Monday, April 25, 2022

Disk Free at Last!

In 1997, when Netflix first came on the home-entertainment scene, we were living in the city and had quick access to places like Blockbuster with it's easy parking, inviting storefront, and mind-numbing array of selections.

Between that and still being a VCR household we didn't take much notice of the DVD offerings of Netflix and just continued Bustering it.

Come 2002 we were living on the edge of a small rural town and the nearest Blockbuster was about 40 miles away, but we still had Audio Video Plus within a couple miles of the house.

Think of a highly compressed mashup of Radio Shack, Best Buy, and Blockbuster. Oh, and they are also the local authorized cable, Hughes Net, Viasat, Dish, and DirectTV installers.

With the convenience of a nearby video rental outlet we carried on with our VCR pretty much as before, but, even though I was only home for movie-night a couple of nights a week now, with Audio Video Plus' four short aisles of choices limited to what was most popular at the time and then only a few copies of each, often all rented out, we finally broke down and bought a DVD player (Actually a combination VCR and DVD although nowadays I do not recommend buying combination appliances such as charger/inverters because one function or the other is bound to eventually break and it's less expensive to replace the one broken part rather than pay for a broken bit plus buy the unbroken bit all over again!)

 and as of June 2005 became members of the Netflix crowd.

Those were still the heady days of quick and reliable USPS service.

We would put a disk in the mail prior to that day's pickup, Netflix would have it in their hands the following morning and - even though Netflix was processing disks by hand at the time with actual people slitting the envelopes open, pulling the disk out, scanning the code, and slotting it into the appropriate bin - ship us the next disk that afternoon. In time for it to hit our mailbox the following day.

Send a disk back and two days later have a new one in the box. With a three disk plan and a three day cycle period it was well worth the subscription cost especially since Netflix gave us access to stuff beyond the lowest-common-denominator drivel of the networks.

Yeah, well that, the three-day turnaround, doesn't happen anymore. In fact it's gotten to the point, between Netflix wanting to get rid of us DVD'ers and 'No Joy' DeJoy's service-gutted USPS, where it often takes a week and a half now from the time we put a batch of disks in the mailbox and when we get a fresh bunch back.

Those early days were also the days when, if the disk at the top of our queue had a 'short wait' advisory on it Netflix would often send us a 4th disk (on our 3 disk plan) to tide us over while we waited.

Nowadays a short-wait disk will hang up there on the top of the queue for months before we finally get our hands on it, with no extra disks forthcoming while we wait.

And it seems like Netflix DVD is stocking fewer and fewer copies of disks too. When Netflix DVD released the 6th season of Brokenwood Mysteries and the 7th season of Vera the first disks immediately went to short-wait and it was 4 months after the release before we had a chance to watch them. This has been pretty typical for the past couple of years.

Speaking of release dates, the 7th season of Lucifer is out there somewhere, (The Wife practically swoons when Tom Ellis sings so we will grind through the violence of an entire season in the hopes of him singing once in a while) but on Netflix DVD season 5 hasn't even been released yet. It's currently stuck in our saved queue, which is not the actual queue they send us disks from. The saved queue is what happens when Netflix teases us into clicking on something they say is in their catalog but it really isn't.

Notice that we currently have 44 items in our saved queue. Some of which have been in there for years with no signs of ever coming to our mailbox.

Speaking of Queues and how many disks are in them, in the early days we found so much stuff of interest in the Netflix DVD catalog that our queue, the real one, was often on the high side of 50 disks long. Lately we have been struggling to keep half a dozen disks in our queue, and often a healthy portion of those will be re-runs of stuff we watched a long time ago but would rather watch over again than sit through most of the new crap on offer today.

So, with service and choices declining why have we stuck with Netflix DVD for all this time? 

First of all, out here in our remote location with the only available choice being pretty slow satellite internet with a limited amount of monthly data, streaming is not an option. A few movies, assuming we were willing to sit through all the buffering delays, and we're cut off until next month.

Secondly, for the past decade or so the new crap on offer through the hundreds of channels on cable or satellite TV service is - well - crap. It seems that the current American viewing taste leans towards fake reality or heavily CGG'ed stuff or shootem-ups or fantasies or over-the-top suspense and horror crap. (We watch TV in the evenings to be entertained while we wind the day down and relax, not to be subjected to the manufactured 'drama' of other people's 'private' lives or be kept on the edge of our chairs and awake all night by the increasingly lurid crap being spoon-fed to an evermore desensitized audience!)

Accordingly, through Netflix DVD we started watching stuff that appealed to our personal viewing tastes which mostly seemed to come from elsewhere in the world, the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Canada, that wasn't available to us from other sources.

In fact other than Mare of Easttown, which we just finished up last night, (We thought it was pretty darn good, if a little emotionally tense.) I had to go back through our Netflix DVD rental history to March of 2020 to find the last time we rented anything produced in the US. And frankly it was a bit of an emotional stretch for us but we'd watched the first two seasons and felt an obligation to give this one a try then ended up getting caught up in the plot.

At least that - Netflix DVD being our only option - was the case until a few months ago.

It all started to fall apart for Netflix DVD when The Wife's coveted and carefully horded flip-phone literally fell apart in her hand and she decided it was time to make the reluctant move to a proper smart-phone, and while we were at it, explore other service providers.

In researching this move we discovered that T-Mobil's expanding coverage let us ditch our expensive yet still limited-data Verizon 3G (supposedly 4G but we rarely had that level of service out here) plan for  two lines of T-Mobile's unlimited data 5G service (and we actually get 5G here on the property about 70% of the time!) for about 2/3rds the cost of our one voice (The Wife's) and one limited data (Mine) Verizon lines.

Next, even though we weren't looking for it at the time, Amazon gave us a coupon that let us get a Firestick for free and because it was there we decided what the hell.

Of course we can't use the Firestick as intended because of the limited speed and data on our satellite internet connection, (In fact we try to remember to turn the satellite internet modem off when using the Firestick just to make sure there aren't any 'accidents'.) but what it would do is allow us to use the mirroring function to connect the video from our phones to our non-smart TV. (Even though we don't use the Firestick in the 'normal' way I've also shut down permissions and stuff based on this video to tighten up security and privacy.) 

Along with our Amazon Prime membership (more than paid for in savings through Whole Foods) comes access to Prime Video.

A few experiments with that on my phone using both pre-downloaded as well as streamed (always over the cell service) shows worked out well and now, successfully combining that with the screen-mirroring function of the Firestick, we have an entirely new option here!

Some additional research showed us that adding subscriptions to Acorn, Britbox, and PBS Masterpiece to our Prime portfolio, all paid and managed through the single point of our Amazon Prime account, would give us instant and unlimited access to a huge untapped, source of new-to-us shows that match our tastes.

And the cost of all three of these subscriptions together would only be a few dollars more than our Netflix DVD membership! (We have decided to just stick with Acorn ($6.99) for the moment and will add the others in later.)

So goodbye Netflix DVD!!

Goodbye to tracking our mail deliveries and planning trips to town around those red Netflix DVD envelopes.

Goodbye to sweating through thousands of entries in the catalog (between Netflix DVD's slow servers and our slow internet connection a long and painful process!) in the hopes of finding one or two items we might be interested in.

Goodbye to the frustration of repeatedly having our carefully curated selections wait-listed or sidelined in the save queue.

And since we can now sit down in the evening and decide right then and there what we want to watch, goodbye to meticulously planning out our viewing choices a couple of weeks ahead of time. 

And after 17 years at $17 and change per month - including taxes -

and, according to our rental history, 1717 disks rented, it seemed kinda fitting to click that last button today!

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Hub and Spoke Recovery Method - When You're Lost and Whimpering in the Woods

 It's not something I hope for. In fact, it's something I hope never happens, But it does - you know - happen.

I'm out on a nice hike minding my own business - I look up - and realize I have 'misplaced' myself.

And it can happen easier than you might think!

See that trail there in the photo?

The one cutting proud and loud across that wide-open land?

Well here I am, standing within 30 feet of that well-used trail - and it's gone!

And here, in thicker vegetation, I'm standing within 12 feet of that leaning tree over there on the right.

And it's pretty hard to tell there's a trail there between me and that tree! (Same tree on the right edge of this photo.)

And this is early spring, before the vegetation starts to thicken up, cutting sight-lines even more.

Maybe I've just stepped off the trail a few feet to pee in private.

Maybe I wandered off a little ways to find some shade for a short rest-break, or because something shiny caught my eye.

Either way, if I'm not paying attention the results could be the same.

That heart-stopping - blood-draining realization that I'm out here all by myself - and don't know where 'here' is.

I've had enough experiences in life to learn that it's OK to let panic's chill take hold of me for a moment, it's a natural process after all, but it's usually not OK to actually do anything while it does so. (An exception maybe when a bear is charging. Then I might want to be unholstering the pepper-spray!) The best thing I can do at this moment is to just stand still and let panic do its thing until the crinkling of my scalp, and at least most of the whimpering, has settled down.

Because right now I at least know where I was when I first realized I was lost. Letting panic translate into motion at this point will only make the situation worse.

That's where STOP comes in.

I talked about STOP, Sit-Think-Observe-Plan, at the end of an older post and since this current post is focused on one possible action resulting from the P part of STOP I won't go into STOP any deeper here other than to emphasize the importance, the critical importance, of the Sit. And I do mean Physically Sit Down! It's hard to run off half-cocked when sitting and half-cocked is the last thing I need right now!

By the way, STOP is applicable to a whole range of situations and isn't limited to wilderness experiences.

There are whole books, and lots of them, written about getting yourself back out of remote places. The hub and spoke is only one of many options and it may not always be the best. But let's assume I have determined that it is in this case.

The hub-and-spoke strategy of self-recovery is based on the universal truth that I will never be closer to where I should be than right here where I first realized I wasn't - you know - where I should be.

This spot becomes the hub.

From there the idea is to explore outward in a controlled and methodical manner, making note of my outward path so I can reliably return back to the hub, until I resolve the situation. These outward explorations become the spokes, as many as it takes to resolve the issue.

The strategy here is to move outward from the hub along a spoke, presumably in the direction I determine most likely to get me out of this mess, and see if I can find myself. That might be finding the trail I was on and resuming my interrupted hike with a nervous chuckle and a vow to never speak of this incident again. It might be finding a road, a power-line, or different trail that I can follow until I can figure out where the hell I'm at, or perhaps run into someone who knows.

But a key feature of this strategy is ensuring I have the ability to, when I admit that this current spoke I'm on is the wrong direction, backtrack to the hub and try again. 

Now returning to the hub might sound easy, just turn around and walk back. But, contrary to the imaginary world of paper and pencil, the real world is never as neat and straightforward as the conceptualized exercise.

Trees, rock outcroppings, and meadows all tend to look alike after a few minutes so make terrible "landmarks"and rather than nice straight lines the spokes are actually going to be warped and bent by the irregularities of natural terrain so following a compass heading with the kind of precision that guarantees relocating that 16 square foot spot that is my hub is problematic at best.

Obviously my best bet is to have reliably marked my actual trail somehow as I wander down each spoke so I can consistently make my way back to the hub.

There's an age-old tradition of marking trails with a blaze created by cutting away a palm-sized chunk of bark with an ax or a knife to expose the contrasting lighter wood underneath so it can now be seen at a distance.

In fact there's a subset of axes called marking axes used by foresters. They would cut away a section of bark with the ax-face to create a 'canvas' then stamp a mark in that canvas with the backside of the head. Usually to mark trees to be cut down and who they belong to. (nowadays they use spray paint.)

But there are a few, significant downsides to using an ax or a knife to blaze a trail.

It's very time and energy consuming to cut away a patch of bark, especially since it must be done on both sides of the tree. The backside, relative to the outbound trip, so I can see the blazes on the way back to the hub, as well as the frontside (again, relative to the outbound trip). You'll see a couple instances of the importance of marking the front-side before this post is over.

Even then, the blaze(s) can be hidden if I somehow end up looking at one of the sides of the trunk that aren't marked.

And marking trunks like this not only permanently damages the tree but can also create confusion later. (I'll get to the confusion issue in a moment.)

Cue the modern world!

Just as foresters have kept up with technology, have put away their marking axes and use the more efficient spray paint method now, I have adopted a product of the age of plastic as a more efficient blaze-tool.

I briefly mentioned in a previous post how I carry some surveyor's tape in my day-pack. Well this post finally explains how I use it.

Surveyor's tape has all the attributes I'm looking for other than the ability to call an Uber to come pick my lost ass up. It's inexpensive, light, compact, durable, and highly visible.

In it's most common form surveyor's tape, which is somewhere between 1 and 1.5 inches wide, comes in 150 foot rolls.

There's nothing wrong with carrying the roll. That little cardboard center ring isn't adding any appreciable weight to the overall hiking load. But there's a couple reasons I prefer to strip the tape off the roll and keep in in a ziplock instead.

Once in the ziplock that 150 feet of tape fits into my pack's little nooks and cranny's better than the roll, and unlike that little cardboard ring, when I'm picking my blazes back up (I'll get to why this is important in a moment. It's part of that confusion thing I mentioned a moment ago.) the ziplock gives me a handy place to store them.

In fact, there's no logical reason I couldn't pre-size the tape into usable sections before putting it in the ziplock in the first place but - while being prepared for the possible eventuality of needing to mark my trail by stuffing a 150 feet of tape into a bag and carrying it along seems prudent - tearing that tape into ready-to-use lengths ahead of time just seems like asking the God's of screwup to reach down and thump me on the back of the head!

So. Let's say I've screwed up - or as I like to say in my more optimistic moments: I've mapped the limits of what's prudent by crossing over to the dark-side of the line. I've done my STOP. And have decided my best first move is a controlled exploration around my current location using the hub and spoke strategy to see if I can carefully and logically find a better place to be.

I start by tearing off a length of surveyor's tape. (No knife necessary. The tape is fairly tough but tears well enough, even for us oldsters.) Somewhere between 18 and 24 inches long seems to work best for me. It's a compromise between the number of blazes I can get out of 150 feet of tape and having a tail long enough to easily see from a distance.

Then I double the tape over near one end, leaving myself with both a pretty short and a pretty long tail.

Lay the bight, that loop, over top of my chosen attachment point,

wrap it around the bottom of said attachment point, thread the two ends through,

then snug things down.

The tape is a little stretchy and it doesn't take a lot of force to snug up a hitch that will stay put until you come back and remove it.

The short tail keeps the hitch in place and the long tail twists and flips in the slightest breeze making it easy to spot from a distance.

Fast and easy. It takes more time selecting where to hang the blaze than it does to attach the tape.

When hanging blazes I try not to do it next to the trunk of a tree.

Because as soon as I walk around the tree a little ways I can't see the blaze anymore.

I could use a longer bit of tape and tie it all the way around the trunk, but that would not only use up my supply of tape faster and slow down the process of attaching the blaze - since the knot is more complicated - but from most angles I wouldn't be able to see any tails flicking in the breeze, only the horizontal bit of tape as it wrapped around the trunk.

 So it's better to attach the blaze well away from any large trunks on a small horizontal branch at or slightly above eye level. This takes less material, less time to attach, and makes the blaze visible without obstructions from a much wider viewing angle.

The more freely a blaze can hang the better so it's fully laid out for maximum visibility and will flip freely in the slightest of breezes 

Eye level means easy to reach, is right where my eye naturally looks anyway, and is less likely to be blocked from view by low-hanging branches than one placed higher. But there will be times when higher than eye-level is better. Such as when I'm about to cross a large open space with no sight-interrupting branches in the way. In this case, by putting the blaze high I will be able to see it better from across the way on my return trip.

This is assuming I have branches to hang the blazes off of. If not I can build rock-cairns and tie a blaze to the top rock, of if there's nothing but barren ground I could anchor the blaze at ground level by burying one end of it. (This is better than nothing, but let's face it, only just, and if this is sand-dunes I'm pretty well screwed!)

How far apart do I put the blazes?

This varies with the local conditions, but it should be pretty obvious that I must be able to see the previous blaze (Just below and to the right of the attachment point of the near one for those who are viewing the photo in small format.) when standing beside the current one.

In this particular instance the blazes are about 40' apart and still visible from each other despite the intervening vegetation.

Here, with long, uninterrupted sight lines across open space, I'm about 200 feet from the last blaze. Which is much easier to spot in person than it appears in this photo.

In fact surveyors, real surveyors, place their secondary markers, the ones that keep things on track between the major markers, about 200 feet apart. Of course the markers are usually in a straight line and  the surveyors know where they're going.  

The important thing for me to remember when hub and spoke'ing is that I'm not marking my way forward with my blazes but rather I'm marking my way back. This means I am spending a lot of time looking back over my shoulder, or watching my 6 as they say in the military, in order to determine where I need to hang the next blaze. All this 'looking back' might seem like a time consuming hindrance, but under these circumstances, lost and trying to rectify that, frequent and careful observation from a variety of changing viewpoints is a good thing. Slow and steady.

I have seen blazes placed to where I can see the next 4 or 5 from my current position. Kinda reassuring since it would be very hard to get off track in this case, but still, a waste of my limited tape, not to mention time, resource.

I've also seen blazes placed so far apart I couldn't find the next one without first leaving the current one behind, and that's not good at all!

I don't want it to happen, but if I do get into a situation where I can't locate the next blaze from my current location (Presumably I'm on my way back to the hub at this point) I can use a mini-version of hub-and-spoke to quickly, and safely, find the blaze I know I placed somewhere around here.

But before I go outbound down the current spoke any farther let's return to that all important hub.

This is not a spot I want to lose track of! As I already pointed out, until I 'find' myself again this spot is as close as I'm ever going to get to where I should be. Losing the hub will make things exponentially worse!

It might seem a like pretty obvious spot right now, but chances are, it won't when I come back hours later under different lighting conditions, tired, hungry, and with anxiety levels high.

It also might be tempting, on several levels, to lighten my load and leave some gear behind as a marker for the hub as I explore one of my spoke quadrants, but that is a huge mistake. Under these circumstances - you know, lost - a major source of my physical resources is my gear and I should never leave any of it behind. Even empty water bottles and used food wrappers could come in handy later as long as have them and know how to use them. 

Instead of relying on fallible memory or precious gear I mark my hub with two blazes side-by-side because the whole point of blazing my outbound spoke is so that when it proves to be unproductive, I can reliably get back to this point and try again in a different quadrant.

And while on the subject of the hub. Presumably I have chosen to utilize the hub and spoke recovery method because I don't have a lot of confidence that someone will be out looking for me soon enough for me to just sit around and wait. Which, if I know people will be looking for me soon is exactly what I should do, sit around and wait, rather than wandering around potentially making myself harder to find.

BUT,  in addition to the off chance of some random wilderness hikers stumbling on my location and deciding to see what's up, especially if they are experienced and recognize the signs, someone might be out looking for me, so before I leave the hub I lay down a marker pointing the direction in which I'm going. Note that if I have used a traditional tree-blaze but only on the outbound side of the trunk where I can see it on the way back, it will be very difficult for any potential rescuers to follow my trail.

Most hikers are aware of cairns. A duck is similar to a cairn up to a point. Cairns are used to mark a trail and are omnidirectional. Ducks, while incidentally marking a trail, are actually used to show the direction I've gone.

First I kick away the forest-floor litter under my hub-marker to create a canvas, then I construct a duck in the cleared space.

I can make a duck out of arraigned sticks, but, if they are available, an arraigned collection of rocks is faster, arguably more out of place on the forest floor than sticks, and less likely to be accidentally knocked aside by that bear that's following me. - -  Wait! What?!!

There's no hard and fast rule, but I make my stick ducks out of three short horizontals (three being the universal distress or help signal and also is a very unlikely arrangement to occur naturally.) laid side-by-side perpendicular to my direction of travel with a longer stick butted up to them and pointing the direction I've gone.

If available I make rock ducks with 6 rocks. I take the 4 largest, place 3 of them in a tight triangle which, no matter how irregularly shaped they are, will support the 4th when placed on top of them, creating a mini-pyramid. Then I use the last two rocks to point the direction I'm heading. I use two for this since one could be interpreted as a random rock but two in a line is usually not natural.

Since there's no guarantee that searchers won't stumble across my blazed trail somewhere in the middle rather than finding my hub first, it won't hurt to lay additional ducks under every 3rd to 5th blaze. Again always pointing the direction I'm going, which means away from the hub.

As alone as I feel out here right now, I need to remember that there are probably other hikers that are wandering around in this place. Maybe not right now, but they'll be here sometime.

Hopefully I'll have located myself long before then, but just because those others aren't wandering around here right now, as a responsible hiker I shouldn't forget about them.

That's why, if at all possible, I remove my blazes once finished with them so they don't cause confusion, or even worse, lead some poor hiker off-track. Besides, I don't want to be responsible for leaving these unnatural bits of plastic out here in the very wilderness I'm trying to enjoy.

Of course tree-blazes are impossible to remove so each one is a possible source of future confusion

Removing the tape-blazes is pretty much as easy and quick as putting them up. Just grab the bight and pull.

If a spoke has proven unproductive, while following my blazes back to the hub I remove them as I go. Making sure I have the next one in sight before removing this one!

I can re-use these bits of tape when I start down my next spoke.

Again, to avoid confusion, I also kick apart any ducks I've created along the way, and at the hub. If necessary I'll reset the duck under the hub-marker to point to the new direction

And if I'm still not found when I get back to the hub, it's a good idea to leave the first (on the way out, last on the way back) blaze beyond the hub-marker in place to mark the direction of any unproductive spokes. While it might seem pretty obvious at the moment which direction(s) I've already tried, this is, as I already pointed out and know from personal experience, a stressful, and maybe hungry and sleep-deprived, situation, so it won't hurt to have a reminder of the direction(s) I've already been.

If I have managed to find myself again while heading out on one of the spokes, I mark that spot with a new double-hub marker, retrace my way back to the original hub, leaving the blazes in place as I go, then turn around and remove the ducks and blazes as I walk back out again.

So that's pretty much it for the hub and spoke. It's a simple but effective strategy for getting myself out of an uncomfortable situation.

Combine it with other skill-sets and I have a pretty good chance of being able to take care of myself out there.  Skill sets like shelter, water, and nutrition management. As well as wilderness knowledge such as saw-cuts, no matter how old they are, were made by people and might indicate an old road or trail, Or that logging roads and hiking trails tend to follow along ridgelines, or across the face of slopes, so going against the flow and occasionally climbing up-slope to a ridgetop or down-slope to the valley bottom is a good way to cut across any of these roads or trails. Or that pipelines and high-voltage power lines tend to stick to empty country and are installed with little regard to the terrain which can make them very difficult to follow, but low-voltage power-lines, the ones strung up on the so-called telephone poles, lead to homes and businesses and tend to be easier to follow.

Have I ever had to use the hub and spoke to recover myself?


Fortunately, so far, never more than a single spoke, and honestly, I probably could have gotten away without using it at all. But it's good practice and it's comforting to know that I have that skill-set to fall back on.

OK, a couple closing words about hub and spoke.

Stick to the spoke.

No matter how easy I think my hub location is to spot from a distance, there next to the tallest tree in the area, on top of the highest hill, next to the most unique rock outcropping, it's not. I can't tell you how many times I have been hiking up a trail looking with relief at the summit, my destination, only to find as I get closer, that it's not, because there's another summit out there in beyond that one, and another one after that. Or how many times I have come across a unique and unforgettable tree or rock formation, only to have it disappear into the background a few steps later.

So while it might be tempting to think that I could find my hub again from a different direction and cover twice the ground with the same effort if I do loops rather than out-and-back spokes, I don't do it! Nature, and our own foibles, have a way of bending even our straight paths into circles. Imagine how easy it would be to spiral out of control if we were attempting to follow a curving path! 

How far should I follow a spoke before giving up on it?

I've already touched on how far apart the blazes should be, but how far down a spoke should I go before calling it a bust and turning around?

This one is tricky because there are so many variables involved.

To start with. How long was it between the time I knew with certainty where I was and the time I discovered I was misplaced? Was it ten minutes? Two hours?

I don't hike with a clock in my hand and we all know time can shrink or stretch depending on what we're doing. 4 minutes in a doctor's waiting room thumbing through tattered, year-old life-style magazines verses 4 minutes of watching Pentatonix perform their version of Sound of Silence? One takes forever and the other is over so quick I need to watch it again. (and it still gives me goosebumps the tenth time!)

My only real time-concern when I'm hiking, lost or not, is when will the sun set. (With my arms held out at full length with my fingers horizontal and stacked up together between the bottom of the sun and the western horizon, about 15 minutes for each finger width. Although this doesn't work very well in the far north or south where the sun skims along sideways near the horizon.)

Frankly, I wouldn't trust my time-sense very much and if I did have a guess for the time between last knowing where I was and realizing I was misplaced I would double that just to be safe, then double it again when following a spoke to account for my slower pace while bushwacking, laying the blazes, and spending a lot of time observing. (Of course if I had been diligently observing all along I wouldn't be out here hub and spoke'ing in the first place!)

Another consideration for how far to push on down a spoke is to decide if I'm willing to hunker down for the night somewhere along my current spoke or if I would rather do so back at my hub.

Psychologically I will probably be more comfortable spending the night at the hub but in terms of efficiency, and for the sake of not terminating a spoke sooner than is prudent, stopping  somewhere out along the spoke (Stopping because continuing in the dark is just begging for some poor unsuspecting person to discover my bleached skull two years from now!) makes more sense. If I do hunker down somewhere along a spoke then a duck (laid down pointing down the quadrant I'm exploring not in the direction of the last 100 feet of trail which may be two really different things!) is super important so that I don't get confused at daylight and head in the wrong direction, yet again! To avoid confusion I always point my ducks away from the hub, in the outbound direction.

Something to keep in mind when choosing between hunkering down along the spoke or getting back to the hub before sunset strands me is the fact that if I'm not quite ready yet to call this particular spoke a bust but the sun in getting low, I can, following the blazes I already placed, get back to the hub in much less time than it took me to get to this point along the spoke. And conversely, because I placed my blazes so they can be easily seen from both directions, in the morning it will only take a fraction of the time it took me yesterday to get back to the end of this spoke so I can continue on. Of course, in this case I would leave my blazes in place on the way back to the hub.

Notice that I have avoided talking about how far in distance I take a spoke before calling it a bust and turning around. To me distance is an even trickier thing than time. Walk a mile around the high-school track, a mile on a trail over rolling land, and a mile of bushwacking up a mountain, and all three will feel noticeably different in terms of distance. I trust distance less than I trust time.

So, How far? Well clearly I haven't answered that, and I'm not going to because, as I said, there are so many variables and 'far enough' is so dependent on the circumstances. That's just something I have to judge once I'm in that predicament.

OK, this post is more than long and preachy enough. Here's hoping you, or I, never need to hub and spoke! (But personally I'm not holding my breath - - )

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

The Rites of Summer

 I know. I know.

For many of you Memorial Day is still a long ways off (I'm actually writing this on March 26) but around here seasonally it's already Memorial Day and time to get out my linen Chinos, white loafers, and diaphanous sundress.

Even though the last family reunion was something like 7 month ago, when first unfurled my canopy still puffed out the strong scent of those height-of-summer campfires!

OK, so I don't really have any of those things lurking in my closet, but I do have my own version of seasonal wardrobe-swap.

With the afternoon highs pushing the limits of comfort inside the steel box of The Van, and the intensity of the north-bound sun burning through my protective layers it's time to move to the summer-house. Which I have to build each year there on a spot sharing a view of the pond with the greenhouse.

Which, to be fair, from dragging all the components out of The Van to sitting down with the first popsicle of the season takes all of twenty minutes, and that includes travel time to the freezer and back.

Since growing season is firmly shut down by mid-June/early July around here something else we have to be thinking about earlier than much of the country is the spring garden.

This year we are trying something a little different.

Instead of buying packets of organic seeds for our tomato crop (yes, I know, plants from organic seeds don't produce foods that any healthier than plants grown organically from less expensive conventional seeds, but at least I know there's a good chance the 'organic' seeds were produced in a more earth-friendly way than conventional seeds.) we decided to buy organically grown plants instead.

That might sound expensive but a single plant costs pretty much the same as a packet of seeds and since we only use one or two seeds per packet per year and by the third year even the most carefully stored seeds are getting pretty iffy, it's not like we're spending that much extra money going the plant-route this year.

In order to ensure availability we placed our order back in January and the ship-date, based on the last possible frost-day for our area, was the week of March 20. (Last average frost is more like March 4)

Come March 24 we got word that our plants had shipped out that morning with an estimated deliver of Monday the 28th. The night of the 25th, according to the USPS tracking info, they were already at the shipping center in a nearby (relatively speaking) city, but the estimated delivery was still the 28th. Accordingly we shuffled things around and made plans to go into town on Monday and collect them along with the rest of our mail.

But on Saturday, by pure happenstance - OK, some imprecise planning - The Wife discovered she had to get a package into the mail so went into town anyway. Turns out our plants were already there, despite the USPS's own tracking info claiming they were still at the distribution center a hundred miles away. I just hope 'No Joy' Dejoy doesn't find out some of his people are ignoring his slowdown directives and actually doing the job they'er paid for!

The down-side of this accelerated delivery is that while The Wife was off to town I just puttered around thinking I had two more days to prep the garden for our plants.

You know, minor things like filling up the tubs and adding a microbe rich supplement from MicroLife, (Microbes are people too and have to be fed and watered so I didn't want to get this started too soon) and adjusting the automatic watering system so each tub has three feet of fresh weeper-hose in it (When new, three feet of weeper hose produces just under a quarter inch of water per hour in these tubs, making it easy to adjust the watering setup. But this small diameter weeper-hose, made of recycled tires, is only good for two seasons with our hard well water so we needed fresh stuff for this year.)

So it took some last-minute scrambling to get our five plants, each one a different variety selected for our growing conditions, properly re-homed.

I also threw up a bit of landscape cloth overhead to tone down the afternoon sun a little. The plan was to have proper shade-cloth stretched out the roof but that hasn't encountered any efficient USPS'ers along the way and hasn't arrived yet.

Of course, when the plants are small like this a watered tub of microbe and micro-nutrient rich dirt is pretty much all they need, but with short, 50 to 65 day growing seasons depending on the variety, they don't stay small for long and will soon need some sort of support system.

Now I could spend $10 apiece on commercial tomato cages and be done with it, but now that the initial scramble is over I, you know, being retired and all, have time, and an abundance of raw material right here on the property, to work with.

In fact Yupon is kinda overly abundant around here so it only takes a few minutes of wandering around with the loppers to source plenty of material to work with.

To make tripods out of this I take three of the sticks I've harvested and loosely tie a double-wrap of some para-cord around them abut 8 inches down from what will be the top end,

then grab the bottom end of one of the sticks and pinwheel it 360 degrees, twisting my lashing up good and snug,

creating a stable, chest-high tripod.

Depending on how loosely I tied the wrap the pinwheel maneuver can get a little violent and I might end up stripping the bark a bit, but Yupon is tough stuff and can take it. (Using this method it takes about 30 seconds to make a tripod but for more structural work, such as holding up a wilderness shelter or a precious pot of food over the fire, a proper 4 or 5 wrap lashing with two-wrap frappings between each stick is called for.)

You might notice that I left the sticks a bit nubby, not bothering to trim the twigs and branches off too close. These nubs help out later.

Now that I have the verticals of my tomato cages built I need to do something about the horizontals.

I could just spiral some twine around the tripods from top to bottom (gravity and those nubbies would help hold everything in place) but fortunately I don't need to spend even this little bit of money because another thing we have in abundance around here is vines.

Now the bigger ones, like that gnarly one there on the right, are pretty much useless for this but because they are, by evolutionary decree, very bendy and pliable, even the largish ones, like that almost blue one there in the middle, are suitable for my needs.

I just cut it off there near the ground with the loppers, grab hold, and start walking.

They sometimes put up a bit of a fight, but with some determined tugging, making sure I'm well out from under the tree to avoid getting beaned by falling branches, I can quickly end up with 20 to 30 feet of vine laying on the ground.

Cut into appropriate lengths the vine can then be twisted into hoops of various sizes, (the sooner I do this after cutting it down the easier, though I have twisted vines cut down 4 or 5 days ago into hoops without too much extra effort.)

that can then be dropped down over the tripod in size-succession, where they snag on the nubblies and form perfectly functional, nearly completely locally sourced (I used para-cord for the lashing instead of local plant material) tomato cages for less than a nickle apiece. (again, because of the para-cord)

In this case I got the lashing a little tight on the right-most tripod and it wanted to close itself up at the base, so, rather than disassemble and relash - because, you know, lazy and all -  I jammed a couple short leftover branch-stubs in the top to encourage it to stay open.

But I wasn't quite done yet.

Because I can't jam the ends of the tripods very deep in these relatively shallow tubs I cut another Yupon branch long enough to span the width of the greenhouse,

and used a bit of twine to loosely tie off the top of each tripod to it in order to help stabilize them against the wind and weight of the growing plants, hopefully soon to be laden with a variety of different colored and shaped tomatoes.

        Golden Nugget

                         Italian Ice


                                            Sungold Cherry

                                                           Balls Beefsteak

Now, I think I've earned my afternoon popsicle!