a lot of work. It would require somehow filling in the gaps in the door. I think, ironically, that’s where the mice are getting in. It would also require getting up on the side of the building again and trying to figure out where large rodents can get in. For Pete’s sake. The smell of death emanating from the bathroom has just finished. Could I get a week of peace from the rodent world? That would be awesome, guys. Almost like a party, but without your whiskered little faces.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Cool, rainy (low 30s)

When I started working winters out here, I couldn’t believe how cold I got. I’d be wet and shivering, or dry and shivering, but always shivering. I used lame space heaters (the kind that are just an electrical coil with a dish behind) to attempt warmth, and failed miserably.

This year it’s been different. I’m not all that cold anymore. I don’t need to go inside all that often. Yes, I’m cold; my hands are usually a little stiff, and my legs are usually freezing, but somehow it’s stopped bothering me like it used to.

I’ve been thinking about this because of the kids who stay out here in little pyramid tents, cooking meals over a gas stove and hanging out near a fire. It used to amaze me that these kids stayed warm enough, but it doesn’t so much anymore. I’m beginning to wonder if our bodies adjust to prolonged cold, if somehow our circulation begins to accommodate conditions we once would have hated.

And that concludes the most boring blog of all time.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Cold, snowy (low 30s)

Snow! There’s snow in the meadow, snow on Toby’s, snow by the river, and even snow in the dumpster—and it hasn’t yet melted. This must be some sort of Oregon miracle, when a forest at 300 feet of elevation gets snow and it sticks. There’s even a snowman by the Stink Shack.

I spent the day in the warehouse, moving wood, looking out envyingly at the snow. It was incredibly boring. There’s a big rack of wood that hasn’t been sorted in, oh, a long time, and today Carlo and I started to take the pile down to sort it, and possibly get rid of some of it. But the task is enormous. Somehow, although lots of pieces of wood look the same when you take them down, they’re all vastly different when you try to sort them. It was fun for the first little while, when I was establishing piles of different kinds of wood, but then, as I started to run out of room, and the room started to fill with stacks of wood, my mood went downhill, where it remains. The task just isn’t all that fun.

And I’m a little lonely again. I finished my application to graduate school, and turned it in, and maybe that’s provoked a little bit of boredom, which out here quickly turns into loneliness. There’s also a certain trapped feeling you get out here when the weather turns nasty. Most nights I could leave, and I choose not to. But tonight I can’t leave, and that makes me feel trapped. Hmph. I also miss Marc, and he’s busy with friends. I tried to call some of my friends, but my phone reception lends itself to awkward shouting and frequent call droppings, so that’s not really all that fun.

On the plus side, there were coyote tracks from the warehouse to near my house, and that’s exciting.

I’m going to do some yoga, in the hopes that it’ll straighten out my wood-moving back, and put me in a more civil mood.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bat and pipes

Cold, freezing rain (low 30s)

Oh! Today was so exciting. When I stepped into the bathroom, I noticed something small and brown on the floor of the shower. Gingerly peeling back the curtain, I discovered—lo and behold—it was a bat, lying motionless on the plastic.

A bat? How does a bat get into the shower we just closed off? It would have had to fall, and then crawl, and not be able to crawl out. Well, okay, so the bat’s in the shower. I got a cup and cardboard to try to take it out, and when I moved the cup over the bat’s cute little face, he shrieked, hissed, and bared his sharp little canines. I drew back to reconsider. Carlo and I were just talking about rabid bats, and I became a little nervous. I tried to cover him with the cup, and he spread his wings wide, and then the cup wouldn’t have fit over him anyway, but I accidentally knocked him over, and then he was lying on his back, wings outstretched, his tongue stretching out, on the floor of the shower.

I got a bigger container, and moved him to a tree outside, where he slowly and carefully crawled up the bark. When I checked on him half an hour later, he was about six inches up; when I checked a few hours after that he was gone, whether to a peaceful roost at the top of the tree or to a predator’s mouth, I know not.

After bat time, I spent the rest of the day destroying and hauling pipes out of the woods. When camp abandoned the old water system, whoever was in charge decided it would be fine to just leave all the old piping in the woods. I’ve hated looking at it for years, and so the kids and I moved it today. It was ridiculously fun, tromping through the woods looking for bits of pipe while getting soaked by freezing rain. Well, it was ridiculously fun for me, at least.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Still chilly

Cold, clear (high 20s)

It was mighty chilly again today. Oddly enough, it’s a little more comfortable to be outside in this weather, because outside you expect to be cold, and you put on your hat and gloves. But inside, where you expect to be warm, it’s freezing. I’ve been in a sleeping bag since I got off work. Every once in awhile I’ll emerge from it to go to the bathroom, but if I just want to make some tea, I hop around with it on. That’s how chilly it is. I bet it’s about 50 degrees in here.

Last night I couldn’t sleep, and I’m not sure if it was because of the brilliant moon or because of the cold. When the moon is as bright as it was last night, it’s hard to sleep, but I don’t really mind, because it’s so beautiful. I lie awake looking at Orion, and thinking. When I finally fall asleep, it’s not for long, because the moon comes around to the windows, and moves along the bank of windows throughout the night. It’s pretty gorgeous.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Cold, clear (low 30s)

Cut loose for the afternoon, I decided to put up the nature trail signs that fell down last spring after that unfortunate incident in which I tried to put them up with caulk. Anyhoo, I trotted down to the river with a drill (for screwing in protruding screws), Liquid Nails, and the missing signs. I decided to do the most difficult one first, and that required crossing the creek. Now, in the summer, crossing the creek is no big deal. A couple of rock-hops, or a balancing act on a log, and you’re there. But in the winter, the creek is a different story. It spills all over the rocks, and is dangerously fast. I thought today I might be able to make it from rock to rock, and so, after much deliberation, I tossed my tools across, and prepared to join them. But the current was too fast, and besides, the rocks I had intended to use as footholds were covered in ice. I walked up and down the creek, and couldn’t find anything suitable. I even climbed over boulders and found a place where I could wedge myself between two rocks and almost jump, but it was just too risky.

And so it was that I hiked all the way up the trail, and crossed at the bridge. This would all have been fine, except that there’s no trail from this bridge to where my tools were sitting on the wrong side of the creek. So I had to bush-whack to get there. Sad to say, I’ve done this route before. It’s not easy. At one point, I was crossing a steep area with very loose soil, and I looked down to notice I was about thirty feet up, directly above the creek. Not a little ledge or anything; just some incredibly loose soil and me. Yipes. My foot wasn’t very well anchored, and I reached out for a hand-hold, but all I could find were ferns. It looked like this area had been part of a landslide not so long ago, and as I was contemplating what it would be like to hit the icy, rocky creek thirty feet below, my foot started to slip.

It was an amazingly calm moment. I thought a thought I’ve seldom, if ever, thought before, which was, There is a chance I’m going to slip right now, and be either severely injured or dead, and there’s not a lot I can do about it. As my foot moved farther and farther from my body, a sudden movement started to seem appealing, but that would have been deadly. Some sort of survival instinct kicked in, and I hugged the dirt, full force, plastering my whole body to it, and that slowed my foot. I was able then to balance, and, using all fours, get out of there.

I spent a bunch of time on my hands and knees, crawling through little, unwieldy spaces, and that was terribly fun. By the time I got to the tools, I was almost a little disappointed, because that meant the end of the adventure, but on the way back, I got to do it again, this time holding the caulk gun and the drill, and that made it exciting. I stopped a couple of times to munch on icicles. It was a pretty great day. I’m glad I made it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

1250 pieces of wood

Cold, clear (high 20s)

Campfires are nice. In fact, they’re pretty much the key to camp. Can you imagine going to camp and not having a campfire? That would be preposterous. And outdoor cooking (based on a campfire) is nice, too. I had a fire in my fireplace last night. There’s nothing like a campfire to bring out singing, lower inhibitions, and create an all-around good time.

Unfortunately, to have a good campfire, you’ve got to have some wood. And that’s why today, I am not such a fan of campfires. Somebody’s got to move that tree from the woods where it fell, and then chainsaw it up into rounds, and then split it, and then move all the pieces, and then stack all the pieces, and that is a lot of work, just to go up in flames. If I were just making enough wood for my own use, I might not be disgruntled about it, but shoot, hauling 1250 (or so) pieces of wood today was hard work, and no one will ever even consider where it came from. Where’d the wood come from? The woodshed. Duh.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Cold, clear (high 20s)

Brr! When I drove in this morning, my car said camp was a whopping 22 degrees. Throughout the day I felt it, the inadvertent shiver, the full-body cold at the end of the day. But it was beautiful, too, so beautiful I couldn’t even stay inside for lunch. I spent my lunch hour gallivanting around the riverbank, testing the ice on the beach and even scampering down to the ferny glen to see if there were icicles. This was tough, because there are a few spots on the way to the ferny glen where little creeks trickle into the river, and these were totally iced over. I picked carefully across these, and then found the wall completely covered in beautiful icicles, which were just beginning to melt with the afternoon sun. It was like being in a stunning palace that’s falling down; I’d be admiring a cluster of icicles based on a maidenhair fern, and then one would crash down behind me. It was pretty fun.

I spent most of the day working on my arch. The branches I had intended to have cross didn’t work out, so I spent a lot of the day just plain frustrated. When I bent them, they were bendy in all the wrong places, and when I stood back, it looked ridiculously bad. So I lopped them off, and started over. I eventually ended up gathering cedar branches, which are bendy enough, and next time I work on it hopefully I’ll finish the top. This is the way these things go, though. I’m sure the branches being frozen didn’t help them bend, either.

My space heaters are on, and I’m in my sleeping bag with a fire going, and I’m hoping the water in my cabin won’t freeze. I guess Ranch is frozen, and I hope I’m not next.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Cold, overcast (low 30s)

Fun! Today was ridiculously fun. After Marc’s work was suddenly canceled, due to a chicken shortage, he spent the day at camp, and we worked on an arch for a little garden. I’ve had kids build this arch twice before, and it’s always been cute, but not, uh, very stable. So I’ve gotten all the materials together, and today Marc and I started to put it together. We skinned the alder trees, then sank the posts, and then put in cross-branches, and then attached two of the archy parts. And it was a fantastic day. The arch looks really cute so far, and I am most pleased.

I like these little projects. Sometimes I realize how much work needs to be done at camp, and it crushes my psyche a little. But then I work on a small project I really enjoy, and it gets almost done in a day, and it all seems worthwhile.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

At home in Slanty

Cold, overcast (low 30s)

Slanty is finally back to its normal self, after a month of construction. It’s a relief. I don’t bump into sawhorses on the way to the bathroom, and when I clean out the shower, it won’t accumulate a pile of wood shavings the next day. I’m pretty excited.

This is my first day off the burn pile in a week, and I have to admit, I kind of want to do it right and finish it up. There’s still a pile of stuff there, and it’s eating at me, just a little. It’s all sorted and ready to go up in flames, but I can’t do anything about it. This is what it’s like to work out here. There are so many projects. It’s such a big place. You can only do what you can do in a day, and then you have to call it done, regardless of whether you feel like it’s done. Carlo has a healthy philosophy about the number of hours in a day and stuff, and I think it’s going to take me awhile to actually embrace that. I might nod when he talks about it, but I haven’t really internalized it yet.

All of that aside, it was nice to have a ho-hum day around camp. A day of little news.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Burn pile, part V

Clear and cold (low 30s)

Oh! I forgot to tell you yesterday that I saw elk! I was driving out the road after work, ‘round ‘bout dusk, when I saw something large and bizarre looming in the headlights. I put on the brakes, and watched as four elk (two adults and two kiddos) marched silently across the road. I have to say, of the animals I’ve seen in the wild, elk are among the coolest. They always seem to be moving silently out of the mist, in a herd you’d think you would hear a mile away. When I saw them last year, there were a dozen of them, and I hadn’t heard a thing. And their bodies are weird, too. They’re like centaurs; they’re definitely cervine, but something about the way they move, the way they carry the fronts of their bodies, is oddly human.

The burn pile is almost gone. I unearthed a few more boards today, but it’s really gone down quite amazingly. The pile was a good place to hang out today, in the freezing weather. When I drove past the Ranch this morning, my car’s thermometer registered a chilly 25 degrees. So when I finally kicked up the fire this morning, hoping mightily it would start despite the wood being covered in frost, I warmed myself and was glad for the monotony of the burn pile.

It’s chilly in Slanty, too. I’ve been shivering under a blanket on the couch, and I think that infernal space heater (the one that squeaks and has a really loud fan) is going to stay on all night. Eh. At least the toilet’s not frozen… yet.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Burn Pile, Part IV

Cold, unsettled—snowing and then clear (low 30s)

Oh ha ha, I am such a nerd. I just noticed that today’s burn pile roman numeral spells “ivy,” which is what the burn pile was ALL ABOUT today. See, the ivy wraps itself around the lumber and the branches, making a clump of stuff that you couldn’t possibly lift. I spent much of the day raking the ivy into little balls, and placing them on the fire, feeling like it wasn’t making a bit of difference in uncovering the wood. Adding to this, I had to start the fire in a blizzard, which only lasted about five minutes, but was still blizzardy.

Frustrations aside, it was a good day. The sky cleared after the wee blizzard, and Carlo brought the tractor down to move some ivy. A bunch of people dropped by to visit camp, and it was fun to hob-nob with them while watching the pile burn.

Last night, after the torrential evening rain, things cleared up, and the moon made a brilliant path across Slanty’s windows. Although the temperature dropped, and Slanty wasn’t the warmest cabin in the world, I fell asleep after looking out the window at Orion, curled up in my down comforter, and felt pretty content.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Burn Pile, Part III

Cool, rainy (40-ish)

Okay, so I know no one’s really into reading about the weather, but holy moly, did it rain this afternoon. I was out tending the burn pile, heaving bits of branch into the fire, when a few drops came down. I thought I’d tough it out, but then it started to dump, and I ran for the truck. For the next two hours I monitored the pile from the truck, which was boring but much more pleasant.

I was daydreaming, and maybe even nodding off a little, when I heard a tiny thump behind the truck. I spun around, but the back of the cab was fogged over. I looked at the side mirror, and it was entirely taken up by--what else--a deer’s face. It was comical, really; this deer was looking at the mirror and cocking its head, and its ears were more than half the size of its head again. It was pretty cute. It seemed to think the truck was kind of weird, and it walked all the way around it, but didn’t see me at all. I was within a foot of this deer, and it had no idea. It had made it almost all the way around the truck when its offspring joined the scene. The yearling took a few puzzled glances at the burn pile, and then tagged along with mom for awhile. They dawdled their way across the parking lot, stopping to chew on stuff. When they were about twenty feet away, they started licking each other’s faces. It was awfully cute. I’ve seen deer before, obviously, but I usually don’t see them relaxing, and it was really nice to see them just playing around in the driving rain.

Dude, that fire is probably out by now. This morning, when I went to start it, there were still embers from last week, but shoot, did it rain this evening. Yep. That's the weather.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Burn pile, part II

Overcast, warmer (mid-40s)

Today I spent a bunch of time with Carlo at the burn pile, tossing stuff in, watching it burn, and milling around chatting. It was a nice day, if a little muddy; I arrived home with so much mud on the fronts of my clothes, you could barely see fabric. It’s weird to think I’ve only got a month and a half left of this job. I love it to pieces. I know I can’t do it forever (I barely break even in terms of money, and I want to spend time with Marc and other friends), but I will definitely miss it when I move on.

It’s the weekend, and I’m knackered.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Burn pile

Cool, a few downpours (low 40s)

Ah, the burn pile. It’s a fifteen-foot mound next to the parking lot, made of branches, benches, doors, two-by-fours, signs, bridges, blackberry brambles, English ivy pullings, and anything else someone thought should disappear but shouldn’t be thrown in the garbage. I’m a frequent contributor to the burn pile. In fact, just yesterday, I added an entire bridge to its heap. And today we started to burn some of it down.

It’s not as much fun as you might think. You don’t just get to light the pile and watch it go up. You light a little fire somewhere nearby, and then add to it, always taking care to keep the pile reined in so it doesn’t get too big. It sounds nice—you’d think you just get to sit around and add stuff every once in awhile—but it also gets rather hot. It’s hot enough that tonight my face looks sunburned. It’s hot enough that your breathing gets constricted. It’s hot enough that your clothes, drenched from a downpour, dry within a minute if you’re standing close enough.

I’d say we burned about a third of the pile today, in the eight hours we spent up there, getting muddy and soaked and hot and muggy. It was fun, and I think we’ll do it again tomorrow. Hurrah for getting a midwinter tan, eh?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


This morning, when I hopped into the truck and turned the key, I received from my sweet little vehicle a very unwelcome sound: Click… click… and silence. I was stunned. We’ve been so close, that truck and I have; it was a rough moment. But after some more tries, and some strategically applied gas, I was off. I figured I ought to drive down the road to recharge the battery or whatever. I don’t actually know anything about cars or batteries or anything like that; I just assume you should drive the truck after getting it to start.

So, with just a few minutes until the service project, I buckled up and started down the road. Everything was great—I was even enjoying the morning—until out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move. In my efforts to focus on the road, I only caught a glimpse, but it looked an awful lot like a worm, slithering up into the space behind the glove compartment.

I thought I must have imagined it. What kind of stupid worm would make a home in a warm, dry Toyota? But then, as the worm climbed further up, a mighty kerfuffle began under the dash, and there was squeaking, and rustling, and all-out upset.

So, in the middle of the road, I slammed on the brakes and got out of the truck. Why? I don’t know. I thought maybe the occupant of my truck was going to eat me or something. I paced around the truck awhile, looked at my clock, and realized I had to be back. So I drove back, gingerly stealing glances at the glove box, and only heard a few more squeaks from the creature.

I can’t believe there’s a rat in my truck. Look, fellas. You’re in all the buildings I work on. You’ve lived in my house. I find your dessicated friends too often for comfort. But really? In my vehicle? Come on. If they move into my own car, they’re toast.

Demolishing the bridge today was fun. We also dammed a creek, and dug a ditch. Good times were had.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Thirty-seven broken

Cool, rained all day (40-ish)

Sometimes I wonder about the aesthetic standards to which I hold camp. When I’m walking around, I notice a lot of stuff I would change if I had the skill. The roof of our most renowned structure, Toby's, is leaking, a lot, in a steady stream onto the floor. The bathroom in Kiwanis Lodge grows a dark, thick layer of mold every winter. The logs outside the office area, placed there to prevent people from parking on the grass, have fallen in and look terrible. But these are my aesthetic concerns. Some people probably wouldn’t notice them. But I think we can all, regardless of our aesthetic preferences, agree that broken windows are bad things to have around camp. So today, after chatting with Carlo about the window situation, I set out around camp to inventory.

A few hours later, I counted them up: We have thirty-seven broken windows. This, in a camp that has mostly open-air buildings. It’s pretty crazy. My guess is that we’ll repair maybe… ten.

During all this walking between buildings today, I observed that it rained all day. Usually there’s that little lull in the rain, where the clouds gather their thoughts, take a deep breath, and get ready to go again, but today did not have lulls. It poured. It poured onto the buildings, a little bit into the buildings, made puddles all over the road, made mud slide everywhere, and put me in a crabby mood. I ate a lot of cookies tonight to make up for it.

Tomorrow I’ll be using kid help to dam a stream and demolish a bridge. I'm excited.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


Cool, damp (high 30s)

Goodness, I am worn out. Today, when I announced to the service project kids that I intended for them to carry river rocks from place to place, a few of them smiled and seemed willing to help, and a few of them threw little fits. It was pretty awesome. Sometimes they’re so good, and other times they remind me that I need to make sure to frame all projects extremely well to avoid upset.

On the plus side, we got a bunch of stuff done. One project in particular involved hoisting a very heavy cement thing, and that was a good team-builder. I’m sore.

And that is that. Weekend!

Friday, January 4, 2008

The smell of death

Cool, a little less rainy (40-ish)

Ah, the irony of writing about smells just a little while ago. Now I have the most wretched smell of all to report, and—cue the gloomy music—it’s in my own cabin.

When I walked in a few days ago, I noticed it smelled a little funny. I figured this had to do with being shut up and uninhabited for a few weeks, and let it go. But the smell persisted. It got much worse as I walked into the bathroom, where it almost knocked me over with its nastiness. I thought at first it might be sewer gas, but now I don’t think so. It’s not a particularly nauseating smell or anything; it doesn’t make me want to puke, but it does have a dull grossness to it, that seeps into every breath and kind of gets in my mouth and makes me worry. I’ve sleuthed a little to see if I can find it, and I’ve narrowed it down to the area between the water heater and the bathroom door, but I haven’t found anything.

I think it must be a dead rodent dispatched by the poison I put out for such furry villains before I left for the holidays. Yes, I know, that would make the smell my fault. I think it must have gone a little something like this: The rodent noticed I was gone. It let out a little squeak that sounded suspiciously like “Yippee!” and commenced running around the house. On its third lap it discovered a bar of tasty food, and ate a bit. Full up, it staggered over to the softest thing it could find—my bed—and made a little nest. After a nice night’s sleep, it felt a little funny, and decided to eat some more, whereupon it continued to feel funny, and crawled up into the new ceiling to die.

Whatever happened, I feel kind of bad, but also kind of pissed off, because now the smell wafts into my living room, and even woke me up last night with its power. I wish I could describe it to you, but I can’t get much beyond the fact that it’s just kind of gross, and pervasive. It gets worse the longer you smell it, and if you breathe with your mouth open, it gets on your tongue and makes you make icky faces.

Carlo and I put up some plastic in my bathroom today. Slanty is coming along nicely, and I can honestly say I feel comfortable in here tonight, sitting on the couch next to the fire, curled up in a blanket, especially if I hold up some tea to my nose whenever the smell of death wafts over.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Cool, rainy (40-ish)

Last night, after I blogged, I did a little yoga, flossed and brushed my teeth, talked to Marc, and turned off the lights. Then I pulled down the covers on my bed, preparing to hop in. The bed looked so inviting, with its nice down comforter, covered by blanket and sleeping bag, and its warm flannel sheets underneath. Anyway, I pulled down the covers, and what should I find, but a lovely little bed within a bed, a circle of fuzzy white fabric, dotted with mouse turds, just under the pillow. It might have been cute, or sweet, except for its being in my bed. I of course promptly removed the domicile.

Anyway, today my boss left. She’s moving across the country, and this provoked all sorts of emotions in me. She was a good boss, and I liked her vision for camp—i.e. get rid of the junk, tighten things up a little, and work hard—and I’m not sure where things will go in her absence. It’s hard to imagine someone else doing a better job. I suppose someone else will do a different job. After she left, we shut off the water to her house, and I antifroze her toilet. Then I swept up in there, just kind of looking around, smelling the smelly candles that she also smelled like, and I was sad. I was sad for her, leaving this beautiful house in these beautiful woods, and I was sad for the continuity of things. What we need is someone with a grand vision, someone who will stick it out for as long as it takes to make things great. I don’t blame her at all for leaving; I think she’s absolutely doing the right thing for her life. It’s still hard to see her go.

When I walked down to the river this afternoon, I found lots and lots of otter tracks. That made me feel better.

I planned rather poorly for this week, meaning I don’t really have much food out here. Well, that’s not true. I’ve got plenty of food; it’s just all plain pasta and canned soup. So tonight I thought I’d try making the chestnuts I bought a month ago. I called around to find out how to roast them over an open fire, and finally Marc got back to me. He read from the Settlement Cookbook (The Way to a Man’s Heart) that you just cut slits in the nuts, stick them in a pan, and toss them with half a teaspoon of butter, until the butter melts. Then you stick the whole thing in an unheated oven. Um, really? That seemed kind of dubious to me. Is thirty seconds long enough to pre-cook chestnuts or something? So I did it, and lo and behold, the chestnuts weren’t at all cooked. Maybe it didn’t work because there’s no man’s heart around.

Then I resumed my phone odyssey to find out, and my parents called from Trader Joe’s with the instructions from a chestnut package. They’ve just now beeped (having been roasted in the oven for twenty minutes) and I can’t wait to try them.

It’s been a good, if unproductive, evening. The Iowa Caucuses took place, and I listened to NPR for hours. I love political races. I love analysis. It was fantastic. I also reorganized the cabin. It looks kind of dumb, but it’s different, and maybe tomorrow night I’ll change it up some more.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

First day of work of the new year. Woo.

Cool, rainy (40-ish)

It was a pretty iconic day back at work. Like millions of Oregonians, I woke up in the dark, listened to the drenching rain outside, and thought, “Awesome. There goes vacation.” And that was pretty much the day, in a nutshell: It poured all day, I did boring stuff, and I found a few dead things. I spent some time daydreaming about geocaching and playing Marc’s Sims game on the PSP. I sorted screws and washers in the Stink Shack, a building you could have mistaken for a walk-in freezer, only smellier.

It is, of course, good to be back. There’s excitement in driving down the road into camp, ready to see the changes. There’s something nice about walking into Slanty with laundry in hand, smelling campfire and rodent piss. And there’s even something good about organizing the warehouse so it won’t look so terrible.

The warehouse is a wreck. First off, it’s got hideous molding yellow siding on the outside, and the only natural light inside comes from atrociously dirty skylights, which, in addition to providing almost no light, leak. And then everywhere—every surface of this probably 2000-square-foot building—is covered in junk. Today I tackled some shelves, on which I found bricks, old electrical transformers, a too-heavy meat slicer, hazard signs, taillights for a truck we no longer have, hubcaps, screws, caulk, rock salt, hardened cement, ancient handwashing liquid, several tools I didn’t recognize, and a dead bat (pictured below).

It’s very satisfying to clean a corner of a building, don’t get me wrong. But when you don’t know what to chuck and what Carlo will miss, it’s tough going. I am positive we will never use most of the things I find, clean up, and re-shelve; if we really want, oh, say, an electrical transformer, we’ll go buy something that hasn’t been chewed on, and is a little more modern than 1930. But Carlo thinks (sometimes rightly) that these things are cool, and therefore they must stay.

If we were running a museum, that would be awesome. But what happens is that we keep stuff, and stuff accumulates, and then rats start to live in it, and then they get into the good stuff too, and then everything is trashed, and you can’t even find the stuff you use. For someone who loves order, this is a bit of a problem.

Tomorrow I want to start and patrol the burn pile. Yeah.