Saturday, September 9 2023
location: 800 feet west of Woodworth Lake, Fulton County, NY
I spent all of this morning installing Durock on the south foundation wall, a quarter of which I'd covered with styrofoam only in the past couple days. Since styrofoam doesn't like prolonged ultraviolet exposure, and since that exposure is greatest on south-facing surfaces, it seemed prudent to get it all covered up as quickly as possible. Most of the actual work ends up being making sure the pieces are set at the correct elevation against the underlying sheets of styrofoam, and to achieve this I used a system of precisely-set wooden blocks at the junctions between the pieces that, if they rested on them, would automatically be in the correct position. I also had to make a number of cuts, particularly for the one south-facing basement window. (I made one such cut on the wrong end, meaning I had to put that piece of Durock aside for a more appropriate location.)
As I've been working with Durock, I've noticed that, at least on the smooth side, it is a significantly softer material than Wonderboard (which it otherwise closely resembles, right down to the integrated mesh that gives it some tensile strength). Then I noticed that Durock is manufactured by USG, which I know to be "United States Gypsum." Did this mean it was actually made of gypsum? If so, that would account for its softness (gypsum is just one number harder on the mohs scale than talc, the famously softest mineral of all). If so, did that also mean that Durock is just glorified drywall? My feelings about drywall are not especiall positive; I view it as a necessary evil, the affordable way to quickly produce an interior wall that isn't too much trouble to repair. (Furthermore, it wasn't part of my life growing up, as my childhood home had interior walls made from a material similar to masonite.) But drywall is certainly not intended for exterior use. Was I foolish using Durock as a protective coating for the styrofoam? My only real "test" of materials for this purpose was cladding styrofoam on the outside of the greenhouse, where Wonderboard has held up great but where Hardiebacker (which contains internal fibers but no mesh) has failed. So I did some research on one of my Chromebooks and discovered that Durock is actually designed to be used in interior and exterior applications, whereas Wonderboard is only designed for interior applications. So perhaps it will be the Wonderboard that will be the first material covering the styrofoam to fail. This doesn't make me any happier about how soft the Durock is; I doubt it will hold up well against a weed wacker, for example. But Gretchen wants all this Durck to be painted somehow (ideally sage green, her favorite color), so perhaps a thin layer of harder material will make it last indefinitely. In any case, knowing Durock is designed to be used outside made me feel a lot better about the work I was doing. It also turns out that Durock is mostly made of portland cement (one of my favorite materials), though there is gypsum in there somewhere, probably on the smooth side (that's where the material feels and smells like drywall when it crumbles).
For adhesive, I've mostly been using Liquid Nails "Heavy Duty," which is supposedly approved for attaching styrofoam sheets. But it's the kind of adhesive that requires dry conditions and air exposure to cure, something that seems to happen slowly when trapped between Durock and a sheet of styrofoam. So today I experimented with Gorilla Glue to see how it performed with styrofoam. When saw that it didn't dissolve the foam, I realized it could be used as, at the minimum, a temporary adhesive (assuming it fails at some point in the future) to hold the Durock against the styrofoam until the Liquid Nails solidifies. So in attaching the Durock today, I interspersed lines of Gorilla Glue between lines of Liquid Nails, being careful to avoid mixing the two adhesives (who knows what that would do!). This will likely make it possible to more quickly remove the prop sticks holding the Durock in place, allowing me to use those props in other places. (The limited number of such props on hand, as well as their propensity to block access to other places along the foundation wall, are two of the biggest factors limiting how much Durock cladding I can install in a single weekend.)
Later this afternoon, I took advantage of all the surplus bandwidth by streaming a video on YouTube while I worked shifting soil around under the east decks, listening to the audio portion via bluetooth headphones. The video was one by "Thunderf00t" that thoroughly debunked the idea of direct atmospheric carbon capture to fight global warming, an idea we'd heard uncritically advanced on some pulic-radio-adjacent podcast Gretchen had played for us on the drive up to the cabin. (I'd sensed that it must be greenwashing, but I wasn't sure exactly how, though I had a feeling Thunderf00t had said something about it.) It turns out that the problem with carbon dioxide sequestration, even the kind done the easiest way possible (directly from the smokestacks, where it is much easier to do than from the atmosphere, where it is vastly more dilute) required about the same amount of trouble and expense to put back into the ground as it took to remove it in the first place, and since the expense of removing it largely dictates the cost of energy, sequestering it essential doubles that expense. So nobody is ever going to pay to sequester carbon dioxide at any scale larger than the tiny demos typical of greenwashing hype. Meanwhile, the work I was doing was to fill the south end of the ditch along the east foundation wall up to a height that will ultimately allow me to install two sheets of Durock in the landscape orientation (three feet tall by five feet wide). All the other sheets of material covering the east foundation wall were installed in the portrait orientation so as to provide deeper protection to the wall where the ditch will be permanent.
Later I installed a single additional sheet of Durock on the foundation's west wall. This one required no cutting, but I had to do a fair amount of digging, as it seems I've put too much backfill against the styrofoam. As I was doing this, Gretchen headed off for a walk out towards Woodworth Lake. She didn't tell me where she was going; all she did was smile at me, so I assumed she'd be back soon.
But Gretchen wasn't back soon. At some point I walked out to Woodworth Lake Road to see if I could find her, but when I got to it, there was no way I could tell whether she'd gone towards or away from the lake. So I went back home. I eventually fixed myself a drink, left a note for Gretchen saying I'd fed the dogs and was going to the lake. And then I did precisely that. Down at the lake, I salvaged some more rock off the lake shore a little north of our dock (that is, not quite in the outflow bay). I then used a crow bar to level a massive boulder (it had to weigh at least 600 pounds) about fifty feet up the trail. Initially the plan was to make this boulder into the basis for another run of stone steps. But the landscape there doesn't really need any steps, so perhaps I'll use it as a plinth for an elaborate cairn instead.
Between the rocks I've been working with to make stone steps near the dock and the rocks I've been using to even out the top of the retaining wall behind the cabin, I've been really enjoying the process of gathering and stacking rocks. I don't know if it's a primal reaction to being laid off from a high tech job or if it reflects an essential nature of my personality that has definitely come to the surface in the past. But, for now at least, I love rocks, and I love stacking them in ways both useful and purely æsthetic.
Back at the cabin, dusk was quickly turning into darkness, and Gretchen (who had set off on foot more than three hours ago) still hadn't returned. The note I'd left for her was still on the cabin's front entrance steps. So again I walked out to Woodworth Lake Road and again I didn't know which way to go look for her. Back at the cabin, I did a complete search for any place she might be napping, and they all came up empty. So I loaded up the dogs (who seemed to have their own concerns) into the Bolt and drove out the driveway. As I was arriving at Woodworth Lake Road, I saw Gretchen walking like a zombie from the west (that is, she was coming from the part of the road that goes away from Woodworth Lake). I rolled down my windows, and she burst into tears. At the time I was feeling relief, but I was also feeling anger. Why had she gone off and disappeared so long without telling me where she was going? Did she not care about me? She said that she'd been lost, but that wasn't good enough for me. How had she gotten herself lost? Why hadn't she taken her phone? "I knew you were going to be this way about it!" Gretchen protested amid sobs. And she didn't answer me. She pleaded with me to be nice and understanding, but all I could must was to be quiet. I drove us back to the cabin and Gretchen proceeded to hose off her legs. She'd set out with flip flops, which had apparently not been suitable for the terrain she'd ended up in, which included a lot of sticky mud, which now covered her legs below her knees. She said she'd done a lot of the walking she'd been doing completely barefoot, though somehow she only had one small injury on one foot.
Gretchen still wasn't satisfying my desire to know what had happened. She mixed together various fruit drinks from the refrigerator to make herself a means to rehydrate (she hadn't had any water in the whole time she'd been out) and then climbed in the shower to wash away the rest of the mud while I sat there in the great room not really knowing what to do with myself. I was angry, but I was also extremely curious. What I wasn't feeling was a whole lot of sympathy for some reason. I felt like Gretchen should know her own limits better than this.
After Gretchen had dried herself off and taken a xanax, she sat down on the great room couch and proceeded to tell me what had happened. She said she'd walked west on Woodworth Lake Road down to a parcel just northeast of the northeast end of Hines Pond, where a realtor who is part of the homeowners' association is selling the parcel of another association member. Gretchen thought she'd walk up the driveway (43.113140N, 74.349687W) to see what what exactly was being sold. At the end of the driveway, she found a house that must've been off-grid, because it included an array of solar panels. These were "redneck style," evidently a makeshift solution to some redneck problem. After seeing that, Gretchen then made a fateful mistake. She decided to continue her exploring by heading up a trail to the west. It ended up at a clearing in the forest. At this point Gretchen might not've been lost, but her decision to do the next thing was certainly ill-advised: she thought that if she continued "east" from the clearing, she'd get to the radio tower not far from our cabin. But that radio tower is to the northeast; if one goes east from that clearing (which seems to be the one at 43.112700N, 74.344529W, one ends up in what I explained to Gretchen is "unbounded wilderness." Unlike, say, the wilderness between our cabin and Lake Edward, which is bounded by Lake Edward, Woodworth Lake Road, the creek connecting Woodworth Lake to Lake Edward, and Route 309, the wilderness Gretchen was entering extends unbroken for many miles in some directions. It would be possible in this wilderness to hike northeastward all the way to Route 30 along the Sacandaga River (nearly twelve miles away) and never cross another road. But it gets worse than that; if one loses all sense of direction, which happened to Gretchen when the sun vanished behind the trees, then it's possible to walk endlessly in circles without making any progress in any direction. So Gretchen found herself following various logging roads, assuming they'd take her out of the wilderness, only to discover that they suddenly stopped and she'd have to backtrack or (worse) cut through unbroken wilderness on her misguided intuition. Logging is a chaotic process, and the resulting "roads" end up being a lot more like a labyrinth than a suburban grid or even a dendritic pattern. And, as I said, what little sense of direction Gretchen had, she was misapplying. The smartest thing to do would have been to go north, where, inevitably, she would've made it to Woodworth Lake Road. But something in her head was stuck on the idea of going east. When that failed after hours of walking, she tried to head back, only to find she really hadn't made any progress at all. It was only after darkness began to fall that she saw lights in the distance, and it turned out those lights belonged to the house that is on the real estate market, the one that she'd left Woodworth Lake Road to investigate in the first place. (The problem that the solar panels were there to solve turned out to be one of illumination. Theres's nothing more redneck that buying a bunch of solar panels just so you can run an outdoor light all night!) About ten or twenty minutes later, Gretchen found her way to our driveway, where I was just arriving in the Chevy Bolt. She said she'd been convinced for much of her walk that she'd end up spending the night in the woods, much like Ramona had done back in the summer of 2018 in another part of the Adirondacks. But there was nothing in her environment that she knew how to eat and the water was suspect as well. Perhaps, she'd thought, she could hold out until rescuers sent helicopters. But that might take a couple days. "I might die here!" she found herself saying out loud. She said she did a lot of talking out loud, as well as screaming in hopes that, if I was out looking for her, I might hear. But how would that have happened? She was hiking in circles a good thousand feet southeast of Woodworth Lake Road and hadn't given me any sense of where to look for her.
At some point I asked if there was any lesson learned from this experience so that it wouldn't happen again. (After all, she'd gotten badly lost once before, back in 2003 or near our house in Hurley in decidedly well-bounded wilderness.) Gretchen didn't like this line of questioning, saying I was treating her like a child. But I'm a very practical person, and her wandering into unbounded wilderness is a very real danger. She did say at several points that she'd never stray from her usual trails or Woodworth Lake without her phone, which made me feel a little better. But I'd feel even better if I can convince her to put a waterproof compass on her watchband, since she already wears a watch.
Gretchen ended the evening by watching a cute Hulu drama on one of the Chromebooks, and I drank a couple boozy drinks and climbed into bed.
A monarch butterfly on white snakeroot, seen on my first walk out to Woodworth Lake Road looking for Gretchen.
Click to enlarge.
A milkweed tussock moth caterpillar on milkweed, seen on my first walk out to Woodworth Lake Road looking for Gretchen.
Click to enlarge.
The steps I've been working on above the dock a little before dusk this evening. Note the black lake sand I've used as mortar. You can also see that big rock I leveled with the crow bar near the top of the photo.
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