Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Sweet Sounds of Country life

As if I needed reminders that I have joined a rural community based on the lumber industry, the nearby wood processing plant started up some antiquated bit of machinery today, with a drive that screamed like a banshee and gears that rattled like a tank going over a mountain of scrap metal. This, I hope, will not be a machine that is operable after dark, tho with the kleig lights that most places have, there is no such thing as “after dark” anymore, not really. At least it doesn’t sound like it is close by, so the volume isn’t at ear-damaging levels. But it’s a reminder that in rural settings, you are either in the million-plus bracket and create a McMansion in a homeowner’s association-ruled area where ecru is a daring color and noise is only allowed from the migrant yardworkers’ leaf blowers (I suppose they consider it soothing?), or -- like me -- you’ve chosen a place for its “good value” (code word for no yuppie would touch it) and you put up with the local neighborhood, hoping that all the real nasty surprises will reveal themselves before you close on the house.

Quiet middle class neighborhoods are being squeezed in very much the same way as the middle class itself; girdled into smaller and smaller plots… either through in-fill -- building another house in your backyard -- or by new developments designed to reduce any worry about escaping a burning building: you just put a plank out your window and crawl into your neighbor’s. I am all for conservation and not over-consuming the earth, but why does that always start with the lower and middle class and then run out of steam before it ever moves higher??

Anyway, I finally cut down the waist-high weeds and grass in the back yard. I was thinking how the place must have been a garden recently, because there was such soft soil underneath… it wasn’t until the “haying” was over that I realized I’d been stepping on mole-mounds. I have always had such clay soil that moles were discouraged, and so I’ve never worked with them, but I do know that they are a scourge of the garden. This is gonna take some thinking.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Septical Inquirer

[written just previous to closing]
The Septic Tank; the topic of many a rural essay and the morbid fascination of many rural homeowners. Mine is starting out as a hassle; like a colicky baby, I hope it settles down and becomes a darling member of the new household. It is leaking, very much like a baby diaper, but I’m lucky that it’s happening before I buy the place. I’ve been watching from the sidelines as the seller works to get a new tank in. I’m getting an intense education in the county building code and permitting system as well. But mostly I’m getting a very frustrating game of “Telephone”: I ask my realtor for news and within the day she emails or calls the seller’s realtor, who, within a day or two, calls the contractor, who - within a day, etc. - calls the seller’s realtor… eventually, in a week, I get some variation on my question answered, which of course brings up another question and the next week is spent answering that.

Today something just snapped and I demanded the phone number of the contractor, and spoke directly to him (or his assistant, hopefully the next best thing.) He informed that the permit finally arrived in the mail Saturday (do people still do things by mail?? Apparently so…) and he immediately put in an order for the tank. Since I’d heard two weeks ago that the permit had been gotten and the work was to be done last week, I was -- to be honest -- disappointed, but managed to be polite, appreciative and asked 5 more questions that would have taken a month to have answered the old way. Turns out the tank should be delivered by Friday latest (don’t they always say that, so when it’s late, you can’t call and complain?), and would be put in “immediately“. His logistics sounded somewhat 6-dimensional, but he promises all the tank work would be done by Friday afternoon, ready to inspect -- which legally must be done in 5 business days. That sets us out to exactly the closing date, and the title company won’t give me the amount of money I need to wire over -- and if I don’t do it by Friday, I start to run out of time to move from my apartment on time! So naturally, I feel like Luke Skywalker when the garbage compactor started to move inexorably inward. “Just keep moving upward” doesn’t begin to cover it…

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Next Door

I have met the neighbors, briefly. They seem to be taking a lively interest: one neighbor mentioned they were taking bets on whether I could fix up this dump or be buried by the costs of repair. I suppose after they banned cock-fighting, the locals have to have some sort of fun. I’ll know whose side they are on as soon as I ask to borrow a ladder… They seem to be typical in their rural archiving habit (“I’ve got an acre, I’ll just leave this sink here in case I need it in five years”) so I know I won’t have to worry about keeping the grass trimmed to a Marine buzz cut. After living for five years in a place where no matter what I did it offended someone, I’m looking forward to that! Not that I’m a slob, but I do have an appreciation for the beauties of wildlife (my house, for instance, is a wild dust bunny sanctuary).

And I love recycling, whether it’s composting or re-using containers… so when I saw the white and yellow 30wt oil jugs dangling from the neighbor’s metal fence poles (apparently as “reflectors” for after-dark steering), I knew I could feel easy about my collections, whatever they turned out to be (yes, I have a real soft spot for junk yards, second (okay fourth) hand stores and thrift shops). My yard art-in-progress will at least be more creative than those bottles… I’m planning a giant Fairy scarecrow; it was in my mental hopper for years, but the community living group had a hard enough time of my using a kid’s yellow rainslicker for a scarecrow, and it never got past the lawn committee. I have a vision for the outside yard that I know is unlikely to be realized, but if even a few pieces make it (like the scrap fence compiled of neat recycled windows, fence parts and wooden art), I will be as happy as a pig in compost, or a FOX talk show host in Republican rumors.

I’m currently neighbored by three uninhabited houses: one is for sale, and the other two apparently not… one is uninhabitable (tiny, floors ripped up -- a do-it-yourselfer’s failed project?), and the neighbors say the owner gave up on repairs about a year ago and hasn’t been seen since. The other is a full size house, completely painted in metallic silver, which luckily has been dulled by the years because the neighbors say on a sunny day you could see it from airplanes passing overhead. It’s owned by the lady who has a herd of goats one house over from it; someone says it’s her studio… my point of view is that since I basically have all the land that I can see from my yard completely to myself, all‘s right with the world. I am apparently the youngest member of the housing group on these two gravel roads, so I can reasonably hope to avoid loud modern head-banging music that is the Song of the City… my new place is about as countrified as it can be and still be within a mile of the town proper. On a nice day (presumably sometime next July) I will be able to walk to town and get all the groceries I can carry home (and that, my friend, is the Country Home Diet…)

Sunday, November 18, 2007


(with thanks & apologies to T. Pratchett for the title)

I don’t remember Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor (of Green Acres) running into this maze of insurance requirements! (They jumped right into the lack of phone service or good repairmen…) I have heard that my house is “uninsurable” because of moss on the roof and dirt - they say ‘possible mold’ - on the siding. In a state that has chosen Rain as its state mascot, this is getting a little picky, I think (esp. considering the verdant, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” jungles I see on some houses -- are they all uninsured?), but now I must balance the need to be insured when I move in with the inability to fix anything until I move in. (How fast can I work while the moving van is on the road…?). I have had several variations of this conundrum, from “ineligible but we can sell you an interim policy at $200 more”, to “it’ll cost you two arms and a leg, but once you fix this, we can look at other cheaper policies” to “it’s cheap but contingent on a full 3rd party inspection once you’ve bought the policy”… and I foolishly thought I needed to live in the city to have high blood pressure! On the other hand, I just read that the Big Three insurance companies are canceling policies with abandon (as in “abandonment”) up the whole Eastern seaboard, and they haven’t taken a new policy in over a year in NJ, NY… what are they thinking?? But wait --I read that somehow those folks get insured, at another company, at a much higher rate… has anyone looked into the holding companies of all these willing “local” companies? Can you spell “scam”?? So I suppose I can be grateful (?) that they are simply gouging me out here, rather than actually holding a family member for ransom…

I did end up finding a policy that has a semi-reasonable rate (not the “door-buster special” offered as a tease by one of the Big Three, but perhaps that was never a real rate -- I’ll never know) and it’s a local company, so less feeling of some blind-except-to-the-color-green fatcat in Palm Springs dictating my rates… but I do have to join the Farm Guild… where do I buy my overalls?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Please Don't Eat the Green Acres...

It is the pipe dream of my generation: go back to the land, eschew commercialism in all forms and get down with the earth… and the Earthlink, of course (how else will the world at large know about the wonderful rural, non-technical life you’ve created??)

I fell for it in my 52nd year… signed the counter offer on the house on my birthday, on a house that was created in 1955, just like I was (such signs are portents, or else really silly reasons to buy an old house)… in a town with such a cute name that I cringed when I told my savvy city friends (and was astounded at how many were immediately envious), a town with one main street… a town without a coffee shop! (alright - one drive-through espresso place… but for us metro Oregonians, that’s like the only rib joint in town being a Tony Roma’s!) And I grew up in New Jersey, so I know what you guys are thinking about now -- stop laughing! Espresso is a necessity. So immediately, I made a list of all the things I’m giving up (and how far a drive they actually are… just in case). I listed all the things I’m gaining (the opportunity to personally weedwack the waist-high weeds on this neglected place being near the top ten -- yes, country air has already addled my brain), and compare the two, ostensibly to be sure it’s balanced, but really just to smirk at my foolish friends who feel chained to their lifestyles (this will come back to haunt me, I predict).

But the road is never smooth -- first things I run into are the well and septic issues. I was looking for a place that was as independent as possible (with an eye to being mostly off the grid), and this place is great for that… but the well has bacteria and the septic tank is cracked… I know the leak wasn’t too bad, because the inspector confessed to me that he’d eaten all the remaining raspberries before he realized they were growing over the tank and we have not received a lawsuit. We are now in negotiations to get all that dealt with before I take ownership, but just to be sure, I’m getting a water filter and reading up on septic systems -- I suppose all of this appeals to the engineering part of me, the part that does like to tinker with (simple) machines. Before they went nano, I used to switch out my own computer hardware, tho I never built a system from scratch, and I understand the basics of a car (minus the computerized crap), a house electrical system and plumbing. I just know that I’ll be learning a lot more soon…

Anyway, welcome to my new blog about the joys and insanities of living a self-sufficient life!