October 21, 2015: Welcome to the future, everyone.
Had an unusual detour on the way here. All traffic on Hwy 23 around the golf course was being routed onto some narrow country roads for what I later found out was an accident involving a semi trailer full of carrots. Took about 15 minutes longer than I would have liked, but I arrived at 4:30 pm in a relatively empty truck. Beautiful day: sunny, breezy, and in the upper 60s. Everything I need for the long weekend is already here, hauled up last trip, so I was able to get right to work. Opened up the keep and the pole barn and set out to finish mowing the overgrown marsh trails. I debated using the older Craftsman mower for this to save wear and tear on the new one, but this part of the marsh is much flatter than it used to be and the new mower cuts wider swaths and bogs down less. The trails were tamed in short order—by the time I lost daylight, all the areas I had cleared last fall were cut again, now several feet wider in most places. I parked the mower and headed inside for the night.
After a quick dinner of leftover pizza (one of the only things I brought up with me today), I focused on cleaning up the living room area in the keep. I disconnected the TV and AV equipment, pulled the stand away from the wall, vacuumed the area, and wiped everything down. As long as it was disconnected, I took the subwoofer apart and finally cleaned out the cache of acorns and other nuts that some enterprising mouse had deposited several years earlier. No more rattling bass. I rearranged things a bit when reconnecting everything; the subwoofer is now tucked under the TV stand, and the plastic shelving that serves as the liquor cabinet is now in the corner to the right of the TV. To the left I put the TV trays I brought up last trip, the stand fan, and the infrared heater. I made room on the TV stand shelves for the N64 and the SNESBMC, so things look a lot cleaner and less cluttered now.
I installed new ceiling lights in the kitchen and bedroom. 15″ flush-mount, three-bulb globes. They get crazy bright; plenty of light for board games at the table now. They also look much better than the aging fixtures that used to be up. I vacuumed the rest of the keep, spot-cleaned the linoleum and wiped down the counters in the kitchen and bathroom, and liberally sprayed Lysol throughout the keep. This place is sparkling and fresh now. I also hung the small wall shelf up in the bedroom to get it off the floor. I went through all the totes in the bedroom closet and put a bunch of towels in the drawers of the bathroom vanity. After wiping down every surface of the closet with bleach cleaner, I unpacked the bags I brought up last trip and put my clothes on the top shelf . There’s now plenty of room in the closet for everyone else’s bags, keeping them out of the way. It was after 2am by the time I finally crawled into bed. The keep is ready.
Woke up around 9:00 and, after a quick and surely nutritious breakfast of the last of the leftover pizza from last night, headed outside. First on the agenda was to finish cleaning all the keep windows. I don’t think this has been done at all since the big trailer was brought up here in 1994, so I was wiping away 21 years of accumulated dirt and grime from the outside of these windows. But it was well worth the effort; they look much better now. I was going to have some coffee, but the Keurig wouldn’t work. It would draw water from the reservoir only to pour everything out of the overflow instead of into the cup. None of the usual tricks (shaking it, tapping the bottom while it’s upside-down) were working, so I got mad and took it into the pole barn where I proceeded to blast the overflow opening with 90 psi of compressed air. Well, that did the trick. It looked like a giant sneeze. Slippery chunks of godknowswhat blew out of the reservoir opening along with a huge spray of water. I brought the coffee maker back into the keep where it ran flawlessly. I cycled a few cups of hot water through it to further clear the lines and headed back outside.
I pulled Enterprise and Dad’s boat out of the pole barn and parked them out of the way up by the transformer. I then spent the better part of the morning rearranging things in the pole barn to get a little more floor space. During this effort, I came across the tiki torches I had found up here a few years ago and set aside. Two of them are designed to mount right to a deck rail, and that’s exactly what I did. I put two more on either end of the picnic table and staked the tall one in the yard near the pump. Back in the pole barn, I consolidated all the good, newer lumber in one place on a set of sawhorses and moved some shelving around to fill the space where the bird feed containers used to be.
As I was cleaning, I came across a 15 gallon drum with “hydrated lime” handwritten on the side. After fighting the stubborn lid, I scooped some of it out and doused the outhouse pit with it. Curious about how this actually works to cut down on smells, I looked it up on Wikipedia. I’m glad I did or I would never have known that direct contact with exposed, moist skin can cause burns. I made damn sure the toilet seat was free of all traces of lime as permanent genital scarring isn’t the kind of memory I want people to take away from Puckaway. I stowed the lime drum in the garden shed with the bird feed. Since I was in there, I got out the leaf blower and cleared leaves from the deck and and around the keep, outhouse, and bird feeders. I topped off the feeders and spread some more cracked corn. The turkeys don’t seem to care for it as much as the whole-kernel stuff, but something’s still eating it all.
I opened up the big trailer as we’ll be using it for overflow sleeping arrangements this weekend. I had read an article that a crock pot full of a mixture of water and baking soda can completely neutralize a musty smell from a basement, so I figured I’d see what it would do to an old mobile home. I set up the crock pot on the kitchen counter, turned on some fans to help things circulate, and headed back out to start mulching leaves. I cleared the driveway and the front yard from the keep to the pole barn, finishing up around 3:30. I headed into town for a late lunch/early dinner from A&W and also grabbed some Cheladas from the gas station. After I got back, I rounded up some shovels and hooked up the large flat yard trailer to the blue ATV. Digging out the burnpit is the traditional kickoff to Puckaweekend and I wanted to have everything ready.
I took a moment to walk the marsh trails and soak in the perfect fall weather. I love how it looks out there when everything is cut; it’s really starting to open up. On my way back in, I stopped in the big trailer to check on the crock pot. I was amazed—the smell was completely neutralized. If anything, it reminded me of the slight hint of ozone you get from an ionizer. Some of the baking soda had calcified on the sides of the crock, so I scraped it off and stirred it back into the water. Might as well keep this thing going. It was getting dark when I headed back to the keep, lit the tiki torches on the deck, flipped the accent lights on, cracked a Chelada, and waited for Sean and Tach to arrive. My prep work is done; it’s time to start Puckaweekend proper.
The boys rolled in around 6:00. After the obligatory bear hugs, they brought in their gear and I gave them a quick tour of some of this year’s upgrades. Sean brought a stamped metal beer sign from Living The Dream Brewing Co back in Colorado. This was quickly added to the keep’s wall adornments. He also brought a bottle of White Owl Whisky, a clear whiskey (which I will continue to spell with an E, you snooty Canucks) from a Canadian distillery that you can apparently only get in the USA at certain specialty liquor stores, one of which is near Sean in CO. I was sold from the start on appearance and novelty: I’ve never heard of a clear whiskey and it had an owl on the bottle. After freeing the booze from its bubble-wrapped travel cocoon, it was time to answer the question of taste. Our general consensus is that it is dangerously delicious. Smooth with no burn, it slides like a liqueur. The three of us, drinks in hand, relaxed on the deck for a bit waiting for the next arrivals.
A little after 7:00, Red, his brother-in-law Tim, and Gunner pulled in. More obligatory bear hugs ensued, we laughed at the fact that Red (of all people) got pulled over for speeding on their way in, more beers were drank, and then the real work began. We descended upon the burnpit like men possessed. It’s incredible how fast you can dig a big hole when you have five guys shovelling. We hauled away two full trailers, dumping the payload off to the side of the path behind the wood shed. At one point during the dumping stage, we all stopped and stared at Tacheny. He was shovelling ash off of the trailer with the rhythm and intensity of a piston in a well-tuned engine. He seemed like some John Henry/Paul Bunyan hybrid folk hero. Then he told us to get back to work. Fearful of his wrath, we did.
The pit was now dug out plenty wide and almost three feet deep throughout. It was time to create a sturdy base for the fire. We took the ATV and trailer over to the small pile of railroad ties out toward the south entrance to the marsh trails and loaded up all of the ones we could pull out of the ground. Many were rotten and half-gone, but there were more than enough there to create a Jenga-like lattice over the freshly-dug pit. Base established, we piled on some recently-trimmed tree branches, cardboard, a frayed tarp, and some lumber from the wood shed. The whole works was soaked in old boat gas, and, after a few cautious attempts at tossing lit matches from a safe distance, we rang in Puckaweekend 2015 with a roaring fire. We continued to feed it throughout the night with boards from the wood shed, periodically stoking it with blasts from the leaf blower. With all that airspace underneath the crossed ties, it got hot in a hurry.
I put some 70s rock on the pole barn stereo and we eased the pace a bit on burning. Already, we were almost completely out of beer. I only had about a dozen assorted cans and bottles in the fridge to start, but Red had brought up a 30-pack, too. This never ceases to amaze me. We go through an incredible amount of food and alcohol during Puckaweekends, but no one ever gets overly drunk or sick. It’s a beautiful mystery. As if on cue, Runge and Dusty drove in around 9:00 with more beer to save us. Perhaps to commemorate this fine occasion, Red went back to his car, brought out his old dehumidifier, and we tossed it on the fire. It put on quite the light show, especially after the compressor ruptured. This must have been one of the hottest fires we’ve ever had up here, as there was nothing left of this thing to fish out later. It was eaten whole by the burnpit.
At this point, we all kind of found our own things to do. Except for Tim, that is. Tim apparently discovered his life’s true calling and he continued to burn fervently. He kept hauling lumber out of the wood shed until it was completely cleared out, at which point he started in on the piles at the end of the driveway. Welcome to Puckaway, Tim. You do fine work. Back at the keep, the White Owl was passed around again and all the pickled goods were sampled. The eggs turned out pretty much as expected, welcome tweaks to the original recipes. I was worried about the mushrooms and asparagus, as this would be the first time anyone had tried them. Thankfully, they were both delicious, with the asparagus earning particularly high praise all around. As the night wound down, we polished off the last of the snack food I had in the keep. Good thing we’re making a supply run tomorrow. By the time we all crashed, Sean and Tach were in the big bed in the bedroom with Red and Gunner on the pull-out twin mattress. I took the futon, Tim passed out on the recliner, and Runge and Dusty each took a bed in the big trailer. We all slept like the dead.
Everyone found consciousness at their own rate, but we were all up and moving around by 8:00 or so. We were able to restart the fire just by laying boards and branches onto the coals. The pit is red-hot and still plenty hungry. With no food and dwindling beer supplies, we all headed into town around 9:00. As luck would have it (or perhaps it was just fate?), there was absolutely no one seated at the bar at Aunt Judy’s. We took that thing over in short order and devoured various delicious plates of home-cooked goodness and cups after cups of hot coffee. Hunger quelled, we hit up Piggly Wiggly to restock the keep’s shelves and fridge, leaving there with $200 worth of red meat, cookies, chips, and beer to which I wasn’t allowed to contribute a cent. In fact, outside of my Aunt Judy’s breakfast, I didn’t open my wallet all weekend. Thank you, gentlemen. You sure know how to treat a girl right.
Back at camp, out came the chainsaw. I started off a new round of burning by cutting down the nearly 50-foot dying tree next to the pump. I had never felled a tree anywhere near that size before, but I was careful about my cuts, hammered in a felling wedge, and it dropped [Play Video] exactly where I wanted it. I sliced it up and moved on to a big, dead, low-hanging oak limb that was draped over the driveway. That also fell without incident, but I don’t ever want to have to climb 20 feet in the air with a chainsaw again. I gladly descended the ladder, cut up the branch, and took a break from lumberjacking for a while. The guys had already tossed all of the branches and most of the smaller sections of limbs and trunk into the pit and the heat was appropriately intense. The fire smelled great! Usually we’re burning old lumber and panelling with years of rot, so to have a raging bonfire composed purely of natural wood was refreshing.
Red had been fighting a cold since before he came up last night. He actually slept through the tree being downed. By this point in the day, he was fully gripped by laryngitis and could barely talk. We were all terrible people about this, of course, and teased our mute comrade endlessly. After all, what could he say about it? Red simply drank beer and glared at us, which he would have done regardless. Meanwhile, Runge had once again found my viking helmet and celebrated the discovery by shotgunning cans of Busch Light. He later performed minor surgery on his car, zip-tying a trim piece back into place. Tacheny and Dusty each took a few shots with the “tactical” .22 and the new splatter targets and got some good groupings from 100 yards. Tim burned, because Tim burns. It’s what he does. Sean kept himself busy doing angry things with an axe.
When I cut down the big tree, I left a four foot section of trunk near the base. I figured I would roll it over the pit later where it would serve as a big crossbeam that would take a long time to burn. Tachney had other plans. He flipped it upright and asked me for a cross-peen hammer and some sixteen-penny nails. Sean was able to produce the hammer right away as he is strong in the ways of the Puckaforce, but I told Tach he’d have to search through the wall of drawers in the pole barn for the nails. Well, he randomly picked a drawer, opened it, and pulled out a cigar box. Inside the box? Yep, sixteen-penny nails. The pole barn provides.
We gathered around the upended trunk where Tacheny proceeded to teach us the rules of hammerschlagen and probably started a new Puckaweekend tradition. It’s a fun group game of skill, but, as we were playing, it dawned on me that the basic description, “guys stand around a stump and hammer nails into it” sounds like the dumbest thing anyone could ever do and I laughed so hard I thought I was going to pass out. HAMMER STUMP!
At this point I was getting ready to relax and drink the rest of the day, but first I grabbed the chainsaw and felled one last tree, a small, dead pine. This one was more stubborn and I ended up winching it over to the pit with the green ATV. After de-limbing it and carving up the trunk, I boxed up the chainsaw and we said goodbye to Runge and Dusty, who had to leave for a wedding. We all gathered back at the keep and tucked into some snacks. We also hard-poured a boot of delicious nitro stout and passed it around on the deck. It somehow tasted even better than it looked and it left you with the best milk mustache ever. Tacheny cursed me out for leaving the crock pot in such a sorry state (all the water from the big trailer’s deodorizing effort had evaporated away leaving a thick crust of baking soda behind) but was able to get it cleaned up and ready for his delicious homemade chili.
Once again, we were all seized by the urge to burn so we gathered at the wood pile by the mouth of the driveway. We worked together to clear the top layer of rotten beams and posts to get at the good, dry stuff underneath. Regardless of its (de)composition, everything found its way to the pit. At this point, nothing could possibly be too wet or rotten to be consumed by that fire. We managed to unearth an eight foot long 12×12 that even Sean and I couldn’t budge. Undaunted, I grabbed a chain and used the winch on the blue ATV to pull the massive, creosote-soaked monstrosity onto the trailer being towed by the green ATV. Teamwork! We drove it over to the pit and heaved it onto the fire. By morning, there would be no trace of it.
The wood pile now ready to easily draw from, we headed into the keep for a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity. Always a pleasure, but this session had the added twist of someone reading Silent Red’s cards out loud for him. Poor guy can’t talk at all; we even have to call Gunner for him when we’re outside. I will say this for him, though: it has not impacted his drinking one bit. We phoned in a delivery order from Pizza Factory to complement Tach’s chili and generally spent the rest of the evening very full and sufficiently drunk. Paco joined us a little after 9:00. After a long day at work, he was just as tired as the rest of us. He set up a bed in the big trailer and Tim found one there for himself as well. The rest of us bedded down in the same spots as the night before. I honestly can’t remember when we all dropped off. A morning full of physical exertion followed by a solid drinking effort caused the day to just kind of fade out.
We all reluctantly awoke between 7:00 and 9:00. Snacks and leftover pizza for breakfast. Everyone is moving in various states of slow. Red can kind of talk now, but he sounds like Oy from the Dark Tower books. The weather is a bummer today; a light mist of a rain that started late last night and just won’t let up. We don’t really venture outside much until it starts letting up around noon, a fresh batch of Tach’s chili coating our stomachs. It isn’t long until we have a fine fire burning again, this time built around a tepee comprised of four foot railroad ties. We mark the occasion with another boot laden with Milk Stout.
The wood pile is already noticeably depleted and we continued to pull from it for the rest of the day. I also kept up the tree trimming work by dropping another sizeable dead one from between the outhouse and big trailer and trimming the sickly lower branches from a big pine in the same area. Everything found its way to the pit.
Farmer Joe joined the party around 2:00 and Paul, the scrap metal guy, pulled in soon after. With so many of us around to lend a hand, all of the appliances I had pulled out of the pole barn last month were on Paul’s trailer in no time flat. We moved the hauling operation to the piles in the woods to the west of the pole barn and, in an incredibly short amount of time, Paul’s truck and trailer were filled to the brim. A truly beautiful sight. Paul was in rare form; it was hard to believe we were the ones drinking and not him. As we were collecting, he pointed toward (I thought, anyway) a mostly corroded piece of beercan-thin aluminum roofing material and said, “You know, you can burn that.” So we did. And it turns out he was right, even though what he was actually pointing to was an old, cracked fiberglass hood for a Jeep. Well, we burned that, too. It looked like the smoke monster from LOST, but it burned.
Farmer Joe and I worked together to fell another tree that I knew I couldn’t safely down on my own. It was leaning toward the big trailer, so we hooked a chain to it about 20 feet up. Joe kept tension on it by pulling it with his truck as I made the felling cut. It worked so well that we repeated it for another tree in the area that was leaning toward the transformer box. I packed up the chainsaw for the last time this weekend. Total kill count: five established trees and one big limb. Not bad at all.
Joe and I went to the deer stand to palaver, reflect, and relax before he had to head back to the farm. Most of the rest of the crew napped in shifts, though I’m pretty sure Tim was never far from the fire. The misty rain came back around for a while and it was pretty cold anyway, so once again we all hung out in the keep.
Around dusk, Sean wanted to try out Jake’s seat on the blue ATV, so we took the long marsh loop. The trails are soaked, but we managed to stay nice and dry, even when we were finding our own paths. In our absence, Paco fired up the grill and cooked us up some mouth-watering arrachera and tortillas. As I defer to Paco’s judgement and subtle mastery in all things grill-related, I seasoned the steaks we bought the day before and let him do his magic. There was almost too much meat, an amazing problem to have.
We relaxed and watched movies in the keep for the rest of the night. Full and drunk, we started to drop off, one by one. Same sleeping arrangements as the night before.
Everyone was up and moving by 7:00. Already, the weather has vastly improved—it’s a shame it couldn’t have been like this yesterday. Sean and Tacheny packed up and hit the road early; they still have plenty of travelling ahead of them. Red, Tim, and Paco hung around and helped me close up the big trailer and pack things up outside like the torches, deck furniture, boats, ATVs and the hammerschlagen stump, which we rolled into the wood shed. Gotta keep that thing around. They were all on the road by mid-morning and I relaxed for a bit and had a late breakfast of leftover steak.
I started the pump and ran the hose into the keep to rinse the dishes we generated. I used the Keurig to make hot water to fill the crock pot bowl for washing everything and it worked out pretty well. When I was done, I placed the hose in the outhouse pit to try to drown the terrible things we did in there this weekend. Next year, along with the lime, I’m doing that before everyone shows up. Despite the drizzling rain on Saturday, the water level just never got high enough in there to cut the smell. I took my time loading the truck and cleaning out the keep. I stripped the beds, gathered the linens, did a final run-through, and was on the road to Oshkosh around 1:00.
This is the first puckaway.net Puckaweekend post and, at around 4,400 words, it’s the biggest log entry to date by a longshot. Thank you, Sean, Tacheny, Red, Tim, Runge, Dusty, Paco, and Farmer Joe, for coming up this year. It’s always a great time, and we always get so much work done despite never having a set itinerary. Please feel free to comment on this post to share your own take on Puckaweekend or to fill in any details I might have missed through the haze of fatigue and alcohol or just taking too long to post this.
Much more than many hands making light work, Puckaweekend is when I get to open this place, my favorite place in the world, to good friends who appreciate it the way I do. It’s when I get to step back and enjoy the hard work I put in up here over the rest of the year. This is the continuation of a tradition that started many years ago, back when I’d spend the long Teachers’ Convention weekend up here with my grandpa—with my hero. A tradition I continued even after he passed away. It’s an honor to share this with you, gentlemen. More than any project I finish here, progress I make, even more than bringing my wife and boys up here (as that’s more about forging new traditions), it’s Puckaweekend and the food, fire, and fellowship with you guys that keeps my grandpa’s memory alive and burning bright up here. It’s a beautiful gift and I truly can’t thank you all enough for it.
Until next year, gentlemen.