And……the worst is behind us

Golly I hope those aren’t famous last words, about the worst being behind us, but at this moment, given the tasks that lay ahead of us when we moved in, the known worst is behind us.

  • The entire interior of the house is repainted.
  • The carpet is replaced.
  • The refrigerator is replaced.

And getting the refrigerator replaced was the most stressful one; I’d been nervously dreading the swap-out, because I just didn’t see how in the world they were going to be able to do it. Because it sits facing the bottom of the stairs, and there wasn’t enough clearance to be able to open the door of the fridge, and it was wedged very tightly into the cabinet space, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how they’d get it out….and then get the new one in.

So you couldn’t use the refrigerator fully, and you certainly couldn’t pull out the shelves to clean them. Which was obvious when you looked at them. (This photo was taken when the disgusting old carpet was still in place.)
See? How could they get it out?

But they did, and with grace and friendliness. The main installer guy assured me that he’d seen worse, and as the three men fought the appliances in and out, their conversation back and forth seemed ordinary, not stressed and uncertain — and that went a long way for me, too, although I paced and my stomach hurt and my shoulders were up around my ears the whole time. But they got the old one out and moved into the basement, and then the new one in, and they didn’t bang the newly painted walls or rip the newly installed carpets, and even better than all that, the new fridge fits and works even better than we anticipated! We thought the bottom drawer of the freezer wouldn’t pull out all the way; our goal was for the upper refrigerator section to be fully accessible and we thought we’d just deal with the freezer, that the drawer would certainly pull out enough to be accessible, but not all the way — but instead, it opens all the way and still doesn’t touch that bottom stair. So problem solved, and even better than we anticipated.

At the same time, two cords of wood were delivered and stacked — $250/cord, and one cord should last a month, I was told — so with that we’re prepared for the first couple of months of cold weather, and we’re figuring out the wood stove, and the most unpleasant of tasks are all done.

this pile is waiting to be stacked — one cord here….
and this cord is on the front porch, stacked and ready to use.

There are still big tasks to do, for sure; we want to pave the driveway, and build some kind of shed/garage, and do some real landscaping in the front yard, and of course plenty of stuff to do inside the house, lots of that, but the gross/unpleasant stuff is now done. The walls and floor had so much to do with getting rid of the real filth of the previous owners, and the fridge had to do with filth and nonsense, so now it’s all clean and clear and I feel ready to move forward with great relief.

The goings-on in the outdoors around us are mostly unseen (by me, anyway). Muskrats are packing their underground burrows with enough grass to last through the winter. White-tailed deer are beginning to shed their summer coats and grow new, thick, winter coats. But the abundant asters and goldenrods are among the last flowers visited by honeybees, which we still see in great numbers.

And the mushrooms and fungus. Also gloriously present.

tiny little landscapes wherever you drop down and look closely
and mushrooms wedged in empty, dark spaces of trees

I’m so thoroughly enjoying the creek, where Marc created the path and my bench. I go there in the mornings, and in the late afternoons, and whenever I just need that kind of peace and beauty. The trees on our property are only barely starting to change colors, and only in a single branch here or there, but when we are on Rte 28, heading in either direction, the trees are really starting to come into color and it’s wonderful to see. Since we are actually in Big Indian Hollow, we don’t get as much sunshine so we’ll be holdouts, but we have plenty of maples so we should have oranges and reds, too.

And now I can say with a smile on my face and an absence of dread for next steps: ONWARD.

finally (v3)! PAINT x2

The Labor Day weekend was a complete blur as we got the upstairs painted — and “upstairs” includes the stairwell, which required all of Marc’s exceptional skills at jerryrigging what he needs. I was a nervous wreck the whole time he painted, but he never slipped or fell, and it turned out OK.

I couldn’t believe it — I was really so anxious the whole time. He said he wasn’t scared, but if anyone else had set up the “scaffold” he would’ve been scared. He is very clever.
So that’s a ladder standing (on plastic!) on one of the bottom stairs, and he taped a couple of blocks of wood to it so it stuck out from the wall enough to serve as a platform for the second ladder to prop on top. MAKES ME SCARED JUST SEEING IT.

We got the stairwell and upstairs foyer painted on Sunday, and on Monday we got the large master bedroom painted.

So much prep!
It was very chilly one morning (they’re all a blur, as I write this post), so we thought it would make sense to figure out how to use the wood stove. At first we made a lot of smoke, and had to open the windows (which didn’t help things, it was cold!), but pretty quickly Marc figured out the draw and things were all flowing in the right directions.

Took more wood than we expected, to be not all that warm, really. HMMMM.
Tuesday we painted the small, second bedroom — much quicker to do, even though it’s never as quick as it seems it will be. By the time Marc left to head back to the city, we were both exhausted, and the upstairs is still chaotic, with cardboard and plastic on the floor, and chaos and furniture in all the wrong rooms, but the painting is done, at least. We probably should’ve done a second coat, but I think we’re both just done, for a whole bunch of reasons.

So when he comes back on Friday (I have a manuscript to read that will take me through to his return, at least), we’ll restore order. Move furniture back into place. Curse our ineffectual painting, in little places here and there. But you know what? We succeeded in not getting a drop of paint on the new carpet, and that blows me away. We are two older people, not all that skilled in this kind of work (or if we were, that was a few decades ago), and yet we got the whole house painted — including the stairwell, which was very difficult — and didn’t get any paint on the new carpet. Ch-ching, we are good.

When he was heading back to the city on Tuesday, I took a little walk down to the creek, to my bench, because from the upstairs window I kept seeing one tree that seemed to have turned a luminous gold:

When I got down to the creek I saw it was just one branch of a tree — very strange, but common, from what I can see.
As I was heading for my bench, and crossing the closeby creek, I saw a frog jump into the creek. And when I was heading back, I saw another one. They seem to hang out on the bank, and when they’re disturbed they jump into the creek. Trees around us are starting to turn, and I drove to Margaretville and saw so many orange trees. It’s really starting to happen, and I can’t wait until I’m surrounded by reds and oranges.

Young red foxes have scattered and may end up as far as 50 miles from their birthplace. I sure wish I could see a red fox; haven’t seen one yet, but I’m watching! Luna moth caterpillars have dropped from their feeding trees to search for a suitable place to spin their cocooons, and I’m on the search for them. (Hmmm, I wonder if those are the white caterpillars we keep seeing, with the black spots? Ah, no, luna moth caterpillars are lime green. Well, I’ll keep watch.) As I drove to Margaretville, I really got the feeling of the seasons changing, of nature putting itself to bed for the coming winter, and it was just so great, such a specific feeling.

So while I may have liked painting well enough in my younger years (I can’t actually remember), it turns out that I really hate painting, at age nearly 59. Hate it. I’m so glad we’re done. Marc is much more a champ than I am, doing what needs to be done without any complaints, but I can’t wait until our weekend projects are ones that add to our home, instead of just getting us to some kind of clean baseline. Like the path and bench Marc made — that’s adding something new. I’m relieved to be getting rid of all the filth of the previous owners, and once the misery of the work is behind us, I’ll be so grateful for the clean, crisp walls.

I’m sitting in the living room as I write this post so I’d probably say something different if I were upstairs in all that chaos, but it’s starting to feel like our home. We’re figuring out the rhythm of all kinds of things. Living with bugs and ticks has fallen into place — I don’t even think twice about them as I head down to the creeks, so that’s a relief. We’re making our own place together, and that’s kind of a wild fantasy to me; all the years we lived together in NYC, I never would’ve dreamed that we might have a house together anywhere, a place that was truly ours together, but here we are. There’s all kinds of things to figure out, ways to figure out how to accommodate our separate ways of being (because we are such different kinds of people, it’s always shocking to me), but we’re figuring it out. And we’re figuring out this country life, how to make it work. It’s turning into our home.

finally (v2)! PAINT!

As if getting the new carpet upstairs wasn’t enough overjoy-making (and it was!), we’ve now got two of the remaining three necessaries done: the downstairs is painted, and the couches have been delivered. The walls were so filthy, and a couple of them were half-painted for some reason that relates to a mystery we can’t figure out — did something happen here? Did they add the powder room recently? Was there a flooding accident? So many strange details we just can’t really figure out . . . but whatever happened, the walls downstairs were in such desperate need of paint. And so we spent an entire weekend prepping and painting. The downstairs is one large, continuous space.

I love this — he brought his painter’s hat from the city (“Very important!”) and it tickled me to death to watch him work. And since he did the entire ceiling completely by himself (along with all the cutting-in around the top, and almost all the prep, like 99%), he really did need that hat.
The woodburning stove covered up — but it made me think of Cousin It, and a friend commented that it was me hiding, to keep from doing any work. 🙂 IF I COULD’VE, I WOULD’VE. I really hate painting. Marc covered the entire floor with paper or cardboard since we have wood in the living room area, and pine trim.
Couch and chair to the middle of the room! A sheet was draped over my beloved leather chair and Marc accidentally swiped it hard, with a fully loaded brush; when I removed the sheet later, I was horrified to see that the paint had soaked through, but with a lot of very careful cleaning I was able to get it all off.
Light fixtures removed and/or covered with plastic, kitchen cabinets draped and taped with plastic to protect them. Chaos abounded.

When he went back to the city late Monday, the plan was for me to do a second coat on the walls that needed it. I’d rolled the paint on all the walls, and it’s been so long since I painted that I had a learning curve, so the first couple of walls desperately needed a second coat. Luckily second coats are much easier to apply than first, and also by then I’d learned how to do it, how to load the brush with enough paint, how often to reload, so after a few hours I’d finally finished all the painting.

HALLE-FLIPPIN-LUJAH, MAN. Hallelujah. Not a fan of painting.

But how lovely it is to have such fresh, clean walls. We painted with a bright white because one thing we love most about this house is the open interior, so filled with light — especially since it’s not all that sunny here, in part because of the tall trees surrounding the house and the mountain hard behind us, and in part because it’s been a very rainy summer (so we’re told, we do hope this has been unusual) and it’s usually overcast or at least partly cloudy. So we want all the light we can get, and that means white walls that will gather and reflect whatever light we can get.

And it’s a cascading, now, of finally finishing moving in. Since we have a couch and the walls are painted, we can figure out how to arrange the space, and that also means I can finally finally bring all my books up from the basement. Which I did, armloads at a time, until the 18 boxes of books were transferred upstairs. I HURT SO BAD.

The FUN process of sorting and organizing, and then packing the shelves. I really need more shelves, but for now this is OK. I’d like to create the kind of wall system that Marnie and Tom have, one day. (And that’s Marc’s kaffir lime tree under the spotlight; he has been growing it in the city for years, and it has such a thick trunk.)
I love this placement of my beloved leather chair. To my right is the sliding door onto the deck, so I have a huge view of the outdoors, solid green and brown and filled with life. The window over my left shoulder brings in beautiful light, too. Straight ahead is the kitchen and slightly to the left is the couch, so I can watch Marc cook, and easily talk to him when he’s on the couch. My small bookcase is just beyond the sliding glass door, so I can enjoy looking at the books Tetris-ed into it, too. Knitting stashed inside the Shaker boxes to the right of the chair. Now it’s time to hang stuff on the walls. I can’t WAIT.

What’s left inside that’s most critical is the delivery of the refrigerator, which was supposed to happen last Tuesday but was postponed to September 12, dang it. We also want to paint upstairs, but that feels less critical than the downstairs. So aside from the fridge, there’s just finishing up the moving-in, bringing up the remaining things from the basement. Marc shortened the closet doors in the master bedroom yesterday; with the new carpet, they were too long. Now I can put things away in the closets, find places to store what’s left, and figure out where to hang what on which walls.

Outside, Marc made me a bench at the farther creek, and made a beautiful stone patio-type space around it.

I love this so much. The bench is unobtrusive — just two pieces of wood for the upright pieces, and a plank of wood for the seat — so it blends in, but it’s comfortable and wide enough to set my cup of coffee and thermos. I plan to read there, draw there, sit and think, listen to the rushing water, and just enjoy this beauty . . . and in every moment, appreciate all the work he did dragging and placing rocks for my path.

Since the world continues to turn even more visibly up here, I’ll note what’s happening this week: Joe Pye weed (pink), boneset (white), and goldenrod (yellow) are flowering in colorful masses at the edges of wetlands. Painted turtle eggs begin to hatch, about 65 days after they were laid, if they have escaped notice by skunks, foxes, and raccoons. Newly transformed northern leopard froglets, just over one inch long, are leaving water for the grassy meadows. We have yet to see skunks, foxes, or raccoons, but maybe when the trees are bare we’ll be able to spot them. The deck is littered with beech nuts, and the leaves that are starting to collect are all mottled. Last night when I was taking the trash to the main road, as I walked on the drive, close to our front porch, I passed a giant pile of bear scat — how I wish we could’ve seen him! I’m sure it’s the same ‘local big fella’ that my neighbor caught on film, that I saw by our deck, and that destroyed my bird feeder.

Oh! And last week I was taking a long walk that took me a short distance on Rte 28, the main road that comes from Kingston. Down to my right I suddenly heard this horrifying sound, a kind of unearthly snuffling but super loud. It made me jump and pull back in fear, automatically — and then a huge buck went racing past, through the brush. I thought that was cool enough (I’d been wanting to see one ever since Marc told me about one of his walks where suddenly a few huge bucks bounded across the road right in front of him, with huge racks), but then a very large bear followed, also running. I don’t know if he was chasing the buck, I don’t really think so, but I don’t know what they were both running from. I think the snuffling might’ve been the bear; I’ve heard that description of them before. Big trucks were speeding past me on Rte 28, so I was standing there between trucks and racing large animals, and it was truly astonishing. I was astonished, open-mouthed, heart pounding, in awe.

I’ve started a little video project, one second of film/day, so in one year I’ll watch the forest change through the seasons. I’m starting to see it happening, especially when I drive to Margaretville, or in that direction (west on Rte 28) — whole trees that are visibly changing, or a sun-facing side, or a top quarter, burnishing into gold and orange, and stands of sumac shouting their scarlet colors — but my own backyard forest is only changing in spots here and there. From the bedroom I can see single brilliant orange leaves but nothing on a larger scale, yet. So like any change that happens on a daily, incremental basis, it will be hard for me to observe it as it happens, but my little video will manage that for me. Every morning, as I walk onto the same spot on the deck and shoot my video, I think, hmm. Still just green.

The best thing I have to note in this post is that the house is starting to be comfortable and look and feel like a home. We are finally settling in, and I think my psyche is catching up, too.


It feels like it’s been such a long time coming, for things to start shifting inside the house — all the immediate stuff was finished, everything moved here, my car returned here, and then decisions were made and items purchased, but then a long nothing, weeks of wait. Every day, I’m here in the flux state of waiting.

These people, my quotidian saviors

Until yesterday. The new carpet was finally installed, and it’s astonishing how much that makes a difference. The old carpet smelled awful, made the house reek, and it was so gross I wore shoes the entire time. If I had to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I put shoes on. I didn’t want anything touching it, so taking off my pants was very tricky. Changing the linens on the bed required a lot of upper body strength to keep the blankets, quilts, sheets lifted up high enough not to graze the carpet. We knew all this, we knew how awful it was, but we got a sick confirmation. When the installers had removed all the old carpet and dragged it outside, Marc came in with wide eyes, asking, “Do you want to hear something disgusting, but that’ll make you happy too?”

There were flies swarming on the old carpet. [gag]


When the installation guys left, Marc and I just walked around barefooted for a long time. We lay on the floor. I thrilled to place my face right on the carpet. The carpet is brown (the color is called ‘deep earth’ and it’s not a chocolate brown, more a grayed brown), which I wanted because we are surrounded by nature in such a loud, loud way — greens and browns, and riotous colors in autumn — and we have natural wood trim, with dark knots visible, and it will hide dirt. I don’t expect it to become dirty at all; we have no kids or pets, and downstairs is tile and wood flooring, with mats by the doors, and of course I’ll keep it clean. SO HAPPY. The house smelled better instantly, and that was also a relief because we’d been concerned that the carpet nastiness had seeped into the subflooring, but apparently not. The house just smells fresh now, like the outside air. So happy.

And the new refrigerator will be delivered next Tuesday (the old one will be moved down to the basement) which will also be a relief, because we’ll be able to fully open the refrigerator doors, which means full access AND I can clean the interior. It’s going to be great. The couches should arrive sometime in very early September, and now that we’ve gotten the painting estimates we’ve decided just to save that money and do the painting ourselves. Once that is done, the rest can unfold at its leisure. It’s all finally falling into place.

Also, Marc figured out the problem with the two light switches and electrical outlet in the lone usable countertop area in the kitchen. He thought to pull out the stove, and there behind it were FOUR outlets, one of which has that trip thing — so he reset it, and all the outlets work. And the light over the sink. Because OBVIOUSLY an electrician is going to put that behind the stove. We continue to believe the place was wired by a drunk. But what a relief to have figured it out.

So many rocks he gathered and lugged into place

Another thing that’s falling into place is the brainchild of Marc, who wanted to make a nice spot for me to sit. There are two stone-lined paths from the house down to the closeby creek; one has a stone bench next to the creek, and the other doesn’t have anything. But the other has a pretty clear path through the wild to the more distant creek, so he made a great stone walk through the creek, for easy crossing, and then lugged stones to create a path all the way to the farther creek, where he will make a bench of some kind for me — either stone or wood, he’s still working it out. It’s so lovely.

I took this picture standing on the spot where the bench will go, and you can see the path meandering along — what you can’t see is that it drops down and through the creek and connects to the stone steps up the hillside, to the house.

heading for the farther creek, to the spot where my bench will be. I already have favorite stones in the path — some are mossy, some are gray, some are kind of greenish. Some are smooth and round, some are sheared flat. Big ones, small ones, it can take a long time to walk the path because there is so much to look at in the path itself!
RIGHT HERE. I’ll sit right at the edge of the creek, at a bend, so I can see it as it curves away from me , to my left, and where it’s coming from, to my right.
I love to stand on the stones that cross the creek, and look into the crystal clear water. We think the near creek has its origins in a spring, because it seems to appear out of nowhere at our property’s edge.

As we’ve been walking around in the area of Big Indian, we’ve seen signs that summer is in its final weeks. Of course the sumac is the loudest, clearest harbinger, with those brilliant scarlet leaves.

When we’d come up here in the late summer, I’d see these flashes of scarlet along the roadside but we were always driving too quickly, and never could easily stop. NOW I CAN.
There are wild raspberries, chokecherries, and blackberries. These are called thimbleberries. We’ve been eating our fill of all of them on our walks, delighted that we beat the bears to them.

Otherwise, flickers on the ground are picking off ants. Their sticky tongues can extend up to 2 inches beyond the tip of the bill, which is kind of wild! Chimney swifts will migrate soon. The yellow-bellied sapsucker parents are still with their fledglings; unlike other woodpeckers, they don’t excavate beetle larvae, but consume fruit, ants, sap, and the inner bark of trees. On our own property, we primarily see robins — lots and lots of robins, which are still exotic to Texan me, but much less interesting to Marc. We still haven’t spotted any porcupines, and that’s not for lack of looking. On occasion we’ll see a single tree that is starting to turn yellow, and I spotted one that was a quarter orange, but the main color is found in the wildflowers — purple thistle, yellow goldenrod — and in the blazing sumac. I don’t want to race through summer’s end in my eagerness for autumn, but it’s hard.

We’re getting somewhere, here at Heaventree. New carpet helped a lot.

I love doing laundry here. 🙂

moving outwards

So far our attention has been focused squarely inside the house, especially since the upstairs carpet has been so attention-grabby/smelly/flea-ridden. That will change next Monday, not that I’m counting hours or anything. But this weekend we started looking around the property with an eye toward what we might do. We might expand the deck outwards; at either end it narrows to not more than a walkway, and there is plenty of space. Marc also hauled a bunch of stones to a tentative crossing on the closeby creek, making it more stable for me to cross. By the time he finished, it was a lovely crossing:

That was already a nice pool, to the left of the crossing (the water is so clear it’s invisible!), and the water still flows through the walkway, so we’ll monitor it to be sure it doesn’t stop the flow too much and consider this little project completed. Farther down the closeby creek there is a stone bench left by the previous owners — it’s very cold to sit on, even in the summer, but it’s a lovely little spot:

And look at that tree across the creek, the magnificent roots. Last weekend when Marc was here we explored the area between the creeks, and walked a little ways upstream. It’s very wild back there, and the  creeks are a public easement, so at most we’ll probably just do some clearing — though I do want to pave the slope down toward the closeby creek with daffodils. That will be a project for the fall.

this is the farther creek, Hatchery Hollow Creek.
I was crossing our closeby creek down near the bench and just happened to glance down to see this colored leaf in the crystal clear water, also reflecting the blue sky

We have a lot of beech and oak trees, a few birch (not the copper or paperwhite ones, too bad), and a number of maples, so when autumn comes we should have the full complement of colors — and in fact, we are already seeing the occasional red maple leaf on the ground. The world is turning visibly up here; backswimmers are patrolling the surface of ponds, nabbing mosquito larvae as they come up for air, chokecherries and the first blackberries are ripe, and splashes of red are starting to show here and there on a few scattered red maples. We drove to the closest ski mountain, Belleayre, last weekend for a walk and to scout a location to watch the Perseid meteor shower next weekend, and saw one maple with a fully red top quarter.

We beat the bears to these wild blackberries, and Marc braved ticks to collect them for me.
The last life of so many kinds of flowering plants

The most exciting thing that happened this past weekend came Sunday night, as we were heading home from a drive up Slide Mountain. We had been exploring little back roads after dinner, and the light was so nice; we don’t really get a sunset here, because we’re down in a wooded valley, but the light does shift to that magical tint. The air was cool from the rain we’d gotten earlier that day (because of course, it rains most days), and we had the windows down and were just enjoying the twilight feeling. And as we rounded a curve, there it was. A big black bear, crossing the road right in front of us. By the time I got my phone it was off the road and heading for the forest, but I did catch this backwards glance:

We were both so thrilled to see it, and I was especially happy that Marc got to see it, since he didn’t see the one right at our deck recently. The ecstatic look on his face, and his overjoyed, little-boyish exuberance and delight made me even happier than seeing the bear.

I am feeling less anxious about the ticks; maybe it’s just a kind of fatalism, I don’t know, but the outdoors don’t feel as fearful to me as they did, so I am adjusting. I signed up for my NYPL card and am heading over to Pine Hill, the nearest hamlet, to pick it up — thrilled I am to have a NYPL card again — and life feels like it’s settling into place. Marc wanted to get a couple of estimates for someone else to paint the interior for us, so we didn’t paint this past weekend as I’d thought we would, but after getting one estimate I imagine we’ll be painting next weekend. 🙂 I can’t wait for these interior things to be done so I can start hanging art on walls and moving a rug into the living room to be ready when the couch is delivered. For now, my eyes are on next Monday, carpet installation, and out my kitchen window whenever possible, to watch the light change throughout the day.

That is the place the sun drops behind a mountain, so by the time it’s low enough to produce color it’s well-hidden from me. But still, I love the view…

Getting there. Not there yet, but I can see it.

And so we begin August

The first night we slept in our new house was Friday, July 7, so we are approaching our first month here. The house still looks unsettled; the living room is not much of a “living” room yet, for example. The bookcases are empty and stashed in a corner, and the bedroom chair is plopped in the space just so we have two places to sit (my leather club chair is here too). My stringed instruments sit in their cases in a corner on top of broken down boxes. My task this week is to clean the walls and remove all the nails and picture hangers and assorted tchotchke stuff they left hanging on the walls, so that when Marc comes up this weekend we can begin painting. We do have other progress made; we bought a couple of couches last weekend (delivered in 5 weeks), and the new carpet will be installed on Monday, August 14 WHICH CANNOT COME QUICKLY ENOUGH FOR ME BECAUSE…..

not a great snap, I was driving and wanted to show Marnie — covered in flea bites and later all the scabs. UGH.

… addition to the general grossness of the carpet upstairs, with all the matted dog hair and stains, it is flea-infested. And since the first couple of nights we slept here the mattress was on the floor, the bed also got infested. Apparently I’m one who has that odd sensitivity to flea bites, because they stayed extra itchy for more than two weeks, and the scabs are still there. Last Friday I sprayed the upstairs quite heavily with a flea poison just before I left for the city. I’ve never had flea bites before, horrible. And this wasn’t our only wildlife encounter in the last week.

Last Friday morning I got up early, since I had so much to do before leaving for the city — car inspection, buying a flea bomb, general straightening up and organizing and collecting stuff to take to NYC — so instead of just getting up when I wake up, as I usually do, I set my alarm for 6:30. So far I hadn’t been up that early, so as I stood waiting for the water to boil for my coffee, I was looking at the view out the kitchen window, such beautiful morning light. Something caught my eye out the window to my right, and when I turned my head quickly I couldn’t really make sense of what I was seeing: it was a large black bear standing right next to my deck. If the windows had been open I could’ve smelled it. Just as it reared back to put its paws on the deck railing, it saw my movement (I was reaching for my phone to take a picture) and it scampered down the hill towards the creek. I’m terrible at estimating size; maybe it was the local big fella, or maybe it was just a teenage bear (it has grown in size in my memory, which I don’t trust). Anyway, that was THRILLING. I finally saw a bear. Right there, out my own window. Wowie. I think I grinned the whole day, and Marc was so sad he didn’t get to see it. (Me too.)

Fast forward to yesterday morning. I didn’t get up 6:30, even though I’d wanted to in case that’s the bear’s roaming-around time; I’m still trying to learn how to go to sleep here when I’m alone and I’m not too good at it yet so I’m staying up way too late, until I fall asleep despite myself. So I was up at my regular time, again waiting for the water to boil, when I noticed. My bird feeder was on the ground, the branch it had been hanging on was ripped from the tree, and the trash can was tipped over and the trashbag torn open. Closer inspection — done gingerly, since the feeder was covered with bear slobber — revealed that the bear had pierced holes in the cylinder that holds the bird seed. I do think early morning is the bear’s roaming-around time, along with dusk, because it had been OK when I went to bed the night before.

Broke that branch right off the tree — bird feeder on the ground. The sunflower seeds that he didn’t eat were a feast for the little chipmunks!
One of the several holes — teeth, I presume.

The birds hadn’t even had a chance to find the feeder yet; I’m hoping we can fix it and hang it somewhere else, out of bear reach. Now that he/she/they have found the trash, I was worried. In fact, last night I didn’t sleep well at all because I kept imagining bears circling the house, growling and mad not to have food. What had been a kind of adorable idea became something else as I was reminded that they are predatory carnivores, and GIANT mammals with great big teeth and claws. I don’t feel scared, just recalibrated. 🙂

how I’d love to see an Eastern newt!

Summer marches on toward its end, here. This week, ruffed grouse chicks are eating more vegetable matter and fewer invertebrates. On hot days the beautiful blue flowers of chicory fold up by noon, and the Eastern newts are coexisting with fish in permanent ponds. We had a couple of beautiful days this week without rain, but today there has been a perfectly glorious thunderstorm. There’s a kind of nonstop rolling thunder (going on three hours of it now) with occasional bursts into such loud blasts that they make me jump. And the rain has been heavy, serious rain, not the more gentle rains I’ve seen so far. I’ve really enjoyed this; one thing I really missed, when I lived in NYC exclusively, were Texas thunderstorms. The storms they have on the plains are so dramatic, and while it certainly rains and storms in NYC, it was never the same. I may have heard thunder a couple of times, but never anything very interesting. So I was so glad to hear it today, to know that I will get that specific pleasure of big noisy thunderstorms here in the mountains.

Lots finished now: all my car stuff has been transferred to NY state (license, registration, inspection, and EZPass), the couches are bought, the carpet installation is scheduled, and the painting is about to start. It feels like a long time getting those things done, but when I look back from the one-year mark, it will just be a blip, just the early days. We’re figuring out the food situation: Marc buys food in the city and brings it when he comes up, because it’s something of a food desert up here in terms of produce especially. We’re also still figuring out the water, which is necessary because our well water tastes so gross. (And turns the toilet bowls brown, so much iron.) NYC water is just so fabulous, so when I came back to Heaventree on Monday I just brought gallons of it. That may be what we do — empty gallon jugs back to the city on Mondays and returned full from the tap on Fridays. If you ever go to NYC, and you’re at a restaurant, act like a local and say “tap” when the waiter asks if you want tap or bottled water. The water really is just so so good.

greetings from Heaventree

Finally, my beautiful friend Lynn Rudolph sent us this sign for our home. The woman who created the sign didn’t include the card Lynn asked her include, so I had no idea who sent it at first (although the more I thought about it, the more I realized it had to be Lynn). When I unwrapped it, I just started crying. Heaventree, established 2017. I hung it so happily this morning, by the front door, in pride of place. I don’t need many reasons or excuses to think about Lynn, but now on those odd days when I’m not already thinking about her, this sign will remind me.

some nature realness

I am writing this post in a flag-planting way, so I can look back at it and remember how the adjustment felt.

Living here isn’t just living AMONG nature. Amid nature. It’s living WITH fucking nature, 24/7. Yesterday (July 24, for the record) it was so chilly in the house all day that I wore a fleece jacket and had a blanket over my lap, so I wanted to make a bowl of Irish oatmeal for dinner, thinking that would be comforting and steamy — because who thinks ahead to make soup in the summer!! I took my sugar bowl out of the cupboard and it was crawling with ants. So I dumped it, and took the tightly closed and vacuum-sealed bag of brown sugar out of the cabinet, also crawling with ants. Inside the bag. We have a lot of ants, swarming countertops, marching across the living room floor (small ones in the kitchen, giant black ones that carry big things in the living room) (could they carry out some trash for me, if I trained them?), but ants have never bothered me too much. I always joke, “Eh, they can’t eat too much” as I flick one out of my dish. Ants, kinda neat little creatures.

Still, I wasn’t too happy that they were inside the sealed bag of brown sugar. I have to put everything ants might like in canisters, I guess, with those intense rubber rings. OK. I can deal.

But when I was in bed (and note, the filthy carpet upstairs is full of fleas) (you should see my flea bites, I look like poor white trash) (carpet installation dude is coming to measure today thank heavens), I kept feeling like bugs were landing on my head as I was watching television. I thought I was just making that up, imagining things since I’d seen all the ants an hour earlier. Finally I glanced up at the ceiling……swarming with bugs. Swarming. The ceiling and wall above my night table. There’s a large window there, so I guess there must be a small hole in the screen? Or maybe nature is just so insistent here that it can pass right through the spaces in screening.

Bugs everywhere. Rain every goddamn day. We heard that the proper way to understand a Catskills rain forecast is this: No, it’s not a 20% chance of rain, it’s going to rain 20% of the day. All day yesterday it poured rain, and it rained all night and it’s raining right now. It looks like permanent dusk. I mean, there’s a reason everything is so lush and green here, and I will definitely adjust to the rain and light, but right at this moment I’m feeling a little like pulling out my hair.

This weekend I go into the city, and I’m really excited about that. I’m excited to see horizon (isn’t that hilarious! IN NYC????!), and sunset, and the sun, and to be able to walk on paved roads. I know the path of adjustment to a new place, the curve of that experience: at first it’s all amazing, wow, insects! rain! isn’t this marvelous?! and then you hit a wall and it’s goddamn bugs and fucking rain and this sucks and it’s not what I thought it would be and then the adjustment starts settling in. Then you have just learned to put things in ant-free containers, and you have fixed all the screens (and you have new carpet).

So this is just a moment of realness in the adjustment path, marked and noted. While I listen to the rain on the roof, and see it splashing on the deck and drowning my Texas plants that have no idea what hit them. While I scratch a variety of bug bites on every part of my body. While I too wonder a little bit what hit me. 🙂

not-yet settling in

So. Except for the bathroom, the kitchen, and the bed and clothing, it doesn’t look like I’ve been living here for a few weeks. It looks like we just got here. No couch, my leather recliner and side table in the living room and also the yellow and gray bedroom chair. Empty bookshelves stashed in an odd corner. Empty boxes mostly stashed in another odd corner. My four string instruments sitting in their cases on top of the boxes.

We need to paint the whole house and recarpet the upstairs, so there is no point in hanging anything on the walls, and we need to buy a new couch, which will allow me to finally figure out how to arrange the living room. But for now, there isn’t a feeling of ease or comfort anywhere except when I’m in my bed at night (and in the mornings…..oh so delicious. I’ve been lingering in bed way too long every morning just to enjoy the coolness of the sheets, the birdsong, the brilliant green I see out my windows).

And here is some more reality. So many goofy things here. The oven temperature is off by ONE HUNDRED DEGREES. A couple of weekends ago I made a batch of cookies to take to a picnic and they took so long to bake, like twice as long as they should’ve. Now I know why. The odd configurations of light switches, never where you expect they should be to control a light. I’m thinking about putting painter’s tape on each light plate just to label which light it turns on, because it’s the only way I’ll learn without having to try them all each time. I continue to think the electrician was drunk when he wired this house.

More reality: the mosquitoes are so bad it’s hard to enjoy sitting on the deck (less bad in the front, so I’m more likely to sit on the front porch). They are worse some days than others, so now I’m trying to pay close attention to that so I can maximize and predict the days they won’t be so bad. We have citronella torches and tabletop candles, but you know: we live in a damp forest with two creeks. It’s just something to learn about, a rhythm to adapt to.

tall meadow rue (Thalictrum polygamum)

But the year is marching on, and this week little brown bats are all about, and the word is that they may consume half their weight in insects in an evening. God I hope so. Come on, little brown bats, mama needs a mosquito reduction. Tall meadow rue is blooming, its feathery flower heads well above other roadside and marshy plants. Bullfrog tadpoles are transforming into adults; after spending two years as mostly vegetarian or scavenging tadpoles, as adults they will eat any kind of animal they can catch. Did you know about this? That they are tadpoles for two years? And this is kind of cool: ambush bugs are hiding in flower clusters, waiting for unsuspecting honeybees. Have you ever heard of an ambush bug??

so this is an ambush bug. watch out, bees!

I want to draw a map of the property around our house and plot the major trees so I can get to know them specifically. Behind the deck there is a relatively narrow strip of yard, maybe 15 feet deep?, and beyond that it drops down to the creeks, so if I just map the yard-ish part of the property that seems doable. When their locations are mapped, then I can set about to identify them all and I may pick a couple of them to stare at very closely over the coming year. We don’t seem to have any birches in the yard-ish part of the property, a real shame because I completely adore birches, and there are plenty of them in the Catskills.

Even though I have my car here now (and HALLELUJAH for that), the long drive has made me want to just not drive for a while, so I haven’t really gotten around to check out the area the way I’m eager to. Since I got home Monday night, I’ve mostly spent the week allowing myself simply to be. I’ve needed to focus on getting back to myself, to my yoga practice and good food, so I haven’t really done much with the house in any way. So I register this moment in the house as one on pause, and look ahead to the next week. We are going to pick out carpet on Saturday, and probably buy some paint so we can paint the downstairs, which means next week I can at least place and unpack the bookcases and hang things on the walls. That will help.

And noting even while marking some less pleasant aspects of reality: I love it here, mosquitos and weird electrical wiring and all. I love the silence, the green surrounding me, the cool temperatures, the lovely crisp nights, the cozy feeling. Heaven. I think among the many mistakes of my birth* one is certainly geographical: I always hated the heat and the blazing sun, and this place definitely feels like the place I was meant to be.

*footnote here…..I wouldn’t redo my birth in any way at all, even if I could. People and place and experiences led me here and made me exactly who I am so I am grateful.

becoming normal

When I moved into my sweet place in Austin, I didn’t own anything but clothes and books, so everything I (necessarily) bought was purchased to fit into that spot. Stuff for the kitchen was bought to fit the countertops and cabinets. Bathroom, ditto. Living room, the same. Yoga room, yep. And this is the thing about moving, right? Your curtains don’t work in the new place, the windows are different, ‘wrong.’ The bathroom has zero storage, and you’d had an abundance before.

The kitchen here at Heaventree is a little complicated, and in part it’s more complicated at the moment because we have a temporary microwave taking up one countertop, and a dish drainer taking the bulk of another. Unfortunately, those are the two countertops with working electrical outlets; the middle section has two outlets and two light switches and none of them work.

microwave in the far left section, dish drainer in the far right, and dud outlets in the middle, to the left of the sink

Our plans for the kitchen are going to take some time to implement; first off, we need to replace the refrigerator with one that will allow us to open it all the way. (Again: sheesh.) We want a gas oven and stove, which will require us to bring gas into the kitchen (not sure of the proper verb for that, plumbing doesn’t seem right), and when we do that we’ll get a set-up that has a built-in microwave, thus freeing up that countertop. Adding a dishwasher will require a section of cabinets to be removed, there to the right of the sink, which will mean finding a new place for the stuff stashed there, but freeing up that countertop. And of course we need to get an electrician to fix the dud outlets and switches. (Again: sheesh.)

The fridge will be a relatively quick and simple fix, but doing the rest will not be. And since we also have to buy a couch and all kinds of other expensive things too, and replace the carpeting upstairs, and repaint the interior, dealing with the kitchen remodel is going to take a while.

And so, to make my morning smoothie I have to carry the Vitamix around to the island, where I can plug it in, and then move the whole thing back to its place. I had a perfect little coffee-making station in my Austin place, and now I have to walk to the far cabinet to get a filter for the Chemex, and the coffee beans are stored somewhere else too. My beloved morning routine, coffee and smoothie, is disrupted and needs a new flow. My big KitchenAid mixer will stay on a shelf in the basement, necessitating a down-and-up-the-stairs retrieval every time I want to use it. Ditto my juicer. The day will come when those things will have their usable spots in the kitchen, but that’s a ways away.

So now doing things takes more steps, more moving things around. It’s no longer a simple process of standing in one place and reaching things because it’s all set up just perfectly for the place. I don’t think this is a bad thing at all, having to rewire habits, even though I’ll be glad when the kitchen is redone as we want it. It reminds me about how fluid the idea of ‘normal’ is, and how quickly we adjust. The way I lived in Austin wasn’t at all normal to me, until it was, and now it’s the ‘normal’ that I’m missing, and having to adapt. This is a marvel, really, for good and for bad. As Americans we have lost so many freedoms we had before the implementation of the “Patriot Act,” and we’ve just kind of become used to it now. Normal. We are used to being spied on, and expect that we’re being watched, whether online or on the street. Normal. Before I know it, normal will be the way I live here.

Though I can’t imagine that the taste of our well water will ever be normal. BLECH. When I go to our apartment in the city, I will just drink water all the time, constantly. I’ll make coffee with abandon, using the city’s fantastic tap water. Oh my is it good. It’s as good as our well water is icky. It doesn’t taste and smell like rotten eggs, but whoo boy does it have a whang. I keep trying to drink it, because the only way I’ll get used to it is to drink it — and it’s worth saying that the tests came back showing the water is good — but every time I do, I suddenly find that I’m just really not that thirsty after all, turns out.

We’re expecting a mild day here, high of 75 and dropping to the mid-50s overnight. A sunny afternoon after a rainy morning. I’m learning that’s pretty typical for this time of year, or so it seems to me now. So far I’m really enjoying the cool mornings that lead me to tug on a sweater as I head to the deck to enjoy my coffee. So far I mainly feel relief not to be experiencing the hounds-of-hell heat that characterizes Texas at this time of year, and I’m also anticipating missing Texas weather come January and February. And maybe March and April too. 🙂

what’s happenin?

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp milkweed), photo from the Catskill Native Plant Society

This week the focus is on frogs, and on mosquitoes and other flying things drawn to the blooming milkweed. The fragrance of milkweed in bloom can be almost overwhelming; at first we had no idea what we were smelling — a kind of generic sweet smell in the air. Bees, moths, wasps, butterflies, and even flies are drawn to its nectar, so we’ll see an abundance of those. We’ll also look for the eggs of green frogs – floating masses of jelly with black-and-white eggs. They’re laid late, usually when the water is warm, and they hatch within a week. We’ve experienced the mosquitoes and seen some butterflies, and when we were getting in the car a couple of days ago I saw a small frog hopping past — pretty far from the creek and ground cover. I was serenaded by at least two woodpeckers yesterday, and the sound of hammering on the different trees was remarkable. It was kind of like being in the middle of a drum circle on speed.

windows in three of the four walls (closets on the remaining wall), but this is my view when I wake up in the mornings.

Our bedroom doesn’t have curtains on the windows [yet, maybe never?] so the sunrise wakes me up. I kind of like it, and at a minimum may not cover the windows until the cold arrives . . . and maybe not then. The sun comes up from the back of the house, up over the mountain, so it squeaks through high in the treetops, and that’s what I see from the bedroom window, from my side of the bed. At the moment the sunrise is at 5:28am, but yesterday it woke me at 5 with a beam in my eye. In Austin my bedroom was extremely dark, no electronic lights or sunlight, and a dark curtain over the single window, and how I loved that. I loved the cold cave of my room, and felt enveloped and sleepy in it. Here, it’s like I sleep in a treehouse; what I see from the windows are the tops of trees, and only filtered light . . . but how MUCH filtered light! And what’s fascinating is that there will be so much more light in the long, cold winter, because all the trees will be bare and the ground will be thick with dazzling white snow reflecting it back to us.

We are on a private street off of Oliverea Rd., and we are at that corner. There’s a good bit of traffic on Oliverea, and over the weekend there were lots of Harleys roaring past. But ordinarily, and especially during the week, I mostly forget that there are other people in the world because what I hear is wind, water, and birds. Marc heard frog songs the other day, but I didn’t catch them. Mainly this is what I hear.

Happy Thursday, y’all. We’re expecting a partly cloudy high of 77, a low of 64, and a 20% chance of rain (later tonight, most likely). Kind of standard stuff at the moment, though that’s a warmer night than the last few, which dipped down into the low 50s. We don’t have air conditioning (neither central nor individual units) or ceiling fans, so the house holds the cooler air from overnight and unless it’s super muggy, the house stays cool enough during the day. It’s so sweet.