9 Day Solo Winter Wonderland Adventure

The sun is rising over a very calm Lake Huron. Today begins, not only a new year, but a new adventure and challenge for me. For the next nine days I’m home solo. This is the longest I’ll have been by myself and this is the first time to be myself during winter.

I know it may not seem like much to be by oneself. Many of my friends live by themselves. For others having the house to yourself might be something that you’d look forward to, but living off the grid on an island makes it very different.

This morning it is 9 degrees out. There’s ice on the lake. Snow covers the ground and trees. In the parlor stove a fire slowly burns heating the house.

Wood is stacked in the breezeway; hopefully it will last a week. I’ll need to bring more in before Hugh gets home. Wood split for the cookstove fills five milk crates. The two-track that I drive from the garage to the main road is packed and cleared of overhanging branches.

The day-to-day business of life will not be any different than when my best friend is home with me. Except that I probably won’t make such tasty dinners, I might snack my way through lunch and nibble on holiday baked goods rather than making myself a decent breakfast. Or I might burn my oatmeal as I am distracted by my book. And I’ll probably drink lots of hot chocolate!

Laundry and grocery shopping will get done as necessary. I’ll go to work as scheduled. But I’ll be the one to get up first to stoke the fire in the morning. I’ll be the one to stir up the coals and put wood in the stove to warm up the house in the evening.

It is my job, now, to monitor our batteries. If the sun is hidden too many days and not able to recharge the batteries I’ll run the generator. It’s a pretty simple process – make sure it has plenty of gas, pull out the choke, turn on the switch, and close the choke. Then watch the inside meter and turn it off when the batteries are fully charged. I’ve got plenty of gas and we’re also full on propane for the refrigerator.

Nothing sounds too tricky. Right? Right!

If it snows, and I hope it does because I love snow, I get to do the road maintenance. If it is only an inch or so at a time, normal driving on the two-track will keep everything tidy. But if it snows like our last good snow of 14 inches, or even four inches, the road will need work. Chains all around will be put on the Jeep to begin packing it down again. Then I’ll need to hook up the drag bar to pull, rather than plow the road. The drag bar levels off the snow that piles up between the tire tracks so it is not too high. If the snow gets too high in the middle the Jeep can get stuck. The process is simple enough as long as the drag bar, made of I-beam doesn’t get hooked on a rock. Also it can’t be backed up as it connects to the back of the Jeep with just a chain at both sides. There are no fancy hydraulics to lift it like a snow plow. It just takes a little planning and patience.

Also to be considered it that we’re on winter water conservation. When the boats got pulled out and the temperatures regularly dropped below freezing we unhooked our waterline. The soil is too shallow to bury water lines and prevent them from freezing. Year round we pump water out of the lake, but in winter we pump water, through a fire hose that connects to the indoor waterline, every three days. That is how long we can stretch out the water pumped into two forty-gallon pressure tanks. Bear in mind though, that it is not the equivalent of eighty gallons. It is closer to twenty-five gallons per tank as the air bladder, which creates the pressure, takes up some of the tank capacity.

Each morning and evening I should clear the ice where the waterline is in the lake at end of the dock. With single digit temperatures, like last night’s, and the lake still the bay is quick to freeze. Last year Hugh and I were both away from home for a few days on different business trips. He got home before me. When he arrived the ice was almost a foot thick where our waterline was. A lot of chainsaw time and a day later he finally got the ice cleared so he could pump water.

Sunday we filled the water tanks. It will be time for me to pump again when the pressure gets low, about 25-30 psi. The water will run slowly out of the tap and the tub will take a while to fill even just an inch deep. With two of us in the house the water usually lasts about three days. By myself it might last four, but I might use Hugh’s unused ration to take a little deeper bath and pump sooner.

Think for a moment about how much water you use to brush your teeth, wash your hands, clean the dishes, make coffee or tea. How much water do you use to take a bath (or shower) or flush the toilet? It’s amazing how little you actually need to do these things, if you are conscientious. I’ve previously written about taking a bath in a puddle. If you missed it you can read it here http://wp.me/p1e7fq-2P A couple of weeks ago I took a bath and washed my hair with about 40 ounces of water. As for the toilet flushing, we winterized the composting toilet when we unhooked the waterline. Instead we use the outhouse or a good old fashioned chamber pot at night.

When it comes time to pump, I’ll pull out of the lake the end of the waterline that stays below the water level. This is kept in the water, 32 degree water, so the water won’t create a huge ice cube in the lake end of the waterline. (Water doesn’t freeze until the entire mass gets to 31.9 degrees.) To that pipe I’ll connect two ten-foot sections of heavy duty green industrial strength hose, about 3 inches in diameter. Next I’ll take the large hose reel that Hugh built, on which the fire hose is rolled up, and wheel it down the boardwalk to the lake’s edge. I’ll then connect the fire hose to the green hose and unroll a couple hundred feet of hose along the boardwalk all the way up to the house. In the mechanical room, the fire hose gets connected to the flexible pipe that attaches to the plumbing for the tanks. Once all are connected I turn on the water pump switch.

With the tank filling, I’ll run back inside and upstairs and begin filling a hot bath. I can get a deep bath by filling the tub while the tanks are filling. Back down in the mechanical room I’ll watch the pressure gauge work its way up to 70 psi. That is when I dash up to turn off the tub. It will be hot hot hot. While I’m rolling everything back up the tub will cool down a little to a comfortable temperature. Back down in the mechanical room I’ll turn the pump off. I’ll need to drain the water out of the fire hose as quickly as possible, otherwise it can easily begin to freeze.

I’ll promptly go unhook the green hose and recap the waterline. “Plop” will go the waterline back into the lake. Full of water, the industrial sized green hose is as heavy and awkward as a python. As I drain it it can have the tendency to flop into the water, but I’ll wrestle with it so it stays out and stays dry.

With the green hose unhooked, I then make sure there are no kinks in the fire hose and it is draining. Back up to the house and I’ll put the fire hose on the reel to roll it up again. With the hose empty and on its reel and the green hose tamed and coiled, they will be put back in the mechanical room. A double check to make sure the pump is off it will now be time for a hot bath.

The biggest challenge, in being by myself for nine days, will be making sure water doesn’t freeze in the fire hose. But as I’ve done it many times before, it should not be a problem. And if it were to freeze, I’d just take it in the workshop, turn on the kerosene heater and let it thaw out into a big tub. The other biggest challenge will be if it snows to clear the road without getting stuck. With chains and a shovel and taking my time, I should be fine.

All that being said, I’m really looking forward to this next week. Today I’m going to make turkey soup from the Christmas turkey. This weekend I may make more, yes more, fruitcake. Also I enjoy my work of helping my clients and mentoring therapists. I’m also looking forward to the cold temperatures beginning to create some ice and snow art for me to photograph. And maybe there will be undistracted time to write. I’m still trying to get the last bits of three manuscripts completed.

The sun is completely up and I’m still in bed, writing this. My stomach is grumbling and the outhouse is calling. My camera is patiently waiting by the door, ready for a walk. I guest it’s time to start my nine day solo winter wonderland adventure.

Fortunately I love adventure, I love challenges and I love winter!

p.s. – Yesterday I brought in the wings and tail of an old squaw that I found. I wonder what I’ll find today.

Posted in Birds, Book, Cooking, Ice, Jeep, Nature, Off the Grid, Photography, Shelter Island, Sunrise, Water, Winter, Wood splitting, Wood stove, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Celebratory Book Giveaways – this holiday weekend

Three years ago my first book, “The Insightful Body: Healing with SomaCentric Dialoguing” was published.

A year ago my second book, “Art of Winter: A Photographic Essay” was conceived and birthed last summer.

As a celebration and thank you to you of you who have supported me in this journey, I am giving away three copies of each book During this long holiday weekend.

For details about how to win a copy of  “Art of Winter” see http://www.JulieMCovert.com.

For details y about how to win a copy of “The Insightful Body” see http://www.CranioSacralPath.com.

Winners will be selected at random on Jan 2, 2013. And yes, you can win more than one copy, that is if your name is selected.

Thank you again for your support and I wish you a joyous and prosperous 2013.



Posted in Art of Winter book, Book, Insightful Body book, Photography, Shelter Island, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tale of Hunting a Christmas Tree

A couple of weeks ago while talking with Dad on the phone, he told me that they had gotten their Christmas tree a couple of days earlier.

“It wasn’t as easy as you are able to do,” he said. “You can just walk out your door and cut any Christmas tree you want. You have an island full of them. Us, we have to go buy one.”

The topic changed before I could tell him that it actually was not that easy. In fact this year it was challenging.

In early winter we start hiking on and off the island, because we’ve pulled the boats out for the winter. It’s an enjoyable mile walk, through the middle of the island, from our house to Drummond Island, where we park the truck and Jeep.

As Christmas approaches we begin scouting for our Christmas tree during this commute to and from work. We look for one that is appropriately sized and is sufficiently full of branches to hold ornaments and lights. Shelter Island is primarily coniferous. White cedar, white and black spruce, and balsam fir predominate. There are some tamarack, also known as larch, and a couple other varieties. For a Christmas tree I prefer the spruce. Generally it does not matter to Hugh, but he would prefer not to have a white spruce.

The other criteria for the Christmas tree is ecologically based. We look for a tree that is being crowded out by other trees and therefore will not survive very well or for very long. Or we look for one next to the trail, that has grown too large and needs pruning to keep the path clear. These reasons make it easy to justify cutting the tree down.

In certain areas there is a lack of nutrients or water, which turns the trees the color of rust or gold and they prematurely die. This year we came across a gold colored spruce. It was the right height, about eight feet, and had a decent shape. Initially I thought that might be a unique novelty to have – a gold Christmas tree. But the more I looked at it, the sicker it looked and became less and less appealing. I decided that I would leave it.

The trees that are well formed, of good height and good color are usually in the open fields or edge of the woods. But we do not cut them because they have struggled to grow. The soil is very shallow, only a few inches in most areas as the island is pure dolomite bedrock. Trees work hard to take root and thrive because of the small amount of dirt.

We want as many trees to mature as possible because along with shallow soil, heavy snow, strong wind and lack of rain can wreak havoc on our woods. A couple of times each winter we get a big heavy, wet snow. The snow clings and then freezes to branches, causing them to snap and break. Snow laden trees arch over the trails and roads, conjuring images of a Dr. Seuss picture. Unfortunately a lot of these trees do not survive; they succumb to the weight of the snow and the top snaps off or they topple over because their roots are not strong nor deep enough to hold them upright. Last March during a big wet snow a beautiful spruce fell down. It would have been great as a Christmas tree, as we’d have been able to cut off the top eight feet and leave the other twenty laying in the woods. But it happened three months too late or nine months too early.

When storms with strong winds blow, 20 − 30 miles an hour and sometimes up to 50 miles an hour, trees are often knock downed. The shallow roots are not able to withstand these forces and the trees are uprooted.

During the summer and fall, if not enough rain has fallen the shallow soil is quick to dry and become parched. Even the mildest drought can weaken the trees, allowing it to become susceptible to insects, particularly boring beetles, which then quickly kill the trees.

If a tree is doing well and is not in the way of our already established foot trail, we don’t cut it.

If it is being crowded out by other trees, it is usually scrawny, spindly or sickly.

So it is difficult to find a great Christmas tree, even on forty acres.

P1130057 (1)

This is my third Christmas with Hugh on Shelter Island. The two previous years we had each scouted a couple candidates in the middle of the island. We had taken a saw and went for a half-mile walk and looked at our options. Usually the choice was obvious. Not this year. Neither of us had seen anything that caught our fancy.

Walking home one evening, I jokingly said to Hugh, “How about this one?” I pointed to a little spruce next to the trail. In ten years it might be large enough, but at the moment it was only about sixteen inches tall.

“That would be cute,” he replied.

I wasn’t serious. He was. Nope, I wanted something on which I could put more than six ornaments.

As we walked through the fields we talked about how there might be a tree in the way of a new trail we were thinking of creating. A definite option to explore.

So last week we went hunting for our tree. With saw in hand we walked the half-mile to the fields where we were going to create a new trail. For more than twenty minutes we walked around looking at trees along our proposed path. Most were firs. Those that were spruce were quite scrawny. They were definitely being crowded out by other trees. But they would not have been considered a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

We walked along the edge of the woods, looking for a decent tree that was being crowded. I didn’t need perfect and honestly knew I wasn’t going to get perfect. Decent worked for me. The tree is put in the corner of the dining room, between two windows, so it is okay if one side is misshapen or flat.

“Let’s look on the other side of the meadow.”

That is where we found the gold colored spruce, but I wanted something greener.

We walked through the meadow looking and looking. Discussing the attributes of various trees, trying to talk ourselves into one that might be good enough. Finally after what seemed an hour we found a small tree. It was just barely five feet tall. It was a little more than a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but not much more. It was a spruce, and so Hugh was concerned that it might be a white spruce, the variety he’d prefer not to have.

“Why don’t you want a white spruce?”

“Because they smell like cat piss.”

He wasn’t trying to be vulgar, but he was right. White spruce do smell like piss. Because our tree was so short it was difficult to tell what variety it was.

It would do regardless.

A couple hundred yards down the trail we encountered a spruce that the needles looked a little bit different. They were a little skinnier and a little more needle like. The amount of needles on the branch seemed to be less dense than the spruce we had just cut. I broke a small branch off and sniffed.


I offered Hugh a smell of the branch. It smelled like cat piss. I then broke a small branch off our tree.

“I guess we got a black spruce.” It had the pleasant seasonal aroma of spruce.

Carrying it home was effortless. It was light and easy to prop up on my shoulder. This made me realize that it would not hold many ornaments and definitely not any heavy ones. My green “M’nM” ornament would be too heavy for these thin branches. Many of the handcrafted ornaments would be light enough; like the one I made out of birch bark two years ago.

I made my mental list of setting it up: We’d fill a five gallon bucket with rocks to hold it upright. Then fill the bucket with water. And wrap the bucket with the old green towels.

I thought to myself how the two strands of white lights and a dozen or so carefully selected ornaments would tastefully decorate the tree. It would be quaint.

Yes that would be nice.

When we got close to the house, with our freshly cut Christmas tree slung over my shoulder, I started to see shapely spruce trees. I pointed these out to Hugh. He made the comment that maybe some would be the right size next year. A week later, as the first major snow began to fall, out the dining room I saw more shapely trees. All possible candidates.

Yes, Dad, perhaps next year we’ll just walk out our door and cut down a tree.


Merry Christmas everyone!

What is your tree story?

Posted in Christmas, Nature, Shelter Island, Stewardship, Walk, Winter, Woods | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to make the world a better place – Sandy Hook

We need to bear in mind, in this time of national grief and sadness, that the problem lies in the fact that the Sandy Hook shooter needed help. What created this tragedy is not the guns, but the angst felt by the shooter that eventually compelled him to make the decisions he did. Even though we can’t turn back time and we may never learn what caused him to take all those lives, there is something we can do.

What we can do is reach out to anyone we know who is having a difficult time. This help might be a simple smile or hug, or giving them a phone number of a support hotline or counselor, or lending a ear, or inviting them to Christmas dinner.

What simple difference can you make in someone’s life to make the world a better place? (Please share this.)

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Time to listen up – it’s finally being aired!

(Yes I posted this before but the show never aired so ) I’m excited to let you know that I will be on Interlochen Public Radio’s program Points North on Friday November 9th from 9 to 10 AM ET discussing my photography coffee table book “Art of Winter.” I hope you get a chance to listen and if you do, please let me know what you think.
If you live in the Michigan area you can listen to it on the radio and if you’re not able to do that you can also listen online. See their website for other rebroadcast times.

Posted in Art of Winter book, Book, Drummond Island, Ice, Internet, Michigan, Nature, Photography, Self-Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment