Gone Fishin

Spaz.  That pretty much sums up in a word my first attempt at going fishing in an inflatable kayak.

It’s not the first word that comes to mind when you think of a former beauty queen but I would like to be clear that I can trip over AIR.

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Having spent the morning going to the fishing shop, listening to the fisherman gossip, and getting my very first California fishing license, I was super excited about seeing what all the fuss was about!

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You see we had seen this man walking down the road by Lake Mamie with what can only be described as a bevy of beautiful trout.  He looked like an ad for Orvis.  This guy KNEW how to fish!

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I casually congratulated him and inquired in my best southern drawl what bait he was using.  I felt like a spy trying to get damning secrets out of a crooked politician over a martini.  I mean this was important.  Bait was where it was at!  He promptly told me what he was using (Succumbed to my southern drawl or just really nice guy?) and why he thought it worked so well and I hightailed myself to town to pick some up.

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First step was to practice my casting technique.  I had spent an endless childhood fishing in the bayous and lakes of Louisiana but it had been a couple of years since I had picked up a pole and I wanted to see how out of practice I was before boarding an ocean going vessel made out of rubber with a sharp hook.  I carry a life jacket on my kayak in case of an emergency but I wasn’t planning on having to test out this safety feature if I didn’t have to.

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When we were cabin hunting one of the things that kept bringing us back to our sweet little place on Twin Lakes was the lake access.  While we were attracted to some of the higher, more remote options it was the front door with steps to the water that kept pulling us back.  I put this to good use with my kayak, now it was time to start participating in what I was watching countless people do every day in the front yard.  Go fishing!

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I popped on my wellies, took a glass of wine over to the falls, found a slightly submerged spot on a rock on which to keep my wine glass chilled (priorities), and started going through the paces of casting.

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Would you believe I caught a fish right away?  I guess I wasn’t that out of practice!  Unfortunately, having forgotten to grab the net and having gotten excited I did exactly what my Dad always told me not to do.  I jerked the fish out of the water, it promptly fell off.   As I was completely unprepared for what to do with a caught fish since I was just trying to hone my technique it was probably for the best all around.  I pondered this over another glass of wine.  As I was feeding the fish I figured it was only fair to feed myself as well….

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With this success in my back pocket I loaded my kayak in the car and headed up to Lake Mamie to see if this bait story held water or was just a diversionary story by a wily old fisherman.

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I don’t know if any of you have ever fished from an inflatable kayak.  I certainly hadn’t.  Some small issues….

First off, you can’t anchor it since it would more then likely sink, it also being a lake in the mountains which is often quite windy the first battle was trying to get the line in front of me.  I did some stationary gymnastic worthy moments trying to get out from under my line.  Probably not an Olympic sport contender yet but give it some time and who knows!  Drift is a serious problem as well.  As soon as I got cast into a great spot towards shore I would somehow end up on top of my line.  Thank goodness no one was filming this spectacle of spasticness, although I’m sure it would have gone viral with the utter ridiculous of me spinning around in circles trying not to get tangled in my own fishing line.

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This was all fine and dandy as this was partially an experiment, that is until I caught the line on a log and snapped it.  I managed in a fancy ninja move to catch the line before the hook sunk out of sight.

Now I was in a fix.  I had the hook, line, scissors, but trying to rig this on a wind tossed kayak wasn’t exactly what the designers of fishing line had in mind.  I did however by some miracle manage to get the whole thing re-rigged without flipping or running into land and was feeling quite proud until I did my next cast.  There was a catch.  Meaning it caught and didn’t cast.  Seems I had done something wrong, I thought I knew what it was but fearing some calamity that ended with me and the pole in the water I decided to head back to shore.

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Which is when I found THE CANADIANS.  Oh Canada!

I was dejectedly paddling back to shore when I ran across this very nice Canadian family that lived in Santa Monica fishing from the shore.  They asked me how it was out on the lake and I explained my dilemma.  These two delightful gentleman offered to help and spent the next 10 minutes re-working my pole!  Turns out they were from the St. Lawrence river area where I had taken my very first white water rafting trip and had gotten hooked on fast clear water. Kismit at work once again.

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It would be a couple weeks before I stepped back out on the lake with a pole.  It was dusk and I was in the mood for a light paddle on Twin Lakes.  I decided to take the pole just in case.  The lake was calm, the fish were biting, the waterfull was providing a spectacular evening show, conditions couldn’t be more perfect.IMG_1043I landed a crafty little fellow a little while later and managed to reel him in and net him without tipping out of the kayak.  Success!  Unfortunately, the little guy had swallowed the hook completely so I had to paddle back in to sort it all out.  But, fish was on the table for dinner tonight!

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I had never cleaned a trout before and decided that if I was going to get into this I had to be prepared to do the whole job even the dirty one.  Being a nature softie like myself there is always a bit of sadness when killing a fish.  But I also believe in a way if you are prepared to eat something it is a good lesson to understand that it has given it’s small life up for you and to appreciate it.

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I looked over a quick tutorial and went at it.  I think I did alright in the end.  I could have used a sharper knife and now my Opinel that I bought in Chamonix will be living at the cabin for just this purpose!

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My boyfriend broke out the cast iron skillet, browned some butter, and tossed in some lemon wedges with the trout.  It’s unreal how delicious fresh fish right out the lake is compared to what you buy in the store!   I can see now why there are so many people out on the lake everyday trying to score dinner to bring back to their campsite!

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Bon Appétit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Moths Attack

“Bugs.  Why did it have to be bugs?”  Is essentially what I tell myself every time I walk into the cabin upon my return.

This time when we walked up to the exterior of the cabin it was entirely covered in spider webs.  I couldn’t stop myself from singing  “Their house is a museum, when people come to see ‘em, they really are a scream, The Addam’s Family.”  It did look like the place that creepy family would spend their summer holidays.  “Chateau Fosho’s House of Terrors” had a nice brochure ring to it.

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Having been at the cabin just 3 weeks before I could only imagine that a Napoleonic size army crew of spiders could have accomplished so much in so little time.  I was terrified to open the front door to see what awaited us inside.

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Luckily by some miracle it wasn’t as bad as I thought.  While definitely having a stop, drop, and roll reaction upon getting through the initial mudroom entryway the actual inside was bearable.  Bearable meaning there wasn’t an arachnophobia inducing spider party happening with disco balls and 8 legged pole dancers zipping up and down the wooden rafters but still enough webs to make a nice sweater out of.

It was definitely time for a summer scrub down.

I got out the broom, swifter sweepers, cobweb brush, Raid, and went to work.   I would say by the end of the day there was a terrible disturbance in the spider world.  The casualties were many and it would take two very large glasses of wine to get me to stop lurching every time a stray piece of hair touched my neck.

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I had some help though in my cleaning….this little guy kept sneaking into the cabin.  I was wondering if I broke into song if he would pick up a broom and start sweeping ala Cinderella.  Unfortunately all he did was play hide and seek with my broom every time I tried to kick him out, then he would sit on the windowsill and watch me till he got another chance!  Sneaky little bugger.

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Feeling joyful at the thought of sleeping that evening without looking up into a ceiling full of webs I started to get into cozy time.  This is when it came to my attention that custom window screens in the summer were to become as essential as snowshoes in the winter.

The spiders were just a forewarning of summer bug season.   This being my first official summer trip up I hadn’t yet gotten the full picture.  Since it was warm out I had the few working windows open to the delightful mountain breezes sweeping across the lake…

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As the last light started to fade I popped a couple lamps on in the house.  I was not prepared for the kamikaze attack that was to unfold.  The gnats were first.  I had no idea there were that many tiny bugs in the universe let alone now inside my cabin.  Then came the moths……

Growing up in New Orleans where I myself had coined the turn of phrase “Kamikaze Cockroaches”  you think I would be an old pro at dealing with flying insects of all kinds.  There are some things that are better left in the past lore of childhood….

I quickly shut all the windows but it was too late, they were already IN.  I realized my mistake immediately and knew now in the future I was to close all the cabin windows before turning on any lamps, then before I opened any over night windows to shut every single light off in the house, then wait a spell before re-opening any of those keyholes to the bug kingdom.

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But as of now they were in and so was I.  The moths were everywhere doing a tap dance against the lamps.  What was even more frightening was each place where there was a lamp next to a window there were a million of their little friends beating against the glass trying to get inside.  I had a terrible moment where I wondered what would happen if the glass broke.  The scene from The Mummy where the tornado of beetles attacked danced it’s way across my brain.

I went to bed, shut off all the lights and hoped for the best.  I had dozed off and was just settling into a deep sleep when one of those kamikaze moths flew right into my forehead.  SMACK.   I was thankful it wasn’t my mouth.  Wide awake now I armed myself with a flashlight and a fly swatter and went to test my batting average on the entire cabin bug population.

They had their revenge a couple nights later when I had a mosquito soar it’s way into my ear canal.  I imagine that this is exactly what losing your mind must feel like.  A mosquito knocking around in what feels like your brain.  Disgusting doesn’t quite sum out how I felt when I used a q-tip to clean mosquito guts out of my eardrum.

The pleasures of cabin life.

The custom screens had just worked their way up to the top of the cabin repair list.

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I wish I could say that after all these lessons I had the whole nighttime pest thing under control.  While I had gotten the bug situation sorted out enough to live with for the time being, I did not however factor in larger things getting into the cabin in the night.

About a week later I awoke to a fluttering overhead that I am fairly sure was a bat.  I lurched my way out of the bed and onto the floor.  Quickly grabbing my flashlight and fly swatter again.  Although I’m not sure what I was hoping to do with the fly swatter.  That thin membrane of plastic probably wasn’t designed to deal with blood thirsting mammals.  I had houseguests so in an attempt not to wake them I slunk around the bedroom pointing the flashlight into all corners of the rafters.  I had either scared it away or it was under the bed latched onto the springs plotting it’s Dracula style attack on me later in the night.  Sleep was to remain an elusive friend that evening.

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Next morning as I was chatting with one of my guests she confessed she also had heard it and thought for sure it was a bat as well!   I can only hope that we were both mistaken and it was a rather large moth on steroids and not a rabid bat.

What’s funny is that a bear had gone to town on the log behind my bedroom window at some point the week before ripping it to shreds and we had also discovered a fresh scratch on the side of the cabin but it wasn’t the bear I was even remotely losing sleep over it was the stupid BUGS!

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Water Woes

Having grown up in a city surrounded and sometimes buried in water where my water came from was never something I thought much about.

The house I grew up in was nestled between the river, the swamp, and the lake.  It was not uncommon to have to wade through knee high water to move the family cars out of the driveway and onto the green fairway where we used to play football, baseball, and other sweaty summer games during a particularly heavy rainfall.

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I’m pretty sure my dislike of small bugs stems from this annual excursion as I often found something trying to find shelter from the water on my person.  I knew in theory where the water came from, and where the water went after a viscous rain storm, and of course we all know about New Orleans infamous pumping stations that aided and abetted the disaster that was Katrina.

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As an adult when I moved to California water seems to be all one hears about.  But the opposite problem.  No water. Drought.  Expensive water rights.  I live on a reservoir in Los Angeles and all I’ve heard about since I’ve moved adjacent to it is the constant struggle of the LADWP to get their fancy new reservoir up and running that doesn’t seem to be working.  Yes, water was a big deal here, or lack of it I should say.

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As I’ve mentioned in a previous post when I purchased the cabin the former owner took me on a tour of how the cabin water worked and it was now time to do it in reverse….!

Our water being gravity fed from a creek we weren’t actually tied into the Mammoth Community Water District.  Although we paid them a fee for the use of the sewage we didn’t actually source our water from them as some of the other cabin tracts did.  While this meant that essentially we had free water (which if you’ve done any research on water rights in California you would find this a miracle) we also didn’t have anyone to call to get the water turned on.  It had to be taken care of the old fashioned homesteader way.

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Our first attempt was on Memorial Weekend.  My friends were up and Danny graciously agreed to help me try to get the water flowing.  The pipes were still mostly buried under snow and we really weren’t sure if it wasn’t too soon and still frozen.  The previous owner Jack and our other neighbors gave us some handy tips for getting it on.  That should have been my first clue that this wasn’t going to be a no brainer like I had hoped.

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I had been warned about people flooding their whole cabins by forgetting to close a valve, pipes that had busted during the winter showing themselves as the first water hit the cabin.  I was ready for some speed bumps and knew some patience was in order.

I had reconnected everything and closed all the valves I had left open the previous fall. Danny came in and tightened everything up on the on demand water heater to make sure we wouldn’t have any leaks.  I for some reason cannot work a wrench to save my life. Unless of course that wrench was being used to beat something with and then I think I would do just fine.

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I shoveled out the water valve and hose directly behind the cabin and reconnected the hose that had come loose.  Then Danny and I trudged up the hill with a corkscrew, some pliers, a shovel, and a can do attitude!

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We checked the line as best we could on the way up and gave the pipe taps as we went as suggested by our neighbor.  There was still a lot of snow so we canvassed as much of the pipe as we could see checking for any hose or pipe breaks.

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We should have probably brought a bottle of wine to go with that corkscrew so that our efforts wouldn’t have been totally wasted.

After a scramble up the dripping ice and snow covered creek since we couldn’t access it from the side like normal, we scooped out the pile of sediment that was blocking the pipe, let it settle, and then popped out the cork.  We felt around in the immediate entrance of the pipe and felt a solid brick wall of sediment.  We couldn’t figure out how this was even possible with a cork blocking the entrance but I guess tiny molecules of dirt that are packed under snow for 7 months will work it’s way into any opening kind of like sand at the beach!

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Danny was not to be defeated.  We hiked back down and he grabbed the snake to try snaking the pipe.  After a half hour Danny came back down and admitted defeat.   The compost toilet was still in business till the next trip.

After several weeks of work travel and then going to my friends wedding in France we finally made it back up to have another go at the pipe.  This time however we were able to walk to whole line and assure ourselves that there were no breaks and being that it was almost 100 degrees out completely thawed!

Another round with the snake and a bit of head shaking and we decided to call in a professional.  Luckily based on my friend Jen’s referral we were able to get someone out the very next morning.  After a quick review we found out from the plumber that our mistake was that we needed to snake up the pipe not down and after a quick disconnecting of a lower connector just below the source we heard the sweet rush of fresh water falling…

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Dishes were washed, showers were taken, and the compost toilet was retired till winter.  I will admit however I learned a very valuable lesson.  One should clean out the compost toilet while it is still frozen and not a 100 degrees outside…. They should probably have included that in the instruction manual.

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Shoulda Bought The Cheap Stuff

The first official cook out at the cabin.  This was momentous.

New grill, new cabin, first summer holiday.  The pressure was on.

I had friends coming up from Los Angeles for Memorial Weekend and I was enthused by the thought of grilling right outside the front door of my cabin.

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I could already smell the slightly charred hot dogs, taste the tangy mustard on my mouth.  Yes, summer had finally arrived.  Sort of….

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For the first time in 7 months I was able to drive up to the cabin door.  The sheer pleasure of being able to pull up to my own door was overwhelming with delight.  I know it doesn’t seem like much, but after months of hauling heavy supplies in on a sled and my back while trudging along in snowshoes my pleasure in being able to just walk a few feet caused me to break into giggles.  The term “It’s the little things” should never be underestimated.

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As a trial run that evening I decided to assemble the grill and try my hand at a little seasoning of the pit.  I enthusiastically pulled out my fancy natural wood charcoal, some lighter fluid, and an unfailing attitude of   “I can do this.”

I’ve always been happy to leave BBQ pits to the men folk.  I was only ever interested in starting a real fire and had zero interest in getting involved in lighting little organized cubes of fire and besides the boys do seem to enjoy it so…..

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I however knew the ritual of lighting the grill very well.  I got my bricks stacked up, doused them with fluid, flicked the match, and watched them explode into a symphony of summer.  Piece of cake.

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Until it immediately died, and then again, and again.  After a half hour of this I decided to open a bottle of wine.  After an hour I decided that the cast iron skillet in the kitchen could cook that steak just as well as the grill.

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It is a credit to my interest in observation that I didn’t kick that black, shiny, box of frustration over and start a forest fire.  I calmly made sure it was all the way out, closed it up, then had the realization that….I shoulda bought the cheap stuff.  The old match light grocery store variety with built in lighter fluid that ignites in a sure to be bad for you to ingest chemical fire.

My friends arrived late that evening and I explained to the one male in the group my dilemma.  He was confident he could get it going the next day and he lived up to his confidence.  Only took him about an hour to get it cooking!  He did mention as well that “I shoulda bought the cheap stuff!”

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Success!  Hot dogs were eaten, toasts were made, and a little hiking expedition was in order.

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We set off up Lake Mary Road to do one of my favorite lake hikes but alas, winter was not quite done with us.

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Every single hike we went to explore was buried in snow.  As I had officially retired my snowshoes for the season I was determined to find us a walk that didn’t involve an ice pick and crampons.

After a vain review of all the forest trails and a few dead end drives down snow covered roads we decided a trip to the visitor center was in order to have a chat with my friend Julie.

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She confirmed that all the upper lake trails were still buried in snow.  So much for winter being over!  She mentioned that this was what a Memorial Weekend looked like after a NORMAL snowfall year.  We had been so long in drought that I had forgotten what early summer in the mountains was normally like!

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Julie assured us the Sherwin Lakes Trail which I had never done was open for business. And boy was it in business.  It seemed like every holiday weekender was there since it was one of the only trails free of snow, but still it was incredible.

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We sauntered past huge families from toddler to grandmas.  Were constantly greeted by energetic dogs entranced by one smell after the next.  It was one of those moments you could feel the holiday around you and the America of it all.

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There were loads of foreign tourists as well.  My favorite were two gentlemen with a Whole Foods bag, fishing poles, and a grill rack.  While I liked their style I wasn’t about to tell them I didn’t think open fires were permitted!

After the endless switchbacks to the top we crossed into a stunning mountain valley vista that made you sigh.  I know Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring people who died defending our country and I couldn’t think of a better way to honor them than appreciating what they had sacrificed for.  This.  This boundless beauty.  This wild paradise.  This land of the free in so many ways.

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I felt free.  Free spirited.  Free thinking.  Free from hate and prejudice.  Free to just breathe it all in, that perfection of nature.

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I like to think that that freedom is contagious.   I looked at many different people from many different walks of life, different countries, different races, millennials, and baby boomers. In the insanity of this political race, the violence in our country and the world it feels good to step outside of that and just be with the people of the race of HUMAN.

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Being on the victim end of several rounds of violent crime, having had a handgun shoved into my stomach, three guys with multiple guns grab me, while these crimes were committed in different states by different races I never once lumped these criminals into their specific race group.  They weren’t African America, Caucasian, Asian, or Hispanic they were criminals.  I never once associated the gang members that I thought were going to drag me into their car and kill me on a dark night in Los Feliz with the sweet Hispanic man at the Trader Joe’s down the street who always told me in his wonderful accent some version of  “Have a nice day”   while always using a slightly wrong word which I found adorable and charming.  The Hispanic population of Los Angeles didn’t attack me, some criminals did.

If only we could see past all the name calling and separation.  The need to constantly call someone something else to put them beneath you.

I think life has gotten too easy for this world of ours that we spend so much time coming up with better ways to spread hate instead of embracing the differences that made this country so DIFFERENT.  Special.

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As we arrived at the lake the sun was shining down on this gorgeous piece of America.  The people were shining at each other as well.  Nature is healing.  If we could only all remember what unity we feel when at a peaceful lake in the high country maybe there wouldn’t be new people added to the list to remember come the next Memorial Day…..

 

Spring Awakening…Against Winter’s Better Judgement

Spring HAD sprung!  But winter was doing it’s darndest to fight it off.

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The snow was melting!

I arrived in Mammoth to sunny skies and the delicious drip, drip of melting snow and thawing lakes.

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After 8 months of snowshoeing and sledding and toting heavy items on my back I was ready for the snow season to be over.  If a groundhog popped up and announced 6 more weeks of winter I probably would have gone against my animal lover nature and wrung his little neck Phil Connors style.

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For the first time since the start of the season I was able to walk to the cabin in just hiking boots.  Doing my best impression of Nancy Kerrigan slipping and sliding in my boots but sans snowshoes nonetheless.  I could actually step into the cabin without feeling like I was going to rip a hole in the crotch of my ski pants.

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No yoga moves required today!  Not only could I step right in without some serious Cirque Du Soleil training but I could actually see DIRT.  As in the ground.  As in non- slippery, neck breaking, ice or snow. Good old fashioned MUD.  This was a major breakthrough. Here I was doing a jig because I could walk on D-I-R-T.  Wasn’t exactly the end of The Trail of Tears but I rejoiced nonetheless!

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I could actually open the bedroom shutters for the first time in months!  Peeping Toms have at it, I was going to wake up with sunlight streaming in the windows instead of the dreary forest service green of the window shutters that I had been staring at for the past 7 months.

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With my new found foot freedom everything got a lot easier and how the forest had awoken.  There was a still magic in the air.  You could feel the hushed awakening of everything.  Just there.  Just under the surface.

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The first thing I noticed was the birds.  All the birds.  All types and kinds.  Flitting about. Chatting.  Singing.  All I could really see were the birds.  I loved being out at the cabin alone and watching them.  Getting close to them and just listening.  I was just out there being one of them.  Sitting with them.  Singing with them.  Listening to them sing their song as if they were awakening the forest.  Awakening the forest to the promise of spring and the summer that was to come.

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It didn’t end with the birds.  I started to notice the first patches of green springing their way out of the snow.  Fighting to hold onto the sun and the life giving warmth.

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Ahhh yes it was SPRING!  How many sonnets had been sung and written about just this moment.

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And the waterfall…oh the waterfall!

What a sweet rush it was as it sought it’s way down the mountain with the first spring thaw!  Oh to have a thaw and a snow melt was a delight after the long drought and the waterfall sang it in it’s loudest voice!

It must have felt so proud to finally have a cacophonous voice again after several years of quiet waiting.  Like a mother showing off her new offspring the falls displayed their glorious brood of fresh snowmelt.  It was an uproar like a yard full of schoolboys at recess….in fact it felt like the whole earth was at recess this day and the birds were the school mistresses ringing the bell to play!

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What a delight!

But nature was not done with winter….

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It starting snowing that afternoon.  By evening it was a full deluge.  It was wonderful to sit in the cabin and watch the spring snowfall in such glorious proportions.  I thought it was going to have it’s way again but spring was strong in the air and putting up a fight.

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The next morning there was a solid two inches on the ground and it seemed maybe the north wind of fairy tales was still determined to get her way.  Since I had actually managed to get both my goggles and my ski boots to the mountain at the same time I decided to go see if the fresh powder had made an impact on the quickly thawing runs.

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It hadn’t.  By 10am any new snowfall was gone and spring had made a firm hold on the season and put winter  back in it’s place.  The mountain was a slushy mess before lunch and I decided to let spring have it’s way and put the skis to bed till the next year.

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I took a hike on the newly plowed road up to Lake Mary and Lake Mamie to see how their emergence was going.  The snow had thawed around the army of canoes by the marina. They stood sentry like a pen of caged cats ready to pounce on Lake Mary.  Summer was coming and they were the first to show their attractive colors calling their suitors to the shore.

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This spring vs. winter battle of wills continued for the next 3 days.  Each morning arose with the thrilling undressing of spring and each afternoon winter took it’s turn at trying to hold onto it’s winter skirt of the season.

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I was content.  Content to watch this ferocious battle of wills every evening while sitting in front of my warm fire clutching a glass of red wine and being unsure of which noble contender I was hoping would win.

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Winter into spring may be my favorite time at the cabin yet…..

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Three Guys & a Case of Beer

Winter guests!  I was so excited!

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Outside of my very first cabin guest Shawnte, who spent her whole visit selflessly helping me clean out mouse poop covered items in the mud room that ended with us both obsessing over whether or not we had contracted the hantavirus, no one had come to visit.

I guess not everyone’s idea of a dream winter getaway was spending it washing dishes and various body parts with a handy wipe and pooping into a compost.  We did however have some takers!

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Our first course of business upon arrival was getting INTO the cabin.  It had snowed quite a bit since our last visit and the cabin door was pretty much buried.   It was fun to open the door and then toboggan right into the mud room.  Hazardous on snowshoes but rather fun!

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I do rather enjoy shoveling out snow steps and we’ve come to realize getting these right are super important especially when trying to take them in snowshoes.  I bet Bozo The Clown was a kick ass snowshoer.  He could probably even go backwards.

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My friend Paul and his buddy had decided to come out and join us for a winter ski weekend.   They were wonderful, thoughtful, adventurous guests, and we absolutely loved sharing our off the grid experience with them.

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I’ve realized however after out trial winter guests that some winter rules were probably in order.

Commandment #1: THOU SHALL NOT PEE

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Pee that is into the compost toilet after drinking copious amounts of beer to the point that the one girl in the group “moi” had to empty the pee jug at 2am after it spilled all over the floor.  The next night I made the wise pronouncement that any male drinking beer in the cabin had to go pee outside in the snow unless it was an absolute emergency or their feet were broken from falling drunk down the loft ladder.  That’s what johnsons are for right? Peeing outside.  I rest my case.

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Commandment #2: THOU SHALL NOT ARRIVE AFTER DARK

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I’ve realized when you suggest someone not come after dark on their first night it is very different then telling them they CAN’T come after dark on their first night.  Although I had several conversations stating how unwise it was to arrive at the cabin after sunset, then having to snowshoe down an unmarked trail in the pitch black my first house guests still managed to arrive well after dark.  With no flashlight.  Thank goodness the iphone has a strong light, although a very weak battery life as they soon realized!   I don’t think they caught that checking into the cabin isn’t quite the same as checking into The Mammoth Mountain Inn.

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Commandment #3: THOU SHALL BE RESPONSIBLE FOR GOING OUT AND FETCHING PIZZA

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I think this commandment is self explanatory.

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After the boys late evening arrival in the pitch of night we got them settled in with some nice hilarity.  It’s interesting what people decide is important to lug through the snow, on their backs, in the dark, on snowshoes.  There was a Mary Poppins worthy moment when Paul started gorging things out of his back pack that he had brought.

The case of beer was of course expected, they had however left all their water in the car with the decision of not having enough room, beer always trumps water.  The jury is out on this one.

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My favorite food decision was their two massive boxes of Jimmy Deans breakfast sandwiches.  I had mentioned that things for breakfast that could be cooked in the oven or boiled were wisest to avoid messy dishes and their solution was… Jimmy Deans!  While being the most unhealthy thing on the planet they were surprising delicious especially when we had them AND pizza one morning.  Mountain Breakfast at it’s finest!

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I’m sure the bears will be breaking in in the spring to get their hands on the uneaten second box.  I guess they are handy to have in case of a snowed in Donner Party style emergency.

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The snow was dumping, the boys were excited, and we were all ready to hit the mountain for some serious powder.  Or so I thought.  I guess the boys were ready but I apparently was not.  I first realized I had managed to leave not one but both my pair of goggles at home.  No big deal I thought, I can manage to get by with just sunglasses.  We loaded up the car and set out for the hill.

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Then the car started making a funny noise.  Then a light came on.  Why does this only happen in Mammoth in the middle of February and only on a Saturday?  I wasn’t going to let bad luck ruin the fun for the gang so parked and unloaded the skis and set out to try and get an appointment for that day.  They didn’t have room for me till after lunch so I decided I might as well grab a few runs while I wait.

Remember those sunglasses?  By the time I got on the mountain it was a straight up ice blizzard.  I tried to do a run in my sunglasses and felt like my eyes were getting raped by a platoon of swarovski crystals.  I gave it a couple more tries and decided after almost falling every 3 turns because I couldn’t see that it probably wasn’t worth going blind or breaking a leg for a couple of measly runs before I had to inch the car to the mechanic.  It’s fine tomorrow was another day and the weather was supposed to be nicer.

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Which it WAS!  Only my skis were locked in the mechanic shop that was closed on Sundays.  I hadn’t thought of that when I handed over the subaru keys and left to await the verdict.   Yes my car was fixable but only with a part out of Bishop which they couldn’t get till Monday.  No big deal, I had my own place now, and could stay as long as I like.  No more worrying about extending an expensive room night, or the hotel being sold out, I had a long term reservation in with the US Forest Service!

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Now if only I had remembered to grab my skis!  There’s always next time.  Ironically though the next trip up I remembered my goggles but then forgot my ski boots.  In my 15+ years of skiing Mammoth Mountain I had never forgotten one of those items let alone two of them in a row.  Either the cabin altitude was making me ditzy or there was some serious forces at work to keep me off the hill this year!  I wonder if The Ghostbusters need to be called to exercise the mountain for me?

Homesteading!

Homesteading!

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Here I was out in my off the grid cabin, having survived the night, toilet installed, and ready to give this homesteading business a go!

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My first night out alone in the cabin with a blizzard raging against the outside.  I felt like a pioneer, Henry Fonda on the back of an old Hudson during the dustbowl, Captain Ahab with his whale, Beryl Markham in her bush plane.  I was tackling this whole winter cabin thing for the first time and alone.

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I woke up to the most spectacular WINTER WONDERLAND.

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It was absolutely awe inspiring and mind numbing.  I thought the cabin was magical before,  now I was convinced some little leprechauns were going to come digging around for their pot of gold.  I had obviously landed on the other end of the rainbow.  I felt like Dorothy stepping onto the yellow brick road, now let’s just hope I don’t find a witch wearing red shoes under the cabin come the spring thaw…

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First chore?  Get outside and take some photos!  ( I think our homesteading pioneers just rolled over in their graves. And their little cow too. )

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I decided since the neighbors had graciously offered up some of the logs from their woodpile behind their cabin, and having gotten handy with the sled it would be fun to see how it did with massive stumps of wood.  Here goes nothing!

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It went great!

At first.

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Then not so great.  Then the sled kept on tipping over.  Then I kept on tipping over.  I finally decided that sled and stump were probably never going to be friends.

So …using my best homesteader reasoning skills I decided to just roll it.  I think we’ve all seen this cartoon.  First I stood and rolled it like a mechanic rolls a car tire,  then it got too heavy with accumulated snow so I pushed it, then it tipped over, then it was too heavy for me to stand up, so then I cleaned it and started over again.

It’s truly amazing I didn’t roll over any important body parts, only a foot and a hand.  By the time I got that one to the door I was soaked with sweat,  panting with exertion,  covered in snow and splinters,  and deliriously happy!

I decided to go get one more just to prove I was no wuss.

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SPLINTERS.

I would like to chat about them for a minute.  Let’s just say that I was not prepared for how thoroughly I was going to get to know those little guys.   Just like I was unprepared for the phenomenon of frozen mice.  They don’t tell you about this crap in “Cabin Digest”.

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Cabin + wood walls + wood floors + wood shelves + wood ceilings + wood loft ladder + firewood = a hell of a lot of SPLINTERS!

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I somehow manage to get at least 3 every time I touch anything in the cabin.  I am considering carrying a sandpaper holster to sand every surface before I touch it.  Would a tweezer necklace be too gauche?

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I had a minute, ok fine maybe it was a whole half hour, where I contemplated how our forefathers dealt with fixing wooden wagon wheels.  They must have had some spectacular full body callouses to not have enough wood lodged in their skin to start their own matchstick company.

Logs now happily installed in the mud room it was now time to chop one!

Hmm, ok.  I’m accident prone.  My boyfriend is constantly telling me I have a serious problem with gravity.

When I was getting talked into doing my first beauty pageant by the summer camp swim instructor, who was a young first time pageant director trying to get contestants, I had to tell her that she really didn’t want me walking down a catwalk.  In fact she probably didn’t want me walking in heels at all.  I asked her if there was a Miss Clutziology that I could try out for?

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I was contemplating all this as I pulled out the axe and starting thinking about how to tackle this whole chopping wood thing.  Then I started thinking about how likely it was that I would injure myself in some way while being at a cabin with no road access and nobody around to perform emergency triage.

I wasn’t necessarily worried about chopping a finger or an arm off, I thought the biggest hazard was me knocking myself out while trying to swing the axe then ending up knocked out cold on the floor, reminiscent of Bridget Jones being concerned about being eaten by wild dogs.

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With my luck it would be the White Walker version of the frozen mouse I had found in the sink.  A whole army of albino, glassy eyed, rodents nibbling at me one splinter at a time.

Maybe I’ll save wood shop for next time?

Next up- SNOWSHOE ADVENTURE!

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After agonizing for a couple weeks about which snow shoes to buy, reading a million reviews, talking to friends, and then sussing out the sexy factor, I finally decided on the Tubb’s Flex TRK for Women.   *** Snowshoe review below!

I for some reason or other decided to follow some ski tracks up the mountain.  While being extremely hard core as planned,  and quite scenic with all that snow and all,  (movie buff line there,  see if you can guess)  I however did not plan out my homesteading properly since my legs were already wrecked from towing logs.   I’m looking for an oxe for sale or rent.  Serious inquiries only.

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Tubb’s Flex TRK Snowshoe Review:

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I have been snowshoesing in the past and have had torturous experiences.  Being that the only way to get to the cabin in the winter was cross country skies or snowshoes I knew I needed to make sure I was getting something comfortable and easy to walk in.

All the reviews on the Flex TRK bragged about how easy they were to trek in and I was ready to give them a go.  They did not disappoint!   While being light weight and attractive to look at (hence the sexy factor) I was ecstatic to learn they lived up to their reviews.  I was mostly going to be walking on pretty straight forward trails and these seemed to excel at this.

After researching men’s snowshoes for my boyfriend we decided on the MSR Denali’s since he was planning on doing a lot of off trail extreme hiking in his.  I decided to join him on some off trail adventures and the Flex TRK’s did great at this as well!   I came down some steep terrain and they gripped pretty darn good for a clutz like me.

The Denali’s seemed to perform great as well although my boyfriend has spent a lot of time worrying they weren’t on all the way or right.  One benefit of the Flex TRK is they have a marker for the Right versus Left shoe.  Also, once they are latched properly you don’t have that my shoes are coming off feeling.

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The only negative I can list is that although they claim to be easy to get on and off I have been having trouble with the bindings.  Now they perform great when it’s warm and sunny but trying to hook them in the cold when it’s snowing can be a bit trying   But I guess that goes for anything you do in the cold and the snow as a friend pointed out!

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The Feel

The Feel.

I try to capture the feel of what it’s like to own this place.

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As the snow starts to drop slowly I find myself drawn outside.  As the flakes grow stronger and bigger it becomes an inescapable urge.

I often walk outside in whatever I have on.  Jeans and house slippers,  pajama pants and a coat,  if I’m lucky I’m wearing my boots.  I’ve walked out in my socks before only to realize it when my foot crosses a rough stone or branch.

As I walk outside tonight with a crisp class of white wine in my hand I am struck by just how alone I am.  Divinely alone.

The only tracks in the snow I see are my own.

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I look around observing the cabin and listening to the endless rush of the waterfall.  It’s majestic in it’s crescendo.  It feels never ending and permanent as few things are in life.  It calms me.

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I walk towards the lake as I am also drawn there.  I slip along my favorite path in the snow, hearing the slow,  silent,  hiss of my boots compressing it.

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Often as I arrive at the lake I look across to the bridge and see people there looking back at me.  I wonder what they are thinking as they see a girl across the lake in a red hat looking back at them.

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I wonder if they wonder what I’m doing out there,  clutching the stem of my glass in my chilled fingers, but loving the delicious feel of the chill of the glass, against the chill of the wine on my lips,  against the chill of the air,  and the moist snow just touching my braid as it escapes out of my hat.

I walk deeper into the forest along the lake path.   I glance up the trunk of a lonely old gnarled pine.  As I’m looking up the snow flakes are hitting my face, touching my eyes, and enveloping me in a veil of white softness.  As my gaze becomes locked in an embrace with the upper reaches of the tree I observe all the shades of the trunk and the crinkled branches like an old man’s face that has spent a lifetime on the sea.

The sea of the forest.

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I think about religion.

I was raised catholic but nothing has touched me as deeply as moments like this.

Moments where you aren’t listening to what you should believe,  moments where you just believe.

Tears start to glisten in my eyes as I think about the universe and how we are graced with moments like this.  I think about my grandfather and the way his blue eyes crinkled up at the corners when he smiled and how much I miss him,  I think about my family,  my boyfriend,  my friends,  how lucky I am to have people who care about me, my nieces and the joy I have every time I see them grow taller,  stronger, more excited about what life is bringing.  And I think about this cabin.  How every moment I’ve spent here has brought me closer to the universe and how the universe speaks to me through the trees.  Is this religion?   The religion of the forest?   It could be.

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As I walk down to my favorite log jutting out into the lake and the snow starts falling more rapidly I see a male and female mallard both flying from opposite directions through the snow.  They land in unison on the glassy lake and immediately swim towards each other , only to join together in a perfectly choreographed pace.  Side by side.

As humans we can only strive to be as graceful in life as two mallards swimming side by side on a snowy lake in the mountains.

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Alone. In the Night. In the Dark.

Alone, in the night, in the dark….

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After an incredibly long lecture by my boyfriend about how I shouldn’t announce to the world where I was going all the time, and how I should be less honest with strangers, not be so naïve, etc,  I came to the startling conclusion that if anything did go wrong I was “Alone. In the night, in the dark.”  To quote a line from one of my favorite classic films the 1963 version of  “The Haunting”.   Having grown up in Cleveland, OH and living in New York for 14 years he failed to understand the never ending openness of us gentile Southern borns.  I find it incredibly difficult to not be honest at all times,  I also hate being “fussed at”.  Abe Lincoln and I would have sure been pals.

To quote another line from the object of many sleepless nights of my youth,  “No one lives any nearer then town.  No one will come any nearer than that.”  Here I was with horror movies on the brain and a potential serial killer on the loose, no one nearer then the lodge, and no fast way to get there.   With my history of past violent crime I knew that with my luck chance wasn’t exactly tipped in favor of my safety.

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I decided to do a quick weapons check of the cabin. …

One axe, several kitchen knives, bug spray, a cast iron skillet in case I wanted to go complete Laurel & Hardy style, a lot of wood logs, a hammer and nails, fireplace poker, candle stick, some rope, and various other weapons to round out the game of Clue.

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Now the question remained would any of these items strike fear in the heart of a ginger murderer on the loose?   I had all night to ponder these questions and indeed I did as was reflected by the dark circles under my eyes the next morning.  So far the contest to sleep at the cabin was being won very strongly by CABIN.  Cabin 2 – Fosho 0.

Would an inflatable kayak be enough to surprise a would be intruder?  An animatronic Christmas deer?  The floral pattern on the wicker chair was pretty scary, maybe I could just wave that at them and they would run away in terror, their design senses completely offended.

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I figured since they would have to break a window to get in, maybe I would have a couple of minutes to mount my defense.  After all they would have to pull themselves up over a windowsill covered in broken glass.  Would that give me enough time to crack them over the head with the frying pan?  Would I actually be able to “axe” someone.  Being from New Orleans I had “axed” someone many a question but would I be able to wield an actual weapon and harm a human?  I briefly considered getting my grandfather’s old dueling pistol out of mothballs.   Although since it was a ball and powder gun by the time I actually got it loaded I would probably have set myself and the whole cabin up in a Pirate’s of the Caribbean worthy charge.

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I had never spent much time thinking about defending myself.  Being mugged 3 times at gunpoint in the course of 5 years I had had my share of terror.  In all those situations the largest weapon I had was a set of car keys.  There wasn’t much time to do anything but keep moving and hope for the best.  I was now however a defender of my own castle.  What would Jon Snow do?

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I spent the next 8 hours pondering that question since sleep was certainly OUT of the question.  The bed being surrounding by windows on two sides I kept expecting to turn over and see my little friend with his face pressed up against the glass in a grotesque game of peek a boo.  I did fear that my heart was going to be beating it’s last when I turned over upon hearing a scurrying sound on the inside of the wall to watch as a tiny little mouse trying to escape the cold popped it’s head out and said hello.  Probably a good thing the roads were closed and no neighbors were present as I’m pretty sure my blood curdling scream could be heard halfway across the lake.

Sleep is for the weak anyways right?

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After careful consideration I had decided on a few different sources of protection.  First was immediately putting the shutters back up on the bedroom windows.  No need to spend anymore time imagining turning over and waking up with a face close enough to administer a nice shave.  (Shaving razor? Hmmm another good weapon mayhap?)  Next I moved the axe, phone, and kitchen knife within easy reach.  I stuck the cast iron skillet under the bed for good measure.

But the larger problem remained.  I was hoping to spend some time there in solitary confinement and internal study.  So far the internal reflection had consisted of an extensive list of ways that I could die while alone at the cabin.  Not exactly a good topic for breathing meditations.  Unless panic attacks, shortness of breath, and a Woody Allen neurosis version of zen is what you were into.

Do I buy a gun?  Should I get a taser?  Mace canisters in every room?  Security guard baton with laser pointer and blinding flashlight as a friend suggested?  (This I may just get for fun with house guests!)  Daryl style cross bow?  A pit bull and a rottweiler?   A pot of boiling oil to be dumped from the loft?

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Would I actually be able to shoot someone?  Would just cocking a shotgun put fear into a would be intruder?  Would a laser pointer make people think I had a gun and I meant business?  Should I just start borrowing a dog everytime I ventured up alone?  I was pretty good with the BB gun, would that be enough?  (Seemed to cause Ralphie’s parents quite  a fright.)  Archery seemed to work really well on The Wall but would a bow and arrow strike fear into your local insane douchebag?

If I did manage to disarm someone, mace them into a curling ball of regret, or knock them out cold with the frying pan, I STILL had to somehow get myself into snowshoes and to Tamarack and safety before they managed to recover.  I could see me trying to run in snowshoes in a Bozo panic.  Would I have to knock them out and truss them up somehow until I had time to get away safely?   (**Note to add zip ties to my defense budget.)   Around and around these thoughts went in my head ALL NIGHT LONG…..

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Do you think those secret service guys that got me drunk at the Vancouver Olympics would be available?  It’s about time those tax dollars paid off!

Suggested reading- Stephen King’s “Night Shift”

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Toilet On A Sled

Toilet on a Sled.  Ta Ta Toilet on a Sled…to be sung in your favorite rap melody.  Insert tune here.

The Toilet had arrived!

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Winter cabin preparations were done and the last piece de resistance was the winter toilet.

My Mom was popping into LA for a quick visit Halloween weekend and my plan was to head up to the cabin directly after with new toilet in tow as well as a couple of other last minute supplies.

As of yet it hadn’t snowed up at Mammoth and I was thinking I was in good shape to get everything in before they closed the road to the Twin Lakes Campground and my cabin.   As usual one can always count on our good friend Murphy to come into play at the least opportune time.

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I was anxiously watching the weather Halloween weekend and saw there was a storm coming in.  I couldn’t dine and dash with my Mom in town so knew I was going to be in a race with the elements.

As soon as she took off to continue her trip to visit my sister in Colorado, I took off to try and beat the storm and the potential road closure.

The weather was gorgeous heading up as it usually is in the Owens Valley.  I could only think of John Muir, our early pioneer ancestors, and the many roads to ruin they had been led down by stunning hot weather in the valley only to be met by the fury of the Sierra Nevadas once they met the higher elevation.  Today was no different.   I was optimistic though heading through Bishop.  There was no way there was such horrible weather in Mammoth today bad enough to close the roads considering the utopian blue skies I was cruising through.

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Guess again said Murphy.

I got into town to a white deluge of  “Mammoth” proportions.  It was dumping as all us ski and board addicts pray for all season.  However the mountain wasn’t open yet and the only thing I could see was an obstacle on the race for the gate.  The windshield wipers were singing a tune as they swished the heavy snow back and forth on the glass in front of me.  The odds were not exactly in my favor as Katniss Everdeen would be thinking right about now and I sensed an adventure about to unfold.  The real life game programmers were throwing everything at me.  I could only hope there were some sponsors at the forest service willing to help a girl out.

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As I arrived at the gate I was not met by a group of heavily armed, hot teenagers in spandex and survival gear but by an incredibly unyielding locked gate.

The lock was not one lock but a multitude of locks locked together in a Jenga worthy jigsaw puzzle.  It seemed odd to me that one massive bolt wouldn’t have been enough, but I had already been warned by the neighbors that multiple powers that be had locks on the gate. Edison had one, the US Forest Service had one, the phone company had one, and who knew who else.  I’m actually not sure anyone could figure out how to get that gate open but I figured I’d give the Forest Service a call and just test the waters on the winter gate.  As I looked in the rearview mirror at the massive box for the toilet riding in the cargo space I thought in my head this could get interesting.

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I guess it was worth a shot.  After a bit of pleading and a couldn’t you just open it for 15 minutes while I drive the toilet in and drop it at the door I was met with a very polite but firm no.  I knew the no was coming but figured if I didn’t try I wasn’t a very good optimist.

So it was to be the sled.   As I’m sure had run through the head of Shackelton, Amundsen, Nansen, and all my other favorite Polar Explorers of old.   I didn’t have any delightful huskies on hand so it would have to be some good old fashioned polar man hauling.  As I was hoping to host a “Come as Your Favorite Polar Explorer” party at some point at the cabin I guess it didn’t hurt to get some research in on my first “Winter Voyage”.

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The snow was coming down in an unceasing deluge and I had failed to pack my ski pants. So it was to be wet sledging.  I could just picture Frank Wild, Shackeloton’s right hand man taking a look at me (while wearing his fantastic goggles) and shaking his head at my rookie unpreparedness.

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I was all lost in though about how to get this stuff to the cabin when I looked past the locked gate and saw a man approaching through the blizzard towards me.

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It crossed my mind who in THEIR right mind would be walking from the campground in a blizzard when I realized I was about to do the reverse while toting a TOILET on a SLED. Hmm, I think Frank Wild, Shackelton, and Worsley would be having a good laugh at my expense on that one.

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As the man got closer my  victim of violent crime spidey senses started going off and I decided to halt the pre-packing business and get back in the car.  The windows were completely covered with snow now, so I couldn’t see out and was hoping the reverse was in effect.

When the knock came on the window I lurched so strongly I’m surprised the airbags didn’t engage.  I’m not sure why my first reaction was to open the door.  Jack the Ripper would have even probably advised me to lean on the horn and then immediately put the car in reverse and get the hell out of there.

No instead I opened the door and in my most polite Southern voice said “May I help you?”.

My would be assailant was about 6 feet with a crown of dark red, slightly greying hair.  I didn’t think my death would come at the hands of a red head but it would probably look good in the papers and news reports.  “Ginger slaughters new cabin owner in her second attempt to kill herself by being incredibly stupid.”

The  (in my head)  stark raving serial killer asked me if I was trying to camp.  I looked at him like he had indeed lost his mind  (as my potential serial killer murderer he probably would have already)  and said no of course not ,  I’m just trying to get to my cabi….nnnn.  Umm yeah this is where it all goes wrong in the movies.  I quickly corrected myself with a meet my boyfriend at the cabin, umm and the forest service rep, and my swat team that travel around with me.  At this point I felt like there was probably a massive neon sign stating “Are you an idiot?”  flashing above my head.

Or course our fair red head didn’t miss a beat.  “Oh you have a cabin over there?”   Alone, in the woods, where I could happily come murder you later…was what I heard.

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I hastily made some excuse about how the Forest Service ranger was coming out to meet me and I had to go.   Immediately shut and locked the door, then spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out how I was going to deal with towing a toilet to the cabin while waiting for Charles Manson’s buddy to come have his way with me en route.   A potential mountain lion or bear encounter would have been more comforting, hence why I didn’t panic when I saw this track in the snow shortly thereafter.

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I slipped out the door and made my tow preparations.  Pulled the sled out, lashed down the toilet, popped on my brand new snow shoes and set sail for the cabin, full speed ahead.

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SNOWSHOES DON’T GO BACKWARDS.

Was one of the first things I found out.  The next thing I realized was that jeans are not water resistant as I towed the toilet through the mounting snow.  I can’t imagine the image I would have presented to my serial killer buddy if he had come by.  A girl towing a toilet through the snow with saggy, wet jeans hanging off her tush, while awkwardly trying to tighten the new snow shoes that didn’t seem to be on quite right.  I don’t think sexy would have come to mind, so it may have lessened his desire to cut me into pieces and throw me in the frigid lake.

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I panted my way up to the cabin and managed to make 2 more round trips in my saggy jeans bringing in the rest of the supplies before the snow got any deeper.  When I peeled off the jeans to change I was surprised by how cold and soaking wet I had gotten.  I slipped right into survival mode and starting working on using up that delicious fresh pile of wood.  Now that I had the carbon monoxide detector installed I was ready to turn on every heating element in the cabin at full blast and get a Dante level fire going.  Hell yeah!

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With a massive sense of accomplishment I set out to get my fancy new toilet set up then hunker down for a cozy night in the storm.  I was going to have a lovely pee inside first of course.   I earned it after all!

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Here I was….alone in my cabin, massive blizzard raging outside, road closed, toilet all set up, fire going full blast with ensuing smoke trail, and that’s when it hit me that the only person other then my boyfriend in LA who knew I was out there was the strange red headed man I met on the road.  I’m thinking this is going to be a long night…..

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Suggested reading:  Apsley Cherry- Gerrard’s  “Worst Journey in the World”

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