The annual migration of the plants from the deck to the sunroom was just a few days ago, and closing down the filtration for the pond and adding in the direct bypass line to keep the waterfall flowing all winter for the goldfish and backyard wildlife.
This lovely lady Mantis came in with the greenery. She is as big as my hand.
She was on the right tree at the right time.
It has been snowing and sub-zero at the ranch off and on for weeks putting out a mountain wildfire 10 miles away, and winter snow is finally blanketing the massive & explosive Colorado wildfires.
The yard bunny’s name is Andy Goldsworthy. (Art joke…)
Three bachelors.
Stopping at the fence-line to check our position.
Leaping the fence-line.
We came up to walk through the Aspen.
This stand is at the top of a valley, diving down into a deep forest.
We scare up a coyote, who bounds away in great kangaroo leaps- then turns to look.
In a moment he spins to the L and bicycles over the edge of the hill into the next steep of forest.
The alpine grassland on this high hillside runs to a long line of Aspen, forming a narrow forest of gold insulating against the pine forest that drops down into the gorge.
Across the grassland and down a coulee and up onto a summit there is our small hayfield (looks like a golf course).
The ladies take a moment to listen to the breeze in the quaking Aspen.
Heading down the 1970’s logging road.
Down in the tulgey wood.
We break out of the forest to more bordering Aspen.
On the far hillside another big hayfield makes a buff passage. The bluebird houses we checked yesterday are all at the top of the shadow above the hayfield. We were just over there replacing a birdhouse we found damaged yesterday, with one from near the house that the Wren fills with twigs.
No one wants to leave the ranch, and we’ve already stayed nearly another week. So this is our last evening. It was a good one.
Guest Bedroom Window. Was in rough shape. Of course. The storm window is repaired with the new paint curing til our next visit. If I’d put it in now the paint would all stick. As it is it is better than it was, even without the storm window up.

The storm window hadn’t been removed for who knows…40 years…more…
Storm window triage. I didn’t remove the glass- but most of the glazing came away easily.
A cattle drive two weeks ago is the likely culprit, or the bear again; last time he just knocked it off the post.
Pre-drilling before resetting the walls with 3.5″ screws.
This evenings Bluebird line is above that hayfield, and on to the North to the end of our property. It is always really pretty up there.
This group of 5 deer watched me clear one house, then moved up. They came back with 4 more at dusk, next to another group of 10.
A steady wind on a perfect fall day.
Tree swallows always nest in these models- just a bit too small for Bluebirds.
The cows are let into the hayfield- a different one than shown at the bear lunchbox.
The last two houses are all smashed apart and take some doctoring.
The staples are just like in surgery- the invasive part is over and staples help hold everything together.
Time to daub the rest of the building. The little brown jug with the blue top (bottom L) is my little jar of maths. Based on the amount of mortar-to-stain one “little” wall used yesterday, I figured the linear footage of the remaining 3 walls, allowing for some much wider runs. The little jar holds 20 3/4 full yellow cap doses to 20# dry mixes of mortar. Each blend of mortar completes one seam of narrow width of a full wall. Todays 20 mixes will eat up 5 80# bags of mortar and take 10 hours at a constant quick pace.
I’m saving the seam under the eve and the bottom runs on both long sides just in case I run out of my blended stain and have to switch to basic brown.
When I move to the front I begin mixing a bit more stain into the S-mortar, as this is the face of the building and I want it to sit well with the cleaned logs here, vs the dark oxidized wood of the rest of the building.
650mg acetminophin (aspirin) makes this all possible. Thanks for introducing us Kaye!
The day is blustery and cool, the gusty wind removes half the leaves from our central tree in the back yard. I mist the seams with water all day long to keep them from drying too quickly and weakening the set.
The technique is straight forward enough; after mixing the mortar to the right consistency load a heavy glorp onto the tray, then load some more, now hold the tray to the bottom line, and using a trowel push the daub through the screening to backfill any gaps and smooth out the surface, looking for a consistent thickness of around 1/4 inch covering the mesh. Load it in fast and strong, then go back and make a good top seam blended down to the bottom. Then jog back to the mixing tray, and if the mortar is firming up- don’t add water!- just mix it again. Think of a cement mixer always spinning to keep everything liquid.
My right arm was doing pretty well throughout the day. About now it began to catch fire.
The side I started on in the morning is finally finished, and I have enough stain for one more seam.
The seams under the eve were held til the last.
The only seam worse than the bottom seam is this one, or maybe it is the reverse.
I thought a lot about Cal-Wood over the last few days- an outdoor education center built by my stepfather back in the 1980’s. The Calvert Lodge was the central space, and the largest log structure built in Colorado for generations. This was not how any of that vast enterprise was done.
Two day’s later and the daub is mostly dry, but still curing out. It is much lighter in color than the chocolate filling when wet, now it is more of a chocolate meringue.
The wind is roaring about, but inside the cabin it is quiet and still. So that’s different!
The slight variation in dye on the front shifts to a darker caramel.
I reset the big-faced spring-thermometer (for looking at from inside the ranch house) and companion mercury thermometer ( for double-checking from outside how cold it really really is in winter).
Not quite a before/after, as the before shows all the loose old daubing removed- revealing the true level of disrepair that needed amending.
Cutting the expanded metal to fit the seams. Each seam is a different width, with tapering runs and all sorts of variety. I thought up this table-jig while staying under the covers this morning.
The table allows me to dial in the size so I can cut it out neat and easy with the jigsaw.
The metal runs are sproingy and sharp and eat a pair of gloves over the day.
Each seam is fitted with a run of expanded metal.
The screws squeeze the metal horizontally and vertically, if you play with the drive angle- making the fit extremely tight.
This Makita impact driver sets nearly 1000 screws on a single charge!
The yellow handled shears in their holster help fit the corners and adjust any wide spots.
The “invisible” seam up under the eve.
Two sides wired off!
Finding a way to drive the screw up into the vanishing undercurve of the logs was tough. I figured out a workaround half way through the final wall.
2/3 of the long wall remaining, but I’m getting stove-up and call it quits for the day.
I finish out the metal over the course of the morning, then set about cleaning up all the foam debris and old chinking.
In the afternoon I finally clean the packrattery off of the basement hoses, and hook one on to the house water down in the basement. Then I come up with my system for positioning all the mortaring equipment. Then I make some batches of mud.
Great Falls’ Home Depot doesn’t carry concrete dye. Are you frigging kidding me? On the way out of town we stop in at Ace Hardware- they have four little bottles of dye remaining, two brown and two buff (think orange-adobe). I’m mixing them together and hoping it is enough for the whole project. Getting the colors consistent will be a challenge. Not the color I’d planned, but anything is better than sidewalk gray.
One 80lb bag of S-type Mortar (Lyme, Concrete, Sand) did the first wall. I’m mixing the two bottles of buff to one bottle of brown, eyeballing it as I don’t have a container to mix them together. I’m hoping this covers it all. This isn’t working out too well, so I’ll have to just pour them all into an old coffee can or whatevs. Just in case, I’ll still have a bottle of brown and I’m waiting till last for the “invisible” seam under the eve’s, as well as the lowest run on each side.
If trying a new process, always start on the back side…the middle seams are a nice blend toward a Raw Sienna, and all the rest is brownish.
Sienna brown (lower) vs boring brown (upper). The day was sunny and mild, barely hitting 70, and tomorrow will be low 60’s (with overnight temps in the 40’s)- good temperatures for the mortar to cure out slowly and strong.
Sunday night stroll up the big hill. The smoke is gone and the sunset is clean and lovely.
I noticed this big fellow up on the hill after I cleaned up for the day. Lets zoom in.
With binocs you can see his yellow feet and impressive beak: Golden Eagle!
We head out for our sunset stroll after dinner and he is still there.
He doesn’t mind us walking by, but is gone upon our return.
Last of the sun on the high ridgeline and the colors start coming on. The first image is how things looked at their peak.
9-6pm project: foaming the Ice House in prep for expanded metal and mortar. The first lap is shooting deep into the creases.
First lap is finished.
Second stage is building up mass.
Third stage is hitting trouble spots and backfilling gaps.
As full as it can get, and a little bit more.
Spraying water first helps the foam to stick and to kick, then a mist after helps it to set.
Many caps for many spent bottles of foam.
After lunch I head in with a disk grinder / paint eater and clean the foam up, setting it at the correct angle/bevel from the upper log to the lower.
The foam dust sticks to everything.
Shop-vac blower comes in handy.
All foamed in and cleaned up. Ready for expanded metal and mortar.
I can see how it might come out now. Still a big lift remaining, but the momentum is rolling.
Daubing is all removed. There were a few areas of concrete behind the mortar. The mortar popped away from the concrete easily, and likely never bonded to it. Some of the concrete withstood the hammer drill, those are the areas of white still remaining.
After clearing all the daubing out, the logs got a nice wire brushing by hand, then vacuumed out. Then E helped me paint the whole outside with linseed/thinner. I’d hoped to use the paint gun, but after painting the barn, the 3-door garage, the grain shed, and the house, it could only move a little whisp of spray if I held it upside down. I took it all apart, cleaned it- though it was clean already- put it back together, and it ran the same. So, hand painting.
Prior to treating with the linseed solution, I removed most of the white paint from the front. I used an entire disk of the paint stripper and accomplished little, so switched out for my big 10-amp grinder with a massive cup wire-wheel. It takes the paint off fast with minimal effect to the wood, but is a bear to control- so I allowed that it would have an aged patina of paint in the deep recesses. Also, take a look at the door; gaps all the way around and the floor is collapsing at the threshold.
Pressure treated lumber over a cedar remnant fixes the threshold, and trim I’d brought up for the upstairs windows fills out the framing gaps.
The entrance is painted with two coats of spar-urethane.
Inside I’ve re-stacked the remaining 1/2 to 2/3 cord of wood in a traditional Germanic form of a big circle. This keeps wood stack away from the walls, lowering the nesting potential of critters and bugs. I’m foaming the inside seams, while the outside linseed treatment cures.
I’ll tidy this up when the outside is all finished.
The big roll of heavy plastic is for the root cellar/earthen basement, as the invading packrats (now blocked out?) chewed up and peed all over the plastic from a few years ago. First though, I noticed that the hurricane door touches the bedroom storm window, so a fix before I can even open the door to go down in the hole.
I cut two sections of PVC panel, just enough to capture the door at a thickness to spare the window.
A gap of an inch or less. Speaking of windows, on one of the horribly smokey days I went upstairs and finished all the windows with an oil-base primer coat and an acrylic enamel top coat. Then I mopped the floors- the half that I had never gotten around to. It is now a tidy empty upstairs with some plaster/lath issues, and encroaching ranch-gross.
I start with the hoses to drain the house water, all gross with packrat pee. Next I start filling the big black bag with the ruined plastic ground sheeting. Last time down here I pulled most of the ducting and dealt with the holes punched through the beams. I took out 10 gallons of yutz remaining from the hole-punching crew 70 years gone. With the floor raked smooth, I laid down the new vapor barrier of plastic over the damp ground.
All that redux cleaning and plastic was prep for the real job of insulating the house skirt / rim joist with rock-wool or mineral-wool. It is similar to the pink fiberglass stuff, but it is made of stone and doesn’t get wet while allowing moisture vapor to pass through (bonus, it is also bugproof, mouseproof, and fireproof) which makes it ideal for insulating down here as it won’t compromise the wood with trapped moisture.
It looks tidy now, first I filled the 16 gallon shop-vac with spider webs, packrat nests, and whatnot.
This is all under the kitchen and bathroom, and will protect all the pipes as well as making the upstairs exponentially warmer.
This N-95 mask. It blocked covid on every public outing since March 22 and was still looking pristine til last Sunday. That is when I cleaned the packrat nest out of the ceiling of the Ice House. Today it went down in the hole for more packrattery, then micro-fibers of insulation. It is now retired with honors.

Ice House: on the to-do list.
This is how things looked in July.
The daub (mortar with white paint) over chinking (wood fitted between the logs: all coming apart.
This is my giant 30 gallon feed bucket of packrat poo. I pulled nails from the walls and ceiling for awhile, and found a rotted ceiling Cants (these cants are sawmill cut remnants of cutting “Cant” lumber). The poo started raining down from the ceiling. The ceiling is made of log Cants (with bark still on for many), backed with planks. This makes the ceiling seem to be made of full logs, and has a nice undulation. The structural framing above the ceiling is narrow 8 inch diameter logs dropping down from the trans-beam to the walls, this creates a gap of 8 inches between the ceiling and the roof: about 4 inches of dirt is packed into the gap from 140 years of dust blowing around, and this critter nest- which spanned 4 Cants. The roof is heavy plank, topped with cedar shingles, then tar shingles, and now a steel roof.
I pulled the rotten cant. My dad had used the ice house to store household garbage over the winter, and the packrats had found the perfect living situation.
Before I cut away the ceiling cant, this giant pile of nest tumbled out with some encouragement.
I cut the cants and pushed out “nesting” from roof peak on down, spanning four cants.
The critters collected my dad’s little matchbooks.
Two Cants removed revealing the roofing planks above the Cant ceiling.
I brought up clear acrylic panel for a different idea, but I’ll fit it as a “window” to fill the hole and let some light in.
Hurt-em Hammer says Smash! No! Bad Hurt-em Hammer! Bad! Don’t make me put you back in the tool box and switch to Don’t Hurt-em Hammer (the old wooden handled hammer).
Hurt-em Hammer goes into a time-out, and I foam fill gaps.
Tidy.
Pulling the old remnants of electrical for the Ice House.
This ancient fire started at the ceiling light (now pulled).
The tails of the burned Cants have disintegrated.
All cleared out and ready for a fix.
8 inch lumber from old old old corral remnant.
Measure and cut, then fit and cut, and fit and cut, and it falls apart.
I search for another piece of lumber, there are none, so I make a fix. It fits.
On to (Woody Woopecker inspired) Ha Ha-ha HA-Ha Hammer- the spring hammer with a pick / axe. I found him 6 years ago at a going-out-of-business sale in a man-tool specialty-store in SLC; $5 well spent.
Would you like some aged mortar on your packraterry? Oh, please Yes!
Meanwhile, Cows. When we arrived Dave had the corral busy with cows, vaccinating this years calves. He was missing 13 pair and a bull. Today he headed out to find them, and after a long day far off the ranch in the neighboring lands, had most of them rounded up. A last pair are on the ranch, but in country too rough for ATV’s.
Heading into the corral.
Crossing the marsh / creek.
Worn out dogs and humans.
Our dim overcast of smoke from the entire West Coast.
Ha Ha-ha HA-Ha Hammer is a spastic brute!
I have enough arm left to shatter the pure plaster daubing on the end wall.
Now you can see the outside from the inside! The smoke really rolls in after this, and outside work will have to wait at least a day.
Our neighbor’s tree wound up in our yard and on the studio roof. 50 semis flipped, thousands of trees damaged and toppled, houses wrecked, power to be out for many for days. We got off easy.
I’ve just begun hauling the detritus to stage on the driveway.
All the plants on the porch are on the ground, some by wind, some by me.
My neighbor and I started piling his tree up, me from my yard and he from his.
Hanging limbs, shattered limbs, and one punched a hole through the roof of the studio, but luckily missed both skylights landing between them and punching a hole clear through just to the side. Glad it was just wind. It died down and I got up there and found the hole and patched it.