Monday, May 31, 2010

A House on a Hill

For over one year now, we have talked about this house. To be more specific, we have dreamed of a particular homestead for one year, which isn't too long by any standard. I think what we've finally realized is that the house itself is symbolic of a lifestyle that's been brewing quietly for many years. Something that was silently in the background without a name, a designation, a shape, just a type of life we started to tend towards over time. It wasn't until we literally put pen to paper last April that a particular structure emerged to help us house that lifestyle. I hope we saved those original scribbles somewhere.

In the past year we cautiously moved forward through a maze of architects, engineers, and builders. We learned a LOT, made many mistakes, and had more arguments than are worth mentioning (I think I just mentioned them). And along the way we second guessed the overall decision to build, considering every alternative from all angles. Our final and most comprehensive bid finally arrived from the contractor recently, one that incorporated sub-contractor bids for everything from septic installation to sweeping up dust from a finished floor. This time, it was I who panicked and jumped back onto Craigslist looking for old houses to move. I visited three homes this week. I wheeled and dealed. I made frantic calculations and considered the pros and cons of living in an old farm house the size of our livingroom just to avoid the commitment of building. To be concise: I totally freaked out.

Saturday night was historic because of the calm manner in which we discussed the entire situation; the money, the options, the future. Basically, Jer was relieved to see me freak out finally about the enormity of this undertaking since my response to most of his house related freak-outs for the past year has been to pat his head and tell him he's cute when he's worried and that the money stuff will "just work itself out." That's not the type of thoughtful reasoning he was after. Not that my panic was planned, but turning the tables certainly helped us finally get to the bottom of things. I'll put that tactic in my back pocket for future use (fingers crossed Jer doesn't read this post and if so, Hi Jer! You're cute when you're angry).

I will spare the details and get to the point. We are building for sure, pending any major hangups with banks. And our start date is approximately six months or so from now - RIGHT NOW! From this very minute!!! The time for listmaking has begun. The piles of crusty light fixtures, rusted bathtubs, and crooked doors must now be attacked with an arsenal of cleaning products, abrasive tools, and a lot of patience. Somewhere in my parent's old shed sit 14 insane asylum doors with my name on them. We will take on a lot of the finish-out labor ourselves to save some serious money that can go back into the land. The house will be primarily professionally built and partially completed by ourselves, by family, and by friends bribed with beer and compliments.

It might not be pretty, but it'll be ours.

I've walked past the spot where the house will sit many times over the past two years. I've sat in between the two oak trees that flank the future front porch. The fence is one-third completed as of today with a spot for a small gate in front of the homesite so we can walk easily to the pond from the house. The land is taking shape beyond your average tree clearing. I must come to terms with the fact that soon I will live alongside rattlesnakes and scorpions. In fact, soon I will officially be a country dweller and therefore qualified to say "rattler" instead of "rattlesnake." Things are getting interesting around here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

All the Single Ladies (Rated PG-13)

I'm no donkey whisperer, but I'm fairly certain that the events that transpired yesterday evening were not kosher donkey behavior.

Now that the minis have moved in we find ourselves overwhelmed by single donkey ladies. This amounts to nothing special aside from intermittent banshee screams and ragged hee hawing towards a neighboring pasture where a vocal Jack resides. One of our watchful neighbors even reported several Jack pasture-breaks in order for him to pace alongside our fence line - all the single ladies and the Jack screaming at each other in their hiccupy-donkey language through the fence by our main gate.

I didn't give this much thought until yesterday (tell your children to leave the room) when Chula took it upon herself to mount Brownie who has emerged as the leader of the mini donkey pack. Chula is definitely the leader of all the livestock animals. Now that she has a challenger for the top position (tiny but assertive Brownie) I will attribute Chula's, er, aggressive behavior to the establishment of her dominance. Or at least I WOULD have had the two not looked like they were sorta enjoying the activity and had been going on like this for awhile now (days?!). In fact we witnessed the display not one but 4 (FOUR) times! It was truly disturbing - mostly because Chula is a standard and Brownie is a mini and the physics were all wrong. Also I panicked and had to wonder - did the Jack somehow successfully make it over the fence recently and now the donkeys were mimicking some recent behavior they'd seen from him? Oh dear.

Good thing we had dinner plans with our good buddy Dwayne last night. Since Dwayne is the official secret-keeper for all things agricultural, Jeremy thought he'd explain our predicament over some crispy catfish and cold beer (yumyumyum) and get a solid answer. Once the story was graphically relayed we expected Dwayne to spout off some long-winded explanation about donkey sexuality being influenced by humidity during a certain phase of the moon in late spring - or something believably scientific. All we got was a deep sigh. Then he removed his hat real fast and scratched the top of head for a second before replacing the cap. "Well, I'll be damned ya'll," he chuckled "never did hear of that sort of nonsense! Maybe momma donkey's (Chula) in heat and mini donkey's (Brownie) in heat and heck..." another chuckle "they's always comin' in heat in the spring like 'at and get confused." He took a swig of beer and changed the subject. Changing the subject indicated that he didn't really know the answer, and we were both left stunned to silence. Dee-you-wayne not knowing the answer to one of life's most pressing questions was really unsettling. But watching the single ladies engage in this sort of behavior was much more unsettling, and now that I think of it, I'd like to forget the whole thing.

So let's just put it out of our heads shall we? How about a lovely group picture from a time before the age of innocence ended:

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Circle of Life

And yes, I totally mean that in The Lion King sort of way.

The past several days were intense. There was a beautiful wedding. There was a beautiful new baby. There was the passing of a well-lived life, all in the matter of a handful of days. While I was a distant observer to most of these events, they each reminded me of the perfect simplicity of cycles. Birth, life, death - with a a hell of a lot in between. While it's the "in-between" that arguably counts the most, I can't help but pause for just a minute to remember that the "in-between" also shouldn't overshadow the cycles of life that just keep on happening, regardless of the attention we pay them.

Not to be overtly corny, but here it is. I've never noticed those cycles with as much clarity as I do now that the land is a constant in our lives, throbbing away in the background, whether or not we're there to tend to it. I'm taking more notice now of the basic elements. I have a lot more respect for each one.

So here's to the circles -Births. Marriages. Deaths. And here's to the little in-betweens - Like taking a baby donkey for a walk. Like sitting on old porches in campfire light next to a river with good friends.

(I have included this picture of LuLu only because today's note was entirely too serious, and she is not.)

Monday, May 10, 2010


I promise never to repeat the word in today's title ever again. Except maybe one more time and then that's it, that is IT. I just can't really help myself in light of recent developments with one particular donkey, and with my life generally. I mean, come on. I have five (5) donkeys. FIVE DONKEYS - making my life - you guessed it - redonkulous.

(I'm so sorry. I'm done.)

I think we both had bigger plans for ourselves at some fuzzy point in the past. There was a time I was going to be an environmental lawyer in southern France, after a brief stint on Broadway. Jeremy also had plans to temporarily play the professional soccer circuit, followed by the creation of a wildly successful software company. Products single-handedly developed by himself. We got so close to these totally attainable dreams, sooooo close! But then life happened and it turned out that I hate flying too much to live in the south of France. I hate studying too, so law was out. Jeremy, however, is a brilliant soccer player and engineer so I don't know what tripped him up. I think we both just got comfy with the status quo. That's about when we stumbled on the land idea and the animal idea, and things got interesting. Not exactly equivalent to a stint on Broadway, but there is no longer a status to our quo. By our standards, anyway.

Take this weekend for example. Jeremy's genius idea to justify the donkeys' presence in our lives led to my hour long attempt to halter Boo, attach a lead rope and drag/pull him through the front gate onto our newly lush "driveway." In case this information is someday pertinent to you: donkeys double as lawn mowers. You can thank me later.

There I was, waist deep in (snake-infested) grasses and wildflowers while the belligerent baby donkey enjoyed a treat akin to lobster.

I spent some serious time wading through the grass with Boo, giving me some serious time to contemplate just how far we've deviated from those original, fuzzy goals. Would I rather be sipping wine in Provence while simultaneously battling to save endangered French fish?


And more importantly, we've now honed in on a potentially lucrative use for the donkey herd. That means only four more stubborn asses to halter break, lead, and sweet talk.

I expect a very minimal return on these investments.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bring on the fence posts

Is it bad that I'm looking forward to going to work on Monday to rest? Let's just say, we hit it pretty hard this weekend and made a decent amount of progress to show for it. In between the donkey stories from Jenna's posts, you may have gleaned that our focus right now is to get that interior fence up. We need to be able to separate the animals. They are just too curious and annoying for their own good. So, we started putting in some H-posts every ~300 feet, and this weekend we put in all but one of the cedar support posts in the first 300 foot section. We're using cedar logs from a lot of the trees I've been massacring over the last year and half. In between the cedar posts, I'll be putting t-posts in which will give me spans of about 10 feet between posts. Later we'll be putting up field fencing, probably goat/sheep fence since goats are probably in the cards for the future. The cedar posts went in pretty well. This is another testament to how amazing Bambi (read: technology) is. With the help of a family friends auger connected to Bambi's back side, I was able to drill about 17 holes this weekend. Some were drilled in about 2 minutes, but others took an hour or so of drilling, cleaning out rocks, breaking up clay, and re-drilling. That rock bar gets pretty heavy after a couple of these holes. Hence the desire to get back to my desk job to rest up. Back to the technology is cool statement, my appreciation is even stronger because of a discussion with my grandfather last weekend. I was explaining my plan, and he started to tell me about all of the fence post holes he had dug by hand when he was a kid. Screw that.

Jenna did most of the tamping, so those posts are solid!

All in all, a pretty good, productive weekend. And on another positive note, no snakes this weekend. :)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Retraction. And a Rattlesnake.

But first, a comment.

I hate when I'm wrong. It happens often enough that you'd think I'd be used to it. But I'm not. And I even happen to have fairly strong convictions regarding just about everything. I think the best lesson to learn from me, in general, is that if you're wrong a LOT, you should probably just start being pretty wishy-washy about everything.

That said, I was wrong about our builder. We were not dumped. We were not being ignored. We simply were waiting for news from someone who was dealing with some personal issues that could not be avoided. I will now, as they say, open mouth and insert foot. My apologies.

Along with my many other deeply rooted and shallowly supported beliefs, I was certain we didn't really have rattlesnakes on our particular slice of 15 acre heaven. Even when Seamus turned up bitten by something toxic, I had real trouble acknowledging that it was probably more than just a scorpion. So this afternoon, as we walked along the back fence and Jer quietly said "snake" and pointed towards some cactus, I eagerly walked two steps forward, hoping to catch a glimpse of the first spring snake of 2010. Eager, that is, until its fat, thick body slid over a rock, the diamond markings distinct from any other I had seen. I felt my throat close up slightly as the diamond marked body, in no hurry at all, glided sloooowwwlly under the fence, a 2 inch rattle disappearing in the brush.

Gulp. No rattlers out here, huh, Jenna?!? Wrong.


I quietly climbed on the tractor and refused to step down until it was time to leave. Such behavior is counter-productive to the whole purpose of being out there. And my response was totally opposite from Jeremy's, which was calm, cool and collected WHICH happens to be totally opposite from his normal snake response (shrieking, pointing, dizziness). I guess the difference is that he accepted long ago that the countryside is both good and evil while I must first now embrace that it's more than just good.


And now for an arbitrary pastoral scene, ruined only slightly by the hundreds of snakes I imagine are squirming in the background.