Thursday, May 9, 2024

The Joy of Coming Home

Because of the unusual winter weather this year (warmer temperatures and hardly any snow), I migrated north from Madison, Wisconsin to my home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula a couple of weeks earlier than normal. It could have been a month earlier, except I had doctors’ appointments I dared not cancel. I usually leave several days ahead of Jan to allow me to get everything set up and address any problems that arise in opening up the house.

The first sense of “home” appears around Crivitz, Wisconsin, where the topography grows hillier and the vegetation more boreal. Outside Florence, Wisconsin, I pass a telephone pole with a huge nest atop that often houses osprey or bald eagles. No heads in the nest, but in the next field are two mature bald eagles feeding on the ground. I smile.

I make a couple of stops in Crystal Falls, Michigan: at the library to check out new books, and the Ben Franklin to replenish their supply of my books (and this year provide them their first copies of Hijacked Legacy). It’s great to catch up, but I keep the chit-chat short because I want to have as much daylight as possible to open up the house. My stops in Amasa are also quick, to pick up mail and hug the postmistress and at Tall Pines to replenish their inventory of my books and buy this year’s ORV stickers for my ATVs.

Then, a mile after Amasa, I’m off paved roads and onto gravel/dirt logging roads for another fourteen miles. Normally the first trip in is slow because the roads are wet, and the logging companies haven’t graded them since winter. This year, the first seven miles are already graded, making for a quicker trip. I note where logging has occurred since I left in November, scatter flocks of robins, and brake for a spruce grouse hen that stands unmoving in the middle of the road. Spruce grouse are fairly rare birds, and it’s a good sign that they apparently didn’t suffer from the lack of snow (where they bury themselves to sleep in relative warmth).

Beaver Creek overflowing the road as it normally is at Springtime.

When I reach Beaver Creek, I find another sign of how dry the woods are. Often water runs over the road here; now it’s bone dry. When I clean the grate protecting the culvert, I find only two inches of mixed vegetation blocking the bottom of the grate with no evidence the water has been any higher. In the last mile and a half, another effect of the strange winter becomes apparent. The roads didn’t freeze solid for the winter, and the snow depth hardly reached a foot. That meant the roads are more rutted than usual. In years past, that would have bothered me. Now that I own a rock rake that can smooth out the ruts, the inconvenience is reduced to spending a few more hours in the Bobcat doing that work. No biggie.

Unlike last year when I came in shortly after a late spring snowstorm had dropped 18” of wet, heavy snow and toppled many trees that I had to cut out of the way before I could get to the driveway, this year the road is clear.

My first glimpse of the lake is through trees. Sunlight bounces off its surface and warms my heart. A half-mile later, I have a full view, but rather than checking for ducks or swans, as I often do, I’m navigating through the ruts. I pass one neighbor’s trailer, another’s cabin—knowing their wildlife camera will record my passing—and then I’m at the gate to my driveway that my son and I installed last fall. It’s still level. Major victory!

Gate as I left it in the fall and it looked the same when I returned.

As I unlock the gate, I pause to feel, more than hear, the drumming of a male ruffed grouse. They rotate their wings back and forth as frequently as five times a second to create the deep thumping sound that I hear resonating.

A tinge of concern enters my psyche as I pull to a stop in front of the house. Did everything make it through the winter okay? I push aside memories of years when snow damaged the solar panel connections or when I didn’t correctly drain the water out of the house. My first check is to learn if any trees fell on the house. All good, and the phoebes that nest each year accompanied my inspection, singing from nearby trees. Yeah!

I unload the truck—all looks fine indoors—and open the windows to warm the house. The first fire of the season will wait until I have electric and water. I reattach the battery bank to the power inverter (remembering to attach the positive cable before the negative to prevent welding myself to the battery bank) and the inverter kicks on. I flip the breakers to the solar panels—both sets of panels are creating power! Next, I click on the breaker to allow power to the generator shed and flip a light switch. Artificial light brightens the interior. I have similar success with power to the garage and house. A smile creeps onto my face, despite knowing I might be jinxing myself.

With power restored, I start the well pump and allow it to run for two hours to clear out sediment and debris that collected in the well over winter. While the water is clearing, I install the battery in the generator and open the valve to allow the propane to flow to the engine. Low battery warning. Dang. I attach a charger to the generator battery and while that does its work, I return to the house to get the gas flowing to the stove, dryer, and hot water heater. I use the burners on the stove to clear out the dead air—and they won’t light.

After verifying I opened the propane valve to the house, I try again. Crickets. The generator battery is by now strong enough to kick on the generator and that works, so there is propane in the tank (the dial said 40% full—but dials have lied before). Then it hits me: I have cut-offs inside the house that control the flow of propane to the appliances. I turn those on and poof, the stove lights. I laugh at my stupidity.

The next big test is opening the valves to let water back into the house. First, I check and double check that I closed all the open faucets, except for the ones in the upstairs bathroom that I keep open to clear the air in the lines and make sure the water pressure is good. I crack the valve just a little and listen as water gurgles through the system. What I don’t want to hear is dripping. So far, so good. I increase the water flow and hear it coming out the upstairs faucet. Then I open it up the entire way . . . and we’re good.

Before I busted the glass in the left door.

With electric and water, I figure I can manage anything that goes wrong. I get the woodstove going and start unpacking and storing everything in its place. An ATV starts right up after I reconnect its battery. (That’s not always the case when mice decide to overwinter in the ATV). I get the trailer out of the garage and park it in its spot. I’m just finishing storing my log-splitter where it belongs when a lake neighbor stops by, can of beer in hand. It’s five-ish: time for a break and to catch up on local gossip.

An hour and a half later, I boot him out, have dinner, and do some more unpacking. The low temps are supposed to be in the 40s, so I make my bed on the screened porch and fall asleep to the sounds of distant frogs and rain on the roof.

The next day, I fill my bird feeders. A female purple finch that burbles its thanks is the first bird to spot them. Later that morning, I discover one of the toilet tanks is leaking where the tank connects to the body. Fortunately, another lake neighbor (they call their place “Dream Ridge”) has a spare gasket, and we make that repair. Then while stocking the woodstove, I am not sufficiently careful putting in a piece of wood and break a pane of front-door glass. I install a screen that treats the woodstove more like a fireplace and wait for the stove to cool down. We had saved an old glass pane from a repair several years ago, so I soon have the stove back in working order.

The day ends with the Dream Ridge neighbors, enjoying wine time, pizza, and checking pictures from a few of the trail cameras to see what was going on while I was gone. The picture below is my favorite so far.

Moose in snow

Moose cow and calf in snow

And that, my friends, gives you a peek at my joy in coming home. What is bringing joy into your world? 

*** This blog originally appeared on the Writers Who Kill blog 5/7/2024