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.

early days

THE DIFFICULT:

We got to the house Friday late afternoon and walked into mostly what we expected: a pretty filthy place. The toilets, sinks, and bathtub appeared to have been wiped, but there were big gobs of dog hair floating around, and my feet got dirty walking around. The carpet upstairs, which was gross already, had so much dog hair matted into it that even after a number of vigorous vacuumings, I just decided never to take off my shoes. They had one of those giant Bernese dogs, and I honestly don’t think they cleaned the floors or vacuumed the carpets with any kind of regularity. Not being a pet person myself, I find it disgusting. The walls are filthy, and with all their stuff gone we see that they aren’t even all painted fully. There is sheetrock damage where they had jerry-rigged a telephone on the wall, so that will have to be replaced. It all needs to be painted and deep cleaned. The baseboards have a 3/4″ flat surface and I don’t think they ever wiped them. It’s pretty gross.

We had bought a very fancy inflatable mattress but the pump mechanism was broken, so with great difficulty that first evening we moved the mattress from the basement up to the bedroom on the second floor. I really didn’t want my mattress sitting on the nasty carpet but there was no way we had it in us to move the mattress, box springs, headboard/ footboard and rails, and then assemble it all, so we plopped it on the floor and I made the bed. When we got the bed fully moved upstairs a couple of days later, and I lifted the mattress, I just can’t tell you how gross the underside was. I mean, I could, but I won’t. YUCK.

And the house, well, we very much love it and it’s solidly built, and we love the open downstairs, etc etc etc., and there are some super weird things about it. The well for the stairs that go up and down is . . . let’s just say I think they were drunk when they designed it. Down should be up, and up should be down, and we have no idea why they arranged it as they did.

So you can’t use the refrigerator fully, and you certainly can’t pull out the shelves to clean. Which is obvious when you look at them.

The stairs to the second level dead end right into the refrigerator — like, to the point where you cannot open the refrigerator door all the way because it hits the bottom step. WHY???? And as annoying as this is (but remedied by getting a different refrigerator, one with French doors and a slimmer profile), this arrangement makes it impossible to move large furniture upstairs because it’s impossible to make the turn. (Again: why???) The stairs down to the basement are near the large foyer by the front door, that would’ve been the arrangement for going upstairs, given the basic floor plan, and down to the basement from the kitchen would’ve made perfect sense. Right?

NOT FUN

And so we come to a different understanding of the door off the master bedroom, with stairs going down to the deck. That’s the only way to move furniture to the second floor. So we bring furniture up out of the basement through the bilco doors to the outside, then up onto the deck, then up that small flight of stairs and then lifting the furniture up over the railing, turning to move it into the master bedroom. REALLY? People, really? None of this would be required if they’d placed the stairs in the obvious arrangement.

We can’t reconstruct the arrangement of the stairwell, so we will just buy a different refrigerator and deal with the awkwardness, which won’t be an ongoing problem once all the furniture is in place.

Another super bizarre thing that we’ll just live with (but less egregious than the refrigerator/stairs issue) is that they installed the screens and sliding glass doors to the deck in the wrong way. (Again, drunk?) Usually the sliding glass door is inside, and the screen is outside, right? Well, here the screen is inside and the glass is outside, so at the end of the day, I have to open the screen door in order to pull closed the glass door, and then close the screen door again (or not). And the screen doors are installed in such a crappy way that you have to hold your mouth just right to get them to move.

Many of the outlets simply don’t work (never have, according to the former owners who built this house and who we are increasingly irritated by), nor does the light fixture over the sink. “You can call an electrician,” the previous owner told me. And they left so much junk behind — drawers full of stuff, crap hanging in trees and leaning against the house, tchotchkes on the wall that are not at all my taste and now I have to find a way to get rid of it all. Grumble grumble grumble.

So very quickly we need to replace the super nasty carpet upstairs, paint the downstairs at least, and buy a new refrigerator. We also want to replace the electric stove with a gas one, and get a dishwasher (although I don’t mind handwashing dishes, I find it a relaxing job for some reason). Once the place is clean and fresh, and we’re moved in, and the electrical outlets work, the rest will be just the quirks of the house, eventually not even noticed.

THE BEAUTIFUL:

The scenic splendor of this place just never stops. Every walk goes along or crosses creeks, brooks, riverbeds, and there are old stone walls everywhere. The Catskills are not properly mountains, it turns out. Instead, glaciers just carved valleys into the landscape so it seems like mountains. One saying about the Catskills is that there are two rocks for every dirt (but we think it’s more like 20 rocks for every dirt), so tumbled-smooth stones and rocks are so easily found, and rock walls and stone chimneys are characteristic of the area. We’ve done some rambling around, in a car and on foot, and have yet to find a square centimeter that’s less than stunning. It’s pretty great. The sounds of the creeks behind the house are a constant pleasure, and the leaves whisper constantly, almost fighting the creek sound for primacy. At first I thought it was always drizzling, and then I realized it was just the wind in the tall trees.

Our first couple of days here it rained a lot, and it was constantly drizzling, at least, and often raining hard, and suddenly. Both times I had been here before it was raining, and the area gets 180+ days of rain/year, so we had no way of understanding the weather: is this unusual, or is it just how it is? I called the Town Hall on Monday and the clerk said the phone lines were in bad shape because of all the storms, so I’m gathering that weather was a slight aberration. We’ve had gorgeous sunny weather the last couple of days, with very cool mornings (like, I’m glad I have all the handknitted shawls and sweaters and scarves and hats!) and beautiful afternoons.

The only animal sightings have been squirrels and chipmunks, and it may be hard to spot the larger animals until winter, when we can also see their tracks in the snow. In the summer, the forest is so dense, and the autumn is such a riot of color that I imagine the animals will be camouflaged and hard to spot. But there is constant birdsong, and this morning there was a duet between two huge-sounding woodpeckers — the one to the left of the deck, then the one on the right side of our property, then back to the other. It made me laugh with joy.

morning light on the deck
morning light through the trees in the back
Not “my” creek, but they’re all my creeks. 🙂
A short break for a cup of coffee and some work on the sweater I’m knitting. on my front porch.
moss-covered round rocks in the creek

We have a pulley clothesline system strung up from the second floor out to a tree, which makes me so dizzy with happiness I can’t even stand it. I’m constantly searching for laundry to do, and since I want to wash everything that ever touches the floor, that’s been pretty easy.

When Marc left last night to head back to the city, he felt sad to leave, and I felt sad that he had to leave too. It’s just so peaceful here, so beautiful, so much glory outside, and we love the open floor plan, especially downstairs. My plan for these couple of days before he returns is to get the kitchen fully unpacked so that when he cooks for us, he has what he needs. We’ll have next weekend here together, and then Tuesday I fly to Austin to get my car. I’ll be sad to be away from beautiful Heaventree after just finally getting here, but it will be so great to see my loved ones.

Speaking of, back to work for me.

About

We bought this home in Big Indian, NY on June 16, 2017. We’ve been coming to this area together since we first met, in early 2005 (and him for decades before**), usually to Phoenicia, so the area was already well-known to us, and greatly loved. Although he has skied here several times in his life, together we have never been here during the winter; typically, we’d come up during the fall, most often in early November around my birthday, and then in late spring and summer.

how it looked the day we unloaded my stuff into the basement, June 25, 2017

So I am greatly looking forward to witnessing all the seasons, all the days, all the weather, all the wildlife, all the varieties of sky. I’m looking forward to the high moments and the low, and to learning how to navigate whatever it is that produces the low moments — feeling tired of dealing with firewood in the deep snow, maybe, or managing ticks and bears, or maybe just the solitude. I’m looking forward to finding readers and writers, poets, artists, creative people. I’m looking forward to finding the other politically progressive folks in the area.

I’m looking forward to my husband coming up on weekends, from our apartment in the city. To having something delicious in the oven or on the stove, waiting for him. To exploring the area with him, and on my own so I have new things to share with him. This will be a kind of living I’ve never done, out of all the kinds of living I’ve done, and I am experienced enough in that to know that it won’t all be sunshine and lollipops.

My project with this blog is to document, to notice and share, to keep a record. My goal is to be honest about the year, and to tell as many stories as I can, rather than simply log things (though I may log things, too).

These pictures came from the Zillow listing, and they all appeared to be taken in early spring:

the back of the house, with the large deck
view from one corner of the back deck — creeks down below at the back edge of the property
lots of wood will be burned over the winters, for sure
the front of the house — we want to landscape around the front porch and the base of the house, and we’ll have baskets of bleeding hearts hanging around the porch
shot from below, near the closest creek
we want to replace the electric stove with a gas stove, and we have some remodeling to do so we can have a dishwasher and microwave
the downstairs is one large, open space — living room, dining, and kitchen. Two sets of sliding glass doors (right) onto the back deck.
there are two creeks behind the house; this is the nearest one

We will drive up on Friday, June 30, 2017, and start unpacking. That’s the date I will begin living there full-time. I’m so ready to go.

**Actually, Marc was a camp counselor at Camp Abelard in Hunter, NY, back in ~1968-ish, so his history with the area goes back almost 50 years!