Haven Re-opened

Ahh, that time of the year again.

I start every post-Haven blog post with essentially the same idea: boy, I really love being up there. It’s true though; it’s something that I have to relearn each time we go. When I’m there I feel refreshed. Even though I know it will be enjoyable in my head, I only know it in my bones when I’m sitting on the sand, listening to the wind through the trees, smelling the pines.

I’ve been so disappointed that we didn’t get up to the Haven very much last summer, and I’m trying to make sure we do a better job this year. Not only is it enjoyable, but it recharges me in a way that nothing else really does, and I think the more time I spend there, the happier I’ll be.

And all this despite the fact that it rained all night and I almost knocked myself unconscious with tree limbs not once, but TWICE (to be fair, only one actually hit me in the head. *I* hit the other one with my head while fleeing from a third tree limb).

After last year, we were extremely nervous that the Haven would be under water again. The first year it was dry and wonderful, the second year was underwater, awful, and filled with ravenous mosquitoes, so this year is best two out of three. So far, it seems dry and mosquitoes weren’t really an issue at all.

It rained all night, but it wasn’t windy, and we all kept dry. In the morning we went out to eat and it was sunny by the time we got back. Everything was dry by the time we packed up, so no complaints on that front either. About the only real problem we had was that the air mattress leaked all night and we ended up sleeping on the ground. It was pretty uncomfortable; I don’t know how the kids do it!

We weren’t going to be there very long, so our plan was to not do any work and just enjoy it. However, we did decide to go map out the driveway a little bit. A few hours later, Sara and I had cleared out all the underbrush and small trees, and it almost looks like a driveway! We’ll need to chop down quite a few bigger trees of course, but it went from being some kind of pipe dream (“Yeah, we really ought to get around to that sometime”) to something that’s ready to go. I honestly think with a little help we could get it mostly taken care of in a day or two!

So here’s to another year of camping and land barony! And maybe even driveways!

I must have accidentally angered the forest gods

We have just not been able to make it up to The Haven this year. We knew there weren’t a lot of opportunities to go, but it seems like every time we have a chance, something just seems to come up. And of course, the one time we did make it up was an unmitigated disaster. I’m starting to suspect supernatural influence.

We were all set to go up and meet my sister on Saturday morning. Giant pile of camping gear in the living room, house cleaned, kids excited, the whole nine. Sara and I had stayed up late getting everything ready, so we had only just fallen asleep when suddenly the bedroom door banged open.

There stood one very panicked 5 year old, clutching her throat, unable to breath.

As with any emergency in the middle of the night, my body was operating well ahead of my brain. Right away I knew what was the matter, but for some reason I just could not communicate this to Sara. My sister had terrible asthma as a kid, and waking up in the night unable to breath was, unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence for her. This just snapped me back there right away. So finally Sara was able to piece together my incoherent panic-babbling (something about shouting “Rachael!” and forcing Evie to lock eyes with me and slow her breathing), and grab Evie’s inhaler.

Poor Evie was a wreck, coughing and crying, which was only making it worse. Luckily for us, our daughter is so amazingly mature for her age, and she managed to understand what I was saying to her, think through the situation, and calm down enough to get it a little under control. We got a couple of breathing treatments in her, and though her breathing still sounded like a freight train, she was so exhausted that she wanted to go back to sleep.

We put her in bed with Sara, but I was too agitated to go back to sleep. It really pains me to think that I cursed my daughter with asthma. So I was alternately pacing around in the hallway, listening to her wheeze through the closed bedroom door, and looking up “What to do when asthma attacks!” websites, when I just couldn’t take it anymore. I went back into the bedroom.

“Do you think she’s okay? Is there something else we should be doing?”
“I don’t know, should we give her another dose of the inhaler?”

Even with the extra dosage from the inhaler she just didn’t seem to be getting any better, but she didn’t seem to be getting any worse either, so I went out again. I think that was about the time that she threw up all over herself. This poor girl, she was really trying to hold it together, and we were trying to help her hold it together, because we knew if she didn’t stay calm it could get bad again really quick.

Ultimately, we opted to take her to the emergency room. Sara took her and I stayed home with Ollie. “Start kicking the seat if you can’t breath,” she told Evie. You never really know if you’re doing the right thing, going to the emergency room. Am I overreacting? Well, apparently not, based on the alarm generated by Evie’s entrance and speed at which they got to work on her. So I guess we did the right thing after all.

It turns out that Evie had croup, so it wasn’t even asthma related (which explains why the inhaler wasn’t helping). However, that croup is no joke, and it can be fatal. It was pretty scary for us, so I can only imagine how scary it was for Evie; waking up and being unable to breath, having no idea what is going on or how to stop it. And then, despite all of that, to have the wherewithal (as a 5 year old!) to be able to calm down and work through it.

Anyway, this is just a long way to say we didn’t exactly make it up to go camping the next morning. Sara and Evie were at the ER until about 4:30 in the morning, and we certainly didn’t want to risk a recurrence when we were out in the woods somewhere.

Evie was pretty much okay, other than she didn’t really want to go to sleep Saturday night in case it happened again (and who could blame her on that score?). Her other big concern was that she completely lost her voice in all of this, and of course she had an audition for a part in The Little Mermaid yesterday. Fortunately, her voice was more or less back, and she performed her audition piece successfully.

I’m sure they get their share of precocious little girls, but man-oh-man would I have loved to see their faces when Evie performed. I admit to being a little biased, but I think she might have blown a couple of people’s hair back when she really opened up. Anyway, as should be no surprise if you’ve watched that video, she will be playing the role of Ursula, the Sea Witch.

Maybe she can use her Sea Witch powers to commune with the Haven spirits and figure out what I did to offend them so badly that they’ll stop at nothing to keep us away…

Mosquito Haven

Well, we made it out on our first camping trip of the year. I have to say, things could have gone better.

The Haven was still partially underwater. The water wasn’t nearly as bad as when we were there a couple of months ago, but the fact that any was there at all is a bit troubling. The first time it was forgivable because it had been raining cats and dogs for quite awhile. This time, however, it hasn’t been particularly wet.

Unfortunately, as we guessed, the raspberries seem to be kaput. That was a big bummer, since that was one of the fairly major projects of last year. More generally, it’s kind of a bummer that there’s so much water around everywhere, making it difficult to get around and sort of unpleasant to contemplate living there at some point. Especially since all of that standing water lead to the inevitable conclusion – mosquitos.

Mosquito Bite Girl

It was unbelievable. As a person who has done a lot of camping, I’ve never seen anything like it. The clouds of mosquitos were so bad that it was almost like you had a hard time seeing somebody through it. I cannot imagine there is enough wildlife up there to feed that many mosquitos, which means they were just that much more hungry when we got there. The picture above really does not do it justice AT ALL.

Oh, the poor kids. The poor, poor kids. I feel like such a bad parent even telling you. Even covered with bugspray, pants, and sweatshirts, the kids were all but carried away by the buggers. Their poor, sad little bodies are covered head to toe. Ollie’s left hand had so many bites on it that it was swollen like a sausage, and he couldn’t flex his fingers. His ankles were so bad, he had trouble walking. He’s got 5 or so that actually turned into big, white, swollen blisters and popped. Evie absolutely looks like she has the chicken pox.

Between that and the extreme lack of sleep, moods were pretty foul by Sunday, and we left hours before we had planned. Since we had gotten there so late on Saturday, we were only there well short of 24 hours. I still think it is safe to say that it was the most miserable less-than-24-hours of Evie’s life. I’m actually worried that she’s been soured on camping altogether, she was so miserable. Both children had to get up for benadryl in the middle of the night just to make it to morning.

Thoroughly unenjoyable.

The worst part of the whole thing is that I am relatively untouched, which make me feel a little guilty. With 3 tasty morsels around to snack on, I was distinctly less appetizing. My secret? When nobody’s looking, I quietly release a little mosquito repellent in the air, like one of those Glade air fresheners. Halbach brand repellent – absolutely repellent since 1980.

The one good news is that I was finally able to get around most of the property and hang the “no trespassing” signs back up. 3 sides are good to go, and the 4th is maybe a 3rd of the way done. I found every sign except 1, and they are much more secure this time, so hopefully they don’t just keep falling down again. It was somewhat depressingly difficult to find the signs, downed or otherwise. Isn’t it kind of half the point that someone can easily see them?

It’s especially depressing knowing that I sacrificed my kids to the mosquito gods, just to re-hang some invisible signs that will probably just fall off the tree again.

Opening the Haven

Over the weekend we officially made our first trip up to the Haven this year. As usual, it was great to be up there, and we actually covered a pretty good percentage of the property just wandering around before settling in for some good old fashioned playing in the sand. We didn’t see any animals this time, but we saw lots and lots of evidence; mostly poop (fur-filled or otherwise), and lots of very clear tracks. We saw some deer tracks, something that was either a giant turkey or a velociraptor, and some sort of clawed monster, possibly a werewolf.

I certainly was happy we went up there. However, there were actually quite a few problems (in addition to the velociraptor/werewolf infestation).

The main thing was that a significant amount of the property was under water. I know that we’ve received a lot of rain lately, and it’s not crazy to think this was the five year (or more) high water mark. Still, it’s somewhat of a bummer to think of dealing with all that water hanging around on your property. We saw evidence that water stands in some of the sandy areas, but we never really saw that at all last year. Is that more typical, or was that because last year was especially dry, and this is actually the normal case?

Most disappointing of all was that all of the raspberries we planted last year were totally underwater. We’re talking a mini-pond, at least a foot deep. The water had obviously been there for quite some time and didn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. We shall see, but I think it’s likely that none of them will survive. Not only will we lose all of our raspberries, but we also lost our “excellent garden spot” since there’s no way we can plant anything else there now.

On the other hand, we did get a little justification as far as building sites go. The area we had tentatively selected as a potential build site was basically the only possible spot that was not underwater. So it looks like we chose correctly, and I think we can officially declare that to be the Official Location now. So that does feel pretty good.

I don’t remember any tremendous storms coming through recently, but there were several major trees down. I’m talking enormous old pines, like house-crushing size. It seems to me it must have been some storm to take them out. Obviously something out of the ordinary, since we haven’t seen hardly any other trees down. I guess the silver lining is that we have plenty of trees to chop for firewood now.

Actually though, I’m not sure we’ll get to them! Between needing to clear out some higher ground for a new garden location, knowing where we need to start clearing out for potential future cabin building, and wanting to get started on clearing for a driveway, we have lots and lots (and lots!) of trees to chop down this year. Right now it seems like almost an infinite amount. We’ve got our work cut out for us (unfortunately, not literally…we have to do all the cutting).

Most unsettling of all was that someone has set up an *extremely* permanent looking tree stand that is clearly on our property. This is a fully built platform, with a permanent ladder attached, everything shiny and new. I have heard story after story about people who have fights with neighbors over tree stands, and I was really hoping to avoid this. This thing is big, heavy, and bolted in, so I can’t exactly just climb up and take it down. On one hand, it’s not too far from the property line and I don’t really mind right now if people are hunting there AS LONG AS THEY HAVE PERMISSION. That’s why we specifically chose no trespassing signs that said hunting was only allowed with permission, to indicate that we are open to it. Now I feel like this is some sort of test, to see if we would notice or complain, and if we don’t, then we’re push overs and everything is fair game. I hope that I’m wrong about that, but in the meantime, I’m not sure what to do. Of course, all of this is compounded by the fact that most of our no trespassing signs are down, but I believe there were several still up close to the new tree stand.

Still deciding what to do about that one. I would like to minimize the stress in my life. Which potential path will ultimately lead to less stress?

Winter at The Haven

For reasons I will explain next week, I am a bit behind on posting things. However,  a couple of weeks ago we made a quick day trip up to the Haven.

First off, visiting this time of year means wearing blaze orange. Nobody should be hunting on our land, but with the amount of gunfire we heard while we were up there, better safe than sorry.

December 001

(photo credit goes to Evie)

Even with the vests on I’m absolutely positive we don’t look like the hunting type, but as we were coming out of the woods one of the neighbors stopped and asked if we’d been hunting and if we’d seen anything. I looked from my five year old to my two year old and back to him, and then I realized that, not only was he not kidding, but he was seriously waiting for an answer. That place is a whole different world, I’m telling you. I’m sure he’d be at a loss for words if I asked him if he’d paid $36 for parking.

The big bummer was that most of our signs were down. I obviously didn’t check them all, so I’m hoping the ones close to the road that are more exposed to the wind were the only ones effected. Looks like I have another job to (re)do in the spring. On the plus side, the raspberries seem to be doing well, and we continued the tradition of taking home a little piece of the Haven for a Christmas tree.

2012_12_02_9369

Often when we go up there, we don’t get a chance to really explore South Haven, so it was nice to be able to do some of that. We checked out a restaurant (honestly not too impressed, but I’m glad we gave it a try!) and afterwards watched the awkward pre-teens on their awkward first dates at the ice rink.

We accomplished a lot this this year: making paths, cutting trees for wood, clearing out around the blueberries, getting the no trespassing signs up, planting the raspberries, finding a potential house location and clearing it out a little bit, hanging the swing/slide, and building the fire pit. We have even more ambitious plans for next year, including starting to  clear for the driveway and planting some fruit trees and some plants that don’t need a lot of care. Additionally I think of all the different people who came up and helped us this year, and I hope they all had a good time. I certainly enjoyed all of the help and companionship.

I feel like a broken record some times, but it just feels so wonderful to be up there, sitting in the woods, in the quiet, and just relaxing. Doing hard, manual labor there is more relaxing than sitting around here in the city. Going up there really does recharge my batteries a little bit, even if it’s only for a couple of hours.

I’m already pining for another trip (get it? pining?)

My almost-career as a CSI investigator

At the very end of my short career as a surveyor, I almost found myself in another career entirely; that of a crime scene investigator.

We were on our way back from posting the no trespassing signs, when I saw Rachael’s dog Luna doing something in the bushes. I assumed it was “that” something, but it turns out it wasn’t.

Suddenly, Luna burst from the bushes with a straight up skeleton in her mouth.

It appear to be some sort of full size leg bone, one segment clamped in her teeth, and a second bone (a femur if you will) was dangling by a knee joint. The bone itself was a beautiful specimen, picked clean and bleached perfectly white, with knobby ends and everything, as if she had stolen it off the pages of a medical text book. The whole thing was at least 2 1/2 feet long. As she bounded towards us, grinning gleefully, the skeletal leg dangled and danced beside her, like some kind of spooky Halloween lawn ornament. Except this one was not made of plastic.

I literally expected a skeleton to come hopping out of the woods on one foot after her, cursing his luck.

As the dog pranced around my sister with her prize, I said, “Rachael, grab it!” to which she replied, “You get it, I’m a vegetarian!” When I finally managed to pry it out of Luna’s mouth with the claw of a hammer, I hurled it back into the woods. We then spent the next few minutes trying to keep Luna from chasing after it.

“Rachael, we have to see what this is. That looked like a human bone!”
“No way, I’m not going back there. Lets just pretend we didn’t find it.”

I let myself be convinced to leave well enough alone, when I realized we were no more than 100 feet from our camp.

“Rachael, we have to go look. I’m not going to camp here if there’s a body on the other side of the hill!”

I forged a path to where I had seen Luna digging, with Rachael trailing reluctantly behind. Luckily, it did turn out to be some kind of animal (deer I expect, although the skull was pretty damaged) (not damaged enough to know for certain it wasn’t a human though). Luna managed to snag one tasty mouthful before we were able to pull her away, which she crunched with great relish once we got back to camp.

Alls well that ends well, I suppose, although I suppose it would have made a much better blog post if it had been a body.

My short career as a surveyor

I mentioned that one of the things we did up at The Haven was to post “no trespassing” signs around the perimeter of our property, but I didn’t mention the “how” of it, which is actually a story unto itself.

We knew where the stakes were in the front, and we were told there were stakes marking the back corner, but we had never actually seen them. I know from experience that it is very, very easy to get turned around in the woods, or to think you are walking a straight line to your destination while blithely walking in exactly the wrong direction, or at a right angle from where you think you are going. There have been times where we were at the exact opposite side of the property from where we thought we were. There have been times where I would have sworn the road was in one direction, and I was completely wrong. There have been times when I have stumbled on a path that I would have sworn wasn’t on the map, or not found a path even though I would have sworn it should have been *right there*.

Therefore, we had planned to use my sister’s GPS to make sure we were staying on the property line. I know GPS isn’t 100% accurate down to the millimeter, and it’s possible that it wouldn’t be able to get a good signal in the woods, but I also know that my head isn’t even 10% accurate, so it couldn’t have been worse with the GPS than without it. Unfortunately, the GPS was a complete failure. It worked perfectly in our trial runs along the road, but as soon as we moved into the woods, it just completely stopped. It insisted that we must be on the road, and wouldn’t even update the latitude / longitude indicators. It was worthless.

I really, really wanted to get the job done, but I really, really doubted our ability to wing it. We decided to make do with what we had, and give it a shot. We would lay the signs in a line where we thought they aught to go, waiting to nail them in until we were sure we ended up in the right place. If we ended up being off, we could work our way back correcting them until we had a more or less straight line.

What we had was a simple compass and some yellow caution tape. We went to the road, where the GPS was working, and paced off 30 yards. Assuming the GPS was right, we now had a roughly 90 foot long “rope” of caution tape (we had been planning 100 feet, but we figured 90 was close enough). Then, I positioned myself on the stake and used the compass to ensure that Rachael was walking a straight(ish) line. When she got to the end of the tape, we laid a sign down and did it again.

Here’s the thing though, we had a lot of room for error. First off, all of our assumptions were based on the fact that the tape was 90 feet long, which we didn’t even know for sure. Second off, the compass was very fickle, and I could get about any reading I wanted, within maybe 20 degrees. The tape would often need to be bent around trees or tossed over bushes. And there were times when I couldn’t even see Rachael to see if she was on the line or not. (I had the “holding the compass” job by virtue of the fact that Rachael had a pink shirt, and was thus much easier to see in the woods than my navy blue.) Even if we were off by only a little bit on each spot, the small error could propagate to a large error after repeating a dozen times.

When we got to the back of the property and found the stake was directly on our line, it was probably one of the greatest moments of my life. We were sweaty, we were tired, we were scratched up, we were dirty, we were thirsty (we didn’t bring any water with us because we didn’t expect it to take 2 hours!), and we were absolutely sure what we were doing wasn’t going to work. There it was, right where it was supposed to be.

It just seemed so crazy that we could do it without any kind of technology. I have to say, I became an absolute believer in the compass that day.

When we got back to camp, everybody was over working on the raspberries. “You know,” I said, “if we have to walk back there, we might as well go on the edge of the property and put some signs up. Just to the raspberries. That would save us some time tomorrow…”

A few minutes later, we were back in action on the other side of the property. When we got to the raspberry patch, everyone had already left, so we decided to just keep on truckin’. That side was infinitely more navigable, not to mention that we had refined our system a little bit, which means we finished the entire side in 30 minutes, rather than the 2 hours it took on the other side (to be fair, we also didn’t have Evie “helping us” on that side either). Well, at that rate, we might as well do the short(er) distance across the back, right?

It was a long, difficult day and I was absolutely beat, but the no trespassing signs were up, and mentally I felt great. It was such a sense of accomplishment to crawl through bushes for two hours and then suddenly find out the fruits of your labor paid off! It was great to see all the little ins and outs of the property that I hadn’t gotten to see yet, especially the very back corner. And there is something psychological about fencing in the property that really makes you feel possessive. It was great to clarify where exactly the property line was in a few ambiguous places, and it feels like we now have a safety net to help keep us from wandering off our property or getting lost.

Without a doubt it was the most satisfying project I’ve done on the property.

Special thanks to my sister and co-surveyor, I definitely couldn’t have done it without her. Repeatedly, she had to climb through brambles and bushes to keep the line straight, only to have me stroll around on an easier path once the marker was set (did I mention we were wearing shorts during this?). She did it without complaining. Even though we didn’t really chit chat, I felt like it was a nice bonding moment. Especially when we found that first stake, my friends. There was a lot of hi-fiving, let me tell you.