Five months ago I purchased a one-half acre wooded lot in Salem, Virginia.
My lot is a five-minute walk to Main Street where a city bus stops every hour except Sundays. Why is this important? Because someday in my more senior years, I will have to relinquish La Lair and my driver license. I'm prepared for that day; already purchased my senior discount metro card. Also, La Lair and other newer diesel engines don't like short city trips (the emissions system flashes clogged filter warnings if the engine never exceeds 50 mph for several miles), so catching a cheap public bus ride to run errands is a good transportation alternative, in addition to my electric bike.
I hired Mike an excavator to uproot and remove the unhealthy mostly ugly trees and brush (his long boom is yellow, see upper left of photo below). Mike is well-known among the neighbors; he cleared many of their lots.
You're looking at my future home-site (center of photos above and below). My neighbors told me a dozen deer showed up one night to nibble on the downed tree leaves before Mike hauled them away.
Next project was cutting and sawing off stubborn roots (see my back support in photo below?). Good neighbors Phil and Judy also loaned me their loppers and other tools. I was surprised how many Black and White mostly retired neighbors on my street came over to introduce themselves as I worked on my lot. They're wonderfully friendly and interesting conversationalists. I hope the neighborhood stays this way.
My sister Vicki took pity on me and volunteered to come down to help for a week. She and I are used to hard work. Our family poultry farm depended on our child labor, raising about 3,000 laying hens from 1-day old peeps. I hated being "a farm kid" -- dirty farm work at 5 AM and again at 4 PM for several hours.
The photographer couldn't even force us to smile (photo below of Vicki and me with peeps). We didn't volunteer for farm work, it was required. Although we got an allowance of a couple dollars weekly, there was a 5-cents penalty deduction for doing something bad or disobedient. At the end of the week when it was time to pay our allowance, my mom would look at the family wall calendar to count my demerits - under my name, there were tally marks in groups of five for all to see. My sister's record was clean of course; totally obedient and subservient. When my mom counted and subtracted my demerits, my allowance was often down to almost nothing. I was determined not to be rehabilitated by dangling money in front of me as a reward for "good behavior according to mom" so I continued to rack-up those demerits and refused to be bought. When I was 14 years old, I finally had enough money saved-up to buy my first bicycle, a one-speed with a simple coaster-brake. With my bike, I could escape Cruella de Vil and go to daily swim-team practice three miles away during the summer months.
One day while gathering and washing eggs, Vicki and I had a dispute about something forgettable and I threw an egg at her. Little Miss Perfect with a clean record did something totally out of character, she threw an egg back at me! At the sound of two broken eggs, numerous farm cats came running (dinner bell!) to lick-up the damage. Surprisingly broken eggs didn't happen very often despite gathering, washing, grading and packing thousands of eggs manually, no automation! But I digress . . .
Vicki (in photo below) and I laid and staked about 7,000 square feet of weed control fabric after first cutting/sawing away the many protruding roots (rocks will eventually be dumped on top of the fabric). The wonderful thing about teaming-up with my hardworking and hard-playing adult sister is that we now have respectful disagreements without throwing eggs at each other. I explain step-by-step why and how, she adds her two-cents worth, and if she has a better idea, we do it her way.
The beautiful Appalachian Mountains over yonder create a gusty wind on my high-elevation lot. The weed control fabric almost became a 7,000 square foot parachute (lifting the 6-inch stakes with it), so I had to get those rocks delivered ASAP! My neighbor Phil has a Wunderground weather station 100 feet from my future home which recorded wind gusts from 27 to 33 mph most of this past year (less gusty from July to September). I made an addition to my homebuilder notebook; use thicker plywood on the roof and use screws, not nails, consider go-bolts — long, threaded rods that connect roof beams to foundation.
I hired King's Hauling and Excavating to dump about 80 tons of rocks from a local quarry on the fabric.
The purpose of the lot's perimeter of rock landscaping is to serve as a permanent "bed" for Norway Spruce seedlings that need 16 feet spacing. I'll pick up the seedlings and plant them zig-zag style next April as a future wind-blocker and privacy screen. Hopefully I'll never have to mow under and around two dozen Spruce trees that will eventually surround my little nest. In the middle of my lot, I'll plant clover to entice the deer back.
I'm done in Salem for awhile. Won't bore you with the irksome ($$$) and time-consuming details of getting a land-disturbance permit from the city to do this project. But in a nutshell, instead of hiring a licensed engineer to draw a plan, I drew it myself (with ideas from other plans posted on the Internet). The city code folks said my unacceptable amateur plan was "shocking" because it wasn't done with auto-CAD. So I burned the midnight-oil for many nights until 2 AM, reading Virginia's Erosion and Sediment Control regs, looking for loop-holes and found a magic wand called "requesting a variance". It portends perhaps as the first of many more irksome ($$$) and time-consuming permit applications. When I return next April to plant my seedlings, I'll interview a couple more builders. Like everything else in my life, my senior home will be unorthodox. It will have an extra large attached garage with about 800 square feet of living space (600 square feet is the city minimum). I'll spend the winter drawing measurements for walls, windows, doors, closets, etc. Not sure if I'll build next year or 2022. Make plans and God laughs!
Next month I'll be in Northern Virginia doing a farm-sit for a young family that's taking advantage of "no-school" with their three teenagers. They're going skiing all winter; making the most of a very strange year. My childhood farm experience got me this gig. I'll be gathering their organic free-range eggs (including duck eggs) twice a day with an attentive dog and three farm cats. They have weekly customers on an honor system with private access so I won't need to mingle with customers. Seems like a good rent-free place to be isolated this winter and yet not be bored.
I learned a new word this COVID year . . . vertiginous . . . as in "our vertiginous times of feeling whirled around and in danger of falling." To get through these head-whirling days, I put my headphones on and listen to Jewel's soothing lullaby songs for kids. Rarely read or listen to adult news anymore . . . I'm with the kid below.
I'm indulging in nonfiction books; my latest book which gives an excellent glimpse into America's vertiginous times 100 years ago is Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes by Adam Hochschild. And Jewel the singer by the way, is another rags to riches story (Never Broken). I'm also catching-up on years-ago Academy Award-nominated movies that I've never seen. The movies are free DVDs from the Salem public library. I choose and reserve DVDs online and call to request pickup; library is closed but staff puts books/DVDs in a bag with my name on a folding picnic table in the foyer area.
I'm actually enjoying the solitude of all the COVID restrictions that negate crowds. Being alone has been soothing to my soul. And the mask is no big deal when I do have to mingle somewhere. When I swim at the YMCA four times weekly (they check everyone's temperature at the front door), I often share that large beautiful pool with only one other swimmer. It's wonderful! And grocery store shopping at 7 AM is wonderful too. No lines! Michael Harris explains it well in his article written three years ago "When being alone will improve your life."
I'll close with a soothing poem from Ecclesiastes (a song too from Pete Seeger and the Byrds, yes I'm just an old hippy) that reflects on the vertiginous times of earthlings for hundreds of centuries . . .
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”