Monday, July 2, 2018

Midsummer News

We ordered a fan off the Inter-Webs on Thursday afternoon
 and Mason had it installed by Friday night. Amazing.
What's Mason doing now? Installing a ceiling fan on the porch! On those 90-degree, 90-percent-humidity days with not a breeze to be found, you'll find us right where we usually are, except now we'll be a bit more comfortable. We like it so much, we might add one on the other side of the porch where we eat lunch on nice days.

Garlic heads hanging to dry from the porch rafters.
Meanwhile, the garlic has been harvested and the first tomatoes and cucumbers are coming. And I vow to not eat slimy supermarket cilantro or parsley ever again (or until next winter). JalapeƱos have already been harvested, but the jury is still out on the edamame and peanuts.




Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Dog Day Afternoons

Shorter walks and longer stints in front of the fan these days... 
Summer arrived brutally, with temps and humidity soaring right up to the brink of insanity even before June 21st rolled around. Nick doesn't like it at all, and we're dealing with it the best we can. After breakfast, we sweat for two hours doing chores, eat lunch, then rest for a bit. Sometimes it's a nap, sometimes it's just an hour (or 90 minutes) trying to catch up with the stack of New Yorkers building on the coffee table. Then we hit it again until it's beer o'clock, which rings about 7 p.m.

Mason rebuilt the front porch stairs (photo to come) and the well house foundation. The well house is also getting a new paver floor and new insulation, all inspired by The Snake Incident.

All my spare time has been spent pulling weeds, which has been made easier by a ridiculous amount of rain.
A mulched path? Or a pond? Criminy!
I've also been busy in the veggie garden, finally getting the potatoes in the ground and, new this year, in towers. I'm trying to grow a few things vertically, to make room for more varieties (edamame, peanuts and sweet potatoes are new this year). Today Mason helped me build an arch that will soon support 1,500-Year-Old Cave Beans. It's a pole bean that was discovered in New Mexico in a clay pot sealed with resin of some sort. Carbon-dating determined the beans found inside were incredibly old (1,500 years old to be more or less exact).  I love cooking dried beans in fall and winter, thus the arch.

He has his own chores to do, but helps me with my crazy ideas, too. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

We've Had It With These Goddamn Snakes

Jackmanni Clematis vine.
Who’s up for a snake story? Or two? Or three? (Michiela, you best just stop reading right now. Just look at the pretty flower photos and move on.)

Monday was my first day summer vacation (I’m officially unemployed again until the fall gardening season), so I was in a particularly good mood, a dancing-while-making-breakfast kind of mood. After breakfast comes watering, so I two-step off to the garden. Oops, we’re out of water, so I two-step over to the well house, open the door and “SNAKE!”

A copperhead was right there on the floor. Disturbed by my screech to Mason, the snake started slithering under the wood floor of the well house. Mason comes running with the snake gun, but I slow him down, warning him to be careful not to shoot the water tank, the water lines, the propane line and electrical lines, all of which run through the well house. By the time I issue all my warnings, and he snaps at me that he had a clear shot, the snake is gone. It’s somewhere under the floor, with all the water lines, propane lines and electrical lines. (In my defense, Mason has shot a water line and a hose in pursuit of snakes.)

Red Itoh peony, I forget the variety.
We try to scare the snake off with Snake-A-Way. No go. We stand watch for a while. No movement. We now face the unfortunate scenario of knowing there’s a snake in the well house, where now that it’s gardening season, I must go several times a day to top off the tank to water all these damn plants I’ve planted.

But there’s nothing we can do about it, and it’s time for Nick’s walk, so we go for the walk. Two minutes into the walk, I squint down the driveway. “What’s that? A tree limb or a snake?” Once you see one snake, you start imagining them everywhere. “Where?” says Mason, who can’t see shit without his glasses, which he’s not wearing. I lunge for Nick’s collar before he walks right toward the snake. A black one. A friendly one, or at least not poisonous. Mason tosses a stick at it to get it to move along, but the snake takes offense and curls up in a defensive stance. Mason throws another stick. Seriously, can’t we just stop throwing things and let it mosey along on its own? Which it finally does and we continue our walk.

Smokebush. Love that color.
We are now more than jumpy. Two snakes in 20 minutes. We’ve gone up to the lake, which is a long walk for Nick these days, and are just curling around and up our driveway. We were deep in conversation about something. Maybe the projects for the day, but more likely about that idiot Trump. Mason’s a few steps ahead of me and Nick when I see it.
“Mason stop,” I shouted, lunging for Nick’s collar again. Mason stopped, but then he also backed up in a slight panic, which is natural.

I shouldn’t have said “stop,” I should have said “Behind you, snake!,” which I then managed to spit out quickly. Mason spun around and backed away. He now saw it clearly, because it was damn close. A rattlesnake. A fat one.

One shot to the head before it could ever rattle its 15 rings, and a shovel to decapitate it, and we are rattled to our cores. (Yes, we did see the story last week about the Texas man bitten by a decapitated snake head. Mason always uses a shovel for head disposal.)

The snake story doesn’t end there. Two days later Mason decided it is time to rebuild the well house foundation. We built it atop landscape timbers made of treated wood, never thinking we’d still be living here seven years later. Well seven years later and the timbers have begun to rot. Personally I would have waited to start this project for a week or two after watching a snake slither under the well house floor. But Mason?

“Oh, that snake has moved on,” he said, mocking me for my nervousness.

Siberian Iris, Caesar's Brother.
A couple hours later, we’ve got the well house jacked up a foot off the ground. Mason’s done most of the work; I'd get called to help lift, and grunt, and lift again, but then I’d back off beyond a snake jumping distance. In between calls for help, I’d wander into the veggie garden and tend to things. 

I was pruning the tomatoes when I heard him.

“Holy shit,” Mason said in a low, slow alarming tone. I raced over quickly, but he had moved even more quickly, rushing backward out of the well house.

“The copperhead,” he said almost breathlessly as he reached for the snake pistol, which he had wisely kept nearby. He ducked back into the well house just far enough to cut the glare of the sun and focus on the far back corner. There was the snake, curled up on the middle shelf, the same shelf Mason had just rested his hand on to reach down and raise a heavy block. But the snake hadn’t been on the shelf when Mason first saw it. It had been slithering out of the wall insulation. Just as Mason was raising up with the block in one hand, his other on the shelf, he saw the snake’s head just a foot from his face. Thus the “holy shit.”

Rest assured that snake is now dead. We left the body out on a tree stump, where we always leave our snake carcasses. An owl, coyote, maybe a crow, some night-dwelling creature sweeps them away for us.

Today is Sunday. I’d like to say we haven’t seen a snake since, but just a couple hours ago, returning home on our morning walk, Mason spotted a rattler stretched between a boxwood and some foxglove seedlings. 

The season’s tally so far: 3 copperheads, 2 rattlers. 

So, who’s next to visit?

In other news, the carport extension got an extension.
The 1949 Farm-All Cub tractor now has its own "garage."



















Tuesday, May 8, 2018

For the record, stairs involve a lot of math. (Yup, he's a handsome mathematician!)


Huh. So apparently three months flew by. I knew I had been remiss. But a lovely card arrived in the mail yesterday from our former neighbor in Minnesota. She follows our adventures on the blog and started wondering whether Tennessee had gotten the best of us. 

We’re still here, Betty!! Thank you for prodding me into action.

I whole-heartedly blame the long, long winter for dulling our senses, burying any burst of creativity under comforters and gray, bleak skies. Not once, twice, but four times we had to scavenge our woods to find dead trees to burn to keep us warm long after our yearly (and usually ample) supply of firewood had run out.

In February, we faced the somber task of helping dig a grave for a neighbor here. More on that later. We also were treated to a four-day visit by some of our closest friends, Cindy and her hubby, Dean. 

Then March came, and I went back to work weekends at the garden nursery.  Cindy also threw a little work my way, and I really wasn’t used to working quite so much.

Somewhere in April, it finally warmed up to more typical temperatures, which immediately triggered a flurry of gardening projects, both here at home and for others.  

The warm weather also kicked Mason into high gear. The stair project, which got underway last fall, finally was finished. We now can flee our bedroom if the cabin catches fire (keep a happy thought -- we hope to never need it, but it's pretty cool to have it). We think the stairs look like they were always there, so that’s always a good thing.

See? It looks great!!
Mason also built me a swing!! We had a swing in Minnesota and, despite his protests that it was just a piece of wood, I made Mason pack it with us when we moved here. But for years, we could never find a good tree limb to hang it from; all the trees here are so damn tall! But all winter, while binge-watching “Homeland,” I stared out the front window at the dogwood that was dying in the front yard. I was bereft, but then I realized that, just above that dogwood, was the perfect oak tree limb for a swing. I made Mason take my photo in it, but it was terribly out of focus. So I made him take a second photo, picture perfect. 

I decided I liked the blurry one better.

My swing!!






Monday, January 29, 2018

House-Bound

Nick is much slower these days, but his appetite? Going strong!
We attended a rare social gathering last Saturday, which was fun, but of course mingling with the masses comes at a cost: Mason picked up a cold (not the flu, we think). So we have been hunkered down in the house for the past few days. It's not all bad. There's been lots of reading, writing, cooking and even some drawing. (I'm trying out a new winter hobby.)

But then today? The skies turned blue and we hit 56 degrees! I spent five hours shoveling leaf mulch about the yard. I was in just a T-shirt (and pants, of course) at one point.

But the cold is coming back. ... Send me a photo of something you want me to try to draw, will ya?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Wood Worries

Every couple days, we move more wood from the piles to the porch.
Our activities for the past few days have focused on staying warm, which means many hours lingering and reading in the loft, but also hours tending to the wood stove, restocking the woodpile on the front porch and wondering if we cut enough wood to make it to spring. All we can really do is wait and see. If we run short, plenty of dead stuff is lying around our 5 acres. It won’t burn as nicely as the red oak that warms us now, but it’ll do.

After this pile is gone, we have just four left. Gulp.
This winter isn’t colder than those past, but it seems we’ve had a longer stretch of particularly cold days. The wood stove finally got a break yesterday, when we hit a sunny 46 and we let the stove go cold while we headed out into our woods to start the Great Firewood Hunt for Winter 2018-2019. We took down a 75-footer; we thought it was oak, but now we're not certain. But it's a hardwood, so come next winter, it'll burn nicely! But today, we’re back inside by the fire. We hit a high of 35 before noon and now, just a few hours later, it’s 29 and snowing.

The 75-foot tree we felled yesterday fell off its stump but then got hung up in other trees. That's Mason contemplating how we we're going to get it down to the ground. We ended up tying a steel cable to it and another big tree to the right and used a "come-along" to tighten the cable, eventually clearing the tangled tree and bringing it crashing down to the forest floor. We then spent nearly three hours cutting it all up. Yes, we're sore today.
So far our road repairs and new gravel are holding up nicely.






Sunday, January 7, 2018

MacBook, How We Love Thee

I spend a lot of time in this chair, under that blanket.
Evening entertainment provided by "The Sopranos" DVDs.
Mason's usually back there on that stool, reading on the smartphone
about the latest most awful thing that man in D.C. has done. 
We have joyfully rejoined the righteous clan of MacBook owners, and as a result of the luxury expenditure, I have made a pledge to update this blog more often. You notice I call it a pledge and not a resolution, because I’m posting this one week later than planned. Ahem.

It’s not as if I’ve been swamped, either. This is winter, after all, when Flat Top productivity grinds to a halt, with its feet up in front of the wood stove, which has been burning nonstop for several weeks now. The Arctic blast has us holed up like rabbits in a winter warren. We’re finally catching up on our New Yorker magazines, knocking out a few books. (I recommend “Dreams From My Father,” by Obama — the contrast between his thoughtful explorations and those of today’s president are almost too painful to bear.) We spend most afternoons up in the loft, where it can almost feel like a warm summer day, especially if I’ve turned on the oven for a slow, low burn on a Dutch oven full of meat for Mason.

We have left the mountain only once in the past two weeks, and left the house only to walk Nick and restock the front porch woodpile. This has been an unseasonably long stretch of cold here, and the larger woodpiles out in the yard are disappearing so quickly that we’re starting to wonder whether we have enough stockpiled to get us through the season.

Our beloved Nick, and his door obsession. 
Nick remains our sole, desperately needed object of distraction. Unfortunately, his rapidly deteriorating state has added some level of drama to the interaction. Twice in the past two weeks, we’ve been in the kitchen when we’ve heard a ruckus and turned to see his back legs dangling off the loft.  We raced to his rescue, and have temporarily added a piece of lumber to prevent a three-peat. He also has developed a dementia of sorts; if he’s not napping upstairs, he’s at one of the doors, pawing it politely to be let out. But often, when we open the door, he walks to the door’s hinges and can’t figure how to get out. We play this game at least a dozen times a day.

A sneak peek of the stair project.
Over our evening beers, we contemplate upcoming projects. First up is Mason’s truck, which decided to die on us in town after we had it loaded with lumber, groceries and Christmas goodies. The lumber is for finishing the deck stair project, which has been on hold simply because there’s no reason to work out there when it’s 30 degrees. And the winter’s chill has us plotting to upgrade the back door to a properly insulated door, rather than the interior French doors we used because, when we got here seven years ago, we may not have really known what we were doing.

Do we know what we’re doing now, you wonder? Yeah, we wonder, too.