Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Roll Call

Tonight Jeremy hauled Marta to her new digs in a field near the home site. He hooked her up to our completely legit electric pole and attached her to his newly installed water line. For the first time, he turned on the lights and started the AC without a generator, and she purred quietly like a kitten. I opted to stay at the house tonight only because I've just returned from a four day work trip. Jeremy, however, is settling in and as I sit on this couch alone I realize that, from now on, he will probably be there more than here.

We start building the house tomorrow morning.

We drew this house on a crumpled napkin over two years ago. Now I'm hoping that it is actually functional and not just the product of two kids playing with Leggos. Sometimes the primary goal (functional house) gets lost in the shuffle. And by "shuffle" I'm talking about the absolute chaos that was just the beginning of this process.

So let's review the damage:
Two years, three designers, two engineers, 10 builders, 1,849 banks, 5 appraisals, 2,000 feet of trench and one plastic cup. 1 Jenna. 1 Jeremy and a team of machines named Buster and Bambi. An audience of 5 screaming donkeys and 2 drooling cows. 730 nights spent dreaming about tomorrow.

I won't count on much sleep this night.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

you've got to be kidding me.

Over one year of painfully dry conditions. No real rain since last September, and even then, it disappeared as soon as it fell. Two years waiting to build. We officially OFFICIALLY break ground on Thursday, September 1. Equipment, port-a-potties, dumpsters and the builder's mobile office will be delivered at 8am that morning. Site prep and foundation are to begin that day.


For the first time in, again, over a year, we have significant rain and storms forecast for three solid days starting Sept. 2. Rain and storms means mudslides at our property making work impossible. Universe, you are hilarious.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Territory

Simon, our cat, has terribly crossed eyes. He was a "house-warming" gift to Jeremy when he bought this house. Meaning: I really wanted a cat. Jeremy laid the ground rules for choosing the right kitten. He planned to stick his arm into the cage at the animal shelter, and the first kitten to crawl into his hand would win a ticket to our place. I figured it was only fair that we both get to stick our arms in there. A tiny tabby crawled into the palm of Jer's hand and her brother, a cross-eyed tabby/siamese kitten, batted my finger with his paw. Sold. The one-kitten house warming gift turned into two. The rest is history. We lost Cecilia, Jer's cat, years ago. But her brother Simon remains a fixture, nay - a menace, around this place. The thing is, Simon's got territory issues.

So really, I should have known better than to spray paint various items in the backyard and then leave them unattended for hours. Anything that enters Simon's front or backyard stomping grounds must immediately be entered into his complex filing system. Items arrive in his territory (car in the driveway, stray flip flop on the sidewalk, empty cooler draining in the front year - you get the picture) and Simon emerges from the neighbors bushes in order to quickly mark the object and add it to his coffers. Regardless of those severely crossed-eyes, the cat's got dead-on aim when it comes to marking his territory. He backs right up to the thing, tail straight in the air, intense focus in the eyes, and out squirts a stream of pee bulls-eye onto the object: "Mine!" The light fixtures and oven hood that I'd painted in the yard were no better protected from Simon's filing system than any of the car tires or shoes that he's claimed over the years. I know this, but in my idiocy, I still left them out there, inviting him to stake his claim. OH, and stake he did. In 10pm darkness I finally remembered to retrieve the oven hood, bent over to grab it and felt warm liquid pour off the bottom rim, over my fingers and down my elbow. "GRRDDAAMMITTTSIMMMMONNN!" I shouted, as our stealthy antagonist slunk by my leg and trotted under the porch.

(the targets)

So I'm wondering what we'll do with the little guy when he's moved onto the property. No cat, with even the largest bladder and greatest intentions, can possibly stake out that much territory. But by golly, I know he'll try. I'm worried we'll find him weak and dehydrated under a cactus, his stores depleted, after trying to claim every last bush, rock, and rusty tin can. At least the guy's got goals though, and that's more than I can say for most of us.

(the culprit)

And to follow this theme of claiming territory, it's important to note that we finally, actually, totally and really really really did - FINISH INSTALLING WATER LINES - 'cause nothing says "it's mine" more than pouring your blood, sweat and tears into 2,000 ft of 4 inch trench. Last night, at approximately 7:18 p.m., I used the plastic cup to scoop my last scoop of dusty dirt, rocks and sticks. Emptied it onto the ground beside the trench, coughed out a cloud of dirt, sneezed a pound of sand, laid down, shut my eyes, and swore I'd never clean another trench again. Just as this happened, I heard the familiar sound of the rock bar breaking rocks and peered down through one open eye at Jeremy who was, tragically, starting to dig a new water line for a trailer hook-up. Needless to say, the marriage is over.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Texas Tea

Long ago, this phrase referred to that most coveted liquid that used to spew from wells across the state: oil. Nowadays, and in the midst of this drought, Texas Tea is something else altogether: water.

For three days Jeremy and his father worked to carve almost 2000 feet of trenches using insufficient rental equipment. My mother-in-law and both of my parents came to help cement pvc together for the lines, and today - the day that has come to represent the pinnacle of our stupidity - we cleaned trenches with cups.

Details are for another time when my heat-stroked head cools down and once the grime and pain of this day are only a hilarious memory. At 4pm, we all sat together in the "shade" of a puny elm (with air temps of 105, shade is a theory, at best, in terms of the relief is provides). If you panned across the four of us in slow motion, you'd assume we'd just completed the Suez Canal. Each of our mouths hung open slightly, lips cracked and lined with dried spit and crud, eyes dull and crossed, hair so sweaty that salt had formed around each strand. The only words spoken were from Mom who observed that, "You know you're dirty when you realize you've been chewing dirt." I laughed, which turned into a sneeze, which caused two columns of sand to shoot straight from each nostril.

To those of you planning to DIY a water line, let me offer a word of caution: if you find yourself standing in a four inch wide knee-high trench, stiff roots poking out of each wall, and you've got a plastic cup filled with dirt in your hand - then something has gone horribly awry.

Judging by the photo I just received from Jeremy (who is still inexplicably connecting water lines), our combined efforts this weekend may have paid off:

Sweet, sweet, blessed water pouring forth from crudely connected pipes and set into trenches cut with a broken machine, and then cleaned by a bunch of suckers. Suckers with plastic cups.

Local Narration

A few words on Jeremy's recent adventure. It's important to note that, in these parts, feral hogs are an incredible problem. Not only are they notoriously aggressive, but they are overpopulated and consistently destroy property. My personal ethics on the whole hunting issue are that, if killed humanely, if the animal is over-populated, and it will be eaten - then it's something I can accept. Dwayne, Keith and other neighbors probably don't consider the ethics of hunting. They hunt because they always have, and they eat what's killed because it stocks the freezer and tastes good. In some ways this is the simplest embodiment of the locavore movement.

But back to Saturday. When Dwayne mosied up and told us about his planned activities for the evening, he shared the news by stating: "There is a man named Bob. I don't know a thing about him a'tall 'cept he's Bob. He's on a cable TV show, and he's filmin' a hog hunt across the street. I'm comin' along in case he's lookin' for some local narration." He said the last part with a wink. With that, he slapped both thighs, declared that the weather is "hotter 'an blue blazes!" and asked if we heard his gun go off earlier in the day. To prepare for the evening hunt he was "shootin' at the pink side of a red barn." I'm still scratching my head over what this could possibly mean but am intent on adopting such idioms and using them in normal conversation.

Men like Dwayne are a rare breed. He's a grisled relic of old west Texas, but with a cell phone and satellite TV. He mixes raspberry Jello into corn to attract the wildlife he watches from his night vision camera that live-feeds to his computer. His best friend is a beer-drinking Quarter horse named Chocolate. Four years ago I'd be horrified that Jeremy spent his Saturday night in the back of a pickup with this man, near an over-sized rifle, luring hog from the brush with sweet corn. I'd call him "simple" and mean it in a way that said I thought he was stupid. These days, I'm thrilled to hear he's tagging along with the locals, because it means we're local, too. And I look forward to the day someone looks at our life and calls it "simple," no matter how they mean it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Ok, where to start. My head is still reeling from my Saturday evening in the country. I guess I should just start from the beginning (I apologize for the lengthy post). This weekend was "Water Line Weekend." On Friday afternoon, I cut out of work early to meet the plumbing supply delivery driver that was dropping off my 2200' of 2" PVC. Shortly thereafter the rock saw delivery driver was supposed to arrive. Both were supposed to call before they headed out to make sure I was around to let them in. However, as Jenna explained in a previous post the "Yes, we'll call when we're headed your way" actually means "ha ha ha, you're silly, we're just going to show up and surprise you." Both delivery guys showed up unannounced, but to their credit the equipment delivery folks called after the fact to say the delivery may have already happened. Ok, whatever, that is just a minor point in this unusual weekend. So, my Fasha came over bright and early Saturday morning (like 7:15am, bright and early) to start trenching with the rock saw (see pic below)...he even brought his own umbrella. Once you get over the silly look, it actually worked pretty well.

Ok, so we're (read: Fasha is) trenching away and making good progress when our fearless neighbor and friend, Dewayne, shows up for his weekend "hello". So, we do the country thing and stop what w're doing to chat for about 30 minutes. Somewhere during the typical conversation covering the hot weather and the drought, Dewayne mentions that he is meeting Keith (another country "neighbor") this evening with his new friend (meet Bob) to film a hog hunt across the street, and he wanted to know if I wanted to join them. I almost choked on my sip of tea with a gurgled "hell yes!" Allegedly, this mysterious "Bob" (Dewayne didn't know his last name) has a cable show called "Hogs Gone Wild". While Google did indicate that a Hogs Gone Wild show does actually exist on the Discovery Channel, I couldn't tell that Bob was actually involved. Either way, we were going to meet up with Keith and Bob to film a hog hunt. Can it get any better? So, I head over to Dewayne's and meet up with him and his son, Colby. We hop in his truck and literally cross the street into the 100 acre land that Dewayne's buddy owns. We drive in a few minutes until we arrive at the tank. Here we pull off to the side and crack a few cold beers while we wait for Keith and Bob. After a beer or two, Keith and Bob show up...along with Davina and their son Jesse. Now that we have a nice little audience, it's time to attract the hogs.

Dewayne grabs the two buckets of some magical mixture of deer corn, water, and raspberry Jello (no lie). Apparently, this flavor is irresistible to the hogs...go figure. Meanwhile, Bob pulls out his AK-47-like assault rifle which is fitted with a night vision scope that also records video.

At this point, all the guys start drooling uncontrollably. So, we hunker down (that's right...hunker down) in and around Dewayne's truck. Right about now, the sun is starting to set, so it's time to get serious...and quiet. Apparently, this is no easy task for 12 year old Jesse...and his 50 year old father Keith. There's enough noise between Jesse shifting around in the bed of the truck and Keith trying to "whisper" the latest joke he heard in everyone's ear, to scare off a herd of elephants. Dewayne periodically looks at me, smiles and shakes his head, whispering we'll have to come out some other evening without the cavalry. I'm having a good time with or without any hogs, so I could care less.

However, in the end we're able to get the entire crew quiet enough for long enough that Bob holds up a hand and whispers that "hogs are coming!" With his infrared, nigh vision scope/video camera he spots a couple of hogs coming down the hill towards the corn (and us). Luckily, the moon was almost full tonight and poked out behind some clouds right about this time, so I could just make out some black shapes moving in the distance. Bob whispers that he's about to shoot, so we get ready. In rapid fire, he pulls off three rounds. Right about that time, I think I see a black shape about 50 yards away start running in our direction. For those of you that don't know anything about feral hogs, apparently they can be quite aggressive. Right as my brain is recognizing this dark shape that is moving in our direction, Colby yells out "he's coming our way!" Immediately, everyone is diving into the bed of Dewayne's truck. I wish I could have seen this from the pigs perspective, because that must have looked pretty ridiculous. Sure enough, this enormous pig comes up over a ridge and is headed straight for us. It veers off when it gets about 10 yards away and Bob finishes it off. I try to act cool with a casual "well, that was exciting." Meanwhile, my heart is banging against my chest and I'm checking to make sure I didn't wet myself. With surprisingly dry pants, I join in the toast to Bob for his finishing shot. Everyone grabs a fresh beer and heads out with flashlights to find the other 2 pigs he shot at. I walk over to look at the monster that scared 6 adults into a single truck bed, and it was pretty impressive. I would guess around 250 to 300 lbs. Then I hop in the bed of Dewayne's truck as we head to pick up the other hogs that didn't run at us. I had a moment as we're bouncing down the bumpy dirt path. I could totally get used to this lifestyle. Good people, simple living, and soon some very natural, unprocessed meat in the freezer. After we round up the animals, I "help" Davina and Bob process the pigs (by "help" I mean I held the flashlight and any large pieces of meat they handed to me as they worked). Now, I have a piece of back strap and a ham in the freezer just waiting for me to fire up my smoker. Overall, a good Saturday night. Thanks Bob.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Holy Electric!!

The element of surprise stirs the most childlike reactions. I lose all sense of time and space when completely surprised, shocked, and awed. In fact, I've been known to physically spin in a circle, jump up and down, clap my hands inexplicably and unstoppably, and squeal - if caught totally off guard with a pleasantly unexpected surprise. Yea. I'm that guy.

So, you can imagine the scene this evening as we pulled up to the metal tube gate and saw the first four dark brown electric poles shooting up from the ground along the pasture fence. I clapped, spun in a circle, and squealed all at once. Jeremy rolled his eyes. Although I knew the electric company may be coming this week to install the lines, I was assured that they would call ahead and give me fair warning so I could come and monitor the animal situation. An assurance of calling ahead actually means, "I have absolutely no intention of calling you." And I've learned this is typically the case. As an FYI - few people who regularly deal in rural settings respect such piddly details as fence lines, padlocks, or "Beware of Guard Donkeys" signs. If you live in the country, the world is your oyster, and a closed gate is actually just an invitation to enter. Meaning: I've experienced more privacy and respect for property lines in my postage-stamp sized suburban plot of land then we've ever found on the acreage. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Rather, I give fair warning to those venturing hither and yon in search of privacy - country folks are real friendly folks. They'll climb a fence just to chat you up about the weather.

Where was I? Oh, surprise electricity, that's right. So there we were, driving up the road in order to set out a new bale of hay to discover that "SURPRISE!" the company had somehow obtained our gate lock code over the course of our several months negotiations and had used it without warning in order to set the lines. Hallelujah - we (almost) have power! (Actual wires will be strung tomorrow). For the first time since signing the construction loan, there's tangible progress out there and, I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty exciting.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Piss and Vinegar

Just in case you haven't heard, Texas is on fire. Every morning the meteorologists update the number of back-to-back triple digit temps we've had in a row. Currently I believe we're in the 50's. As in 50 + days that it's been 100 degrees or more. Day after day after day. The drought also continues to be of central concern for all the obvious reasons. For months this was compared to the drought of " '56" or of " '58," I can't remember which. I just know this rivaled what stood for decades as the most devastating drought on record. I heard the other day that we've now far surpassed the record. Everyone handles the weather uniquely. For me it's been a quiet resolve to just put the head down and carry on. After all, despite all the things we have accomplished in the 21st century, we can't change the weather. (Ok well, we CAN, which is likely why it's been so damn hot - but I'll try to keep my personal opinions regarding climate change out of things. For now).
(Don't try this at home, kids)

A few weeks ago Jer rented that monster, Bertha II, which he subsequently fell in love with and talked about wistfully for days after she was returned. As I mentioned before, she successfully bulldozed what needed clearing and smoothed what was impassable. In the process of all this dirt turning, a new bounty of Indian tools emerged from the ground, as I suspected they would since hundreds already cover the property. The largest tools: bone crushers, hide scrapers, diggers, and spear points, seem regurgitated from the ground everywhere. I trip on them each time I take a walk. At first it was fascinating and then they became so ubiquitous that I stopped paying attention. Yea, yea, yea. There were Indians here. They made tools and did stuff. Big deal.

But two things happened recently that suddenly made me take notice again: 1) We started seriously clearing for the build; and 2) I read a (fantastic) book about the Comanche nation (Empire of the Summer Moon). The tools, the culture, the original settlers that undoubtedly also tried to clear this land once? It's a big deal.

So I've been thinking a lot about people that make their minds up about things, hold tight and do what they've set out to accomplish. During the early-mid 1800's thousands of Americans spilled across the northeastern Texas border in wagons filled with paltry resources, staked a claim, and clawed out an existence. The Spanish and Mexicans came before this. This was more than felling trees, building cabins, and planting corn. This was also stepping directly onto soil swarming with Native Americans who's culture centered on war, territory, and pride. I think a lot now about this collision of forces that literally occurred on dirt where we've planted the four corners of our house. Different people all together but still filled with the same unbridled tenacity that makes you dig your heels in. Remnants of these folks are everywhere. The young forest on our front 5 acres indicates someone was here before and cleared the ancient woods some time ago to make way for..something. Crops? Cattle? The tools that litter the ground are evidence that the Tonkawa walked every inch, carved heavy, rough tools for food preparation, and then dropped the stone scrapers before moving along. Their nomadic lifestyle didn't allow for packing heavy. And in the midst of all this were the Comanches that would swoop in from the west, terrorizing the settlers and the Tonkawa, flexing their culture's war-based muscles, and re-asserting themselves as the true rulers of Texas. Again and again. In an old cemetery across our road sits a crooked headstone with the words scratched onto its face, "Killed by Indians."

In those days, people out here were filled with enough piss and vinegar to survive off this land, whether Native, Mexican, or American. They didn't have Bertha II or Bambi, the chainsaw, or gasoline to run any contraption. There was no AC to shelter them from the infernal summer. What happened in a drought like this without city water to fill a cup?

It's a bad time to break ground. I cringe for the electric company staff who are scheduled to set our poles and run the lines next week. During Jer's epic week of clearing, I worried about heatstroke every afternoon when I knew he was piling logs and pushing dirt under the sun. Not that we'd ever be driven to conquer land in brutal territory, but I've noticed how distinctly we fall in a category when it comes to tenacity. Despite the weather, despite any level of certainty about what exactly we're doing out there, we're moving forward. Our reasons are vastly different from those of the original settlers and Indians, I'm sure. But on some level, it's the same primal desire to stake a claim and live off the land of our piss-and-vinegar forebears. I've made piles of the Indian tools under various trees throughout the property. Some I'll keep but most I'll scatter again onto the dirt as a burial - or memorial. This land isn't really ours, it's just a place we've borrowed.