13 December 2015

49/52 - Wild Trout Lake

This past week, Trout Lake showed its wild side.

Last weekend, we got a couple inches of snow to coat the ground. But then it got a little warmer, and the falling snow turned to rain. A lot of rain. For the next several days, it poured continually. This is a bad combination. The rain quickly melted much of the snowpack that had developed on the mountains, and the combined deluge overflowed all of the local waterways. The worst came together on Tuesday night into Wednesday, when water flowed across the main road in Trout Lake, closing the school and rendering several places unreachable. Friends of ours woke up Wednesday morning to find themselves surrounded by water: their driveway and ground floor garage were already flooded, and the water was only a few inches from entering their slightly elevated first floor. They moved what they could to the second floor and were evacuated later that day by Search and Rescue.

This USGS White Salmon River discharge chart speaks for itself.

Near the peak of the flow on Wednesday, we walked down to the river. The water was as high as I think we've ever seen it, to the point where we had a hard time recognizing where we were along the river.

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Somewhere underneath all of that water is our sandy beach and several waterfalls, including Sidewinder/Kettle Falls. With this much water, it's easy to see why all of the waterways in town overflowed.

By Friday, the rain had largely abated, allowing much of the water to recede. We took advantage of a break to take another walk to the river on Sunday.

By Sunday, the river was back to a normal high level for this time of year. The difference between Wednesday and Sunday was striking. For reference, here is the water level at a bridge near the southernmost river section of our property.

Wednesday at peak flow / Sunday at normal "high"

Corinne and Anders stood at Wednesday's waterline, which was easily identifiable by the clean line of Ponderosa pine needles that were swept up.

Here is Anders standing next to a cluster of severed roots that were swept up by the currents and pressed into a ball against this tree.

Despite having the river as one of its property boundaries, we are very thankful that our property is not in a floodplain. It is incredible to see such a dramatic change in such a short period of time, and we are able to be an observer of the high waters without worrying!

Trout Lake exerted its wildness in other ways this week as well. We've had a covey of quail (yes, I looked it up) around the house. They wander around the driveway until they notice us, then fly up into the trees.

When we first moved to Trout Lake, we saw turkey tracks all over the property. But we hadn't seen any in a long time until this past week.

Now we have a confirmed sighting of 13 turkeys! The rafter (group of turkeys - yes, I looked that up, too) has been wandering all around our place for several days now.

But the most unexpected exhibit was one that happened too quickly for a photo opportunity. On Thursday morning, I noticed some movement out our Great Room window and discovered a herd of Elk booking single-file through our yard into our forest! We've had elk come through our property before, but this is only the second time that we've witnessed it.

Mother Nature abounds!

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

25 October 2015

42/52 - Geothermal Installation Begins!

25 Oct 2015 This is a big week in the life of River Ford Farm. After losing our primary heat source last fall and weathering a winter with only a wood stove, we are finally starting the installation of our new heating system!

We had many constraints on our options. Our house has a water-based heating system, with a combination of baseboard hydronic radiators in the log portion of the house and in-floor radiant heat in the great room addition. Using a different heating mechanism would require lots of changes to the log structure of the house, something we wanted to avoid. There was nothing wrong with the existing plumbing, so finding a new system to heat and circulate the water was our goal. As it turns out, there aren't too many options. There is a company that makes a heat pump air-to-water system, but none of the local HVAC companies we talked to had ever dealt with it. We had LOTS of issues finding someone in the Gorge who knew how to work on our old, somewhat esoteric propane-based system. Finding a system that had some local expertise was also important.

In the end, it came down to two options: a new propane boiler or a geothermal system. We ran the rough numbers for the two systems: propane would be cheaper up-front but would have recurring fuel costs similar to what we had previously. When factoring in the 30% Federal tax credit for qualified geothermal installations, we estimated the payback time for the geothermal investment to be about 10 years. Geothermal it is.

Technically, what we are having installed is actually a ground-source heat pump. True geothermal heating systems require a high temperature source in the ground, such as a hot spring, and simply transfer the heat directly. Our system involves using the temperature of the earth to drive a heat pump. Water is equalized with the temperature of the earth by circulating it through long pipes through the ground. Drilling vertically to run the pipe requires minimal land but is expensive, since you may have to drill several hundred feet. But we have the land available to do a horizontal system with "racetrack" trench. Time for a call to the utility line locator!

We had a couple options for locations. We ended up choosing the open space north of the house, between our house and Mt. Adams. We figure that we'll never want to put anything else there that might obstruct our mountain view, so having piping beneath the ground would be safe.

The "racetrack" through which the water pipe will run will be about 800' long, with the water circulating through the entire length. Here is the quick rough sketch of the path that was marked on the ground.

Square is the house; drawing not to scale

Excavation was planned to start on Tuesday, so we arranged for the polyethylene pipe to be delivered to us on Monday. Corinne's father and step-mother run Superlon, a polyethylene pipe company in Tacoma. We'd have family-made, high quality pipe for our heating system!

But over that weekend, Superlon's delivery truck was totaled and wouldn't be able to bring the pipe to us. So we would pick up our 800' of ¾" pipe and 300' of 1" pipe ourselves. 1986 Dodge farm truck to the rescue!

Quick trip to Tacoma, in style (not)

Now that we had the pipe, it was time to start digging! We would need 800 feet of 5-foot-wide by 5-foot-deep trench. The biggest risk of the whole project was encountering large rock deposits. The installer spot-checked his proposed path by poking a metal rod into the ground, but there's always a risk of missing something. Thankfully, only once did the excavator find a spot that required using the hammer attachment.

We knew where the trench would be dug, but we didn't truly grasp how large it would be until we saw it. The main trench area covers about half an acre. Enormous.

Anders looking at giant trenches

Trench pattern

Early morning trench, with steam

The connection to the furnace closet in the house had to go right through a cluster of three Port Orford Cedar trees. One of the trees' branches had started to hang down on the roof, even after pruning them up 16'. So we decided to remove it to make room for the trench.

The path to the house didn't need to be as wide, since it only housed two 1" pipes, out and in.

So many roots! Oh, and the white things sticking out randomly are irrigation lines for our sprinklers. We'll repair that at the end. The last several feet of the trench to the house were dug by hand.

Each trench in the racetrack will contain 6 separate pipes, to maximize heat transfer between the water and the ground. These connect to the 1" main lines at a junction point.

Pipe in trenches with spacer

Junction between 3/4" track and 1" supply

By the end of the week, the trenches were dug and the pipe was laid. The trenches have been mostly filled-in, to be finished off with another piece of equipment.

The old furnace was ripped out and the new geothermal heat pump installed inside. But there is still much work to do on the inside. With any luck, in another week it will all be done, we can put the house back together, and we'll have heat!

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

18 October 2015

41/52 - Stumps, Squash, and A Bat

Our neighbors have a flower and squash patch every year. They previously had a large garden patch they tended, but for the past few years they have seeded with flowers and squash as a low maintenance way to keep the weeds out. We enjoyed cut flowers a few times from it this summer, and now that fall is here the squash is overflowing.

We gathered a carload of various decorative and edible squash a couple of weeks ago, but it barely made a dent in their patch. They decided to load a trailer full of squash and put a "free" sign on it at the end of our road. Within a few hours, the entire trailer had been emptied. So a few days later, we gave them a hand loading it a second time. It disappeared just as quickly.

We are now properly prepared for the great pumpkin shortage of 2015. Thanks, Carl and Inese!

Speaking of things you only see in farm country... Corinne was out for a walk to the mailbox when she encountered this coming down the road:

This is one section of one arm of a pivot irrigation system, which we have throughout the valley. It's not every day that you get to see something like this. And this was actually the SECOND one in a row to drive by, so Corinne had enough time to get her camera out.

As summer fades into fall, our time for doing outdoor improvement projects is closing down. We have a BIG one starting very soon (more on that next week), but I did accomplish a smaller one that was particularly satisfying.

In the almost 10 years that we've lived in Trout Lake, we have thinned out the plethora of trees in our yard. The previous owners loved trees and planted a variety of interesting trees in what was then an empty yard: Butternut, Quaking Aspen, Elm, Oak, Maple, Cherry, Giant Sequoia, Port Orford Cedar, Hawthorn, and more. But as the trees grew, they started to crowd each other. So we have gradually started to thin them out. But without a good way to remove the stumps, we just left them.

Until now.

Last weekend I rented a stump grinder and spent a few hours grinding out many of the stumps we had accumulated. We didn't quite get them all this go 'round, but one more day and we should be able to check this longtime property management task off of the to-do list.

Walking back into the house after practicing soccer in the yard, Anders suddenly called out: "Mom, Dad, look at this!" When we got closer, we saw what he did: a small bat was lying face down on the grass. When we leaned over to get a closer look, it turned its head and opened its mouth.

Something wasn't right. We have little brown bats in our area during the summer months, but we don't see them this late in the season. And we'd never seen one just sitting on the ground in plain sight. We couldn't see any obvious signs of injury. We know that white nose syndrome is a major problem for bats, but we didn't see any of the telltale white coloring on his nose, and the experts haven't reported any cases this far west yet. When we checked on him after a short while, he had moved about a foot from his original location, still on the ground.

Not knowing what to do, we made a call to our local conservation district. They referred us to the local Department of Fish and Wildlife office, who then called their bat specialist in Olympia. The best hypothesis they had was that this bat could have been one of this year's pups that somehow got left behind when the rest of the bats migrated at the end of the summer. There aren't any wildlife rehabilitation facilities anywhere near us that would take bats. They suggested that he was probably cold, so the recommendation was to give him a place protected from the elements and see what happens.

We found a small cardboard box, lined it with fleece, and wrapped the outside with a towel. We used two sticks to transfer him to box and placed the box at the base of the closest tree to where we found him. He seemed more active when we picked him up, spreading his wings once. Once we placed him in the box, he appeared to snuggle into the inside corner on the fleece.

Survival seemed unlikely, but it didn't hurt to try. Now we could only wait and see.

We checked on him every day, but he didn't show much activity. By the fourth day, we confirmed that he had lost his battle for survival. We hope he died knowing that someone cared.

We put the whole box - bat and all - into a ziplock bag and put it into our refrigerator, hoping to bring him to Anders's school for Show and Share day. But the school was concerned that it could give the kids nightmares, so they said no. Seems to me like this would have been a perfect opportunity to de-mystify bats so that they aren't scary, particularly given that several of the students did a bat writing project.

Oh well. Anders got a good look and hopefully a better appreciation for bats as a result.

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

11 October 2015

40/52 - Cake, School Bus, Gummies

After making/carving Anders's birthday cake, we had some leftover cake pieces and excess frosting that we had put aside for later. We decided to give Anders a chance to do some cake decorating on his own.

Nice job, Anders! Tasted delicious.

Here is a "day in the life" at the school bus stop.

In the morning, the whole family walks down the driveway to meet the bus.

In the afternoon, Corinne and I walk back down to meet him when he gets off the bus.

He says hi (sometimes) then walks past us toward the house. Rarely is he wearing his coat/sweatshirt from the morning. Thankfully, it is usually in his backpack (and not in the lost-and-found at school).

Most of the time, he runs away from us toward the house. He finds this hilarious. (Us, less so.)

On rare occasions, we manage to convince him to walk with us.

On days when we join him for lunch at the school, we get a glimpse of his lunch routine. On one of these days, we discovered his favorite concoction from the salad bar:

Peas, olives, cheddar cheese, and peaches

Nutritionally speaking, it's not too bad. The flavor profile, however, ... well, as long as he likes it.

For his birthday, Anders received a small RC quad-coptor from Grandpa Reidar. Anders calls it the "Extreme F-Two-Two".

Another item on Anders's birthday wish list was a kit to make gummies. Rather than buy a pre-made kit (with its paltry and overpriced collection of ingredients), Corinne found gummy-making instructions and made her own kit. It doesn't take much more than flavored gelatin, corn syrup, and some silicone molds.

...and voila! Who doesn't love gummy LEGO minifigs?

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

03 October 2015

39/52 - Reading Fiend

Anders loves his non-fiction books. Whenever he goes to the library, whether at school, at the bookmobile, or the local branch in White Salmon, he goes straight for the kids non-fiction section. At bedtime, we have even had to insist on reading some fiction just to get some variety. (Also to preserve our sanity. How many times can you read a kids book on Trucks or Tractors before going crazy? 8. The answer is 8.)

But this past week, I think we may have turned a corner. Anders has started reading chapter books on his own. Magic Tree House books are a particular favorite now. In fact, he has bookmarks in two different Tree House books now.

It can be hard to keep Anders focused on a particular task, and now we can add reading to the list of distractions. If there aren't any LEGO bricks around, it is likely that he can be found reading a book.

Soccer practice

Library after a soccer game

Do you ever get the feeling that you're being watched? Well, we do... and for good reason.

Every once in a while we'll have a deer around who is particularly interested in "the people who live inside." Corinne noticed these two laying in the yard, then soon after they were watching her as much as she was watching them. At one point his antlers knocked against the glass. We had condensation on the window from his breathing.

Ten minutes later, Corinne looked up from the computer to notice that he had circled around for a better view and they were now eye to eye. He stayed here for a while and then moved back to his previous post at the big window.

We took a quick trip to Tacoma to celebrate Reidar's 75th birthday. And by quick... we had dinner and drove 434 miles within 8 hours.

Happy Birthday, Reidar!

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders