Caveat: Smooth as ice…

I had another distressing but ultimately non-catastrophic vehicular experience this morning, interacting with an effort to go into town.

After about 2 weeks of snow, ice, and well below freezing temperatures, the last few days have seen… rain. But it’s not warm enough to really melt the snow and ice fully; rather, it seems to just lubricate it. The road into town is just a continuous sheet of ice.

I was intending to go into town this morning. I had the chains on the car, yet nevertheless the vehicle’s grip on the icy road was tenuous at best. Creeping at 5mph, in 4 wheel drive, with chains on the rear tires, I still slid down the small hill at the 7.5 mile bridge, ending up sideways in the road at the bottom. Taking that as a frightening preview of the the much, much worse and steeper 6 mile hill, I decided that caution was the better part of valor, and accepted that my vehicle was already mostly turned around, and decided to head back home. Total travel distance: 2 miles. Total travel time: 40 minutes.

I know that Arthur would have insisted on soldiering forward. I’m glad he wasn’t along. This is not a new, stroke-related personality trait – it’s how he’s always been: he relishes risk. So I have feelings of failure, guilt, or inadequacy surrounding my more cautious processes. Anyway, maybe with more rain, the ice will finally give way to the underlying gravel, and the road will be easier to drive.

Caveat: Unchained

It turns out that my adventure last Friday with the Blueberry in the driveway involved one of the snow chains (on the tires) actually breaking. So today, having decided to re-attempt my journey to town, I ended up having to do an emergency repair to the tire chains. I used a hammer and the bench vice in the shop.


The tire chains seem to be of low quality, frankly. I like the old-fashioned kind that have actual chain links. Our neighbor-down-the-road Joe came by as I was working on this, and assured me I was smart to be intending to use chains to get into town. He had chains on his much heavier-duty truck, and he’s an experienced truck driver. Indeed, as I later headed into town, the road at the 6 mile hill was like an ice rink but tilted 10°. It felt quite treacherous.

I had very little confidence in my repair job. I decided to ask around and see if anyone was selling chains in town – with the recent weather, they’d be making a killing. I got lucky – it turned out the single gas station / auto shop in town, Schaub-Ellison, in fact was not only selling chains but had the Tahoe’s wheel size in stock. I shelled out 150 bucks and got a new set of chains. Hopefully they will be of better quality.

Caveat: Kerosene

One of my periodic tasks here is to keep the kerosene heater in the boathouse (the lowest level of the house – it’s integrated to the “shop” which is the house’s basement) filled so that it can keep the boathouse’s interior temperature above freezing. This is important because the house’s water supply (and the main filters for it) run through the boathouse, given it’s the oldest part of the house. It is also uninsulated and has metal siding, meaning it loses heat rapidly when unheated and is likely quite inefficient to keep warm.

The kerosene heater has a 1 or 2 gallon tank, that needs to be removed and filled once a day when it’s not too cold. But as it gets colder (it’s 15° F / -10° C as I write this) this needs to be refilled more frequently. There is a 5 gallon plastic container for the kerosene, stored near the heater in the shop, which is in turn filled from the large outdoor storage tank. So I sometimes go to the storage tank and get a refill.

The kerosene heater is efficient, but it strikes me as impractical in this setting because although it burns kerosene, it has an electrical control that renders it useless if there is no power. In an extended power outage, it could not be used to heat the boathouse.


If I were to propose any single major project to Arthur to improve his house, it would be to figure out how to get the boathouse insulated. The spray-on insulation he used on the similar “kitchen shed” works well, but it was a nightmare to apply originally and for many years it was outgassing hazardous chemicals. The latter is not something Arthur ever cared about, but I’d rather not repeat that. I reckon the best insulation strategy for the boathouse would be some kind if inner frame (of wood or plastic) built within the boathouse walls, which could hold foam insulation or fiberglass and have some kind of outside layer – plywood or sheetrock, etc.

Caveat: adventures not even leaving the driveway

I had a quite difficult and disappointing day. No major disaster. But a lot of work, and farther behind than when the day started.

As background – we have received a great deal of snow over the past week.

I had decided to go to town this morning. Somehow since coming back up here after Thanksgiving, I moved “go to town day” from Thursday to Friday. The reason Arthur goes on Thursday is because there is a senior discount at the grocery on Thursdays. The store is often a bit crowded. Since I’m not eligible for the discount, I don’t feel constrained to Thursday. Thus Friday became the day.

I was out the door early, by 8 AM. But that’s because a lot of snow has fallen since I last drove to town. At least a foot, perhaps more.

I spent time shoveling the stairs to the driveway and parts of the driveway.

I felt smart, because I decided to just go ahead and put the chains on. That’s a big hassle, but the road hadn’t been well plowed. I shoveled some of the way in front of the car. But I figured with the chains and a running start I could make it up the rest of the driveway through the snow to the road.

That might have worked, except apparently I did a lousy job putting on the chains – they both got off the tires and next thing I know I was going sideways.

Arthur has a pile of scrap sheet metal (really leftover steel siding from his quonset-style sheds he built) piled alongside the east side of the driveway. And the car ended up more or less on top of that. I was good and stuck.

I had to jack up the car to take off the chains – they were trapped under the tires.

I had to dig out and move all the sheet metal from under the car, as well as some plastic culvert – which fortunately wasn’t damaged.

And I was working on how to get the chains back on when an angel driving a road grader (to plow the road) came by. Pat, who lives at around 10.5 mile, in every way an archetypal sweet grandma, happens to drive a road grader, and does so of her own sweet goodwill to support the south-of-the-inlet community.

Pat had some chains on the grader, which we attached to the front of the Blueberry to extract it from its dilemma. It took a few tries to get the right angle to pull it onto the road rather than throw it down Dean’s driveway – the snow was very slippery and the driveway is steeper than it looks.

Once the Blueberry was on the road – now just graded (plowed) – Pat went on her way and I made the decision to not try to clear the driveway to Art’s place – it was steep with mud and snow now pushed up in banks by the spinning wheels. It was a mess. Instead, I went over to the west lot (73) – the new driveway Richard made last spring – and shoveled out a nice, flat, road-level parking space for the Blueberry. And there she will stay, until I get super ambitious and shovel out the existing driveway, or until some of the snow melts. But at the moment, it’s snowing more.

It was almost noon by the time I got the Blueberry parked in its new spot. I decided not to go into town. Pat was grading the road, but it was still snowing. I expected the road to be treacherous at points into town. And I’m not in dire straights.

An adventure. But not good for my sense of self-confidence or self-sufficiency.

Some pictures.

Stuck against the pile of sheet metal.


Chains trapped under the tire.


Retrieving the chains using the jack.


Angel with a road grader.


The aftermath.


A new parking spot excavated on the west lot.



Caveat: Sitting Among the Snowdrifts

I need to talk about procrastination.

It’s easy to do, in this hermetic space on the edge of civilization, encased in fresh-fallen snow and betrayed by the bureaucracies that lurk just over the horizon.

I had been highly motivated in the fall to become a full-time student in the University of Alaska’s online teacher certification program. That fell apart, as I’ve noted before, due to the stringent, two-year basis of the state’s concept of “residency.” I would be subject to exhorbitant out-of-state tuition, and decided to forgo the privilege. Hopefully I can try again next year.

Meanwhile, I had already registered for a set of tests-for-credit to fulfill some outstanding prerequisites. Two parts of US History, and Intro to Psychology. I had scheduled the tests for the 13th of January, because given the online classes would have been starting the week before, it seemed the best way to maximize study time and still not end up overwhelmed once classes started.

So I told myself, after I decided to delay starting the online program for a year, that I would just take the scheduled tests anyway. It’d keep me busy during this hiatus while Art was still down south.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work. When the pressure is off, I tend to procrastinate. And the pressure was definitely off. There was no way to trick my mind into thinking these tests were important, when their “due date” was now more than a year off.

Last night I took a set of practice tests. Their results clearly show that my studying, such as it has been, hasn’t really been effective. Of course, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I might, indeed, be able to pass the tests. But not in the “summa cum laude” way that is my accustomed academic mode.

Further, there is no penalty in delaying the tests. I believe when I registered the only deadline is something like 8 months from registration. I have until summer to get them done without extra cost.

I have therefore elected to delay them. I specified a March date, only because I had to specify something. The test date is easily moved – the testing center in Ketchikan has several slots every week.

But I feel guilty.

I also had made a firm commitment to do something about a more generic job search once returning to the island. I made up new resumes, dropped feelers among my acquaintances, but have hardly been assiduous in follow up. It’s too easy to settle into a routine, here.

I put in some time outside: firewood, shoveling snow, maintaining the RV, checking that our water system is handling the cold, etc.

I put in time on my computer: maintaining my blog and server and websites, admin stuff on the geofiction website, trying to solve certain puzzles related to making my websites “cleaner” and more professional and better-coded.

What else? Study time happens, but not as it should (see above). I read some in various books-in-progress. I have developed a new hobby of reading a few well-written “web-comics.” This is an emergent genre – essentially graphic (i.e. pictorial) novels published online. They were extraordinarily popular among my students during my last years in Korea, and I made several efforts to get into some of the Korean ones at that time, in hopes it would inspire me to improve my Korean. I suppose it did, a bit, but the slog of reading them with dictionary in hand was hard to keep up. One English-language one that I’ve been enjoying is called Seed. It is science-fiction, essentially: a psychologically interesting set of characters dealing with a rogue Artificial Intelligence.

I admit that although I love the snow – it’s gorgeous and calming and I have no concerns about the chance of isolation or the work involved in shoveling out the stairs whatever, it does rather de-motivate me vis-a-vis any project to get out to town, whether job search or anything else. Heavy snow is about staying home and looking out the windows, not about going to town on treacherous roads in hopes of getting a dead-end job out of a sense of obligation to be “productive.”

I feel guilty about abusing my family’s generosity and Arthur’s “hospitality” (despite the notion, too, that I’m presumeably serving a genuinely useful care-taker role with him, which his disavowals of disability make difficult to maintain). I think if I was truly self-sufficient, I’d not feel guilty for being a currently “unproductive” member of society. I feel sufficiently creative in my various pursuits – my poetry, my offline writing efforts, my programming work on my websites – such that I am contributing to the world, just not for remuneration at the moment.

And that’s the news from this side of Port Saint Nicholas, here in Rockpit, Alaska.

Caveat: Changeable Weather

It can be interesting seeing the shifts in weather. These shifts seem more noticeable when it gets colder. I think it has to do with a change from the monotonic and endless fronts of Pacific rain to the colder continental airmasses that sometimes make it out this far.

Yesterday, I happened to capture this with a series of pictures from the deck looking north toward the mountain across the water.

8 AM.


10 AM.