Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Building a Debris Hut

Sunday's weather was very different from Saturday, the wind was blowing harder, and it was cold. Bill and Steve were joining me for a class on making a debris hut at Earth Village Education. just down the road from my house in Marshall, I pulled on 4 layers of clothing and boots and slung my G15 round my neck.
Earth Village Education is a non profit education center that teaches people primitive skills, They've only really just got going and this particular event was a free workshop. We met with the organizers along with 11 other attendees.
Kevin making hot apple cider for us all to enjoy later when we'd take a break.
Tom, our instructor, was very informative and after we'd learned about the school itself we got straight down to getting our shelter built, with some help from his wonderful woofer, Cora.
He told us that clothing was the first line of shelter and I was certainly glad of my 4 layers. Layering allows the body to regulate its temperature by removing and adding layers as needed. Sweating isn't wanted as it cools the body down. He told us wool is the best material, being quiet and non-reflective, unlike today's many man made materials, and it's durable, plus able to still keep you warm when wet. He then proceeded to pack his jacket full of leaves, adding yet another layer, but one, I thought, which would be very noisy!
Tom even told us that if we ever broke down in a car to never leave it. It's the first line of shelter and can even be packed with leaves to help maintain warmth. Plus car seats can be cut open and the foam inside used as insulation..
For our debris hut we picked a spot that was high and dry. Not too high where winds would be invasive, or too low where we could get flooded. We also looked up around for 'widow maker' dead branches in the trees above us.
The first branch we needed was a 'ridge line' Tom found this and cut it to size, using me for measuring the length needed and as the guinea pig for whom the hut would be made.
After using two more branches with 'V's to support it, but only at crotch height as the higher the hut, the more body heat would be needed to warm it, we were sent off to find branches for the sides.
We placed these along both sides and then heaped leaves on top, often stuffing them into the branches. A good arm's depth is required. Then we placed more sticks on top to weight down the leaves and stop them blowing away. Pine needles can also be used instead if available as can bark if there's a lot of poplar trees about. We then stuffed the inside of the hut with leaves, as much as could be pushed in, and then I had to burrow in, feet first.
I had to get in as far as I could and then pack down the leaves. Once out, more leaves were stuffed in and I had to go back inside and resume packing down. It was cozy and toasty in there. I would've loved to have laid down and snoozed while they finished the class. As well as leaves inside, thin cedar branches make a great base for bedding as they repel insects. And pine needles add warmth although Bill told Steve and I later that these often housed chiggers.
Once I had reluctantly pulled myself out, we stopped for a break.
They supplied us with wonderfully spiced hot cider, along with apple donuts from Linden, but the best was their homemade apple crisp. It was heavenly. We sat and chatted for a while and then it was back to finish off the shelter.
The last step was adding a front porch and doorway. So we got more sticks and leaves and set to our task. A guy called Cyrus, who's a bounty hunter, came up from NC for the class, and spends most of his time in jeans and a t-shirt with no shoes or jacket. Apparently it's all about self discipline, he attends and gives spiritual workshops, but I didn't get it. He must have been frozen.
The last thing we needed to know regarding our shelter was how to block the doorway so precious heat wouldn't be lost. This could be done by weaving sticks to make a door, or the idea I liked best, stuffing a t-shirt with leaves and using that to block the entrance. Pulling in lots more leaves after you helps to keep your tiny abode nice and warm, and Tom assured us that even though you couldn't walk or drive a truck over it, the hut was pretty sturdy and even mostly waterproof, thanks to so many layers of leaves.
And then we were done. Bill said he had hoped I'd have to climb in once more so they could close me in completely but it wasn't to be. We all gathered again around the fireplace to finish off the afternoon with a chat and more of that delicious apple crisp.
They told us that 2016 would hold many more classes and after looking at their schedule, I'm looking forward to it. Some of their previous workshops had been too expensive for me, over $150, but they have said there will be less expensive classes, even pot luck dinners and hikes. And on my doorstep! How awesome! This is their website, I'll be keeping a close eye on developments!

Munching on Mollusks in DC

On Saturday Bill came over and we started driving down to DC to attend Tim's annual Oyster Fest. We stopped at the battlegrounds in Manassas to snap a few photos, the light on the wooden fences was spectacular, heightening the texture and patterns of the cedar.
But the traffic was heavy coming through on Rte 29 and with the vehicles speeding past us so closely we soon lost our enthusiasm. We picked up a bagful of hickory nuts for my squirrel, who I really need to give a name to, and then continued on down to the city.
A beautiful ginkgo stood tall down by the waterfront, its leaves gleaming like a cape of gold, almost dazzling us as it shone in the sun.
I'm always lucky when it comes to finding parking in DC and today was no exception. I drove along by the marina not seeing a single space until suddenly a car's red lights lit up ahead and he pulled out, vacating a space that was free with no meter.
The new Wharf is being built slowly by the marina and the yellow theme worked well on this sunny day. Usually I freeze at Tim's oyster events as they're always in winter time and always on a cold, dull, blustery day, but with this beautiful sunshine and blue skies we found ourselves shedding our jackets as soon as we got to the party platform.
My first oyster, looking so pretty, with its pristine white shell that I almost didn't want to eat it.
But down the hatch it had to go, washed down with a bottle of beer.

Deborah Pratt, a world champion oyster shucker was here with her sister again, making short work of opening the shells for us, and really making our experience so much more enjoyable. I'm hopeless at trying to prise these crustaceans apart and would surely have missed out on this delectable treat if I'd been responsible for shucking my own oysters.
Gene introduced me to the Oyster Shooter, a glass with 2 oysters, a good shot of vodka and a shake of hot sauce. All mixed together and thrown back after the count of 3. Very yummy! I'm told this works well with tequila also. We ate oysters with beer over them and then champagne.
The Rockefeller Oysters had made a triumphant return from last year and today had an additional ingredient, bacon. Bloody marvelous! These were gobbled up fast!
I liked this lady's necklace, a whale tail made from bone, and I also liked her mug.
We had a wonderful crowd here, and when chatting with one of Tim's friends, I learned of his favorite aspects of these casual events at the marina. He lives in the suburbs with his wife and hates corporate functions or most functions held in DC since he found they were mainly used by people as networking opportunities. He was always asked what his job was and yet here, he observed very happily, that nobody had inquired at all, only asking his name and if he lived locally. He was right, I hadn't been asked what my job was today either by any new faces. Everyone was getting on splendidly, we were having a lot of fun.
Little Lola taking a break from food scrounging to catch a few warm rays.
Tim and Isobella.
Roger was here again too and I was pleased to hear that the book he'd been writing for the past few years was hopefully being published very soon. But I'm not sure how soon...
The Shucking Sisters, still reigning supreme. In their words, "We're not here just to shuck oysters, it's because we're the best of the best!" They had certainly made the event so much better with their skills, I remember the early oyster fests with people desperately trying to get into the shells or patiently forming a line to wait while some heroic volunteers hacked away and handed out the contents. These ladies had ensured nobody had needed to wait at all, bless them.
As the sun started setting, the temperature started dipping and so we trotted off to see Tony and Melissa's new boat. We had a tour around Gene's and theirs, both were very roomy, and once again I thought about how nice it would be to live on a floating residence. But with Gangplank Marina in turmoil with the new constructions above them, it really had to be unsettling for the boat owners. So Bill and I left after lots of hugs and promises to return soon, and that night as I though of all the cranes hanging above the boats we'd left behind I was happy to snuggle with the cats in a soft bed on firm ground, without a single sound to disturb me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tripping along the Appalachian Trail

I had planned to hike on Saturday but after a trip to the grocery store and recycling center I decided against it. It was too cold with wind gusts of 25mph, so after checking that the weather would be great for a Sunday hike, I instead spent Saturday hanging out with cats with not a single twinge of guilt. They stayed close to me all day so I knew they were enjoying my company too. We whiled the day away looking up each time the wind howled around the cottage, throwing leaves against the french doors.
On Sunday I left when the temperatures were already in the upper 50's. I packed a light jacket but knew that I wouldn't really need it.
 I got to the trail head and was pleased to see only 2 cars parked in the small lot, the trail would be people free today. I started climbing upwards, noticing the difference along the trail as I marched along. Last time it had been lush with vegetation but now it was carpeted with crunchy brown leaves and persistent brambles fighting to cross the path. I nearly missed the tiny wooden 'view' sign on a tree, but spotting it, took the small path to the outlook. A tree had fallen across the path yet determined folks had forged a way through the undergrowth and I finally found a good use for my new hiking poles as I pushed aside the thorny branches.
 The view has never been that impressive from here and last time I couldn't see anything because of the heavily leafed trees in front of me. Even today with most of the leaves on the ground I still wasn't treated to a vista, but it was lovely feeling the warm sun as I sat on the bench.
But I didn't stop for long. After a few minutes I set off again, up the hill.
 The first couple of miles are mainly an incline with a few short level stretches. The rocky trail was harder to walk along than last time due to the thick layer of leaves,so I never knew where I was putting my feet. The shiny dry leaves were also very slippery and a few times I tripped on hidden rocks or slid on the back of my heel. I was grateful again for my hiking poles that saved me from taking a few tumbles.
 There was very little color left in the woods now, few splashes of red or yellow, but the sunlight dappled the trees and the wind fluttered among the leaves on branches or on the ground, turning them copper and gold as they flitted past. Rock monoliths pushed out of the ground, coated with lichens and moss, yet even with this late autumn beauty I was very much aware that there was no wildlife to be seen or heard. I didn't hear any birdsong and only saw a woodpecker twice, likely the same one in different trees. It made me miss the English woodlands, so dense with huge trees that people could hide behind and birds constantly trilling and flying past.
But it was wonderful to be out hiking in the middle of November in a t-shirt and sunshine. Poor old England, I knew, was getting hit with rain and here I was enjoying summer-like weather in late autumn.
 After a couple of hours, I came across a shelter for those intrepid long distance hikers. I was anxious to see one of these as I'd love to back pack along this trail in the spring and stay out overnight. I was a little concerned about how clean and safe these shelters were but I soon discovered I had nothing to worry about.
 A fire had been burning last night and 2 backpacks left on the trail by their owners whose voices I could hear calling for another friend.
The shelter was in excellent condition and had a good view over the valley. A BBQ and benches had been built and someone had even left some firewood for the next visitor, which would likely be that evening. A broom was leaning against the wall inside and had evidently been used very recently, the floor was spotless. There were a few knickknacks on a shelf recessed into the wall along with a visitors' journal. I pulled this out and sat at the bench to read some of the entries, hoping to get some feedback.
 There were serious as well as comical entries, and even a few artistic drawings. I had fully expected to read some complaints but every entry I read told of a wonderful time spent at the shelter. I also noted that it was quite heavily frequented, there were a lot of entries for each day, and was impressed how everyone had considered other hikers and left useful hints.
Somewhere to hang food supplies out of reach of black bears.
I carried along the trail and then turned back when I'd been hiking for 2 hours. And then amazingly another hiker came up behind me, the first person I'd seen that day. We exchanged hello's and I stepped to one side to let him continue marching past. And then about 10 minutes later a strapping young lad in his 20's came bouncing jauntily along the trail behind me. "Where've you hiked from today?' I asked him. " I've come from Maine, I'm walking the whole trail." he responded. "Bloody hell!" I spluttered, not expecting that response from someone who looked like he'd only left his car 5 minutes ago. He passed, grinning, and over his shoulder asked me how many miles I'd done today. "An in and out hike of about 6 miles" I responded, feeling a little inadequate, but he called back, "That's about what I've done today too!" and then he was gone from sight. I wondered if he just said that to make me feel better, but regardless, I was very impressed with him and his energy and wondered if he'd be at the parking lot when I got back to the car so I could chat with him some more. But he'd long gone when I got back to Stuart, and was likely striding along another 6 miles before he called it a night. I wish I'd got his name so I could track his progress on line, as many of these AT hikers keep a record. What a wonderful journey he was taking and I wished him safe passage and more beautiful weather on the remainder of his trek.