Astute readers may have noticed that, back in mid spring, photo quality here took a turn. The previous fall my long standing iPhone 5se took a dive (literally, on main stream in Escalante) and after 4 months of tape holding chunks of the screen in, reliability mandated a new phone. I’d spent the winter putting that off, pondering if I could really make the leap I wanted to. A client (in 6th grade) showed me how the rudimentary browser on his flip phone worked, and that put me over the edge. The next day I headed to work with a bricklike (8 oz!)m brand new ($240!) Kyocera DuraXV Xtreme in my pocket.
From a reasonable perspective, the Kyocera is a joke. Texting takes forever, just like it did in 2007. The camera is 5MP and has dodgy autofocus. The browser works, on most websites, most of the time. Checking stock at Home Depot doesn’t really work, but I can look at the weather in one button push, and read The Atlantic, 15 words a screen. After a few articles your thumb will be sore. A few weeks ago a QR code only menu at a brewery shut me down, and people of all ages roll their eyes on a daily basis. I enjoy slapping the thing shut, metaphorically and literally. I enjoy how it is a functional phone, and semi-functional as anything else. I enjoy, perversely, it being heavy and big enough I will never forget it is in my pocket.
The reason I wanted an inconvenient phone is the same reason I took a break from writing here for the final three months of the year; to make daily life as simple as possible. And by simple, I mean unadorned, basic, with as few sources of stimuli as possible. M and I had little more than a year being parents before the national crisis that began with Trump and has continued through covid; I imagine either one would be sufficient to make the atmosphere around my daily life seem quite thin enough. As is, things have been diffusely, unrecoverably frantic the past two years, and following my gut into the flip phone opened the door for me to prune more emphatically and intentionally. For that reason, the Kyocera was the most significant item of 2021.
Apart from the pandemic (and Jan 6th which, as cultural phenomena are increasingly difficult to view separately), the most memorable thing about 2021, was the very hot start to the summer. The first weekend after the Bob Open I took a trip to the Little Belts to stay in a lookout tower and explore more of Tenderfoot Creek. The car thermometer kissed 100F sweeping south of Great Falls, and I went straight from typical Montana late spring to atypical Montana August in the space of 5 days. Mercifully actual August gave us a big break, but an almost uninterrrupted two months that was almost too hot to hike in had me logging more river miles than any previous summer. I bought a canoe, took out the new family packraft almost daily, and even partially learned to row my parents new 13 foot raft. By Thanksgiving weekend, when Little Bear and I bikerafted Scotty Brown to River Bend and back on the Blackfoot, and I found myself scheming to fit just one more float trip in before everything froze did I realize the hierarchy which had in 2021 emerged. I’ve often looked around our domain and wondered what out of the several mountains of gear I’d dispense with last. 2021 answered that: it would be the boats. Which is helpful, because there is always more possibilites than either time or money.
The yard is currently buried in snow and ice, with the stack of canoes crowned with a tarp, that is frosted and frozen generously. We have our quasi tree house, an 11 by 7 foot platform six feet off the ground, cantilevered off the garage, one other corner a 4 by 4 post atop a concrete wall, the other lag bolted to an englemann spruce, who proliferate in the old parts of town, planted after the ponderosas were cut for fuel and timber back around the time of statehood. Englemanns grow faster, and do fine in town as they no longer have to contend with fire (if we ever have a Marshall fire situation all those ~110 year old spruces will be a massive liability). They have a stately sway during windstorms, and if you’re in the garage during gusts above 40 mph you can listen to that tree creak the whole structure ever so slightly.
The kids playhouse has been under the tree house since before the platform existed, and was a hodgepodge of scrap lumber with a window and entrance(s) that required climbing through one of a number of tires. The kids have taken to forest service cabins so well they wanted one of the their own, so this fall saw a total rennovation. Now the playhouse has a bed, workbench, and tool rack inside, two big windows, and a kid sized (50″ by 18″) door. I’m not sure I’ll ever chink the logs, as no one seems to mind that. My favorite feature is the 5″ microgabel with cosmetic log raftertails over the door and front window, especially the past few weeks, as it has been piled high with snow.
Next to the backyard cabin is the wood pile, next to that the side entrance to the garage, and next to that the wood and tool shed. The side entrance used to be a full door, before I walled off the back half of the dirt floor garage to be the ski and bike room and workshop. Now the side entrance has a half door, to keep the deer out of the yard, and to which I had to add a deadbolt, as the gusts concentrate and cycle so strongly through the covered passage they regularly blew open the regular catch. The garage itself is something of a mystery, with dimensional lumbar and very old pine planking on the sides, and rather newer 2 by 4s in the roof. The uphill wall is, on the outside, set on concrete footers that are a good 30 inches below grade, demanding that it has been around long enough for the alley to acrue that much dirt. Digging that out a few years ago to add enough flashing that most of the spring melt no longer seeps through the wall was a horrible job.
On the downhill side of the garage is the shed, a 7 by 12 foot room set on a slab, and into which I’ve crammed as much wood, odd stuff, and tools as will fit in a semi organized fashion. This last requirement has expanded and evolved rapidly in the last few years, as building things (both for the house and otherwise) has become my primary interest. I’ve been sewing, mostly backpacks, with a decent degree of seriousness for over a decade, such that my knowledge there has reached the point where problem solving is generally flooded over by execution and refinement. This last, otherwise known as precision and consistency, has never been a strong suit, something woodworking has revealed in a most uncompromising manor. So at last I find myself focusing on my stitch lines in preference to the big picture, and spending plenty of time learning to make truly exact cuts. This fall a new island went into the kitchen, and a built in cabinet finally filled a hole in the wall upstairs. I found a used miter saw, cheap, and built a bench into the wall of the shed onto which it bolted, and then a roof extension to keep the rain and snow off. More recently, I found out just how much the blown air from the orbital sander freezes fingers, even with gloves on. M and I beginning to mull much longer term plans for a garage rebuild that would provide indoor work space. I have a canoe paddle, my prettiest yet, that will have to wait until March or so to get wet.
What does this mean for this year, 2022? I have not and will not abandon the blog, though content will likely remain sparse. I thought I might miss the process of writing weekly, and was surprised when I did not, at all. I am working on a substantial revision of Packrafting the Crown of the Continent, that will encompass both more territory and the ways my knowledge overall has expanded in the past 4 years. As always, I hope to sew and sell backpacks, though once I’ve worked through the current backlog custom work will be on hold indefinitely, as priorities have made holding to even the most expansive deadlines impossible, something that is unlikely to change for at least a number of years. The phone experiment taught me that even with what seemed like a fairly simple life there was much work on that front to be done, that I needed to make some hard choices to do fewer things better. And on that front, I am quite excited for the snow to keep building up, eventually thaw, and show us how the year will develop.