So, if you’re finding this blog, know that it is no longer being actively maintained. The new blog as of August 2019 is at


Normally, I try pretty hard to avoid all “discussions” on Facebook anymore that could even slightly be construed as political, or controversial at all. Mostly pictures of travel and forests and my dog. A lot of people don’t seem to be able to handle any more than that while staying civil and tolerant. I generally haven’t ever put any of that on my blog, either, but this is a pretty long read for a FB post, so I’ll see how it goes doing a little of this kind of writing over here.

Since I fly United fairly regularly now, and was traveling by air yesterday when the news of this mess was all over social media and every TV set, I’ll toss out a few random thoughts that come to mind:

First of all, United is not my favorite airline. I do have quite a few miles piled up there, but generally I’ve had fewer delays with Delta than with United. I’m not a United fanboy, by any means. Nor am I generally inclined to apologize and make excuses for large corporations or the police when they are obviously behaving badly.

United is a big old legacy airline, and it seems like there should have been plenty of resources available to them – at one of their major hubs, no less! – to get their employees where they needed to be, without doing what they did. Even if they had to put them on a plane with no one else on it, and fly them down to KY all by themselves, that surely would have been a lot cheaper than what they did end up doing. Over $500 million in market valuation wiped off the board in one day? Whoops!

United’s screw up in deadheading their own staff is not the problem of the flying customers, and should not have to be solved on the backs of the customers. It’s only a five hour trip by car, let alone if you already own a bunch of jet airplanes. Throwing paying customers off of a flight in order to shuffle staff around seems like a really, really crappy way to run an airline. I get why airlines overbook, and I get that sometimes people will get bumped, or paid to be bumped. I understand that that is a part of the process, and I’m not criticizing that, per se.

However, this guy was already boarded and seated. I haven’t read all the rules and laws about this situation, but my impression has been that once you have scanned your boarding pass, passed through the gate, and been seated on the plane, with your bags loaded, you have to be misbehaving in some pretty dramatic manner in order to be removed from the airplane. Not just because United changed their minds after boarding you, and now wants you off. Some things I’ve read over the past couple of days seem contradictory around this issue. I don’t know what the correct, legal answer is.

I do know what it means to do decent customer service, though, and this was not that. If you need the seats for your staff, sort that out BEFORE boarding the passengers, not after. It’s got to be way easier and less likely to result in a PR disaster to piss someone off who is still OUTSIDE the gate, than to drag them off the plane, unconscious, in front of a bunch of smartphones taking video. People getting bumped from flights while waiting outside the gate happens hundreds of times a day, and is a normal part of the flying experience. Dragging someone off a plane that you already let them board? Not so much.

In the aftermath of this mess, pretty much every official statement made by United over this seems engineered to drive their credibility and stock price even lower. Everything seems to be about blaming the passenger, and I haven’t seen anything at all that resembles even a tiny little mea culpa about how this mess even started developing in the first place.

As to the passenger: Once the po-po put their hands on you, unless you plan to go down in a blaze of glory over your seat on an eighty minute commuter flight, you should recognize that you have already lost the immediate battle. You might still win the war later, with lawyers and all that jazz, but nothing good can come from violently, physically resisting at that point. They are not going to give up because you screamed at them, or struggled. Even if what they’re doing is or seems wrong. This guy was definitely well within his rights to object to how he was being treated by United, but screaming and kicking and fighting with the cops was idiotic, and the outcome was completely predictable. (And for all the idiots on social media declaring that this was “racism” because a randomly selected passenger happened to be Asian? Please just stop… )

I am not flying pro by any means, but I am a quick learner, and I work pretty hard to be a cooperative and friendly passenger. I’ve noticed that an awful lot of people holding boarding passes don’t seem to get that concept. Yesterday, for example, I witnessed nearly an entire plane load of people who just could not seem to get their shit together. Multiple people trying to board before their group was called (even AFTER multiple announcements by the gate agent NOT to try that), people dragging way too many and too large of “carry on” bags and other items along, and resisting the pleas of the gate agents to gate check the larger carry ons. Then people standing in the aisle chatting with their friends, partially unpacking and repacking their bags, and generally NOT getting seated in a timely fashion. Lady in front of me puts her bag in a mostly empty bin and then closes the bin, as if no one else would need to use that space! One mom wandering up and down the aisles while boarding was going on, trying to get other people to give up their seats so she and her teenager could sit together, and generally clogging up the process, and resisting the flight attendants’ efforts to get her seated until boarding was completed. People headed to the bathroom while the plane was trying to get pushed off from the gate, and ignoring flight attendants pleas to be seated for push-off. Then, hours later at baggage claim, people from that same flight grabbing multiple bags off the carousel and then just leaving them lay in a mess right next to the carousel while they futzed and got into bags looking for things, and then went looking for a cart while leaving their bags in the way of anyone else needing to access their bags. In short, big swaths of the flying public seem to be clueless, entitled jackasses who cannot or will not get their shit together to make things flow more smoothly for everyone around them. God bless the flight attendants who have to put up with this shit every day, and somehow refrain from dope-slapping every third or fourth customer.

And seriously, not one person booked for this $200, eighty minute flight was willing to accept $800 and a hotel voucher to get bumped? Really? They could have hopped in a rental car and still made it home that night! Or taken the hotel voucher, hopped on United 5477 the next AM and still been to their destination by 10AM. Since pretty much all my travel is for work, I do understand needing to be someplace at a particular time. But I also understand that shit does sometimes happen, and one needs to be adaptable and prepared for things to not go as planned.

Tons of people on my Facebook feed are declaring that they will never, ever fly United again, as if this problem could never have happened with any other carrier. I have to admit, that United is where most of my delays have happened over my short flying career. As I stated above, they’re not my favorite airline. But having a pile of United miles still on the books, and often needing to use United since my work would like me to book the most economical flights that meet my scheduling needs, I don’t have the luxury of saying, “never ever again!”

If it had been me? I probably would have already taken the $800 and been at the rental car agency by the time they finished boarding the flight.

Just loving these long twilights here...

I’ll have more to say, and tons more pictures in a few days, but after my first trip overseas, I learned a few things:

My luggage sucks.

Generally in the US, I try to pack everything into my small roller bag and one small duffel with a shoulder strap. This time, I was transporting 50 pounds of course materials, plus warm clothes and heavy boots, and I ended up with a couple of very heavy, awkward bags to lug around foreign airports. Fortunately, Icelandair allows two free checked bags, but once we switched to Air Iceland and Air Greenland, everything over 20 kilos worth of checked bags cost extra, and only one small carry on like a computer bag was allowed. I need to rethink my luggage! There’s a sentence that I never thought I would need, had you asked me a couple of years ago.

Always take two functioning credit cards.

Earlier this summer, a grumpy Chinese lady in a airport coffee kiosk at SFO had a hard time getting my United rewards VISA to swipe, so she bent it a little bit, lengthwise, right in front of me. Somewhere between Seattle and Iceland, the chip fell out. I had it in Seattle when I bought some Icelandic currency, and when I tried to use it in the duty free shop at Keflavik, it was gone. In the US, this is probably not such a problem, but in Europe, everything runs on the chip cards. Some places would let me swipe it after three failed attempts with the chip, but that trick didn’t work everywhere. Meanwhile, back at home, another brand new chip card was sitting in my desk drawer, because I didn’t think I’d really need two… D’oh! Also, it would be really helpful to learn at least enough Danish to know what the credit card machine is telling me to do.

Using foreign currency is fun.

When I got to Qaqortoq, I realized that the broken chip card was going to be a continuous pain in the ass, so I called back home to the credit union, warned them that I was overseas, and started taking Danish currency out of the ATM to pay for everything. Which turned out to be more fun than using the card would have been anyway. My expense report is going to be a little complicated though, in US dollars, Euros, Danish Kroner and Icelandic Krone. Also, about foreign currency, I won’t buy it at the currency exchange at the airport again. I paid too much for the ISK I bought there; it would have been better to simply use an ATM in Iceland.

I love flying on small, noisy prop planes and helicopters.

Once it was time to leave Iceland, I had to get to the smaller, domestic airport in Reykjavik itself for the flight out of Iceland. We got on an Air Iceland twin prop DeHavilland Dash-8, which took us to Nuuk. The next morning we got on another Dash-8 belonging to Air Greenland, which took us back east and south to Narsarsuaq, and then we got in a small Bell helicopter which took us the rest of the way to Qaqortoq. The helicopter flight was especially fun. Next time, though, I will bring ear plugs for the Dash-8 flights. The first couple of times we sat forward of the props, and the noise was pretty mild. On the return flight to Nuuk, we sat aft of the props, and the noise during the ascent was pretty loud. Still, very fun, and very short takeoffs, too, which seemed almost eerie compared to flying on large jets.

More in a few days, once I get pictures sorted out…

Our next ride, Narsarsuaq to Nuuk

Idaho/Montana Road Trip, June 2016

All this traveling for work got me more interested in traveling in general, and I made a few short road trips this summer, too. When I flew to Minnesota in May for work, I dropped off the pup at the trainer’s place in southern Idaho, and left her there for five weeks. After I got home, Alice and I made a short road trip to go pick her up. I had never been to Montana except passing through when I was seven years old, and hadn’t been to northern Idaho since I was a teenager, so we decided to take a few days and make a big long loop around to southern Idaho that way.

Darby, Montana

Salmon River, Idaho

Idaho and Montana were beautiful! We went to Spokane first, then over to Missoula where we spent the night. The next day, we drove south all day long down Highway 93, through the Rockies and for a while along the beautiful Salmon River, then out to Highway 20, which we took to Twin Falls, but not before stopping at the Craters of the Moon National Monument. We had thought about trying to go to Yellowstone, but there just wasn’t enough time in either of our schedules to pull that off. That will have to be another road trip…

Idaho/Montana Road Trip, June 2016

But Craters of the Moon was amazing! If you’ve never been there, and you’re traveling through southern Idaho, it’s worth a visit. Here’s a short description of what’s going on geologically there.

Idaho/Montana Road Trip, June 2016

Lava, Craters of the Moon, Idaho

Idaho/Montana Road Trip, June 2016

Idaho/Montana Road Trip, June 2016

We spent the night in Twin Falls, picked up the pup the next morning, and started the very long drive home from there.


For about a year now, my brother and I have been looking for a piece of land on the east side of the state, as a woodlot and hunting and camping spot. Since the evil empire Weyerhaeuser has been gobbling up all the other timber companies and their land, they’ve been gating off roads and making people buy expensive permits or leases in order to be allowed to hunt, or even walk on their land.

My neighborhood has been suffering from this especially in the past year, ever since Weyco bought out all of Longview Fibre’s lands, which included quite a bit of land right near me. Now mainline roads have been gated off, and some of those gates block access to state land, too. What state land remains accessible is going to be even more crowded with hunters in the future, since not everyone has the money or the desire to pay Weyco for the privilege of walking on their timberlands.

So, I’ve been looking east. The last few times I’ve made road trips out that way, I’ve been liking the landscape more and more, and so we decided we should look for a piece of land out that way, and this summer, we made a short road trip over to Okanogan and Ferry counties to scope out the area.

Okanogan/Ferry County Road Trip, July 2016

Okanogan/Ferry County Road Trip, July 2016

Okanogan/Ferry County Road Trip, July 2016

We headed over from Seattle one day, out through the beautiful Methow Valley, and over to the eastern part of Okanogan County, where we camped at a USFS campground at Bonaparte Lake.

Dinner at Bonaparte Lake resort...


We spent most of our time around the small town of Republic, exploring the roads to the north of there, and to the east and west of Curlew. We saw a lot of beautiful country, and some evidence of some really huge wildfires. We drove past a piece of land that I almost bought almost 25 years ago, too, near Kettle Falls, but we ended up liking the look of the area around Republic a lot better.

Thistles and burned landscape, Boulder Creek Rd, Ferry County

It's for sale... ;-)

When it was time to go back, we decided that we should take the detour south to check out Grand Coulee dam, which neither of us had ever seen, in spite of living almost our entire lives in Washington state.

We headed back towards the town of Tonasket, and then cut back south and east on Aeneas Valley Road, since there were a few parcels listed for sale there, and we wanted to get a look at the landscape. My map showed it to be a dead end, but James’ atlas was newer, and showed that it went all the way through to State Highway 21, which would take us south towards the dam.

Okanogan/Ferry County Road Trip, July 2016

We were kind of both right, actually. The road quickly turned to gravel, and then got smaller and smaller, passed through the Okanogan National Forest, and then we came to a sign where the USFS road ended, and Bureau of Indian Affairs “Highway” 6 began. We were now on the Colville reservation. What was already a pretty sketchy little logging road got sketchier, and I didn’t get out of second gear for quite a while. We passed through a lot of burned areas, saw a bear, and lots of fireweed, and dodged a lot of oil-pan-killing rocks in the road, but we eventually did make it down to Highway 21 unscathed.

Okanogan/Ferry County Road Trip, July 2016

For all the damage it did to the salmon runs, I have to admit that Grand Coulee Dam is an impressive piece of work. We rolled into the small town of Coulee Dam after hours of driving in the dry pine forests and scrub lands, and it was really surreal to suddenly be in 1950’s style, tree lined suburban neighborhoods, with every lawn lush and green! All that water right there, and people wanted trees and lawns in the desert, so that’s what they did.

Okanogan/Ferry County Road Trip, July 2016

We stopped for a bit there, and for lunch at a pub in Electric City, and then headed over through endless grain fields to Leavenworth, where we camped at Lake Wenatchee State Park.

I cannot recommend this as a camping spot. It was busy, even on a Sunday night. The campsites are small, and right on top of each other, with little to no privacy, and we paid $30 just for a tent site! I’m happy for public lands, and for state parks, but I’m not always happy to interact with them, especially at those prices. A nicer tent site at Lake Bonaparte was only $12 per night. There’s gotta be better and cheaper places to camp near Leavenworth, but we didn’t find them this time.

A couple of weeks later, I did find a website that will come in handy in the future:

Okanogan/Ferry County Road Trip, July 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

I’ve had a summer full of travel – a lot more than I usually do – and I’m about to go to Greenland in less than two weeks, which will also generate a ton of pictures, so I figured I should probably get some of the summer’s pics and stories posted before I get too far behind!

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

I spent much of the spring this year traveling to work for Wilderness Medical Associates, teaching WFR courses. My last course of the spring was at the Widjiwagan YMCA camp, outside of Ely, MN. People have been telling me for many years that I need to check out the canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, so I decided to take an extra week off, as long as I was already there, and do a little canoeing and exploring.

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

My plans were cut a little bit short by some high winds and lightning storms that kicked up on the day that I had intended to go in, so I was stuck waiting for a couple of days while that cleared up, but I finally picked up a really nice, very lightweight Northstar Northwind Solo canoe from Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte, MN, and headed up to the Kawishiwi Lake entry point. I had planned to go in for four or five days, but now only really had three, so I just drove up to the put in, and jumped on the water, and figured I would sort out the details as I went.

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

It was a really cold, grey, cloudy and drizzly day, and I wasn’t in a very good mood already, and it took a while of just paddling and paddling to start to get my head clear. For the first part of the trip, I was paddling through a pretty recent burn zone, too, and the landscape seemed kind of bleak. There were tons of biting insects, and there were a couple of extremely soggy and muddy portages, too. I ran into a beaver dam that wasn’t on any maps, but eventually found my way to Polly Lake, where I had hoped to camp for the first night. I paddled up towards the north end of the lake, and found a really sweet, empty campsite on a big block of granite right over the water.

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

I set up camp, and then paddled back out in the rain to try some fishing for a while, before calling it a day, and going to bed.

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

It rained and blew pretty hard that night, and I was really glad I had put an extra tarp over my tent. The next morning was bright and sunny, though, and I decided to get a campfire going to see if I could boost my mood. Crumpled up paper was so damp that it just steamed, and I was just sitting there, feeling cold and damp and grumpy, and I just decided I needed a shift in attitude. What an opportunity to practice a little bushcraft! There had to be some way to make a fire, and so I started wandering in the woods to see what I could find. I ended up discovering a lot of dried pitch on pine trees, and also that if I flaked off the outer scales of bark that were wet, the next layer of bark scales was much drier, and I collected a small handful of that stuff, some pitch, and some birchbark, and ended up getting a nice fire going on the first match after that.

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

A good campfire improves one’s mood considerably, and I had a nice breakfast, coffee, and laid in the sun by the fire for a while, and decided to explore further into the lakes as a day trip, and leave my camp set up where it was.

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

I took a day pack and the fishing gear, and headed out, exiting Polly Lake at the north end, and went up through a tiny little unnamed lake, Koma Lake, and finally into Malberg Lake, where there was supposedly decent walleye fishing. I paddled all around the north end of Malberg for a while, stopping and fishing and exploring the long eastern arm, too, and finally decided it was time to head home.

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

I got back to camp, made dinner, watched my beaver neighbors cruising back and forth, had a shot of rye whisky, and went to bed a much more relaxed and happy camper than I had been the night before.

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

The next morning, I went fishing again for a while, then finally packed up camp and started back out. The long portages seemed way shorter now that I knew what they were about, and I was back in Kawishiwi before I expected to be and I still had plenty of time to get the canoe back, so I spent a while paddling all around the lake, fishing and scoping it out. I had really, really been hoping to see a moose, and I had paddled through a few places that seemed pretty likely to have some, but there had been no moose anywhere. I was literally a half mile from the take out, and fishing my way around a little island, when I looked across to the shore, and sure enough, there was a moose standing there! She ended up letting me get within a hundred yards or less, before she had enough, and took off, but a few hundred yards later, I ran into another one, too!

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

I never did catch any fish on this paddling trip, but got some great pictures, and saw a ton of plants that were new to me. I learned that I can paddle and portage a lot faster than the guide books expect, and I know now that when I come back some day, I can plan on traveling much farther each day than the guide books would have suggested. I also realized how uncommon it is for canoeists to know a J stroke. I saw 32 other paddlers while I was in there, most at a distance, but only two of them were using a J-stroke, and they were the USFS rangers who were doing campsite inventory work. I joked to the outfitter back in Tofte that I was going to move to Minnesota and make $50k a summer teaching the J stroke at the BWCA entry points.

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

I packed up all my gear into the rental car, got in and killed about 100 mosquitos that had gathered inside while I was packing, and headed back to Tofte to return the canoe, and then on to Duluth to fly out the next day. I cannot wait to come back and paddle in the BWCA again.

Oh, and by the way, I can highly recommend Sawtooth Outfitters if you’re needing a canoe or gear in that area, and also the lovely, super light and perfect Northstar Northwind Solo canoe that they rented me.

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

BWCA paddling trip, June 2-4, 2016

So, I’ve always wondered about canning red meat. I’ve canned a lot of fish over the years, but never gotten around to trying beef or venison. Recently, I discovered a couple of pieces of venison left in the freezer, and decided to try canning it.

I decided to just make a simple stew. The internet was full of advice and recipes of all kinds, cook the meat first, don’t cook the meat first, add liquid, don’t add liquid, but the one thing that was consistent across all the recipes I found was the pressure cooker stats. 10 psi, 75 minutes for pints, 90 minutes for quarts.

Canning Venison Stew

I cut the venison into pieces about an inch or so to a side, and then browned it in the cast iron dutch oven, then moved it all over to a stock pot, added some soup stock and dried shiitake mushroom powder, and simmered it for about a half an hour, adding a bay leaf for good measure.

Then I took chopped potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and parsley and packed the jars with that and the meat, divided the liquid up amongst the jars, and threw a pinch of salt into each jar.

Canning Venison Stew

Always wipe the rim of the jar nice and clean, and always use new lids. Tighten the rings enough to hold the lid in position, but not too tight.

And then I packed the jars into the canner and started heating it up.

Canning Venison Stew

However, what I had not noticed is that my well worn All American 921 had gotten roughed up in storage somehow, and as the head of steam started building, I noticed some leaking out of a crack in the pressure gauge. Ack! Not what you want to see with a hot canner full of precious food!

Fortunately, I have had a 941X sitting around for years, originally set up as a sterilizer, but I had ordered the parts to convert it to a canner years ago. I scrambled to swap the new parts over, and we unpacked the 921 and moved everything into the 941. The 941 is too big for the stove top, so we set it up on the porch with a propane burner.

Canned Venison Stew

When I unpacked it the next morning, I found that a few of the jars hadn’t sealed, so we got to try those out right away. It needed a little bit of salt and Worcestershire sauce, but was otherwise excellent. I have another batch heating up in the canner as I write this…

Once again, I find myself a little surprised at how long it’s been since I updated this blog. I’ve been meaning to, but things have been busy, and I find what usually happens is that I write a post in my head, but before I get around to publishing it, I decide that it’s not worth publishing, and then more weeks and months pass. In the meantime, the last entry on the blog is titled, “Death.” Not exactly representative of my life right now!

Anyway, here’s an update that is long overdue.

From yesterday

I came home from Michigan in the fall of 2014, took my NREMT test, and over the course of the next few months, did a lot of paperwork and more testing until finally the state of Washington DOH got tired of me bugging them, and gave me an EMT license. I’m now a volunteer EMT with both Skamokawa VFD and Cathlamet FD, which is what I needed to move on to the next step in my changing career plans, becoming an instructor for Wilderness Medical Associates.

Rig check and OTEP tonight

I went to the WMA instructor training in March of 2015, and got hired at the end of the course, but I wasn’t able to work that spring, because of my other conflicting work schedules. I finally started teaching for WMA last December, and by the end of the spring season, I had worked as an instructor for 51 days, all over the place. I’ve been to the LA area, SE Ohio, SE Missouri, Gettysburg, PA, northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota.

Widjiwagan dining hall

Besides learning a lot about teaching, which I will be learning about for the rest of my life, I also learned that I like traveling. I’ve rarely done much more traveling than west coast road trips before. Until I went to Michigan, I had only ever been on commercial aircraft twice in my life, in 1991. Now I’ve been through a dozen different airports this year, some more than once.

Everyone told me I was going to hate it, but I found that I actually like flying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of the long TSA lines, or the ridiculous security theater that that entails. I’ve learned to dislike at least a couple of the nation’s largest airports, O’Hare and Dulles. But I’ve also found that I really like some of the smaller ones, like Duluth and Traverse City, and I really liked Denver, too, although I’ve only been through there once so far.

Headed home

I like the people watching, I like the amazing level of complexity that goes into a working airport, and I like airplanes, too. I love machines of all kinds, and a commercial jet is a pretty amazing piece of machinery. I like taking off and landing, and the complexity of the wings working to do the job of lifting all those tons of loaded airplane into the sky, and then bringing the whole thing gently back onto the ground. I’m not a huge fan of the long, boring hours in between, which is why I usually try to get a window seat, so there’s something to look at. I’m slowly learning various tips and tricks for more comfortable and practical air travel, and the very beginnings of how to use mileage points accounts. The Points Guy has been helpful.


I loved seeing all kinds of new places, most of which turned out to be more interesting and pleasing than I had thought they would be. Gettysburg touched me on a level that I did not expect. SE Ohio was more beautiful and interesting than I thought it would be, and the Great Lakes region is a place I plan to go back to as often as I can manage it. I love Duluth, and Lake Superior. I love smoked whitefish. I even learned to tolerate a level of biting insects that I never would have imagined getting used to.

More lake views...

In between all of this travel and activity and life changes, I finally shot a deer, bought a Brittany spaniel puppy and started learning about upland bird hunting, put a brand new logging winch on the tractor and started actively thinning my woodlot, started remodeling my barn and trying to get a handle on my messy shop, and also spent much more time than I ever anticipated dealing with my aging parents, and working on helping them sell off some assets and remodeling my dad’s office building. I caught a few fish, and took a few pictures, too.

Excited pup

Coming soon, some pics and words about a short canoe trip in the Boundary Waters.

Canoeing on Burntside Lake

I’m sitting here in a motel room in Indian River, Michigan this evening. I’m at the end of a two week course towards becoming a Wilderness EMT, and eventually teaching wilderness medical courses. Tomorrow I will take my written test, and then start the journey home.

Until two weeks ago, I had not flown on an airplane in over twenty years. I had never been this far east on my own. I had never seen fall colors in the northern deciduous forest.

When I left home, several important things were going on in my life. My father was in the hospital in fairly serious condition. He has since been released, and is home again, although he can no longer navigate stairs. He’s 81, and I worry that he may not ever regain everything he had, before this sudden illness overtook him. The week before, a friend and neighbor a few years older than I am died pretty quickly, of cancer, only a month after being diagnosed. And a good friend, someone I have known for 28 years, is also, right now, dying of cancer, after fighting it and beating it back for ten years or so. She is still here, but only just barely. It’s only a matter of time now.

Part of my WEMT class was 34 hours spent working on ambulances and in the emergency room. While working on the ambulance as an EMT student last weekend, I saw my first dead human body, outside of a funeral.

A man, approximately my age, had decided that life was not something he wanted to do any longer, and on probably one of the nicest afternoons in northern Michigan all year, he went outside, parked his truck a ways away from his modest home, and spread a blanket out on the grass nearby. The sun would have been shining, and the weather was fantastic. Everyone I met was talking about how they were finally getting the summer they had been waiting for for months.

The man sat down on the blanket, facing a row of old apple trees, loaded with fruit. He took his deer rifle, a Remington pump action 30-06, placed the barrel against the roof of his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

I’ll spare you the details, but many of you can probably imagine what the end result was. It was not neat and clean, although I am certain this man felt no more pain. Not even for a moment. His mother, however, will feel pain about this day for the rest of her life. Guilt. Remorse. She will miss him. I checked her vital signs, and held her hand for a minute, and listened to her cry and chastise herself. And then I stood in the driveway with the LEOs from three different agencies and waited for orders about what we would do next. I looked at the body. I helped the LEOs look for the shell casing. I was careful not to step in any of the brains and skull fragments. Not because it mattered to the law at that point, but because it seemed like it would be rude. One of my mentors, an old time paramedic who knew the victim’s mother, picked an apple off of one of the trees and ate it. I wished I could do the same. They looked delicious, and it certainly did not matter to the man laying in the grass any more.

When I get home, I may, or may not make it to see my dying friend in person again, before she is gone. I am sure she wishes she was not sick. Was not dying. Was able to watch her son grow up, leave home, start a family, and become a man. Was able to live out a happy life with her husband who loves her.

And nearly at the same time, I have this image – I will ALWAYS have this image – of a sad man, whose name I know, and will never forget, in a remote driveway in rural northern Michigan, who decided there was nothing more he wished to see. That he had seen enough. I don’t think I will ever forget what he looked like, laying there in the grass, near the apple trees, on a blanket that he had laid out for the purpose, still holding his deer rifle in his hands.

No judgement. Just observations. And wonderment. And sadness.

I’ve often been asked about how to grow shiitake mushrooms, and since I’ve never posted about it, here it is.

Start with a young hardwood forest in need of thinning. Alder is what I have around here, but lots of different hardwoods will work, especially oaks. I look for logs that aren’t too crooked, and about 4-8″ in diameter. This year, I thinned a couple of acres of pure alder that I have, which was way, way more than I needed for mushroom logs. The rest will go to firewood, and my remaining trees should grow faster and larger now.

The best time to cut the trees is in the winter or very early spring, definitely before sap starts to flow. Once they are starting to leaf out, you’re a little on the late side. When processing your logs, be careful not to bang up the bark. Trees with sap running tend to get the bark damaged very easily. I cut the logs right where the tree falls and carefully carry and load them by hand.

alder forest

In the past I used to cut my logs at 42″, because that was the size of a standard pallet, and I used to stack my logs on pallets. Now I just throw a couple of un-inoculated logs on the ground and make my stacks on those. So this time I cut my logs at 48″. Much longer gets hard to handle, though. Make sure the logs are straight and relatively uniform, without damage or rot. I also take the time to scrub off all the moss and other stuff growing on them. If you have a pressure washer, this can go pretty fast. Some people wash and scrub them down to clean bark without any lichens left on it at all, but in my experience, they don’t need to be perfectly spotless.

Since alder is a wood that rots easily, the alder tree has some defense mechanisms against invading fungi. Alder will encapsulate and “wall off” any rot very effectively, and right after you cut or damage an alder tree, it produces an antifungal compound of some kind, so I always stack my freshly cut logs in the woods for a couple of weeks or so before inoculating them, to let this defense mechanism run its course.

Keep the logs cool and in the shade, while you’re waiting for your spawn to arrive in the mail, and while you’re working on them. We lost over 100 logs one year because I had not learned this lesson yet. Logs that sit in the sun get sunburned, which makes the bark less useful for shiitake mushroom growth, but worse, the logs warm up and grow Trichoderma, a locally prevalent, aggressively competing fungus. If that stuff gets a toehold before the shiitake can get established, then the logs fail to ever produce mushrooms. So keep your logs cool and in the shade!

I order my spawn from Northwest Mycological Consultants in Corvallis, OR. I generally grow one of the cold weather strains, as they tend to tolerate my benign neglect, they fruit on natural cycles well, and the resulting mushrooms are of extremely high quality. This year, I also bought a wide range strain, that has a longer fruiting season than the cold weather strain I usually grow. Timing wise, I usually order my spawn about the time I take down the trees.

inoculating shiitake logs

I use sawdust spawn, rather than plugs. This requires a special tool for inoculating, which you can also order from NMC. I also ordered the special hardened drill bit from them, and it has drilled several thousand holes now with no troubles. Regular hardware store bits will not do that.

The other huge time saver is the drill. Don’t even bother with a regular shop drill, or cordless drill. You’ll be drilling holes for days that way. What you want is a high speed angle grinder, and to make a simple adapter so that you can mount a drill chuck on it. This is a way, way faster way to drill a lot of holes without hassle. Put a stop collar on your drill bit so you don’t make the holes super deep.

inoculating shiitake logs

You want the holes to be a little bit deeper than the length of the plug of spawn that you’re putting in there. You want there to be a little bit of open space at the bottom of the hole underneath the spawn. You also want to be careful to not tear up the bark too bad when drilling holes. Pull the drill straight out so that it doesn’t snag and tear the bark around the edge of the hole. I put the holes about 3-4″ or so apart and several full length rows around the circumference of each log. More is better for fast, successful colonization, but too many holes wastes spawn and leaves you with fewer logs. At the rate I generally do it, a five pound bag of spawn will inoculate about 20-25 logs.

I’ve found that laying the logs out in the grass to drill them is easier than trying to drill them on the bed of the truck, or on the sawhorse set up that we use for inoculating on. Having some teenagers around to move logs for you is nice…

inoculating shiitake logs

Inoculating is pretty straightforward. Open the bag, shove the tool into the spawn, it will fill with spawn, then put the tool over a hole and depress the plunger. Voila! Spawn is now inside the log. Repeat several hundred times…

Once you have a pile of inoculated logs, now it’s time to seal the holes with wax. We use a small thrift store slow cooker to melt wax in and keep it hot. There’s a million ways of doing the wax, too, but since we’re small time and usually only do up 50-100 logs at a time usually, we just use paint brushes. The wax protects the spawn from invasion by pests, and from drying out.

inoculating shiitake logs

Now write the strain number on the ends of the logs so you can keep track of which is which. I used to not do this, and then got frustrated when some logs performed better than others, but I couldn’t say for sure which was which. It only takes a few minutes and a big sharpie to label them.

Then stack them under some conifer shade, so that they have good airflow, but no direct sun beating down on them. They’ll take all summer to fully colonize the logs, and it will probably be the following spring at least before you see any mushrooms. You can get more production by soaking the logs and managing them more intensively. There’s a lot of great information in the “Shiitake Growers Handbook”, by Paul Przybylowicz and John Donoghue.

inoculating shiitake logs

My last batch of successful logs were inoculated in 2008, and were still producing mushrooms as of a couple of weeks ago. If I had forced fruiting, though, it would have used them up faster. My 2011 logs were invaded by Trichoderma and have never fruited. I have a good feeling about today’s batch, though. I think these will be successful.

shiitake logs

It’s winter, and I don’t have much to say, so here’s some pictures from the past few months:

Colorful tugboat

Old car

Resting boat

Mouth of the creek

Winter sunset

Working boats

Owl, bobcat and forest

Fun with Instagram and ship