Archive for the ‘Farm Visit’ Category

Farm gates and fences

farm gate

The place might sit empty for awhile. 

I am in favor of this idea, because it’s my farmhouse when I’m there, several times a year, but not for leisure purposes:  I need a homebase to work hard out of, to be able to get up at the crack of dawn and be outside by 7 am, work until dark and stop to make dinner only after projects are buttoned up for the night. 

I do not want to camp out at some hotel room 12 miles away and have to wait until my late-sleeping travel partner gets rolling so we can drive to the farm, starting my workday before 10 am if I’m really lucky and with nowhere to take a break and prepare a meal to eat, while some stranger lives in our house.  Silly, impossible idea, that.  I tried the sock on several times and it never fit. 

(This is actually my mental image of how I approach the difficult task of choosing between possible scenarios like this, I see it like trying on a sock.  Pulled it on and the damned thing was too tight, and scratchy, and would have caused me unending distress.  No kidding.)

 So, a shift in project plans for the September working visit, from installing the wood stove to: 

1) Building good sturdy gates across both driveways (one to the shop, one to the house, separated by the creek).

2) Fencing the road boundary between and past the gates to prevent access to the buildings. 

3) Having a monitored alarm system installed in house and shop (I would want this when I move there by myself anyway, working up on the hill all day, out of earshot of the house by the road). 

4) Installing an inexpensive x10 lighting control system inside house, to turn lights and radio on and off, simulating occupancy. 

5) Installing solar-powered security lighting on house side of creek, and in back of shop. 

6) Putting deadbolts on all doors.

I contacted the realtor that sold us the place, who’s been working in the area for several decades and lives just a few miles down the road – wanted to know what her experience was with folks renting places out vs. leaving them buttoned up and whether there was any such thing as property management in the area.   She related a couple of horror stories about clients who ended up having to sell a secondary residence after getting tromped on by unsavory renters who trashed the place and were difficult to evict; just too few good people needing a place to live that will take care of it like you’d want them to.  

Her recommendation was to implement the above security measures and she even offered to make frequent checks on our place as she drives by there weekly, and call us if anything appeared amiss.

It’s a risk I think I’ll take.

There is a possibility that my sister in Colorado will move out to the farm and caretake the place, after the next ski season is over.  A fortuitous opportunity for her to change location and jobs and get something of a fresh start.  But nothing etched in stone yet, just a possibility.  So we’ll proceed with the security measures, plan for the worst and hope for the best.

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hilltop hayfield in june

Our ten days at the Farm in late May/early June were work-filled and blessed with mainly good, clear weather.  It is a pity I was not able to cut the pastures, as the ground was fairly dry and we had a week with no rain; it has rained regularly since we left and they may not get mowed until well into July.  But we had other things to do, and Bobby can mow when things dry out again. 

The folks took the opportunity to drive out to Oklahoma to visit family, meet a new great-grandaughter, and get away from the Farm for a bit.  With us there to look after the dogs, it was as simple as jumping in the truck and driving West.  We appreciated having the place to ourselves for the week; we enjoy their company but when we’re there to work non-stop on specific tasks, it’s nice to set our own meal times (supper usually waits until after dark, past nine) and not have to explain what we’re doing and make conversation as we fly in and out of the little house.  At least for me, that’s the benefit.  My type-A dawn-to-dusk work practices are not always easy for laid-back retired folks to understand.

I had every intention and was well-prepared to tackle two projects this visit:  building steps for the back door to replace the unsafe stack of cinderblocks that Alene had tumbled down once already, and repainting and moving to storage the rusting corral panels that once served as a stock handling pen.  The cinderblock stoop was completely inadequate and the corral, 20 panels or so, is placed too close to the Big Pond and has been weathering unnecessarily, unused since 2002.  I will set it up in a better location as a round pen for training the horses, when that time comes.

The back door steps idea morphed into a full-blown porch, a 6′ x 10′ deck with two wide steps and a sturdy railing porch building finishedcapped with 2 x 8’s, built strong and solid on four posts embedded in concrete footers with a concrete pad at the base of the steps; safe, roomy, useful, enduring.  And beautiful, I think.  It took me 9 days to finish, from digging the footer holes to putting the last coat of stain on the deck.  Halfway through the week I realized my pace was slower than I’d planned, and the corral panels would have to wait another year for their sanding and new coat of green Rustoleum paint.  But doing something well is always worth taking your time.

Derril left me alone with my carpentry project and worked on digging out culverts and drainage ditches on the road up to the hill.  He also replaced the kitchen faucet and fixed a few problems around the house.  Carpentry is not really his thing, and I will admit I work better by myself on projects like this where I am learning and figuring things out as I go.  So he worked at his pace and I at mine, and we were both pleased with what we accomplished on this trip.

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Private Property


I have always respected private property in the way a child respects a hot stove; never wishing to experience the possible negative effects of ignoring either the warning against little hands touching red-hot coils, or little feet trespassing on neighbors’ fields.

Not everyone feels the same way, alas. 

The two ponds up on our hilltop pastures are a siren call to someone in the neighborhood; some disrespectful sort of folks who’ve fished them, cut the rope to the bucket holding the windmill aerator stone, left their beer cans and trash, and now, they’ve torn down the “posted” signs.

It isn’t like the place is deserted.  Bobby goes up on the hill several times a week, drives around the pastures, picks up fallen branches, checks on the equipment stored under tarps, and mows the pastures every other month or so.  Drives him crazy that someone would brazenly stomp around up there like no one cares, like we’d never posted any signs.  He thinks it’s kids and they’re relatively harmless, but still it bothers him, as it does me.

We’ll replace the signs when we’re out there in May, and I’ll speak to the neighbor about putting a new lock on the gate that provides access from his pastures to ours.  It would probably be a good idea to file a complaint with the sheriff as well, to get the issue on record. 

I’d sure like to know who it is, maybe even bump into them while we’re there.  A good face-to-face discussion about private property rights after a friendly introduction as the owner of the farm might be all it takes.  I can feel my dander gettin’ up already.

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How I wish I were back at the Farm right now.  Just look at the grass starting to green up, the trees yet to push leaves, still waiting for the days to lengthen enough to be safe from sudden frost.  Someday soon, I’ll live each day of each season there, noting the subtle changes in every living thing as the planet hurtles back around its yearly orbit, tilting the Northern hemisphere once again toward the burning star that makes all this wonderful stuff happen.

I have 30 days left over here in this East African desert; 44 days to being boots on ground right there (points to photo), in the middle of that very pasture, surrounded by the green grass and budding trees that wait patiently for me.  Oh, my farm is my lover, my waiting woman, beckoning me home with graceful arms and bountiful curves, life springing from her soils and grasses and forests and creeks.  How I yearn for her presence, her sounds, her smells, her touch.

This trip I will rescue the corral from certain death by weathering.  It was assembled perhaps 8 years ago, used only once, and put up too close to the Big Pond.  The panels are rusting and in dire need of a new coat of paint; I’ll attend to that then tear the whole thing down and stack ’em in the trees under a tarp, until I’m ready to set it back up again in a better location.  We’ll be there 10 days, so I’ll have time to sand and paint 20 8-foot steel panels.  I hope.

We’ll see if I can get Derril to take some pictures this time, to help illustrate the project story.  Bobby and Alene are thinking of taking a trip to see their kids while we’re there, since our stay is so long; it will be nice to have the Farm to ourselves for a change, and be able to power through the work without keeping a meal schedule or just being dang rude for not coming down off the hill until dark.  I’m bad about that.

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Horselogging School


The dates of this course of instruction fall nicely into the leave period I’ll have after I return home from this Africa deployment.  We’ll make a 10-day working visit to the Farm at the end of May, then I’ll put Derril on a plane back to San Diego and head on over to Virginia for some much-needed training for li’l ole’ Thistledog.  Horses aren’t the only ones that need schooling.

I’m really looking forward to this.  Been getting myself ready physically, too – years ago I could have jumped right out there from a dead stop; nowadays my stamina and strength don’t stick around without being called upon, and I haven’t done much physical labor lately.  So I’m back to weight training and hill-walking to bring myself up to speed.  It’ll pay off for the whole trip, as my project list at the Farm will have me up at dawn and working until daylight fades; got culverts to clean out, road ditches to re-grade, and the corral fence panels to re-paint and move.  Getting strong and tough now will save me a lot of pain later.

One thing I won’t be surprised by is the heat.  After a year in East Africa, my yardstick for comparing hot temperatures is mighty damned long.

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It snowed our first day at the farm – big, fluffy flakes drifting down lazily, unhurried, barely covering the ground.  A pretty sight indeed.  Temperatures hovered near 20 dF both days, but we’d brought lots of layers and hats and gloves, expecting that. 

It was a good working visit, if a little short and cold, but we got all the upkeep and repairs done that we came to do.  Well, almost all…the topmost culvert on the road had filled in but the fill was too frozen to dig out, so that’ll have to wait until the next visit.  But I got all the leaves cleaned out of the upper road ditch, something that needs done every year to keep the drainage working properly, otherwise the water starts to travel downhill out in the road away from the ditch and makes gullies. 

The year before last – 2007 that is – the road was so badly washed out that Bobby had to “fix” it after every rain, but he was just scraping loose fill into the gullies and not really dealing with the underlying problem of the culverts not doing their job and the road grade not working to ditch-cleaning-with-dog-copychannel the water to the side.  So last spring we spent four days digging out all the culverts and grading the steep upper section of road, re-establishing the grade into the side of the hill so the water didn’t take the straight line down the middle.    It held up pretty well, I must say, and he only had to run the box scraper over it once this past year.  The culvert mouths were filling back in, which I expected, but the grade was still intact and it looked like the water was travelling in the ditch like it should.

Raking leaves up on the hill with the light snow falling, listening to the birds call through the forest and squirrels rustling in the leaves as they dashed from tree to tree, I felt deeply contented.  It was slow going in the cold and a long stretch of road, but I was happy to be on my farm, tending to necessary work.  I paused every now and then to walk among the trees, making mental notes about how much to thin and which trees would need removed first.  There’s lots of post and pole material for fences there, as well as some good saw logs out of the bottom of damaged, crooked and crowded trees.  Lots of forest work to do here. 

Wednesday afternoon I spent up on the ladder cleaning the leaves and ice out of the shop gutters, while Derril fixed the big security light on the front of the shop.  Good to get all that done, as Bobby’s knee surgery and arthritis make ladder work quite difficult for him.   He really has no business being up on ladders these days.

The folks are looking at a little house on 5 acres down the road near the Elk Horn turn off; they like this area and don’t want to leave the doctors they’ve established care with.  Their grown children are in Florida and Oklahoma but they don’t want to live in either place.  Alene said they were a little concerned about not having family close by and I assured her we would always take care of them – said they were like folks to us, and she replied we were just like their own children to them.  I can see they’ll always have an attachment to the farm, but would be happy to live close by on a smaller place.  I hope it works out that way.

We left for Virginia to see Jason and the horses early Thursday morning, in the pre-dawn darkness before the folks were even up.  The stars were shining brightly.

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Just updated the Farm Projects page with a summary story of our visit in April ’07 to install an aeration windmill on the Big Pond.  It isn’t the most in-depth story, but I failed to blog about it at the time or write anything down shortly afterward, so I’ve only got two-year-old memories to go on, along with some pictures captured from the video I took while we were there.  My handycam batteries ran low just as we were getting ready to drive the blade section up the hill and put it on the tower;, which was too bad; that would have been a wonderful documentary of the really exciting part of the project.

Next story will better documented from a previous blog post, our pasture renovation project the following August.  I’ll work on that this week and try to get it up before I fly home.

Four days left to scramble all the loose ends together here at Camp Lemonier, get my weekly reports and tasks assigned to helpful folks who can keep them running while I’m gone, and then the long flight home.  We’ll fly to Kentucky during the second week I’m back, to visit and work at the Farm, then a half-day’s drive to Virginia to meet my girls, and Jason and the crew.  I’m beside myself with anticipation.

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