Pulled in at 3:30. No pooch; don’t want to risk someone mistaking her for a deer. Temperatures were hovering just above freezing with on-and-off rain and I was looking forward to heading into a nice, pre-warmed keep. It was not to be. Apparently, there was a power outage between Tuesday and today; microwave clock was reset and the heater wasn’t running. Lovely. I went to the pole barn to get my propane sunflower heater to kickstart the keep thawing process, but it was nowhere to be found. Frustrated, I headed into the big trailer and saw Dad was using it in the living room. He, Steve, and Sam were already plenty warm and had electric heaters going anyway, so I grumbled, stole my propane gear back, and headed out to the keep again.
With the sunflower heater blasting warmth, I finally unloaded the truck. I carried the water jugs over to the big trailer and had a drink with the guys while the keep warmed up. I didn’t stick around long, though. The big trailer reeks. Pretty sure mice have made some kind of home in the oven. The whole place smells like boiled rodent urine. Not sure how the three of them can stand it. I wandered back to the keep and threw on a movie while I started to rebuild the Puckanet. I replaced the router with a Unifi gateway to give me some more remote control and data. And hopefully, if I ever find a way around Verizon’s NAT mess, I can use the gateway for VPN connections to my home network instead of relying on the Pi. The Puckanet is constantly evolving.
I just finished confirming that the temperature sensors and camera feeds were back up when Dad texted me to head over for dinner. I turned off the propane heater as the keep had warmed to about 85°. The quartz heater should be enough to keep things above 60° for the rest of the trip. Once I got to the big trailer, I made Sam drag the grill out of my garden shed and over to the pole barn just because I could. Steve once again paid his annual lodging fee with four giant steaks. He got right to grilling, safe from the rain in the pole barn. Dad fried up mushrooms and onions and it went a long way toward fixing the smell in the big trailer. I popped in a Seinfeld DVD and topped off my giant Korbel & Coke while Sam set the table. I had my laptop with me so we could check the SD card from the trailcam Steve set up by the marsh entrance a week ago. Lots of doe activity and what looked like at least an 8-point buck. It was around 7:00 when we all sat down to gorge ourselves on red meat and brown liquor, keeping an important tradition alive.
After dinner, we all watched some Seinfeld and finished our drinks while we let our meal digest. I headed back to the keep for the night around 9:00 and was lazy and useless for the rest of the night. It was great. I fell asleep watching That 70s’ Show on the bedroom TV around 11:00.
I took the previous night’s laziness and ran with it. I didn’t get out of bed until after 9 am. I heard very little shooting, and nothing nearby. The hunters must not be having a great morning. Did some general housekeeping around the keep and watched some TV for the rest of the morning. Right around 11:00, I heard a boom like distant thunder. Given the recent power pole upgrade, I was worried it might be related to that somehow. However, a quick glance out the window showed the power transformer was intact and I never had a blip in power. I didn’t think much more of it. Dad called me over about 20 minutes afterwards for a late lumberjack breakfast. I took my first few steps out onto the deck and stopped cold. A huge oak—one of the trunks coming off of the big split tree at the mouth of the driveway—was lying in the yard. That explains the noise I heard.
I headed into the big trailer to see if any of the other guys saw what happened. They didn’t even know that the tree had fallen. I pulled up the still images that the Pi saves for its nightly timelapses and saw that the thing just dropped dead between two ten-second frames. No apparent cause; it’s not even that windy today. I guess we’re getting so good at general lumberjackery around here that the trees have taken to felling themselves. We all sat down to a delicious breakfast-for-lunch of fried eggs, potatoes, bacon, and toast.
I headed back to the keep and the rest of the guys either tried napping or heading back out to their stands. I’ll deal with the tree later. I wanted to tackle another Puckanet related problem first. Last year, I wanted to keep the cameras running all winter long, but lost my connection after the first big cold snap. Turns out the battery in the UPS froze up. This caused the unit to fail a self-test and shut itself down. I needed a way to keep the UPS warm enough to prevent this from happening again, but also not suck a lot of power and only run when needed with little-to-no input required from me.
I found a low-power heat source in the form of a ceramic terrarium heater. It screws into a light socket and consumes only 60 watts. I already had a clamp-on desk lamp to hold it that would be easy to focus on the UPS. All that remained was determining when the heater would power on and off. I could control this remotely via a smartplug, but I didn’t want to run the risk of losing communication while it was running or just forgetting to monitor it. I found my solution in a thermostatic switch. It looks like a simple little outlet multiplier, but it will only switch on when temperatures are 20° F or less. It will remain powered on until temperatures reach at least 30° F to prevent excess cycling. They make several variants with different temperature ratings, but I’m hoping these are the values we need. The battery didn’t fail until we had several days of near-zero temps last year, and that was back when I had it on the floor of the keep by an outside wall.
I got everything in place in the closet and tested the heater without the switch in place. I let it run for about a half-hour just to see if there would be any issues with the lamp housing or shelves overheating. Luckily, in both cases, the heat buildup seems to be minimal, even with the rest of the keep at a normal room temperature. This does a good job of radiating heat right at the UPS. I put the switch in place and closed up the closet, completing my last planned project for the weekend.
Around 2:00, I got far too comfortable in my recliner and ended up taking a two-hour nap. When I got up I saw that Farmer Joe had texted me that he was working on finishing up a few projects and would be coming up for the night. I staggered across the yard to the big trailer and heated myself a bowl of Mom’s kettleful soup along with some of the various snacks and treats lying around. The hunters had nothing to show for their first day out, though they said there was a decent amount of deer activity just outside of shooting range. We really need to cut more lanes into the marsh.
I headed back to the keep to continue my laziness. Even though temps are dropping below freezing, the keep can maintain around 68° with just the infrared heater. It’s really comfortable. Farmer Joe pulled in a little after 6pm. We got his gear inside, I set him up with some bedding for the futon, and we went over to the big trailer to say hi to everyone. While I was there, I mixed him a bloody mary fit for a king. Plenty of horseradish, some worcestershire, pickle juice, meat, cheese, and pickled veggie garnishes, and—of course—made with gin instead of vodka. Joe happily drank his meal in a glass.
After a half hour or so, Joe and I headed back to the keep. I threw in a pizza for us and we drank and watched TV for the rest of the night. I’m sure it was a welcome change of pace for a hardworking solo dairy farmer. Joe started snoring on the futon a little before 11:00, so I headed back to the bedroom and dropped off soon after.
The laziness continues. Joe and I watched some TV and relaxed in the keep until a little after 9:00 when we made an Aunt Judy’s run. Joe ordered a full eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns breakfast as well as a blueberry waffle and left nothing but clean plates. It was impressive to watch. Back at Puckaway, we watched History Of The World: Part 1 before Joe headed home to his ladies, bovine and otherwise, around noon.
A little after 1:00, I finally got some motivation to get to work. I moved the ATV trailer to the driveway so dad could hook up to it on his way out, then headed back to the keep to drain the IBC holding tank and winterize my drain pipes with RV antifreeze. I mixed some in the pump priming jug as well. I loaded up the back of my truck with the water jugs and Lyssa’s snow tires, then got out the chainsaw and carved up the fallen oak. I got the biggest pieces out of the way, but I’ll clean it all up later. As long as I was working outside, I replaced the faulty temperature and humidity sensor mounted on the back side of the keep. It’ll be nice to get some accurate readings again. I doubt we’ve ever really had 2% ambient humidity. The air would have exploded.
At 4:30, just as I was getting ready to leave, I got a text from Dad to fire up the ATV. The deer drought was over. I headed out past his stand to where Steve had tracked Dad’s dropped buck. Nice seven-pointer, possibly the buck we saw on the trailcam footage. I dragged this back to the pump and got out the halogen spotlights so Steve could see what he was doing while he field-dressed it.
I gave the keep a final inspection and closed up shop. I was on my way out by 5:15. Here’s hoping the Puckanet can stay warm this winter.