Monday, October 25, 2010

Progress in Pictures

Since my mother wrote that gorgeous account, I don't really have much to add. Except we got the space for the winter garden clear (yay!), we started tilling and broke ground (and the tiller - warranty will fix it, yay!), we went to the Triad Farmer's Market in Greensboro (yay!), and have continued to work our butts off (literally. I went down a pantsize - yay!). Without further ado, the pictures:

All cut by pole saw. Woot.

Lake Cammack

Lake Cammack

Lake Cammack

Lake Cammack

Winter garden site

Ground has been broken!

Plant starts that will go in my winter garden if it ever gets tilled all the way. Otherwise they'll be grown in containers in front of the camper and harvested when it frosts (instead of covered as is the current plan)

Courtesy of the farmer's market. Woot.

Sandy Creek made by Goat Lady Dairy, and even better than my beloved Humboldt Fog

Purple Cherokee tomato and Sandy Creek goat cheese, olive oil, black pepper. Awesome.

Guest Post: Mom's POV

My mother writes amazing accounts of all that we have been doing out here and emails them out to a select group of people. Her point of view is so similar yet different from mine - and her writing is beautiful. I finally harassed her into letting me post her most recent account and I hope to post more in the future. Enjoy!

Caitlin and I continue to forge ahead on projects and make progress: I have felled my first (second, third, fourth and fifth as well) tree with the chainsaw since I last wrote--something I’ve watched a couple of men in my life do countless times but had never actually done myself; we bought a rototiller and have actually broken our first ground with it in a sunny flat-ish area behind the trailer where we hope to have a winter garden; we completed clearing the access for the electricity to be brought in during a two-day marathon of Eric, Caitlin and me wielding chainsaw, pole saw, bow saw and clippers; and the beautiful shed that we bought has been delivered, fitted with pegboards and organized by Caitlin and me, and wired to receive said electricity, when it finally makes it here, by an electrician friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. We expect the work order for the electricity to go out today and our wonderful electric company contact who came out to mark the route for her guys who will bury the electric lines seems to think that the work will be done in three weeks (she also complimented us on how well we had cleared out the access path. Apparently, they tell people that they need a 10’ x 10’ x 10’ swath so that they can expect to get an 8’ space that they can squeeze their massive machine through—silly us! We figured if they asked for 10’, we should be sure it was at least 11’ or 12’!).

A local company came out to take a look at the well and measured it at about 46’—fairly shallow for a well around here. What seems to be crucial is its rate of flow, that is, how fast it refills once you’ve taken water out of it. We made our first attempt to determine that with fishing line, weight, float, watch and bucket, measuring the height of the well by lowering down a line with a weight and a float, drawing up a couple gallons of water, measuring the height again after we did that, and timing how long it took for the height to return to where it was before we took out the water. Our first attempt was highly unreliable (the line was too stretchy and too thin); we’ll give it another go today. It’s fairly crucial to be sure that the well refills quickly enough if it is to be used to supply a house; stay tuned…

We are now officially supplied with propane: a local company brought out a big tank for us and will fill it for us as needed. We have not abandoned cooking over the fire outside—that just tastes too good to give up, and we still use the camp stove outside for those greasy sausage-and-bacon-and-eggs breakfasts that are really hard to clean up without running water, preferably hot, but it is nice to make the morning coffee on the propane stove inside on these increasingly crisp mornings.

Caitlin and I also built what we have lovingly come to call the Leaning Tower of Compost: a simple pole-and-chicken wire, three-sided cage in which to keep our compost. Well, the weather has been so dry that the ground was really hard and pounding the poles into the ground in any semblance of squareness proved beyond our abilities. Luckily, compost isn’t fussy. We had better luck with the structural integrity of our wood pile—now that the urgent clearing is done, we are cutting up the long trunks Eric (and I) felled into burnable-sized pieces. That will be a long job, considering the number of trees we’ve cut down, but we’ve got a formidable pile begun already, which will spend the next year or so drying and becoming firewood, possibly for Caitlin’s wood-burning oven (not yet built…)

A couple other projects involve re-using things we are finding on the land. Eric’s grandfather, and unknown relatives, friends and likely strangers as well since, used this land to hang out, drink beer, fish, hunt, whathaveyou. It wasn’t the precious piece of woods and fields to them that it is to us; it was a functional sort of thing, and, as such, they felt no compunctions, apparently, about throwing cans and bottles over their shoulders and walking away from them. So, we’ve been doing a fair amount of clean up as we walk through the acreage. The intact bottles we’ve been keeping for a project Caitlin has in mind (again, stay tuned) and so we’ve amassed quite a few of them. The other day we bought a stopper with a tube that could be used to make a hummingbird feeder and we cleaned up one of the dark amber bottles for that purpose (turned out to be from Canadian whiskey!). Granddaddy had also had a thriving office supply business, which included selling metal filing cabinets. Apparently, not all of them sold so well, and a number of drawers ended up strewn across the property, for what reason or purpose I have no idea. Some are crumpled, most are half-filled with decades of drifting leaf mold and invading roots, and all are rusty, and I’ve been digging them out and piling them up to go to the dump (had to cut a 4” cedar out of the middle of one of them yesterday to get it out!). However, the drawers that are still vaguely square will find a new life purpose: they will be the containers for our first gardening venture. Caitlin figured it would be a good idea to start out gardening in containers, so, while we have been tilling the ground where the containers will go, to give the roots a place to go once they hit the (rusted-out and thus bottomless) bottom of the file drawers, the sides of the drawers will contain the dirt for the raised-bed. (I felt a bit like an archeologist today as I sorted through the old, old junk piles: found an old bicycle basket, sardine tins, cider jugs, scotch bottles, beer cans (Bud), a fishing line spool, a ceramic flower pot, innumerable coffee cans and a small can decorated with wildly un-PC drawings of blacks and Chinese people in agricultural settings.)

It isn’t all work around here—scoping out our pond for possible swimming the other day (that will require a dock, I think—both of us are reluctant, even on the hot days, to wade in through the murky mud of the shoreline), we saw a bald eagle soaring overhead, something of a surprise to me, growing up in a Midwest where they had been extremely rare. Just the other night I walked down to the edge of the lake to watch the full moon rise, and, right on cue, a screech owl, well, “screeched” really does say it all, overhead. We have a “nature shelf” that houses at the moment, a black and white and brilliant blue bluejay feather, a perfectly preserved, stark white small animal skull (possum? It was lying on the ground with its teeth in position, but they all fell out when we picked it up—Caitlin has since glued them back in), a large chunk of clear and pink quartz—the first rock encountered by the tiller in the winter garden, a slice from the slim trunk of a small cedar I cut down (the core wood is a beautiful purple), and—today’s find—the dried 10” carapace from a turtle of some sort. Birds are abundant (yes, I know I mentioned before how the eastern bird calls are viscerally familiar from my childhood; unfortunately, the conscious recalling of their names has not survived the aging process as well—so, I have some re-learning to do there!), and Zora (Caitlin’s long, large, black shepherd) bounds off into the woods barking madly at squirrels and probably deer (which we’ve also seen in our meadow) and certainly at falling leaves and pinecones ten and twenty times a day. I also saw a snake once—yes, right in the area where we had been cutting trees, and yes, it was a copperhead, a poisonous one. He was headed away from the trailer, which I took to be a good sign (and which was actually just lucky, because, though I made loud noises and banged things in his/her vicinity, I had absolutely no effect on his/her trajectory…).

We’ve also taken time for fun off the property. Our first social venture was wonderfully fortuitous: the artists in our county recently formed an association and were having their first county-wide studio tour last weekend. Turned out that one of the artist’s studio was on our barely-a-mile-long road. We went to her home/studio, where she had a number of other visitors and a lovely spread of wine, cheese, etc. We introduced ourselves and told her that we had recently moved in down the road. “Which house?’ “Well, we don’t actually have a house yet; we’re living in a 1974 Airstream until we can build one.” “Oh! We lived in a 1976 Airstream while we build this house!” [which, by the way, was a lovely house with a sweeping view of the glittering lake] “Where is the property?” When we tried to explain, she thought about it and asked us if we were next to “the old Cammack property.” When we told her it WAS the “old Cammack property,” she was delighted and announced the arrival of “Mr. Cammack’s great-granddaughter” [Caitlin] to the whole room, which happened to be filled with neighbors from all along the road. We had a lovely time getting to know them, and hearing warm stories about Granddaddy, who had visited each one of them years ago when he laid the groundwork for building the city reservoir that is now the lake that all our lands lie along (and which actually bears his name). (The art was wonderful, too, and the people we met were smart and funny and loyal to the lake community, which seems to select for people who value the quiet, the beauty and the integrity of the lake and its surroundings. Oh, and Yankees seem to be present in North Carolina at about the same rate that Americans are present in Vancouver, i.e., a pretty large presence!)

We also went to the North Carolina State Fair—I love state and county fairs and haven’t been to one since I was a kid. We walked through every animal barn and vegetable exhibit, ate corn dogs and elephant ears and corn on the cob (I swear they marinated that in sugar water before they roasted it), listened to a passable bluegrass band, marveled at the garden exhibits, and strolled through the old-timey grist mill, tobacco barn, blacksmith, etc. But you can tell that we’re old and responsible; we left the fair neither drunk nor sick to our stomachs!

And yesterday we went to the Farmers’ Market. Apparently, there is one in Burlington (20 minutes away), but it’s over for the season, so we had to go to the bigger one in Greensboro (one hour away). We HAD to go—yes, we are living in farming country, but it is primarily industrial farming; most farms do not grow produce for local consumption. There are a few small organic farms, but not enough, and there is not enough demand, to support a year-round farmers’ market, for instance. We’ve found the vegetables in regular grocery stores here to be low quality and expensive--I miss the vegetable markets of Vancouver!

Time to sign off and get to the day. Hope your day is satisfying and fun.

Friday, October 22, 2010

State Fair!

My mom and I took a day off from the daily grind of chainsawing and stacking (report to come!), and we spent an afternoon at the NC state fair. My mom, having lived outside of the US for 25 or so years of her adult life, has not been to a state fair in AGES. To say that we had fun would be an understatement. We had OODLES of fun!

As usual, food was a big factor for me, but we went right after lunch and so we only ate: corn dogs, (an) elephant ear, and ears of roasted corn. Also fresh lemonade. We did not delve into the deep-fried candy bars, deep fried mac and cheese, pig lickers (chocolate covered bacon), or the funnel cakes, cotton candy, giant turkey drum stick related food adventures. All of the pictures of me eating things are obscene and or obnoxious, and so I'll just leave you with the following images:

Donkey Butts!

Baby Donkey!

All of the sections of the flower and garden show were sponsored by some nursery or other. However, for some reason plastic flamingos invaded this particular plot....

I want this chair.

Behind the blacksmith's was a lonely little tobacco plant.... I kind of wanted to take it home with me....

Did I take any pictures of the vendors, attractions, rides, people, craziness in general? No. I like to focus on the little things :)

It's back to the grindstone as of today - and progress is being made! Woot!

Update on winter garden plot soon.....

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Winter Garden!

OK. Not really. Not yet anyway. BUT. I got a spot scoped out that is mostly clear and gets great light in the winter. It is also close to the camper, mostly level with a slight slope, and next to the small pond on the property. Also close to the future house site, and not far from the small field, which is next to the big field.

I am becoming painfully aware of the need for a map or something. Think of it as something to look forward to.

This little spot will be my winter garden! It will be! Watch me!

My mother and I have been trying to get the spot all the way clear - which was really just 4 trees and some bushy grass (like the only grass on the property, and why I now it'll get enough light and moisture for a garden). Sounds easy, right? 4 trees and some grass? We're on day two. And we're not done.

I messed up the angle of the cut, the top branches got caught and the damn thing hopped and remained upright. What am I talking about? That tree on the left has actually been liberated from its stump, which is just to the right of it.

The Beast TRIED to come to the rescue. After a while we realized that the winch cable would actually reach all the way into our little grove here. We got that sucker down pronto.

But nature is helping us out today - it is raining and the ground was so hard I knew there was no way the tiller would do anything to it the way it was. Hopefully this water will soak in enough to loosen it up a bit. Please? *commence wishful thinking*

My plan is to clear and till as much as the area as I can to try to prevent some of the inevitable shrubs and vines that'll come in full force this spring and summer. We have filing drawers all over the property left there by my great-grandfather that have gotten all rusty and lost their bottoms - and I plan on using them to retain my plants. The ground will be tilled under them giving the roots somewhere to go. A kind of semi-container, if you will. Plus it keeps them out of the landfill and keeps me from having to build proper raised beds this year. We've got so much on our plates I need all the help I can get!

Inchworm rescued from being felled with the tree. It was uber cute.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Neverending Tree Clearing

So.... the past few days (OK, I did take the weekend off. Which was awesome. 2 days of play and rest!) have been nothing but tree clearing. We still have massive amounts of thinning we have to do to maintain the health of the trees we have (40 acres of overgrown trees is a LOT!), but have been mainly focusing on getting the 600ft of service path cleared for our electric line. I *think* (I hope I hope!) we're mostly there, and can take a mini break from massive tree genocide. We did zigzag the path a little bit to avoid the big trees and did our best to get all the other dead trees out at the same time. All in all pretty proud of us!

To get the truck over there, my dad just drove over the trees. Because The Beast can do that (and boy do I wish I had it on video!!)

Dad operating the winch. Notice the cigarette-laden loving hand on the hood of the truck....

Our driveway pretty much looks like this up and down the way....

Next up: take all those felled trees and trim them down to firewood size and get stacking!

Thursday, October 14, 2010


The past few days have been a whirlwind. To say the lest. Clearing, Dad coming back to join the workforce after a 4 day absence, shed delivery, well depth measuring, rickety compost container construction, shopping, shopping, shopping..... The fun out at Stoney Haw never ever ceases.

Possibly the most exciting event of the week was getting that shed delivered. We've had it for a whopping 24hours now, and it has already weathered a thunderstorm and many a brag-laden tour just beautifully. We got it from a local(ish) company* located in Yanceyville, about 21 or 22 miles north of where we are. I guess that it used to be a thriving Amish community and has always had a very solid bunch of shed makers, etc, there. Alas the Amish community has weakened there, but good shed builders are still doing business. Lucky for us!

Getting the shed in the drive was a much easier process than the trailer....which you would think would cut down on the fun factor, but amazingly didn't :) It took just the one truck and maybe 20 minutes to get it all in (once we went and got the blocks we didn't have to put it on....). We love it. We put all of our equipment in it pronto - and a good thing too, as the sky opened up at about 4am this morning and unloaded about 2 inches of rain on us in under an hour. I haven't been in thunder and lightening since before I moved out to California 8 years ago, and Zora has never heard thunder! But our beloved tin can proved to be watertight, as did our shed - and we are literally (still) happy campers.

The turn and back down the drive process was so totally NOT a problem this time. Yay!

My cousin, dad, and the dogs look on in approval.

Conveniently located in front of the airstream. But now no one gleams at me as I pull into the driveway at night :(

Another coup this week was getting the path for the power line that mostly my mom and I cleared while my Dad was in the north white flagged by the energy company. Now we just have to get one more 100 ft or so stretch cleared by about midweek tomorrow and then we sit and wait for the tractor to come in and lay and bury our power lines. Yay!

These little guys everywhere are a GOOD thing.

Power also means running water - finally! Pulling water up hand over hand is all very well and fine, but I'll be happy to have a pump doing that for me. And getting a pump and tank is next on the list! After the well pump there's no stopping me. I will have running water, hot water, a SHOWER (not that I don't love our solar shower, but it's not excruciatingly hot everyday anymore...). It's gonna be awesome.

Meanwhile fall is falling in full blown force here - this week is supposed to cruise through in the 70's - a far cry from the 95 degree days we were having while doing aforementioned clearing. And you can't look in any one direction without seeing something of astonishing beauty out on the property. We have been working hard and going to bed exhausted everyday - and it is so goddamn worth it just to get the few breathtaking moments a day that catch me by surprise every single time.

These guys stand at the entrance to the property as you come in my driveway. Those are grapevines, btw.

Yeah - even the poison ivy is gorgeous this time of year.

Zora taking an afternoon dip in the lake.

A great spot to drink your morning coffee :)

*we bought our shed from Carolina Sheds in Yanceyville, NC. They are awesome, and are listed, but have no website.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

More on my car

I talk about my car a lot. I know this. But my little urban go-getter has a new purpose in life. We have been using it to haul the wood we've cut down. And boy is it coming in handy. Esmeralda, I love you.

The next batch was full of HUGE logs!

We did notice that we had a persimmon tree on the property. Granted we noticed this *after* we cut it down, but dagnammit it's fall and many of these non-coniferous trees are looking the same. Having grown up in Japan, I have a super soft spot for persimmons, even if American persimmons and Japanese persimmons are kind of like apples and oranges. I would someday like to have an orchard on the property (I've got a spot picked out and everything) and I'd like to do native fruits as well. So. Just in case they're salvagable - I kept the few persimmons that were on the poor tree we cut down, and am curing/drying them as we speak. One day, if I get them to grow, my grandchildren *might* get fruit.

Nice huh? Each fruit was about the size of a quarter.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

New form of Jello

Yes. That's right. There's a new brand of Jello out there. My arms. No. Seriously.

Mom. My arms hurt.
Wait - this photo was taken before I cut any of the bigger ones down....

In an attempt to get electricity out on the property sooner rather than later, my mom and I are starting the job of clearing a 10ft wide path parallel to the driveway for the electrical lines to be sunk into while my dad is away up north. He's gone for 4 days, and we decided that was a substantial enough amount of time, and we did not want to delay the process up that much.

Our routine thus far was this: my father dropped stuff with a chainsaw, my mom and I sawed/lopped off the smaller stuff and hauler everything away. Seriously that worked perfectly for me.

But today my mom and I got to chainsawing. I hope that I last a scooch longer tomorrow!

Horrible form. No way around it. I suffer from severe shortness and that baby cedar was bushy.

Better form. Chigger-getting form.

Now obviously all of this hard work must be fueled by something. and we wouldn't be who we are if we weren't eating well. My great-aunt gave us a fire pit, we brought our Coleman stove and the trailer has a propane stove in it - so we've been doing pretty well in that department.

Spare ribs, yellow squash, salad.

My dad made cornbread in the new cast iron dutch oven sunk in the ashes of our fire. It was tasty.

Zora approves of the menu.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a day.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


The trailer is in! Woohoo!!

Mom toasting the trailer. Current name options: Bessie or Tom. Not sure why.

It was quite a process. We had gone about 170 miles east of us to see it and purchase it, only to find that it would really be a hassle - logistically and legally - to get it back to our property. So. The kind seller offered to deliver it to us, and on Saturday he and his right hand man did.

The bottom of our driveway is a bit steep, and due to a few day's worth of rain and the fact that it has never been graveled (only graded 40 years ago?), it can be a bit tricky to get up it. I take it at full speed (about 35 since you turn into it) and coast up it in order to not get stuck and to not make giant ruts in it.

Now. When you're hauling a 32ft trailer behind you, you can't really take a running start. And poor Mike got stuck in the mud. Fortunately - The Beast has a winch on the front end of it, and we were able to haul them up out of the front of the driveway no problem.

While the winch had no problem pulling the weight, I had to sit in the truck and STAND on the brake to keep The Beast from rolling forward. Hence my arm sticking out the window and holding on for dear life, while my dad nonchalantly mans the winch control.

Free of the driveway!

Our driveway, as I may have mentioned before, is estimated at about 600 ft* -and it's got a 90 degree turn about 2/3 of the way down. Our original plan was to overshoot the turn (we cleared a bunch out of the way in preparation), and then back down the rest of the driveway so that the trailer sat facing trailer hitch forward at the end. This would also conveniently put the door to the trailer facing the lake.

Preparing to back down the driveway. Before we found out the half ton Mike was in was slightly too long and we had to switch trucks.

We kind of did that. 1 hour, 2 trucks, 3 burly men, and 4 bystanders later - we got it in.

Zora is 'helping'

Mom (and I, but mostly my mom) immediately started scrubbing the thing, and this requires water.

Simple Green is the bomb diggity.

Ahh. Water. It's amazing how you suddenly become incredibly conscious of how much water you use when you have to haul it out of a well hand over hand and then drag the now heavy bucket up an incline that didn't seem to exist until you were carrying a bucket with 6 gallons of water in it.

First you have to open the well cap with a 48 inch pipe wrench which weighs almost as much as me.

Next, you drop the bucket down, listen for it to hit, listen for it to make the "I'm full" farting noise, and then haul it up. It helps to work your side abs for this step. Hence the funny face.

Now the fun part: lift the lever in the handle and watch the past 5 minutes' worth of hard work come gushing out the bottom.
Rinse, repeat.

But when I came home on that first night we had the trailer and saw it gleaming at the end of the driveway, I was incredibly happy, and totally looking forward to the next step.

Home sweet home.

The next step? Getting electricity. Mostly for a well pump :)

*UPDATE - the driveway is 1150 ft long. I grew up with the metric system. This foot business is beyond me.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Stop the presses!

I am working on a whole big long post about the process of getting the trailer in and settled and everything - and I seem to have lost my camera! I have been so careful to keep track of it so I can continue to post and the unthinkable has happened.

I am, however, hoping that while I'm here in the land of interwebs (read: my great aunt's house), my mom has found it laying in the driveway or something. Fingers crossed.

So - we are still working on getting electricity and phone and water (hinges on getting power) and all that good stuff - so the blog posts may be a bit sporadic. But hopefully more in-depth :)

Stay tuned!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Blocking the......driveway!

Blocking the.....driveway!

So that reference really only makes sense to me and my family. But if there are any Frank De Lima fans out there I didn't know about - good on you!

Two days later, we have what could be called a driveway. My Dad estimates it at 600ft or so....I grew up with the metric system.

The clearing process started yesterday - lots of shopping and then continued with my getting stuck behind General Lee. It continued with my meeting the world's cutest little 6 year old boy - who came running up to me at the local store and asked me if he could take a picture with me because he'd never met anyone who'd been to California, and didn't know cars could go that far. I told him cars would go as far as you could drive them - and his eyes got so big, I now understand the phrase 'as big as saucers'. I seriously wanted to put him in my pocket and carry him around with me.

All hail the general!

But I digress. Holy buckets. we got a lot done in two afternoons - the highlight of yesterday was (unfortunately un-photographed) getting the well open. The well was capped many years ago, and getting the damn thing open was quite the ordeal. We had tried with penetrating oil and tappong the threads, but to no avail. Yesterday my dad bought the biggest pipe wrench I've ever seen (48 inches long - I think it opens up to a 10 or so inch pipe), and even that wouldn't open the thing. Two big strong guys, the giant pipe wrench with a 4ft pipe shoved on the end of it, me guiding the wrench on the pipe, and my mom tapping the threads to get the damn thing open. It was insane. Even then it was back breaking. But we got the thing open and found to our delight that, a) it has water in it, b) the water is clear and cold, and c) the water doesn't taste like anything (always a good thing. We will be testing it, though. No worries there).

Fortifying the bellies of both myself and the chainsaw.

The highlight of today was our neighbors bringing the bush hog over to mow down the driveway and the meadows, as well as work their butts off to get everything cleared, trimmed, limbed, and in some cases moderately excavated. It was awesome! The guys took turns on the chainsaw finishing up the not enviable task of cutting down the remaining trees, winching out the big/oddly placed ones, and so forth. The rest of us trimmed, hauled, dragged, got rid of the rest. I bought some new loppers today that made all of that so much easier, and our neighbors brought over a pole saw.

So pretty....

...from every angle.

The STAR of the day was the new chainsaw. Woot!

It's so wee. And so mighty.

Zora kept retrieving things we threw to the side...include huge wedges of wood. She carried this one around for about a half an hour. Hilarious.

Now we have meadows, a driveway, a newly unearthed ornamental pear tree, a clear path & site for the airstream - and a great sense of satisfaction and optimism. Granted sitting outside in the beautiful countryside with our neighbors drinking an after work beer could have contributed to that feeling. That or the BBQ we had when we got back. Tomorrow: (hopefully) trailer wrangling!