So much happened over the summer on the Would-Be Farm, and so little of it has anything to do with us humans.
This is the longest stretch in his adult life that my favorite skipper has spent away from sail boats.
For decades, we schedule our year around various regattas. We've missed weddings and birthdays because of our sailing calendar. As I remember, we'd been together for five years before taking a trip that was NOT related to sailing.
Because of regattas, we've traveled to Italy and Sardinia and Greece and all over South America. And North America. Hawaii even. The year the Flying Scot North American championship was held in Texas, we planned a summer adventure that took us looping out West. All for sailing competitions.
Racing on the bounding main –– it's a sport, a calling, a joy. It's the bones of our life together.
Then along comes the Covid-19 Pandemic, leaving us high and dry.
Which is how we've managed to finish the Woodbee in a matter of months.
When last we left the build, the 600-square-foot structure was dried in, with a pair of walls and a loft accessible by pull-down ladder. Jeff and I had put down flooring, lathered paint on everything that held still, and set the wood stove into place.
When we arrived in late April, the list of to-dos was not inconsiderable: walls, plumbing, electricity, kitchen, bathroom...
And a drumroll, please....
My favorite skipper eventually called it: mad dash.
It will seem quaint someday how we drove north in a self-contained little world of snacks and Lysol wipes with a U-Haul full of Would-Be Farm equipment and furniture.
It will be just another page in the Quarantine Chronicles how we isolated and monitored.
Perhaps we'll remember how we could only hope our precautions and cheerful masks will have made a difference.
But it seems instead that this is the year we are reminded that Mamma Nature not only holds all the cards, but that she has sharp teeth, and claws at the end of a long reach...
If it wasn't the black bear emptying the bird feeder (effortlessly snagging it with a claw and pouring the contents –– like the crumbs from the bottom of a potato chip bag –– right down the old pie hole), it was porcupine eating the gazebo. Or birds flying down the chimney.
And how does one deal with a 300-lb black bear with a penchant for black oil safflower seed? One puts a decorative cow-bell –– an inexplicable tourist purchase finally coming into use –– onto the formerly lovely red metal feeder.
Pavlov's crazy dog at the midnight clank, one dashes onto the screened porch closest to the feeder, shouting and clashing together an aluminum saucepan and lid. The noise was like nothing I have ever made before. It worked.
Though of course the raccoons followed the bear in the violation of my bird feeder. They are less shy of human attention. After some weeks of interrupted sleep, I decided the easier –– though not unproblematic solution was to take the feeder inside at night. Now I only rouse myself to chase things off the unscreened porch. Which happens a lot.
And how to address the ongoing porcupine issue? Porcupines eat bark and tree parts...unless of course they develop a taste for pressure-treated lumber.
Fair's fair. The porcupines were here first. I tried putting rows of hardware cloth around the perimeter, but Mr. Linton took the reins. We call the gazebo The USS Monitor now. The damage has stopped.
Sidebar fact: tom turkeys sometimes get really worked up by the sound of a carborundum blade working through metal roofing sheets. I guess it sounds like a big sweet gal of a hen.
And as for the bird, we were sitting on the couch in front of the cold wood stove when we heard a gentle tapping on the glass window on the stove door.
A youthful house-wren politely requesting a hand.
Of course it panicked. All birds do, when confronted with the inside of a house. It flapped into a window, and then briefly fainted in Jeff's hands. But it eventually regained its senses and flew off, rewarding us for a few weeks –– possibly –– with extra noisy morning songs.
You know how it goes. Everything peaceful and chill.
Maybe the iPod is playing the soundtrack from Hamilton. Perhaps you're watching Rabbit TV (a limited lineup, but endlessly entertaining). Maybe you're cooking on the newly functional propane stove. Anyway, it's relaxed.
When EEEEEEEEEE. and EEEEEEEEE. and EEEEEEEE!
The noise is designed to either wake you from a sound sleep or possibly drive you in-freaking-sane.
Whichever. It works.
Okay, you you press the reset button. Two minutes later –– just as the old heart-rate is returning to normal –– EEEEEEEEE! and EEEEEEEEEEE!
My handsome gallant saves us, holding a thumb over the button repeatedly. It becomes clear that the damn 10-years-guaranteed, never-needs-batteries, save-your-life-and-required-by-law has gone rogue. It will not stop alerting us.
It EEEEEEEs in the bathroom. It EEEEEEEEs outdoors.
Jeff eventually puts it into the van, so it could, as he said, "Simmer down."
All during dinner, an errant wind gave us brief hope, and then, faintly, EEEEEEEEE. and EEEEEEEE.
Dishes done (in a sink! with running hot and cold water! cabin life is better and better!), Jeff betakes himself off and the next thing I notice is that he's taken out the 50-year-old .22 his father gave him.
Whatcha doing? I ask.
He points, and I hear a faint EEEEEEing across the field. He's put the damn thing into a tree. I admire the dispatch with which he handles tech troubles.
A clean through-and-through, and by golly the thing has stopped EEEEEEEing.
The test button suggests that it's still working, but I'm taking it back to the local hardware store where we bought it.
I don't mind explaining why.
It's a very good Scrabble day when I can play "jonquil."
In the world, I rarely call these flowers anything but daffodils.
Be that as it may, my sweet mother-in-law calls them jonquils, and when she proposed a big honking field of them at the Would-Be Farm, I said heck yeah!
Pat is a wonderful gardener, and even in her early 80s, she can out-shop, out-weed, and out-sew me pretty much any day of the week. So when she said she wanted Jeff and me to be reminded of her each spring at the Would-Be Farm, I enlisted her actual aid.
Long story short, we ordered something like 200 bulbs from Holland last fall. Thank you John Scheepers. We hopped a plane (back in the days when people did that kind of thing without thinking about it much) once the package arrived in the North Country.
We made a girl's weekend of it, staying at my sister's civilized house, eating yummy meals, and playing dominoes at the end of the day.
And we flew South, happy but full of anticipation and the usual worries: Would squirrels eat the bulbs? Would the plants freeze to death? Would deer eat the bulbs? Would an early thaw fool the plants?
Springtime is brutal on hopes. When bright flowers do indeed rise from the cold clay -- oh glory.
We started on this Would-Be Farm adventure with the idea of novelty: new experiences are meant to keep our brains nimble and what-not. The effort of tackling a fresh set of challenges would be good for us.
Such as driving a tractor and putting fruit trees into the ground and helping them grow roots.
Such as returning to the North Country where I grew up and re-learning that country environment. Plus introducing Jeff to some exotic charms: a bullhead fry, turkey hunting, snow.
Knowing that, unlike actual farmers, our livelihood and future is not on the line when the dam busts and the crops fail.
So, round about January of each of the past five years, seed catalogs begin to sprout in my mailbox. Deals from on-line nurseries pop up like weeds. Calls to branch out into new crops... I won't belabor the metaphor any more than I can...bear. Muah ha ha.
Round about April, it's become our happy habit to make our ways North. I try to get there in time for my sister's birthday early in the month, and Jeff generally follows after sailing Charleston Race Week. We usually get a snowstorm or two, maybe an ice-storm, just to remind us that we are mere tourists in the North Country.
It's too early for planting in early April, and it's more than a bit nippy –– though we do have a WOOD STOVE this year!
Still, even with a crochet throw of snow, you can see the rocky bones of the land early in early spring. And it's an exciting few weeks while plants wake up out of the cold clay and yawn hope into the landscape.
We're not sure when we'll get there this year. What with the Pandemic and all. Of course I ordered plants before COVID-19 was no more than a small cloud on the horizon.
I can't resist those colorful packets of optimism that promise poppies, lupins, chamomile. Plus garlic and seed-potatoes (thrifty hint: if your potatoes sprout in the fridge, put them in the ground -- you'll generally get a smallish bonus harvest a few months later instead of adding to the landfill).
And, because the larger fruit have not flourished under our neglectful stewardship, I have ambitions for Chinese chestnut trees, red currents, bush-cherries, and yet more elderberries. Although elderberries are not a favored deer browse according to experts, empirical evidence suggests that some deer will "sample" an elderberry bush to within inches of its life.
As with so much recently, we'll just have to wait and see. We'll shelter in place and I'll let my farming daydreams slide me along a little longer. I'm not complaining.
Mulch is the collective noun for material that evolves into actual soil. It's organic material (leaves! bark! wood-chips!) that gets defined by function: it's used to protect tender plants, and add good stuff to the soil. By etymology, it comes from a word for "soft."
Wood chips are my preferred mulch at the Farm.
It's super-neat-o how it works: you apply a layer of wood chips around the base of your plant.
It smothers weeds and –– rather faster than you might imagine –– the mulch turns into rich, light soil in a sweet ring around around young fruit trees and asparagus.
The mulch provides extra insulation over the winter, and gives emerging plants a little additional opportunity to stay safe in the chancy spring weather.
Where else to pitch coffee grounds and carrot peelings and used chicken bedding from the neighbors' coop?
Where else to pile grass clippings and weeds?
I took an actual composing class a few years ago. I'm not an expert, though I am a believer. Long story short: a smart gardener just keeps heaping stuff onto the compost pile, turning it from time to time, and using the finished, good-looking stuff from the bottom of the pile to improve the soil under the plants.
Lucky for my trees, a friend had an enormous pile of chipped tree –– the remains of a big ole maple –– to share for mulching purposes.
Truckload by squatting truckload, we've conveyed chips to the farm over the past couple of years. I used square yards of it to coddle my young trees and the asparagus. A few chips made it into the compost heap, along with mule-loads of grass clippings and eggshells.
Alas, all good things come to an end. Even the remains of a big ole maple.
With chips thin on the ground that autumn, I toted a couple of bales of straw to the farm to bed things down for the winter.
Always an experiment.
I figured straw was a better option than hay.
The terms are used interchangeably by some: after all, both are some sort of dry vegetation that come packaged in bale form and are used in animal husbandry.
But straw (like the plastic ones we now think of first), is generally the hollow, dry, stalk of an oat or wheat plant. The middle of the plant. Hay, meanwhile, is the tops of various grasses and plants –– cut green and allowed to dry. Hay might include clover, timothy, broom, alfalfa, and any manner of meadow plants.
Naturally, hay is full of flower-heads. Any gardener will tell you, the point of flowers is seed. So if you aim to smother weeds (and weeds are just plants growing where you don't want them to grow), you do NOT want to spread flower-heads around.
Ipso dipso facto macto, you'd think straw would be a pretty solid choice to protect plants and not compete with the resources at root...
Surprise surprise surprise.
The wheat straw made a miraculous rise from the cold soil this spring.
Wheat is a lovely crop. I am not knocking wheat. I'm good with gluten, and I admire wheaten gold waving on an autumn field.
But as a crop, it's not a good match for the Would Be Farm. Or a good mulch. I'm guessing it will continue to pop up around my daffodils and plum trees for years. Probably not enough, however, for even a single loaf of artisanal, hand-ground-grain bread.
I vowed not to be caught chipless again. I've been checking Craig's List a little too regularly. So far, none of the chippers are just right for our needs.
In the parlance of our friend Curt, the going rate for a pickup truck-load of dark brown landscaper's friend is a pizza and a half.
I'd rather have the pizza and make my own dang chips, but as Mumsie used to say, if wishes were horses, and horses could fly, there'd be nothing but horses in the sky...
I recently re-discovered this tale I wrote in the early 2000's. This adventure pre-dates the Would-Be Farm (though I was dreaming about it back then!) and some of the principals are no longer with us, but here it is, a retread road-trip...
I'd been helping my sister Sarah fix up her first place up North –– after a long break away from the North Country –– when we decided to spend a day away from the project.
I was in the market for some land, imagining (perhaps foolishly) that I could purchase a chunk of attractive brush with some water feature that would keep Mr. Linton and me happily occupied for the next few decades of summertime vacation.
Turns out, of course, that there are many chunks of brush, some attractive, a few with water features, but almost none in my small price-range offered by anyone actually willing to close a deal.
Anyway, it gave me a nifty excuse for pottering around the back roads of rural Northern New York State.
A classmate from high school was a real-estate agent, and although she was out of town on vacation that week, she had provided me with a stack of property listings to look at. On our day off, my sister and I set a goal of checking out a couple of those places (disappointing: peaceful retreats are rarely located within ear-shot of Fort Drum’s gunnery range).
After the unproductive real estate perambulations, our thoughts turned to something more rewarding. For years, we had heard about the reputed natural bridge over Perch River outside of the village of Dexter.
I was driving down Middle Road. My sister was navigating and she said, "Hey, turn here."
A mailbox marked the turn, and I said, "Sis, come on, this is someone’s driveway."
Implacable, she repeated, "Turn in."
And we got out of the car with our water bottles and our hiking boots and all we heard was birdsong, wind in the treetops, and the whine of a distant chainsaw.
We consulted the map and oriented ourselves toward the river. We were preparing to trespass.
She’s like, "Okay, here’s our story: We are here looking for a friend from high school, and have gotten turned around somehow."
The sound of the chainsaw drew suddenly much closer. I though, gosh, maybe I should have availed myself of the facilities when we stopped at the library in Dexter.
Without even exchanging a look, my sister and I dropped the lie.
We explained that we grew up around here, and we heard that there is a natural bridge over the Perch River somewhere nearby, and we were really hoping to find it.
The woman said, "Why yes, there is. Do you have a half an hour or so?"
Next thing you know, the woman has collected her husband, who pilots a zippy ATV down the driveway to pick us up and they are taking us on a tour all over the 400 acres their son and his wife purchased a few years back.
There’s Perch river. There’s the bridge -- a smidge underwhelming, but aha! ––there’s the river emerging again from the other side of the natural bridge. There’s an old stone fence. Maybe the fence butts up to the Hall’s farm ––The Hall’s farm that was probably our Riggs family farm a hundred years ago. Maybe one of our great-great uncles stacked those very stones.
As it happens, the husband is connected to parents of classmates of ours.
And their daughter-in-law? Turns out she is my vacationing real-estate agent/high-school classmate. We trespassed on her land.
Hours later, our unexpected hosts raid my real-estate agent’s fridge for beer and my sister gets them to take pictures of the two of us in the ATV, playing with my real-estate agent's dog, and lounging on the porch with our purloined beers.
Those photos of us having our disreputable way with other people's porches, off-road recreational vehicle, and beer might possibly have been taken on an early cell phone that was unable to resist water when it went swimming.
But maybe one of those images will resurface, possibly on the tee-shirt of one of the great-grand nephews or nieces, who will point to it while trespassing and say, "Perhaps you know these two characters? Our aunts?"
And here's hoping it will parlay into a free pass, a tour, an anecdote.
Maybe that there's an indoor and an outdoor. In most places in the world, I guess, shelter means blocking precipitation. Once the rain can't get in, a spot can become home.
On a build, there's a precipitous teetering moment when the project is "dried in."
It's when the outside stays out and inside is more than a concept. Windows in, roof on, doors that close. It goes from being a build to being a building.
All this noodling as an excuse to post some more photos of the Woodbee.
Thanks for indulging me!
As some visitors have noticed, I have been away from the keyboard. Thank you for coming back after the long, not-planned hiatus.
Turns out that when you have a wedge of time to work on a dried-in (squeeeee!) building, you make use of every waking moment to work on said dried-in (squeeeee!) building.
And what about that "building"? Is it a cabin? A camp? A cottage?
We're going to try calling it the Woodbee. Maybe a twee moniker option, but there is sits, a 600-square-foot building in the midst of the Would-Be Farm. The Woodbee. Buzz buzz.
I'll return to other topics of interest: Mr. Linton's fishing and sailing adventures, for instance, and what books I am currently reading, but not quite yet...
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