A chronicle of Mike and Julia's adventures creating a home on the Missouri range...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Missouri Falling

        Well, time is certainly flying here! It seems like just yesterday that I took the photo to the right, remarking to Mike, "hey, the oak tree next to our tent is beginning to change color! Look at the lower limb, see the little bit of red tinging the leaves?" It has been almost a month since that first color siting and this morning I noted bleakly that what few leaves that were left on the trees around us were a boring brown. Color swept through and left town in a hurry.
      Still, it has been an interesting month. Adjusting to the cold snap that hit a few weeks ago was a challenge. One chilly morning we woke to find the world outside our tent flap a white-frosted wonderland. It is one thing to marvel at the frost from the toasty comfort of your home window and quite another to have to heat up your morning tea water in it. First step- break ice up in water pitcher. Second step, fumble around in gloves to get paper and twigs amassed enough to successfully light fire. Third- huddle shivering around little stove, eeking out the scant warmth it provides for the ten minutes of burn time it takes to heat water. And so on. But then, weirdly, a week later we were out in tank tops and shorts for a late warm-weather blast, basking in the sun. There is a saying in Missouri, "if you don't like the weather, wait a minute or two". Very true.

    The other shift in weather that has been defining the contour of our days is the increase in rain. Cold and warm fronts have been battling it out in huge thunder and lightning storms. We have gone from a severe drought to a severe deluge of water. We had our Belgian friend Geoffrey staying with us during one of the worst storms which struck around 4 am. We tried to sleep through it in our rather leaky tent despite the streams of water aiming themselves directly at our bed. Geoffrey apparently was also getting soaked in his tent and came seeking refuge in ours. He laughed and made an about-face when he saw how much wetter it was in ours... after 7 layers of blankets got soaked through, we started catching the water streams in trays and buckets. I can only hope one day we look back and laugh at these moments. Mike has since taken initiative to reinforce our tenting situation with a huge heavy silver tarp that we got at an auction. Our tent now looks like some futuristic metal dome-hovel. Oh well for aesthetics! We are now the eyesore in the otherwise bleak landscape.
      But the silver lining about all the rain is that our pond is really filling! We probably have about a foot of water so far, and little green sprouts shooting up through the straw surrounding the dam wall. (The trees in the pond bottom in the photo above are for future fish-nursery habitat). We took some time and care to gather native grass seed from around our land and our neighbor's, the Crawford's, land nearby. Richard Crawford is a specialist in prairie restoration and taught us how to harvest and identify native grasses vs. introduced grasses (ie- Indian Grass good, Fescue bad...) It is amazing how many wildflowers and grasses there are all around us, the variety of which I had formerly lumped together in my mind as "grassy stuff" instead of Little Bluestem, Mountain Mint, Goldenrod, Greyheaded Coneflower, etc. It occurs to me that this year on the land has been about learning the landscape around us, which I suspect will be an ongoing education. Mike has been furthering our knowledge by reading up on wild-foraging and we have been astounded by how much of our landscape is actually edible. He has also been mushroom-hunting up a storm, and almost every other day we have mushrooms with breakfast. So far he has found Chicken-of-the-Woods, Elm Oysters, Oysters, Wood-ears, Puff balls, and he has inoculated around 20 logs with 5 other species of edible mushroom spores which will fruit in another year. Yum!
     And otherwise, work on the land continues as best we can here... Digging swales, still processing wood and debarking logs, putting in a spillway ditch for the pond and carving spoons out of black walnut and cherry wood for our fundraiser thank-you gifts. We also have had new neighbors move in, a young family of four who have been long-time friends of Ethan and Sarah. They too are moving onto new land without existing structures and will be embarking on a homestead-creating adventure along with us. We also have gotten to meet other local neighbors, folks who have dropped off a bucket of turnips, offered us squirrel meat (hmmm...), given us tree seed and offered advice and history of the area and our land. We learned our parcel used to be called "happy Jack's place" after the fellow who used to own it a few decades back, who was, apparently, a happy guy! Well here are a few more shots of the fleeting fall beauty over at happy Jack's place. With a few more weeks still to go, send us some warm wishes :)
A storm blowing over at sunset

Monday, October 1, 2012


        Introducing... our new pond! Or rather, the huge crater in our land that will one day be a pond should the rain gods look favorably upon our small homestead. It is hard to give a sense of its size and position in relation to the land around it, but I have endeavored in the above composite photo. All in all, it turned out to be much larger than we were expecting it to be, but its position on the land is really ideal for our orchard and garden site (downhill on the left most photo of the composite). It is probably hard to see this detail in the above image, but there is a pipe emerging from the dam wall in the pond bowl that feeds out 100 ft. on the other side of the dam to a hydrant where we can connect hoses and run water downhill. As a neighbor of ours put it, "you can keep your tap turned on all year and still not drain that thing!" Not that we have plans to try, but it is nice to know that we will have a decent water supply for our land and a backup for our house, should we need it. It is also nice to know there will be future habitat for frogs, turtles, fish, migrating fowl, cattails, ducks and many other creatures. After the rather destructive process of bulldozing it into existence, it is the least we owe the land and other inhabitants on it. The first day the excavator came and started digging involved the removal of several really old and lovely oaks that stood in the direct path of the proposed dam wall. We made the difficult decision to remove them and then use every part of them  for our own building and wood supply. Even knowing how many other large oaks we have on our land, it was still hard to see them get uprooted and pushed away. Another hard part was watching the top soil get stripped off of the site, along with all of the other prairie grasses and life inhabiting them. Again, a huge compromise for the life that will be able to flourish in its place. But after that, the bulldozer began stripping away beautiful layers of clay, full of interesting swirls of color, and it was rather interesting watching how he reshaped them layer by layer into a bowl. Sort of like a giant ceramics project minus the wheel to throw it on. The excavator, Ralph, was able to push top soil back onto the outside sides of the dam wall so that we can plant stabilizing grasses and turn it back into prairie again. In the meantime, we have been busily dissecting the huge trees that were pushed over, making piles of dry twigs for cook stove fuel, green branches to be turned into wood chips for our swale project, medium branches for firewood (we already have 1 cord! Now for the house to heat...), the main trunk to be milled for our building beams, and the root balls which we will roll back into the bottom of the pond for fish hatchery habitat. All of this, you can imagine, is more work than we bargained for, and is definitely delaying our main project (ahem... the house?) But still, we feel we should finish what we started and thus you can imagine us out on our prairie slopes, sawing and stacking away and enjoying the sun for once! Below are some photos from the process...