Half a Moon-th

This evening at sunset I ran three times up and back on the driveway, and once just halfway and back to the house. It’s about two miles total. It’s the farthest I’ve run without stopping, probably ever in my life. Liam accompanied me, riding lazily on his bike. It helps to have someone to talk to, or to not talk to, or someone to just interrupt your brain once in a while. I could have gone farther, but it was late enough to be bedtime.

We are both fans of sunsets, the moon, and the night sky. He noticed me looking west.

“Looking at the sunset? It’s nice, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

Rounding the bend by the barn, we turned away from the sunset and the moon came into view to our left.

“Look at the full moon, dad.”

“Almost full.”

It was pretty though. Bright and more than 3/4 phase, with a high, wispy, dark cloud barely obscuring one edge.

One very late run earlier this week, I ran by moonlight. Visibility was excellent with easy footing on my predictable gravel drive. There were sparse clouds which darkened my path from time to time, but still plenty of stars and a satellite to watch as I ran.

Liam rode and I ran twice or three times last week. We noticed an evening star near the quarter to half moon (depending on the day), with the “star” – probably Mars – moving westward day by day, against the moon waxing its way eastward.

Each day, Liam would exclaim, “look, the star moved!”

(I tried to explain some orbital mechanics between panting breaths, but it probably didn’t work well.)

We didn’t notice the evening star tonight.

Liam didn’t talk much tonight. We just enjoyed being in the other’s company, lost in our own thoughts. Which is nice sometimes. Liam only occasionally broke up my metronomic footfalls with his familiar, “hey, dad?”

The moon is bright and streaming through my bedroom window now. It’s another clear night. I think I’ve seen the moon every night since it was new.

That first evening the moon was visible, the sky was lavender, and the thinnest crescent of moon hung over the trees. There were high clouds still lit by pale sunlight, making them a soft orange. The whole family gathered on the porch to enjoy the sky’s show.

It’s been nice to watch the moon advance in its cycle nightly. Grounding, somehow. Feeling connected with the natural world.

I’ll run after sunset on the full moon this week.

On Life

This was written in early June, but I hesitated to post it. I want to resurrect the blog, so here it is:

Fair warning, this post deals with death, sometimes graphically.

But it also celebrates life.

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It has been the most springlike spring in recent memory – wet for sure, and most weeks with at least one day with a high only in the low 80s, sometimes lower. But also, plenty of hot, sunny days, so the grass has been charging ahead.

I tried something different this year. I have not kept the edges of my haymow bushhogged, since bobwhite quail like the marginal areas between meadow and forest to nest in. (I have also not kept up with several other areas I usually mow, but that’s for other reasons, none as chivalrous.)

The hay got tall and leggy, but still full enough underneath. I was chomping at the bit to cut. I knew, though, that the ground nesting birds might not be done raising their clutches. I love seeing the bobwhites and redwinged blackbirds out working the fields, so I try to look out for them. Once I saw a bobwhite fledgling fly from underfoot while I was walking in the field, I knew we were ready. I cut hay two weeks ago Friday.

A couple of days before I cut hay, while shooting the breeze with my neighbor, he mentioned that he had hit a baby fawn with his bushhog mower. Him riding up on the tractor, and fawns being camouflaged and well hidden by their mothers, there was no way for him to see it. Fawns are deaf at birth, and for several weeks after. This helps them to stay still and hidden, usually out of harm’s way.

At the time, it was startling news, but understandable. I already knew the deaf fact, and told him of it, explaining why it hadn’t gotten up and ran.

It was even more startling when I heard my hay mower hit something that Friday. The hay mower, designed as it is to cut grass blades only once and then lay the grass down, had cut the legs out from under a weeks-old fawn. I had crippled it, but the injuries were not immediately life-threatening. Luckily I did have my knife, so I slit its throat and watched it bleed out while I apologized to the wind.

While cutting the rest of the hay, I was especially careful. Twice, I noticed different bobwhite fledglings attempting, clumsily, to fly away from the approaching mower. Twice I stopped, caught the pinfeathered critters, and tossed them to safety. They flew better with the head start. My daughter, who had been riding in the child seat on the fender through all this, enjoyed seeing the chicks up close. Later, she pointed out a great blue heron working the shore of my neighbor’s pond and we stopped to watch. We didn’t see it catch anything.

. . .

My older kids and I enjoy taking the bikes as transportation up front to my barn, or to the neighbors’ to lend a hand. We notice the birds scatter from the fields or their perches up on the wire as we ride.

The bobwhites have been especially numerous this past week.

Often, I stop the bike to watch the birds fly, or to appreciate them perched before I get too close. I have read that a good indicator of land that is very habitable to wildlife is its diversity of birds. Now, granted, my land is only 25 acres, and wild birds all need more than that to roam, but I try to be a good citizen of nature, and perhaps it is starting to show. (maybe that’s just hubris showing…)

This year, we have noticed several species of birds that we’ve never seen here before. There is a pair of small ducks with triangular pointed wings and rapid wingbeats that I’m unable to identify, as I’ve only seen them in silhouette against the sky.

We have seen and heard the black, white, and red Pileated woodpeckers working the trees before, but not so often as we have this year.

And this year is the first time we have seen the tan, black-spotted Northern Flicker woodpecker foraging the ground outside our dining room window and bathing in puddles in the front yard.

There are the tiny, bright blue birds I see early flitting about on the driveway in my headlights, and which once got caught in my chimney. I held it in my hand for a moment before freeing it, stroking the soot from its feathers and letting the kids admire it.

The most spectacular sighting I have made is when I saw a small, light gray owl (barn owl?) perched in a tree at the edge of my field one early spring day driving home. I stopped short in the driveway, with its eyes peering deeply into mine for minutes on end. Then it turned its head, silently alighted, and disappeared into the forest.

. . .

We try to teach the kids an appreciation of wildlife so they can realize the impact we can have around us. I let my seven year old son and 4 year old daughter see the dead fawn, after explaining that I had to kill it, since a deer that can’t walk won’t be able to eat, and starving to death isn’t pleasant. She and her brother have been raised matter-of-factly around animals and food, and while they weren’t happy to see the death, they were not distraught either. I explained that I did not want to or mean to hurt it, but sometimes life on a farm means seeing things die. And that’s OK.

I have seen two other fawns die in the past week. One was under my bushhog, the other wasn’t my doing. The kids didn’t learn of one of them.

I don’t love deer, unless it’s on the table. Kidding aside, I think they are a bane of Zone 1 counties and there should be no limit on them for several years.

That said, I’m taking a break from tractor work for a couple of weeks. Gotta let the darn things grow up a bit.

Three Months

It’s been three months or so since I gave Liam his first guitar. It’s an Epiphone Les Paul Express, in tobacco sunburst. A flat-top solid body electric that’s sized for smaller players at ¾ scale. He was thrilled and very proud of it. He’s taking surprisingly good care of it, too. The guitar hangs from the headstock on a hook on the wall behind the chair.

Already, he’s making some easy chords and is picking single notes and moving between strings pretty proficiently. He plays it several times a day, in total at least an hour a day and usually more, all of his own volition. It helps I got Rocksmith, a guitar training “game” put out for the Xbox and Playstation. You plug a real electric guitar into it, and it rates your playing. I got an old Xbox 360 from my brother that was his back in college, and Rocksmith is the only game we’ll probably ever have for it (good thing). I’m learning to play using the game alongside him, although I’ve learned one song years ago, which my fingers have forgotten how to play by now.

It occurred to me while driving – doesn’t all profound thinking happen behind the wheel? Unless you’re luckier than me and get to sit at the base of a tree or on a rotting log with any regularity – I don’t make enough time for that. It occurred to me while driving that Liam is making awesome progress for such a short time playing. He’s showing daily focus on playing guitar. He’s almost as good as I am already (which may not even be a compliment), and it’s only been about three months.

Three months.

So much has changed in the past three months. So much.

 

In the same spot where Katie spent so much time sitting on the floor while nine months pregnant, sorting the hardwood floor boards in preparation for me to nail them, we now have a finished floor and a couch. The pull-out couch where we slept after returning home with our baby, since we did not have a bed yet.

Where there was only a hastily-set toilet in the bathroom, installed in response to our camper completely freezing solid in a bitter cold “snap” that ended up lasting two weeks, we now have a finished bathroom with a deep tub, tile shower walls and floor, mirror cabinets and enough towel racks for everybody. There’s even a door now.

Over the spot in the hardwood floor where we laid some really bad quality boards, unsure we would have enough nice ones, we now have a black store-bought hearth and an antique wood stove that heats the whole house perfectly. Eventually, I’ll dry-lay some old solid brick for the hearth.

We have kitchen cabinets, countertops, and a refrigerator. There’s a gas line to the range we found cheap on Craigslist, simply connected to a grill tank outside. The paint-splattered porcelain kitchen sink I found in someone’s trash pile is now mostly clean of paint and installed in front of the kitchen window. We wash dishes while just staring out the window at the woods and fields beyond, watching the woodpeckers work, chickens scratch, and hawks soar.

 

***

 

Of course, the biggest news is the birth of our little girl, Caroline. She was born March 1, in quite a hurry. Katie had an incredibly, painfully fast labor. So quick that the doctor left us, planning to check on things in a couple hours, and when she returned, the baby had been born. The nurse was hollering down the hall for a doctor, but I completely didn’t see the point of trying to get a doctor where there was none to be found. A random doctor was trying to suit up while Caroline was born into my hands. I had planned to catch her all along.

After such an emotional labor and birth, I feel such an incredible bond with my baby. I can tell Caroline feels it too. We worked and read and prepared and researched so much to achieve our goal of a completely natural birth, so when she was born, after Katie achieved our goal, it was such an incredible release. Katie and I grew much closer during this pregnancy and birth, and I’m so thankful for it. We were close, and quite happy, but now… it’s different. My company recently started extending parental leave benefits (time off) to all parents – adoptive, biological, gay, whatever – which I wholeheartedly applaud. I received three weeks paid leave, which I extended a little using vacation time. It was such a needed break with my family, for everyone, after having moved into our house only about two or three weeks before the baby arrived. We learned how we live in the house and how the house works, all together.

 

I recently found my first guitar in storage in the barn for a couple years, and brought it back to the house. It’s a modern plywood Hohner, a beginner’s classical acoustic. No worse for wear, even with a little pigeon shit on the pressboard and vinyl case. Liam was very excited to see I had another guitar, and since the kids had found a harmonica recently as well, we formed a band, and decided to put on a show. Emmie played harmonica, Liam his guitar, and I mine. I was reluctant at first to “play” the guitar since I don’t know any songs. But soon, I started just banging on the strings and making noise as they did. We played our show with abandon, and I realized just how cathartic it can be, just making noise for the hell of it.

Jumping right in without caring who is watching.

***

in waiting

Mid February

in waiting

heard the spring peepers last night, windows open

and still this morning early, but different

The moon a bowl shaped crescent

one of those wonky off-centered wooden ones

so warm outside I wore shorts, even early

but my bare feet are cold

I was hoping for frigid cold

need to work in the woods

finally got this great wood stove, but can’t burn

Late afternoon working by the big window, the vultures are circling and soaring

beneath the fast moving cumulus

She’s bouncing on the yoga ball again

we’ve tried everything to get this kid to move

All the wive’s tales

guess officially we have a few days still

Update time… 

Katie here…. Yes it has been a while since our last post, but mostly because we have been working non stop on the house. I will do a small quick update here…

Insulation and drywall we had hired out. We used wet blown in cellulose for the walls and dry blown for the ceilings and rafter bays.

A little over a week after the insulation was done, drywall got started and that took a little over two weeks from start to finish.

While the insulation and drywall were in progress, our momma chicken hatched her eggs and we ended up with 5 baby chicks. Momma and the baby chicks are doing great.

Also we slaughtered our first round of pigs. Scott and a friend did it themselves at our house. 2 pigs, about 230 lbs each, we estimated.

Scott installed the Chimney for the wood stove before drywall.

Next big project for the house once the drywall was done: priming and painting the entire house! Scott got a bunny suit and sprayed the entire house with primer!

After the primer was on we got to work painting. We painted. Painted. And painted! We had great help from family and friends too!

Also during painting we had to take a break and bring the flooring in the house! Our neighbor’s loader saved lots of steps bringing the flooring upstairs.

Finally, painting was done, Scott started to work on the bathroom. He placed the cement board where the tile will go, and also put the tub in place!

Next, cabinets! Yes you hear me right, kitchen cabinets got installed. Along with countertops and sink placed (just not glued). We got quite a large set of solid oak cabinets used, but with the layout of the kitchen, we could only use one upper cabinet. We have some open shelving that matches, though.

And lastly, the huge project we are in the middle of working on right now: flooring! We are laying down unfinished white oak. Once it is placed it will have to be sanded and sealed.

Nothing like ringing in my 3rd trimester of pregnancy by laying flooring down.

Slipping Timelines

We’ve got a chicken sitting on eggs. It’s one of the Black Australorps. I’m surprised it’s not the Buff, they tend toward broodiness more often I think.

She surprised me when I went to grab the eggs yesterday, all puffed out and clucking rhythmically. She was sitting on seven yesterday. Now there’s twelve under her. Katie said she lifted the nest box roof earlier today to find the broody hen puffed up and angry because another hen was half sitting on her, laying an egg. They all have their favorite nest box, and it’s currently occupied.

We decided today to let her sit, see how she does. She went broody before, but not for long. She gave it up after a few days when we kept collecting eggs from under her. I used a red lumber crayon to draw a rough circle around the eggs’ middles so we know which ones to leave alone. We marked the calendar, too, just in case she makes it four weeks.

We are flush with eggs. There’s more than 3 dozen in the fridge, and a small bucket of them overflowing on the counter. I meant to bring in a couple dozen to work, sell em for $2/doz to the folks I like, just to be nice. They keep em in their desk cabinets, cook em for breakfast in the microwave. Maybe that’s what I should do. But I’ve never microwaved an egg, and it doesn’t sound terribly appetizing.

The pigs are getting close to butcher weight. I finally moved them to a new pen, which they’re enjoying rooting up. It’s under a shagbark hickory and I can hear them crunch the hickory nuts. It’ll be their last pen. We hope to butcher them here on the farm, with the help and borrowed equipment of a friend. I still need to find a .22.

The insulation contractor might be here next week (they were supposed to call this week), and the drywallers will follow soon after. I am so happy to pay to have those two large jobs done for me. Just getting drywall carried up the stairs was intimidating to me; these guys will bring a lift and load it through an upstairs window opening.

_______

To say I’m not getting burned out would be to lie. This week has been especially rough for me for some reason in that department. There was a free set of concerts down by the waterfront that I desperately wanted to go to, but I haven’t allowed myself that kind of luxury so far, and I couldn’t see breaking the trend when we are getting so close to being able to move in.

Close being relative. Once the inside is drywalled, it’ll feel damn near ready to move into, but I’ll still have to put the whole bathroom together, kitchen cabinets and counters, flooring, paint, lights and outlets, doors, I’ll quit listing things here.

I’ll need to finalize the exact location of the woodstove soon. I would quite appreciate anyone with real world experience of clearances from a non-catalytic, non-blower stove. (Ours will be a Jotul 118) My main concern is distance from a 6×6 solid ash post. Please be in touch.

Things are going OK. Some days I feel quite in control. Earlier this summer, I was doing better than I am now at accepting and enjoying things as they are. I suppose I’m out of practice.

My goal is Thanksgiving to be moving in… Wish me luck.

Windows and Inspector

It’s been quite a while since we have updated the blog, but I’m going to act like it hasn’t. It’s easier that way. 😉 

Things are moving along on the house at a pretty good clip at the moment. I have all the windows installed, all the plumbing roughed in, all the electric roughed in, the electric meter base installed, and service conduit buried. I also have contractors lined up for installing insulation and drywall, and a local sawmill ready to saw ash logs into floorboards for me. Just Saturday I hired the local bank president and his teenage son to bring about 15 dump truck loads of the excess dirt (from constructing the driveway) back to the house and repair some gulleys and low spots around the house. 

The windows I have installed in the house are not the ones I have bragged about getting, “a house full of windows for $300 plus a load of firewood.” I do still have those windows, but I was forced into installing brand new windows by my ….. building inspector. He remembered, apparently, way back from when I was getting my permit Dec of 2015, when he got offended by my surprise at the requirement of a building inspection, and by my surprise at his unwillingness to let me use local full dimension hardwood framing. He remembered from way back then my interest in installing used windows in the house. So, a month or two ago, after my framing and electric had passed, he told me he would give me my electrical sticker (permission, basically, for the utility to hook me up) once he saw my windows and doors installed and my plumbing roughed in. 

Never again will I be required to work with a building inspector. Ever. New rule to live by. 

I am very close to being completely done with this inspector. Once I get my electric hooked up, it’s done. This last inspection might happen this week or next. I plan to be gone when he comes to inspect. 

From here, it looks like I could really be starting painting and putting the bathroom and kitchen cabinets together in about a month. I need to install one door, and buy and install another, then get inspected. Then the contractors can start. 

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I was doing some thinking recently about my work ethic. I generally don’t mind working, but I also generally don’t want to start a job and only get partway done. I think I use that as an excuse to not start sometimes (a lot of times), and in the past couple of months I’ve realized that it goes much quicker if I believe I can do it, and don’t plan jobs around time available. (This isn’t making as much sense here as it did in my head.) Suffice it to say that recently I am getting more work done on what matters, and less mowing done. 

Anyway, new philosophical breakthroughs aside, I’m excited and I have a newfound vigor and drive to complete this house, because Katie is pregnant with our third child, due in February.