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

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The sweet and the stormy

      This blog post is well overdue, and for that I apologize! The truth is that this past month or so has been somewhat overwhelming in both good and bad ways. Let me start with the good. We have a floor in our house now. And the floor has been enabling wonderful things. For one, I turned 32 in June and we hosted our first party in our house to celebrate! It feels exciting to finally have a big space to host gatherings in, the floor having turned our cumbersome large frame into an open-air pavilion of sorts. It has been suggested by several friends that we should just keep it this way... with 360 views, the sunset in the background lighting up tree canopy on the opposite side, the birdsong and breeze all providing the backdrop for our gatherings. Well, it does feel kind of perfect on evenings such as these! But come November, I have a feeling we will be glad for some insulated walls, even if they do compromise the views. 

     The floor itself was a score--old barn wood that a nice local man gave us a good deal on. The patchwork nature of old paint, weathering, and different plank sizes once puzzled together makes for a collage of sorts underfoot, and I find myself thinking that my grandfather (himself a collage artist and sculptor) would appreciate the aesthetics of it. Eventually, it will get covered over with finish flooring, but for now I have been admiring it and ruminating on creating a house is not that far off from creating a huge artwork of sorts, a giant sculpture. Our friend's children seem to get it, and have been inspired to create their own masterpiece houses when they come over to gatherings. It is nice to lose track of what they are doing for an hour and then look up to see several three year olds working together to lug a heavy log over to their play house. Built-in mailboxes, chicken coops, gardens, windows, and a giant catapult have all manifested in their joint creations. It is fun to witness how cooperative, imaginative, and creative these kids are when given some friends, a patch of dirt and some scraps. Not unlike their parents!

      What else? On the 4th of July we celebrated another Inter-dependence Day at our friends John and Holly's farm. Holly is a talented acupuncturist who recently treated a client she knew couldn't afford services. He runs a fireworks tent and offered to compensate her in fireworks, and being the generous gift-economist that she is, she agreed and we all got to participate up close in one heck of a show in addition to the usual delicious feast! Mike's parents were in attendance, as they came for a "workation" to help us out for a long weekend. They were hugely helpful in framing out east and west porch floors (necessary to start baling) and insulating with cellulose under where the strawbales will sit. Mike's father Sam, himself a doctor in his usual work sphere, likes to jokingly grumble about feeling like he has been "restructured" into a lowly menial-work position in some communist regime. Hopefully some day they will be able to come and actually kick their heels up when they visit, reminiscing about which board and joint they were responsible for back in the old construction days...

     And mostly the weather has been beautiful, the butterflies and wildflowers have been abundant, and we actually have one patch of accidental garden growing along! I had almost given up in the poor soil in this one little bed as it stunted everything I planted in it last year. I mixed in some compost and all of a sudden we had volunteer squash and tomatoes (thank you half-finished compost!) Something of a three-sisters bed with the addition of lettace seeds that I sowed this year, the squash leaves have been shading the lettace to extend its season by almost a month, and the tomatoes pop up above the broad squash leaves. We have barely had to weed, and now our mystery squash are revealing themselves to be... spaghetti squash! It has been an unexpected treat to watch it all unfold, and hopefully to eat as long as the rabbits don't discover it first.

     The last treat of the season has been a new birth in the neighborhood. John and Regina's healthy new baby girl Johanna arrived right on schedule, and thanks to our local midwife Alyssa and her team, it happened "naturally" right down Frontier Ln. at their home! In fact, Regina gave birth in a tent that she set up for the purpose. I have to admire them for their courage in having a baby their first season on their land, still a bit half-homed at the moment. While they hoped to have a small cabin finished, it just hasn't happened (construction projects tends to run notoriously late in case you hadn't noticed!) Still, they have big support in our community who have all been pitching in to cook meals and wash diapers and such. And I know they will figure out something for winter, perhaps renting in town. I have been trying to imagine what it would be like to have a small infant along for the journey with us in our given circumstances, and it just seems like it would be overwhelming if not impossible. Yet women worldwide manage it somehow, even in the midst of war and displacement and natural disaster! And Regina is one of the strongest and most determined mothers I have witnessed, biking to her midwife appointments (at 8 months pregnant, 15 miles away!), working on their house up until the last weeks. With such a beautiful little being in your midst, it is hard not to have faith that all is possible. I trust their family will prevail, and the amazing weather this past week feels like a small blessing on them while they recuperate and settle in.

     Okay, that leads me to the bad-overwhelming of late. Mike left with his parents a few weeks ago for a family reunion, and almost as soon as he left, disaster struck with me alone. A huge storm blew in with strong winds and almost hurricane like conditions. I am fortunate to have amazing neighbors Brian and Teri who were tracking the progress and came down to get me right before the worst hit. It was eerily calm and I had fallen asleep waiting for something to happen. I figured that this, like most storms, wouldn't really do much damage to our campsite and we would weather-through okay. Thankfully, Teri woke me up and we drove up to their house where I stayed overnight because the next morning when I came down to check on things, I found that our tallest tree, a massive 70 ft. red oak, had cracked at the base and fallen just feet away from our tent structure. In fact, it landed right where my car had been parked the night before. It took out two smaller trees with it and the whole mass of trunks and branches somehow miraculously had fallen in the negative space between our structures! This has been my worst fear camping out for years, and I have crouched in terror listening to thunder getting closer and closer in past storms. As overwhelming as it has been to start cleaning up the mess, I just feel so lucky to have not been there! It turns out that the base of the tree was quite rotted in the interior and it was a bit of a ticking time bomb. I'm grateful it chose to wait until we weren't there, and to fall in the least-damageful way possible (as if it did indeed "choose" any of that!)

      I have also been feeling somewhat daunted by the next hurdle in our building process-- and that is that we have no straw bales. It is straw season, and yet all the local farmers I have talked to have had miserable wheat crops, not even worth harvesting, thanks to hale/storm damage. Too much rain has meant straw hasn't dried properly either, so we are having to widen our search considerably. Plus less and less farmers are square baling, opting for big round bales instead. Our kind neighbors (who have saved our skins more than once) Don and Dana have been racking their brains and making all the calls they can to farmers they know, and I just placed an ad in our local "trader" newspaper... "desperately seeking straw!" Or something like that. We will see if we get any nibbles back. We may just have to bite the bullet and pay extra to have it trucked in from afar. Or to have someone's last years straw re-baled into squares. I guess sometimes you luck into the good deal, and sometimes you have to pay the piper for forces out of your control... Funny the reversal of weather prayers issuing from our mouths-- in past years, it was for rain to break the drought, and this year, it is for the storms to stop and a nice long drought month to help us get some rain-sensitive baling work done on the house! The next blog post will tell. In the meantime, I have been notching in our second floor beams, stalling for bales, and for Mike to return. The time to start making progress on the house is here... framing in our doors and windows, nailing in our toe-ups, ordering materials for plastering and flashing and a dozen more things it seems. Wish us luck and some dry weather!