Sunday, June 19, 2011

Diamond days

It has been a cold summer so far up here in the land of the midnight sun - not so much of that sun stuff, either, and temps in the low to mid 40s lots of days. So when Friday dawned sunny and warm, I knew it had to be a camping day. A few friends and I had already made some fuzzy plans to do so, and the sun sealed the deal. But first, there was a lawn to mow, chickens to feed, a garden-sitting gig to tour, an acting class for Liam, work for me at the library, and finally, we all charged home to pack. And pack. And pack. Camping with kids is not easy, nor light. This camping trip was a short hike in, so it all had to fit in my backpack - no small feat. Final tally for the pack was 50 pounds - plus some extra stuff that I had to carry on the side. The kids twirled around while I tried to remember everything that I needed to remember - toilet paper! newspaper! matches! water! 10 pairs of extra socks! Per child! I'll admit that I had a few "what is the point of all this madness" moments before we finally piled in the car. I know what it takes to go camping by myself - not much. But just keeping Théa from stuffing every doll within reach into her backpack was a victory. Somehow, miraculously, we got out the door, to the trailhead, down the trail and found the primo camp site waiting for us, unencumbered. Phew!
Diamond Creek is a wonderful spot - you can park at the top of the road and hike a mile and a half or so in, or drive down to the top of the switchbacks and shorten the trip considerably by 3-year-old terms. The trail has eroded over the years, but still provides a pretty easy path down to the beach, where the mouth of Kachemak Bay meets Cook Inlet and a ring of volcanoes (Liam has them all memorized, even some I don't immediately know) circle the horizon. Diamond Creek spills out to one side over a 5-foot waterfall or two, providing a ton of fun for the 7-year-old Pooh-stick tossing child of mine. And for some reason, the wind seems to often be less vigorous against the bluff. There is one fabulous camping spot at the base of the trail - up off the beach a bit with lots of grassy area to pitch a tent. I was worried it would be taken, it being a Friday night and nearly summer solstice, but it wasn't. In fact, we were the only ones camping. Amazing. My friends Mike and Judy joined Théa, Liam and I on this expedition - and we quickly got wood for a fire, which lit with ease. The sun was bright and still high in the sky at 6 p.m. Liam found some other kids to play with and quickly got entranced in their games - Théa took her baby down to the sand and played for a long time. We roasted corn in its husks and the kids both zoomed in and out, eating constantly before zooming off again. Mike and I kicked back and enjoyed the sunshine and a little crosswording - couldn't really have orchestrated it better had I written the entire script myself. Judy came down around 9 or so - sun still high in the sky and fire crackling - she took the kids over to the falls area for a good half-hour and helped them burn off their marshmallows with some serious rock-throwing. I stuffed them into the tent after that - around 11 p.m. maybe? Sun still hadn't set. Read them stories, then left them to their own devices and they were out within 10 minutes. Joy. Mike crashed, but Judy and I stayed up till about 1 telling stories and laughing - still not dark enough to need a flashlight, though the wind picked up and it was damn cold if you weren't within a foot or two of the fire.
I think the part I like the most about camping is the morning - the moment when you realize this is no ordinary day but one that is completely different. I could hear the ocean, the gulls, feel the temperature start to rise in the tent as the sun finally moved over the bluff. We all slept till 8:30 or so - the kids a bit longer than I, which was great. Woke slowly - Liam started the fire all by himself, we got water on, kids had special "camping cereal" (rough translation - whatever sugary crap they want). Then we went for a walk on the beach - Judy showed Théa sea enenomies (sorry, no idea how to spell, let alone properly say, that word) and she learned how to touch them and make them close up, which she then did all the way down the beach, squealing each time. Zee raced after every gull, a few eagles, and a moth or two. Then, when we were waaaay beyond the camp site, both kids crumpled. I wondered what was going on until I remembered the cereal - good lord - sugar crash. Carried Théa all the way back. And people wonder why my arms look like they do. She's a big kid. Then it was back to camp - pack everything up and head back up the hill. Both kids did great hiking back up and cheerfully babbled. I could hear a different tone in their voice - a level of calm that comes from having had an experience that satisfied them to the core. Good stuff.
Back at home, Judy, Mike and I made short work of several big projects - moving the chicken coop that wonderful wwoofers Nick & Joanne built into position so the hens could get some space and stop beating up the meat birds - and popping out a water tank that I need to sell by climbing inside it and pushing up with our backs. What a team.
My chicken coop area is more like a chicken complex these days. The original coop that I built last year from one given to me by my friend Mo has been subdivided and is now a duplex / triplex depending on my needs. I've been raising different batches of chicks so that I don't have one big slaughter to deal with, but instead that means I've got four different age groups of chickens, some of whom don't like to interact with each other. The layers really need to be on their own at this point - they get pissy with the meat birds and peck the snot out of them. So they have been moved into a spacious new living quarters that used to be our dog run. We built a door and put the coop on the outside and secured the bottom four feet of the hen house with mesh, but this morning, one of the hens got out and really, the only way she could have done that was by flying up and out... amazing, but possible. Zee was giving her a run for her money when Judy found the hen, but it looks like she's going to be fine. Zee got in big, bad girl trouble, and I got some net from Mike to put over the top of the coop so history won't repeat itself. The hens otherwise seem crazy happy in there - green leafy things, bugs ... they've never had such luxury since there are too many dogs in our hood to allow them to be free range, even if my own mutts would leave them alone, which is questionable at best. In the other coop, we have the new batch of 20 week-old chicks in their own area, and a flock of 9 3-week-old birds cohabitating with the meat birds who are almost two months old and heading to the freezer on Saturday. Then another batch of 15 chicks will arrive in early July and everyone will move up a step. It's pretty cool if it all works. Judy introduced me to the merits of sawdust over straw and I'll never go back. for sure a better option. Yikes. Still, all this chicken is no small thing - lots of tending and watering and so forth. Tonight is the first night in quite a while I've had no chicks in the house. Quiet. In the end, if all goes well, I'll have 40 birds or so in the freezer and five more I'm raising for my friend Christy. Plus five more laying hens. That aught to help feeding the masses. Last year I raised 12 birds or so and you would not believe how much meat that produced, though this year's birds are going to be a lot smaller. It's all an adventure. We'll see how I do. So far, so good, though, with - as always - lots and lots of help.

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