Saturday, August 29, 2020

A new resident at the Ridge.

I haven't been around much (and won't be for a bit) because I've been working virtually every spare hour up at the new property helping my son. I work all day from home and then hit the road as soon as I'm done to take advantage of the daylight. Even on a rainy day, we moved the construction inside. One night last week, we worked in the dark with battery-operated lights to get the last lower-floor window in. This involved me on a ladder at times, holding the window in place and flinching as moths hit my face.
The tiny house is all wrapped now and we are waiting on the delivery of the last window, a special-order casement window for sleeping loft egress. But that's not today's story. See the cat in the background by my son's truck?
At first, this little feral kitty yowled at us from the woods, skulking in the underbrush and darting away when we approached. One day, I asked my son if I could toss her a chicken strip he had in his truck and she wolfed it down from safety of the creek bed. The next day, we fed her parts of our sandwiches, and the next he gave her a wrap that he hadn't eaten at lunch.
On Tuesday, we had the same thought, leading to this text exchange. We met up at the ridge that evening and my son had also bought food and water bowls. My son named her Tumbleweed. She's started to fill out and meets us at the gate now each day.
Once she decided she trusted us, she became extremely affectionate. She follows us around as we work, rubbing against our legs and keeping up a running commentary. And if you sit down, she's right there, wanting to be petted.
Looks like Tumbleweed, the little Tortoiseshell kitty, has found a new home.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

My little orchard-to-be.

At times when I can't provide any useful help on the tiny house build, I've been working on a project of my own. Just the other side of the remaining cinder block wall was a jungle between it and the road. And one of the few spots that gets a fair amount of sun. I had big plans.
The first thing I did was clear a little path along the wire that ran from the gate to prevent people from driving up onto the land. We put in metal fence posts and added another wire so that I can eventually put vines growing along it.
Standing at the wall, you couldn't even see the road. I took out that little cedar, a couple of mimosas and all those weeds and vines.
I'm leaving some things in place, but now I have spaces for pawpaw trees in front of that wall, and some paths through the front. I spent a long time picking up broken glass from the old windows, which littered the ground. A couple of the panes still had large pieces of glass in them so I broke them out and hauled all the glass away.
That isn't the only hazard. There's the damned poison ivy everywhere, and I've had poison ivy rash on my wrists more times than I can count. I came up with a solution, though - I cut off the end of a sock and a hole for my thumb and wear them over my shirt sleeves and under my gloves. Sexy they are not, but they work. I call them my sock gaiters.
And then there is this guy. I was watching a humming bird and noticed a spider the size of New Jersey perched in a plant near me. I shudder to think of how many plants I have reached into never thinking I might encounter an enormous spider.
Not that any of that stops me. After I got the plants cleared out, I dismantled this big pile of cinder blocks, some of which I had to dig out of the ground. I left some in a circle for planting blueberry bushes, and rolled and carried the rest to the fence line.
I'm filling them with soil and strawberry plants. I got the first 21 openings filled with strawberries I transplanted from my house and will put wild strawberries in the other 18.
I cleared out the last of this upper portion today, and have staked out spots for fruit trees and berry bushes. Toward the end are a lot of wild blackberry canes, which I've left in place. I have already planted a couple of persimmon trees and an American plum, both natives. My goal is to also put in a couple of apple trees, a couple of crabapples (to help pollinate the apple trees),  a couple of pawpaws, and a bunch of blackberry, blueberry and boysenberry bushes. I also am going to try transplanting some figs from my house. It will take years, but eventually there should be all kinds of fruit growing here.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Not all Stepdad-Stepson relationships are tense one.

Two Fridays ago, my husband worked all day building a little bridge and clearing a trail. It was hot and muggy and he was tired. As he came down off the ridge, he tripped over a root or something and put a pretty good gash into his head. Blood everywhere. I don't do well with that, as my children can attest. I cried and wrung my hands. But pulled it together because I had to to get the bleeding stopped and some temporary bandaging in place.
But the next day, he was back out there, wound wrapped up, helping my son with framing. Last weekend, my son needed to run to pick up more supplies and he asked my husband to go with him. The store is about 45 minutes away, so they were gone for a while while I worked on other things up there. Later, my son told me he felt like the two of them were getting nice bonding time in. It absolutely warms my heart to see that happening.

Monday, July 27, 2020

My younger son's project.

Toward the front of the property is the remains of a little cement block house. All that is left is a front wall with two windows with the glass mostly broken out, and a bit of one side wall.
The cement pad that it's on was completely covered in weeds and vines and piles of cement blocks.
My younger son asked if he could build a tiny house on wheels on it and live there until we build. Yes! We all got to work tearing out plants, cutting down small trees, and moving blocks.
Finally, it was clear and he bought a trailer and moved it on.
It soon became a construction site. After a disastrous day when a storm sprung up and then we frantically sopped the water up with towels, my son set up tarped tents to shield the materials and trailer.
It seemed to take forever to get the platform ready. My son scrubbed the trailer down with a wire brush, primed and painted it and then installed floor insulation, flashing and subflooring. At first, he had a buddy helping occasionally, but was mostly doing all the work himself. He only has weekends and some evenings, because he drives for FedEx during the days.
My husband and I decided it was time to offer our services and the last two weekends we've forgone hiking to work with my son.
I say we, although it's mostly my husband. I can help shuttle the tarp tent on and off, pick up debris and hand things up to people, but I am not much in the way of extra muscle. Fortunately for me, the project I'm working on is just the other side of the cement wall, so I work there until they call for me.
This weekend, they made remarkable progress. My son designed the tiny house and has put a lot of thought into how to maximize space on an 8 X 16 platform that can only be 13 1/2 feet above the road. That's not a lot of space! There is a small storage loft high up on the end over the living room/kitchen and a slightly lower sleeping loft over the bathroom.
At about 6:30 yesterday evening, the basic framing for the area above the lofts was completed.
We rigged up more tarps to protect it from the forecasted storms and called it a day. It's been exciting for me to watch my son's vision taking shape and we wil be back at it next weekend.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Trail blazing

We have been spending every possible minute on the weekends up at our property, mostly working on building trails. In this arial view, the shaded property and the one immediately to the right are the two we bought.
We've studied topo maps to get a sense of the land, which is bordered by the ridge on the east, to the right of the creek in the center and rises up to a ridge on the west and in back along the northern edge. The lowest point, at the road along the south is 1400 feet and the highest 1900 feet.
I have an app called LandGlide that we use when we are marking trails. It lets us know exactly where we are on the property.
On the East Ridge trail we know we are close to the end when we get to what we refer to as "our tree" because we spotted it on our first hike and were really excited to find that previous logging had left several massive trees untouched.
We see the most turtles on this eastern ridge. I've learned that male box turtles have red eyes and females brown eyes. The conversation went something like this -
Me: "Look at this cute turtle! It's a male. Hey there, Mr. Turtle!"
Turtle: "Go away."
Right now everything is lush and filled in, so you get only rare glimpses of the view beyond the edge of our property. I'm looking forward to seeing what it looks like in winter.
We have been trying to leave things as natural as possible, but still want discernable trails. We cut back only what obscures the trail and in some places my husband has raked the path to clear it a little.
We are blazing all the trails with white paint.
On the trails to the west, we have found lots of these little moss-covered hillocks, which we refer to as "burial mounds." For no good reason other than that they remind me of Native American burial mounds I've visited.
This cool tree was shaped by a vine that twined around it when it was smaller.
I love it all - every tree and fallen log and plant. We have made a couple of trails up to the western ridge and Sunday made another one down to the front of the property. Some of the trails incorporate old logging roads.
We are working hard but it's fun work. And occasionally, I take a moment to just lie on the forest floor and stare up through the canopy. Not a trail-building day goes by that we don't look at each other at some point and say, "Can you believe this is all ours?"

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Wildflowers on the Ridge

I thought I'd share some of the flowers I've seen up on our property. Starting with mountain laurels! I really love this shrub so I was happy to find these.
 Coreopsis, also called Tickseed. They're cheery little flowers.
I have plans to transplant some of my own heuchera to the woods, which can grow wild in the mountains. And down by the creek, here they were! They have already flowered, but the best thing about heuchera (also called coral bells) is their variegated leaves.
Wild bergamot! it's a type pf monarda or bee balm. I have some scarlet monarda in my front yard that I plan to transplant. I think it would look great intermingled with their light purple cousins.As the name bee balm suggests, the bees just love it.
On one hike we found a little meadow with lots of the bergamot. And sure enough, it had many pollinators buzzing around it.
Maybe best of all, I found flame azalea. I love this plant, but didn't even know it grew around here.
All that said, have a look at what fell across the logging road in the last storm. That, my friends, is pure poison ivy. It was a robust vine growing up a small dead tree. I am going to have to do something about it because we can't just climb over it on every walk. Still, the wonderful plants outweigh this little demon.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

On the Ridge

I keep disappearing, but for good reasons. We've been spending a lot of time going up at what we're referring to as "the Ridge." It's an adventure just getting out there. Like when we had to stop and encourage this big black snake off our road so we could pass.
We've mostly been trail-building and getting to know the land. It's so incredibly peaceful out there.
Everything is getting named, an Icelandic tradition I find appealing. My husband named this stump  the Octopus Eye. But do you see what's growing at the base of it and over the top? Poison ivy, my long-time nemesis. I've been pulling lots of it out by the roots and even though I wore gloves and long sleeves, I wasn't nearly careful enough. I ended up with it ALL over my arms and face. I finally gave in and got a prescription for prednisone, but by then it was healing. I was glad I had it though because...
this happened next. The mosquitoes absolutely ate me up, right through my clothes. I counted 80 bites and then stopped counting. And every one of them itched like crazy. So I spent last week taking the prednisone and long cool baths in water with vinegar added. Today I was finally feeling human again, so we were back out there this morning. We've invested in some mosquito repellent with DEET and permethrin to treat our clothing. I don't think I got a single bite today.
I  am no longer bringing back bags of poison ivy for trash pick up because I don't want to risk getting it in my car. Instead, I pull it up by the roots, drop it on the ground to die, and throw my gloves and clothing straight in the wash when I get home. I'm also clearing out loads of Japanese wineberry, an exotic invasive plant that has some hellacious prickers on the stems.
Those weird prickly pods of the wineberry actually open up into tasty berries, but I don't want a non-native plant crowding out the native blackberries we've also discovered growing along the trails. This photo was a couple of weeks ago, and we're starting to find more ripe ones on the vines.
And we have blueberries, too! I'm very excited about that.
I've been using leather gloves to pull out the wineberry and then I jam it into the back of the car to drop in the curbside pick-up at home. I curse a lot while I do this task because the prickers are so sharp they often get right through the leather. But I'm nothing if not determined.
And once in a while, we stop at the winery just down the road, to sit outside under the awning and have a glass of their old vine Zinfandel. It's supposed to storm all day tomorrow, so I'm already counting the days until we can go back next weekend.