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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Interesting Moments

It's interesting, life out here in the middle of the woods. Usually things have been pretty darn smooth for us on Cascade Bluff. Challenging, but that's okay, gives us an excuse to have a blog, for one, and to invest in cool things like tracks for the Jeep, for another... 

But this trip, which started on Feb 8th, about a week ago, has had some interesting moments. Like yesterday, when we encountered some technical difficulties with our hot tub. 

Some not recent pix of the Snorkel Tub

First, a primer on wood-fired hot tubs. Ours is called a Snorkel Tub, basically an enormous wooden tank, 6 ft in diameter and a bit over 4 ft deep. Do the math, pi r squared and all that and you will see it is over 800 gallons of water. Up here off the grid, moving lots of water out of our well means a very big electrical debt, so we don't pump 800 gallons unless the sun is brightly shining or we were planning to run the generator anyway.  The stove is made of aluminum, which doesn't rust. It sits submerged under the water off to one side. The tub inhabitants (us) are protected from the stove by a wood fence. You fill the stove from the top and fire it up, making sure that the water level is always over the top of the stove (so that aluminum doesn't get too hot and melt... yikes!) In balmy weather it takes 4 to 6 hours of good stoking and stirring to get it ready for use. In the winter...well, a bit longer. As much as 2 days when it is around zero F. And to keep the wood moist, one must always leave some water in the bottom of the tub, winter, spring, summer, fall, or the wood sides of the tank dry out and shrink, and the gaps between the planks open up and the darned thing is more like a sieve than a tub. We had dutifully scrubbed 'er out with bleach after our last use in Jan, rinsed and added 6 inches of water to the tank, covered it up and drove to the metro area. Then we arrived back last week and as expected, found 6.48 inches of solid ice (accounting for the expansion of ice vs water... just for your benefit, Matt!) on the bottom of the wooden tub. (How ice keeps the wood 'moist' is beyond me, but it seems to work... When we have omitted that part, the result cannot rightfully be called a tub, but a leaky mess.)

 So, back to yesterday. We had filled and fired up the hot tub the day before (it was rrrreallly cold and reeeaallly wwwwinnnddddy the two days before that, not pleasant tub weather) on a bright sunny day, and diligently stoked til nightfall, figuring we'd start up in the morning and have it ready by midday at the latest. After a day of stoking, the water on top was pretty darn hot, in the range of 120-130. But we could still see ice on the bottom, and the temp down there was more like 60. No worries, we put the double thermal covers on and called it a night. 

Morning got busy and we didn't get out to stoke the stove til around 11 am. I'd brought over a big load of wood and was ready to get started when I noticed that the water level had dropped about 12 to 18 inches! The top of the stove was now exposed, and I could hear the telltale sound of tinkling water. There was still a thinner layer of ice on the bottom... rats! I checked the outlet pipe, which we've diverted into a flexible drain hose, and sure enough water was draining out. 

Now how the heck had that happened? We had not TOUCHED the tub plug, which, when the tub is full, you access by yanking on a rope. No chance of just nudging it and loosening it, you have to yank hard. The only thing we could imagine was that the ice had indeed melted but only partway, and had partly dislodged the rubber stopper. Val's face was grim as she started to take off her boots in preparation for the big shivery plunge into lukewarm water  with an air temp of 20F to investigate... But I stopped her, and we decided to try something else. We refilled the tub fully, then fired it up and stoked and stoked... and voila --- no more leaking! Today, the water level was steady as she goes, and the temp rose to 106 top and bottom after mixing for a nice evening soak. As we prepared to get in, another interesting moment occurred as one of the three wood benches (bolted to the inside) floated up to the top! Obviously some torquing of the interior had occurred. We cautiously got in, inspecting the bottom for loose screws (found none) and heard the water tinkle out for a few minutes. Had our weight shifted the bottom? (Compared to 800 gallons of water, not sure that's plausible.) Using our big toes we wedged the rubber plug in tightly, leaked stopped, and all seems stable... for now. We plan to drain and inspect tomorrow... 

Still not sure what happened to cause the original leak... any ideas, out there, those who have hot tubs like ours? Gotta be somebody else out there nuts enough to have a set up like this in ice country... Then again, maybe not...

So then today, on a cloudy no solar PV gain day, our reliable Kohler refurbished tractor engine propane fired generator decided to refuse to start in the usual way, using the controller for the solar system. 

Karla the Kohler Generator
We've managed to coax it back to life with a bit of nudging and tweaking using the generator starter, but are not generally amused by this sort of thing... After running for enough time to charge up our batteries, all seems to be back to normal... We see the weather forecast for cloudy days for a while and would feel a mite more confident if old Karla the Kohler here had just behaved herself. Might be a dead battery... a call has gone in to Randy the Wonder Generator Dude (and his dog marvelous Morgan, of course...) and we hope to get some answers soon. 

The next interesting moment is also a mystery. Who, we wonder, is our latest four-footed visitor at Cascade Bluff? Here is his... her... its... paw print in the snow, from right in the middle of one of our trails... 'Our trail', we realize, is a misnomer as we are surrounded by wolves, deer, moose, pine martens, grouse, foxes and who knows what else, and they all seem to like our trails... But this one has us very curious! 


Of course that one photo doesn't tell you much... so check this out! 

This print is not small, in other words! It was longer than my hand from palm to fingertip, at least 7 or 8 inches. So, like normal middle aged women, we referred to our useful animal track guide, which we of course just happen to have on hand...

...and though I failed to get a decent, in-focus picture of the page showing prints of the creature in question, we also (being modern ladies of the wilderness, with internet access) asked Dr. Google... and found this...

Not in snow, and looks like a guy's hand and thus bigger than my latex glove size 7 mitt... but am I crazy, or doesn't THIS look similar to ours? 

And guess what THIS is? A black bear. Now of course we have bears here, we've seen them and their berry-filled scat... But in February?? Ain't them fellas all supposed to be sleeping?? The weather has been strange this year, but is anyone else aware of bears already waking up and roaming about? Inquiring minds would surely like to know!  And anyone who is really woodsy and competent at identifying tracks, let us know what you think!

And in the meantime we are hoping NOT to see a few of the following images in the next week... (and sort of hoping that we will, of course!)

"Hi! What's for lunch?"

"See that ugly two legged thing with the camera, kids? That's your afternoon snack..." 

"Ha ha ha ha... You humans look so funny when you're running!"

Will be blogging again soon... and hopefully more interesting things to report!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Lost an old friend today

 We have sad news to report from Bloomington, 270 miles south of Cascade Bluff. Our old buddy, Alexander the Great, our grey tabby cat, 13 years old this spring, went to join his brother Oscar and his foster-mom, Lucy, today. 

Alex, AKA "Big Al" or "The Grey Boy" or "Rosie's Boy Toy" was diagnosed with kidney failure almost 6 years ago, made lots worse by an abscessed tooth and the loss of his favorite Mama-Cat, Lucy, who mothered anything and anyone who would sit still. The tooth came out and he perked up and we decided to never check his kidney function again... too traumatic. Not alot to do about it but restrict his diet (NOT--he was the biggest beggar on the planet!) and make sure he drank lots of water. Which he did... until the last couple of weeks. Here he is recently looking quite bedraggled and glassy-eyed... 

"Where'd my brudder go? I miss him..."

Rosie is hardly the maternal type, but even the lady devil cat seemed to sense that her adopted big brother (with the tail she loved to catch and bite) wasn't feeling so hot... 

We erred on the side of mercy and advocated for our old friend today. 

We'll sure miss ya, buddy!