Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Three Phases of Steve AND The Intrepid Journey

Well, it finally happened.  My flimsy right ankle, which I have named "Steve" because I can, went under the knife on November 21 and no less than five repairs were made.

We're talking tendons, ligaments and cartilage, here, there and some where.  Or no where.  After surgery I couldn't put weight on Steve for the first two weeks, and let me tell you, that's a helpless feeling.  One footin it is neither easy or fun.  Thank goodness my lovely wife still loves me, otherwise it would have been near impossible.

                                                                               The Three Phases of Steve


I am now in the above walking boot until January 8th, which is a heck of a lot better than that cast.  Trust me on this.  I was in a similar boot last year for my Achilles problem.  But after looking at the MRI the Doc said my swollen and tender Achilles was the least of my concerns.  Tendons and ligaments.  Boy do I ever know how to screw them up.

I have been thinking of taking up knitting.  But after thinking of that for oh, say, a moment, I decided that would be silly.  My fingers would be best served cascading across this keyboard, espousing wit and witticisms to any that might pass this way.  And so here I am.

Since it will be another few weeks before I can continue with my next home improvement projects (and subsequent posts), I have decided to tell you the Christmas story of the Intrepid Journey.

Back in December, 2008, my lovely wife and I were living up in Portland, Oregon after living on the central coast of California for a couple years.  Both our children lived in San Diego, our daughter then married with a two year old son.  Our single son had recently graduated San Diego State, and all were planning on coming up to our house for Christmas.

Our son, as a matter of fact, was coming up to live with us.  He was getting tired of the party scene in San Diego, plus he wanted to put his degree in forestry to use.  You know, he figured it might be better to go some place that had a few trees.

We had already made plans for the majority of his stuff to be shipped, then I was going to fly down, help him pack and then drive back up in his Honda Accord, which we shall call the Eagle.  Our daughter and her family were going to make the drive up as well in their car, a Honda Fit, which we shall call the Falcon.

As Christmas and the time for me to fly down for the rendevous came close, so was a massive winter storm.
As a matter of fact, one of the coldest and biggest Portland had seen in years.

I flew down with a back pack and another small pack that contained cable chains for our son's car, which used to belong to my lovely wife.  As luck would happen, they were still hanging around in our garage.  Our son, apparently, found little use for them in San Diego.

Once in San Diego, I helped my son pack the remnants of his stuff into the Honda.  Then we went to a few holiday and going away parties and finally hit the sack about midnight.   Five AM came too quick for this old man, and way too quick for the boy who was still out of sorts.  I took wheel, met up with the Falcon and off we went.

Our Grandson was a champ, and we hauled ass Northward.  Six AM on a Saturday is as good as you're gonna get to get though LA, and we breezed right on through.  Nothing really worth mentioning on this part of the journey, up through the belly of California.  The Central Valley is a vital yet rather un-picturesque portion of our usually lovely state.  Especially along the I5.  We stopped in Stockton so that the Falcon could get chains.  We also got a bite to eat and then were off again.

We kept moving with just one more stop all the way to Yreka, arriving around dusk.  As I mentioned, our two year Grandson was a rock star.  It was a twelve hour ride, but we essentially traversed the length of the state, a good 760 miles.  We moteled up, got some Chinese take out and readied ourselves for the next, storm filled leg of the journey.  At only 316 miles, it was less than half the mileage of our first day, but the going would be ever so much tougher.

The day dawned ominous, snow flurries were already falling in our motel parking lot when we awoke.  We snagged some light breakfast food and launched about eight AM.  Our first chain up to get over the Siskiyou Mountain pass that lies between the California and Oregon border was a snap.  We chained up, rode the thirty minutes over the pass without incident and dechained on the other side.

Once we were over the Siskiyou pass, we essentially had clear sailing until we were about twenty miles south of Salem.  We even had a few patches of blue sky along the way, almost lulling me into thinking this leg of the journey was going to be no where near as bad as I thought.  Until we got to Salem. 

And then it started to snow.  Big wet flakes started to rain down upon us like monkeys on a chimpanzee.     There were also a few more cars on the interstate, which happened every time we passed by a big town, like Medford, Grants Pass, Eugene and now Salem.  And all of us on that highway pretty much had to deal with the monkeys on our own.  We rapidly discovered the belly of Interstate 5 in Oregon doesn't get a lot of support in the snow plow realm.  I'm not sure if they even knew what one looks like.

I'm used to traveling in the Sierras, traveling in and around and all over Interstate 80, a main artery in East-West nationwide commerce. We have snow plows here in the Sierras.  There is always at least one clear lane going over the Donner Summit, many times there are two.  The guys here in the Sierra don't let a lot of snow accumulate on the road before they get it shoveled off with their big machines.

Conversely, Oregon did not seem to have any kind of interstate snow removal system.  Either that or they all went on vacation in the Bahamas as soon as they heard this storm was approaching.

We  pulled over, possibly a bit prematurely, to chain up and then we were off again.  As we approached Salem, it was getting near blizzard conditions.  My son was behind the wheel of the Eagle, and we slowly ended up getting a little ahead of the Falcon.  Then, as we went under an overpass, the cell phone rang and the real fun began.

It was my daughter.  The Falcon had a flat.  Apparently one of the chain links broke and punctured the tire.  My son-in-law was outside, in the blizzard, changing the tire.

I had my son pull off on the shrinking shoulder, exited and started walking back to help them.  Traffic was slow, but there was pretty much an endless line of vehicles trudging up the highway.  I slopped about a half mile back to the Falcon and helped exchange the flat for the little doughnut they now supply as a spare.  Fortunately the flat was on the passenger side, so we weren't working out in the traffic.  And fortunately, the Falcon was only about a hundred yards from a highway exit that contained a Costco, of which they are members.  The plan was for them to drive to Costco and exchange the doughnut for a new tire.  I trudged back to the Eagle, we moseyed about a mile up the road to an exit, flipped around and met them back at Costco.  It was now early afternoon and still snowing like crazy.

As it happened, the Falcon's tire was an odd size and Costco did not have one in stock.  At this point, the Falcon's crew was almost ready to throw in the towel, get a motel room and ride out the storm in Salem.  I couldn't let this happen.  I had promised my lovely wife I would have everybody home by evening.  Holy Cow!  What was I thinking?

The Costco fellas were pretty good.  Between their efforts and little decent luck they found the right sized tire at an independent tire dealer in the middle of Salem.  Or on the outskirts.  It was somewhere around Salem.   Or middle Oregon.  It was a real bitch to find.

There is nothing like driving around a non-grid laid out town with which you are not familiar with.  Especially in a howling blizzard that severely limits visibility.  But we were on a mission, I had to get the kids home for Christmas.   As the crow flies, it was probably only three miles away.  But because Salem is laid out in a rectangular semi-circle and nobody in the area could give us explicit directions, it took us about an hour to locate the place.  Then it took almost another hour to get the tire exchanged because the place was a zoo.  That happens at tire outlets when it snows where it never snows.

It only took about thirty minutes to find our way back, arriving just as dusk was approaching.  When we got back to Costco, the fellas there actually put the tire on for us.  With chain repaired and tire intact we headed out into the fury, the last 45 miles of our journey.  It was almost 5 PM.  It was over a four hour pit stop.  In the meantime, it never stopped snowing 

The storm was not kind to the highway while we were out on our extended tour of Salem.  There wasn't a single lane plowed on the interstate, a main north-south artery for three states.  None.  The highway looked like an arctic war zone, foot deep icy ruts marred whatever the left lane used to look like, maybe six inch deep ruts in the more heavily traveled right lane.  Piles of snow and ice hither and yon, on the highway.  Keep in mind, the Falcon and Eagle were Hondas, with about a six inch bottom clearance.  For all intents and purposes, we were acting as mini snow plows for those behind us.

The oncoming snow was relentless.  The only thing going for us and our 25 MPH was that traffic had lessened while we were learning the intricacies of Salem's where am I now grid.  Who lays out a town in a rectangular semi-circle, with a number of isosceles triangles tossed in?  Maybe they laid it out according to voting districts a hundred years in advance.

Going was slow, but we were heading in the right direction, north.  And then the Falcon called and had to stop.  Apparently another link broke and started in on their plastic wheel housing.  Part of it was torn and the chain was causing continuing grief. A whack whack whack whack whack.  There's not a stereo alive that can stifle that thumping rhythm.

Ordinarily I always carry a pocket knife, which would have solved the problem straight away.  I always carry a pocket knife.  Always.  Except of course when I fly.  So there we were, once again on the side of a war torn snowed up interestate, with no way to slice off a fifteen inch section on plastic wheel housing.

There was a Phillips screw driver in one of the cars, and I started jabbing a line of holes in the housing with the point.  I was about eight holes in when my son remembered.  He had packed his ornamental Samurai swords in the trunk of the Eagle.  Bam!  He got out the short one and we were back on the road within minutes.  Wheelhouse Hari Cari.

Traffic had thinned, yet there was still a steady stream of cars heading up the highway.  The road was incredible.  Deep ice filled ruts were our only path.  Bouncing along, we felt like we were in a covered wagon on the prairie rather than in an automobile on a US Interstate.  My son was doing an excellent job driving, when quite suddenly we went into a lateral slide over two lanes towards the center of the highway.  As we slid , bounced and spun, my side of the car was turned to face the oncoming traffic.  Fortunately, the cars had immediately slowed when we started across the highway.  I was imagining a semi in a skid turning us into Liverwurst, but the nearest headlights were halted about a hundred yards down the highway.

Once we stopped, my son got the Eagle advancing again and we made it over the humps and bumps to the safety of our light, right lane ruts.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, we totally blew off a chain on that little escapade and were now running with only one chain on the front left tire!  Holy shit!

At this time, we were still about ten miles south of our Tigard turnoff.  My next big concern was a long sloping overpass off the interstate onto the highway which led to our surface street exit.  I thought it might be iced over, and, at a slope, difficult to traverse.  However, that one overpass was pretty darn clear.  It looked like Portland might of had a plow or two working in their direct vicinity.  Hallelulah!

With that behind us, it was another mile to our exit, and then another 1.5 miles on a surface street.  I thought that might be bad too, and though rutted, it was still not quite as bad as the interstate.  Go figure.  There were another quick two lefts, and then I had the Falcon and  Eagle slide right into the three foot snow embankment that sat upon the curb in front of our house.  Home. 

The lights were on.  It was 8:30 PM.  Twelve and a half hours, about the same amount of time as the previous day only traveling half the distance.  My lovely wife was ecstatic.  We were tired, but very happy.  And dinner was waiting.

       Here's the fellas the day after the intrepid journey, December 24, 2008.

Homestead Update

I don't know where ya'll live, but here in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California we have recently been experiencing a bitter cold.  We're at about the 2200 foot elevation, and will generally get a dusting of snow a couple times a year.  Well, with temps in the 20's and a nice four inch dumping of snow a few days back, we still have a nice white blanket out yonder.

First snow of the season

The chicken house is quite secure.  There's the rough planks the previous owner had up, then I put up a layer of  Tyvec.  Then there is new siding.  All cracks and corners have been caulked, and with the big "man" door closed it's as sound as it can get.  Once the night time temps fell below freezing, I turned on an incandescent light in there.  That generates enough heat to take the chill off.

Our rooster, Goldie, has actually spent at least a night or two perched up in their outside secure area.  He is usually flanked by a couple of the hens, but not recently.  They all said the hell with this, we're going indoors!

I mean, he is a Buff Orpington, a heavy breed, and he is less susceptible to cold than other breeds.  But come on, when the temps drop into the 20's I would think he could put his erstwhile stud badge away for a night or two.  I'm just saying.

Prior to press: We just experienced another hawk attack!  Fortunately I was home, convalescing, and was close enough inside to hear the chickens distressed clucks.  And yes, there are certain tones to a chickens clucking.  Animal sounds.  There is a quite content cluck, like when they are grazing the lawn eating  bugs.  There is a loud, painful cluck like when they are having difficulty laying an egg or when Goldie is having difficulty laying them.  And there is a loud, frantic "Help! Help! Help! Holy Sh*t! What The Fu*k!" cluck.

Since the last hawk attack, I have kept them "confined" to Chicken Fantasia Land, which, of course, is paradise a plenty for a flock of 9.  I have also placed a 9x12 tarp over a large area of the enclosed space, providing shelter and shade in the summer.  The tarp broke up another two 12x15 spaces that were open to the sky.  With that small of open space and a Rooster in the Hen House, I thought they would be safe from raptors.  However, when I quickly looked out the window I witnessed a large Red Tail Hawk swoop from the top of the fence and land on one of the girls, inside their pen.

I freaked.  As quickly as a gimp in a walking cast can, I bounced out the door and threw a snow ball in the fights direction.  A snowball?  What was I thinking?  That bird's got armor, it's at the top of the food chain, like us.  A snowball???  That was like throwing a daisy at a dog.

So, my painful right ankle is in it's "indoor" walking boot.  I actually still have my old walking boot from Achilles days.  I usually wear that if I'm going to be outside, especially working with the chickens, so, you know, I'm not dragging chicken poop onto the wall to wall carpet.  Yeah, I can wash the boot, or the carpet, but trust me, this is easier.  But it takes about 5 minutes to swap boots and there wasn't that much time.  That hawk was on one of my girls!

My left foot was in a sock and there was snow and ice on the uphill fifty foot run to the coop.  Shit.  I bounced to the garage as ever a gimp could and put on the standard rubber boot on my left foot.  Then I grabbed a canvas cover I flip over the cast if I'm just going on a short, quick run, like take the garbage out.  Or in case I'm in a freaking real big hurry.  I wrapped the canvas with a bungee cord, grabbed a pellet rifle and skedaddled towards the fracas, Festus style.  Fifty seconds!

I have 2 pellet rifles.  There's varmints in these here hills.  I don't want to kill them, but I want to be able to shoo them away.  One is C02 powered and has a 12 shot clip.  This is handy since I am a terrible shot.  Since active C02 eventually breaks the seals, I leave an unopened cylinder in the chute so all I have to do is tighten it down with a couple twists and the cartridge is punctured and ready to go.  The clip is always loaded.  The rifle will shoot roughly 600 FPS, or feet per second.

The other is cock style, a one shot deal.  But it has a scope, which is handy since I am a terrible shot.  It shoots at roughly 1200 FPS.

I grabbed the one with the scope and dashed.  Hollering, gyrating and gimping all the way, as soon as I got within 15 feet the bastard took flight to the back fence of the coop.  Cocked and ready, I fired off a bad shot, but it was close enough to make the hawk move to a tree 40 feet away.  Another bad shot moved him back to about 60 feet, and another made him leave.  For the moment.

Once the threat was gone, I ventured towards the scene of the crime.  I had seen the results of a hawk attack before, it wasn't pretty.  There was no head that time.  See Stalked by a Hawk. 

As I approached I was quite dismayed.  It was Myrna, one of our Black Sex Links, or Black Stars, our dominant female and my lovely wife's favorite.  She was on her side, spent feathers were all about and she was quite dirty.  However, when I got closer I noticed she was breathing.  Not only that but her head was intact.  And as I approached she looked up at me quite frightened but relieved, kind of like saying, "Is it freaking over?"

I gently picked her up and was amazed.  There was no bleeding, no lacerations, her eyes were both intact as were the rest of her extremities.  Since she is one of our Roosters favorites, her back is usually bereft of some feathers.  He tends to be a little bit rough around the edges.  The featherless areas looked like they had suffered a road rash, no doubt due to some thrashing around in the dirt.  I have a poultry spray bandage for these occasions, and she was quite amenable this time to being held and sprayed.  After that I let her go and she gingerly walked into the secure area.  Shaken, but not stirred.

If I was not hobbled, I could have broken things up within fifteen seconds.  But due to my infirmary that hawk had to be messing with my girl for at least a minute.  I'm amazed there were not more serious wounds,  she must have put up quite a fight!

The rest of the girls were in the secure hen house.  Secure, but flipping out.  Goldie, our big, bad ass Rooster was back in the companion cage, agitated but also freaking out.  WTF?  He let Myrna take on the hawk rather than himself.  I'm a little perturbed about this.

When I first looked out and saw the hawk coming in, there were a couple chickens in jeopardy.  Our main girl Myrna apparently stood and took the heat!  Or she was the target all the time.  But I like the latter better.  Makes a better story.  Here's our survivor:

The morning after she was perched up inside the hen house, still a little shaken.  However, the next day she  ventured out in their yard and now, almost completely healed, she is back to being the boss.

The girls had to stay in their secure area for a couple days until I could come up with a solution for aerial attacks.  I wasn't going to let that happen again.

I could have added two more 10x12 tarps, but tarps can get quite costly, especially if you burn through one a year.  I just can't get out there to disassemble before every whipping wind session, and add two more on the list?

There's bird netting, but that wouldn't work because of my leaf situation.  I'd be constantly cleaning them.

And then, aha!   Somewhere in the recess of my mind I thought of a web.  With clothesline.  A little zig.  A little zag.  And wallah:  Effective and inexpensive!

Yes, a raptor (Hawk, owl, etc.) could conceivably get in but there's no way they can get out.  Not with a two foot wingspan.  Now the girls can once again roam freely and safe in their yard. 

      Winter sunsets on the veranda
                                                        Wishing you and yours a healthy and splendid Holiday Season.                                                                             
                                                                         Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

                                                          Oh yeah, the kittens are just fine.