Friday, December 25, 2015

The Solstice Chair and the Quiet End to this Year 2015.

This holiday, Madelyn and I are here on the lake alone, and the kids off with their own starting new family traditions.  Knowing I would be home most of December, I had time to make a gift for Madelyn rather than buy one.  I had been thinking for a time that I want to this, and now I had time, materials and opportunity.  It all began this summer when I was doing some yard clean up and found out that our chainsaw carved eagles had rotted and had to be turned over to the campfire.   That same day my old ski chair started to collapse under my weight, so I knew it was destined for the fire as well.  This chair I had made at least fifteen years ago and the materials are entirely old Nordic, or cross country, skis.   For years this Adirondack style chair sat on the porch in the weather, and when we moved to the lake, it came with us.  Now that it was sitting on a covered porch the chair lasted longer than expected but I did know it would eventually need to be replaced.
Save it for the solstice fire,” Madelyn suggested, and I agreed.  What better fuel for a solstice fire than wood that has served well in two functions.  Each year we have a gathering on winter solstice and celebrate the cosmic event with friends around the fire.  This year we can’t have our solstice celebration so my old chair lie forlorn on the campfire woodpile under the alders waiting.
Of course, I promised to build another chair from the old skis collected in the loft of the woodshed, but I am a hundred percent guy.  Hundred percent in or hundred percent out.  Right then I was out.  The skis were stacked in the woodshed, more than enough to build another chair.  I had the tools — better than I had when I built the first one — and I had a warm dry garage to work in.  All I needed was the motivation.  Instead of working on the replacement chair, I planned.  Madelyn was going to be laid up after knee replacement and would need to be close to the house for while.  She would be cut off from the garage. That would be perfect time to build the new chair and I could make it a Christmas gift.  “Brilliant,” I said.
The new Solstice Chair
Suddenly it was December, Madelyn had the surgery, and we made it home a week before Christmas.  I suddenly found that the time I was going to “be around the house” was taken up with nursing duties.  In between servicing the ice machine, helping with exercises, changing dressings, tracking and dispensing seven different medicines, making meals, and giving my gal some company, I would sneak out to the garage and tinker on the chair.  Timing was tricky because I worried about sawing and drilling being enough noise to wake Madelyn when she was sleeping.  Those first few days I got her settled on the ice machine or the CPM she would fall asleep.  I was able to strip the hardware from the skis and get my cuts planned.  Eventually time worked out fine, and two days before Christmas the new chair was finished and I was working on a second.  All the time I was working on the first chair I was planning scheming and serving the web for different designs for chairs.  I found one I liked and wanted to try, but I was committed to my own design for Madelyn’s chair.   Now I had the bug, that hundred percent thing had me working mind and body on ski chairs.  I have a goal is to find or develop a simple design that used the least non-ski wood in the construction, simplicity is also important. 
Test chair 2.0
I have made several different chairs in the past and making all the chair parts from skis is challenging because of the shape and curve of a ski they have few straight lines and between skis and brands the curves vary as well.   The current experimental design uses lumber for legs and the chair frame, I can see now how eliminate some of that wood.  This test chair I made from the worst skis I have, and it will be good yard chair.  It is very comfortable and easy to make.  The next one will be of the same design but I will use more ski parts for the framing members.   I am pleased with the results of my flurry of chair building and excited about the more than a dozen beautiful wood skis wait in the woodshed. 

Madelyn is healing fast and we are on our way to a normal routine.  I can see now that it was a prefect timing to have a distracting project like this ski chair to keep me engaged during this different kind of holiday.  Maybe this week I can set my gal in her new chair on the porch and oversee life on the lake in the New Year, 2016 while I burn the solstice fire just a little late. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Lightness of the Dark Days of December

8:30 am ten days before solstice and the first hints of dawn are lighting the lake.  First light tells me that the warming trend overnight has transitioned the thin layer of snow into water, ice and something in between.  The lake has been frozen for some time but frequent weather changes keep melting the snow so it doesn't build up to make a good base for skiing.  The heavy rains of Thanksgiving raised the level of the lake about a foot, and even flooded the lowlands along the shore.  When temperatures dropped and the water receded, we were left with a dangerous false floor of half inch ice with nothing beneath it so that even the dogs were breaking through and many times, I found myself kneeling in the wet weeds when the ice shattered under me.

At last we enjoyed four inches of snow that turned the lake bed-sheet white.  On such a tableau we watched coyotes nervously crossing from the southeast corner to the western shore pausing and staring each time I opened the door and walked out on the porch for a look.  Saturday, what I thought was a coyote at first glance turned out to be a land otter porpoising through the snow.  It too was crossing the lake but seemed not interested in the noises I made shuffling around on the porch with my spotting scope.  The otter is not a graceful on land as in the water and  in fact it seemed to be trying to swim through the snow like it was water.  It would bound and lunge then stop and roll so that it was out in open crossing the lake for much longer than a coyote would have.   The white expanse of the lake exposes everything on it including an eagle pair I spotted in the center of the lake, and I could only puzzle at what they were doing there out in the middle of the ice and snow.  Maybe something smaller than an otter was crossing and the eagles were not content to just watch as I was.

With the fresh snow we enjoyed our first ski of the winter on the lake this week.   We were timid about the ice so we stayed close the to south shore where the water is shallow and going through the ice will be cold and scary but not life threatening.   We got a good glide and the dog seemed happy to be in harness skijoring on a crisp day in December.  The were alone with the snow and the mountains as we passed the lighted Christmas tree our neighbor puts on the lake each year, following the tracks skiers had left the day before.  We skiing east past the house and about the time we thought we ought to turn around, the snow along the shore moved.  In fact, a large piece of it lift off and flew away at eye level.  "Ptarmigan," I cheered, and then as my eyes and mind adjusted I saw that several of the white grouse were moving through the willows along the shore.  We were for a time immersed in a Christmas greeting card of a moment, at once aware of our own well being and the true richness of our surroundings.
Now, as the bleak clouds and shadowed ice dampen the holiday spirit in a way that only people of the north winter can fathom, we wait eagerly for colder, snowy days to make the magic of winter appear at Bear Lake.