Monday, October 25, 2010

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.

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