Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The 50 cent tour.

Just a few pictures to make you all feel like you've been by for a visit: The Pitcher Plant Flowers. One of my favorite things on the land is the patch of North American Pitcher Plants. They are carnivores like the Venus Fly-Trap and grow in the marshy parts of the pasture. The view from the bridge over the creek. This is the little pond that I hope will be our livestock pond soon. Right now it's the Kiddo's frog pond and sounds like an orchestra warming up when the frogs get going in the evenings. Rain barrels that my super clever brother, The Ship Captain, built. The top of the little structure is sheet roofing and it works great at collecting water. This is just uphill from some fruit trees, the strawberry patch and rose bushes. Makes for great free irrigation. The 3-legged Beagle that roams the land. He was a stray and got badly beaten up and lost a leg. Now, he has retired on the land and supervises all our work.

The tractor, which my dad calls his and I call mine. The Battle of Wills wages on.

Finally, Lazarus the Amazing Farm Truck. He may look a little worse for the wear but is running like a top and has shiny new tires and even turn signals! Farmers don't use turn signals but it's always nice to know they're there if I want 'em.

More pictures to come soon, I promise. Hope you enjoyed the mini-tour, anyway.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Driving Lessons.

If there is any one thing that a piece of land must have in order to be considered a farm, it isn't crops or livestock or an old woman in an apron: it's a farm truck. Your farm truck can be any kind of vehicle, really, as long as it can haul 2x4's, manure, wet dogs, and yourself with your muddiest boots on. There was even a season on my dad's tree farm when his farm truck was a very pretty black Lexus that Hurricane Katrina had rendered ever so slightly handicapped.

For a little while now, my dad has had a dead Ford F-250 on his place that had, from time to time, been a decent farm vehicle and had faithfully chugged the length of the path which is beaten between dad's house and the Farm Depot. As building continues on my land, I found my eyes lingering longer and longer on this truck. To make a long story short (yeah, right!), dad agreed to give it a tiny bit of TLC and if it ran, so be it, we'd have a farm truck. Lo and behold...it ran.

Because it had been dead and lives again, The Kiddo has christened it Lazarus. When I asked him why not Jesus, he replied sagely, "When people say Jesus to their trucks they are usually being blasphemous." He had a point. Lazarus suits the old Ford, anyway. I am pretty sure he was lying in wait for me to give him a purpose before roaring into life, which is not to suggest any Messianic complex on my part but only to celebrate the ressurrection of what I think will be a useful asset to us.

Last week, I began the arduous task of moving my raised garden growing boxes and the soil within them over to the new land. The Professor used this opportunity to get me acquainted with the new (very old) truck. Tossing a couple shovels in the bed and keys over the hood to me, he said "You're driving." This isn't a common occurrence in life with Doc, not to say he is a control freak. He's just usually the driver. At barely a half inch over 5'1", I had to climb into the driver's seat which is the kind of bench seat you might imagine has been pulled out, trampled by a herd of angry buffalo and then returned to its place in the cab of the truck. The springs under what would be the driver's left bum-half have abondoned their post and gone, presumably, the way of all things. This leaves one the option of sliding all the way against the door in such an intimate fashion that, should this door abandon its post and go the way of all things, one would find oneself deciding whether to tuck and roll down the side of the road or flail through the air as your farm truck continues on its way without you OR you can scoot toward the middle of the bench seat, avoiding the dip altogether, and giving yourself a vaguely yoga-esque driving posture in which you settle your right ribs over your left hip and reach your left hand over the steering wheel with your right hand directly in front of your sternum. I would offer you a diagram but my brain is exhausted from describing said position. I choose a 3rd and far more challenging posture in which I balance on the right half of my bottom with my left arm hooked out the window. It was in this position, with bare feet on warm pedals that we set off to retrieve the boxes from my old house.

No sooner were we on the highway with the bed full of dirt and boxes than my dad asks, in an alarmed tone, what I think I am doing.

"Driving back to the land.", I say, worrying that he is experiencing early onset dementia.

"You're in a farm truck!" he exclaimed, "You have to drive LIKE A FARMER!" Commanding me to slow down to 30 (in a 45, I might add), he begins my lesson in driving like a farmer, as he calls it. Traffic begins, instantly and out of nowhere, to build up behind us. I ease up to 35 and explain that things are looking pretty hairy back there.

"No, no, no. " he tells me, calmly draping an arm out the window and gazing into the pine forests we are passing, "Make them slow down, too."

"They're getting mad.", I say, looking into the giant rearview wing mirrors that rival many doors in size, giving the truck a charmingly Prince Charlesly appearence.

"Who cares?", Doc shrugs. "Look out your window. Relax. Drive like a farmer." You always know, by the way, that you're in the throes of A Very Important Life Lesson when Doc assumes his patient, other-worldly voice. Many lessons would have passed me by in life if it weren't for The Voice of Calm Reason which only my dad, Mr. Miagi, and that baboon-ish guy on The Lion King have truly mastered.

Only when I stopped craning my neck to look at the long row of cars behind me, did I begin to relax into 30 MPH (ok, maybe 35. What can I say? I've got a lead foot.), I begin to feel like this is how it should feel to drive a big old farm truck full of dirt or hay or pygmy goats. I even got the faintest feeling of being the leader of a cheerful little parade through my beloved Pine Belt. Perhaps no one else was experiencing the euphoria and maybe I am overstating the beauty of taking a snail's pace in a dingy Ford that could use a new muffler. But, with the radio crackling out beautifully grungy Delta blues and the sun on my face and my bare toes curled around the gas pedal, I felt like the farmer that I have always wanted to be. I even felt like I might have met my vehicular destiny. Some people are Land Rovers and some are Lamborghinis. Maybe I'm a beat up Ford truck. I think I can live with that.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Among the many definitions of the often missused word concrete is the following:

concrete: adj. being or occurring in fact or actuality, having verified existence, not illusory

When the footings were poured for the house and the cement blocks laid, something on my land became satisfyingly concrete. I don't think I really believed there would be a house on my little hill until the day they poured the footings. Something about concrete in the ground says "no turning back". The house ceased to be illusory.

A couple years ago, dad and I laid the blocks for a barn roughly the size of Ellis Island. Sure...it's a small island...but it's a BIG barn! Standing at one end of that foundation dad had to shout to me at the other end. And I still cupped a hand around my ear and shouted back "WHAT?" I probably heard him but making someone shout extra is always kind of fun. Don't feel sorry for my dad. He made me this way.

Laying the block and pouring the slab for that barn was our Everest. In fact, I had a twin sister when we started and she didn't survive the ordeal. It was bad. Halfway through laying the block, our hands dried out and cracked within our gloves, our backs screaming with every movement, we swore we would never lay block again. I think we'd sooner go the way of teepee and yurt than ever lay block again. We could have walked across the Mojave faster than we laid that block. And the foundation! I am almost speechless as I recall. If you ask my dad about that barn, he will tell you the story of the day he almost killed his youngest child. In short, Doc and I learned our lesson: Leave concrete work to professionals. Sure, we can do it. That doesn't mean we should.

The men who came and laid the block for my house made our block laying look like one of those Japanese gameshows in which the contestants are blindfolded and dizzy and in a vat of Jell-o while trying to complete a simple task only we were neither blindfolded nor dizzy and the only Jell-O present was my biceps after lifting approximately 3 million blocks, 2 at a time, weighing about 30 pounds each. The work crew arrived in the morning, walled in what will be my house slab as though they were building with Legos and were gone by lunch.

There's still a lot to be done but having something as concrete as...well...concrete has made everything begin to seem real. It's nothing really beautiful to look at but it's a couple more steps done. And no one had to almost die to get them done. Not this time, anyway.

Here is the finished (unfinished) product: