The Mountain Ash Tree

The wind roared through the trees on our mountain homeplace today. It wasn’t as strong as a few days ago when gusts were above forty miles per hour. Such winds can be rough for weaker trees when the frozen soil is thawing and wet from melting snow. One of our mountain ash trees has been declining in the past few years. Some of its several trunks had begun showing signs of age (we planted the trees more than thirty years ago) and a number of its branches had already died. The wind was too much for this tree. When we saw it the next day, it was leaning at a forty-five degree angle, partially touching against the side of our little barn and threatening to fall across part of our garden fence.

Reluctantly, we acknowledged it was time to take action; the tree had to come down. We hated the prospect of losing this tree. It and all of our mountain ashes have been favorites, both for us and for the many birds who visit. It sits about thirty feet from our deck, a good distance for the birds to grab a few seeds from a feeder and fly to a nearby ash branch to eat in peace. The tip of the highest branch has also been a choice perch for one of the hummingbirds. It sits there and watches for another hummingbird intruding into its territory and then swoops down to assert its claim. This ash tree is also clearly visible from our windows and deck, its bright red clusters of berries particularly striking in the fall and early winter. The berries are also a favored food for migrating robins, cedar waxwings, and evening grosbeaks. We’ve had flocks drop in suddenly and consume the entire crop in a day, a real treat to see.

But today we had to remove this tree. Perhaps it can be replaced by one of the seedlings that had sprouted from berries dropped beneath its branches in past years. I pulled up twenty or so last fall and transplanted them to a small bed with the plan to plant them when the older trees died. We’ll see how that works out when spring hopefully brings the new growth.

Cutting and removing the tree was not the easiest of tasks today. It wasn’t nearly as cold as it has been during the past couple of weeks, but the temperature was still not much above freezing and the wind was brisk. The snow still on the ground made the sloping hillside slippery and the slush created by the brief period of sunshine quickly made boots and gloves wet and chilly. It also wasn’t the best of conditions for climbing even a short distance up the ladder, the base of which was resting on the previously mentioned slippery snow. But there were no mishaps.

Since the tree was leaning against the barn and partially overhanging the fence, I didn’t want it to continue falling in the direction it was headed. I secured a heavy rope around the two trunks and another rope around one of the foundation posts of our deck. Between the two ropes, I fastened a come-along, a hand-operated winch that enabled me to put some backward pressure on the tree trunks. I didn’t want the tree to fall farther toward the fence. Climbing the ladder with chainsaw in hand (never something I feel comfortable doing), I cut off the topmost branches that were the greatest threat to the fence. One branch landed partly across the fence but the heavy taut wire along the top of the fence supported the weight until we could move the branch. After the top branches were gone I cut sections farther down the trunks, a much simpler job since some of it could even be done from the ground.

So the tree is gone. Its familiar spot looks awfully empty after being occupied all these years by our beloved mountain ash. Memories remain—and pictures. I didn’t take photos of the process of cutting the tree, but I did take many of the tree itself, as a memorial to the tree and all the life forms it supported. I delight in the intricate patterns in the bark of our trees and the lichens and mosses which grow on their trunks and branches. These things are some of my favorite photography subjects. Here are a few of my photos of our beautiful mountain ash tree. They may appear to be abstract designs, but all are completely natural—nature in its amazing wonder. I hope you enjoy them as I do.

 

 

A House Open to the World

The kitchen window makes a perfect frame for this winter scene.

When we go into town or travel to cities around the country, we are struck by how different our daily environment is. The close proximity of other people and houses and streets necessitates different living conditions for city dwellers and even those living in closer rural communities. Obviously different people like different things. Many people would not care to live at the end of the road here on our mountainside, but this is just what we were looking for. I can understand the many reasons why people choose to live in cities, but I’m always glad when we get back here to our homeplace. One of the main reasons is that I love the openness of our house compared to the much more closed nature of many houses and other buildings, shut off from natural world, isolated from the occupants’ surroundings.

Our house has lots of windows. With the exception of cold wintry days or blowing rainstorms the windows are usually open. We have shades on most of our windows, but they are hardly ever pulled down. Living where we do at the end of our driveway at the end of our road, we have no reason to block the outside world. We can only see one other house from our location and we can barely see that when the trees are leafed out. We have no traffic passing by; the rare vehicle that appears is either for a delivery or someone who has taken a wrong turn.

The openness of the windows allows us better to see and experience the natural world in which we live. We are open to the sounds and scents that surround us. We hear the winds blowing over the ridges and through the trees. Dogs and coyotes bark and howl in the distance, cows moo in the pastures, and owls call in the night. The birds, squirrels, raccoons, and other animals come onto our deck or pass through the yard. The deer and turkeys move through the edge of the woods or walk down our drive. The clouds move across the sky and their shadows play across the mountains. We are aware of these things because our windows are uncovered. We delight in these experiences. They bring joy to our daily lives. We are so glad to be here.

Here are a few views from within our home.

Rhododendron in full bloom viewed through our living room window

Some visitors watching another visitor and vice versa.

It’s best to stay indoors to look out at this picnic table on our deck.

Rabbit and chipmunk enjoying lunch on the deck.

Eastern phoebe babies viewed through our porch door. Adult phoebes have used this nest for several years.

We look out at the snow because we can’t open the door.

Even our dear cat enjoys observing the outside world through the door.

One of our skunk friends. Some visitors are best viewed from inside the house.

We look out the window while this deer looks in.

Cloud Hidden

Valley filled with clouds

Some years ago I read a book by Alan Watts entitled Cloud Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal. He began with a poem about a hermit, a zen master. When a seeker asked the location of the master, the reply was, “The master’s gone alone, Herb picking somewhere on the mount, Cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown.”

Many days here on this mountainside, we also find ourselves cloud-hidden, surrounded by fog so dense that our whereabouts might be unknown even to ourselves were it not for familiar landmarks identifying the place.

People tend to think of fog and clouds as different entities. Fog is found at ground level while clouds are high overhead in the sky. Yet here in the mountains we have frequent opportunities to see that they are the same thing; it’s just a matter of location (or more accurately, elevation) that makes them different.

Most of the time we might indeed see the clouds high above, moving across the sky ahead of the winds. Other times they seem anchored to the tops of the mountains, sometimes not appearing to move for days. Travel higher up the mountain though and it is soon evident that the cloud and the fog are the same; the drop in visibility makes it obvious.

The mountain beyond the trees has disappeared in the fog.

On other days here at home the sky is clear and blue with not a cloud to be seen anywhere. On such days we can see for miles. But travel less than half a mile to a place from which we can see the nearby valley and we see a solid mass of clouds 2,000 feet below. The people there are locked in dense fog, the bases of the mountains are hidden, the tops of the mountains rise into the clear air above those low-lying clouds.

Observing clouds in the sky above can be endlessly fascinating with their myriad types and constantly changing shapes. Looking down into the valley and seeing the familiar mountain landscape transformed by the carpet of clouds brings forth gasps of wonder no matter how often the sight has been seen before. Being in the fog, actually inside a cloud, also gives rise to different feelings. There is a sense of mystery. Perhaps being deprived of the abundance of visual stimuli which usually surrounds us, enhances the remaining sensations. Walking through the meadow or the woods when fog limits visibility to ten feet or less focuses attention onto a smaller world. The budding branch of a favorite wild azalea comes slowly into view. A bit farther on, a familiar rock helps me place myself in my surroundings. The spring peepers calling from the bog along the creek, a clump of daisies passed a few days ago, the oddly bent limb from the ice storm last winter, the scent of honeysuckle growing on the bank at the side of our road, the change in the slope of the ground, all give clues to where I am at this moment. All stir memories of the times I noticed these small things before. They make me glad that I did notice them.

Sometimes we need help to be able to focus, to pay attention to what really matters. Perhaps that’s why the zen master went walking on the mountainside. Maybe when the cloud blocks out that which appears to us most easily, we are then able to see other things more clearly. Thanks be for the fog.

Work: Then and Now

Several years ago when we were planning to retire from our in-town occupations, many people would ask, “What will you do? Won’t you miss having your work to come to each day? Won’t you be bored?” The answer was always that we might miss the daily contact with customers, co-workers, or the general public that had been part of our daily routines for so many years, but we would definitely not miss having to leave our homeplace each day to go work at projects determined by someone else according to a schedule set by others. What to do was no concern since we had enough ideas for several lifetimes of things to do both separately and together. And please don’t mention that word “bored”; I can’t understand anyone with even half a mind ever having reason to be bored.

There is always plenty to be done around here, both work and non-work. I started to say play, but some of the non-work activities (writing, designing and planning building projects, photography) are more serious than play. Entertainment doesn’t cover it all, though we do make time for going to bluegrass jam sessions (as audience, not performers), listening to audiobooks, and traveling to attend grandchildren’s plays and concerts and sports events. Leisure sounds too much like sitting and doing nothing, which we sometimes do, but usually it’s more a matter of resting after some other strenuous activity. So there is plenty to do and we usually have pretty full days.

My best friend/partner/spouse usually (actually always) gets going faster in the mornings; I’m more of a slow starter, but once I get busy I often go straight through for eight to ten hours.

There has been lots of hard physical work in the years since retirement. There was hard work before retirement as well, but now there are more hours at home to devote to the physical tasks of construction, gardening, mowing, tree cutting and clearing, winter snow shoveling, and others. I realized recently that my weight fluctuates significantly from winter when I’m less active to summer when most of the more demanding work comes along; then I’m fifteen to twenty pounds lighter (about ten percent of my usual body weight).

Some days when I’m working I’m reminded of my days playing sports in my youth. I started team sports when I was six or seven years old and continued throughout high school. I worked hard at both practices and competitions, trying to always give it my all. The coaches were always pushing us to go harder and I did my best to do what they asked. I was usually worn out at the end of the day. Memories of those times come back to me as I work for hours digging to make planting beds, climbing up and down the ladder to put siding on the house, cutting trees and physically moving heavy logs, carrying fifty-pound bags of soil down the hill to the garden and then climbing up to do it over and over again. Thoughts keep going through my head, “Push harder. Keep going. You can do it.” There wouldn’t seem to be an obvious connection between childhood sports teams and the things I’m doing now, but apparently I learned a lot from those early efforts that is still with me today.

Sometimes CeCe worries about me working too hard, not taking enough breaks, wearing myself out. I’ve learned to be sure to take better care of myself, to not push myself unreasonably. The physical changes that have come with aging also help to remind me that maybe I’ve done enough of a given task for this day. But I’ve also said and continue to say, “If I should keel over in the midst of working one of these days, I want you and the rest of the family to know that these were things I wanted to do and that I enjoyed doing even though they were often physically difficult. I have been happy as I have been working. It wouldn’t be a bad way to go.”

Sitting Quietly, Doing Nothing

I can sit quietly and observe what is there in front of me for a long time and be very happy. I can sit and think of many things; don’t ever imagine that I must be bored or want to be doing something else; I don’t understand how people can be bored when there is so much around us and within us to occupy our minds. Doing something doesn’t have to mean being physically active or always being engaged in some visibly apparent endeavor. I am very much doing something when I am sitting, looking, thinking, remembering, planning, imagining, hearing–all those activities and more are part of being and being fully present and engaged with life and the world around me. That engagement, that appreciation of all that is around me, that being fully within it and a part of it is what brings me joy. When I am quiet, when I am still, when I may appear to be doing nothing, that is what I am most often doing–I am being here and now in this moment, fully experiencing it. That is what I want to do in every moment, whether there is physical activity happening or not.

Beautiful and Cold New Year’s Day

Mountain to our east in hoar frost and snow

Our first day of 2018 dawned beautiful and very cold. The fine snow that started in the afternoon yesterday continued through the night, giving us a bit more than an inch by morning. The snow is very light and powdery because of the extremely dry air and bitter cold, -1 at its lowest overnight. 

We had to get out for a bit to walk through the quiet beauty and take a few photos. We already have so many we’ve taken on snowy days over the years but can never resist taking a few more. Seems that having the camera in hand focuses my attention on the beautiful sights to be seen all around us. The snow also accentuates the shapes and forms of the mountains and trees. The fluffy snow sits in puffs atop the pine and spruce needles, occasionally coming off in a cloud of snow dust when a sudden gust shakes the branches. Rhododendron leaves are curled tight against the cold. Even though we see these places every day, each new day is unique and every view is rewarding.

Tracks in the snow reveal that our rabbit friends have been out and about, going up and down our road, sometimes individually and sometimes in pairs. A neighbor cat who frequently comes to check us out has also left the prints of its slow, methodical walk. Someone else has been running along the road, larger than a cat but smaller than most dogs – perhaps a fox. I would love to be able to see all the coming and going during the nights.

The birds are staying close around the suet feeders today; cold weather brings them out in profusion. They all appear about twice their normal sizes, feathers fluffed up to provide extra insulation against the cold. Melting snow drips from a corner of the roof  and is forming a large icicle on one of the feeders, making the diners dodge the possible cold shower. 

Returning to the welcoming warmth of our house in winter is always a delight. We can sit and watch our little friends and still enjoy the views of the snow-covered landscape. What a great way to start this new year. I hope your New Year’s Day and all your coming days will be great also. May you enjoy them all!

Puffs of snow on pine needles

Fraser Fir with snow sitting atop hoar frost

Icy suet feeder

A Bit of Weather

We’re closing the year (2017) with a period of cold weather, as is a large portion of the northern US. The temperature when we woke this morning was 14 degrees. The ground was covered with a light dusting of very fine snow and everything was covered in hoar frost (frozen fog). High temperatures for much of the past week were in the 20s and forecasts for the next week show highs in single digits or teens for most days and lows in single digits or lower. Many people think since we live in North Carolina we don’t have cold winters; this is the South after all. But we live in the northwest corner of North Carolina where our state meets Tennessee and Virginia and we live in the mountains, the Appalachians. The closest peaks which surround us range from about 4800 feet to 5600 feet and we nestle on the slope at 4200 feet. We’ve read that each thousand feet of increase in elevation above sea level is equivalent to moving 300 miles farther north. That calculation would put us well up in the upper tier of the US states. Comparing some of our winter temps with relatives and friends in Michigan and Minnesota, our extremes are not very different.

Of course weather depends on much more than just elevation. We get a good bit of snow most years, usually beginning during October and ending as late as May. The year we moved here we actually got about 3 inches on the Memorial Day weekend. The average annual snowfall at our house is probably around 50 inches, but one recent year recorded about 110 inches. The snow usually comes in spurts; we get several inches and then the weather warms and the snow goes away. But some years the ground has been covered from December through March. Our biggest single snowfall was about 30 inches; that required lots of shoveling to get in and out again.

Temperatures can also vary widely. We can usually expect at least a few winter nights when temperatures will drop below zero. Our all time low here at our house was a very chilly 32 degrees below zero. That was cold! But in summers a hot day is in the upper 80s; I don’t recall any days when the high got into the 90s. Average year-round temperature is about 40 degrees, which is the constant temperature of our spring water. We can live with no air conditioning in the house and still be comfortable most summer days. I’ll take that kind of summer heat anytime.

Winds are also a factor in our weather and can be quite a dramatic factor as you move higher up the mountains, particularly in more exposed locations. We are somewhat protected by the mountains to our north and west, but we can still get buffeted. It’s not unusual to have forecasts calling for gusts in the 50 to 60 mph range. We can hear the winds roaring across the ridges and coming down the slopes through the surrounding woods. And we can feel the house shaking during extremes, especially when a hurricane decides to come this far inland as several have during our time here.

So the weather here is interesting, changing frequently enough for our taste. We knew the winters would be cold and we hoped the summers would not be too hot. We have four good seasons, all of which we enjoy. What more could we want?

The Garden

When we moved to our new homeplace, one of the things we especially wanted to do was to plant a garden. We had a compact garden in the backyard of a previous home, but it was very small and we had only maintained it for a couple of years. Now that we had more land to work with, we wanted to go all out with a real garden. Since we moved here at the beginning of July, it was too late to start a garden plus we were much too busy preparing plans for our new house and beginning construction. But we definitely wanted to get the garden underway during the next growing season. I had been reading ads for years about the virtues of TroyBilt tillers, especially the ease of using one to prepare new ground for planting. We ordered our new tiller for the next spring.

When spring and the new tiller arrived, we eagerly fired up the TroyBilt and began converting part of our meadow into a garden. We quickly realized there were a few problems we had not anticipated. The primary difficulty was that hardly any space on our nearly ten acres was even close to level. The most suitable spot for our garden was on a slope that dropped about thirty feet within a distance of one hundred feet. Even going across the slope, the tiller kept wanting to curve its path downhill, resulting in a constant struggle to maneuver the heavy machine back onto the intended path. The other problem was that the years of cultivation by the farmers who preceded us had stirred up a multitude of small and not-so-small rocks. Those rocks had not quite made their way to the surface, but instead lay hidden a few inches beneath the soil. Every time the tiller encountered one of those rocks there would be a sudden lurch to one side or the other; this necessitated more struggling to get back on track as well as pausing to move to stones to avoid hitting them again on the next pass. It was an arduous task, but eventually the space was prepared and planting was completed.

We finally had our garden, but alas we had no water readily available for our plants. All the water we were using during the first two years on our land had to be hauled in five-gallon containers from a public spring about a half mile from our homeplace. It would still be more than a year before we would have the reservoir in place at our own mountain spring (about one hundred yards downhill from our house) with a pump installed and electricity connected to power it. As luck would have it, that turned out to be a very dry spring and summer. We may have gotten a few homegrown treats from the garden, but for the most part everything just withered and died.

It had not been the greatest start ever. We tried again the next year with a bit better success, but then other demands of life intruded. Most times that we were not at our for-pay jobs were occupied with ongoing house construction, school and recreational activities with our children, maintenance and other chores around our homeplace, and all the other necessities for a busy family. It would be another twenty years or so before we would return to the dream of having a garden.

When we did get back to gardening, it was on a more modest scale. The children were now off on their own, so it was just Cece and me. I dug up a small patch close to the house and we planted some potatoes for a couple of years. The tiller which had sat out in our field during the intervening years had been overtaken by a locust tree which had grown up through the rear tines and bonded it seemingly permanently to the earth; all garden preparation now had to be done with manual labor. Another year or two we tried some cucumbers and summer squash, once with good success, the next year not so great. We read about straw bale gardening (no digging!) and gave it a try for tomatoes with pretty good results. The second year the tomatoes succumbed to blight and the straw bales went on to produce hundreds of tiny and not edible mushrooms. A strawberry patch planted in our little spot gave us a delightful small crop of fresh strawberries, but eventually the chipmunks got more of them than we did.

Retirement finally came for me about eight years ago, aided by the big recession that led to the necessity of closing the business I was operating. Cece’s retirement followed about three years later. There was finally more time available for all the things we wanted to do and one item definitely on the list was to expand our gardening. I dug beds across the slope where our first garden had been located. There were still plenty of rocks to be dealt with, still hard work but not as jolting with shovel and spading fork as it had been with the tiller. And now we had water, so even when the weather did not cooperate by giving us rain, we could provide the necessary moisture ourselves. The expanded effort was a success. We had the pleasure of eating lots of homegrown vegetables; the deer and raccoons got some, but not too much. We also had the satisfaction of knowing that we had been able to do this for ourselves. We were determined to continue.

We spent time during the fall and winter researching to learn more about the best ways to grow things and the best things to grow, an ongoing process. Each year we added more beds and tried some new crops and varieties. We tried various various fencing methods in an effort to keep deer from coming into the garden: old video tapes strung around the perimeter to blow in the breeze and startle them with reflections and noise, strands of electric fence wire, lightweight plastic mesh which the deer broke through, and for the past four years a seven-foot-high deer fence with 4 x 4 posts every fifteen feet, heavyweight mesh deer fencing, and two strands of electric fence wire to deter raccoons from climbing over the fence. The enclosed area now measures ninety feet by sixty feet, giving us more than enough space for our anticipated needs. We improved our planting beds, adding locust logs and then 1 x 6 boards to the downhill sides to help keep the soil from washing away in heavy downpours. When that proved insufficient, we upgraded; most of the beds are now boxed in with downhill walls of 2 x 8 lumber sixteen to twenty inches high and uphill walls eight inches high. These latest measures have all worked well, but we continue to find areas that can use improvement.

I won’t go into all the crops we have raised, but it is an ever-changing selection, many old standards and usually at least a couple of new experiments or just fun things to try (kiwano melons and peanuts, for example). By canning and freezing and storing some of our harvest in our root cellar (mesh-enclosed metal shelving in the dug-out crawl space under our house) we manage to eat regularly (though not completely) from one year’s harvest until the next year’s bounty begins. We kept a record of all we harvested in 2016, a whopping total of more than 1200 pounds of edibles. Not such a bad accomplishment after our faltering start thirty seven years ago. We’re pleased!

Visits from Our Closest Friends and Neighbors

Living here at the end of the road, we can’t see any other houses, except one a few hundred feet away which is only visible in winter when the trees are totally bare. That house is occupied during its owners’ occasional visits, but most of the time we’re the only people around. If a vehicle is coming down our road, either family members are coming for an expected visit, a package is being delivered, or someone is very lost. But we do have plenty of friends and neighbors who come for visits every day.

The first visitors of the morning are the juncos, chickadees, tufted titmice, and nuthatches. No doubt they are close by each night for they are here almost immediately when I replenish their supply of cracked corn first thing each day. Who can tell how many there are; it’s impossible to count them with all the coming and going.

Downy woodpeckers and the larger hairy woodpeckers are soon attracted by the activity and come to join in breakfast at the suet feeder. The red-bellied woodpeckers do not appear quite as early nor do they show up every day (perhaps they have other stops on their rounds to add more variety to their diet), but they are reliable enough that we know there are two pairs.

Usually by now there will be at least one grey squirrel, if not all eight of the nearby clan. Frequently the lovable and less skittish little red squirrels will beat them to the food. The few fox squirrels we’ve seen in the past year have made it to our driveway a time or two, but haven’t come up yet to see what’s available to eat. We look forward to getting a closer view of those rare creatures; most live nearer the coast with smaller populations here and in a couple of adjacent counties.

Bluejays swoop in usually by mid-morning, one whole family of six and sometimes their relatives. They can be a greedy and fussy crowd, trying to dominate the available food. The squirrels are pretty good at holding their places though and the smaller birds are fast enough to dart in to grab a bit and fly off to a quieter spot to eat.

The bluejays stir up enough commotion to capture the attention of our wonderful crows if these smartest of birds haven’t spotted the spread earlier while flying over or surveying the scene from one of their nearby perches in the treetops. We love to hear their varied calls announcing to the family that it’s time to dine. At least one crow always sits apart to watch for danger while the others strut around or hop over each other to get to what is perceived as a better spot to get at the food.

Each group takes its turn at the table, some staying all day, others coming and going as their appetites dictate. In the past year 2 to 24 doves have joined in the gathering, though they are much more gentle and definitely less pushy than many of the others. They tend to wait until things clear out a bit and then cautiously come to pick through the remnants for their part of the feast.

Depending on the time of year, the year-round crowd is joined on the deck by Carolina wrens, warblers of various sorts, eastern phoebes, goldfinches, purple finches, evening grosbeaks, rose-breasted grosbeaks, catbirds, thrushes, towhees, song sparrows, cowbirds, starlings, indigo buntings, grackles, and hummingbirds. We’ve even had hawks sit on the corner of the deck or in a tree a few feet away to see if a squirrel was foolish enough to venture out at the same time, but they have always flown away after a few minutes when no one showed up.

In winter the birds have always been our main feeding population. The healthy chipmunk tribe we have around in all other seasons is no doubt snuggled away in their numerous underground burrows, enjoying the sunflower seeds and corn they hauled away in preparation for the cold weather. When they were out gathering, there were usually three or four at once at the food bowls stuffing their cheeks to maximum capacity, then running off to sequester their supplies in their winter homes. They are also thoughtful enough to plant some of the seeds (especially sunflowers) in lots of spots in our garden for us to enjoy the beautiful golden blooms in the summer and fall and for the birds to have some extra sunflower seed heads as well.

Raccoon families have joined us on our deck since we first built it many years ago, usually coming after dark, though one young raccoon mama and her kids started coming as early as 1:00 pm this past year to avoid the rush and the bigger, grumpier older raccoons. They would even dine on one end of the deck while we sat fifteen feet away on the other end and enjoyed watching their antics. Over the years we’ve had as many as thirteen eating at once. Younger generations appear to come back in subsequent years, bringing along their kids to a favorite place to eat out.

Possums also come to visit with their unexpectedly charming pink ear tips, noses, and tiny little feet and toes. They enjoy most foods that they find waiting for them, but are especially fond of leftover baked sweet potatoes and baked butternut squash or pumpkin with remnants of butter and brown sugar.

This past summer at least three different adult skunks also started checking us out. Each had different coloration and markings: one black with a few white markings vertical on its sides, one white with black stripe down its back, and one black with a white stripe down each side of its back. One of these was kind enough to grace us with bringing her two babies for visits. All were some of the most beautiful animals you could imagine.

We see plenty of rabbits around, but only one ventures onto the deck from time to time to get a little snack. Less frequently seen, but ever present and often heard moving through the meadow and woods are wild turkeys; if we are very fortunate, we get to see two or three adults leading up to a dozen young ones on a foraging expedition. As might be expected, there are also lots of deer hereabouts, but they are so stealthy and so well camouflaged that we don’t catch sight of them very often. However, a few years ago during a particularly difficult winter when lots of lingering snow made it hard for the deer to find food, we saw nine searching to the east of the house and nine more on the west side of the house. We put corn out overnight and the next day at least eight came again, ate the corn, then lay down in the sun and rested for several hours about fifty to seventy-five feet from the house, a treat for them and us. And while we have made no effort to feed the black bears, on at least two occasions we had a bear enjoying the contents of a bird feeder in the front yard about fifteen feet from the house. Then there was the time a bear was on the deck while I was in the living room about ten feet away separated only by the sliding glass doors; needless to say the bear and I were both startled.

So while we may not have many people coming by the house daily or stopping in for a visit, we have lots of company. We could enjoy watching them for hours and do whenever other things don’t keep us from doing so. We absolutely love being able to share this place with our delightful friends and neighbors. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Hopefully they wouldn’t either.

We Can Do It – And We Did

When we first determined to seek out and move to this place at the end of the road, we were committing to a leap into the unknown. We would be moving to a new place where we knew no one, with no jobs or income, with no house or shelter other than two small tents. We intended to build our own house completely by ourselves even though we had never built anything larger than a small wardrobe unit for an early apartment that had very minimal closet space. We had the limited proceeds from the sale of the small house we had sold, planning very optimistically to use those funds for living and building expenses.

Were we crazy? Many of our friends and family definitely thought so. Many people, maybe most, don’t even consider the possibility of doing many tasks for themselves, by themselves. They feel they must rely on an expert, a professional to do almost everything for them. But we have discovered over the years since that time that some friends inwardly envied us, wishing they could break away from where they were in life, from unsatisfying jobs or living conditions, to pursue their own special dreams.

I had always been a bit of a crazy dreamer. One of my favorite activities from elementary school years onward was to be dropped at the public library where I would spend hours randomly browsing the shelves for books that caught my fancy. I read about explorers, inventors, philosophers, poets, architects, artists, and other exciting people. I consumed books about nature, science, construction, Native American culture, boats, foreign lands, and much more. At home I would pick a volume of our old encyclopedias and leaf through, reading whatever article I chanced upon, information tucked away somewhere in my young mind, perhaps to be recalled years later at some relevant moment. So many things were of interest to me and I had found the key to learning about all of them: libraries and all the books they contained.

That early experience of mine set the stage for a lifetime of learning and doing. I knew that information about everything was readily available. I could find details on any subject, study it, absorb it, think about it, and make it a part of me. I came to see that I could learn about anything and to believe that I could learn to do anything I really wanted to do. I didn’t necessarily think I could do everything as well as an expert or professional could do, but I did believe I could do the things I wanted adequately and satisfactorily for my purposes and needs. I also knew that doing things for myself would bring great satisfaction, the joy of seeing the finished project and knowing I had accomplished that.

So we came to this place at the end of the road over 38 years ago now. We struggled, we worked hard (very hard at times), we made mistakes, we changed plans, we re-did what had been done (sometimes more than once), we put projects on hold (sometimes for years) while other more pressing matters (like earning some income to pay for life’s necessities) had to be dealt with, we persevered. We’re still at it. We still rely on the library and books and now the internet for information and inspiration. We still work hard, doing and sometimes undoing and re-doing. And we still have the joy of the process and the satisfaction of seeing the end result. Hopefully this will continue for the rest of our lives which we expect to spend here at the end of this road.

Were we crazy? Yes, absolutely, with crazy wisdom. I highly recommend it.