written by Martin
I’m feeling pretty happy right now. Today I put the finishing touches on a support beam in the basement of what’s left of our old house. The beam frames the doorway from the “old” basement (which used to be the “new” basement) into what will be the new basement, which used to be the “old” basement. I had to do this because when we built the new bearing walls in what used to be “the great room,” we didn’t realize that one of them was sitting on a floor joist that hung in the middle of that door frame, and thus was essentially unsupported at one end.
That leads into the tangle of all the shoddy work done by the contractor who built “the great room” back in the mid-eighties, but I don’t want to enter that quagmire. I’m happy with myself for finishing what, for me, was a large and intense carpentry project–sistering the beams under the bearing walls (adding another beam directly beside the existing one, for you non-carpenters), building the support structure I mentioned, and, for good measure, shrouding the south wall of the basement in plastic, to keep it (and our water supply) warmer. There was the further satisfaction of actually finishing a project–there is so much to do here that, all too often, we find ourselves having to leave something unfinished because something else has become more important. That gets frustrating!
I had to recall and renew my long-dormant carpentry skills so I could figure out how to slip sixteen-foot 2X8’s into an existing floor system all by myself, and do a good enough job to satisfy Cindy, who, in addition to being an ecstatic mystic, has an engineer’s training and eye for detail and quality. This stretched not just my sixty-five year old muscles, but my problem-solving ability, my patience, and, at times, our relationship, but I appreciated all that, because, singly and as a couple, we’re not just out for a good time, we’re living our lives, and involved with each other, to find the places where we need to grow, and help each other shed outworn or inappropriate habits. Whatever happens, it’s all grist for the mill.
We’ve had some hard freezes and cold, rainy days in the last several weeks. Some of our friends have let us know that they’re worried about us, living “out in the weather.” Many of those expressing concern aren’t even “mainstream” Americans–they’re counterculturalists, longtime hippies, and simple living advocates, and yet the thought of going without running hot and cold water or a flush toilet, sleeping in one warm building and eating in another, and not having all the electricity we want wherever we want it sounds like a tough row to hoe to them.
For most of the first two decades of my working life, my days were spent largely outdoors, doing farm work, both summer and winter. I sweated through hundred degree summers in Tennessee and slogged through thigh-deep snow in Michigan, and I loved it. When you are indoors, you could be almost anywhere. When you are outdoors, you know where you are. You know the horizon, you watch where the clouds come from and where they go, follow the arc of the sun across the sky, the movements of flocks of birds, trace the signs and hear the calls of other animals. You, yourself, are an animal in a landscape, a member of an ecosystem just as surely as the deer and the crows. After two mostly indoor decades, I am outside a lot again, and I still love it. It’s a reunion with an old friend.
One of the great phrases that came out of the bioregional movement was “sense of place.” A “sense of place” means having roots in the land you live on, and that is how it is for us, here. We know the hillsides and the trees and the watercourses here. We know our local groundhogs and deer. We were happy to hear a pileated woodpecker laughing in the distance the other day, for the first time in a while. We used to see turkeys and hear owls pretty regularly, and we haven’t lately, and we’re wondering what happened to them. (Update–after writing this, I heard the owls last night, calling out across the moonlit hills.) We’ve floated the idea of doing some logging on this place to help raise money and lumber for the rebuild, but we’re not totally comfortable with that, and were kind of relieved when the logger said he couldn’t get to it until Spring, leaving more time for our fundraising campaign to succeed.
So that’s it–this is our place on the planet, and we feel a strong commitment to stay here. If that means putting up with the inconvenience of having a three-minute walk separating our bedroom and our kitchen, wearing a lot of layers of clothing to stay warm, or figuring out how to wash dishes outdoors in cold weather, so be it. It’s all grist for the mill, practice in living and working together, patience, adaptability, good humor, and an exercise program built right into our daily lives for a bonus. This ain’t what we thought we’d be doing, or maybe just not how we thought we’d be doing it, but it helps make our lives rich and meaningful, and it will do.
music: REM, “Stand“
Kate Wolf, “Like A River” (a cover, but a pretty good one)