LITTLE HOUSE WITH APPLE TREE

A little background: This will be our third home-building project, so we suppose we’re pretty savvy about the process. First time, we bought plans on line, and lived with whatever resulted from a complete lack of attention on our part to the design. Next, our beach house, for which we hired a real live architect, and he did what he could, given the site. Whew, expensive! And while it was a sweet little vacation house, it had some major flaws, which we paid to have corrected as, over time, the ocean gnawed away at the windows, the siding, the roof, the deck. And most recently, our condo build-out. For this we needed an architect for sure, and so far, no problems.

But for the little house with the apple tree, I went back on line for a pre-designed plan. It was in this way that I was introduced to the great, broad, human highway that is Pinterest. I have perhaps a total of 12 Facebook friends, but now have hundreds of Pinterest friends. Or so it seems. Almost every day I get notice that Amanda, from Georgia, has a suggestions for my boards, or that Susan, in New York has ideas to share. This is nice. But even without their help, I identified two or three houses that had the character I’m looking for, and pinned them up.

Enter the amazing Gordon Davis. He and Vik had been curious to see what I’d been talking about, so I sent the info over to their computers. Gordon got busy and came up with another house plan he managed to find that seemed to fit our ideas. A couple of tweaks later, and yeah, looked good. This plan is sold by a company that offers to make alterations in the plan, at, of course, some considerable expense. But Gordon dug in, drew on his vast and wide experience in the building trade. Next day, he invited us to have a look at what he’d done.

We expected a sketch on a brown paper lunch bag, but oh no. You know that thickish tracing paper that artists and architects use? You’ve seen those cute little triangular ruler things that measure scale? The man had gone over to Kinko to reproduce his work in large scale, make copies for us of what looks like a fully realized construction plan.

Okay, so we thought that was huge. How could we even thank him? Well, we couldn’t, because he wasn’t even through yet. Somehow he’d intuited that the ceilings on the commercial plan would be too low. Counting the risers on the stairs to the upper level provided him with this information. See, that’s the sort of thing Larry and I with all our “experience” would never have seen. We’d spend the next years sort of hunkered over in the gloom of our too-low ceilings. Larry, being over 6′ tall, would be banging his head on the door frames. (Exaggerating a little here for comic effect.)

And what about a mud room? Hmm, not that easy, but sure, how about this? The front door was rather narrow, and unwelcoming. Let’s just widen it a bit. How about stacking the washer and dryer? That way we can put the furnace in the mud room, freeing more space in the upstairs loft. From Vik: stairs from the west porch would be nice. See what I mean? Larry and I worried that he was doing too much for us, but have come to believe that he really, honestly, enjoyed the project. Well, he only consults with developers in Alaska, runs a retirement home in Batavia New York, creates beautiful steel sculptures, builds his own beach house, so what else should he do in his spare time but share his talents with us.

What remains for us to close on the property is confirmation from Benton County that Measure 49 does indeed supplant Measure 37 and we can build this little house up on the hill, instead of along the road where the tear-down slumps, unloved, in decay. The clock ticks, and we keep dreaming.

IN WHICH WE DIG FIVE HOLES

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Here are the boys! They believe that they own this property — you can ask them. But first, let me tell you about Paul and Rob, actual people who came out to execute the septic feasibility study:

Paul arrived by way of a flatbed truck on which was a little caterpillar-type backhoe. Paul is somewhere between 48 and 102, hard to say. Hasn’t shaved for a couple of days, darkly tanned, laughing eyes. Farmhand type: skinny. Super friendly and owner of a sly, smart tongue. He set off on his rig up the hill and negotiated all the ruts and furrows on the now-hardened cow-trample in the lower, flood plain section. Across the gullies, no worries.

I was assigned the job of staying behind at the gate to flag down the county official, who would be testing the soil in the trenches that Paul would dig. Rob is also friendly, but after a few moments conversation, it’s clear he works with his head as well as with his hands. I immediately have lots of confidence in him. He drove off up the hill, I following on foot. Hmm. Quite a climb!

The day was warm and sunny. Paul had dug the first hole by the time I arrived up top, and Rob climbed down into it. He stabbed at the soil, holding a color chart to the bits of dirt he collected, and invited us to see what he was noticing. Good news, seems the clay layer is a couple of feet down under loam, which means “Go” on the drain field. (Apparently they don’t care what kind of dirt applies where the tank will be submerged.)

Rob is a musician, plays in a local group, so of course, we chatted about that. “Oh God, Mom,” Jenny moaned when I told her about the day. “Here you go. You’ll invite him to dinner. Why don’t you use our Black Butte place? Here, use Jenny’s room.” She never forgave me for recruiting a couple of additional brothers when Jan and Stephan came to live with us all those years ago. Jenny always makes me laugh.

When Rob went to his car to get the GPS instrument, he came back with his business card on which he’d printed out the names and locations of bands who play in the area. So nice. Maybe I will invite him to dinner.

Enter the cows into this story. The herd was out of sight, having set up camp in the lower pasture adjoining Muddy Creek, but a gang of four had stayed nearby to keep an eye on the proceedings. While Rob was busy with hole One, and Paul and moved on to dig hole Three, they saw their opportunity. A big pile of dirt! Hooray! They began their investigations. This involved testing the soil with the sides of their faces, rubbing their shoulders in it, trying to wallow. They pawed, nosed, using all their sensory equipment to determine if this was salt, perhaps? Some yummy grain? Water? What? Having satisfied themselves with respect to the new dirt, they wandered off and practiced their humping skills on one another. Good luck with that, guys. Guess no one’s told them the repercussions of that nasty little surgery they suffered when they were babies.

Paul dug five holes in all, variously spaced, and Rob did his science in each of them. All good for our chances of building the little farm house I mentioned in my first post. The one with the apple tree in the front yard? We have that nice feeling of having aced our first test. Still to come: a test of the old well and drilling for a new up at the site. But we were about to have the best luck possible in the form of our good friend, Gordon, who has against all sense and reason flung himself into the search for the plan for the house. A story for tomorrow.

SEPTIC SITE FEASIBILITY APPLICATION, WITH COWS

At the gym, Aaron and I discussed a David Brooks column in which he talked about our dependance on “devices” — that we should try to re-learn the childish ability to be deeply in the present. Aaron told a story. He’d been at a wine tasting that weekend at a winery on the Applegate river. He’d wandered away from the gathering and sat on a rock watching the river, saw a snake swim across the river, emerge, and settle on a nearby rock. An Hispanic family was enjoying the sunshine nearby, a couple of kids. Aaron picked up the snake, a large bull snake, and the children approached him. At first they were repelled, but he encouraged them to come closer, to touch the snake. They were shy, but gradually came closer, and he said he loved watching their faces bloom with wonder and joy as they encountered the animal.

This seemed to capture the attitude we’re discovering toward our new land. Except I wouldn’t use a snake as a metaphor for anything I do!

We sat in Larry’s office going through a seven page application for for a septic site feasibility study until we had gone as far as we could without help from Benton County. Later, we sat in the kitchen while I filled out the “good” copy of the form in ink. This included a hand-drawn map, and I did feel a bit like Christopher Robin making a map of treasure for Pooh.

The next day, we wanted to be on the road to Corvallis by 7:00, and almost made it, even with a quick stop at Starbucks, and a visit to the hardware store on 17th for stakes. We had to deliver our part of the request for site feasibility to the realtor, John Shelton, who has to collect signatures from the present owners. First, however, we wanted to get on the property to decide where we’d like to have the house, and thus the test holes.

We managed the electric fence disconnection easily, and noted that the ground has dried significantly. Now it’s hard to walk across the cow-trampled earth, hardened into lumps and holes. But we did come to a stream to cross, and found what we thought a likely spot. Larry got across, and turned to help me. Except that my foot slipped off the grass mound and I plunged in up to my knee. This threw Larry off balance and he crashed backwards. Scary moment as he lay on his back, but it seems he just bruised his tail bone. I swear we will not go again without a length of plank to lay across this treacherous water way. Jenny’s always telling us not to fall, as if we’re old people, or something, and it will be best if she doesn’t learn about this little episode. By the way, the water didn’t reach over my boot top, so that was a bonus.

Up the hill, we located the best place for the house (we think now). Larry thought it would be nice to be more-or-less under one of the large oaks, but to accomplish that would compromise the view. Might not be too smart to build within range of any of those huge branches!

Turned out to be almost impossible to pound the house stake into the ground, but he did his best, and I tied a strip of cloth to act as a flag. We turned to find that we’d acquired a most respectful and curious audience. The cows had joined us and lined up in a neat semi-circle to watch us.

Loving the cows. When we left the stake, they eagerly milled about it. “Hmm … must be something to eat? No, don’t think we like the taste of that flag thing. Hey, let’s all run as fast as we can over to that other pasture. Last one’s a rotten egg!”

In pounding stakes for the test holes, Larry discovered that he could use the work of the ground squirrels to assist, and easily lodged the rest of the stakes where we wanted them. Then, as we were on the clock, we made a quick descent back to the car along one potential road bed. We were a little shocked to find a thriving patch of thistle down on the flood plain. We’ll have to deal with that soon and comprehensively. Not sure there’s a TNC approved method to kill the nasty weed, but I am my father’s daughter, and we’ll find a way.

Blog problems: Haven’t figured out how to include photos. Must call help line. I want to show you the cows!

FARMERS NOW?

Today we bought a farm. Not “the” farm, “a” farm.

And we don’t quite own it yet, and we actually started the process several weeks earlier, but I want to record the process, so I’m calling the indefinite period of time from then to now “today.”

So we’re now farmers now? Larry doesn’t want to name what we will own a “farm.” Let’s say “property,” then. On Llewellyn Road in Corvallis, Oregon. One hundred and one acres. There are cows grazing on the land, but they are not our cows. A field of grass seed ripens along the road, but it is not our grass seed. These farm-like appendages have been leased from the former owners, and we will see if we continue these relationships.

And what will we call this place? I think it’s like a baby, just born, who will have to wait for its name. Right now, we’re not sure what we’ve gotten ourselves into. Tonight, Larry said “it’s Jane’s place,” and I said No. Please don’t say that. It makes me fear that, in his mind, it’s one more madness I’ve dragged him in to. Maybe it is, but . . .

How to understand what has happened? Start back at the airport in Hawaii after seeing David and Caroline, where, having gone through security and steeled myself for the plane trip home, I suddenly knew that what I was returning to, my gorgeous condo in the Crane, was somehow not home. Home would be a small farmhouse on a country road with an apple tree in the front yard, a covered porch, comfortable old furniture and a real fireplace.

I spent the hours on the plane comforting myself with this fantasy. And for the next weeks, I talked about it, laughing, to friends, maybe to the kids, though I can’t remember that. I did say something to a friend, sitting in a theater for Chicks, and she astonished me by saying she understood. “I’m not home yet, either,” she said.

Of course, I also talked to Larry about my little vision thing. To my surprise, and deep pleasure, he got it. We had, as it happens, long discussed the idea of finding a piece of land somewhere, learning it, restoring it, in a sort of Nature Conservancy paradigm. This is what we might talk about while driving through Oregon landscapes, but don’t imagine we’ll actually execute.

And let’s face it. We’re pretty old to be leaping into — okay, we’re seventy-four. Each, that is. Seriously? Friend Tommy Thomsen said this what you do in your fifties. But we didn’t, so here we are.

The land, which we have now named The Hundred Acre Wood (plus one), is profoundly beautiful. As I hope you can see from the header photo. Ancient oak trees, grasses. Oh yeah, thistles and blackberries, too. A resident red-tail hawk. A fox! Lots of birds, as yet unidentified. And of course, the cows. There’s a derelict house on the property, which will have to be torn down (Will has begged us to wait until he can be there to watch).

My intention is to record this adventure as it happens, but I’ll have to warp time a little to bring the events up to the present. This is my first blog on a new site, new manager, and I’m not sure how it will look. I just clicked “preview” in order to proof read, and the header photo did not appear. Will it show up when I check “publish?” We’ll see.

Next issue: We try to plant stakes and meet the cows.