I Can See Now … the Pane is Gone
Island Voices, June 2024

I Can See Now … the Pane is Gone

By Seán Malone and John Sweetman

“Hey! That Western gray squirrel is back!”

And sure enough, that troublemaker was back pestering the Douglas squirrel, and we had a protective obligation to the native rodent versus the invasive Western gray bully type, that ate a lot of Seán’s birdseed for his wild birds, which the squirrels irritated and ran off. 

Seán dragged out the old BB gun and lobbed off a shot through a corner of the 3 x 3-foot glass pane that had pulled away from the frame. The BB traveled about as slow as last year’s mail, but ricocheted and the invader went back to chattering his irritation at us, while our little Douglas squirrel happily had his fill of bird seed.

The almost imperceptible recoil of the worn-out gun, however, caused the old glass in the deteriorating window to just fall out. The pane was so old that the glass had ripples in it, distorting our view of outer Quartermaster Harbor, where our secret crab fishing hole was. 

It was at John’s suggestion that Seán bought the log cabin on a half-acre of high-bank waterfront, overlooking outer Quartermaster Harbor, and moved from Ferry County to Vashon. The 500 square-foot log cabin was built about 1955 by Ole Anderson, a Vashon house builder and carpenter. The massive white chimney and fireplace were built from beach rock.

We used Seán’s white chimney and the pink house to triangulate where our secret crab hole was, in 90 feet of water, deep compared to other parts of the harbor. We had found 24 crabs in one trap. We reported the Dungeness crab over six inches. There was no limit to the size of the red rock crab and also no limit to how many we could catch. Though the red crab were generally small, both of us agreed that their meat was tastier than the Dungy.

“You think we ought to replace this window?” Seán asked.

From Seán: We’d discussed this work for a few years, as the large old window became more like a “trapezoid” than the conventional “square” shape. Several handymen had looked at it and disappeared without calling back.

“I think it’s a lot of work, but we have all summer, and if we work twice as slow, we could have it done before September.”

Since no one would do the job, John decided that we would do the job together, but would be sure to take longer lunch breaks than if we were working for wages for some wage tyrant. Thankfully, we were our own tyrants and adjusted our conditions to suit. I was able to pay John $25 per hour, though he was worth five times that much.

It turned out that the old log cabin beach house had serious rot in some structural elements. When it came time to make a decision, I was offered a demo plan that wasn’t up to stuff by our standards, and refused to fly it because it was too dangerous.

John dealt with each problem nicely, including what was said to be a “foundation.” We had to lift and replace several logs that had just rotted out and some needed splicing, as well. We turned to our background of “growing up on the beach,” and scavenged all kinds of driftwood. If you look closely at any old beach cabins, you will see how they were built many decades ago, using “found” items creatively. We had also scavenged items over the years from Loren at L&S Cedar, from the “free” box. 

While we were rebuilding the old wall and attempting to square things up, we had the old window out and decided to rebuild it. Like many other cabin parts, the window was likely salvaged from some long-ago industrial building, as it had antique joints and square headnails. In the meantime, we covered the open space with plastic, which at least kept the pesky squirrels out. 

John was the designer, and I helped with my limited carpentry skills. I built a wood frame for the missing window, which helped keep the wind and rain out. Due to lack of time, the window project took place from early June to early September.  

It turned out that we hadn’t used “square-headed” nails in this country since the 1860s, when we switched to wire nails. This cabin was built in 1955, which meant that some of its parts were older than dirt. The re-building of the front window cost $642 in materials. Labor was $1,525.

John spoke of the fun we had doing it, while I was amazed at the talent John had for creative solutions that made the window replacement such a complete success. 

The squirrels always looked at me askance. If they saw me carrying the BB gun toward the door or new window, they exploded off either end of the deck, chattering their displeasure. 

June 10, 2024

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