Sometimes you have to work for a merry Christmas. Let me tell you.

This was the view from the Nuthatch cabin’s front window the morning of December 20. The railing was snow-free only because ravenous birds mobbing the feeder had knocked it clear.

ALEXANDER, THE GRUMPY BOY from a well-known 1972 children’s book, would likely agree:

This has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad December in the San Juan Islands.

A week ago Monday night, it snowed and snowed, then snowed some more. Enough to snowshoe on. Skis would have been great. Tromping around the island, as my boots sank deep, I got twice the normal exercise.

Then it froze and froze, then froze harder. The snow never melted. My firewood pile sank quickly.

Daughter Lillian, who lives in Seattle, and I had long ago planned Christmas at a little camping-cabin at Camano Island State Park, a pretty spot halfway between us, reachable by a bridge from the mainland. The trip required only an hour of driving for each of us.

Our Christmas cabin on Camano Island.

Happily — even Alexander would have been optimistic — the National Weather Service assured us that a warming trend would arrive two days before Christmas. Presumably, rain would wash away the snow and ease any travel worries. Our plans were golden. I’d catch a water taxi on the late morning of Christmas Eve and Lil and I would meet up in time for the 4 p.m. check-in time, ready to whirl our way around the little cabin, trimming it with lights, baubles and bows.

Though snowy and cold, the week was going well. I’d hosted a pleasant happy hour for neighbors on the solstice. Then, Thursday at 1:09 p.m., my water-taxi service texted to tell me that they expected to cancel every trip on Christmas Eve. The forecast called for winds exceeding 50 mph, rendering the voyage unsafe. Even Santa might get blown off course.

Rebook your trip for Friday, the Paraclete Charters folks urged.

Panic ensued. Staging a portable Christmas with many of the favorite family decorations and dishes — the Santa-and-reindeer light string, the Christmas Spode, etc. — entailed hours of careful packing. I’d been counting on a full day of prep on Friday.

I would also now need a place to stay Friday night on the mainland.

Shamelessly, I phoned my next-door neighbor, the Mad Birder, and “invited myself ” to crash with my sleeping bag on his sofa at the La Conner home he shares with his wife, Carol. They had boated over to Center Island the previous week, to stay through Christmas at their cabin.

The Mad Birder, generous by nature, put up little resistance. He also agreed to look in on Galley Cat, who would be home alone for a couple nights. (Someone else had nabbed the one Camano cabin that allowed pets.) By late afternoon, it seemed that I (with help from the M.B.) had risen to the challenges the islands were throwing at me this Yuletide. I would get the Paraclete’s final Friday sailing, by which time the snow would have mostly melted away. So the plan went.

Then, at 4:45 p.m. Thursday, just as I was thinking about dinner prep, the lights went out.

My meal that night was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Your correspondent with Christmas dinner in the works: stovetop Shepherd’s Pie, with Brussels sprouts, spiced with fresh air.

Usually these outages are localized and fairly quickly resolved. But a call to our power cooperative informed me that the outage was countywide, caused by a system failure on the mainland. Uh-oh. That meant fixing it was up to Puget Sound Energy and Bonneville Power Administration, rather than our quick-responding, owner-operated Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (OPALCO). Our islands don’t always top the priority list for Puget Sound Energy, owned primarily by Canadian investors.

A recorded message said the power might be out at least four hours. Outside temperatures were in the low 20s. It would be a very cold night. After I’d risen every hour on the hour to stoke a fire in the woodstove, my lights came back on 13 hours later, at 6 a.m. Friday. I could cook again, but I was bleary eyed at the start of a very long day.

Friday didn’t warm up nearly as much as forecast. By the time I needed to head for the dock with my food, gifts, decorations, camping gear and warm clothing, eight inches of snow remained on the ground. The gravel roads were still coated in compact snow and ice. No traction for my golf cart or a community pickup truck, so I loaded baggage into my pushcart and trudged slowly across the island, 3/4 of a mile through freezing rain and light snow. Two trips, the last one in the dark. I really didn’t want to cancel Christmas with my daughter.

Happily, roads in Anacortes and the Skagit Valley had almost completely thawed. I made it to La Conner with barely a hitch. The only place I got stuck was trying to pull into my friends’ driveway, still a solid mass of snow. Luckily, I’d brought a shovel.

Our Christmas dinner table at the Camano cabin included prize-packed crackers, a fixture inspired by my late wife Barbara’s Australian upbringing.

At 8 p.m., I sat down to the sack dinner I’d brought. In a phone call to let the Mad Birder know I’d made it, he insisted I raid his liquor cupboard for a tot of Glenfiddich. This time, it was I who put up little resistance. If there’s a heaven, that man is going there.

The next day, Christmas Eve, Lillian and I made our rendezvous at the Camano cabin. It was basic, but cozy, with lights, heat, a fridge, a microwave oven and comfy beds. I set up my propane camp stove on a picnic table under the covered porch. Bathrooms and hot showers were 100 feet away.

We made the place festive, gathering fallen fir boughs for a window-sill vase and a swag on the door. Lights went up in a window and over the door. If there had been a hall, we’d have decked it. Heirloom treasures made for a holiday dinner table fancier than that place had ever seen, I’ll wager. I was glad to have trundled the Cantwell holiday trappings through the snow.

Meanwhile, I discovered that the San Juans had lost power again that morning. My kind neighbors were again sitting in the dark. Happily, power came back on just in time for their Christmas Eve dinner.

Christmas Day, my daughter and I breakfasted on almond-flour blueberry pancakes. We hiked through rain-washed woods to wander the beautiful cobbled beach, returning to the Christmas cabin to lunch on Stilton and Cotswold Double Gloucester cheeses on crackers while piecing together a new jigsaw puzzle. We played new board games before and after a savory dinner of camp-stove shepherd’s pie, which Lillian totally aced.

Your correspondent, left, and daughter in their Christmas crowns.

My dessert, Bûche de Noël, baked at home just before the power failed, was, um, a mixed success. The sponge was basically a failure — chewy and tough rather than airy and light. But if you smothered mocha-flavored whipped cream on cardboard, it would still be heavenly.

So, after all, in the end, the terrible December got better. The horrible weather didn’t defeat us. Christmas turned out more good than no good. And even my very bad dessert was tasty.

Is there a moral to the story? I guess it’s this: Let’s nurture resilience and hope. Let’s meet the challenges. Let’s trundle through the storms, no matter what 2023 throws our way. Happy new year, friends. And remember to bring your shovel.

Winter winds had wreaked havoc in the woods at Camano Island. The fang-like splinters inspired Lillian to dub this the dragon tree.

Melting snow for the toilet, saving Annas, and other winter fun

A well-chilled hummingbird returns to my feeder shortly after fresh, warm sugar-water replaced the solid block of ice last week.

IT’S 50 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT OUTSIDE, MY TOILET FLUSHES WITHOUT HAND-PRIMING and my hummingbird feeder isn’t freezing solid every few hours.

These are luxuries one comes to appreciate.

Last we visited, my neighbors’ pipes were iced up but all was well at the Nuthatch. However, on the coldest days I watched through my kitchen window as our overwintering Anna’s Hummingbirds were frustrated in efforts to find nourishment from the feeder that had turned to solid ice. My soft heart breaking, twice a day I brought in the feeder and replaced the ice with fresh, warm sugar-water.

But on the day before New Year’s Eve, the hummingbirds weren’t the only ones frozen out. After a wind-chilled week when outdoor temperatures topped out between 15 and 25 degrees, Center Island’s community water system succumbed to the shivers. Buried pipes and various other parts of our reverse-osmosis supply system froze up. In the space of a couple hours the output from my kitchen and bathroom faucets turned from a trickle to nothing.

Our water guru, Sean, confirmed via an email blast that the outage was island-wide. He offered an apologetic explanation that boiled down to this: The solution was up to the weather gods, not the water guru. We just needed warmth. Patience would be key.

Taking the “toilet tank is half full” view, there was good news: I had long ago stored two 5-gallon plastic jugs, filled with emergency water, on my back porch. I brought them inside to thaw. And somehow water was still flowing at our community clubhouse, about a half-mile from me. That blessing was mixed: As a caution against exhausting the water supply the caretaker had closed the shower and laundry room.

We also had a few inches of snow on the ground, which wasn’t melting. A good source of more emergency water, even if it needed to be boiled, I told myself. The blood of my homesteading pioneer ancestors surged through my veins.

But my South Dakota grandparents’ weary genetic material failed to remind me that when you fill a giant pasta pot with snow from the deck and melt it atop the woodstove, you end up with only about 2 inches of water in the bottom of the pot. Speckled with dirt and floating fir needles, it was good only for toilet flushing.

With a toilet that uses 1.6 gallons per flush, that didn’t accomplish anything fast. After a few melted potfuls I, uh, flushed away that strategy.

The long and short of it was that after four days of no showering, infrequent flushing and more than one trek across the island to refill my water jugs amid frigid winds gusting to 50 mph, I texted the water taxi, packed up Galley Cat and bugged out last Monday like a MASH unit fleeing advancing troops.

Here’s where good friends are a wonderful thing.

Lynn, a former Seattle Times colleague, and her husband, David, had earlier invited me to their Lopez Island vacation home for a brunch. With a little hint-dropping on my part and typical generosity from Lynn and David, that turned into an overnight visit, including two delightful hikes (the sun came out!) on beautiful Iceberg Point, with panoramic views of the wintry Olympics and thrashing waves off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The gamboling accompaniment of their highly energetic Springer spaniel pup added joy.

The next day I drove Ranger Rick, my reliable teenaged pickup, to the far end of Lopez, parked in the 72-hour lot and toddled aboard the state ferry to Friday Harbor (fare-free for interisland walk-ons). I carried Galley in a soft-sided carrier slung over my shoulder, with all my cat supplies, clothes and other gear packed in a Rubbermaid tote strapped to a hand truck for easy rolling on and off the ferry. The kitty cat and I planned a couple nights with Barbara Marrett and Bill Watson, partners in my upcoming voyage up the Inside Passage to Alaska. We would further plan our 10-week itinerary, which begins Memorial Day weekend.

We buckled down and did a lot of studying of charts and guidebooks, filling out a detailed spreadsheet of where we hoped to visit. We also found time for hikes, a fun board game, good food and an evening binge-watch about Vikings invading medieval Britain.

Looking down from a wintry hike up Young Hill, in San Juan Island National Historical Park, as snow began to fall Wednesday on San Juan Island.

I had planned to return home Thursday. The National Weather Service predicted up to an inch of snow Wednesday night for Friday Harbor but with rapid warming and rain the next day. Didn’t sound like a problem.

We awakened Thursday to 5 inches of wet snow. Beautiful but not travel-friendly. My hosts kindly put me up another night.

Galley and I have been back at the Nuthatch since Friday. Glad to have hot showers and a flushing toilet. Still drinking bottled water until Sean gives the all-clear on the latest water-sample test, but that’s a mere hiccup among this feast of creature comforts.

Maybe it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of our good fortunes once in a while, whether we’re hummingbird or human. Stay warm, friends.