a.k.a. The Local Guys and Why I Love Them
Over the six years I’ve been clearing and improving our land, I’ve met many workmen in our town. Getting to know all these guys has opened my eyes to how indispensable they are, building houses and stores, trucking gravel, fixing roads, operating heavy machinery. I notice them everywhere now. It is a cozy feeling to drive down Main Street and see, for instance, Dean’s car parked outside a restaurant he’s renovating, Ben passing in a truck hauling stone, or the concrete crew at work pouring a new foundation.
I know these men think I’m kind of odd. (I said this to Allen once, and he chuckled. “Kinda?”) Well, let’s say definitely odd, with my cows and my coveralls and my hair shoved up under a baseball cap. And I know they don’t have a high opinion of my abilities. (Recently Dean and I were discussing a job and he said, “The problem is — and I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but — I need someone with skills.”) However I think they respect how hard I try. When Skip was last at the property, he watched me sweating to haul brush for hours and said, “I don’t know any ladies who work like you do.” I grinned at him and joked, “I guess I’m not really much of a lady.”
It would be too much to say they are fond of me, but somehow it feels as if I’ve moved slightly out of the employer column — distant boss with money — and into a different category. Eccentric sister, perhaps? Harmless wingnut? (I wrote a thank-you note to one man recently and when I next saw him he said, “I don’t read good, so my wife read it to me, and she asked me if you was crazy.”) I can’t really tell what they think. But for the past week I have been aware of so much kind and thoughtful help coming my way from this loose network of guys. It has been heartwarming.
“I love men!” I exclaimed, driving Jon to his early morning carpool.
“That’s too strange, Mom.”
Not really. A huge and enormously exciting new project is going to happen on the farm while Allen is there with the excavator. Guys made it possible. At every step of its unfolding, I’ve said to myself, “It will never work.” Yet yesterday the last piece fell into place. Here’s how it happened.
When Damon was at the farm last week to shoot my ailing sheep, he’d jerked his head in the direction of my twenty-foot brush pile. “You want to get that burned soon,” he said. “State just voted to shut down open fires. Another month, no more burning allowed.”
“Because we’re too dry?”
“Nope. No more open fires in New York, ever.”
Oh, no! DH and I own 22.7 acres. About half of them are open; the rest are an impenetrable tangle of balsam and blowdown, impossible even to walk through. I’ve always dreamed of clearing most of the remaining acres, slowly over the years, to add pasture to the farm. But clearing land requires either burning or chipping the slash. Chipping on that scale is very, very expensive, far beyond my means. I had hoped Allen could pull another acre or so of trees down with the excavator during his month of work this fall — but I’d planned we’d burn the brush.
I called Joe, the fire ranger, a very kind man. He knows me and my land and has issued me permits for years. “I’m sorry. Yes, that’s correct, no more open burning will be allowed in New York State.”
I explained my problem of clearing an acre or two. Joe thought about it.
“Well, you could try calling the regulatory agency for New York State. Maybe they’ll let you sneak under the wire before the law goes into effect. If they give the OK, I’ll write the permit.”
The head of Air Quality control in New York was also sympathetic. Though he works in a city office he understands the issues of this rural area. He explained the new law to me, which was so confusing we both started to laugh. “Government!” he said. Then he kindly pointed out that if I could organize my project before the law changed October 14, there wasn’t any reason why I couldn’t burn. Wow!
I called our local ranger back to let him know. Joe was pleased for me, but warned, “There’s no way to hide a fire that size. Since everybody has heard about the new law, there’ll be a lot of chatter. I’ll need something in writing to cover me when I am hauled into the office to explain why I gave you a permit.” I spent an hour crafting an email describing my project and the law, and sent it to both men.
Meanwhile it occurred to me that if the state would be monitoring my burning with a helicopter (as they did five years ago) they also might notice the clearing. The Adirondack Park Agency controls all development in the park. Though over the years I’ve been careful to dot all my i’s with this locally loathed government office, and though I was sure I was within my rights to clear, I sent a quick email, requesting official permission. The reply came back: fill out this eighteen-page form and we’ll let you know within three weeks. Three weeks! I’d miss the burn date! I called the A.P.A. and found yet another kind and sympathetic man. “Fill out the forms, bring them over, and I’ll try to hurry the process with whomever gets the case.”
Meanwhile, working on the garage by myself, I realized I had to scab out the interior walls to make them ready for insulation. I ordered the 2x4s, planning to rip them on a table saw. “You know how to use the saw and be safe, don’t you?” Dean asked over the phone. “I don’t want you to lose a hand.” He paused. “Oh, hell, I’ll stop by Saturday after lunch and rip ’em for you. I’ll drop off my nail gun for you, too.”
Meanwhile Damon asked, “How you gonna deal with fuel for the excavator all month?” I told him I planned to drive into town every day with cans and buy diesel. “Nah, that’s a pain in the ass and you’re paying for over-the-road fuel. Cost ya too much. I know a guy with a skid tank.” A few nights later a 300-gallon fuel tank showed up next to my barn.
Meanwhile Allen said, “I called Pete for you.” Peter is a logger. (Five years ago he clearcut my top ten acres, a job that in the suburbs would have cost me $20K. Peter traded the work for the wood.) “I figure it’d be a lot easier if Pete skidded out all those trees, just left us the trash.”
I took a deep breath. Oh…my…goodness. Bringing in a professional logger and his giant machines would change the whole scope of the project. Instantly we would be talking about something much, much bigger than an acre or two. However I really didn’t believe it was possible.
“Gosh! That’s so nice of you, Allen! But I don’t think there’s enough decent wood left on the lot to make it worth Pete’s time.”
“Don’t never hurt to ask.”
Peter called me. He was sitting in an excavator on the side of a local mountain. I explained to him that I was waiting to receive official permission from the A.P.A. to cut. I also explained that I didn’t think I had enough wood to be a fair exchange for his machines.
“That’s fine,” he said. “I’ll stop by your place on my way home tonight and take a look.”
I was sitting under Katika early yesterday morning, milking, when my cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number.
“I got the machines all loaded for your job,” said a voice. “But Pete says we got to wait on the A.P.A.”
I could feel my hair rise. Oh, oh, oh.
An hour later I got a call from an official at the A.P.A. My paperwork had just been finished — two and a half weeks early. “Do you have a fax machine?”
“Yes,” I squeaked. I swallowed and tried again. “Can you tell me what the answer is?”
“Oh, sure. You’re fine. You don’t need a permit to cut.”
Zowiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Monday the loggers are scheduled to arrive. Unless some unforeseen problem arises, next week almost all my remaining land will be cleared! For free!
I love men!