Archives for posts with tag: Michigan

March of the In-Betweens

A.V. Walters

Critter calling cards on our stoop.

Critter calling cards on our stoop.

T.S. Eliot was dead wrong. April is not the cruelest month. March is. One day it’s warm and lovely, the next, snow is falling and the ground is white, again. For those of us waiting to build, to plant, to get a jump on the season… it’s agony. Those nice days—just teasers—don’t let them fool you into starting your seeds early. It’s March, the season of the lions and the lambs.

My years in Northern California, where daffodils come up in February and (if you’re lucky) March will deliver a seasonal, finale rainstorm, have confused me as to the truly transitional nature of March. March, in Northern Michigan, is here to teach patience.

I’m trying to find transitional, spring-readiness things to do. I’ve hung my laundry on the line in the snow. (Yes, it works.) We’ve assembled, primed and painted the bee boxes. I’m pulling nails out of some recycled flooring we bought on craigslist. It’s a time of enforced waiting. Today we’ve seen light snow and temperatures in the teens, again. By midday, we may see twenties—what’s spring-like about that? Those stellar 40s and 50s of several weeks back, spoiled us. Now, temperatures in the 20s and 30s feel cold. We’d spent February hiking in single digits and teens, without complaint but now, we turn up our collars on much nicer days.

We’ve been tempted to take the snow-blower off of the Kubota (and maybe replace it with the backhoe, for building) but for the fear that we’d trigger one of those late-March snowstorms. Maybe that’s the origin of the term ‘March Madness.’ (Basketball may have nothing to do with it.)

There are things that need this on-again-off-again season. Warm days and cold nights wake up the trees. Sap begins to run. March is the sugaring season. Without the stuttering warm-cold cycles, the sap production would go straight to manufacturing leaves—and we’d have no maple syrup. I’m a little in awe of the sugaring process. Who thought that up, all those eons ago? The whole thing is an exercise in patience; collecting the sap, literally, drop by drop; boiling it down, for syrup it takes forty gallons of sap to get one gallon of syrup; and bottling it up. Sugar-maple candy boils down even further, and then gets instantly crystalized, ladled into the snow. Around here, it’s mostly the old timers who still tap the trees. Our neighbors do, using new-fangled drip collection bags, (if you’re patient, you can watch the steady dripping that turns the season.) We’ve talked about it; we certainly have the maples. It goes into our ‘maybe someday’ list.

maple

The critters are out. We’re in a walk-out, basement apartment, so we see them almost eye-to-eye as they wander about, unfettered by deep snow. There’s a herd of deer who happen by everyday at dusk. Just before the deer show up, there’s a small parade of turkeys. The bunnies come out just as the last light fades. If we miss them, we can take attendance by the tracks left in the thin spring snow. Two days ago, the robins arrived. I was sitting by the window and suddenly the yard was full of them. To the impatient among us, they are a sure sign of Spring.

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Timing the Jump.

One Year Counting Blessings

A.V. Walters

It’s an anniversary of sorts. A year ago today, two exhausted ragtag souls arrived in Michigan, California cats in tow, truck, trailer and pick up. It was a hairy trip, with no clear home in sight. Here we are, a year later–under construction but with a light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve learned a lot, mostly that this still appears to be the most sane plan for what we want to do when we grow up. We’ve survived the fiercest Michigan winter in decades (with another on the way, they say.) We are not dissuaded. It’s been raining–and the forecast for at least the next week predicts the kinds of rainstorms that hold construction work at bay.

We sigh, we shrug. At least we have a solid plan. Our little cabin is wrapped in its raincoat. The well drillers came last week–113 feet to ample, clear, clean water. We’re digging–site drainage, water lines, and then we’ll get to the septic. You can almost always dig in the rain.

I was talking to a California friend today. He asked after our progress and listened for a minute or two while I bemoaned weather delays. Then he made me stop. “Remember, you’re talking to California, here. What we wouldn’t give for just a fraction of your rain. It’s 95 degrees out here today–in October. We look up and wonder when…. if, our rains will come.”

Water was one of the reasons we came. We also came because my mum wasn’t well. I’m happy to report that she is much improved. It’s good to see her with energy and plans again. She’s getting ready for winter, too.

I’m ready for it. We’ll keep on keeping on. We’re feeling lucky on this anniversary.With one eye on the sky, I’m looking at craigslist for a used 3 point snowblower for the tractor.

 

Thunderstorms

A.V. Walters

The good news is that our new basement has proved itself to be watertight. Good thing, too. We’ll be needing that. Michigan sees a lot of wild and wooly weather. I’ve been telling Rick about Great Lakes thunderstorms for years. Though we’ve been here near a year—the weather has not cooperated to show off its best thunderstorm stuff. That is, until yesterday and last night.

It was tremendous. We had dramatic, roiling clouds, winds, driving rain and amazing lightning. For hours! I timed it and the lightning flashes were about 30-40 per minute—and it lasted from late afternoon yesterday until the wee hours of the morning today. Finally he had the chance to see the full-blown spectacle of non-stop lightning, with its  rumbling and crashing soundtrack. Nothing like California. The cats are both CaliforniaCats, too. Kilo was cool; Bob was flipped out about it. Nothing in their experience prepared them for the noise. I’d attach a picture, but unless you’re really good with a camera, lightning isn’t easy to capture. I’m not that good.

Years ago, I visited my sister in Southern California. It was her birthday—a little wine and conversation got us on to the topic of thunderstorms. California is wimpy in that department. That’s a blessing, because with California’s dry summers, Michigan’s lightning would burn California to a crisp! The evening ran long; wine and nostalgia are a potent mix. Two weeks later she packed up and headed “home.” Afterwards, she acknowledged that the conversation made her family so homesick, they decided to abandon the dream of sunny California. I don’t know the statistics now, but then, Michigan had the highest “rate of return” for folks who’d moved on, but couldn’t stay away. Some folks just can’t settle in to a climate that lacks actual weather.

The not so good news was the rain. We got almost four inches overnight. I’m not really complaining, we needed it—but there’s no roof yet on that basement. It’s watertight, but in this case it held the water in. So we came to the site the next morning to a wading pool. We briefly considered having a small lap pool in the basement. Four inches is too much to bail—so Rick headed to the hardware for a pump. A couple of hours later—we were back in business.

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, Work With Me Here…

A.V. Walters–

 

The unfortunate placement of this volunteer spruce begs the question.

The unfortunate placement of this volunteer spruce begs the question.

It kicked on at 10:20 in the morning, and it got me thinking. It’s a beautiful day. Clear and clean, post-storm. It’s not hot out, though it likely will be later today. Upstairs, the landlady’s central air conditioner has kicked on, already.

I’m sorry to burden you with my rant, but more people need to think, to plan a little, in their trajectory on this planet. This is only partly about landscaping but it starts there.

I identify a particular brainless “yard pattern” with Michigan, though I expect it’s all over. You see it driving down any street or road, though it’s particularly noticeable in the country. Michigan is a fertile state. If it’s not planted or maintained, its natural tendency is to revert back to forest. So it’s a bit of a shock that folks will buy a place in the country, cut down all the trees, and put in a lawn. They plunk their house in the middle of it—kings of their environment. Landscaping? Well, it’s a border mentality. They plant along the lot-line. Daffodils, trees, whatever, regardless of aesthetics, they celebrate ownership with a string of ill-advised plantings whose only assignment is to state, “This is mine!”

A century ago, farmers were not so self-absorbed. Clearing land took a lot of energy, which they reserved for their fields. They oriented their homes to take advantage of the sun’s rays in the winter. They had adequate roof overhangs to protect them from the rain or heat of the summer, and—they strategically planted deciduous trees to shade them from the heat and still let the sun’s warming rays help them in the dead of winter. I lived in such a home in Two Rock, a turn of the (last) century farmhouse that never got too hot, because trees were planted to provide shade. In the winter, the sun’s low rays streamed in through the living room window to provide welcome warmth and light. In really hot summer weather, we’d close the curtains and windows to the sun and the daytime heat. When the evening cooled, we’d open everything up again to the refreshing breeze. No air-conditioning, just good, old common sense. In the seven years I lived there, and despite some really blistering heat waves, that house never went above 81˚F. Where did that wisdom go?

This house we’re in now has been here for some thirty or forty years, yet nobody has ever planted a shade tree to provide summer cooling. (Instead, there’s a line of spruces on the lot line, whose long winter shadows screen the sun’s warmth when it could be useful.) The house is surrounded by lawn, which, to look good, requires regular watering—with the electrical expense of pumping that water. There are plenty of windows, but no one ever pulls a curtain against the summer heat. Instead, before the dew is even off the grass, the air-conditioner fires up its relentless drone. In an era of global warming triggered by energy use, somehow the air-conditioning solution seems to miss the point. I can almost hear the planet sigh, “Work with me here!”

You can always retrofit with well-placed trees. Drapes closed in the daytime, especially in a home that’s empty while you’re off at work—that’s not too much to ask, is it? We have a regular steady breeze—so you can open the windows in the evening, smell the fresh country air and cool your home. We can work with nature, instead of against it.

Rick and I have selected our building site based on existing tree placement. We’ll have the summer shade even before we have the home. Those trees will lose their leaves and we’ll get some winter warming and light on the south side during sunny winter days. Window placement is designed to maximize light and sun, when it’s needed and to avoid unnecessary heat loss. In that way, it’s an old-fashioned placement. Sure, there’ll be a view—but not at the expense of energy. We can all do a little more, to use a little less.

That’s my rant. (Live with it – we all can!)

 

Pipeline Postscripts

A.V. Walters

mid feb

I lived in California for thirty-five years. Rick lived there all his life. It is in our blood to be water-thrifty. Conservation is a lifestyle issue—not to flush every time, short showers, dozens of little tricks learned over time to save water. That is not the culture in Michigan. Doing dishes, my brother doesn’t think twice of letting the water run, while a conversation or other task takes him away from the sink. Watching, I squirm. Here people have lawns, and they water them, with sprinklers.

With our uber-winter this year, many have had their pipes freeze. There are four communities in Upper Michigan where the entire towns are at risk of freezing pipes. (Our water temperature at the tap is 36 degrees.) In L’Anse, Michigan, the townsfolk are being advised to let their faucets run—constantly, to keep the mains from freezing solid. Some developments were built with plastic supply lines. Plastic won’t conduct electricity. If your plastic lines freeze you’re in trouble. The advice there is to cross your fingers and move out until Spring. (You’re crossing your fingers in hopes that the pipes themselves won’t burst, leaving you with an even worse mess when the thaw comes.) The utility wonks in L’Anse are telling people not to shovel the snow away from over their water lines. (Too late for us, eh?) It’s often a surprise to people from milder climates that a good layer of snow actually insulates from the more extreme cold.

Now that the welders have zapped our lines clear, we’ve been told to leave the tap running, all the time, until Spring. Our water-miser ways may have even contributed to the freeze in the first place. We’re struggling with what feels to Californians like water waste. My natural inclination is to shut off the tap—always. Now we can’t and I’m having trouble with that adjustment. You can hear the water run. You wake up at night, foggy-brained, thinking that you need to get up—someone has left the tap running.

I’m trying to adjust my attitude for the duration. Think of it as a water feature, I tell myself, you know, like a fountain. That’s the ticket. Don’t folks use water sounds for relaxation? I try to reconcile my discomfort with rationalization. After all, this water comes from Lake Michigan. I’m just recycling it—through the house septic, through the sandy soils of Empire and then back to the Lake. In the meantime, as a renter, I’m glad I don’t pay the water bill.

 

 

 

 

 

Winterizing

(from November 1, 2013)

I haven’t done this since I was in college, renting cheap housing and doing everything I could to make it habitable for the cold months. We didn’t move in time to get building underway, so we’re hanging close so we can get a jump on spring, when it comes. We’re in a “vacation” rental—read “summer.” It’s a very cute, little cottage, in a charming, little village on the shores of Lake Michigan. It’s a beautiful destination location for summer tourists. We’ll see how it fares for a Michigan winter. The landlord says that it’s insulated. We’ll see about that, too. What is clear is that it has single-pane windows.

Some of the windows have storms, that is, storm-windows, and they’ll help. Growing up, I remember the semi-annual ritual—spring and fall—washing the windows and taking down the storms to put up screens, followed six months later with more window-washing and taking down the screens to put up the storms. It marked the seasons and was the 1960’s version of energy efficient.

But these storms leak like sieves and even with them, in the cool evenings, the glass radiates cold and drafts. Closing the curtains helps, but with winter coming, we’re resorting to the old college trick of covering the windows with heat-shrink plastic. In the 1970s, especially after the oil shocks of 1973, everyone started to install dual-pane windows. Even today, upgrading windows and installing weather-stripping is one of your best bets for saving on heating costs.

Like most people, I grew up with single pane windows. They fogged over whenever anyone showered, or when my mother made dinner. I remember waking to elaborate, frosty patterns on the windows—lacy fractal beauties that would melt as soon as the sun hit.

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. It is not energy efficient, though, and so we’re battening down the hatches for the winter, ahead. Right now, it’s windows and doors first—later we can consider more drastic measures, if needed. If we can figure out the wind patterns, we can build snow-walls to slow drifting over the driveway and front entry. If memory serves, I expect we’ll do a fair measure of shoveling. It’s one way to get fit (and stay warm.) If the weather is brutally cold, we can always try “banking”—piling snow around the house for a wind-break and extra insulation. I remember that being helpful in my college days.

Maybe we’ll need these things… or, maybe I’m just scaring Rick. He was born and raised in the Los Angeles area and this relocation, (even from Northern California) is an exercise in bravery, for him. Bravery or foolhardiness! When they heard his plans, friends all raised their eyebrows, “Michigan? Well… it gets pretty cold there. And, it snows, ya know.”  He’d nod. He’s heard it all. Back in Two Rock, they’re probably still harvesting the tomatoes and squash, that’s if they remember the garden. Here, it’s in the thirties.

Like I said, we shall see. We’ve been here three days.

Update: It’s winter, now. It’s that time of year when instead of reporting the likelihood of snow as a percentage, they report what percentage of the day it will snow. Rick has sealed us up as tight as possible and we bought our first snow shovel. We’re looking for used, cross-country skis and snow-shoes. For the most part, we have great winter gear and we’re trying to use these short days and long nights for creative ventures. There is that long standing, winter temptation though… hibernation.