Everyone needs a wiry little mischief seeking mud puppy in their life, no? This is Griffin, the subject of my most recent pet portrait. It was challenging to draw a dog who really, truly does have a grin on her face much of the time... It's hard to make a smiling dog face not look human. Some pet portraits roll right off the tongue... or off the pencil lead... and others do not. I struggled with this one, but am happy with it in the end. When you only get to meet a pet in photos, on the computer screen, how do you know if you captured their likeness and their spirit in a way that will ring true with their person? I never know, and gosh darn it does make me nervous.
We spent much of last winter planning the house we would build this summer, and then trashed those plans entirely. The new plans evolved as we've been living on the land, and they are more humble: we are building a 16 x 22 house on concrete piers, with an open floor plan and a loft for sleeping. We settled on this because it is inexpensive and we can build it ourselves (with plenty of hands-on help from family and friends), and it will hopefully go up quick enough that we'll be cozy when the snow flies.
And so, it's been a busy couple of weeks around here. With the tractor and his very strong back, Matt dug us some footings. Eleven holes, each 3 feet wide and 4 feet deep. I was beginning to fear I would lose him to the earth forever, but he did eventually emerge from the last hole, a few pounds lighter and a few shades darker.
I scooped a few shovelfuls of dirt myself, but mostly, while Matt was digging, I was scratching out some house plans. I am trying to stay one step ahead of construction with these plans and cutlists and orders. It's just the way we do things, all last minute, when we can see the project laid out in front of us. It comes of not having any idea what the hell we're doing, but really wanting to do it anyway. It might be foolish, or it might just be the way we work best together. It is definitely one of the things that makes us kindred spirits.
Our first load of rough-cut hemlock and spruce was delivered the day after the concrete truck came. A few days later, with the help of Matt's dad and step-mom (who are here from Minnesota) and the direction of my dad (who has plenty of past construction experience), we got the girders on the piers and the joists on the girders. This is the fun part, I think (though I've never done it before): the framing. I like to cut wood and nail it and watch it become something.
There have been many compromises made in these house plans. I never thought of this place as our dream house - that sounds so big and extravagant - but I did have ideas about the way I wanted things, so they would be nice. Matt did too. But ultimately, we only have so much money, and so many months, and when both of those are all run out, we damn well better have a house to live in. So this house won't allow us to try out some of the more interesting and innovative building techniques we were excited about, but I think it will still be pretty sweet. We are using a lot of local framing lumber - stuff that was grown and milled here in Vermont - and we feel good about that. We will be warm and comfortable and have a nice (tiny) kitchen, and we will be here, in this amazing place, where the outside is so much bigger than the inside, and there is land to explore. And that's what we were really going for all along.
I promised I'd show you the composting toilet I built, and I never did! That's it up there. I wanted you to see it in a nice setting, and now that it lives in the tool shed, all cozied up amongst the splittin' irons, well... The bucket there on the side is full of wood shavings, and there is another bucket inside the box. This toilet is based on the Loveable Loo plans as described in the Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins. I recommend this book if you're interested in a simple DIY composting toilet system, but you know what? I didn't read it! Because when it comes to Important Stuff You Should Read before you go ahead and do something, I leave that to Matt. He reads the whole whatever-it-is cover to cover, and then if I want to know something, I just ask him! Anyway, two pages in the book are the toilet plan, and it's very easy to build, and so far the toilet is working out quite well.
I have so much to tell you, and so little time. So I won't say much right now. I am squeezing in a half day here and there to work on my art, and the rest of the days are dedicated to house construction preparation and the daily workings of life here on the land: hauling buckets of water up from the spring, cooking, scything paths through the wildflowers (my scythe! remind me to tell you about my scythe!), driving into town for supplies. We have phone, internet and power now! And we're getting a driveway as I speak. This involves mayhem and destruction with bulldozers and backhoes, and I haven't even burst into tears yet! I sure have toughened up.
This is our new home. We are living in a wall tent. It is sixteen by twenty, set on a platform, with room inside for our camp kitchen, bed, tools, my desk, and even an occasional guest. It is bigger than our house will be. It has a deck, where we cook and eat and drink and watch the weather.
The weather! I have seen nothing like it. Matt lived in Flagstaff once, and this reminds him of that - mountain weather. Always the clouds passing over - the high clouds are slow and drifty, the low clouds are bent hell-to-the-wind and racing. We are inside the tent looking out, watching thunderstorms extinguish our whole meadow full of fireflies, or outside, grabbing power tools and diving for cover.
We have a spring that bubbles out of the ground. Matt rigged up a special refrigerator of sorts. It's a cooler with a copper coil inside, and it siphons cold spring water through to keep the cream and butter and eggs fresh.
We have baby ravens, who talk all the time. For a while they just jostled one another in a line on a long drooping branch, but now they fly high, high up in the sky and do their jostling aloft.
We have owlets. At night they do hooting lessons with their parents, who so patiently recite who cooks for you. The babies say it back, but all panicked and backward.
We have morels. They came cascading down the hillsides and into our baskets. We dropped our baskets, fell to our knees, and opened our mouths. The morels tumbled in.
What else can I say? At first, I was so happy. I love camping. This is camping all the time. But then again it's life, and pesky useless worries come creeping round. I try to remember this is the most special summer ever, and do not let anything ruin that, even for a moment. I already love this home with a deepness I never felt in Scranton.
Matt is in his element, and it makes me happy to see him here. He fells trees and splits firewood and digs trenches with his tractor, and goes in search of rock to climb and wild greens to forage, and finds cliff side nests and bear cubs. He's in the midst of a tapestry of forest so broad it's like an ocean, and I think that's right where he's meant to be.
I hope to document the summer here, as best I can. No internet yet, and no phone. We have power, though, and a half-built shed. A well and a house will be next.
Labels: building a homestead in vermont
It's been a hurried last month of packing, cleaning, painting, and generally making tidy in preparation to put our little house on the market. We spent a lot of time dealing with STUFF, and the problem of how it got there and now what to do with it. Sentimental attachments were severed. Records were sold. Pottery was gifted to friends. Loads went to the scrapyard, the dump, and the salvation army. We're now a little bit lighter, and the house is up for sale. I shed one tear when we left, but then I turned up the radio and drank some coffee and looked forward to the Next Big Thing.
Scranton was good to us. We're leaving a group of fantastically sarcastic, hard working, fun loving friends, and I'm going to miss them. Fig Street was a great neighborhood - kind and comfortable. When I think about missing our house - it's that, the comfort and security - that I'll miss the most. Warmth, privacy, dryness... Cooking, refrigeration, hot showers. Wifi. All so easy!
The summer ahead will be a little more roughin' it. I'm happy about that, because I haven't done it in awhile, and it makes me feel like the Me I remember. The Me I like more. I will occasionally feel sad that I can not curl up with Twin Peaks on Netflix at the end of a long day, but... maybe I'll be too tired for that anyway.
So, we're in Vermont, at my parent's house, and will soon be at our land, building the platform our big canvas tent will sit on for the summer.
I know you all can't wait to see the toilet, but it's still missing a key detail, the seat. Soon, my friends, soon. Now, I'm off to Agway to see if they have peeps and ducklings. Please don't let me buy any.