Monday, September 10, 2018

Summer Ending


It is dark still at five in the morning. The lop-sided triangle of sky visible through my bedroom window is murky grey; the trees on the hillside are shapeless in the gloom.  This is not the velvety blackness of deepest night, but something less than a flush of dawn.
By six o'clock, the patch of sky has a pearly hue; the trees on the ridge show green, though their shapes are indistinct. Inside my bedroom color has not emerged.  Walls, curtains, my painted rocker, the patchwork quilt folded on a rack near the window--all wear the sepia tints of a room in a faded vintage photo.
Downstairs at a few minutes past six, the kitchen is dark; table and chairs loom, the wood range is a black hulk. The north windows frame a view of the stable and the dark  thick woods beyond. 



Summer has continued past the turning of the calendar page--a summer marked by frequent rain and days of sullen steamy heat. 
We've tweaked the settings of the newly installed A/C system, keeping the rooms upstairs and down comfortably cooled.
Outside, even this early in the day, the air is heavy with moisture, suffocatingly warm.

The cats venture out cautiously when I open the back door.  The overgrown garden is wet, its planting strips and grass walks run together, barely defined, abandoned in this season when rain has defeated my efforts to weed and to tidy.



Late summer wildflowers have bloomed in the heat: masses of yellow coreopsis, a froth of wild blue ageratum, blazing purple stalks of ironweed.
The upper lane is still in deep shade, although the morning sun has finally topped the ridge to warm the lower house and barns. 


Ironweed makes an exotic splash of purple towering above a background of jewelweed.


Boneset blooms in the moist ditch that disappears into the culvert at the bend of the lane.


Lavender-blue ageratum flourishes in the shade of fence corners and shallow ditches.


The area below the stable where I fling kitchen scraps and garden waste  is not worthy to be labeled a compost heap.
Each summer a tangle of vegetable plants germinate there from a welter of rotting tomatoes or over-ripe cucumbers, a spoiled melon.  Vines sprawl across the ground, clamber up the remnant of a fence.
One splendid butternut squash is nearing maturity.


The squash vine has scrambled under the fence.  This tiny squash, resting on stony ground will likely be overtaken by frost before it can grow large and ripen.


A squash blossom is a bright splash of color on a morning when rain threatens.



Cucumber or melon?  Another volunteer.



Morning glory or 'bindweed' in various mutations is the scourge of gardeners in a warm and humid climate. It clambers over pasture fences, swarms rapaciously through what remains of my perennial strips. Along the lane the flowers are pearly white. 
These resemble the cultivated variety Heavenly Blue.

Two years ago, before we sold the big meadow that borders the creek, I collected seeds from a rose-pink morning glory that blanketed the side of a weathered grey barn and grew thickly along the sagging  remnant of an old fence. The seeds, planted in a large pot the next spring, obligingly sprouted and vined.  The flowers [if they can be called that] were miniscule  and white.



Common white bindweed, growing near its blue-flowered cousin.


Jewelweed is in bloom along the brook-bed in the billy goats' pasture.
A bank of it borders the shady lane at our new property spilling into a ravine at the lower edge.


Summer has lingered long this year defying the calendar.
There is more than a week to wait until the autumnal equinox.
Surely by 22nd September, our weather will be more in keeping with our notions of 'fall.'


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Good Name


The Rising Hotel, Lake George, Hague, NY


The morning sun cleared the top of the wooded hill to the east of the stable, sending  fingers of light through unshuttered windows. 
The bay gelding stamped a hoof, stirring the chaff on the stall floor into dancing specks.
A fly landed on his shining neck, causing his hide to twitch.
"Easy, Dan."
Mac stroked the gleaming, just brushed coat, checked the last harness buckle. 
Satisfied that all was secure, he backed Dan from the stall, led him toward the shed where the farm wagon and family buggy were parked.
On the shady side of the barn, the light  held a pearly dawn quality and the August morning was cool.

Mac guided Dan between the buggy shafts and they crunched across the dooryard to the fence at the back porch.
From the hen house a rooster heralded the day; a hen triumphantly announced production of an egg. 
Mac's brother, Andrew, appeared in the barn doorway, a brimming pail of milk in each hand.
The screen door opened onto the back porch and Mac hurried to help with loading of the farm produce to be carried to the hotel on the shore of Lake George.

Winters in the Adirondacks were cold and long; narrow mountain roads often drifted in with snow; summers were too brief and busy.
From late May til early September 'summer folks' swarmed to the lakeside hotels and boarding houses to exchange the stifling heat of cities for the clear cooler air of the lake-dotted mountain hamlets.  Hotel proprietors boasted of 'setting a fine table' and depended on the locals to supply fresh produce, eggs and milk.

Mac's little sister, Julia, was in charge of feeding the flock of Plymouth Rock chickens, collecting and washing the eggs, packing them in clean straw for the trip down the mountain.
She stood now at the edge of the porch, neat in flowered calico, soft brown hair in a plait down her back, lifting the crate of eggs towards Mac's reaching hands.
Mother sailed through the door, starched apron rustling. In quick succession she set out a basket of green beans, picked the previous evening, the cheesecloth covered buckets of blueberries that Mac and Andrew had gleaned as they ranged along the slopes of Tongue Mountain in slumberous afternoon heat.
Jugs of milk, gleaming glass jars of raspberry jam, a pail of small new potatoes, yellow crook-neck squash heaped in a basket. 
Julia passed items to Mac who stowed them carefully in the buggy while Mother supervised. 
At last with the milk and produce settled to her satisfaction she retreated to the kitchen reappearing in a moment with a large cloth-covered crock which she deposited on the porch steps. 

'Mind you don't dally, Mac, the butter needs to stay cold.' And she was gone, the screen door slapping behind her.
Left alone, Mac, who wasn't at all prone to dallying or wasting time, contemplated his collection of baskets, buckets and crocks, decided he could devise a more efficient arrangement to insure that nothing was spilled on his trip along the rutted dirt road.

Around him the August morning bloomed;  cobwebs shimmered in the dewy grass, barn swallows swooped in and out the open stable doors.
So accustomed was Mac to the sounds of the farmstead that he heard them as muted background--the cluckings and scratchings of the hens which Julia had loosed from their overnight confinement;  the delighted whinnies of the sorrel work horses, Dick and Bess, as Andrew dished out their grain; work sounds drifting from the graphite mill, the subdued clattering from the pantry sink as mother attacked the breakfast dishes.
Pleased finally with the rearrangement of containers, Mac turned to lift the brown crockery bowl of butter balls into the spot he had cleared. 
The cows, on summer pasture, were producing quantities of rich milk; Mother trusted no one else to handle the milk and the making of butter.  Meticulous in all her housekeeping, she gave extra attention to the care of milk as it was carried in night and morning.  She stood over Andrew as the milk was strained from the foaming pails  and poured into the shining bowl of the cream separator. Skim milk and thick yellow cream were decanted into glass jars that had been washed and rinsed with scalding water, then rushed down cellar into the damp coolness of the earth-floored larder.
Cleanliness and neatness were high on Mother's list of priorities.

The bowl was heaped higher than usual, the muslin covering bulged over the butter balls.
As Mac lifted the crock, swung it toward the buggy, an edge of the towel slipped from under the twine binding it in place and a butter ball bounced into the short grass at his feet.
Mac landed the bowl carefully on the buggy floor and with a mild sigh stooped to retrieve the fallen butter ball. 

Mac picked up the butter, still in its cheesecloth wrapping.  Turning it over he picked off several blades of grass, and not finding evidence of dirt or grit he moved to replace the butter ball in the crock.
Behind him the screen door opened, swung shut again with a twang of hinges. The porch floorboards creaked as Mother sailed to the edge of the steps. 
"Mac!" Her voice was sharp with exasperation. "Whatever are you doing?"

Before Mac could gather his wits to answer, Mother continued, "Surely you're not thinking to pedal butter that has been on the ground!"
Mac held the butter ball out for her inspection.  "Its not dirty," he protested. 
Mother's tone rose a notch.  "Not dirty?  It landed on the ground!  I saw through the pantry window!"
Taking the butter ball, Mother sputtered, "It landed on the ground--where you've been standing--where the horse has been--where the chickens have pecked!"

Mac stood resignedly, waiting for the tirade to ease.
Mother's round cheeks were rosier than usual, her blue eyes glinted with irritation.
She blew out her breath with a small huffing sound, "Hmmmmph!"

In a milder tone Mother explained, "We have a reputation--I have a reputation. Byron Rising has a reputation to maintain.  He advertises the freshest produce, fresh eggs, the finest sweet cream butter; he's proud of the table he sets for the hotel guests."

Mac shifted from one foot to the other, anxious to be on his way.  Dan shook his head, swished his tail. The harness jingled.

Mother continued, coaxing Mac to understand. "I'm known for the way I keep my kitchen, the way I handle the milk--just as you and Andrew are known for finding the best berries on the mountain.  You take care to pick carefully, no green berries, no leaves and twigs in what you pedal to the hotel.  Julia washes every egg--no smears, no fluff or straw sticking to eggs that come from this house."

Mac twitched at his galluses, considered the wisdom of an answer.
Before he could formulate one Mother concluded her homily.

"We have a good name," she stated quietly, "A good name for honesty and hard work, a good name for selling only the best. I'll unwrap the butter, scrape off the edges to be sure its clean and I'll use it for baking, but its been on the ground and its not going to be passed off at the hotel!  Now, you'd best be going before the morning heats up."
The screen door slapped behind her rustling calico skirt; a chicken squawked; Dan snorted between the buggy shafts.

Mac pulled out the pocket watch secured to his suspender loop with a leather shoelace. A quarter to six!  He untied the reins from the fence post, climbed to the buggy seat.
"Right, Dan," he said, "We've taken too long getting ready to commence this trip. You'll need to step lively to have these goods pedaled to the hotel before the summer people want their breakfast."

Mac wheeled out of the dooryard, turned onto Battle Hill Road.  
August mist rose in thin silver veils from a neighbor's meadow;  the scent of wood smoke from breakfast fires mingled with that of dusty roadside blooms and swaths of curing hay.
Dan's hooves beat smartly on the hard packed surface of the road. Mac drove easily, the leather reins in his right hand, enjoying the soft summer morning, pleased with the good load he was 'pedaling' to the trim hotel with its white paint and wide veranda facing the blue waters of Lake George. 

Shortly he would be pulling in at the back door of the hotel.  He knew from other trips that the steps would have been swept, the big front porch tided, the rocking chairs lined precisely to take advantage of the view toward the tree-lined ledges that rimmed the other side of the lake.
Crisp white curtains would be fluttering at the upper windows.  Cook and her serving girls would be bustling in the kitchen, making ready for those guests who would soon be early arrivals in the big dining room. 

Mac would wait with Dan while Byron Rising tallied the produce, counting the eggs, weighing out the green beans and the yellow squash, calling for a clean container to carefully transfer the blueberries from the bucket. Mr. Rising might comment, "Can always count on you Lewis boys to bring in the biggest berries!"

The day was warming into mid-morning heat when Mac turned Dan back up the mountain road. The empty buckets and baskets at his feet rocked gently when the buggy rumbled over a rutted stretch of road.  Folded carefully in Mac's shirt pocket was the slip of paper on which Byron Rising had copied the details of the delivery, a total due neatly penciled at the bottom of the list.
At the end of the month there would be crisp bills and silver coins to add to the little hoard squirreled away in the old blue sugar bowl, added funds to see the Lewis family through another Adirondack winter.  

Mac let Dan take his time on the steepest climb heading home. Puffs of dust rose under the buggy wheels as Mac pulled into the  dooryard.  Dan would be rubbed down, brushed, turned out into the pasture after being offered a bucket of fresh water.

The buggy, unloaded, had been parked in the shed, Dan tended. The sun ascending toward its mid-day zenith  had warmed the dooryard.  
Julia poked her head round the back door, smiled at her beloved big brother. 
"I heard you coming up the road, " she declared. "I've got a glass of cold buttermilk and some fresh  gingerbread ready for you. Mother has water hot to wash the buckets and crocks as soon as you bring them in.  Andrew has gone out to scythe around the garden fence."

Mac grinned at Julia.  "Sounds like we're all working hard this morning. After all, we've got a good name to live up to!"


Grampa Mac with son Billy circa 1919.
Mac was in his late teens when the story of the butter ball took place.
He married in December, 1913 and moved to the Vermont side of Lake Champlain, to become a partner in the farm purchased a year earlier by his wife's parents. 

From an 1890 advertisement:
Rising House, Hague on Lake George
This New House is located in one of the most Healthful Localities on Lake George, commanding an extensive view of the lake, with fine facilities for
BOATING AND FISHING.
Supplied with Mountain Spring Water, Fresh vegetables, milk, butter and eggs.
B.A. Rising, Proprietor, Hague, Warren County, New York


Monday, September 3, 2018

Cellar Holes and Door Yards


Cellar Hole on our new property: A work in progress.

From Merriam-Webster:
Definition of cellar hole: an excavation intended for a cellar or the exposed cellar area where a house has once stood



A good friend, sitting across the table from us at a recent church dinner, inquired, "So, have you started work on that piece of property you bought?"
Jim, having momentarily shoveled in a large wodge of lasagna, took a few seconds to reply, then stated, "I've got my cellar hole two-thirds dug.  If the rain will quit for a few days I'll be ready for concrete."
Friend Raymond was puzzled. "Say what? You're doin' what?"
Jim elaborated. "I bought a backhoe.  I'm digging the cellar hole!"
Raymond considered this. "I suppose you mean you're digging out for the basement...or do you mean a storm cellar?   I never heard of a cellar hole."
I decided to wade into the conversation.
"The cellar hole is the excavation in the ground where the foundation goes."   

New England [the land of our birth and heritage] is dotted with old cellar holes, the buildings which stood there-on long since collapsed and slowly absorbed into the surrounding earth.

Cellar hole is a term well understood in New England, in upstate New York and in the Maritime Provinces of Canada. Crouched in over-grown pastures or along bramble-crowded log roads cellar holes endure, half filled with more than a century's worth of fallen leaves, layers of twigs and branches, with perhaps part of their stone-lined walls tumbled. 

Stones were [and are] a plentiful commodity in the north east---picked laboriously to clear hilly pastures, piled in heaps and cairns, stacked to create grey stone walls--and cellar holes.

A stone cellar hole a few rods from Grampa Mac's south line fence bore witness to a house burned decades before my birth. My mother could not recall a house there or name the family  to whom it might have belonged.
My sisters and I clambered over the sagging wire fence, scrambled through thorny barberry bushes to emerge at the edge of that cellar hole. The stones wore beards of moss. Weeds and a few small saplings hid the detritus of years--rusted tin cans, shards of broken crockery, twists of blackened wire.
We poked about, inventing tales of the families who might once have lived there.

A twenty minute walk across the west pasture, over the brook, up the hill and into Grampa Mac's woodlot brought us to another stone cellar hole.  This one lay a short distance from the woods road, surrounded by maples and beech. 
We pressed Uncle Bill for information, but although born and raised on the farm he could supply only the vague hint of a story: a man, before his day, had owned the lot, prepared the cellar hole but died before building a house.

To the east and a bit south of Grampa Mac's farm lies the wooded rise known as Wilder Hill. A road [so they say] once followed the base of the hill, passing the homesteads of Daniel Wilder and Edmund Gould, forebears of Almanzo Wilder. 
Elderly residents in the neighborhood recalled that the old road was still occasionally used in the early 1900's as a 'short cut;' they testified to the presence of the old cellar holes that remained after the two families departed for northern New York in the 1840's.

We searched for traces of the old road, crossing a neighbor's back meadow, battling swarms of black flies and summer's heat. 
A neighbor and I once left her car in the edge of a field, hiked into the woods hoping to discover the old road from its supposed northerly starting point.   It was late September, a day of golden sun and drifting leaves.  We made our way around the hill inside the belt of trees, finding no hint of a road or a long-ago dwelling.  We retraced out steps, plunged higher into the woods.  Susie grew tired, her passion for local history drowning in fatigue and a failing sense of direction.  I assured her we had only to walk toward the sun hovering low over the western ridge and we would reach the pasture below her home where I would phone for someone to fetch her car.

In all the years that we searched for the Wilder Hill settlement we found no trace of the old road, no half buried cellar holes, no twisted lilacs which might have graced a dooryard.

Decades ago when our children were in grade school, we took an impromptu Sunday afternoon trip across Lake Champlain on the ferry, drove through the quiet streets of Ticonderoga, headed for Hague, NY, the place where many of my mother's kinfolks settled in the late 1700's.

Absorbed into Jim's large maternal family, I was feeling a need to connect with my own roots.
I realized that although I cherished Grampa Mac's stories of growing up on the little farmstead tucked against Tongue Mountain, I had never been there and had no idea where it was located.

We landed in the dooryard of my great uncle and aunt [Grampa Mac's sister] who promptly rang up their daughter and son-in-law next door to tell them of our arrival.
At some point in the afternoon when I mentioned my desire to find the place where Grampa was raised, we were bundled into Gerald's car and driven a few miles up the Graphite Mountain Road.
Gerald turned onto a barely defined rough track that led through the green darkness of close-crowding trees.  The car lurched forward over grass-grown ruts, bumped to a stop.

Grampa Mac's stories had conjured a picture of a small clap-boarded farmhouse, wood smoke rising from the chimney, a barn for livestock, stable for the horses, pasture and hay meadows.  We stood there in the tiny clearing, trees leaning in from all sides; brush and brambles made exploration impossible.
My imagination failed me,
Gerald jabbed with the stem of his pipe: "The house stood there--see where the rim of stones marks the old cellar hole.  The barn was back to one side." Again he gestured toward the trees with his pipe.

After all, what had I expected? Surely not this sense of dislocation, this silent deserted spot in the deep woods.  I couldn't people it with my grandfather, his younger brother and sister, his parents whose likenesses were not among those curling tiny photos in the musty old black album.

I walked slowly toward the rubble of grey stones, all that remained to mark the place that had been home to three generations of my mother's paternal family.  I ran my hand along a bit of the cellar wall still standing, selected a flat, grey, moss-covered stone, small enough to take away. 

Paging through the entries in a diary kept by Grampa Mac I found his record of a journey back to the old farmstead on Tongue Mountain.  In his late 80's and a mere few years before his death, his remarks were typically brief: "Went back to the place where I was raised.  Hardly knew it, couldn't find the big maple that was in the dooryard."

People move away from home, old hamlets are deserted, saplings sprout and grow into trees that obliterate pasture, house and outbuildings.
As Grampa Mac would have said, families 'die out' and soon the generation that knew the names, the places and stories, has passed.

Jim hopes to have our cellar hole ready for concrete this week. A new house, one without prior history or former occupants. As the walls are raised, the surrounding earth leveled and smoothed, I can anticipate landscaping, choosing the shrubs and perennials that will define a dooryard created from a former rough pasture. 

"Cellar hole" and 'Door yard" are terms firmly lodged in our lexicon, part of our sense of place.
They mark the  beginning of what will become "home."

Dooryard: US and Canadian:  a yard in front of the front or back door of a house.












Friday, August 17, 2018

Reviewing The Week With Photos



Mornings have dawned grey, wet, overcast this week, although there have been sporadic hours of sunshine most days.
Rain was drumming on the roof, lightning zipping above the ridge,  as I attempted to fall asleep in the earliest hours of Friday morning.  At 5 a.m. the landscape was wrapped in green darkness and the sound of rain was dominant.
I've been only briefly at the new property this week, although Jim has worked there and made good progress in excavating for the foundation.  Thursday's rain put paid to that project, but a run up the ridge before breakfast today proved that the ground is draining well.


The nearest neighbor at Turkey Flatt keeps a jack at stud. The jack's pasture and that of this boarded mare is on our route in and out of our property.
The foal was about 9 days old when we stopped to admire him and take photos.


Who would have thought a baby mule could be this cute?



I spent some time tidying the straggling nasturtiums in my porch planters.
Nasturtiums get messy quickly--yellowing limp leaves, long trailing stems, but they are a favorite since childhood.
I leave some of the blooms to go to seed and poke the dried seeds back into the soil.
With pruning I should have fresh bloom until the first frost.


The dreadful scourge of Japanese beetles seems to be over for another season.
The rugosa that leans over the side steps to the landing is opening fresh, fragrant clusters of blossoms.


Double Red Knockout is a cliche in this region--a true landscape stalwart. The fragrance is very light.
The beauty of these is their habit of repeat bloom and the ability to bounce back after the beetles leave.  I clip the freshest blooms nearly every day, line them up on the kitchen windowsill in a variety of small jugs and vases. 


A praying mantis has domiciled in a clump of Joe Pye weed below the cement landing.
I brought this plant in from the upper meadow last summer--part of the effort [not entirely successful] to use native plants to choke out weeds in that gravelly area.


The blooms of okra are exotic--similar to a hibiscus.  The process from bloom to a grotesquely overgrown pod of okra is very rapid.  We enjoy a side dish of fried okra but can't keep up with the quantity.  I snip off over-grown pods and let them fall to the ground.  The stems and leaves of the okra plant are irritating to the skin. Sometimes I remember to pull on a long-sleeved shirt prior to harvesting the pods.


Another view of the rugosa as the mid-morning sun burned away fog and mist.



I spent a morning grubbing along the side porch. Spent poppy stalks, the gone-to-seed clary sage, clumps of shallow-rooted grass--all removed.  Strange to think this likely won't be my garden when another spring rolls around. I wonder if the new owners will like the clary, the poppies and the cockscomb which self-seed in that area.


Jim has done more excavating since this photo was taken. 

I've done some sewing this week at odd moments--found some really nice denim skirts at Goodwill earlier in the summer--I like them as an alternative sometimes to jeans or pedal pushers --but they were ankle length, which tends to trip me up. Three of them nicely shortened and patch pockets made using the cut off material for the one that had no pockets. Navy blue skirt [new!] in a suede-like fabric shortened and ready for fall wearing.
Sleeves shortened and new cuffs made for a lovely soft 'jean jacket' made of a rayon/tencel fabric--I'm planning to wear it to church over a flowing crinkled silk skirt.

For many years I made my own clothes--as well as for my daughter and my nieces--now I put my energies in other directions and happily repurpose my finds from consignment or charity shops--often 'new with tags.' 
My 'everyday' clothing takes a beating: garden soil, paint, the cooking smudges that evade my apron. 

Three books read on rainy evenings--Ann Cleeves' final book in the Shetland/Jimmy Perez series will be out in a few weeks, so I'm speed-reading the earlier books to put myself back in the picture.

This evening I was inspired to rummage out packages of frozen fruit--blackberries, peaches, blueberries--made a crumble for a church dinner, and another with dropped buttermilk biscuit topping for Jim.
We each had a helping served warm from the oven and lavished with whipped cream.
A pleasant ending to a long day!


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Views Around Our New Property



I loaded photos several evenings ago and was too tired to write captions.
Some of the hours that I spend there are waiting to be useful [holding an end of measuring tapes as Jim lays out the spot for the foundation of a new house.]
Wild turkeys are prolific--we see them each time we are there.
The property address is 'Turkey Flatt'--perhaps the extra 'T' is meant to look elegant!
The above was a zoom shot looking toward the eastern property line which is marked by a fence behind the hedgerow.


Weather hasn't been really pleasant here this week--sultry heat even when the sky is overcast, frequent showers, followed by steamy sunshine.
I took this photo as I drove in the lane--a longer private roadway connects the three lots that make up Turkey Flatt to the main road above.


Jim has always done his own site excavation preparatory to pouring a concrete foundation.
While he no longer has the equipment to pour the foundation, he has been trolling craigslist for weeks to find a backhoe to meet his requirements.
He found this one early on Wednesday, located 2 hours away in Tennessee and invited me to ride along for the purchase.
The sky was increasingly dark and as we reached our destination a storm broke with rumbles of thunder, wind and lashing rain. An hour later, the storm over, Jim had completed his 'wheelin and dealin', the machine was loaded and we trundled home.


Jim is never happier than when 'digging' in the dirt.
Here he is opening a trench for new water and power lines.
As there was formerly a house on the property--sited beyond the backhoe--a strange choice--electric and water service is there, but needing to be rerouted for our chosen building site.



Waiting to be useful, I wander around the property, camera in hand, trying to visualize it as the place where we will live.
The open lay of the land narrows as it reaches the western boundary, with a sloping ravine on either side. Joe Pye weed is in full and heady bloom down the bank with goldenrod beginning to show color.




The shaggy pink flower heads were alive with butterflies, mostly swallowtails.  My zoom lens didn't pick them up clearly and I wasn't about to go slithering down the bank through the weeds.

A black swallowtail in a clump of ironweed.

This swallowtail posed nicely for a split second.




Wild ageratum. 
The prospect of creating a new house is exciting, even knowing that it entail months of work.
The too familiar reality of packing up our current home when the time comes, is daunting--exhausting even to contemplate.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Day of Hard Work


Before the weekend, Jim conveyed a number of pieces of machinery to the new property.The John Deere tractor, the bush hog, and the back blade have been kept busy on initial mowing and. clean up.


I'm always relieved when everything is safely off-loaded.


Jim set up his laser transit, only to find that after taking one reading the battery failed.



This lovely vintage transit is a real treasure--no gimmicks, no batteries!


Jim reckons this transit was 'top of the line' when it was made. When not in use it resides in a tidy wooden case.
Jim is not ready to mark out the site with stakes and lines, but wanted to shoot some preliminary grades.  My job at such times is to march off carrying a measuring pole [whose markings make no sense to me] and then stand holding the pole while Jim makes calculations.  I feel like a flag bearer standing at attention.


Jim estimates that there is slightly more than a mile of fencing on the property, most of which needs to be taken down for proper access to the building site.
This is a tedious job--nails to be pulled, boards to be stacked. 
I stand by with an old plastic bucket at the ready so the extracted rusty nails can be tossed in.




Jim announced this morning that he was headed up the ridge to demolish more fencing.
My assistance wasn't required and the house was in need of attention.
I've never been known as a super housekeeper. 
There are things about which I am particular: beds must be made within moments of the occupant leaving them; I can't abide dirty laundry languishing in a welter of damp towels and grubby jeans;  dishes are washed immediately after a baking/cooking spree and after each meal.  Bathrooms must be given at least a cursory cleaning each day.  Cat hair is a renewable resource that must be dealt with.  At this time of year, garden produce sits here and there in the kitchen in baskets and boxes awaiting attention. 

My downfall is the ever present and accumulating welter of books, magazines, papers and sewing --at the end of the counter, on my desk, on the table in the alcove. 
We have been out of the house so much in the past few weeks that nothing beyond the necessary basics have been done.
Feeling that I at last had a 'free' morning, I started by tidying the living room.  I quite fail to understand why a man must leave cushions awry, throws dragging from the back of the sofa or easy chair, curtains twitched off center. 
I set these things in order, stacked music and hymnals that I was guilty of leaving strewn on top of the piano. 
I gathered documents pertaining to real estate transactions--the surveyor's report and maps, contracts, appraisals, piled them neatly on top of the printer.
In the alcove magazines were sorted, back issues put away in a living room cupboard.

I felt I was making good progress, but knew I needed to eat breakfast before continuing.
The chicken and pasta salad left from the weekend looked appetizing,  but I decided to do a quick overhaul of the refrigerator's contents before sitting down to eat.
I had taken only two bites when I heard the diesel truck roaring up the lane.
Jim entered with a flourish and I inquired suspiciously, 'What?  I thought you intended to work all morning on fence removal.'
'I've pulled the boards on another section and need you to come back with me to help pick them up.'
So much for house keeping!


As jobs go, it wasn't too  demanding.  My remit was to drive the truck with trailer slowly along the lane, stopping on command while Jim loaded boards onto the trailer.
The local country music station competed with the snarl of the truck engine; I twisted in the seat, watching for Jim's hand signals which I often don't interpret quickly enough. 
He poked his head in the cab window to admonish me.  'Keep watch in the rear view mirrors and don't crowd the fence on the other side of the lane.'
I realized, belatedly, that he was loading the boards cross-wise of the trailer instead of length-wise and meekly eased the truck and trailer to the right. 
With the boards neatly stacked and the trailer unhitched, Jim mopped his streaming face and took over the driver's seat.
'Now what?' I asked cautiously.
'Now we are taking a break, going to The Mustard Seed for ice cream!'

I was surprised when instead of returning to the ridge property [It is called Turkey Flatt] Jim headed to the house.
'I'm going to drive the Massey up--I need it to pull the fence posts.  Give me a few minutes, then drive up in the truck.'
The 'few minutes' were time enough to serve 'tea' to the cats and wash their dishes.

I approached the Dodge dually with a bit of trepidation.
For years we seldom owned a car--an assortment of 4 wheel drive trucks were part of the construction business and, with the exception of Snort'n Nort'n, I drove which ever one was left in the dooryard.

Kentucky roads are very different from the wide open roads of Wyoming. 
Here the narrow roads wind up, down and around; the roadway drops off at the edge, sometimes alarmingly so. Over-laden log trucks take their half of the road out of the middle;  meeting one, barreling at speed, along a crooked creek road is [to me] terrorizing. 
The red Dodge dually seems to me to be immense.
I was delighted to find that the seat adjustment works well!  The truck has an automatic transmission--other than its perceived width, nothing could be easier.

I drove cautiously over the 'blind' hump in the road, eased out to the ridge road, and lumbered up the hill.  When I pulled in, Jim was on the Massey, shoving at a massive fence post.  He dismounted and explained that my part of the job would be to loop the canvas strap around a fence post, attach the strap to the hook on the front-end bucket, get out of the way while he heaved the post out of the ground, then remove the strap and shove the post away from the bucket.

By the time we had removed three posts I had found the rhythm of the task.  
Loop the strap around the post. Tighten the strap. Slip the fold of the strap over the hook on the bucket.  Step back. Move forward to the now dangling post [mind the post hole!] Unhook the strap. Push the post toward the side of the bucket [if it doesn't fall to the ground, let Jim maneuver it with the bucket.]  Move to the next post, repeat process.


I am a rather clumsy person and advancing age hasn't improved that trait.  Jim moves gracefully at his work,  well balanced, coordinated.
I have to concentrate totally on the placement of my feet [don't trip]  be mindful where to place my hands so that they aren't unwittingly caught; notice when the tractor is moving, don't be in the way when the post falls to the ground; watch to see if it rolls.
There were over 40 posts. 
I've not done such physical work in awhile. Halfway down the line of the posts I could feel the strain my back and shoulders. 
'Don't try to lift the post off the bucket,' Jim shouted. 'Give it a push and let it roll easy.'
I glared at him and shouted back.
'You haven't been my height and weight since you were about 11 years old!  Nothing is easy!'

I was not allowed to help drag the posts into piles! 
I scuffed wearily up the slope to the truck, discovered that I had forgotten my insulated mug of cold tea.  Jim flung himself into the driver's seat, started the engine and turned the A/C on full blast. 
He offered me iced orange juice from his thermos. I declined.

'What next' I asked--hoping that 'next' would be time to go home.
'We need to fill in all the post holes so that a deer doesn't break a leg crossing the field or machinery get caught.  I've got dirt in the Massey bucket.  You drive the tractor and I'll shovel dirt and pack it into the holes.'
I had counted the post holes on my way back to the truck--was it 42 holes--or 45?
I didn't want to drive the tractor.  I didn't want Jim shoveling dirt in the heat of the waning afternoon.

'Use the John Deere with the backblade and drag dirt into the holes. There's a ridge left along the fence line and that will smooth it out.'

Jim doesn't like suggestions, but after a challenging moment, he took this one.
Back and forth along the fence line, clouds of dust rising behind the tractor, grass and weeds dragging behind the boxblade, but with each swipe the earth smoothed out, gradually filling in the deep holes.  I walked along with a shovel, prodding at the edges of the most stubborn holes.  The posts had been set about 18 inches deep, some of them stabilized with concrete. 

I leaned on the shovel, watching, so tired that it seemed I might sink to the ground without the support of the shovel.  My feet hurt. Weariness had settled into every fiber of my body.
Still Jim drove the tractor up and down, back and forth along the fence line.  I would have called it good long before he surveyed the ground and was satisfied.
Several holes on the upward side of the slope needed to be filled by hand so as not to tear up the sod. 

Jim handed me the shovel to carry up to the barn while he parked the tractors, stowed tools in the back of the truck.
'That would have taken twice as long if you hadn't helped.'
So, today I did rather more than the heavy looking on!

At home Jim headed directly for the upstairs shower.
I drank cold water, collected clean clothes, clambered into the downstairs shower.
The bliss of warm water rinsing away sweat and dirt. The scent of soap and shampoo, the caress of lotion on sun-browned skin.

Jim answered phone messages, confirmed arrangements to meet the electrician and a power company field rep at 8 in the morning, later to receive bids from two local concrete contractors.

I made a mug of tea, refilled a hummingbird feeder, settled into the porch rocking chair.
Hummingbirds darted in, tiny wings whirring.  In the pasture of the lower house  baby goats clambered over their climbing frame, small hooves clattering;  their bleating cries rang on the heavy air.  A Mourning Dove sang its ascending cadence from somewhere in the woods beyond the retaining wall; closer by another answered. 
I set down my empty mug, kept the chair gently rocking.

It was a long day--one in which I worked beyond the limits of my stamina.
A demanding day, but one in which visible progress has been made.