The New Chicken Coop

Third time is the charm?

I like having chickens. There’s nothing quite like fresh eggs laid by chickens in your own yard. Chickens that get to walk around all day and eat bugs and scrap veggies. Chickens that you feed and talk to and watch. I had chickens for much of the time that I lived in Arizona and really enjoyed not only the eggs, but the experience.

So it made sense that I should have chickens here at my new home. I got them as chicks in April 2014 and waited five months for them to start laying eggs. I started with eight of them, lost two early on, and lost a third when I got my rooster.

The First Chicken Yard and Coop

When the chicks grew to a size where they were ready for a chicken yard, my friend Mike and I built one out of 6-foot T-posts and 5-foot horse fencing. I blogged about the whole prep thing here.

A few weeks later, I built a coop — a building with roosting and nesting areas — for the chickens. I go into a lot of detail about that process here.

Chicken Coop
The finished chicken coop.

The coop was ugly, but the chickens didn’t seem to care. They roosted and nested and made eggs. I never did get around to putting shingles or any kind of protective material on the roof. It was just painted an ugly dark green and nearly flat so water soaked into it when it rained or snowed.

Meanwhile, the chicken yard was functional — it kept the chickens safe — but to keep out birds of prey I had to run bird netting over the top. I’m 5’6″ tall. The bird netting dipped down below 5 feet. Needless to say, going into the chicken yard was a bit of a nuisance. And since that’s where the eggs were, I had to go in daily to collect them.

The Second Chicken Yard

A friend of mine was creating much nicer chicken yards by building a frame and then fastening chicken wire on it. I had some 20-foot long palette wood that my building’s metal sheets had arrived on. In September, I cut them in half and, with some 6-foot 2x4s, built three frames. I used the same horse fencing inside each frame, running it vertically in 5×6 sections. Then, with the help of a friend and his mom, I assembled the three walls in place of the existing yard fencing with the coop on the outside of the yard. I built a door, added bird netting and some shade fabric I’d brought from Arizona on top, and had a new chicken yard. One I could stand up straight in.

Chicken Yard 2
Here’s the second chicken yard. The coop is outside the yard but the opening is inside. It didn’t look bad right after I built it.

As winter approached, I worried about my chickens keeping warm. Their coop’s doorway was very large and wouldn’t offer much shelter from a wind coming out of the east. If it snowed, their food would get wet and there wouldn’t be any place for them to walk without snow. I put some metal panels leftover from my building on top. This protected them and gave them shelter from rain. I fastened wood and metal panels around the north side and stacked up hay bales on the east. It was functional and the chickens seemed to be fine all winter, but by spring I couldn’t deny one simple fact: from the road, it looked trashy. And if there’s one word I don’t want applied to my property, it’s “trashy.”

Trashy Coop
My chicken setup looked trashy — there’s no other way to describe it.

The Hoop Yard

My next door neighbor, Michelle, got chickens in the spring. She built a chicken yard out of “hog panel” fencing hooped up and over into a rounded top. It looked great. Although she started out with a large coop inside the hoop, she later cut the coop in half and positioned it on one end of the yard, giving the chickens a lot more room inside and making it possible for her to walk around in there when she needed to. I started thinking about doing the same thing. But I’d also need a new coop; the nest boxes and perches in the one I’d originally built were falling apart.

Over the next few months, I bought some panels and started to plan. I was busy with other things — mostly finishing up my home — and it was brutally hot for most of the summer so I really didn’t want to work outside. But about four months ago, I got to work on the new yard, extending the chickens’ existing yard another 10 feet out the back side with the hoops. I liked the way the frameless design made the extended yard blend into the scenery. But it was too hot and I was too busy with other things to finish the job so I put it on the back burner.

Chicken Yard Extension
I added two 16 x 5 foot hog panels, hooped and fastened at the bottom between two 2x4s. This design is framed at the bottom and ends so it really blends into the scenery.

The New Coop

Getting Started
The entire coop is built on a series of pallets.

Nest Box
The coop begins to take shape with a roosting area, nest boxes, and porch.

The nest box roof is on a hinge so I can lift it up from outside to gather eggs.

Here’s the video I shot of the kittens playing in the coop I built.

I added wheels to move it. The back wheels in this shot are my helicopter’s ground handling wheels which worked out okay on concrete but probably wouldn’t cut it on gravel.

About a month ago, I started making the new coop. I decided to build it with scrap material and to design it so it resembled my building. I’d even use the same metal for the walls and roof.

I had a lot of building materials, including lots of pallets in really good condition, lumber in all lengths and sizes, insulation leftover from my RV garage, Pergo flooring leftover from my home, Trex-style decking, leftover from my deck, and metal panels leftover from my building’s skin. Not only would I build a solid structure, but I’d insulate it to keep the chickens warm in winter and have a removable panel for ventilation in summer.

I got to work on the RV garage floor. I worked on it for a few hours a few times a week. Slowly but surely, it began to take shape.

At the same time, I was raising three kittens as a foster home for them and their mom. As the kittens grew and become more adventurous, they started playing in the coop as I worked on it. I captured some video one day. They’re gone now — a friend of mine adopted the whole family as barn cats — but they sure were cute.

At some point, I realized that the thing I was building weighed a ton. Well, not literally a ton, but a lot. A lot more than I could lift. I started thinking about how I was going to get it out of the garage and into place on the other side of my gravel driveway. My RV was parked out there at the time and that really restricted how much space I had to maneuver in.

I started by buying wheels for it and fastening some scrap 2×6 lumber to mount the wheels on. The hardest part was getting the damn thing off the ground so I could put the wheels on. I had to use my winch, mounted in my pickup truck’s bed. That made it possible to move it to the front of the garage. I got it to the point where the only thing left was to put on the metal skin and Trex porch floor. That would probably add another 50 pounds of weight — better to do that when it was in position. But I wasn’t ready to bring it outside yet. I still had work to do in the yard.

Putting It All Together

It’s all about the challenge

Over the past three years, I’ve done more new and difficult things than I’d ever had in my life. From wiring my home to moving heavy things by myself to laying down my floor and deck — it’s been one challenge after another.

I’ve found that I really enjoy the challenges I face getting my home set up the way I want it. Each difficult task is a puzzle that requires serious thought, planning, knowledge, skills, tools, or a combination of these things. But what it requires most is patience.

In the old days, I used to get frustrated when a task didn’t go as easily as I’d hoped. That feeling of frustration was magnified if I tried to do something with my wasband and he got all pissed off when it didn’t go smoothly.

But now I don’t get frustrated at all. I just plan ahead, make sure I have everything I need to get the job done, and go to it slowly and carefully. It’s perseverance that makes it all come together in the end.

And when a difficult job is done, I get a huge feeling of satisfaction knowing that I did it all myself.

I had a party last week. A little get-together with friends and neighbors to show off my home and sit around the fire pit on what could be the last warm night of autumn. I showed off the chicken coop as part of the tour — everyone wants to see my garage. My friend Alyse said I should get everyone there to help me drag the coop out. But it was dark and I was tired of getting visitors to help me with the few tasks I couldn’t do on my own. Besides, I was almost looking forward to the challenge of getting it out there on my own.

Before I could get the coop into position, I had to disassemble the old chicken yard and add one last hog panel hoop. That was the big job. I tackled it on Tuesday, the only day this week forecasted to have good weather all day.

I started by pushing the coop out onto my concrete driveway apron. By this time, I’d replaced the wheels in the back with another set I’d bought. I didn’t want to spend a lot on them because they were temporary and they turned out to be pretty cheesy. But they worked, so I’m not complaining.

Coop on Driveway
Penny inspected the chicken coop once I got it out on the driveway. I had to move it about 80 feet on gravel to get it into position — and none of the wheels steered.

Then I got to work on deconstruction. I set up my GoPro and did a time-lapse. It’s kind of funny to watch, especially once the chickens get loose. I started by removing the panels I’d put in the top of the yard and then disassembling the panels. I didn’t want to spend time removing the wire fencing; I figured I’d do that later. I used my ATV to drag away anything too heavy to lift. (It’s a 600cc Yamaha Grizzly that I bought new in 1999 and it’s up to any task.) Once the panels were all out of the way, I added a third hoop and used wire-ties to fasten it to the one beside it. I completed the bottom frame so the entire yard was free-standing and quite sturdy.

Next I had to move the coop into position. None of the wheels steered so I had to roll it in one direction, then use the ATV to pull the front wheels one way or the other on the gravel, and then roll it again. The whole time, I was worried that one of the wheels would pop off. The rear wheels, which were not nearly as good as the ones I’d bought for the front, were really taking a beating. I had to reposition the ATV and the strap I was using to pull with quite a few times. It was slow-going but I wasn’t in a rush. It was important to get it into position before nightfall so the chickens would have a place to sleep.

Here’s the video. I tried to keep the chickens penned up, but they kept getting out. In the end, I just gave up.

Coop in Place

Coop in Place

Coop in Place
Three views of the chicken coop as I left it on Tuesday evening.

Once I had the coop in place, I removed the wheels and set them aside. I’ll store them for use on another project. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past three years, it’s that wheels make it a lot easier to move things.

I did a little work with chicken wire to fence in the far side of the porch. I also laid in most of the porch floor. But I didn’t have enough pressure-treated lumber to get the end framing and yard door done.

By that time, it was about 5 PM and I was completely exhausted. There was no way I’d be able to get the chickens in the yard and keep them there without a door. So I let them be. They wound up spending the night in their old coop. One of them even laid an egg in there.

Finishing Up

On Wednesday, it was cold and kind of nasty. I spent half a day writing blog posts while I waited for an inspector. I spent some time disassembling the old coop so the chickens couldn’t spend the night in it. When the inspector left, I ran out to do some errands. When I got back, the irrigation guy arrived to fix the water line, which had burst because of my outrageously high water pressure. While he worked on that, I set up my weather station. Then it started raining. Hard. That day was shot.

On Thursday, I went for a hike up in Leavenworth, ran a few errands on my way home — including getting the lumber I needed — and then went out again to help some friends with a catering job. It was dark when I got home, so that day was shot.

The chickens, during all this time, were free-range, scratching around the garden and under the bushes and in their new chicken yard. One of them started laying eggs under a sagebrush beside the driveway. At night, they went into their new coop. The first night they were in there, the rooster slept in the doorway with his head sticking out. I have no idea what that was all about.

On Friday afternoon, I was ready to finish up. My main goal was to get the yard fully enclosed so that the chickens could be secured. I framed out the doorway beside the coop. I closed the other side of the porch with chicken wire. And then I went inside to build the door. The old door had been a pallet and it was misshapen and falling apart. I wanted the new door to be sturdy and a perfect fit. I cut some of the wire fencing from the old chicken yard and nailed it into the door. But by that time it was raining and getting dark and I’d had enough for the day. I coaxed the chickens into their yard and used a scrap piece of plywood to close it up.

On Saturday, I did the job I’d been dreading: putting the metal sides on. Why did I dread it? Because I had to cut the metal. Corrugated metal is a real bitch to cut. After trying several methods, I’ve finally found one that works for me: a metal cutting blade in my jigsaw. The only drawback is that cutting it makes a gawdawful noise. Fortunately, I bought a set of ANC ear protectors. I pretty much wore them all day on Saturday.

Bit by bit, I got the metal cut. It was an odd day with a lot of moisture in the air and a series of rainbows, one after the other, appeared to the northwest and north throughout the day.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many rainbows in one day. And yeah, this one is a double.

I screwed each piece into place, feeling myself getting closer and closer to being done. Finally, the last piece was in place. I was done.

Finished Coop
Here’s how the coop looked when I finished up on Saturday. I draped some camouflage netting over one side to help provide some protection from the wind.

Or at least done enough for now. I’m still thinking of painting the exposed wood. But not this week.

The finished yard is 8 x 15 feet and tall enough for me to walk inside standing straight up. The eggs are accessible from the outside. The chicken’s food is under the porch roof where it’ll stay dry. There are enough perches inside for all six chickens — and hopefully for a few more next spring. The coop is solid, insulated, and protected from the elements.

I think I’d call this a win. It only took me three tries to get it right.

My New Weather Station

Getting the hyper-local weather information I crave.

I’ve always been interested in weather. Yes, I’m the kind of person who’d leave The Weather Channel on all day as background noise — in the days when they actually broadcast live weather information all day. And always know the most up-to-date weather sources. And have multiple weather apps on my mobile devices so I could check one against the other.

My Thirst for Weather Data

Not long after moving into my Arizona home in the late 1990s, I bought a solar powered wireless weather station. My future wasband mounted it on the roof of the shed near the horse corral and it beamed back weather information to a panel at my desk. For a while, I had it connected to a Windows PC I had — the software wasn’t Mac compatible in those days — and put live weather information on a Wickenburg website I ran. In 2003, when I got the fuel manager contract at Wickenburg airport, we moved the weather station there — it was far more reliable than the ancient setup in use. (Wickenburg now — finally — has an AWOS.) When I sold the contract, I included the weather station among the assets of the business. For all I know, it’s still there.

Although I didn’t miss the weather station much as life dragged on in Wickenburg, I definitely wished I had weather stations in Washington where I spent my summers starting in 2008. I get seriously tuned into the weather during cherry season, checking radar throughout the day and always knowing the forecast — from multiple sources — for the next three days. I dreamed of having portable, Internet-connected weather stations with accurate rain gauges and webcams so I could place them at each orchard when it was under contract. You see, I fly when it rains and knowing exactly when and how hard it was raining would benefit not only me, but also my clients. Trouble is, orchards aren’t usually in places where Internet access is available and the cost of a 3G/4G/LTE connection for each station was prohibitive.

Fast-forward to the late summer of 2013. I moved to a 10-acre lot I’d bought at the base of the basalt cliffs in Malaga, WA — a place I like to call Malaga Heights. From my aerie, I could see the weather coming and going from the southwest to northeast. With a new home base, I started thinking seriously about a weather station again.

Weather Station Options

Technology had moved forward in the ten years since I last owned a weather station. The main thing I wanted was the ability to monitor weather from anywhere in the world on my cell phone. I had some practical applications for this, but it was mostly just a desire to get hyperlocal weather information, live, anytime, from anywhere.

I did some research. I discovered that weather stations fell into four categories:

  • Basic home weather stations. These are the ones that put a panel in your house and one or more sensors outside that can broadcast data to the panel. I already had one of these — heck, I’ve had these forever. In 2013, when I was still living in my RV, it became extremely valuable for me to monitor temperatures during the winter at my water source and RV basement. But systems like these are extremely limited, not only in range but also in the available instruments. It’s usually just temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure.
  • Weather stations with limited connectivity. These are weather stations that have a full set of instruments for temperature, humidity, wind speed/direction, and rainfall, but they just send that information to nearby information panel. That’s what I had back in the early 2000s.
  • Weather stations with Internet connectivity. These are weather stations that have a full set of instruments for temperature, humidity, wind speed/direction, and rainfall, and they transmit data via the Internet, through wifi or a direct connection to a router. They often also transmit to a panel where the user can view data locally.
  • Weather stations with Internet connectivity and direct smartphone access. These are weather stations that have a full set of instruments for temperature, humidity, wind speed/direction, and rainfall, and can transmit data directly to the Internet as well as to a smartphone app. Again, they also often transmit to a panel where the user can view data locally.

My main goal was to be able to view current weather conditions for my home on my iPhone. This would make it possible for me to assess conditions for landing my helicopter, which lives in my garage. When I fly home and put it away, I need to land on a 9×9 platform parked on my driveway on the east side of my home. With very strong winds in the area, landing there is difficult — so difficult that I prefer to land at a secondary landing zone on the north side of my home. I can then wait until the wind dies down, fire the helicopter back up, and move it to the platform. I don’t have to do this often — I think I did it just twice in all of 2015 — but it’s nice to know what to expect at home before I arrive. What’s interesting is that when the wind is howling at the airport across the river, it’s often quite calm at my driveway. This is likely because of my home being sheltered on two sides by terrain. That’s one of the reasons I built it where I did.

So at first it looked as if I’d need that last type of weather station — the kind with an app to get the data on my phone. Unfortunately, the stations I found that met that criteria were quite expensive — in the $250+ range. And I really couldn’t justify the expense, especially when I seldom have a real need for that weather data. After all, I only take the helicopter out about 50 times a year and the streamers on poles on my deck offer a decent indication of wind conditions when I get here. (I also have an airport-style windsock, but I positioned it too far from my landing zone to be of any real use to me. Long story there.) Maybe I was just trying to use flying as excuse for a new weather station? Probably.

More research showed me that Internet-compatible weather stations could usually be set up with The Weather Underground website. I started exploring stations already online there. I found one down at Crescent Bar, not far from one of the orchards I provide cherry drying services to. I clicked a link to get more information about the Weather station there and learned that it was an Ambient Weather WS-1400-IP.

WunderMap of my area
The WunderMap of my area shows the personal weather stations (PWSs) in the area. I’ve marked the one in Quincy and mine as well as the official weather station at the airport.

I did some more research and found that two Ambient Weather stations would meet my needs if I went with the Weather Underground: that one and the Ambient Weather WS-1001-WIFI. The difference: the more expensive ($299) WS-1001 had a panel to monitor the weather inside the house and did not require an ethernet connection to my router while the less expensive WE-1400-IP ($159) could only be viewed from a Web page or app and required an ethernet connection to my router. Both had the same basic set of instruments and were equally easy to mount. Both also had a solar panel to keep the station’s batteries charged.

The Ambient Weather WS-1400-IP includes outdoor weather instruments mounted together in one cluster; an indoor temperature, humidity, and pressure sensor; and an ObserverIP receiver that must be connected to a router. The iPad and iPhone in this marketing photo apparently indicate that data can be seen on mobile devices after registering the station with the Weather Underground.

I was fortunate in that I planned to mount the station at my shed, which was about 100 feet from my building. The line-of-sight receiver would go in the window overlooking the shed by my desk, which was less than two feet from my router. So as far as the connection went, requiring an ethernet cable was not an inconvenience. So the question was: Is the viewing panel worth the extra $140? My answer was no. I bought the WS-1400-IP.

Setting It Up

Mast Kit
This mounting kit is perfect for mounting on the side of a building.

I wanted to mount the weather station on the side of my shed, preferably with all instruments above the sprinkler head I’d put up there for fire season protection. That meant I needed some mounting hardware. Rather than trying to rig up my own mount — and likely being frustrated every step of the way — I spent another $44 (with shipping) on the Ambient Weather EZ-30-12 Mounting Kit with Mast.

Assembling the weather station was pretty easy. All I had to do was attach the wind vane at the top and one of the two short mounting poles on the bottom. The crimped pole fit snugly into the top of the mast that came with the mounting kit. I added two batteries to the indoor sensor and set it on a shelf near my desk. I then connected the receiver’s DC adapter to an outlet and ethernet cable to one of the four LAN ports on my router. Done.

The next step was to register my PWS on the Weather Underground. The weather station’s manual provides the URL. I had to create an account and then provide some information about my location and the weather station. At the end of the process, I received a weather station identifier.

Next, I had to use the IPTOOL application on my Mac (a Windows version is also available, of course) to locate the weather station’s receiver on my network and connect. That opened a configuration page in my Web browser. I used that to enter the station ID provided by the Weather Underground, as well as my password on that system. I could use other settings pages to provide the station model number, time zone settings, and units of measure. The Live Data page showed a rather user-unfriendly table of data collected from the station.

The Weather Network configuration screen for my weather station lets me put in my Weather Underground ID.

Of course, since the weather station was still inside as I did all this, it registered inside temperatures and wacky wind readings as I moved it around. It was time to install it. I certainly didn’t want bad data going out on the network.

Installed Weather Station
The weather station is positioned just slightly above my fire season sprinkler head. I’ll need to raise it (or lower the sprinkler head) before next fire season.

My timing was good and bad: it had turned kind of nasty and was about to rain. That was good if I wanted to record rain information (which I did) but bad if I didn’t want to be on a ladder in the rain (which I didn’t). Still, I went out to the shed and climbed on the orchard ladder with a drill and impact driver and all the parts I needed. Within 15 minutes it was installed, level and pointed the right way. It’s not quite as tall as I’d hoped; in the future, I’ll likely add a second mast pole to raise it another three feet.

The rain started before I was done. I admit I was tickled to see it registering in the Live Data screen when I got inside. (I am such a weather geek.)

There was one more thing I needed to do — although I didn’t realize it until the next day. I thought the weather station would automatically adjust the pressure reading for my elevation of approximately 1550 feet above sea level. But when I realized that the readings were significantly lower than what they should have been, I did some additional research to see how I could fix it. The answer was to enter a relative pressure offset amount in the Calibration page of the weather stations settings. To do this, I needed an accurate pressure reading. I waited until the automated weather observation system at the airport just three miles away across the river updated and calculated the amount of offset to enter. I plugged that figure into the right box, updated the settings, and was good to go.

Viewing Weather Data

Weather Station Data
Here’s a snapshot of the display for my weather station as I wrote this blog post.

Although the Weather Underground claims it can take up to 24 hours to display a PWS on its site, mine was visible within an hour. It’s got its own page, which can be viewed by anyone at any time; I called it Malaga Heights. Here’s a screenshot of what you might see if you go to that link.

As you can see, there’s a lot of data, including current conditions pulled right from my PWS, sunrise and sunset times, moon information, and a radar map of my area. The current conditions are updated regularly; if you keep watching, you’ll see it change, especially if the wind is variable.

The weather history section summaries and graphs weather information for the day or a period you choose. As you can see, the temperature has been pretty steady on this overcast day, the wind really kicked up a few hours ago, and the pressure is falling. Solar radiation is likely measured for the solar cells on the station; it always rises after sunrise and drops back to zero by sunset.

WunderStation App on iPad
The WunderStation app on my iPad.

All of this information is also available in the various Weather Underground apps you can install on smartphones and tablets. For example, the WunderStation app on my iPad displays rearrangeable tiles of data that update automatically. I can even set up multiple PWSes in the app and switch from one to another with a swipe. Similarly, the Wunderground app on my iPhone displays information about any PWS, including my own. Both apps are free, and if you’re a Weather Underground member — a bargain at only $10/year — they’re also ad-free. (I hate ads).

But wait! There’s more! You can also install a “sticker” or widget on your website or blog. You can see the style I prefer at the top of this blog post; one that fits better in the sidebar appears at the bottom of the sidebar on every page.

What’s Next

Of course, all this is not enough for a true weather geek like me. The Weather Underground supports a PWS webcam.

I’ve had webcams on and off for years and would really like to have one here. After all, not only do I have an amazing view to share, but my view of the sky would clearly show weather conditions that would interest other weather geeks.

There’s always something new to add to a system, isn’t there?

The one that I know will be compatible with the system is the AmbientCamHD Outdoor WiFi WeatherCam. It has a few features I think I could use to create time-lapses. I’ve added it to my Amazon wish list, but I suspect I’ll likely break down and just buy it for myself before Christmas.

Some things I just can’t resist.

The Flying M Aerie on Google


Yesterday, I was looking up something on Google Maps and was thrilled to discover that they’d finally updated the satellite image in for my area to include my home. I can’t be sure of the exact date, but I estimate that this shot was from sometime in the spring, before things had really greened up and gardens had begun to grow.

I cropped the image to my exact property lines — on the east, north, and west, anyway. The southern boundary of my property is the road, so everything above (north) of the road is mine. It’s 10 acres.

My property, annotated
Here’s an annotated satellite view of my property; everything above (north of) the road is mine.

A few notes:

  • When giving people directions to my home, I tell them it’s two miles down the gravel road, on the left with the big green roof. Most people can’t miss it — unless they use Google Maps, which either directs them to the airport (for reasons I can’t quite understand) or to the house across the street two doors back from me. Yes, Google got the address wrong.
  • Lookout Point is where I’ve put a bench for looking out over the valley. My property drops off quite steeply just north of that. It offers sweeping views from the Mission Ridge Ski Resort southwest to the mouth of Rock Island Creek to the northeast.
  • Chicken coop is where my chickens live. I’ve just redone it for the third (and hopefully last) time. I have five hens and a rooster but hope to expand my flock in the spring.
  • I’m going to be planting a few more fruit trees near my home. So far, I have two struggling cherry trees, which were given to me by one of my clients. I think the grasshoppers took a real toll on them. I have enough room in that cleared out spot for about five fruit trees: cherry, apple, pear, and apricot. I’ll plant in the spring. Irrigation is already there.
  • The bee yard is on the far east end of my property where the property lines make it very narrow. Although they used to be much closer to my home, the east end is more convenient for road access. But the real reason I chose that spot is because it gets the most sun; with the cliffs to the south, direct sunlight is scarce in winter. The farther north you go, the more sunlight there is. This is a perfect spot.

I had an irrigation system installed earlier this month. It runs in two zones down my entire 1100 feet of road frontage. Last week, workers planted 25 Scouler’s Willow trees to the west of my driveway. This will give me privacy from the road and help keep the dust down. Because they are native willows, they require less water than the Austian willows so popular here. They’re only about 2-3 feet tall now, but they should grow to 30 feet or more, likely within 5 years.

On the east road frontage, I’ll be planting Ponderosa pine (which grow naturally in the cliffs) and aspen (which many of my neighbors have planted) in grove-like bunches. These trees, also on irrigation, will grow very tall very fast. I’m hoping they’ll help teach my black-hearted neighbors, whose house appears in the lower right of the satellite image above, how to mind their business. They should probably take lots of photos of their view now, before those native trees block it.

(On a side note, I never realized how close my neighbor’s house is to the talus basalt rocks at the base of the cliffs to the south. Hell, one good rock slide and their backyard will be full of boulders. Who would build so close to such a hazard, especially with all the talk of earthquakes possible in the Pacific Northwest? City slickers, I guess.)

One of the nice things about having so much undeveloped land is how much can be done with it. My five-year plan calls for planting either a small vineyard or orchard in the area between the bee yard and my driveway. I’m thinking of devoting 2-3 acres to it. There are a few hurdles I have to jump first, though. No rush — I have plenty of time to move forward — and it’s a hell of a lot easier to do when I don’t have to compromise with a cheap, risk-adverse “partner” every step of the way.

Old Satellite Image
Bing Maps still has an old satellite image of the area. This is the same crop shown above; you can barely see my driveway. Based on the construction status of my neighbor’s home, I think this one might be about three years old.

And on that note, isn’t it amazing to see what I’ve accomplished since buying this lot back in late July 2013? Back then, the only thing I had was a partial driveway. Now I’ve got a home. It took a lot of hard work and money to make it happen, but it’s been worth it.

Mushrooms in the North Cascades, Day 3: Cooking and Heading Home

Cooking with Kent.

The weather finally broke on Sunday morning. Although I love the sound of the rain more than the average person — a side-effect of being a desert dweller for so long — it was nice to not hear it that morning. I dressed, packed my bags, and made the hike down to the parking lot to stow them in my car.

Morning Sun Through Autumn TreesAfter nearly 40 hours of rain, it was a real pleasure to see the early morning sun shining through the trees, casting long shadows across the wooded trail.

As I walked to the Dining Hall for my morning coffee and a bit more time on that puzzle, low clouds lingered over the area. But by the time we’d finished breakfast, it had cleared considerably. I grabbed my camera and went for a walk on one of the short trails that wound through the woods alongside the lake right outside the Dining Hall. When the clouds parted over Pyramid Peak, I could see that there had been snow in the higher elevations — possibly the first snow of the season.

Pyramid Peak in Clouds
Although you can hardly see it in this shot, Pyramid Peak had a generous dusting of snow.

The Cooking Class

Culinary Setup
Kent’s cooking class setup.

Back in a small utility kitchen off the Dining Hall, Kent, the Learning Center chef, was preparing for the culinary part of the course. He’d set up a table and some chairs and gathered ingredients.

Mushroom Galette
Kent’s mushroom galette was not only delicious, but it had an incredibly flaky crust.

Chanterelle Mushrooms
Store-bought chanterelle mushrooms. Kent used them fresh, but also had some dried and powdered mushrooms for the sauce recipe.

Soon we were all gathered together again, watching, listening, and taking notes as he prepared several dishes featuring mushrooms: fresh mushroom pickles, a mushroom galette (pictured), mushroom sauce over pan fried pork tenderloin, mushroom risotto, and mushroom bruschetta. For most of these dishes, he used chanterelle mushrooms, although at least one recipe included a mix. While chanterelles can be found locally, the ones he used were store-bought because (1) it’s illegal to gather mushrooms in a national park (which is where we were) and (2) NCI rules require all ingredients to be obtained through suppliers to limit liability. (It would not have been nice if we were all poisoned because he picked the wrong mushrooms.) His presentation was a lot like watching a cooking show with the added bonuses of being able to ask questions and sample the food. By the time it was over, it was lunchtime but we were all too full to eat in the Dining Hall.

The Trip Home

Fall Color at the NCELC
I took one last shot from the parking lot as I left the Learning Center. It was a really beautiful day.

The course pretty much broke up after that. I’d already packed up my room and loaded my car so I said goodbye to Lee. The other two women in the course were going to try looking for mushrooms on the Rainy Lake trail on the way home and I was hoping to join them. But first I wanted to try photographing some of the reflections in Gorge Lake from the road farther west. So I took off that way, hoping to catch up with them on the road.

Unfortunately, the light wasn’t quite right for the shot I’d imagined. I turned around and headed east on the North Cascades Highway, making tracks. The road was pretty much dry and traffic was light and my Honda is no slug but despite my speed I was unable to catch up with them. And when I got to the Rainy Lake trailhead, it was absolutely packed, with cars stretched out the entrance road onto the main highway. (The longer and more popular Maple Pass Loop trail shares the parking lot.) I drove in optimistically and did find a parking spot, but I didn’t find my classmates. I was a bit disappointed, but not exactly shattered. I decided to do the hike to Rainy Lake again. Maybe I’d meet up with them along the way. Either way, I’d try to get the reflection shots I’d tried to get on Friday.

I didn’t meet up with them, although there were a few more people on the trail. The lake was glassy smooth but clouds had moved in. Still, I got a decent shot of the lake with reflections. Seems like I’ll have to keep trying to get it just right.

Rainy Lake Reflection
With the clouds gone, I could see the fresh snow atop the peaks around Rainy Lake. Can you see both waterfalls in this shot?

I only made one more stop on the way home: Washington Pass. The weather was turning cloudy again and the sky was gray. But there were quite a few people at the pass. I followed the short trail up to the overlook and gazed out at the rocky peaks covered with fresh snow. The yellow leaves or needles of aspen or larch (or both) trimmed the scenery like Bob Ross brushstrokes. Finding myself alone at the overlook for a few minutes, I composed an odd shot of a reflection in a puddle. (Seriously: I can’t get enough reflections in my photographs.)

Washington Pass At Washington Pass
Two shots from the Washington Pass overlook. It’s a shame it had turned into such a cloudy day.

Then it was back on the road, top down, headscarf on. I stopped for gas in Winthrop and kept going. The fall color was in full swing in the Methow Valley and it was a joy to drive through it.

After a stop to visit a friend in Chelan, I made my way home. I pulled into the driveway at about 8 PM. I had a lot of work to do around the house before catching the 5:40 AM flight to Seattle and Anchorage the next morning.

But that’s another story.

Summing Up

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. It was was great to be in such a beautiful place, surrounded by interesting, intelligent, and thoughtful people who are in tune with the environment and actually care.

It was also great to be “off the grid” for a few days — I had no cell phone coverage and minimal Internet access. I got a chance to keep up my journal and start some “mindfulness” exercises to help me focus on what’s around me. I need more experiences like this. I really look forward to next season when I can attend base camp there — hopefully with better weather — and get more hiking in.

As for mushroom hunting — well, I already made two forays into the forrest with friends since then, one successful and one not. I’m planning another mushroom hunt later this week and will report here about how I do.

Mushrooms in the North Cascades, Day 2: The Mushroom Hunt

Hunting for mushrooms on a very rainy day.

I was in the Dining Hall for coffee by 6:30 AM. Later, when breakfast was served at the buffet line, I was joined by a few classmates. Because we’d be going out into the field later that day, we made sandwiches and packed them up in bags to go.

Then it was back to the classroom for a discussion of what we’d be doing out in the field. The idea was to collect as many varieties of mushrooms as we could. Later, when we returned to the classroom, we’d try to identify them using a key Lee had for us.

Or course, it was still raining. The Learning Center staff brought out a bin of orange rain coats and rain pants. I took a pair of rain pants. I’d already snagged two plastic bread bags from the sandwich bar to put over my socks and under my hiking shoes. I was determined to keep my body warm and dry.

Mushrooms on a Tree

More Mushrooms

Puffy Mushrooms

Beefy Mushrooms

Rock Hard Mushroom
Here are some of the mushrooms I picked, in their natural habitat.

We headed down to the parking lot and loaded into a big van. Our mushroom hunt would be outside the town of Marblemount, a 45-minute drive. One of the NCI staff members — Derek, I think? — drove. We parked outside the gates for a seasonally closed campground, got out with our buckets, and, after another briefing by Lee, headed down the closed road. We would meet again at the van at 12:30.

I don’t think I’ve ever purposely walked in such a hard rain. It poured. I was warm and snug inside my raincoat and the bright orange rain pants and was really proud of my foresight to put those plastic bags over my socks. I probably would have frozen to death without them. I walked down the road, wandering into the thick, green undergrowth on either side, photographing and picking all kinds of mushrooms. Occasionally, I’d meet up with one of my classmates and spend a few minutes exploring with him or her. It was fun — believe it or not — despite the rain. The hour flew by quickly. When I checked my watch, I was very surprised to see that it was already 12:30. While my companion at the moment continued down the road, I headed back.

Some of my classmates were already there. The others straggled in. Soon we were almost all there. Almost. The one person who was missing was Derek — the guy with the keys for the locked van.

Long story short: time ticked by and Derek did not appear. We managed to flag down a car, which used its horn to try to signal Derek to return. No joy. Lee finally climbed on board for a ride back to Marblemount where there was either phone service or a phone. The rest of us stood out in the rain, speculating on what could have happened to Derek and how a search and rescue might work. The woods were too dense for us to look for him anywhere off the road and the remaining NCI staffer with us didn’t want us out of his sight. But at 2 PM, we saw an orange slicker and rain pants heading up the road, carrying a basket of mushrooms. It was Derek and he’d simply gotten lost. He’d been gone a full 2-1/2 hours.

We were so happy to see him that we didn’t give him the grief he probably deserved. (We did tease him for the rest of the weekend.) He let us into the van and we made a mad dash for our packed lunches. We ate on the way back to Marblemount, where we found Lee and canceled our rescue request with the folks at the Learning Center.

Moss on a Metal Post
You know a place gets a lot of rain when moss can grow like this on a metal post four feet off the ground.

Meanwhile, I was quite wet, even under my raincoat. The wetness had found its way under my arms and seeped in at the seams for my sleeves. As a result, the underside of my shirt’s arms were soaked. (How weird is that?)

Back at the Learning Center, we went back to the dorms for hot showers and a change of clothes. It felt good to be in warm, dry clothes again. Unfortunately, I’d only brought one pair of shoes and they were absolutely soaked through. So I wore my slippers when we gathered in the classroom a while later, being careful to avoid puddles to keep them dry.

In the classroom, we laid out our finds on big sheets of white paper. I thought I had a good variety until I saw what my classmates had brought back. One of them had even managed to find a few pounds of chanterelles — a highly prized edible mushroom.

My Mushrooms
Here are the mushrooms I found.

Tiny Mushroom
I might have won the prize for tiniest mushroom brought back. I’ve included my pen point for scale.

We walked around looking at each other’s finds. Then we worked with a key Lee had to try to identify the mushroom groups. A key is basically a decision tree in table format. You find the first identifying feature — in this case, spore color, which Lee provided — and then check other features down the appropriate column(s) to find a match for gills, stems, attachments, habitat, and textures. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the key, mostly because you need to do a spore print to get spore color to use it, but I’m no expert (and likely never will be) and I assume it was pretty typical.

After running through a few identification exercises, the group broke up and went back to the dorm for wine. I stayed behind, mostly because I didn’t think my slippers would survive with the extra walk to the dorms and back. Instead, I went down to the Dining Hall and got comfortable with a cup of hot tea and my journal. Someone had started a jigsaw puzzle and left it abandoned on a table and I worked on that for a while.

Mushroom Dessert
No mushrooms were harmed in the preparation of this dessert.

When the group came back, it was dinner time. Although I don’t remember the main course, I’ll never forget the dessert: a chocolate and meringue treat designed to look like a log covered with mushrooms. It was very tasty!

Afterwards, it was back to the classroom for more identification practice. We were at it until after 9 PM again. Then back to my room where I slept like a log.