The Hammock

July 20, 2018

Lucy has wanted a hammock for years. Five? More? A hammock has always shown up on her birthday list.

I don’t know why I never found her a hammock, even a used one, but with everything else going on (moving twice, building a house, dealing with an errant contractor) I never did.  I happened to mention it to DH and he bought her an inexpensive one from a street market on last week’s business trip to Guatemala. He gave it to her yesterday.

Today I bought eyebolts, drilled them in, and hung it up. Someday this corner will be a screen porch. It may even have porch furniture. But for now, Lucy is happy reading in her hammock.



A Quick Trip Away

July 14, 2018

On Thursday I drove Lucy to the Connecticut coast for an annual visit with one of her closest friends who would only be available for twenty-four hours between college stints in Fiji and Chile.

As I am working on a story set in the area during the American Revolution, I took the opportunity to poke around for a few hours. Though I grew up in the town next door, I have not lived there since 1983 and have not visited since my mother’s death in 2004. After 35 years in the mountains, I wanted to refresh my memories of mudflats, salt marsh, and sea weed.

I also wanted to find a bridge at the head of a nearby harbor. During the Revolution, the wooden bridge at this spot was called the Great Bridge. It was a point of local pride and at the heart of the business district. In 1779 the townspeople pulled up all the bridge planks in an (unsuccessful) effort to keep attacking British soldiers from crossing. For my story I had to see the site. Getting a decent view of this now-insignificant, side bridge involved circling around city buildings, scrambling through a parking lot, and using my zoom lens. Today we might call it the Dinky Bridge.

Still, I looked down at the rocks at the base and thought to myself, You were here then.

My real treat, however, was a visit with my older sister, who drove over from New Jersey for lunch. Though we write regularly I hadn’t seen Newly since Lucy’s high school graduation, which was a blur. It seemed forever since we had really visited.

Of course, we met at the cemetery. I brought sandwiches, Newly brought brushes, soap, and jugs of water, and we scrubbed our parents’ gravestone. I know this would have pleased Mom and Dad. Scrubbing family gravestones is a tradition from our earliest childhoods.

Lucy joined us for the return trip north. Before we left, she wanted to see Grandma’s house. Lucy was six when our mother died and the house was sold, but she had happy memories of playing with her cousins there. I drove anxiously down the driveway, expecting to be lacerated by seeing the house where I grew up.

To my astonishment, I felt nothing. The 1950s colonial that had sheltered two parents and five children had been bought by a single woman who considerably enlarged it, changed the roofline, changed the porch, changed the windows. Every detail was very, very fancy and expensive — and completely unrecognizable to me. In a way it was a relief. This woman was not living in our home. Our home was gone. It lives safely in our memories.

While we were in the cemetery, Lucy took our picture. I tend to be stiff and a little worried in photographs.

Newly doesn’t!

It was so wonderful to see her, even for only two hours.

Lucy and I hit traffic all the way home and I pulled the barn doors closed at 9 PM.

Daily Humor

July 10, 2018

I have been loading my wagon with rocks from the yard. I’ve deliberately thrown all the hundreds of stones in the back, so it would be easier to tip and unload. Nevertheless, I completely forgot this basic fact when I went to drop the wagon so I could use the truck for another chore. Carefully I set the jack, chocked the wheels to keep them from rolling, and drew out the hitch pin. The wagon tongue abruptly rose in the air as the wagon box slammed down under the weight of 400 pounds of rocks.

I was startled — and then I found myself laughing helplessly.

Where was Allen? In my mind I could see his shoulders shaking as he wiped his eyes. He once watched me do the exact same thing, unhitching a trailer with a heavy tiller and having the trailer jack-knife.

My brain works pretty well in certain respects but in others… a definite blank. “You ain’t really dumb,” Allen reassured me.

I now can’t move the wagon — my sitting on the tongue does nothing — and short of unloading and reloading the box, I will need to wait until Damon returns and can push down the tongue with the excavator bucket.

I am working steadily all day every day. I am not making a great deal of progress in any one area but very, very gradually the landscape is becoming tidier. Nothing is happening on the house.


Sleeping in the Basement

July 2, 2018

The house is over 80°. I tried opening all the windows upstairs yesterday for air movement and it became hotter. (It is in the 90s outside.) I grew up with hot and muggy summers on the Connecticut coast but my blood must have thinned after 35 years in the mountains. Working outdoors felt impossible. I’d work for forty-five minutes and then come in to peel off my clammy Carharrts, damp with sweat. The cows and sheep were miserable and I refilled their water twice over the day. The biting flies were so bad the cattle refused to leave the dark, hot barn until dusk at 8:30 PM.

Knowing today’s drive to pick up Lucy would be long, I took the dogs and slept in the cool basement last night. What a blessing.

It is due to be in the mid-90°s again today so I imagine Lucy will join me in the basement tonight.

Starting the Driveway

June 27, 2018

Damon’s small Bobcat excavator has been parked at the farm for a week, waiting for good weather. On Monday we began work on the driveway.

The first chore was to cut channels for run-off water along the flat entry section (an elbow of the old main highway). Currently water sits in big puddles in this area … and the puddles inevitably turn into craters.

At the top of the property the driveway then turns right and falls downhill all the way to the barn. Here’s the driveway in the summer of 2006. Jon took the photo while standing on the hayloft floor as we were building the barn. [Double-click to enlarge.]

Even at that time I was nostalgic, writing, “I love that little road… it’s hard to explain but I remember when this land was all impenetrable woods. First it was logged. Then it was stumped. And then one day I trotted down the hill and showed Allen and Damon where I wanted the road to go, and the next… there it was, snaking along as if it had always been there!”

Since then, “we” have worked on the road dozens of times over the years. (Of course it was Allen and Damon who did all the work. I merely fetched and carried and took photographs.) Here is Allen in 2009 at the top of the driveway.

And here he is the same year, smoothing one of the driveway bends. I’d had no sense when I threaded that curvy path through the birches in 2006. It has been a trial for large trucks and trailers ever since.

But the biggest problem of the driveway has been its lack of a hard base. In 2006 Allen and Damon had trucked and spread load after load of gravel they excavated from the pond area (saving me thousands of dollars). Then I’d spent money I didn’t have for two tandem loads of crushed stone. When it rained it all disappeared into mud.

Sometimes deep mud.

As I had a little money and the men had time, we’d tackle the worst areas bit by bit. Here’s Damon in 2011 pulling rocks and spreading a single load of crusher mix at the foot of the driveway.

Our great coup came in 2013, when the town ripped up a long road and sold some of the ground-up macadam inexpensively to locals. Damon brought me a dozen truckloads.

This tarry gravel immediately helped harden the surface.

Both Damon and Allen spread it in odd hours with my tractor.

The driveway was much improved, but the two men, who’ve built hundreds of miles of road, knew it still wasn’t great. Allen always repeated what he’d first said in 2006: “Get your husband to let you have some money and we can build you a real road!”

Now, twelve years later, the day has finally come, and sadly Allen isn’t here to see it.

Last fall Damon was in and out of hospitals, so I interviewed other operators for the project. One contractor gave me a sky-high bid and even at that price he was dubious. He could not see a way to divert water from flowing down the road and ripping out the gravel. (The driveway is gullied after every summer storm). Water bars would not work because they would, in turn, be ripped out by winter plows. Moreover the pasture on the downhill side is in many places higher than the road.

The next contractor submitted a bid of slightly more than half the original. After listening to the dire warnings of the first contractor, I was rather worried by the second’s insouciant confidence, but I accepted his bid. However, as he never returned to do the job, my concern was moot.

Now Damon is healthy again and he and I are doing the work, at a far lower cost altogether. Our goal is to divert some of the water from flowing over the driveway by putting in two sets of culverts. We’re not sure it will work, but we’re going to try.

It’s fun to work with Damon again, fun to hear the roar of the big machine, fun to be with someone whose memory of this land is almost as long as mine.

We put the first culvert where sixty years ago, the previous landowner had laid down a 2″ iron pipe for the same purpose.

Ours was 8″ plastic, twenty feet long.

I shoveled dirt around the pipe to hold it in place…

and Damon buried it with the bucket.

He instructed me to find some rocks to place around each end of the culvert for stability. I drove back with the I-Haul and on my return lugged a 18″ stone, puffing, into place.

“You couldn’t find a big one?” growled Damon.

“This one isn’t big enough?” I asked, crestfallen. I was at the limit of my strength.

Damon snorted and his mouth twisted in a smile. He doesn’t have the easy laugh of his father but he has the same love of teasing. “It’s fine.”

We realized our second culvert wasn’t long enough to reach entirely across the diagonal from the house, so we are waiting for the delivery of one more pipe and hope to finish the ditching Friday. Then we will order stone and crusher mix from the quarry.

After smoothing out the first culvert we had a half dozen bucket-loads of extra dirt and I asked Damon to leave them in a pile. I explained that I could use it to fill pasture holes.

He did as I asked but observed loudly enough for me to hear, “Yup, and in three years they’ll still be sittin’ there, covered with weeds!”

Farewell, Stone Boat

June 20, 2018

It’s a challenge to think up chores that I can do with Colin. He has no work ethic and shrinks from sweat or dirty hands. Novelty and “cool factor” are always a help. Thus yesterday I decided we would try to lever out some of the big rocks under the pasture apple tree that make it impossible to mow. This would involve neat tools like rock bars, shovels, chains, the truck, and the stone boat.

Some years ago I was given a stone boat made of thick hickory planks. Damon’s father-in-law had no further use for it and loaded it into Damon’s truck as a gift. Though I’ve found it extremely helpful for moving large stones, during last summer’s move it sat idle… and rotting.

“It has mushrooms growing on it,” Colin observed with distaste. He allowed me to hitch up the chains while he stood to the side and directed. We drove to the pasture. I had thought Colin might be horrified to scramble onto a truck seat prickly with hay chaff but the excitement of sitting up high momentarily outweighed all other considerations.

We worked for a pleasant half hour prying out medium-sized rocks, rolling them onto the stone boat, and dragging them down the driveway to the rough edge of the pond.

Next we tackled a larger stone buried up to its neck. I showed Colin how we could remove the sod around it and, working together, use both rock bars to lever the stone high enough to wrap it with chains.

Colin was unhappy to get his hands grimy but was distracted by the challenge of the task. After our third try with the truck and chains, we had the heavy rock out of the hole, and with our bars we forced it onto the stone boat. Colin posed in triumph.

“What are you doing with your hand?” I asked. He had been so disturbed by touching the dirt I thought he might be hiding his hands in his fleece.

“I’m being Napoleon!” he exclaimed. Napoleon the conqueror! I was Colin’s history teacher, and this made me smile.

We climbed back into the truck and slowly headed down the driveway, towing the heavy rock. On the previous trip we had both watched in the rear view mirrors to make sure the stones did not tumble off the stone boat. On this trip, it was different. The stone boat itself began to disintegrate under the weight of the big rock.

“Oh, dear,” I said, on seeing a six-foot plank break off and appear in my rear view.

“There’s another one!” cried Colin as a rotten chunk fell off the other side.

“Weren’t we clever to put the giant rock in the front in the middle?” I watched the mirror. “C’mon, stone boat, just make it to the pond!”

The stone boat made it few feet over the edge of the driveway to the pond site, where it fell into pieces.

At some point I will use the hardware to build another stone boat, but that was the end of moving rocks for the day. We put our tools into the truck and I decided we would break for water on the porch before starting our next chore. I offered Colin a chocolate chip cookie. He took a bite. “It’s pretty good!” he said in surprise, then added quickly, “I bet you didn’t make them.”

“Nope,” I agreed, rocking. “They’re from Costco.”

Our next task was to weed the gravel walk to my tenant’s apartment. Weeding held no charm.

“I’m so tired,” Colin whined immediately. A minute or two later, “My back hurts.”

He thought the tool I was using worked better, so we switched. Oddly enough, in my hands, the old tool worked better and became the desirable one.

Patiently I handed him the rake and told him that I would chop and pull the weeds, and he could rake the gravel smooth behind me. Still I would look up to see him standing doing nothing.

“Colin,” I said pleasantly, “you have to keep working or you will not be paid.”

“Oh, right,” he said, and poked listlessly at the gravel.

A moment later I heard a yelp of “Oww!” Colin had deliberately stepped on the end of the rake to see if the rake would behave as it did in cartoons. It did; the handle rose up and clapped him on the forehead. He was startled but unhurt.

I shook my head and smiled. “C’mon, sweetie, let’s finish this job.”

“I have a concussion!” Colin insisted.

I laughed heartlessly.

My Ram is “Famous”

June 19, 2018

Last year I donated my registered purebred Clun Forest ram, Royal Blue (called “Royal”) to the SVF Foundation in Newport, Rhode Island. This foundation safeguards the genetics of heritage breeds. Clun Forest sheep are not common and the Foundation was happy to send a truck and two men from Rhode Island to pick him up.

Yesterday I received an email alert to a story in the Newport newspaper. On reading the article I was pleased to come across a passing mention of my boy Royal.

Apparently now that Royal’s semen has been collected, he will be sold to another shepherd. I’m glad to think I’ve contributed in a small way to preserving a rare breed.