Monday, August 27, 2018

The Joy of Nature and Seclusion

Copyright 2018 by Lori-Ann Willey

Yesterday, Paul and I decided we’d go rock and fossil hunting further into the woods.  I packed my typical tools, which consisted of, a hand rake, rock pick, magnifying glass, rock classifier screen (1/4” mesh), a couple small gold pans (just in case), a small hand trowel, a few paper towels, gloves, goggles, Zip-Lock bags, bug spray and suntan lotion.  After filling our drink bottles with water, juice, cold coffee, and electrolytes, we were ready to head to the truck. 

In the bed of the truck were three, empty 5-gallon pails, three 2-liter bottles of water for rock washing, a long-handle digging shovel, and a hoe.  Before I started the truck, I asked Paul if he had his cell phone and wallet, too.  He did.  I had my cell phone, a charger with cable, and a pocket camera.  All I had to do was put a can of gas into the truck just to top the gas tank off a bit because I knew we would be away from camp for a few hours.

Before we left, Paul researched some probable areas for good fossil hunting.  In case we had no cell phone signal, which is often the case in these parts, Paul marked and saved a few topo map images to his phone.  I messaged our daughter, Alanda, and told her which direction we were headed and what our plans were for the day.  Just in case. 

About an hour later, as I clung for dear life on a slippery and very steep slope, my phone messaged and told me I had a message waiting for me.  In case it was an important message, I allowed myself to slide a few feet down the embankment until one foot rested against a stable-enough rock.  After a few pressure pushes to ensure the rock was solidly in place, I dug my hand rake into the ground before me to ensure I kept upright if the rock below my foot gave way.  With my free hand, I reached into my back pocket for my phone.  Signal was weak, but it allowed a message to squeak through.  It was from our daughter.

Before we left camp, I sent her a photo of a fossil I found.  She asked if I knew how old it was.  I was able to thumb swipe …something that I’m HORRIBLE at, by the way… “Don’t know”.  Then, quickly snapped a photo to let her know I couldn’t type anymore now.  A “placeholder photo”, if you will.  It is something I use as a reply, of sorts, when I’m busy doing something and I cannot stop to type.  Our daughter replied to the photo, “Haha Wow, go you!!”  Then, typed something mushy, “You’re soo pretty!”  To that, I had to laugh.  Love is a wonderful thing. 

A while later, and after Paul kept navigating the base of the steep slope in which I struggled, I decided, “There is nothing to find up this far.  I’m going to work my way down.”  Just then, after I grabbed a protruding root above me, it dislodged a rock that came tumbling down past me.  I yelled for Paul, “Watch out!”  Then, I called down, “I wish you’d tell me when you are directly below, ‘cause these rocks aren’t secure up here.”  With a few small trees between me and him, I heard him mumble, “Ok!” as the rock came to a stop not two feet beside him.

Navigation is not easy for Paul.  Despite that, he was able to get up and walk around a bit with his cane.  He depended on boulders and small trees to prod him along, yes.  He moved nearly as slow as I did upon the unstable slope above, and he did quite well during our excursions.  He even found more keep-able fossils than I did.  It was great to have him with me on such a doing.  I really miss doing such things with him, but when disability strikes, we change our hobbies out of both necessity and want.  Otherwise, I doubt if I would have written books, learned to sketch or paint.  Paul had a good day yesterday, so he was able to go with me.  Even so, after a while, he became fatigued and pain-filled.  Still, he plodded onward.  Literally.  I think he only fell once.  Not to be competitive or anything, but I never fell at all yesterday.    Imagine that! 

Once in the truck again, Paul zoomed in on his phone map to see how to get to the next location of interest.  Meanwhile, I sent our daughter an update on our location.  I thought I’d be funny and snap a picture of the GPS display in the truck.  It showed a small section of the skyline and then a gray screen with an animation of our truck sitting still surrounded by a gray mass.  Even according to the GPS and the rest of the world, we were off the beaten path (aka road).  It did little to let her know our location, but it told her we were still en route, in the middle of nowhere, and the direction our truck was pointed -North-ish.  So, she knew our direction of travel at least.

The next time Alanda messaged, we were not within cell range to receive it.  At 5:05pm, as I once again, straddled and slid along another steep embankment many miles away from our last known reception, a weak signal found the phone in my back pocket; a series of beeps vibrated my right patoot cheek.  I was just a few feet away from an uprooted tree, so while walking on all fours, I reached those tree roots after a few short minutes, but not before I stopped to examine a neat fossil find, of course.  Come to find out, Alanda started working on one of her paintings and asked me which colors I use to make the color teal.  I plopped on my knees for better stability, as I did not trust the small, dried root I leaned upon and replied.  “I can’t remember. Will think.”  Then, “Thank blue or green and zinc????”  “Thank” was supposed to be “Thalo”, but thankfully, she didn’t get that far.  She figured it out on her own.  Then, sent her a picture of the just-found fossil.

As I brought the phone around to my back pocket again, another message came in.  Then, another.  A Facebook follower sent me a picture of a plant to identify for her. Another sent me a copy of an article that had to do with one of my art pieces.  A friend had already sent me the article that morning, so no need in reading it twice, especially during the balancing act I was in at the time.  Had I fallen while trying to do so, that would be another article.  Maybe of the obituary type. 

Paul and I stopped to explore different areas throughout the afternoon.  As darkness closed in, the air cooled and the biting flies emerged.  Too busy looking for rocks, I only stopped to call out to Paul occasionally to ask how he was holding up if he needed help, and to let me know if he needed me to carry anything for him.  Like an animal that must leave territorial “markings”, each stop, I, too, had to stop and pee before moving onward.   With a chuckle, I admitted to Paul while I was in mid-squat, “I guess I can stand up and pull my pants up, can’t I?  I finished peeing about two minutes ago and I’m still squatting while I look at rocks around me.  To top it off, the truck is parked in the middle of the road.  I guess there is no fear of someone coming along anyway.  No one to catch me with my pants down.”

At times, we came to spots where we should not have navigated.  To refer as “roads” would leave any outtah-statah scratching their heads.  Tree limbs slapping our bodies inside the truck through opened windows.  I kept mine down most of the time because I needed to part the limbs and stick my head outside to watch my tire placement.  I don’t know how I missed one rock, but I did.  It was a sharp one, and there was no room to do anything except a deep breath and some wishful thinking.

Stepping outside the truck was a must on several occasions.  Sometimes, I needed a head-on view and to visually line the tires up to perfection or risk popping a tire or getting stuck.  Putting the truck in 4-wheel drive was mandatory in a few spots -through road washouts, flooded roadways, and going up steep embankments with rain-washed-out trenches big enough to swallow a tire.  There was one spot where I had to find rocks enough to fill a tire path before we could continue onward. Then, too, we dipped into a gravel pit where I found very soft gravel and sand-like ground.  I didn’t need the shovel but was thankful I grabbed it.  Just in case!   Fun stuff. 

All that is rewarding, but what put me in awe mostly were two things: 

First, with the aid of modern medicine, technology, and a good “Paul Day” on top of that, Paul was able to go rock/fossil hunting with me.  This is something that he hasn’t been able to do for many, many years.  Yes, he was limited where he could walk and search, but just going with me is a huge reward.

Second, how fun is it when you know your eyes are probably the first and only human to see rocks dated millions upon millions ago?  Rocks that are in the woods, hidden and only exposed by the force of gravity, mother nature and her precipitous ways when it comes to weathering / chemical erosion of the landscape, and time.  Great stuff to realize the phrase, “For our eyes only” really does mean just that when in the wilderness, untouched and unseen by man …and many beasts, too.

Ahh!  AND, what’s not to love about being “in the middle of nowhere”?  Where even modern technology can’t find you?  NOTHING!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Reclaiming Cat Litter - Off the Grid Gardening

RECLAIMING CAT LITER -Off the Grid Gardening

Copyright 2018 by Lori-Ann Willey

Where did this CRAZY idea come from?

Living off the grid is challenging in many ways, but what we find exceptionally challenging is trying to reuse, recycle, repurpose as much of our waste (human, animal, and man-made) as possible.  In the past, I’ve gone into a little detail about our composting toilet and the use of humanure in my gardens.  I’ve also mentioned that I collect moose, deer, bunny, and bird poops in nature as well.  Today, I’ll delve into a little different angle.

Because our cat is a high-end Maine Coon complete with size, markings, and long ear tufts that made even veterinarian's seriously questioned if he is a lynx or not, our cat, named, “AhChoo”, is strictly an inside cat for obvious reasons.  As a result, he pees and poops inside, which means he must have a litter box that we humans tend to for him.  His personal poop and pee attendants, if you will.  

Have you become less than enthused yet?  It’s OK to groan.  Feel free to skip to the last five paragraphs for a shorter reading session. I don’t offend easily, and I know reading about pees and poops isn’t for everyone.

For well over a year now, when we scoop the litter box, Ahchoo’s poops go into a closeable container.  When the mood strikes, I empty it outside in one of three compost piles exclusively for his poops.  Occasionally, I’ll “turn” the pile and add a handful of soil, pine needles, leaves/plants (both alive and dead) just to help aid in the breakdown of the poops into soil form at a faster rate.  I have yet to use any in my garden spots for veggie growing, and I may not.  I might use it to help grow milkweed for the monarch butterflies or use it to help grow grass for my compost piles.  I have three small piles going -one for each year- 2016, 2017, and 2018.  Use it in a veggie garden or not, Ima-Compost-aholic.  Also, like human poops, I like to let it age for two years before I consider using it.

Due to allergies of Paul and myself, and two surgeries the cat had to have, we’ve tried several different brands of cat food and cat litter to see if we can find a litter that doesn’t bother us or the cat.  We finally found one about a year ago.  It is one made of silica sand and hydrolyzed herbs. 

Silica Sand is nothing more than quartz broken down into small pieces the size of sand (remember sand can be pea size, too).  Yep, take a magnifying glass to a handful of sand in your area.  You’ll see clear-ish chunks of quartz scattered about that may resemble rock salt or clear-ish crystals.  While you are looking, you’ll see broken shells, and bits and pieces of other rock types, to include granite, too.  Hydrolyzed Herbs is nothing more than plants that are soaked in water for a while. 

Some of you may remember that I make Fish Hydrolysate (fish juice) for my garden.  The process for making herb hydrolyzed stuff is basically the same.  According to the makers of the cat litter product, the hydrolyzed herbs are a scent attractant that lures the cats to the litter box.  

I wondered if this silica sand is actually silica gel, which would make more sense simply because silica gel is processed with oxygen and water which yields a very porous product that can absorb moisture.  To use it as cat litter makes sense.  I further wondered if the maker of this cat litter broke down plant material (herbs) in water to create the hydrolysate which the silica sand (gel) was absorbed into the crystals and then allowed to dry, keeping the scent of the herbs trapped in the crystals which further acts as an attractant to the litter box by the felines?  I’m speculating, of course, but that makes sense to me.

So, in changing to this cat litter versus the clay-based stuff, one question I had, in the beginning, was, “Is it biodegradable and not harmful to the environment?”  I started researching.  In the past, all safe, used cat litters were used to help fill depressions in the ground around camp, but I  wanted, and needed, it safe to do so.  That is when I learned that silica sand is indeed safe.  I mean, really, they use silica gel beads in everything to help absorb moisture.  Know those little packets found in some foods, bottles, etc.?  That is silica gel. 

Supposedly, and according to the cat litter box, this litter contains silica sand and not silica gel.  However, this type of silica sand is very porous, and despite what the container says, “Silica Sand”, I believe it is actually silica gel.  I’ll tell you why.  Silica sand (quartz) is very hard.  It is stainable, but it does not absorb water.  Whereas, as mentioned above, silica gel is porous and can absorb 40 times its weight in liquid!  Thus, that is the purpose of using silica “gel” as a cat litter -absorption. So, maybe, the cat litter company processed the silica sand with a smaller amount of oxygen and water, so it still falls into the silica sand category?  I don’t know and I’m kinda confused on that.   Why not just say it is Silica Gel?

I could find no real data to support my theory, so maybe they are protecting “Secrets” of the inventors, maybe?   Maybe, they figured no one would ever have the want or need to do research on the topic? 

For an average single cat, the silica takes about 30 days to absorb the cat urine.  After that, the urine will literally pool in the bottom because the silica cannot absorb any more than its fill.  So, my thought process was, “If it takes up to 30 days to absorb liquid, then, I can dehydrate the silica in the sun, and then, soak it in water to filter out the urine.  Right?”  Basically, I wanted to purify the silica again.

I went straight to work.  After 30 days, I changed the litterbox, pailed the urine saturated silica, and up to my garden I went.  After allowing it to dry out for a couple of weeks, I filled the pail with fresh water (rainwater) and let it soak.  Every few days, I strained off the liquid and filled the pail again with fresh water.  I did this until the silica turned from a very urine yellow color to white-white in color.  I deemed the silica free of cat urine …at least color-wise.  With that part of my theory proven, for the next year, I repeated this process with every litter box change.  My next experiment will repeat this process, but then, bake the litter to help “purify” further, and then, see if I can reuse it as cat litter again.  Stay Tuned.

Last fall, I poured all “cleaned” silica sand cat litter into pails with holes in them.  Some of those holes were drilled for prior using (most likely a worm bin), but I go through plastic pails like crazy here, so any that spring leaks due to cracks, I still use, just not for holding liquids, is all.  Such pails are perfect for this experiment!

I set one pail aside that had a little bit of compost stuck to the bottom and sides of the pail.  This spring, that silica sand had absorbed the compost water mix and turned the silica sand black as wet compost. It was quite beautiful.  I strained the crystals into a garden spot, set them in the sun to dry.  When I deemed dry enough, I set the pail of silica sand under the eaves to “clean” it again.  This morning, I deemed them white enough to be “clean”.

Now, onto my experiment and purpose thereof.  I am attempting to use the silicon sand as a growing medium while keeping in mind the Kratky Gardening Method, which is a form of hydroponics.  A few years ago, I developed a method of gardening for my lettuce using an offshoot idea.  It worked amazingly well, using sphagnum moss that I dug and collected by hand (a tedious undertaking) as a medium, and compost tea for added nutrients. This time, I will use the silica sand as a growing medium.

Using Silica Sand as A Growing Medium

If you skipped the first portion of the blog entry because we want to recycle, repurpose, reuse everything possible here, this morning, I started an experiment using used cat litter (silica sand) as a growing medium.

This spring, after the snow melted, I dried the silica sand cat litter in the sun.  I gathered two old, and no longer used food cooler covers, turned them upside down and filled them both with the cat litter (silica sand).   Then, filled them both with water, sprinkled two types of loose-leaf lettuce upon the surface, and then, gently “scrambled” the seeds shallowly into the silica. 

I chose lettuce because they need light to germinate, but also need moisture.  The silica sand is nothing more than a “holder” for the seeds until they sprout, and then, a way for the roots to work through the sand as they grow.  As the roots grow, they drink the water sitting within the silica sand pieces.  Lettuce, they say, have a shallow root system, but it depends upon the kind of lettuce, too.  Loose-leaf have shorter roots.

As I did with the Kratky Method, I’ll feed the plants a compost tea.  Because the compost tea will be brown or tea-colored, I can expect the silica sand to also turn brown.  If this method works, I’ll be saving all the cat’s litter from here on out and eventually have lots of reclaimed litter for growing at least my leafy greens.  I’m anxious to see how all this plays out …tweaking my methods as I go and as the plants grow, too.  Trial and error. 

I hope for success, but I am a realist and expect failures, too.  It is an experiment I just HAD to try!  This silica sand is something I can Reuse, Recycle, repurpose …Reclaim, over and repeatedly.  I hope next to see if I can reclaim silica sand (or, gel) as a cat litter again …and how many times!

Stay Tuned!

Friday, June 1, 2018


Copyright 2018 by Lori-Ann Willey


Desperate times called for desperate measures!

I’ve been making both keyhole and H├╝gelkultur gardens now for many years.  Due to poor soil and the tremendous amount of tree roots and boulders, I quickly found it much easier to make raised beds than try to work the soil like the “normal” garden methods I had done all my life.  The soil is ground to dust, which not only helps suffocate the seeds in their own way, but it could not maintain moisture either.  When it rained, the water literally ran off the surface.  My seeds failed to germinate and whatever I transplanted shriveled up and died.  As a result, I started putting my brain to use and started problem-solving.  One year of a failed garden was enough.

Being an observer and lover of nature, I started to think, “survival of the fittest” and “natural selection”.  The following year, I planted most of my garden in pots, pails, jugs, hollow logs, etc.  That way, I had a few nibbles here and there, but that wasn’t a garden-garden.  I went to work and collected natural debris from the landscape around us.  I dragged logs, sticks, and branches through the woods for hours a day. I lugged 5-gallon pails and filled them full of rotten tree debris.  I stripped ferns of their fronts, leaves from downed trees, and pulled grass from the sides of the road the whole 8-mile trip to town.

When home-home, I mow grass, wait a day or two and then rake the field out back.  After a day or so, I collected the grass in large trashcans and bags.  What would not fit on the back of the truck, I saved for another two-hour trip another day.    Not only that, I composted everything imaginable from food scraps to magazines, cardboard, and junk mail, too.  I was so desperate that I even raked dead leaves within the woods itself, the camp yard, driveway, and hell, I even raked leaves from the camp road each spring and fall.  We have a composting toilet system, so after letting our poops age for two years, I even used that.  Urine, too, is filled with lots of nutrients and those nutrients help decompose natures debris at a much faster rate, so yes, I started to keep a pee pail near my compost piles.  I still do!  Desperate times called for desperate measures!

My first garden beds were pitiful, to say the least.  If the sun was out, the plants would wilt almost instantly.  When it rained, as mentioned above, the water ran away from my plants and did nothing to help them.  Finally, I decided to plant a few seeds around a few compost piles and that worked!  However, the piles needed to be “turned” frequently, which posed a wicked danger for my plants, but that gave me an idea.  How about if I corralled my compost and made an entryway to access the piles without disturbing my plants?  Little did I know there was a name for that method! In a round-about way, kindah-sortah, it’s called a keyhole garden!

Again, resorting to my knowledge about soil, nature, and how it has its own lifecycle, those dragged logs I mentioned earlier?  Well, I knew how to make them work for me …the decayed wilderness, too!  Dead logs, unless in the sun all day every day are always moist.  So moist, that worms dwell in them, as well as some newts/salamanders.  What they all have in common is that they absorb moisture through their skin to survive.  What do worms do a lot, because they eat a lot?  They poop.  Their poop is some of the best fertilizer in the world …and without chemicals!  So, I brought as many worms back to my gardens as I could, too.

My first thought was to keep the logs rotting near my gardens and as they broke down, I’d add them to my compost piles.  Then, I thought, why not just help them along a bit and lay them out where I want a garden bed, cover them with compost material, a bit of soil here and there, and help speed the decomposition?  Any compost and/or soil brought from home-home, I’d add to a corner and plant a few seeds.  Little did I know that method had a name for it, too.  It is called the Hugelkultur Method!  Upon posting pictures of my idea, a friend commented on my Hugelkultur style.  I had to go look it up.  Tah-Dah!  That was exactly what I had created!  I must admit that my pride bubble had a little hole in it just then, but still, …someone was smarter than me, before me, even!

Below, I’ll explain both the Keyhole Garden Method and the Hugelkultur Method.  Then, I’ll explain why I combine the two systems for successful gardening methods here in the North Maine Woods.

When you read the word “keyhole”, your brain probably visualized a keyhole in a door, and it would not be misleading to do so.  If you can picture an old skeleton key and the slot that it fits into, you’ve pretty much pictured what a keyhole garden looks like.  The basic idea of a keyhole garden is to maintain fertile soil in a small area, usually no larger than six to nine feet in diameter, that also maintains moisture control.

The keyhole garden is basically a raised bed with a three-foot-wide compost pile in the middle of it that extends to the bottom of the “hole”.  The keyhole itself extends upward above the soil level. The entire garden gently slopes away from the keyhole.  Usually, there is a pathway that interrupts your design so you can access the composting keyhole without walking on the garden bed itself.  I have some that do, some that don’t.   I consider it a waste of garden space to have a walkway, but for some, easier walking, and then, dumping is important.

If you can picture a shallow domed cover to one of your pots, then you are visualizing a keyhole garden quite well.  Now, let’s say your cover has a knob instead of a handle to slide your fingers through to lift the pot.  That “knob” is the keyhole compost part of the garden bed -in the center and raised with a gentle downward and away slope that reaches the edges of the bed.

The bottom of the keyhole sits the entire depth of the bed and extends as a hollow “knob” if you will, where your food scraps, brown and green nature debris are placed for decomposition.  Ideally, as you design your keyhole garden, you should start with the center keyhole and work outward.

Once you established the general design, on paper or in the head, lay down a rock layer for your keyhole. The rocks provide drainage.  You need drainage in the bottom and sides of your keyhole, so whatever you choose for the keyhole composting material holder, make sure it can “breathe” and “leech” when it rains.  It can be anything from up righted sticks, to a screen material, uprighted grass clumps, pail with holes, or like I use, a woven basket made of tree roots.

The purpose of the keyhole is to house the compost material in a way so that as it decomposes, the rain will help wash nutrients outward into the soil around and beneath your garden plants.  Thus, it will encourage your plant roots to grow downward in search of moisture and more nutrients for healthier plants. Healthy plants yield more fruits/veggies.

The gentle slope outward encourages moisture to “run” downhill to help spread the nutrients further away from the keyhole.   Too much of a slope and you risk erosion or water runoff instead of seeping into the soil.

A keyhole garden should not be more than nine feet in diameter, but that depends upon the size of your keyhole, too.  The nine feet is a general guideline for me when I design a keyhole garden.  If I make a larger bed, I either make the keyhole itself larger or, I strategically place smaller keyholes to ensure the decomposed nutrients feed all my plants as time passes.

I tend to lay cardboard and paper at the bottom of the bed itself as I go.  The cardboard and paper will break down quickly once covered with soil.  Paper goods help aid in moisture retention, homes for worms, etc.  Because this type of garden maintains moisture very well, it is no wonder it is a preferred method of gardening in the arid regions around the world.  Where NOTHING would grow, can now grow incredible gardens simply by using this keyhole gardening method.  It is quite impressive and works wonderfully, even here in the north Maine wilderness.


The word, “Hugelkultur” took me a long time to remember.  Until I learned that it was the “official” name for the garden style I already used for a few years, I called it a log garden, because, that is just what it was.

As mentioned earlier, I have an eager habit and hobby of collecting natural debris.  It is probably the same habit that my father had as he walked through tall grass that was ready to seed.  He’d always strip the seeds off the grass tips and let them fly away in the wind.  Or, if it was a calm day, he’d slowly let the seeds trickle from his fingers as he walked.  It took me years to figure out just what he was doing.  Instinctively, I guess, I do much of the same thing, except with tree debris …kindah-sortah. Only, I lug, drag, or flip end-over-end logs to an intended garden spot in hopes that one day, I’ll be able to plant vegetable seeds.


Hugelkultur gardens can be made in different ways.  For those who follow my postings on our camp page, you know that as I walk through the woods on our property, I often fill depressions with dead trees, limbs, and twigs.  Eventually, all that will break down and become soil, thus fewer ankle-turners as I walk.  I do the same with pine needles as I rake the camp yard -all those go into leveling out the landscape for Paul.

Some people fill low areas with such debris as mentioned above.  When they reached a flat plain, they top with a bit of soil, stuff any gaps with more soil, and then plant their crop.

Some Hugelkultur gardeners mound such debris and make raised beds of them.  The mounds can be as high or shallow as needed or wanted.  Often, though, it depends upon the need of the person creating that style of garden.

Like with Keyhole gardens, the Hugelkultur garden can have any desired outside shape that suits them.  If you are one to keep in mind of a long-term project and landscape ideas, think along those lines as you design this style of garden.

The concept of a Hugelkultur garden is quite simple.  Depending upon your location, “debris”, and the amount of material will probably do more dictating than creative designing.  This is where “thinking outside the box” helps greatly!

This type of garden style is what this camp landscape needs.  It needs a way to maintain moisture and nutrients alike …at the same time, even.  A pile of leaves is just that …a pile of leaves.  A pile of logs is just that, too …a pile of logs.  Without moisture of some sort, the breakdown of those materials will take seemingly forever!  Add a little moisture, such as rain, occasionally and if that moisture is prevented from evaporating, you’d see decomposition at a much faster rate.

Remember, leaves, especially the shiny/waxy kind, oaks, beech, and maple are a few that take longer to decompose. When such leaves are compressed, such as under the weight of snow, they prevent moisture from working its way to the soil.  You need air gaps.  Unless you are considering the anaerobic method of composting, you want air circulation.  Those air gaps allow oxygen that the microbes need for survival.  If oxygen can travel, it brings in moisture with it, thus you have the aerobic mode of composting, which I find is a much faster process.

As woodland debris breaks down, it maintains the moisture levels to perfectness for gardening.  The Hugelkultur method depends on that breakdown, moisture, microbes, and air to enhance the soil-in-the-making.

Due to the numerous rocks and tree root systems here, I make raised garden beds.  I start out with larger logs (dead trees) for the frame.  Often, the size solely depends upon my log length.  I can only drag, carry and flip logs so long and so wide and so heavy.  My goal is a garden bed with logs at least 10 inches diameter.  Any narrower and I stack two high as my garden border.  Within the frame, as I clean up the fallen branches, I cut them to fit inside my frame and stack largest at the bottom and each layer added, I add smaller and smaller diameter pieces until the last layer is twigs.  Where I can, I fill gaps with smaller twigs, a handful of grass and a handful of compost here and there just to add to hasten the decomposition.  Finally, when I have the height a good foot taller than I want the bed in a couple of years, I’ll top with compost and allow the rains to wash it through the stack.  When a gap is revealed, I add some grass or more soil there.  Plant whenever you feel the bed will hold soil around your plant roots, even if the roots grow into the decaying wood underneath or in a cool, moist gap between the logs.

If you want to test the soil for moisture below the surface, find a gap between a couple logs and wiggle your fingers through it to feel the moisture levels.  If you can, grab some decaying wood and give it a squeeze.  Don’t be surprised if you feel water dripping between your fingers.  That’s the moisture retention you want!  The plants will love that stuff!

Some people use large logs and just toss soil on top of them every once in a while, or covers them with a tarp for a few days after each good rain.


Combining the Keyhole and Hugelkultur Methods of gardening have greatly enhanced my garden production.  Not only do I have higher yields, I can fit more plants closer together because I have both nutrients and a constant moisture source.  

Ima-Compost-Lovah!  Making compost from nature's debris may seem tedious, but it is a lifelong hobby for me.  To take "debris" and turn it into "black gold" is such a great reward.  All natural, too.  How can it get any better than that?

No matter the type of garden, your plants need nutrients.  Those who do not make compost often resort to purchasing fertilizers to help replenish their soil.  Sure, that's the easiest and fastest method, but like so many people like to point out, I tend to do thing the "hard" way.  I have patience and I don't mind the work involved.  If a compost is made correctly, there is no smell.  I know what goes into the soil because I make it all by hand by gathering and aging nature's debris ...the lifecycle of the plant world, manipulated by collection and hastened with "turning".  

Many towns have a compost pile for free access.  It is a place where grass clippings and fall leaves are brought, piled and turned by a machine every once in a while.  Though free, I've known of people who have to wear gloves and sift through the compost in such places because glass, nails, pieces of metal, etc. are scattered about the piles.  One woman lost her entire garden of over $100 worth of plants because someone donated some grass or leaves that was tainted with something that killed everything she planted in the free compost.  She was not happy.  I don't blame her.  When such clippings/leaves come from a lawn and set beside the road for pickup, you don't know what else is mixed in.  Maybe they used grass/leaves to sop up oil or some spilled chemical.  Unless you make your own, you never know what could be mixed in ...both good and bad.  That's not a risk I'm willing to take.  But, that could be because I enjoy making my own, too.

Just like when you compost, you only need FOUR ingredients to make soil:

NITROGEN – “Green” (kitchen scraps, green leaves, grass, urine etc.)
CARBON - “Brown” (papers, cardboard, dried leaves, wood)
MOISTURE - (rain, dew, buckets of water, snow)
OXYGEN – (air)

Some will argue that you do not need oxygen, and they are right.  However, I assure you, oxygen speeds up the process greatly.  Some will insist that you use the lasagna layering method of composting, but no, not if you want compost within a year.  The greens must mix with the browns.  It is the combination of the two touching each other, that help them break down faster.  Layering them keeps them separated and only the parts where the greens touch the browns will decompose first, then work their way around from there.  Turning ("mixing") the ingredients mixes the browns and greens, keeps oxygen in the mix and helps spread the heat more evenly.  Think of it this way, you can plop all cake ingredients into a bowl, but if you don't mix ...well, I guess you'll still have a cake in the end, but you get my meaning, I think.

Heat helps speed the process, but do not exceed 160-degrees.  Any warmer inside that compost pile and you’ll kill the microorganisms that are doing the work in there.  When you see worms as you turn your pile, your compost is ready to use.  At that point, I sift to sort from the ready-ready stuff and anything that doesn’t sift through a 1/3” mesh, I toss into another compost pile.  I keep rocks smaller than a golf ball.  You NEED those rocks to help keep air flowing, as rocks are always shifting and when they shift, that means more oxygen.  Like you, the roots need them, too!  That wiggle-room allows them to travel in search of more nutrients.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

“Never give up. Never Surrender.”

“Never give up.  Never Surrender.”  
Copyright 2018 by Lori-Ann Willey

Most of you know that we live off the grid in the north Maine wilderness and that both Paul and I are in our early to mid-50’s.  Most of you know, too, that Paul is a man of more than his share of medical problems -a couple of them are words that no one wants to hear when the doctor looks at you while he says them.

I’ve written a couple-three blog entries that referenced how important the state of mind is, and though the state of mind is crucial, many of you believe that there must be something more that prods me along daily.  Maybe you are right, but I have to really stop to think what that “more” represents.  After a while, I guess it all reduces to a few “mindsets" – Life lessons, “I Am Me”, personal growth, peace of mind, and the attitude, “They can’t, but I can!”  I’ll attempt to explain each. 


I believe that you take away something from everyone you meet.  Maybe it is a stranger that casts a smile your way.  Or, maybe it is the stranger that sees you behind them with your arms full yet allows the door to shut in your face without so much as a glance back.  

From the smile, I return a smile, and then, share that smile with others.  I also feel that I can start the “chain of smiles”.  Anyone can. I wished more people would do that. 

From the door incidence, I choose not to be like them – Rude!

I have the choice to appreciate the good experience, just as I also have the choice to learn from the bad experience.  I can turn it around or simply follow suit.  That decision is mine.  I choose to always uplift myself and others when I can. 

I also believe in making sound decisions, to think a situation through thoroughly, and from many angles before taking action.  In doing so, realizing that you are not the only person in existence, too, leaves you with few or no regrets in life.  Regrets are not easy to escape from.  They tend to linger …like forever.


I believe in being myself.  Yes, as indicated above, I can “take” something -the good or the bad- from others, but I do not and will not ever change who I am to suit anyone.  My saying is.  "I am Me and ONLY ME.  That's who I want to be."  Comfortable in my own skin, in my own ways, in my own thoughts, and in my own personal growth, too.  I am ME.  I am not you or anyone else.


This is something that I am adamant about. I believe that life is not about competition. I’m not talking about sports or the competitive business market, etc. I’m talking about my own personal growth. We all have flaws, habits, and a preferred lifestyle.

My personal life has altered greatly with the onset of Paul’s medical issues. We used to hike mountains, go on canoe trips, etc. However, our lives have changed over the years. To live off the grid is how we can both be as much a part of nature as possible. I used to be able to work a job, go for long walks in the woods for hours on end, etc. All that changed when Paul needed more attentive care as his MS and other medical issues progressed. BUT, and notice that is a BIG BUT, I did not let all that change who I am as a person.

Instead of moping around and becoming depressed, I developed new hobbies -photography, sketching, painting, and writing. My wildlife and nature photography turned to more still-life and macro photography. It is the macro photography that I am most thankful to discover. If I had to choose just one lens only, I’d keep my macro lens without hesitation. I’m a lover of all things that are not so readily seen by the naked eye.

I find ways to live a “normal” lifestyle with a disabled husband. Had he not become disabled, I would have never explored writing, sketching, or painting. Because Paul’s physical disabilities are far greater these days, I could not allow it to stall my path of personal growth. I just had to find an alternate pathway is all. My focus and emotions are important. I could mope and dwell at the possible loss of Paul on any given day, or I can maintain a positive mindset by keeping track of my emotions, too. Basically, it all boils down to the “right emotion” that suits me the best. I found it. I’m a happy woman who finds pleasure in the little things in life. Those little things are such great rewards!


Given the above-written so far, I’d be a fool to say that I don’t worry, especially when it comes to Paul. We’ve been through a lot as a couple -loss of a daughter as an infant due to a genetic defect, and almost losing Paul due to his medical issues.

Honestly, I watch him like a hawk. At night, when I wake, I listen to make sure he’s still breathing. I’ve had a few scares when I’d listen for a breath and did not hear one. There are times when I am forced to put my hand on his chest and hope to feel the movement of his diaphragm, albeit shallow. The longer I listen, there is no more of a scare than when my hand meets his cold skin as if death overcame him hours ago. Instinctively, I touch my own body for a comparison. Then, I nudge him quickly and speak sharply. If that scare were not real, it would be laughable the second he speaks or moves upon waking to my antics. That “Comic Relief” within me is felt for days and weeks. In a way, the scare is always there, embedded. Why, at times, I can’t sleep after such a scare as that.  Even if his cold torso is due to being uncovered because he was hot earlier in the night.  We like to sleep in a cold room ...but!

With that said, I cannot let those fearful few seconds take over my life either. Remember when I mentioned being focused and finding the right emotion? Those are real deals. I delve into thought with a curious mind. Always thinking. Always doing. Always trying to do better with my sketching’s and paintings. I’ve learned to “tackle” if you will, one of the hardest subjects to master by the arts -portraits. For me, it stems from the ability to get lost in focus, tunnel vision, if you will. That is when the “right emotion” is achieved. It is not an avoidance of my emotions, it is channeling them. My own personal growth through the arts. Why each piece is important to me …a part of me. Why it is difficult to let them go. Instead, I line the walls of our camp and house as if each were an art gallery.

I delve 100% in everything I do. When I sit outside, I see everything. I hear everything as if with new ears and eyes. For, I truly believe that each minute of each day is a treasure …a new beginning, a new experience. All worthy of capture in the mind and heart.

The critters that I allow to climb on me, I always stop and give them the attention, or snack, that they seek. Sometimes, they, and I honestly believe, the chippies, want to be rubbed behind the ears. If I’m sketching, I allow them to help. Upon my face, big grins of appreciation. I let my mind go. I do not allow thoughts that have a negative value to sit and ponder. That is not healthy …for me or anyone.

I investigate everything from a newly sprouting seed to the clouds moving about the sky. I watch. I learn. I appreciate everything more than I ever thought I could. I find peace of mind in everything I see and touch.

Yes, Ima Busy Woman and this off the grid lifestyle demands it, but I do have time to myself. There is always a long To-Do list with some listings more pressing than others. I prioritize; therefore, I am efficient. When my day often starts during the wee hours of the morning, I have plenty of time to sketch, write, etc. I take advantage of it. While my body is idle, “my time” is always busy in the mind, too. I ponder and theorize a lot. The topic might not be one that surprises you much …how nature finds a way to survive, to mutate, to find its own personal growth. I can relate to the dilapidated plant just as much as I can relate to the most robust plant that thrives. To survive means to adapt to the changes in the environment. Humans are not any different.

Peace of mind …however you can obtain it… find it. Cherish it. You need it, or YOU will fail to thrive, thus survive. See how that works? Work through the obstacles. Appreciate any humor along the way.

A good example of humor is what happened just seconds ago. Paul said, “We’ve got a mourning dove at 9 degrees” He’s a numbers person, so that is what I heard through his mumbles. When I asked him to clarify, he said, “Our morning low was 9 degrees”. To that, we had a big laugh. High spirits here …without whacky tobacco, even. Though I should clean my ears a bit often, ‘cause I should be used to his mumbles by now. Yet again, those mis-heard sentences do offer us both a lot of chuckles!


Though my body is quite squishy and bulbous for a human being, I am a strong and determined woman. I am not out to prove anything to anyone, but I do enjoy sharing my experiences with those who are interested. There is no fabrication or dramatics. What you read/see/hear is everyday life. We are exactly what we portray -a little bit of everything, to include being loonies in the boonies.

I am a prodder. I encourage. I support. I can give a good swift kick in the ass if I think someone is in need. I am also a nurturer and a protector. Our son would include that I’m a natural teacher, as I teach in a way that is not by lecture, but with an ease that promotes curiosity for further learning or exploration. Or, at least that is what he’s told me in the past. Our daughter used to be quick to say, “You always see the other side of things!” And, I think that frustrated her a bit as a child. That was especially so when she complained about someone at school that bothered her. I’d always ask her to try to understand why “Maybe their home life isn’t the best.” Though I can understand why she’d get frustrated with me, but at the same time, whether she wanted to or not, I think she stopped to think about my words at least occasionally.

I know that last paragraph is probably a bit off topic, but when the rambling starts, I follow suit until the thought is out …off topic or not. That is why my twin sister refers to me as “Edith” (1970’s sitcom – All in the Family).

Paul and I had a daughter that passed away at 32 days old. She cannot live, so why can’t I live for her? Paul is either in a wheelchair or uses a cane, thus he can no longer do the things he used to before his disability wreaked havoc on his body. Because he can no longer adventure with me, I took up photography. This way, I can bring the woods to him. Anything I saw that was curious, neat, or thought he’d enjoy, I snapped a photo of it so I could show him upon my return. That was the start of my love for photography. It is a way that we can still share “walks” and “nature” together.

Paul can no longer swim or snorkel, so into the water with me goes an underwater camera. That is how he can “go swimming” these days. I show him what I see so he can enjoy it, too. Even if I do nothing more than press the record button and swim slowly through the water so he can “experience” the swim, too.

We can, in a roundabout way, live off the grid, whereas so many do not have the ability, means or wants to do so. I share our lifestyle so that those who are interested can follow along. So many tell us how they live vicariously through us. I hadn’t heard that word before, so after a few dozen times, I decided to look it up. It is another example, “They can’t, but I can”, so I am willing to share our lives with them throughout cyberspace. Happy to help when and where I can. Besides, I find it is an amazing way to help others understand the beauty of nature and how very precious and delicate it is.

Remember, because someone can’t, doesn’t mean you can’t. Paul can’t, but I can.

Lastly, when people wonder how I can do all that I do, how can I find the time to “play” (critter time, sketching, photography, painting, writing, tending to the garden, swimming, or carving out fun snow figures, etc.), I tell them that I make the time. I may be “too pooped to poop” when I do such things, but I find the time because “time” is very precious to us all.

There is no denying that the workload here is great. That is especially so after a large snow storm. Those literal hours upon hours and days upon days are challenging if you want to call it that. I don’t mind all the chores. I don’t mind doing all that needs to be done here. I enjoy it. Yes, I get tired, but I take breaks and use that time to prepare a meal, see if Paul needs anything, rehydrate, etc. etc. but in all honesty, I love my lifestyle. I am not afraid of the workload or the challenge ahead of me daily. I’m a realist. I face it. I just do it. Why? Because there are people who want to but cannot. I can. And, if I enjoy it, then all the better, and I really do enjoy it. There is no dread. Well, there is the “dreaded dishes” and the “dreaded 5-tree”, but those are other stories.

In all honesty, the second Dread appears in our lives, that will be the time to choose a different lifestyle. As for now, I’m still going strong at 52. On a funny note, I’ve been saying that I’m 52 for a year now. And according to my math, I’ll be 52 in June! DOH! Age is not what matters, it is your mindset that means EVERYTHING!


I’m not saying life is easy because it is not.  It’s not easy for anyone.  We all face our own challenges.  Our challenge is different than yours, is all.  Just as your challenge is different from the “guy next door”.  There is no fairness in comparing your life to others.

It’s up to each of us to make the best of our situation and to remember that …LIFE IS ALL RELATIVE.  You must live YOUR personal life.  Make changes along the way, but LIVE IT while you can.  Face the challenge, and/but keep yourself grounded. 

“Never give up.  Never surrender” -  Galaxy Quest

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Copyright 2018 by Lori-Ann Willey 

A list of words we use around camp since our purchase in 2004.  I'm sure I've missed some, but as we use and remember, I'll add to the list.


16-Mile Loop -  Trip we make with snowmobiles or our Polaris 4-wheeler to our truck and back during the winter months.

A FUNNY -  A telling of an amusing experience.

A Stiffel - A process of building using more nails than wood.

Allen's-way - A clever way of doing a complicated or cumbersome task.

Aunt Flo -  Monthly period.  AKA - Aunt Dot

Baby X -  A temporary name for an unborn child.

Bedspread -  What one creates when they sprawl out on the bed leaving no room for the other.

Big People's Drink - Any alcoholic beverage.

Big Potty - Composting Toilet

Bladdah-Gladdah - What you do when you go pee.  You make your bladder gladder.

Bob Hope - A specific husband/wife in the cove.

Bubbles - Snow. (Ellie)

Cannable vs. Cannible - Paul wondered if eels were cannable.

Cheatah Pizzah - Store bought pizza

Climatized - When you are used to it being cold out.

Cling-Ons - What you call little kids when they cling to you.

Coffee Burner - The process in which green coffee beans are roasted.

Coffee Pot -  The Luggable-Loo with deodorizing coffee grounds.

Cordon-Blue - The heating cord is on the face shield  of the blue snowmobile helmet, therefore, cordon-blue.

Cuskasaurus - Cusk fish that is larger than average size. (Bruce -Katahdin General)

Dam Camp Husband – Paul

Dam Camp Wife – Lori-Ann

Dam Hill - Hill going up from the dam.

Dangling Participles - What I told Paul to watch for when he wears boxers (without snaps) ..."Dangling Parts-visible".

Deep-Throat - When a fish takes the hook, line and sinker deep in the throat.

Dickles  - A mixture of  Wickles (red relish) & Dill (green relish)

DOH!ment - The moment you realized your previous thought was a "DOH!"

Dolby - Way out to town in the winter.

Double-Dipping -  Fishing with two poles at once.

Downers - Ice Fishing:  When you lower the bait to the bottom.

Drive-By-Shooting - What we do when friends come within picture shot while on the lake with our boats.

Drop ‘em & Go -  Act of going pee outside.

Eagle -  Name of an island where we often see eagles.

Eelin' - Eel fishing.

European - What the other spouse says when the other is peeing (You're-ah-peeing)

Fat Jumpers -  Little, jumpy, hard bumps on snowmobile trails where sledders drastically increase speed, leaving snow sprayed and heaped in the trail! 

Fishit - 1.  What comes out of a fish when you clean them. 2.  What you do in a it. 

Fishy-Fit - What you have when you pull up a lake chub thinking it was a big trout.

Four Corners - The point where the Stacyville Road and Huber Road meets.

Going Horizontal – Time for bed.

Goofy - Way out to town in the summer.

Go-Postal - What we say when we need to make the one hour round trip to the Post Office in Summer.  A good 30-45 minutes longer than that in winter.

Gray Water – Drainage water -washing, cleaning, dishes, etc.

Green-Eye - An underwater fluorescent green light used for night fishing.

Gunky Potty - Litter Box

Guzinta - This "goes into" that.  Also known as a, "Guzinta problem". 

Hangover - When sleeping at the Gateway (Hotel in Medway), we always wake up with a hangover.  (Feet hanging over the end of a double sized bed.)

Hip Fart -  The noise your hip makes when it pops back into the socket! (Florice)

Holy-Hannah! - What is yelled when you catch a small fish, and want everyone to think you caught a big one. (Dave)

Hopper-Hop - What we do in the bathroom in the winter.  The Luggable-Loo is for going #1, and the composting toilet is used for going #2.  

I'm on! - Statement to indicate being "online" or "connected" to the Internet.

Ima – “I’m a ….”

In the Now -  What's happening at that very moment. (often showing a picture)

IVIG -  Immuno gamma globulin “treatments”

Jumping-off-rock - The pyramid-shaped rock to jump from while swimming. (Stiffel’s)

Kinky Fish - The fish that are attracted to the vibrations of the snowmobile upon the ice.

Lap Dance - What your paper plate does when your lap tries to hold it during the eating process!

Lap-It  - When you do a Lap Dance

Lips - Anything that goes on the lips.  "My tongue took my lips away."  (What Autumn said after she licked chapstick off her lips.)

Lip-Stuff - Lip moisturizers.

Little Potty - Luggable-Loo (Piss Pot, Coffee Pot)

Millinocket Lake Piranha - Sunfish

Mt. K -  Mount Katahdin

Muchcuskluk - When the cusk fishing is good.

M-wow - What the cat (Gunky) says when Josh cleans his room!

Nose Douche - The process of cleaning out the sinuses using a bulb syringe, warm water and salt. (Thea)

Off Eagle - Location of ice shack.

"Peas" and Poops -  The name of Lori-Ann's garden.

Patoot -  Butt

Perchin' - White perch fishing.

Pink Medicine - What kids hope for at each doctor visit. (liquid Amoxicillin).

Quimby - A 6-letter swear word.

Sea Turtle -   Big snapping turtle

Silly Poop - Poop that is shaped like a “j” . (Ellie)

Squeepee -  (or Squeepy)  That last-ditch attempt to squeeze out a little "pee" before a trip to town, etc, in hopes you won't have to "go" until you get back. 

Stitch -  Straw or Corn brooms with painted faces.

Strap-ons - Bungee chords

Sunspot - Where the cat and Lori-Ann sit to feel the "warmth" of the winter sun.

The Beast -  Polaris Ranger

The Dam Willey’s -  Paul and I as referenced by others.

The Point - The endpoint on the camp road.

Three-Way - What happens when three fishing lines cast at the same time, in the same spot, then get tangled together, leaving the three fishermen thinking they have fish (Marc)

“Too Pooped to Poop” -  Exhausted

Traumatized - When it's REALLY cold out!

Triponable - Anything at ground level that can cause tripping, therefore it's trip-on-able.

Up Mud - A nice secluded boat ride.

Up Sandy - Going trout fishing.

Uppers - Ice Fishing:  When you lower the bait to just under the ice.

Uppin’attem -  Time to get off the patoot and get stuff done.

Uppinaddah -  When you are up and out of (bed).

Vikings - Those who take Vicodine.

Weeds - Wild Edibles.

Wet Back Hill - Hill on the Stacyville Road that is always wet with water seepage.

Zombie -  In a stupor, too tired to think.


Ami – Shed made by the Amish

Ellie-Aut – Shed named after our granddaughters -Autumn & Ellie

Home-home - Our legal residence.

Little House - Cottage

Pauly – Shed made by Paul and Lori-Ann

Plywood Palace – What our camp was called before we purchased it. (Brian M.)

Telephone Booth – Outhouse


Ah-Choo – Name of our cat.

Bebe – Red Squirrel

Blurds - When birds get blown around with the snow in wicked high winds, you see blurry birds.

Bob & Bobbette – Raven mates

Caw - A certain seagull that comes to our boat when we yell "Caw".

Chippy - Chipmunks

Cyril – Red Squirrel

Gunky-Butt – The name of our cat.

Hand-Warmer - Name of a still warm dead squirrel.  When cold, it goes into a pot of water.

Jumpy – Red Squirrel

Rainbow – Seagull

Sammy Jay -  Blue Jays (Thorton Burgess)

Snorkeling Bear - A tree stump/root protruding from water.

Target Practice - When red squirrels steal the bird food!

Thal - Name given to a short and stubby red squirrel. (short for Thalidomide, a 1960’s morning sickness medicine, resulting in stunted limbs of the offspring.) 

Tonto - Name of the red squirrel with the tail hairs that stick straight up in the shape of a feather.

Twister - Name of a mourning dove that has a white bread twist-tie around her/her left leg.


Daylight – Teller of outside conditions at dawn.  Bringer of light.

Haste – Helps get stuff done in a hurry

Mother Nature – Mother Earth and all that she holds

Night – Concealer of Daylight. 

Up & At’em – Prodders to get my butt moving

Waste – A time waster