Sunday, August 30, 2009


In my mind, this is the sound the mobile home made when it exploded. Or slowly burned to the ground. There are different versions about how she went.

But first, I would like to formally retract some negative statements I made in an earlier post. It was brought to my attention that I am rather lucky to be in the position of having 15 acres of land to demolish and that, rather then complain about my good fortune, I should probably snap out of it and get to work clearing. Also, there's just nothing like knowing a violent fire roared a few hundred feet from my land to make me quickly grateful that I still have the weeds, mesquite, cactus, and snakes. Consider me officially "snapped" out of it. Hand me a chainsaw please and god bless the mess.

So, if you were wondering, there was a fire. We were informed of this fire via Dwayne who keeps us more updated than Twitter, as Jeremy would say. He called to let us know that a "house exploded" on the road near our land but that the entire area was barricaded and the exact location of said explosion was unknown. Jer and I were already in the car planning to spend an evening on the property when we received this call. We shot each other identical, frantic glances that said "WHAT are the chances?!" and feigned calmness as we proceeded to the land.

By the time we turned onto the main road that leads to our shared "driveway" it was evident that the barricades were gone. No smoke or flames were visible. Nothing seemed amiss until we actually arrived at the turnoff. Several fire trucks filled our drive and various sheriff vehicles were parked haphazardly along our easement. Fire hoses snaked down the drive and attached to the water main near the road. A few rogue cameramen wandered near their news trucks and ambulances were visible through the trees. What are the chances that the old mobile home sitting nearest to your fence will explode or burn? If you're us? Pretty good, as it turns out.

A fireman quickly reassured us that, despite this historic drought, the fire was absolutely contained and had not spread beyond the footprint of the house. No one was hurt as it had been a vacant home (save the many items still stored there by the previous owners). Our animals, the fireman suspected, were just fine. We were told to go home and stay out of the way and did just that, cooking up theories about the cause of the fire. And the explosion? Well, we chalked this up to the ammunition that we learned was stored in a back room.

Writing the words "ammunition that was stored" is as unsettling as it sounds. But due to the new, hyper-positive attitude I've adopted, I have many uplifting things to say on this entire subject and they are as follows:

A) No one, human or animal (except for maybe an old-mobile-home rat), was harmed.

B) We now have an open and lovely view of the forest on the drive up to our gate.

C) There was ammunition stored near the land. It is now gone. (I'm ignoring the fact that, you know, there could be more).

And finally,

D) Bare and burned trees make a glorious contrast against the setting sun:

I hope you appreciate my new, sunny disposition! It doesn't always come easy (grimace).

Where in the world is Boo?

If you're wondering why there hasn't been a peep about Boo, you need only refer to the last three or so posts about him.

That being said, I still find him charming. Even if he does avoid me by hiding behind the most unsavory piles of, well, crap.

Yes. That's a pile of manure and hay (aka: crap). I'm sure an avid gardener somewhere out there is reading this and lusting after this makings for some fantastic compost. For the rest of you, see if you can spot the clever baby donkey trying to hide.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On a lighter note

I'm going to start by saying that I'm not nearly as complex and deep as Jenna. I'm a pretty simple guy (good and bad), so the opportunity to cut some trees, drive my tractor, and drink a Lone Star still gets me excited about every upcoming weekend. As a result, my post(s) will seem somewhat shallow (and I'm OK with that) compared to Jenna's. With that said, I felt the need to share some very simple observations this week.

1) Jenna is very anxious to start making some concrete progress (get it? we're building a house!). She didn't appreciate my comment about the longer it takes, the sweeter the reward. She followed that with something about some things are so sweet, they make your teeth fall out. I'm not sure what that means in this context, but it sounds pretty bad. We'd better get moving on this house.

2) In light of some recent activity from our feathery monsters in the backyard, I was compelled to write a partial retraction. While I maintain that our chickens are severely lacking in intelligence for the most part, they have adapted nicely to the 21st century and all of the technological advances that are available to them. Specifically, they have figured out that the noisy cube in the corner of the yard has cool perches to stand on and provides a cool supply of water to bathe in. I'm talking about my A/C unit. With the 100+ degree weather, they have begun to hang out near this piece of "modern" technology every day. Yes, they have pecked away any insulation I had around the pipes, but at least they're more comfortable, right? I still hate them.

3) I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Jenna looks great driving my tractor. Notice the Tractor Supply cap atop her head, the Lone Star in her hand, and the huge grin on her face. Beautiful.

4) I designed my future garage this week and sent it to the architect to add to his drawings. Admittedly, it took a few iterations before I had something realistic to show Jenna and said architect. The first couple of revisions had spaces for about 15 vehicles, plus a work shop, plus a bathroom, plus a place to drop about 10 air matresses. Ok, I was trying to one-up our friends in Whitehouse by designing a Garage-Mahal II, but even I realized this was ridiculous. So many cuts later, I'm down to a more "reasonable" 3+ car garage that is approximately the size of the house I live in now. So, maybe there's more cutting to be done. Go big or go home, I always say.

Heat. Despair.

I got nothin'. Not much progress on the land. Not much progress with the architect. Lots of money spent on hay bales. Not enough money spent on credit card debt. Nothin'.

Today I stopped by the land for my midweek, brief, visit to make sure there are still five warm bodies wandering around the place, that water's full, and some vestige of a hay bale still stands. After the animals get over their first few moments of shock and awe at the appearance of The Human Feed Bag, they generally swarm around the tiny purple shed in anticipation of a few handfuls of sweet feed and range cubes (or "breeder" cubes as the fancy pants professional farm people would call them. By the way - there tend to be a minimum of three names for everything agricultural which is awesome, because it gives one three whole opportunities to look stupid when requesting something.). Their expressions seemed particularly shocked and awed today, which I tried to imitate for Jeremy who unimaginatively stated that animals (especially cows) do not have expressions. They are either awake or asleep. Dead or alive. There's no gray area. I tend to disagree since I am positive that Seamus' eyes popped out of his head a little and his mouth made a tiny round shape like "oh!", and Rooney visibly hung his head and frowned after getting a swift kick from Chula. Unfortunately I was the only witness to this array of bovine emotions so I'll wait to press this point home when I have some pictures to prove it.

But that's it folks. There's been almost nothing by way of land activities. Our feeble attempts to get work done are continually ruined by temperatures that hover around 150 degrees and humidity that makes it feel hotter.

Unless you count Saturday. This was just an extended version of an earlier weekend in which we staked out the footprint of the future house and started cutting down and dragging trees and shrubs that got in the way. I really wanted to kick the heat's ass and dragged the hell out of more than my usual number of trees, so much so that Jer commented on my super-human amount of clearing. Jer also pushed it to his own personal limit and, in retrospect, I think it was our way of shooting the bird at the weather. But really we only screwed ourselves since I've been feeling a little off ever since, and Jeremy has been bedridden with a nasty cold for days.

(Witness the many stumps. The bloody massacre. It makes me feel a little dirty.)

So two things have got me to thinking. Why is it that many of us assume challenges for marathons....or, say, hand-clearing 15 acres of nasty, assorted vegetation (decayed tires, glass, bathroom appliances)? Is this living life "to its fullest"? Or should we just call it what it is (masochism)? The two things that make me question our motives are: a) our painful over-exertion on Saturday; and b) The Devil Queen.

The over-exertion point requires little explanation. But it's worth questioning. I recently had a co-worker comment that our weekends spent chopping, hauling, cutting, and dragging must serve as a pleasant visceral respite from the weekly grind of traffic and computing. I thought of her this weekend while I leaned over a log trying not to vomit from the heat. No, the visceral activities aren't the draw...

And The Devil Queen represents the depths of my paranoia and fascination with all things tragic and sad. I stumbled on this blog due to a recent (and probably long lasting) obsession with house building and renovation. You probably didn't know this - but I desperately wanted to buy an old farmhouse, plop her down into the woods and fix 'er up with my own two hands. I grew up in an old Victorian and somehow old houses will always feel more like home. Also, it seemed incredibly romantic and wonderful until I checked the price tag for moving old homes and converting them into energy efficient buildings. I satisfy this craving now by reading about others going through the experience themselves and it's hugely gratifying to realize a common theme which is that these projects never end and are a constant source of heartache and frustration. (Jenna wipes brow and is thankful for dodging the bullet of assuming never-ending, painful tasks).

The Devil Queen is the most fantastic of many wonderful blogs, not only due to the author's sardonic wit and self-deprication, but because it chronicles the demise of a dream. This is a couple who fell in love with an old Queen Anne, moved her into the country and spent years (literally, years) restoring her, patching her, pouring all of their money into her, but eventually selling her. The "dark mistress," as she is called, assumed control of their lives. I am reading the blog obsessively, starting from year one (2001!) not only because it is hugely entertaining, but because I am sickly attracted to hilariously sad stories.

In this case, it's a story of a dream that doesn't exactly come true despite planning and hard work - it just never quite comes together. And I'm left feeling a little dark. And pessimistic. After every tree we chop is another tree, another pile of trash, or nest of wasps. Septic needs to be dug and dropped. Electric poles need to be hammered down and wires strung up. And water lines have to be trenched in - thousands and thousands of feet of them.

Normally I would try to wrap this up in a way that doesn't make me sound completely pathetic. But I got nothin' today. I'm not giving up by any means, but I'm having a little trouble picturing a liveable plot of land that doesn't instantly make one yearn for bug spray, a hot shower, and a lot of hired help. So, thank you nausea-inducing heat and spiny mesquite trees! Thank you Devil Queen! Because of you both I choose to wallow in the fear of eternal land clearing: the-project-with-no-end. Until I can once again embrace this masochistic endeavor, I will focus only on planning the interior of the house.
And now for an arbitrary picture of LuLu, who is ridiculous, and makes me feel slightly less downtrodden:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

City Girls Scare Easy

One of the reasons I want to move to the country is due to my deeply rooted fear of all things that wriggle or wiggle. Or have squishy centers. Or sting. Yea, yea, I understand that those types of things tend to congregate in the country. But I'm all about conquering this fear and figure I might as well look it straight in the, or all of their, eye(s). Follow me?

The key to tackling fears is to embrace them, and I've decided to do this with lots of unjustified confidence. For example, when I noticed a potentially bountiful harvest of cactus pears sitting like crowns atop our abundant cactus, I knew it was time to call Jesse. You see, Jesse is my sister, and Jesse likes food adventures. Actually, she's a crazy good chef and has no fear of trying the most complicated, most intimidating dishes. Prickly cactus pears encased in wicked spines, amidst snake infested mountains of cactus are right up her alley. What appear to me as gem-like-fruits-of-doom appear to her as the makings of luscious sauces and decadent aromas. However, she also shares this inherent fear of creepy wildlife and I was certain she would be slightly apprehensive.

Therefore, I decided to take advantage of this obvious opportunity to feign confidence by offering a late afternoon tractor-ride around the land to help her collect the little beasts - in the middle of snake country in the middle of snake season. Basically, it was an excellent plan to a) fool my sister into thinking I was totally fearless and awesome, and b) fool myself into the same lie. Also, I was kinda counting on Jesse's own fear of the same types of wild things to cause her to cancel.

When the afternoon arrived, I waited patiently for Jesse to call and back out of this game of chicken I had created. No dice. It turns out that her love for food adventure far outweighs her fear of creepy crawly things. Rather then let her call my bluff, I donned my trusty trucker hat, knee high boots, and Lone Star. The casual confidence my outfit conveyed was probably almost believable until I refused to climb down off the tractor at our first stop along the back fence (location of all of my land/snake spottings to date).

As we stopped aside cactus after cactus, I watched Jesse walk right up to the towering plants. Sure, she screamed continually as stink bugs and various other mysterious creatures crawled onto her hands or out of the fruit, but that didn't stop her. It was awe inspiring. So much so, that I realized there's nothing sissy about showing your fear while going through with the task. She was a whole lot cooler and more confident out there grabbing the fruits and screaming then I was in my trucker hat atop the tractor. After thirty minutes of this process, I finally crept off my perch and joined my sister in the middle of potential snake nests, innumerable and invisible creepy crawlies swarming around us. We plucked the heck out of those cactus - twisting, screaming, cursing at the needles in our fingers (thighs, elbows, etc), saying "DID YOU HEAR THAT?" at rustling leaves, and screaming again.

Our version of confidence, and an hour and a half, got Jesse a bag full of the magenta beauties. I was quite certain she was only bluffing about her claim that she would immediately de-prickle, skin, and boil the suckers when she got home. We both secretly knew that in reality, they were too intimidating to actually cook and EAT, and that we had only attempted the harvest process to prove something to ourselves. Wrong. Again. She managed to make our semi-traumatic adventure worthwhile through the creation of what sounds to be an elegant sauce. Hmph.

I guess that, regardless of age, you can keep learning stuff from your older sister.

Our thorn and creature infested afternoon was made complete by an iridescent bug that zoomed in for a landing on the picnic table as we had a few beers.

For the record, it was I who took these pictures while Jesse and Jeremy shuffled around awkwardly behind me, attempting to avoid the mysterious beer-drinking beetle. Apparently, I'm kind of over the fear of crawly (so long as they don't wriggle - still working on that) things. Mission, partially, accomplished.

(Drunk beetle.)