Lyssa, the boys, and I enjoyed a late Aunt Judy’s breakfast at 11:30 while Hannah waited in the truck. With no other plans for Labor Day and a promising weather forecast, we’ve decided to spend a night at Puckaway. We pulled in the driveway around 12:15 and had to stop about a third of the way in. A huge fallen birch was blocking our path.
This beast was almost two feet in diameter at its base.
I let everyone out of the truck and backed out of the driveway, turned around, and backed in up to the tree. I walked up to the pole barn, fired up the green ATV, and hooked it up to the small yard trailer. We used it as a bellhop’s cart, filling it with our bags, the cooler, and my tools from the back of the truck. Lyssa started unloading and preparing things in the keep while I gathered some tools to clear our path.
I was filling the chainsaw with gas and chain oil when Lyssa’s parents came walking down the driveway. It’s been a few years since they’ve last seen the place, so we showed off some of the recent improvements. Peter gave me a hand clearing the megabirch from the driveway while Lyssa and Val kept an eye on the boys and filled the bird feeders. We used the ATV trailer for all of the smaller branches and threw the trunk sections in the back of my pickup. After about 45 minutes, we had just about everything collected and enough room to let our vehicles pass.
Something I’ve always associated with Puckaway is feeding the birds. Richie always made it a priority; one of the first things we’d do upon arriving is open up the pole barn and fill some buckets with sunflower seed to stock the feeders. This was a way for me to pitch in and work with my grandpa even when I was too young or small to help with much else. The chickadees were so used to us that they’d eat out of our hands.
When Richie got older and his congestive heart failure started making even light work difficult, I’d drive up here ahead of him to take care of chores so he’d have nothing to do but relax and enjoy the place. Feeding the birds was always the first task on my list.
The first several years after Richie passed away, I didn’t do much of anything for the birds. Overnight stays outside of deer camp were rare, so I wasn’t even around to watch them come in. A lot of the feeders were falling apart and our general neglect of the property didn’t make the birds seem like much of a priority anymore. You could hear chickadees from the margins of the yard and there were signs of woodpeckers on every dead tree off of the driveway, but a lot of songbirds stopped coming in all together. It started to bum me out as just another example of how I couldn’t keep up with the place.
And then Jacob was born.
Hannah and I drove in around 6:20 pm with a pickup bed full of tools and other goodies. She ran some laps around the yard while I quickly unloaded the truck. I wanted to get right to my first project.
Let there be (night)light!
Lyssa got me a pair of really nice network cameras for Christmas. They’re PoE, 720p, have IR blasters, and are IP66 rated. Translated: they don’t need a power cord, have four times the clarity of the old ones, come with night vision, and they’re waterproof. One of them has replaced the driveway camera back home, but the other one will serve as the new bird feeder cam.
I had already configured everything from home, so I installed it to the roof overhang on the keep, plugged it in, and tested it out. There was the expected major increase in image quality, but I was surprised by just how much wider of a field of view it has, too. This is a very welcome improvement.
A roving gang of turkeys greeted me as I rounded the corner to the driveway.
Pulled in the driveway a little before 2:00 pm. Incredibly windy today and temps are dropping fast. First thing I did was fire up the infrared heater in the keep. Dad was already up here getting things ready in the big trailer. He’s got it cleaned up pretty nicely already. Steve and Sammy showed up about 3:30 and Steve set up his portable stand along the east edge of the yard. Based on the timelapse activity I’ve been seeing over the past few months, he should get some deer traffic there. With the wind gusts as strong as they were, I didn’t need to worry about blowing leaves at all. I got the pump going for Dad and filled the 5-gallon pails we use for wash water in the big trailer. Because of the freezing temperatures, I had to drain the pump as soon as I was done. I also ran the hose over to the pole barn and blew it out with the air compressor so it wouldn’t plug up with ice. I fed the birds, put down a feed block, some corn, and some mixed seed, and headed inside by the rest of the guys. It’s getting damn cold.
I wound my way down the driveway around noon after fortifying myself with some Aunt Judy’s. This trip, my only aim is to suck up leaves. However, I had some prep work to get out of the way. I started the pump and filled the keep’s reservoir so I could have some wash water this weekend. I also blew leaves off of the deck and away from the front of the keep. I unloaded my bags and some tools from the truck, parked it out of the way, and I was ready to hop on the mower.
I got right to it, starting with the driveway. I’m very glad the collection trailer works as well as it does; it would take forever to do this with a traditional bagger unit. As it was, I filled the trailer three times from the driveway alone. I’m dumping the mulched leaves around the marsh entrance as that’s been getting pretty squishy lately. After about four hours on the mower, I finally decided to do something about all the low branches and dead trees on the east side of the yard. I parked the mower and got out the chainsaw, trimming trees as high as I could reach from the ground. I hit everything from the marsh entrance to the outhouse, greatly increasing visibility in that part of the yard.
No more low spots!
I pulled in at 3:00 pm with a truck bed full of tools and Outhouse 2.0 on the ATV trailer. This weekend will be the final project push before Puckaweekend 2016. It’s overcast and in the mid-60s and the forecast is calling for intermittent rain all weekend. Not sure how much yard work I’ll be able to get done, but there are plenty of other things to do. I unhooked the trailer and backed up to the pole barn to start unloading tools and materials. I’ll be leaving most of this stuff up here until next weekend. I was just about done when I noticed someone with a day-glo yellow shirt walking up the drive. It was a dump truck driver with Kinas Excavating and he had a full load of gravel to spread at the end of the driveway. Perfect timing. I walked him down and showed him where we wanted it, though the low spots were pretty obvious. Once he knew where to drop, it didn’t take him long to get to work. He had it all spread evenly and was on his way within minutes. It was pretty impressive to watch.
After taking a minute to check out the new driveway, I grabbed the green ATV, hooked it up to the small yard trailer, and backed up to the outhouse. I took down the Christmas lights and removed everything of value from the outhouse like the seat and roll holder. I then took a sledge to the roof assembly, hoping I could pop it loose to re-use on the new outhouse. No such luck. The old roof came away in pieces and shingles crumbled right off of it. I’ll have to come up with a different plan for Outhouse 2.0.
Lyssa, the boys, and I pulled in at 11:00 after breakfast at Aunt Judy’s. Heading down the driveway, I was nervous that the new paint on the keep might not have held up through the big storms that rolled through this past week, but the place looks absolutely great. On our way up, we had stopped at J&A for a deer block. They were out of stock and won’t have more until Tuesday, so I got a bag of molasses-based feed and two bags of shell corn instead. I unloaded the boys’ power wheels from the back of the truck and they were off to the races. I carried the goods from J&A to the garden shed and got a bummer of a surprise upon opening it up. I had left a full 50-lb bag of sunflower seed in there without sealing it in one of the containers and the chipmunks had completely looted it. So much for filling the bird feeders. I spread the remains of the bag, the molasses mix, and some shell corn in the area behind the feeders and made sure the rest of my new purchases were secured in critter-proof cans. Chipmunks suck.
Musty paneling sure gets hot in a hurry.
I’ve got two goals today: collect building materials to build a new outhouse, and clean up fallen branches and brush around the yard. I knew there was a good-sized stack of exterior pine board paneling under the big house trailer, so I grabbed the green ATV and small yard trailer and started digging things out. Roughly 60% of the sheets were too rotten or rough to be of any use, so I stacked them on the trailer to get burned. The rest I set aside to get picked up later. The pit was already stacked with the big oak limb I cut down last trip, so I made a teepee out of the panels over that, poured on some old boat gas, and lit ‘er up. Wasn’t long before I had a nice hot fire. Lyssa tended it while I took the boys into town for snacks and to fill the two big gas cans from the pole barn with ethanol-free fuel. I stopped in at J&A again to see if they had any sunflower seed to replace the bag the chipmunks binged on. This, too, was out of stock until Tuesday. It’s always Tuesday.
I pulled in at 11:30 with a truck full of tools, painting supplies, and a big ol’ 36″ prehung, outswing, exterior door I found for cheap on craigslist. It’ll eventually adorn the new outhouse, but for now it goes in the pole barn. Unloaded the rest of the tools and drove over to the keep where I hauled in my clothes, some clean towels and sheets, two flats of bottled water, and a cooler full of my latest batch of pickled goods. They now bide their time in the keep fridge, awaiting the brave souls who shall attend Puckaweekend 2016.
From left to right: garlic mushrooms, mustard/Tabasco eggs, horseradish eggs, pickles, Hell pickles, spicy garlic asparagus, Inferno asparagus.
With the truck emptied out and the pole barn jukebox playing some 70’s rock, it was time to set my sights on the big project of the weekend: painting the keep. I finally have a stretch of days with weather that lends itself well to painting outdoors (it’s supposed to stay under 80° with low humidity and plenty of sun all weekend), and I’m planning on making the most of it.
However, before I could even crack open a can of paint, I needed to prep the keep. I filled the bird feeders, then hauled the ladder onto the deck and used it to get a good look at the roof. What a mess. Years of leaves and small branches have piled up, decomposing into dirt in spots, the edging is pulling away in several places, the main vent pipe for the furnace is not connected to anything, and there’s grime and moss everywhere. I brought a leaf blower up and blasted the majority of the compost away, then took some sheet metal screws and secured the trim and the vent. Now it was time for the heavy equipment.
Pulled in a little before noon with Lyssa, the boys, and a truck full of tools. I also brought up a replacement blower/leaf collector unit for the riding mower that I found on craigslist. It might need a little tweaking to fit, but it’s in a lot better shape than the stuff we already have.
Wild black raspberries!
The boys wanted to ride their Power Wheels right away but they hadn’t been charged up. I need to rig something up to make this work better. We typically charge these things after they run them all day, but leaving the chargers plugged in isn’t the best idea as they’re not “smart” chargers and might wreck the batteries. Maybe I can get some kind of timer that’ll shut off after 6 hours or something. Anyway, we set them up on the chargers and Lyssa took the boys for a ride on the ATV in the meantime. I focused on tidying things up in the pole barn. It’s nice having walking room in here again with Dad’s boat back up at Presque Isle. It wasn’t long into their ride when Lyssa pulled back up to the pole barn. They had found some black raspberries growing along the trails by Peter’s woods and wanted to make sure it was OK to pick them. I got her a container to put them in and they were off to collect. After a while, they came back with a few handfuls worth. Josh was very excited about this new feature of a “wheeler ride.”
Lyssa wanted to wash the berries, so I turned on the pump in the keep and we hung out in there for a bit. The boys snacked on berries and Cheez-Its, Lyssa relaxed, and I started clearing out the front closet. I guess I just don’t know how to come up here without starting a project and the shelving situation in there has been bugging me for a while. I tore out the original side shelves and Richie’s homemade extensions, took some measurements, and crafted new full-width shelves out of 1×12 boards. These are now solidly anchored with 2x2s and I was able to move a bunch of things out of the kitchen cabinets into the closet. There’s room to bring in a set of dishes, which makes more sense now that we have running water to wash them with.
I cleaned up my tools and the boys got a little time with their Power Wheels before we decided to head out and grab some dinner around 6:00. Fun little day trip today with perfect weather.
Pulled up to the keep a little after 9:15 am, fired up the AC, and turned right back around. We’ll let the place cool down while we’re at Aunt Judy’s. This was slated to be a “camping” weekend up here with the Voights and Saucedas, but work schedules and a forecast of highs in the 90s with plenty of humidity combined to shut that idea down. Instead, Lyssa, the boys, and I are joined today by Kent, her sister Christine’s husband. As a high school teacher, he’s got summers off and is up visiting from Houston. This’ll be his first trip to Puckaway.
Shortly after we were seated at Aunt Judy’s, Jake got a big, loud greeting from the proprietress herself. “There’s my waffle baby!!” He cracked up and got a big kick out of that. Kent was impressed that we were recognized regulars at such a fine establishment. After breakfast, we made a quick stop at the feed store to grab another deer block. The one I put out last month is already almost completely gone. They seem to have all found the new clearing in the yard.
Working hard at the quarry.
Back at Puckaway, the boys showed their uncle around while Lyssa and I got the pump started and filled the pool. It’s already hot enough to break a sweat standing still. The boys and I got on the blue ATV and Kent followed us on the green one for a tour of the marsh trails. Even with the heat and lack of rain, there’s still a fair amount of water out there. Lyssa smartly relaxed in her hammock while we were out exploring. Jake wanted to show Uncle Kent the bird feeders he and his brother painted me for Father’s Day, and we got a little surprise—both of them are full of sticks! Must be wrens.