Construction, Day 27: Finishing the Front Wall, Framing the Deck

A lot done in one day.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

I’m way behind on my construction project blogging. Part of reason for that is because construction really slowed down around the time they prepped to put in the concrete. As a result, there isn’t much to report.

But a lot of work was done on July 2.

The workers arrived bright and early and got right to work on the side deck. They’re framing the deck — not finishing it — but it’s still quite a task considering its 58-foot length.

Before lunch, they moved around to the front deck and got started on it. But they couldn’t really get into it until the missing metal pieces arrived. That happened around noon and they spent much of the afternoon removing the temporary pieces and putting in the correct ones.

The last thing they did was to close up the big RV garage doorway. With the help of a bunch of friends, I’d moved all of my worldly possessions into the building on June 28. At that time, the building had no garage doors. The four smaller garage doors were put up on Monday. But the big garage door was still on order and not expected until July 15. That meant I had absolutely no way to secure my home. Someone could drive up with a truck while I was running errands in town or on a cherry drying flight, back right into the big door, load up, and take off.

Yes, the chances of that happening were very slim. But there was still a chance.

The builders remedied the problem by building a solid (although not very attractive) wooden wall across the bottom of the doorway with heavy duty plastic sheeting across the top to keep out rain. That’s what occupied the crew at the end of Day 27. When they left, my building was pretty much secure.

Building Front on July 2
When the builders left on July 2, the metal on the front of my building matched and the big doorway was secured with a temporary wall.

Traegered Chicken
Another day, another meal from my Traeger. This was a locally raised and butchered free-range chicken that turned out very tasty indeed.

Later, when the builders had gone, the guy I hired to do the living space framing showed up with his bid. He made the fatal error of hanging around longer than he needed to — any strong pairs of arms that spend idle time at my place are soon put to work helping me move heavy items. He helped me move my dining table from where my friends had put it in the back of the RV garage into one of the garage bays. When he left, I set up chairs around it, opened the garage door, and hosted a dinner party for four friends on my dining table for the first time: smoked local chicken and grilled pork tenderloin.

Here’s the time-lapse from the day’s work.

The Rattlesnake Living Under My Shed

Is not living there anymore.

My first encounter with a rattlesnake on my property happened about two months ago.

Back then, the grass and weeds that cover my property, which I allow to grow naturally long, was still green and there were still plenty of wildflowers for my bees. I’d mowed a path to Lookout Point and to my beehives and close to my RV, but the rest was tall — some of it more than 3 feet tall! — and I saw no reason to cut it back until it died and became a wildfire hazard.

Until I saw the snake.

It was slithering out of the weeds on a direct path to my RV, probably attracted by the shade beneath it. I looked at it carefully to determine what kind of snake it was. Bull snakes, which are common around here, are friends. They eat rodents and rattlesnakes. But rattlesnakes are enemies, especially since I wasn’t 100% confident of Penny’s Arizona rattlesnake avoidance training, which was now more than a year in her past.

Unfortunately, it was a rattlesnake.

Not having a weapon handy and not wanting the damn thing under my RV, I reached down into my poor man’s hot tub, which I’d set up just the day before, and splashed water toward it. It made an about-face and headed back into the tall weeds. I got Penny into the RV, grabbed a heavy piece of scrap wood, and went after it. I tossed the wood onto it. It struck, but not hard enough to kill. The snake took off into the thick weeds over my septic field.

Later that week, I did what I should have done when I bought the place last year: I bought a shotgun and bird shot shells. Yeah, it might be overkill, but any kind of kill would make me happy. The next time I saw it near the RV, all I needed to do was grab the gun, load it with a shell from the open box nearby, and blow the snake’s brains — and everything else — out. The birds would take care of the rest.

That was the plan, anyway.

In the meantime, I mowed. As the green grass and weeds dried and the flowers feeding my bees died, I mowed them away to create a defensible space — not only for wildfire threats, which are very real here in the summer, but for rattlesnake threats. I wanted to see them coming.

About two or three weeks later, I came outside around dusk to take out the trash. I keep my trash can near my shed. As I passed the temporary water spigot, I noted a hole in the ground that I assumed was from a mouse. I stomped it to close it up and heard a rattle.

I think I must have jumped 5 feet backwards. The snake had been curled up near where I stomped and right after rattling, he took off, under the shed. The shed has a porch and the front part was open underneath at the time. Before I could gather my wits after such a scare, the snake was gone.

Not good. Did he live under there? Had he come out of the hole I’d stomped? Did he have friends?

Needless to say, I was a lot more careful when walking around in the evening.

About two weeks ago, while repositioning some of my pallets from behind my shed for use inside my building, I caught a glimpse of a snake slithering away, under my shed. This time I had time to see and count the rattles on its tail — just 3 or 4 of them. A youngster. Anyone who knows anything about rattlesnakes is aware of the theory that they’re the most dangerous.

Of course, there was no way to reach him and I wasn’t about to start firing a shotgun into the small space under the shed. I took measures to block the openings as best as I could. With skids on two sides of the little building and a new concrete platform out front, there was only one way in or out: the back. I closed up as much of it as possible, thus forcing the snake to come and go through a much smaller opening, as far away from my garden as possible.

Peacefully co-exist. That’s what one of my Facebook friends said when I mentioned the snake living under the shed.

I liked the idea. When I lived in Arizona a rattlesnake lived under my chicken coop for a while. It didn’t bother the chickens and the chickens apparently didn’t bother it. And that year, there were no mice in the adjoining feed shed. If the snake stayed under the shed most of the time and just came out to hunt and stayed away from Penny and my chickens and my garden — well, that would be okay.

But that was a lot of ifs.

Too many, apparently.

This morning, one of my chickens was dead. She’s the second to die of the original eight that I bought. As I started moving around equipment to get my ATV out for her “burial” at the far end of my property, I started wondering what had killed her. Had the snake come over to the chicken coop for a visit? Had they fought? Did a snakebite kill her? No matter how much I hoped that wasn’t the case, I had to admit that it was possible.

And then, when I saw the rattlesnake coiled up under where my little farm trailer had been parked only moments before, it became pretty obvious that the snake was not willing to peacefully co-exist with us.

I didn’t need the shotgun. I was holding a shovel.

As the snake stretched out and headed toward the back of the shed, I brought the sharp edge of the shovel down violently, cutting through the snake’s body. Again. And again. The snake was still moving, but it was pretty much cut into four pieces. Guts were coming out.

My First Kill
My friend Bob was right: who needs a shotgun when you have a shovel?

It was still moving when I used the shovel to scoop it into the recycling garbage pail sitting nearby. It’s a deep pail; I didn’t want the snake somehow getting out.

Then I went into the chicken yard and used the shovel to scoop up the dead chicken. After all, that’s why I’d been holding a shovel in the first place. I dumped the chicken onto the snake, put the pail in the back of my ATV, and headed out to the far east end of my property, which is where I left the first chicken who died. This spot is far enough from where I live that I don’t have to worry about Penny finding them. I dumped them unceremoniously in the same spot; scavengers would take care of cleanup, probably within 24 hours.

Is that the only rattlesnake around here? Probably not. A friend of mine claims they always come in pairs — although I can’t say I agree. I’ve seen solitary rattlesnakes before.

I am sure, however, that the one I killed today is the same one that was apparently living under the shed. Same size, same number of rattles. It’s a load off my mind, anyway.

Too bad about the chicken.

Sunrise from Lookout Point

When was the last time you sat quietly to watch a day being born?

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that about a year ago, I bought 10 acres of view property sitting on a shelf at the base of some basalt cliffs in Malaga, WA. I’m a view person and its the view that sold me on the land. From the spot where I had my building constructed this summer, I can see all of Malaga and most of East Wenatchee and Wenatchee, including the Columbia River which runs between them. There are grassy, sage-studded hills, small lakes, orchards, snow-covered peaks, and dramatic cliff faces, with a scattering of homes nearby and the more populated Wenatchee area in the distance.

My Bench at Lookout Point
Looking back at my future home from the bench at Lookout Point. See the tiny dog curled up on the right seat?

But a short walk a bit farther to the north, to the point just before my land drops down off a steep hill, takes me to what I’ve begun calling “Lookout Point.” It has a 270° (at least) view that also takes in Mission Ridge and the mouth of Lower Moses Coulee. When I bought a used shed last autumn and found a crude bench in it, the obvious place to put it was at Lookout Point. I fixed it up with a coat of paint and bought new cushions for it. I often sit out there in the evening with a glass of wine to watch the sun set.

The View from Lookout Point
There’s nothing special about the bench; it’s what’s in front of the bench that’s amazing.

I woke up this morning shortly before 5 AM. It was already light out — it gets light very early here in the summer — and rather than turn on the radio and have my coffee at my desk while listening to the news on NPR — as I too often do — I decided to have my coffee out at Lookout Point.

I think it was the sight of the pickers driving into the cherry orchard below me that triggered the idea. Two or three summers ago, when I lived at a friend’s building site in Wenatchee Heights, I used to sit out on his unfinished deck at dawn, watching the pickers getting to work in the orchard across the road. The deck was close enough to the orchard that I could hear the dull clunk of cherries hitting the bottom of the picking buckets as pickers started work.

Anyway, I took my coffee and headed out, leaving the door to my RV open behind me. Penny the Tiny Dog was still asleep on my bed, but I suspected that she’d follow me out if she sensed I was leaving. Sure enough, I was halfway down to the bench when I saw her following on the path behind me. When I sat down, she jumped up onto the seat beside mine, curled up, and went back to sleep.

The sky on the horizon to the northwest was pink; the sun was just touching the tops of distant snow-covered peaks. The valley was still in the shadows.

I sat quietly and listened. I could hear the whine of a sprayer in a nearby orchard. It was a sound you learn to live with here — during the growing season, they start as early as 4 AM and, depending on what they’re spraying and what the weather is like, they could continue all day long. Fortunately, none of the orchards are close enough that the sound becomes a nuisance.

Predawn from Lookout Point
The sun was just kissing the snow-covered peaks when I sat down at the bench.

Golden Basalt
I love the way first light and last light makes the cliffs behind my home glow with a golden light.

Sprayer in Orchard
You can easily see a sprayer from above — the cloud of chemicals is hard to miss. Sometimes, when I’m flying, I’ll see dozens of them at work in orchards all around me.

Sunrise
The sun broke over the horizon at exactly 5:30 AM.

Morning Light
I watched the golden morning light creep down the landscape. Can you see my shadow on the left?

Wenatchee Valley in Shadows
But while I was in full sun, the Wenatchee Valley was still in shadows. The sun wouldn’t hit them for another 30 minutes or so.

Off in the distance, I heard another familiar sound: a spray helicopter. I didn’t see it, but I suspect it was working out to the west, either on Stemilt Hill or Wenatchee Heights. I wondered what the people living in that area thought about helicopters doing extended spray operations near their homes at 5 AM.

Closer, I heard tools clanking where the pickers had gone. Maybe ladders being repositioned? Or bin trailers being hooked up to tractors?

Occasionally, a bird cannon fired. These propane-powered devices emit a sound a bit like a shotgun every few minutes to scare birds off the ripening cherries. Like the sprayers, bird cannons are a seasonal sound that lasts only as long as red cherries are on the trees. By July month-end, the orchards in my area will have been all picked and the bird cannons will be put away until next year.

Across the river, the sound of a motorcycle on route 28 drifted up on a breeze. And then a truck. I can sometimes hear trains on my side of the river, but none seemed to go by.

Birds — I heard them, too. Song birds greeting the day. Robins, magpies, quail.

One of my bees flew over to the bench and poked around. Maybe she thought my purple tank top was some sort of enormous flower that had blossomed overnight. Penny, bothered by the close buzzing, sat up. It wasn’t until she lunged at the bee that it flew away.

Meanwhile, the earth rotated toward the east and the sky got brighter and brighter. A golden light reached out and touched the basalt cliffs behind me. Then it began creeping down from the mountains and cliffs and hillsides, bathing everything it touched with a golden light.

The new day was born.

Bunch Grass in First Light
Bunch grass in first light.

It’s funny, but when some people watch a sunrise or sunset, they look at the sun. But that’s not where the show is. The show is in the opposite direction, where the changing light makes deep shadows and glowing highlights on the things we see every day.

I watched the light shine on everything around me. I especially liked the way it touched the tips of the bunch grass I’d left long around Lookout Point.

The light spread like a carpet over the earth. Shadows filled in with light. The magic of first light faded quickly at Lookout Point. Too quickly. I wished it could last all day.

Dawn in Malaga
A new day is born.

As I sat there with Penny, savoring the last few minutes of the sunrise, I thought back to sunrises I’d experienced years ago. Back when I was in my early 20s, I’d dated a man who liked sunrises as much as I do. I distinctly remember waking up very early one morning and driving through the darkness to Montauk Point out on Long Island in New York. We found a rock to sit on and sat close together, looking out toward the brightness of the eastern horizon while waves crashed gently on the shore. If I think hard enough, I can remember — or at least imagine — the way the sun’s first light felt warm on my skin and the way his body felt comfortably close to mine. Afterward, we lay back on that big, flat rock and I fell asleep in his arms.

I miss moments like that, long gone and likely forgotten by the man I shared them with. Over the years, he grew and changed. Like so many of us, he forgot about the simple beauty of a sunrise and the wonder of a day being born, caught up instead with chasing the almighty dollar and keeping up appearances for people who really don’t matter. His loss — but he probably doesn’t even realize it.

Are you guilty of that, too? Be honest with yourself. I think I was, at least for a while.

I think that moving here has helped me reconnect with the simple things in life — getting back in tune with nature, stopping to look and listen and experience my surroundings. Gone are the days when I spent too much time commuting between two homes and dealing with the noise and crowds of a city I never really wanted to live in. Last night, I enjoyed squash from my garden; this morning, I ate cherries I picked yesterday with yogurt I made the day before. My chickens will soon be laying eggs; I can’t wait to make my special pound cake with those rich fresh eggs and butter. I’ll fill the hummingbird feeder in a while and check my bee hives for capped honey frames. Maybe I’ll head down into town for lunch with some friends.

Life is what you make it and my life is good.

A $500 Hamburger

A friend takes me out for lunch…and I provide transportation.

I’m not blogging much about flying lately. That might be because I’m not doing much flying. Although cherry season rains kept me pretty busy the last week of June, dry weather leaves my helicopter idle. I don’t promote my charter or wine tour services during the summer because I’d hate to have to cancel a flight if the weather got iffy. Cherries always come first during cherry season.

But people do find me. I got a call on Saturday about doing a birthday flight on Sunday. They have a summer home at Crescent Bar and wanted to tour the river between the Gorge Amphitheater and Orondo. It was a nice day with no rain in the forecast, so I booked it for 11 AM.

Happy Passengers
I like happy passengers — and these folks were happy!

The passengers were lucky, although I don’t think they realized it. I have a 1-hour minimum for all of my charter flights and that’s what I charged them for. But I bet we were out for at least 15 minutes more. Not only did we tour the areas they wanted to see, but we happened to pass by the Appleyard just as one of the fire helicopters was descending to dip for the Skyline Drive fire. I maneuvered to stay out of his way, then turned so my passengers could watch him dip from the air. Cool.

Blustery's
Blustery’s. Drive-in or fly in. Whatever works.

Meanwhile, I figured that while I had the helicopter out and about, I might as well do a little pleasure flight. I’d called my friend Bob at about 10 AM and had asked him what he was doing for lunch. When he said he didn’t know, I told him I knew: he was buying me a burger at Blustery’s in Vantage and we’d go there by helicopter. He should meet me at the airport at 12:30 PM.

He arrived at 12:30 sharp, just as my passengers were driving off for the rest of their birthday activities. Because of the heat, I told him I wanted to take off my door and asked if he wanted his off, too. “Sure!” was his enthusiastic reply.

A short while later, we were taking off into the wind, then turning a right downwind to meet up with the river at Rock Island. Bob was loving the flight — he hadn’t been aboard a helicopter in years. We crossed over the power lines near the mouth of Lower Moses Coulee — the road to Palisades, as the locals refer to it — and dropped down lower over the river. The water was low because of the repairs in progress downriver at the Wanapum Dam. All of the river access had been closed between the Wanapum and Rock Island Dams and PUD security crews were patrolling by boat and jet ski. (Talk about a dream job: being paid to ride a jet ski up and down the Columbia River all day.) Of course, since we weren’t on the water surface or shore, it wasn’t closed to us. We got a good look at the land that’s usually under water, including formerly submerged roads, building foundations, and orchards.

We went all the way down to the dam and made a wide arc past it. Bob wanted to know if the folks on the ground could get in touch with me. I explained that they couldn’t without looking up my N-number, which is large enough to see from the ground. But we didn’t pose a security risk. We were flying too far from the dam and our pattern was clearly that of a tourist. Bob knew about a friend of mine who’d gotten in trouble with the NSA when he did a photo shoot over a train yard. I explained how our flight was different. Now if we’d been loitering without calling ahead — well that would have been a big mistake.

We headed up the west side of the river. I circled my intended landing zone — a large paved parking area on the southwest side of Blustery’s — and made my approach from the east. I touched down as gently as I could on the rough pavement, noting the slight slope. Only one or two people seemed to notice a helicopter landing back there — it really doesn’t make all that much noise when it’s on the ground idling. I gave it an extra minute to cool down — it was running very hot — and killed the engine.

I shot a quick photo before we went inside.

At Blustery's in Vantage
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven past or flown over this LZ before I finally landed here. It was perfect!

I’m not sure if the girls at the counter inside knew we’d arrived by helicopter. They had a drive-in window that faced it so they must have seen it out there. But they played it cool.

I ordered a burger and a shake. Bob ordered a chicken sandwich. We took a table by the window and spent an hour just eating and talking.

It was about 2 PM when we finally climbed back on board. I wasn’t in any hurry to get back, so we took a scenic route up Frenchman’s Coulee, past Cave B and the Gorge Amphitheater, over Quincy Lakes, past the Coluckum Ridge Golf course where two pilot friends are staying, past Beaumont Cellars, and over Crescent Bar. When I shot out over the Babcock Ridge, I think I spooked Bob a bit; he asked, “Don’t you feel it in your gut when the ground just falls away like that?” I told him I’d done it so many times that it didn’t bother me anymore.

I took a shortcut over the wheat fields to Lower Moses Coulee, where Bob and I had gone motorcycling on Friday. The road was straighter and flatter than where I usually like to ride, but it was a good outing together — a great way to learn more about the kind of riding he likes to do. (I’m wondering if he’ll be able to keep up with me on the twisties and hope to make a ride up the Entiat with him soon. My last riding companion there lost me after the first mile.)

I cut up Douglas Canyon, following the creek instead of the road up to Waterville. Once up on the plateau, I poked around, exploring deserted homestead sites and abandoned farm equipment from the air. Then I steered us over Badger Mountain. The earth fell away again when I came over the cliffs just 4 miles north of Wenatchee Airport and we started a 1300 feet per minute descent, keeping a sharp lookout for gliders.

We’d flown a total of 1.6 hours.

I really needed a fun day out in the helicopter — anything other than hovering over cherries trees for hours on end — and Bob enjoyed it, too. He was still talking about it today when I stopped by his place to pick up some tools he had for me. I really enjoy flying with a companion — especially one who appreciates the novelty of a fly-in lunch and exploring a well-known path from the air.

As for Blustery’s — well, just as I offered “The Hamburger in the Middle of Nowhere” when I lived in Arizona, I’m thinking of offering “The $500 Hamburger” here in Washington. I’m willing to bet the folks at Bustery’s will appreciate me dropping in again.

Construction, Day 26: Deck Framing Begins

A short day with a new work crew.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

It was nearly 11 AM on Tuesday when a new work crew showed up. Angel and his crew, who had done most of the work, had started a job up in Winthrop, about 90 miles away. The last time I saw Angel, he’d told me about how they camped out up there and partied every night. Corey told me they went fishing, too. It seemed like a lot more fun than they’d had at my job site.

This crew would be framing out the deck. They arrived, spent some time waiting around for the boss, got the directions they needed, and got to work.

Rainier and Bings
Because Bing cherries are not self-pollinating, they are often planted with another cherry variety; in this case, Rainiers.

I was out again so I missed most of the action. I spent the morning with Gary, a pilot who was working for me in Quincy, and his wife Lori. We’d gone out to an early breakfast and then toured an orchard while picking was going on. My client met us there and said some nice things about me to my companions before answering all their questions about growing cherries. Afterward, we tried to take the boat out but it was having battery issues; I guess it’s time to replace Ron’s battery.

The time-lapse camera was running, and that’s how I know how long the workers were here and what they did. It was a short day and they didn’t get much done. But they did start work on the side deck; work on the front deck has to wait until the two missing pieces of metal arrive and are installed.

Here’s the time-lapse: