This year Lou and Roman, the crew of the We Work for Food Construction Company, or WWFFCC, planned to kick back some, and rather than work themselves to a frazzle every waking moment, enjoy what the lake, and surrounding area had to offer from a rest and relaxation standpoint.
The boy’s referred to it as “beer and cigar work,” and I must say they did justice to all three. Plenty of beer, lots of cigars and enough work to keep them – with the exception of Lou – out of trouble.
We had a new crewmember this year – Ian Fichtenbaum – and while Ian’s duties were not directly related to our construction activities, they were important nevertheless.
Ian was the designated “cigar mule,” and also kept us lubricated with single malt scotch. He shared some of the carrying, fetching and event recording duties with me, and as a matter of fact, a number of the pictures in the gallery below come courtesy of Ian.
In addition to being something of an urbanite, Ian seemed happiest when he had something to worry about.
On the drive up he insisted on stopping in Geraldton so he could load up on firecrackers. At first I thought he was going to entertain us at evening campfire with a Canada Day like barrage of sound and colour, but on closer questioning he informed me that they were for the bears – not us.
He went on to explain that if Yogi or Boo Boo crashed into the cabin, he would light one up and throw it at the intruder, who then, being scared out of it’s wits, would run back into the woods never to return again. Well ok then.
Having never seen a bear during our three seasons on the lake, I informed him that under no circumstances would I go into town so he could load up on pyrotechnics. I patiently explained that any self - respecting bear was not going to wait around patiently for him to find, light and then throw his firecracker. By the time he did, the bear would have either already consumed him or be long gone given all the racket and commotion he would be making.
He was more likely to set fire to the cabin than successfully drive off any curious bruins.
If nothing else, he was persistent, so while Lou and I were taking the first load of gear into camp, and knowing we would be gone for about two hours, he commandeered my SUV and slipped into town and acquired enough explosives to destroy 100 cabins. I have it on good authority that he slept with them tucked up under his pillow each night.
The other thing he loved to fuss about was when Lou and/or Roman were high above the ground, fixing the roof or installing the water system while precariously balanced on a rickety home made scaffold. His favorite expression throughout the week was:
“You guys are nuts, I can’t look.”
Speaking of the water system, if you happened to read last years story, WWFFCC – The Sequel, you might recall that the number one job for 2011 was to install, as they called it, “an innovative gravity based water system” – but more on that later.
Hey, Who Pulled the Plug?
When I did a “fly by” of the camp in late May the water was so high that the forty-foot wide stretch of beach that runs along the shoreline was barely visible. In fact if it had risen much higher the new cabin may have floated out onto the lake.
In early July, while the water was down, there was no problem getting from the boat launch to camp, but by mid August it was an entirely different story.
Although the water had dropped even further, for the most part I could navigate using the motor, but there were a couple of places that, depending on my load, I had to pull up the motor and row.
Arriving at the channel leading off the river and into our lake, the water was so low I had to physically pull the boat through. To make matters worse, the water level continued to drop during our ten - day stay.
Needless to say I was starting to worry about how I was going to get the WWFFCC crew, our gear, tools and building materials to camp in early September. I gave some thought to having Nakina Air fly the crew and our materials in, but you can never be entirely sure that the conditions would be right for takeoff or landing. Not only that we wouldn’t have a boat, which, as it happened would have been catastrophic, particularly when we just about ran out scotch after the first day and obviously needed to make a run into town.
Well, our only viable option was to damn the torpedoes, and I figured if need be, we would just have to get out and push – and push we did.
The water on those sections of the river where I could at least use the oars in August had dropped so much that we had to hop out and pull the boat along. Lou and I almost needed matching trusses after we pushed, pulled and dragged the fully loaded boat through the channel into the lake.
Hauling it back out to the river was a little easier once it was unloaded, but it was still no treat.
After picking up Roman and Ian we had a leisurely cruise down stream to the entrance of the channel. Because of the low water I had to travel dead slow, so what normally would be about a twenty - minute trip now took almost an hour.
The weather could not have been better, so we sat back, enjoyed the scenery, watched the Bald Eagles soar overhead and as an added bonus only had to jump out and push once.
When arriving back at the channel we made an executive decision. Rather than drag the boat in and out of the lake, we left it tied up out on the river for the balance of our stay. When we needed it for some important reason, like going fishing, or heading into town for more cigars, it was only a short walk from the cabin.
Archimedes Ain’t Got Nothing on Us
So what can you do with a rain barrel, twenty clamps, fifteen valves, ten hose connectors, fifty feet of hose, one propane heater, a shower head, a set of taps and a pile of lumber?
If I had my druthers I would have used all that stuff to make a still, but as it happens, these items were just what you needed to build the aforementioned “innovative gravity based water system.”
Because all of the materials were purchased last year, we decided to take inventory and do a mock up of the proposed system just to make sure we had all the necessary parts.
It was a pretty impressive sight, with hoses running this way and that through a seemingly endless series of valves and connectors. Come to think of it, it was starting to look a lot like a still.
As it turned out we were a few bits and pieces short so I was dispatched to town together with Roman, who came along to make sure I bought the right stuff or chose an acceptable alternative in the event our first choice was unavailable.
Our first stop was Marino’s Hardware Store where we managed to find our missing bits and pieces. Marino’s can best be described as a classic “old time” hardware store. Every nook and cranny was jammed so full of stuff only the owner could find what you were after, and no matter how unusual the item, you could bet it was in there somewhere. We then topped up our supply of single malt, picked up some lumber and hit the library so Roman could send an email to Ian’s family assuring them he had not been eaten by a bear - not yet anyway. Did I mention that Ian liked to worry?
Not being content just puttering around while we were away, Lou decided to transform the area around the cabin into a Karesansui Japanese garden. Together with Ian, his assistant gardener, they proceed to clear out several acres of brush, deadfalls and twigs. Even the rocks had been moved around in an attempt to make the area more aesthetically pleasing.
The only thing Lou was missing was a rake so he could make symmetrical designs in the sand. Come to think of it he did ask me to pick up a rake, and once I knew what he was going to do with it, I’m glad I forgot.
A bored Lou can be a dangerous Lou.
But now that we were back with the missing pieces, the gardening activities were suspended and all hands got to work on the water system.
The first order of business was to build a platform some twenty feet or so above the ground where the rain barrel – or should I say reservoir – would be placed. In case you haven’t figured it out, this is where gravity, and with apologies to Archimedes, the principle of displacement come in.
Using a homemade ladder, which was being entirely supported by Ian and I, we watched as Roman, who was trying to balance himself on the top step, attempted to fasten the frame of the platform to a tree.
While Roman was high above the ground clinging to the tree with some wood in one hand, a mouthful of nails and a hammer tucked up under his arm, Ian continued to mutter his constant refrain:
“You guys are nuts, I can’t look!
Somehow, he managed to get the frame in place, and shortly thereafter the barrel was secured on its lofty perch.
We decided afterwards that the health and safety mission statement for the WWFFCC could only be:
“Safety is not our concern – it’s yours!”
All of the various hoses and valves were then connected and fastened in place, a shower stall constructed, and despite a few technical difficulties with the propane water heater – which will be attended to in the “off” season – we had hot and cold running water in the cabin.
As for the shower, while it worked reasonably well once you adjusted several valves – the last time I saw that many valves being adjusted was in a movie where the crew was attempting to submerge a WW II submarine - because of the problems with the heater, the water was either rain barrel temperature or hot enough to boil a lobster.
These minor challenges notwithstanding, the innovative gravity based water system was now up and running.
Never being an organization content to rest on it’s laurels, the WWFFCC has already started to map out a number of design changes and system enhancements that will no doubt be put into place next September.
The Petersen Lake Chainsaw Massacre
Short of tying him down, it’s really hard to get Lou to sit still.
If there is any piece of equipment, other than perhaps his old heavy-duty skill saw, that he loves to play with more than a chainsaw, I have no idea what that may be.
During his Japanese garden phase I understand that he employed the saw in a very liberal fashion trimming trees, bushes and otherwise cutting up anything that wasn’t rooted into the ground.
When Roman and I were walking along shore to the cabin after returning from town, there appeared to be something different about the tree line that runs parallel to the beach, but at that point I could not quite put my finger on it.
Lou had apparently been out and about trimming things along the shoreline in our absence, and no piece of driftwood or deadfall was safe while he was on the prowl.
The good news was that if we had been staying for a month there would have been more than enough wood for campfire, each and every night. He not only gathered an impressive pile of branches and small logs, he managed to come up with several large stumps, that once ignited, were still smoldering away the following morning and well into the afternoon.
To put this into some perspective, last year the chain saw was used once, while this year the chain had to be sharpened on at least four occasions that I know of.
My fondest memory of Lou and his chainsaw was watching him weave down the beach into the sunset after having consumed several cocktails and glasses of wine in search of some unfortunate bit of foliage, revving up the saw as he weaved along in what I can only describe as a state of perfect contentment and bliss.
Fortunately he made it back with all of his appendages in tact, dragging yet another impressive stump behind him.
I’m Not Ready Yeti
I may have mentioned that Ian was something of an urbanite, so together with his wheeled luggage and portable DVD player, he brought along a healthy dislike for the Yeti.
By the way, the “Yeti” is our nickname for the outhouse. I don’t recall how it came by that particular nickname, but it’s a traditional camp outhouse in every respect, complete with the requisite quarter moon on the door.
To put it mildly Ian was not a fan. I’m not sure what his issues were, but if things did not happen within moments of him taking his seat, he was out the door and would wait until matters urgently necessitated a return visit.
Now, unless I could be first in, even I would wait as long as possible before entering after Lou and/or Roman had paid the Yeti a visit – particularly after they had eaten about five pounds of hot peppers the night before – but Ian’s dislike of the “facilities” went much deeper than that.
To further illustrate the point, on the day we were leaving, after dropping Ian off at the boat launch, and while I went back to pick up Lou and Roman, he made the ninety kilometer round trip to Geraldton in the hope of finding a “real” washroom. I guess he had a lot of pent up “hostility” to release.
Hey Boo Boo – Where Did You Put the Pic-inic Basket?
After breakfast we usually went fishing and then tackled whatever chores needed doing in the afternoon. Then it was cocktails – including Jack Daniels Manhattans sporting bamboo drink umbrellas - and hors d’oeuvres, followed by dinner, campfire, espresso, brandy and cigars. As routines go it wasn’t too shabby.
On our second last day we decided to tackle the rapids just below the channel leading into the lake. When the water is at normal levels these rapids can be something of a challenge, but with the water so low it was more of a trickle than a rapid, so it was as good a time as any to see what the next section of the river might have in store for us.
So with Roman and Ian in the canoe, and Lou and I piloting the boat, we headed off into the great unknown.
Fortunately it was a rather easy run, and we fished, rowed and paddled our way down stream for about two kilometers until we came to the next rapid. We picked up a few fish along the way and just otherwise enjoyed the great weather and seeing a part of the river, that until now, had been nothing more than a squiggly blue line on one of my maps.
When we reached the next set of rapids unfortunately there was not enough water to safely go further down stream. Ian and Roman beached the canoe on an exposed rock shelf at the head of the rapid, while Lou and I pulled into shore. Not content to stay with me, Lou decided to wade over and visit with the canoeists.
For some reason he didn’t bring along his shoes, and was soon to find out that submerged rocks can be mighty slippery, particularly in your bare feet. He made it out to the rock shelf without incident, but on the way back he tumbled into the river at least three times.
While the canoeists headed back upstream, Lou and I decided to stay back and fish the pool just above the rapid. Shortly after dropping our lines we heard a loud cracking sound, which appeared to emanate from the forest just a few yards downstream from where we were fishing.
We were both carefully scanning the shoreline, when suddenly, there it was, a big old Black Bear. It didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned about us, and after sauntering out to the rivers edge it sniffed the air, gave us a passing glance and then casually strolled back into the woods.
Now where were Ian and his explosives when we needed him?
We couldn’t wait to tell him “who” we just saw, and I was willing to bet that for the rest of our stay he would be sleeping with a live ember close at hand so he could quickly spark up one of his firecrackers in the event our furry friend came a calling.
What a Week, What a Week, What a Week…
If I were to say that the week was about as good as it could possibly get, I could be charged, and convicted for engaging in a deliberate act of understatement.
The new guy fit right in and was a great addition to our crew – explosives, wheeled luggage and all. Despite the fact that he had Yeti issues and we wouldn’t let him play his music or watch DVD’s, I have no doubt he had a great time.
Ian caught his first Pike, was quick to lend a hand and we kept him otherwise happy by giving him plenty to worry about.
As for Lou and Roman – what can I say about them that would be fit to print?
Over the past three years, my two Goombah’s have, with their energy and creativity, transformed our very ordinary camp into something very special that you really have to see and experience to believe.
There were no major changes to the menu this year, chateaubriand, homemade spaghetti, sausage and meatballs, tiger shrimp sautéed in lemon/garlic butter etc., although, just to change things up a little, I did make a batch of jalapeño/corn hush puppies and served them with our steak and eggs one morning.
There was one new item added to compliment our evening campfire, brandy and cigars - fresh brewed espresso – which was of course served in little tin, enameled espresso cups.
Apparently everything, including the wine selection was ok, as the final invoice from the WWFFCC was stamped paid in full.
The weather was perfect. Not a cloud in the sky, warm days, light breezes, cool nights, not a bug to be seen and a zillion stars lit up the sky each and every night.
The innovative gravity based water system was up and running, the Yeti and roof on the old cabin were repaired, new storm doors and an interior divider door were added to the new cabin, a new type of multi-marshmallow roasting device was developed and tested and Lou, together with his efforts to build what perhaps would have been the northernmost Karesansui Japanese garden in the world, upgraded the kitchen area by putting in some shelves and little hooks for hanging the espresso cups.
We caught a few fish, explored a new section of the river, relaxed in the sun, swam, saw a bear, made plans for next year and, on the way home, upheld what has now become a tradition by making it to the Thornloe Cheese Factory before it closed with all of five minutes to spare.
And, on those incredible clear, still nights, if you were listening carefully, you may have heard us laughing as far away as Geraldton.