My life is nearly always defined to some degree by chaos. I am allergic to stability. Normalcy in any form. When things begin to settle, when I’ve lived somewhere for 2 years, or been at a job for a couple of years, I start to get a little uneasy. My eyes start to look for distant horizons and my thoughts drift to imagine new things. Unexplored places. And so I pack up the house and load boxes onto a truck and move down the road or across the country or overseas.
Which is interesting also because my work involves primarily bringing order and structure to chaos. Herding cats.
So I am now a bit unsettled—living with Terri for the moment. Going back and forth to West Virginia. I was in Idaho last weekend and will be in Pittsburgh next weekend to visit Brittany’s family and friends. Movement is my fuel. Once a bum, always a bum.
And I’ve started the new gig at UMass Medical. So the change in work along with the change in geography.
This post is a disjointed ramble. As so many are these days. Time hasn’t been too convenient as I deal with the consequences of my choices, but I find a few minutes here and there to jots some words down.
At Black Dog Ridge, the septic system is in and approved and the holes are all backfilled. It went pretty smoothly actually.
Doing a soil perc (percolation) test involves filling 4 holes with water, many many times to keep the water at a pre-defined level for 4 hours and then measuring the time it takes for the water to completely drain from the hole. So it is literally watching water drain from a hole–in my case over a 6.5 hour period. So I caught up on some reading while periodically refilling the holes and recording the drainage times.
I had forgotten about the pace and social dynamics of working in backcountry. Every 5 minute conversation takes about 30 minutes. If someone is dropping off a tool, they start up a chat and a story or two is told. When you think they are about to leave so you can carry on, you are wrong. They are just thinking of another story; related somehow to the one before. And on it goes. Nice folks, but not really a strong bias for action in these parts.
The old timer that delivered sand for me dropped the load right where I asked him to, expertly maneuvering the massive dump truck between a tree and a backhoe. Then he got out of his truck and started telling stories. He sauntered over to the deck to have a look at the view, as everyone does.
He told me a story or two about the previous owners. He told me his grandfathers’ father camped on this ridge near the end of the civil war and declared that after the war he would return to the area and that is how his family wound up here. That’s his family legacy. He told me there is an old man down the road who lives in a hand-built log cabin who lives in ‘old timey ways‘ and has two cabins full of hand forged steel goods and expertly crafted wood items.
He said I should go introduce myself and maybe I will.
Karl and I milled the lumber for the platform that was to become the bathhouse but will now be an outdoor 2nd bedroom. A first for me. Learned a few things. It’s not particularly hard with the right equipment. Karl has a sawmill he built in his garage which works well. Once, as the saw was passing by me, it dawned on me that I would not want to be directly adjacent in the event the sawblade snapped. I envisioned a 10 ft. circular steel band with razor sharp teeth projecting through the air at 500 mph. So I took a few steps to the side and immediately heard a loud snap and the blade was broken. It did not fly through the air though, rather it stayed tucked in the saw cut on the log. Still, it was an eerie coincidence of timing.
I spent a week straight at BDR. The days sort of melded together as I fell into the pattern of long days of physical labor. Our crew was, shall we say, not optimized. I had hired a couple of cousins to dig the holes for the cistern and septic and septic chambers. One was a talker and one a thinker. The talker was goofier than a bear reciting poetry; he honestly never says anything of value. Just rambles on and on. I had to ride with him to pick up some flexible 2″ firehose and seriously considered riding in the back of the truck on the way back home. One interesting thing though. He doesn’t understand fractions. When reciting distances, he will say 4/8’th’s or 8/16 th’s rather than 1/2. I don’t think he understands the correlation. We talked a little about business because he was ‘the business side’ of the partnership. But he doesn’t really know the first thing about business. Nothing. Nada. He’s a talker–not a thinker. Very nice and well-intentioned though, as they all are.
The other guy, the thinker, I really like. Thoughtful guy. And good with a backhoe. He’s a good worker and like I said, good with running big equipment. He makes $11.90 working for the state. $11.90. A good worker with a good skill. That’s criminal.
I had another laborer coming around to help. A youngish man with a pretty troubled background apparently. Some run-ins with the law from selling drugs and fighting. Some family squabbles that apparently turned violent. He wasn’t afraid of work though and he stood by me when it was time for the hard stuff. We sweated and strained through a few days of digging holes and milling lumber and laying section 40 pipe and building a wooden platform for an outbuilding. Interestingly, this young fella also struggled to understand fractions. He had just never been taught–or at least wasn’t paying much attention in school. He was also genuinely surprised when I told him the Rocky Mountains were significantly higher than the Appalachians. So he might have slept through US geography too.
We found our stride as a team after a few days. We started laying in chambers and everyone knew what was expected of them. It took us a bit of time, but we got there. 5 or 6 long hot days, but the work got done.
As expected, I was judged a bit for how I framed up the bathhouse. But men of action are not deterred by criticism. We pick up our tools and build something. And if it is not done the way someone else might have done it, well then that’s the way it is. My structure is lovingly hugging a tree that will present a logistical challenge, but I am not concerned. It is slightly out of square; I knew that. But to stay true would have meant taking down the tree or moving the entire platform by a foot. I chose to do neither and will accept the challenge of building around the tree. It was here first.
The auger we needed to dig the 9 holes for the foundation worked for about 3 minutes. 11 holes if you count the two that didn’t count. The soil was rocky and tree roots stubborn and invasive. So the digging was exhausting. Teddy and I took turns with hand-held post hole diggers and the breaker bar. One softening up the rocky soil, dislodging the clay and dirt and rocks from their millennium old hardened state and the other clearing away the debris. Inch by precious inch we scraped downward. Occasionally we would try to start the auger. As expected, it fired right up the first time we pulled the cord. This is when it thought we did not really need it. It purred. Then we aimed the bit into the soil and the engine coughed and died. We tried and again and again the engine seemed to want to run–right up until we verticalized the unit and manipulated it into its designed position for work.
This reminded me of Steinbeck’s description of the outboard motor he and Ed Rickett took with them on their specimen collection expedition of the Sea of Cortez. The machine worked beautifully, except when you needed it.
We observed the following traits in it and we were able to check them again and again:
1. Incredibly lazy, the Sea-Cow loved to ride on the back of a boat, trailing its propeller daintily in the water while we rowed.
2. It required the same amount of gasoline whether it ran or not, apparently being able to absorb this fluid through its body walls without recourse to explosion. It had always to be filled at the beginning of every trip.
3. It had apparently some clairvoyant powers, and was able to read our minds, particularly when they were inflamed with emotion. Thus, on every occasion when we were driven to the point of destroying it, it started and ran with a great noise and excitement. This served the double purpose of saving its life and of resurrecting in our minds a false confidence in it.
4. It had many cleavage points, and when attacked with a screwdriver, fell apart in simulated death, a trait it had in common with opossums, armadillos, and several members of the sloth family, which also fall apart in simulated death when attacked with a screwdriver.
5. It hated Tex, sensing perhaps that his knowledge of mechanics was capable of diagnosing its shortcomings.
6. It completely refused to run: (a) when the waves were high, (b) when the wind blew, (c) at night, early morning, and evening, (d) in rain, dew, or fog, (e) when the distance to be covered was more than two hundred yards. But on warm, sunny days when the weather was calm and the white beach close by—in a word, on days when it would have been a pleasure to row—the Sea-Cow started at a touch and would not stop.
7. It loved no one, trusted no one. It had no friends.
Perhaps toward the end, our observations were a little warped by emotion. Time and again as it sat on the stern with its pretty little propeller lying idly in the water, it was very close to death. And in the end, even we were infected with its malignancy and its dishonesty. We should have destroyed it, but we did not. Arriving home, we gave it a new coat of aluminum paint, spotted it at points with new red enamel, and sold it. And we might have rid the world of this mechanical cancer!
As painful as it has been, I’m forcing good progress at Black Dog Ridge. Within 90 days of closing I should have water, a functioning toilet and septic system and propane. This is planning, permitting, organizing a ragtag crew, settling disputes, negotiating costs and building shit. So. Progress. And that’s fine. Another 60 days and I should have electricity.
I met an excellent builder. Kenny Howell. Just one of those men that are clearly living the life they were put here to live. Doing what he was born to do. Kenny was purposeful and thoughtful as he walked around my little cottage and we talked through what ideas were viable for expansion and which might prove problematic. He did not ridicule my idea for a wine cellar on top of a remote mountain. His measurements were accurate and his sketches practiced. He conveyed that quiet confidence that made me confident I had the right guy. He is busy, of course, but thinks he can start in 6 – 8 weeks.
I had to go to town for supplies one night so decided to stay at a hotel for a hot shower and good meal. Rooms were very scarce though due to the state fair going on. I was checked into the Relax Inn by a cute old Indian lady. She was sweet and we had a good laugh. But then I saw the room. It was a hot mess—in the style and condition of a really old and nasty Motel 6 room. The walls and carpet were disgusting. The grout on the bathroom tile was moldy and green. There was no soap or shampoo. And, because it was state fair season, I paid $200 for this wasteland.
I had a number of things that I needed to get done that required me to be online. I called about the internet, which of course did not work. The sweet old lady put me on hold and forgot about me. 10 minutes I waited. Then I called back. This time she just set the phone down. I could hear her screaming instructions in Hindi to someone else. The husband or kids presumably. I hung up.
A few minutes later a knock on the door. It’s the old lady and she hands me a slip of paper with network credentials for a different network and then she disappears into the night. The paper says to connect to ‘Suddenlink‘. So I now had hope. But there was no network called Suddenlink. It was yet another ruse.
I had no energy to fight this old lady all night. She was a grandmaster at deception and I was a gullible novice. Clearly they were not going to provide internet or a clean room.
But I slept well and got my supplies and headed back to the mountains the next morning.
It dawns on me only recently that I have a relatively unique ability to get shit done. To make things happen. This, far more than any sort of intellectual advantage, explains my meagre successes. For some reason, when a path to success includes a point A, point B, point C, Point D, Point E….I have an ability to connect those dots. I may not know who can do point B or D, but by engaging C I can get back to B and down to D. Or by engaging E I can work backwards. And once you know who is doing what and when, it’s just coordination and collaboration and communication. Maybe a few blanks to fill in that require a point D.1 or E.2 and E.3. But it’s the same progression just blown out a bit. It’s 2nd nature to me but so foreign to others. On the other hand, I am terrible at plenty of things.
Brittany and I traveled to Pocatello last week for Abel’s wake. It was just simply amazing to see all the old rugby folks. Men I went to battle with for years. And their wives and girlfriends. We had dinner with Shane and Takoa Thursday night and then met Carlita at Sandpiper on Friday night. A short but lovely trip.
The new gig is underway at UMass. First appearances suggest they will be as disorganized and inefficient as every other large non-profit I’ve worked for over the years. Little sense of urgency and no one seems to get too bothered about much. But we shall see. It’s early days. I do like the people I’ve met and who I will be working with and for. So all good so far. Back in the saddle.
That is a disjoined mess of a post but it is going up. As always, I will strive for consistency and excellency in the future.
No other news of note.