Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I am glad for my rubber boots today.  The lower parts of the farm are becoming wetter and holding more water from each of the fall rains.  The creek is just a few inches under the log bridge, which means it is nearing 4 feet deep.  There is a bit of hail and snow mixed in with the grass and as I arrived the cleared hillsides well below a 1000 ft high were white.  But, the sun is coming through as the clouds part.  As I walk the hallway of golden cottonwoods, I cannot help but think of how fortunate I am to be here.

I spot a mature bald eagle down on a gravel bar just as I reach the river, and this time I have spotted that eagle before it sees me.  It is not so much that I have sharp eyes as much that I have a good memory and that large dark shape was not on that gravel bar last time I was here.  I drop some of my gear, crouch and sneak closer, taking a photos when there are views.  Eventually, I am discovered and the bird flies to the far side of the river.

As I continue up the road, the eagle spots me first.  This time it sits high in a snag topped alder on my side of the river.  It leaves.

I head straight up to the squatters cabin to continue measuring details.  I am also planning to lay out a string grid inside the cabin to help map the artifacts that remain.  If I am lucky, I will finally find the witness post again.

interior with string grid in place

...a couple hours later...
I have my numbers and photos, so I pack up and drop back down to the grove.  Here, I leave my gear and begin searching for the witness post that stands near the corner of the state property.  I flush two deer as I walk, the first two deer that I have seen while on foot.  I catch partial glimpses of them as they move towards the cabin.  I find pink flagging that runs true north-south and note that the ground feels and looks as if a road or a tractor trail has been here before.  I also have a hunch that someone altered the drainage on this hillside at some point.  I wander south looking for the witness post, but don't find anything other than some nice large cedar stumps.  I end up back at the grove (I'm starting to recognize individual trees having been here a few times) and try once more, this time not thinking about it too much, because that is kind of how I found the post the first time.  Again, I don't spot the post, until I am heading back towards the grove and catch the orange marker to my left.  I find the monument in the leaves and from there, I walk a line directly east until it intersects with my own trail to the cabin.  The cabin lies just 50 yards from the boundary.

corner monument - a witness post helps you find this

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rain Day

It was a full moon last night on a cloudless sky, a moon so bright that most of the stars that one might expect could not be seen.  I slept in the moon, choosing to not complain about the light, but to take it in.  When I got up in the middle of the night, the forest had become a grey toned scene, black shadows with the greys being the same as tarnished silver.  Only Orion was there, sideways over the ridge on the far side of the valley.  It seemed a shame to go back to sleep.  I heard the first winds come.  I heard the first brief rain fall.

I worked for an hour in the shop building another specimen box.  When T, T and K showed up with their carpentry students, I loaded up and headed to the squatter cabin for a few more measurements.  It began to rain hard as I reached the log bridge.  My field work would not last long today.  I measured shingle locations for each row of shingles-
When my hat, jacket, pants and notebook were drenched, I descended.  I enjoyed the sound of rain in the forest very much.  If only it wasn't so wet.

November 10 - Bird Day

I head straight out to continue work on the squatter's cabin.  The valley is windy with an overcast sky that won't last long.  There are fresh mule deer tracks and the creek is now knee deep and flowing.  At the point where I can see the river, a mature bald eagle passes on its way upstream.  It perches not far off, just long enough for me to get my camera out and not long enough for me to get a photo.  When I get up to the perch point, I find a huge pile of bear scat, which I flag for later collection.

I carefully measure and draw the exterior details of the cabin with hopes of someday connecting the construction to someone.  It is not a prospectors cabin and it is too nice for a hunter's shack or a teenagers party fort.  Note the green stripe that has been applied using asphalt roof shingles.  It does not make up for a shortage of cedar shingles, but instead covers a row of cedar shingles (imbrication is the basketry term)...it is a decorative feature (there is another green stripe at the bottom).  Also, the roof shingles are brown, not green.

The building is 12 x 14 feet, the construction is 2x4, 24 inches on center - everything (walls, floor and rafters) with 1x10 shiplap sheathing, tar paper and then sawn cedar shingles for the siding and asphalt shingles for roofing.  The windows are salvage (they are mounted sideways).  There was a stove at one time.  The cabin rests on 3 split cedar beams that are roughly 6x6 inches.  The beams sit on rocks.  Although not perfect, it was a visually pleasing cabin and built with that intention.  Whoever built it, had a fairly decent knowledge of carpentry...this wasn't their first project.

Right now, my theory is that this was built by a writer/artist in the circa 1970 and possibly by someone connected with the Fishtown artist community (mouth of the Skagit River) that existed then.  There were more than a few artists doing such things then.

Anyway...bird day.  When I get my head out of the bush and out of my notebook and tape measure, I find that it has become an amazing fall day.  As I return to the shop with gear, I flush a snipe from the road.  It is a beautiful bird, but one rarely sees it on the ground and once flying, they don't stay in sight for long.  I turn and watch it land 30 yards behind me.  I head back out to pick up the bear scat and half expect to find the snipe again.  It flushes when I am just 4 feet away and speeds around the corner.  As I get to the river, I here a dunk....dunk, and I turn to see the silhouette of a pileated woodpecker just 10 yards away.  It flies to the far side of the river as I reach for my camera. Returning with my bear scat, I flush the snipe again.  This time I watch as it flies a circle through the golden cottonwoods.  It is reluctant to leave this spot.
where the woodpecker went

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Historical Archaeology

I come up for an overnight, but find the farm winterized with the water turned off to prevent frozen pipes, and for the life of me, I cannot trace the plumbing back to the missing valve.  So, it will be a day trip this time.

I head out to the lower beach, the wandering ritual of greeting the farm in order since a short trip to Chicago and the resulting "airplane head cold" have kept me away for too long.  The farm is beginning to be an integrated art project for me...it is becoming a piece of daily life.  Last week when I could not get to the farm, I worked steadily boxing specimens that I had brought home with me.  My "empty" time is spent thinking about how to approach new finds and new ideas that the farm has germinated. 

I find those scrapes again on the road on the way to the river.  Scrapes are outside of my knowledge base and I cannot tell if they are cat or deer or something else.  I need a track with a scrape to get there.  I almost forget to slow up and walk soft as I reach the river...I scare a young eagle off of its perch on the far side of the river.  The salmon run is finished now and there are just a few carcasses left at the water's edge.  In exchanged there are a dozen or so complete backbones laying in the rocks.  There are few tracks today, just some deer and coyote.  Recent rain has wiped the slate clean, but the reduction in free food is also bringing fewer visitors.

I drop a sample pear tree branch (there are 4 pear trees very close to the location of the Dan Baker homestead site) at the barn and head out to look for the squatters cabin.  There is a cool down valley wind with an overcast sky that doesn't look like it will last the day.  The trees are still brilliant in fall colors..that is those that are out of the path of regular winds.

This time, when I go to the cabin, I take compass bearings, pace distances and record additional CMT's (culturally modified trees) and landmark trees (like a 3-1/2 foot diameter maple).  I have very little trouble finding the cabin this time...but, yes, it is very hard to spot from 50 yards away.  In fact, if you weren't looking for it, you would not notice it.   It is built up against a boulder that is nearly the same size as the cabin itself.

note the green asphalt shingle decorative stripes

I photograph and measure the exterior features.  Once inside, I just stand and study everything that I can see without touching.  I expected to find a name somewhere on the wall, but I only find a date, 6/14/1958, which is too old to be the construction date in my opinion.  The Smoke Farm visitors have left the interior unpilfered and I find a few scraps of newspaper on the floor.  I can't find a by-line date, but I am fortunate to have a piece of automobile want ad.  There is nothing newer than 1971 listed, which doesn't confirm, but does line up with my original guess of a mid-70's build date.  It is a successful exploration and the only thing that I don't find is the state land corner monument that I ran into on my last visit.