Saturday, May 30, 2009

Adrenaline filled morning

I set out this morning to take care of Rancher Bob's cattle, feed the stock fish, then start in on trimming back trees from fence rows. Well I had gotten a fair amount done when I decided to head back to my place for gloves, a drink of water, and a few minutes rest. While there, I hear cries of "Get your gun! Snake!" from Rancher Bob's excitable wife.

I expected to find a curved branch, or maybe an oversized night crawler, but this time she wasn't just crying wolf! There as a 4 foot timber rattler, about two and a half inches in diameter sitting underneath some Crepe Myrtles curled up in almost the typical coil.

Now I really do not like killing anything, but some creatures in some places just have to go. This was one of those. With four dogs, and three humans who regularly walk around the yard there at Rancher Bob's, I just could not leave this venomous snake be.

I shot it several times, but never in the head, and this snake just keeps on moving, going from shrub to shrub, but never getting in the open where I can get a good shot at it. Rancher Bob's wife gets one of his handguns, and she proceeds to miss the snake by a mile from four feet away.. :) I reload, and shoot it again. Now it is really pissed. It finally moves into the yard proper, unfortunately right at me. I take a quick shot at it's open mouth, grazing its head before it lunges at me. It stops there in the yard, playing possum, so I grab a large rock to test its resolve as well as the law of gravity.. This rattler attacks the rock leaving venom trails across the face of the rock.

One more shot then it is clear from the shrubs enough to take the shovel to it. A couple of good whacks with the edge of the shovel, and the head is removed from the still writhing body.

This is one of those times where I wish I had a bit more knowledge of wild game, because this snake would have been good eating.. nice fat body.. maybe some rattlesnake cakes like those at Hudson's on the Bend in Austin... But I haven't had time to learn or previous experience at field dressing and preparing snake, so it is off to the national forest for the carcass, but not before I see how much abuse this snake took before giving up the ghost. I had hit it 5 times that I could see, though the snake never really slowed from the shots. I've got to respect the toughness of this particular predator..

So the deed is done, the snake disposed of, and slowly the adrenaline is working its way out of my system. The yard has once again been made safe for man, animal, and excitable wives...

Hopefully the rest of the day will be less eventful.

Friday, May 29, 2009

After Tuesday's post on entertainment in the back woods I was reminded that I deserved a bit more of that entertainment, aside from the "work" I have been doing on Rancher Bob's place. So after getting the daily chores done, I headed up into the "National" forest to get in a bit of peace, solitude, aesthetic inspiration, and exercise via an unplanned hike.

I took off on one of the better maintained logging roads, gradually finding less maintained offshoots until I came across one which led enticingly up a hill and disappeared.. well what could I do? I had to check it out..

The "road" turned into a grassy path the width of a vehicle, and ultimately led to an area which had the undergrowth burned off (to prevent uncontrollable forest fires). This led up to the top of a small unnamed mountain that provided some scenic views of the river valley beyond.

The Good Life

Usually I go on about my luddite interests, the more simple way of living, enjoying what is rather than seeking the pleasures of modern life.. and perhaps that is what I am doing with this post as well. Still, this is a bit at odds with the rustic life I have been describing and living in the last year (almost) since I left Austin for the Ouachita Mountains.

I am talking about the glass of wine you see.. This is not some California Chardonnay, it is my own wine made from the muscadine grapes which grow locally. The muscadine is a treat to any real southerner who grew up picking these thick skinned native grapes along the creek banks and fence rows. The only problem I can see with the few commercially available muscadine wines is that they are treated like other fruit wines and made so sweet as to be almost undrinkable.

Not so with this first run of our own home made muscadine wine. This is a nice dry wine which retains the muscadine flavor, but is also elegant and much more complex than one expects from native grapes. While I expect to tinker with the process in the future, this wine promises to be a wonderful addition to the larder..

Who says you cannot have elegance in the backwoods?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Entertainment in the backwoods

Perhaps the most common question I get is

"what about television?"

After I point out that I have never owned a television, the next question is always:

"what do you do for entertainment?"

The answer has always seemed so obvious to me, but when I look around me, even those folks who live nearby are trying to keep up with their city brethren by watching Idol, Survivor, or whatever they are told to watch..

So maybe the answer isn't so obvious.

First and foremost, I live. The single most important aspect of choosing the life I have chosen is so that I may focus upon living, instead of merely existing or working to exist. In this, as in so many things, I am following Thoreau, who suggested that we should not be working six days for that one day off, but rather should be living those six days, and perhaps working but one.

I know that some folks will dismiss that as fantasy or not possible any more, but I am living proof that it is possible, and I am far from the only one. But that is a discussion for another time.. today is about fun!

So why did I think that the answer is obvious? Because I choose to live in a way that I enjoy. This means that I do not stop living in order to have fun. When I am in the garden, I am enjoying myself, I am entertained. When I am hiking in the woods, I am enjoying where I am, but also looking for wild edibles which is a passion of mine.

Shouldn't where we live be the place we are most entertained, the most happy?

But of course there is more than that to my entertainment. I enjoy making wine and brewing beer, which lead to the obvious entertainment later when shared with friends, even when that friend is just a friendly thunderstorm, or showy sunset.

More than anything though, my entertainment is reading. No less than Thomas Jefferson was known for saying "I cannot imagine a life without books." I share this sentiment whole heartedly. So those days that the friendly thunderstorm keeps me inside, I turn to the large stack of books which has been patiently waiting for me for so many years. Some of these books I acquired before I went to graduate school, but somehow in the decade since, I have not found the time to read. Now is that time.

If I tire of reading, and this happens very seldom, I can always turn to writing, or once again to designing homes. Even last night as I was drifting off to sleep an idea hit me for a modification to the current design which might lead to even more interesting possibilities.. so I will explore it just to see where it leads.

Being a luddite with an internet addiction also provides entertainment.. I've already touched upon the luddite entertainments, but of course I do get online as well, when the stars are aligned, the gods appeased, and the lucky numbers from the horoscope are all in my favor so that the wireless connection actually works..

Online, I read. Surprise, huh? But I also look for books to read, and enjoy seeking more ways to be frugal and be self-sufficient.

For books, I use, which combined with provides nearly all of the books and book suggestions I can use (though don't let that stop you from suggesting books!!) is well worth checking out if you have a passion for books. Unlike social networking sites, this site focuses on something of value. You may connect with folks, but not over a trivial ad driven game, but rather over ideas, issues, and books.. Best of all you can see what others are reading and get suggestions as to what others who like what you have read, have themselves read.

I'll go into the frugal sites later..

As you can see, I am not lacking for entertainment. It is all around me. It is all around all of us, if we will stop entertaining our selves to death and just see it..

"But what do you do for fun?"

I live.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Long Shadows

Just more of the same today... but the shadows were longer when I started

...and longer when I finished...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tractor Troubles, Hay Hassles and Rake Riding..

Well it was time to start bailing the hay today.. So I had the great fortune to be volunteered to rake the hay into windrows so that the bailer could pick it up. Sounds easy enough... except that I got almost no sleep last night..

...and then I could not figure out how to start Rob's tractor which I had never used before...

...and then the seat on the tractor came apart...

An hour and some later I managed to finally fix the seat...

...and the tractor would not start...

So I jumped it with the truck.. no joy..

Decided to wait for the battery to charge while still connected to the running truck, meanwhile I'd go get some lunch especially since I skipped breakfast..

..but Rob showed up... started the tractor, and I was off again on the rake.. (The rake rides behind the tractor gathering up the hay.. )

The seat came apart again.. a couple of times..

Finally we called it a day about 5 pm... and even now I sit here typing this instead of fixing something to eat, simply because now I am too damned tired...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fellini moment

Sometimes the Is just smiles down on you..

Today while talking to the Infamous Rob, we discovered a shared interest in several things, all relating to living authentically and close to the world. I don't say to the land, because there is much more to it than merely forcing the land to do what you want, also known as gardening the exercise in joyous futility... We somehow got to discussing foraging, which is a passion of mine, but a passion in its infancy in the sense that I am desperately trying to learn all I can about any and all edible plants particularly those growing in my area.

Turns out that ol' Rob is an avid forager himself. He has 20 years of local experience, and I honestly do not know how many years greater experience in general, on me, so I am going to be leaning on him for advice and whatever pointers I can get. One of the high notes was discovering that staghorn sumac grows locally.. this is a wonderful plant, despite the terrible almost urban legend status as being poisonous.. (The white fruited easter "sumac" is poisonous, but so is the tomato plant!!) The fruit of the staghorn, bright red berry clusters, have been used for centuries by the first nations' peoples ("Indians") as a refreshing beverage and an ingredient in pemican. The beverage which is by far the most common usage, is like a wonderfully tart lemonade, which is also very good for you. So I hear.. this year however I WILL get to try it.. and I am certain fall in love with it. Better yet, ol' Rob turned me onto the idea of reducing down the berries to a syrup which then can be added to any water bottle, canteen, etc. with additional water to provide, in his words, an incredibly refreshing drink.

Over the end of his pick up (small to reduce his fuel costs.. ) we stumbled upon similarity after similarity, solved expense problems (he will now use a solar water heater instead of buying a new powered heater..), and found that we share more similar views about how to live day to day than either of us expected..

We differ on important things, but at least I know that he is a good guy, a friendly guide, and in at least some senses a kindred spirit..

Fellini was smiling down on me today..

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Changes..and a call for ideas and opinions

Since I have left Texas behind me, except perhaps for a rare visit to dear friends still living there, I am considering changing the name of the blog..

I am leaning towards Living Intentionally, but have considered the following:

The Intentional Life
Adventures in Living
Individual Peace
Anarchy in Practice*
The Natural Life
and others..

Ideas, opinions, etc. are all welcome... Thanks in advance..

*This one may become a separate blog, if I get motivated as there seems to be a great deal which can be said about living honestly in peace with your neighbors.. And then too, peaceful rational living is so often attacked and misunderstood so a positive response is needed..


Well I am still just hovering in place.. there is nothing I can do to move forward until the land deal is settled, and I am still locked out of my timbers by the need to cut hay in the meadows. That said, the grass was cut today, with luck to be bailed in a couple of days.. Then at least I can get back out and start charring the end of the posts to help protect them from deteriorating once they are put in the ground.

I am still getting used to the new computer so bear with me if you will on the lack of photos.. I will post some soon..

A couple of more calves, one I have to admit is quite cute with a white tail, with a bit of the white extending up onto its back.

Discovered a new edible thanks to a great book: Free for the Eating by Bradford Angier. The new edible is May Apple, which grows in abundance locally.. Not sure of the taste yet since they are not yet ripe, but I am anxiously waiting..

The book is one which should be on any forager's shelf. This is easily one of the best books on foraging (and cooking the results!) I have ever read. It belongs right next to Euell's work..

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rain record

Not sure how much rain came before Rancher Bob left, though it was quite a bit, but since then I have been keeping track for him. Here is the totals so far, keeping in mind that we were just hit with a storm and more are on their way today..

May 4th: .04 inch
May 5th: .69
May 6th: .94
May 7th: drizzle, mist, and sprinkles
May 8th: Drizzle, mist, and sprinkles, heavy dews..
May 9th: .63
May 10th: 1.22
May 11th: .51
May 12th: .87

I will try to update this as I post..

Monday, May 11, 2009

Rain.. and more rain

The rain has continued for yet another day. "Only" half an inch today, but with the ground already completely saturated, this additional rain further eroded the road which is coming very close to being impassable by anything less than an off road vehicle. They have closed the bridge on the main route to the paved road because the footings/shorings are being exposed because of erosion. Other parts of the road are rutted both parallel and perpendicular to the road direction. Pot holes have become ponds, low areas are now flowing with water where they are normally dry, and all of the quartz veins re being exposed as all small stone and soil is removed from the road bed.

On the up side however Becca called this morning right on time, clarified one of my questions, then helped me place the order. She is a wonderful person, great customer service person (though her job is clearly a LOT more than just CSR), and genuine person. Systemax is lucky to have her, and I cannot recommend the company highly enough based upon the service I received and the price for the computer I am buying. If you are even remotely thinking of a new laptop or desktop check Systemax out.

My machine will hopefully be built and shipped by Wednesday, meaning that come next week I should be in the process of loading Ubuntu onto the machine. With luck in just over a week I will be back going full force. Until then.. well I am still fighting the addiction..

No progress on the house. This is the real update. Since I have returned my world here has been turned upside down. I was offered a new location on which to build, a location which would have better views, more privacy, and in general is much more appealing though it would require much more work. I was also told that the fellow who was to do the backhoe work is busy with his hay business and might not be able to get to my project now for three months.. To make matters worse the new location is now up in the air due to an old forgotten lien on the property, and the rains have stopped any and all possible progress on any aspect of building.

The last week plus have simply been an effort to keep afloat.. keep Rancher Bob's cattle safe, and watch the creek do ever more damage..

Not the best sort of update, but it is what it is.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Luddite facing his addiction..

Many of you have heard me describe myself as a luddite with an internet addiction, and certainly in many ways this is apt. For the next ten days or more I am going to be exploring the luddite life even more, perhaps not without the addiction but without a means to feed the addiction.

The addiction? Computers/internet access of course..

Yesterday morning I awoke and went to begin my usual routine of checking email, weather, and miscellany on the web but the computer was less than cooperative. I could not even get an indication that there was power to the computer, and though it had a full charge on the battery, nothing would work. The signs of life were as evident as they are in the crematorium, where the computer almost went as soon as I realized it was dead. I tried all sorts of remedies, most fueled by denial and wishful thinking, and unsurprisingly all to no avail.. I broke down and talked to some computer techs and received the answer I feared and suspected: the mother(board) was simply dead..

Ah well good you say, now I can get more into the luddite lifestyle.. I might agree, but the monkey on my back takes issue with that..

To further complicate matters, all building efforts on currently on hold for a variety of reasons. The individual who is supposed to dig the house out for me is otherwise occupied. Thunderstorms and torrential rains make that a moot point anyway. I cannot gain access to the site because the grass is near ready to be cut for hay so I cannot trample it down with vehicles. And perhaps the only possibly positive complication: I may be changing sites if a land deal (with its own complications) comes through.

The new site would allow for much more privacy, better terrain, much much better views, and more flexibility in the building design though I expect to make very few changes in my existing design.

Still I could gather up some of the felled timbers, or finish harvesting others that I have marked for harvest right? Nope.. they are on the far side of the creek which is currently (pun intended) impassable.

So with the luddite activities unavailable to me, the call of the net is ever more alluring.. I have turned to books even more than I have been lately, and obviously I have managed a bare minimum of access on Rancher Bob's computer while he is once again out of town.

The upshot? I have very limited connectivity, almost no email access. However I have chosen a new computer and expect to order it when Becca the representative from Systemax calls me back on Monday with the answers to a couple of questions I have about the machine. With luck a week to ten days later I will be back in the saddle..

Not the update I had planned but it is an update..

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Felllini Day

I know I promised an update and I will get to that I promise.. but for now..

I made it back to Rancher Bob's on the first of May, so that I could attend a wedding on the second. Normally I do not go in for that sort of thing, but this was going to be held outdoors and across the road at the only real neighbor's house so I thought that I would be neighborly. It turned out to be a wonderful afternoon and evening of conversation, high spirits, and truly congenial people. The ceremony was short (good!) and the celebration long.. as it should be.

It seemed that despite all difficulties, such as torrential rains, the wedding came off perfectly. The food was excellent, perhaps the best smoked chicken I have ever had. The people as I said were wonderful.

I even met a very talented musician who was playing the violin for the ceremony. Turns out that we know some of the same folks from back in my grad school days. As I promised an update to come, this post is not really an update, but rather an opportunity to pass along this musician's site so that others can also enjoy his music. His name is Bill Thurman and this is his site:

Check out the samples of his music.. well worth your time.

Sometimes you get great experiences and meet just the right folks by simply trying to do the neighborly thing.. Just have to love the Fellini days..

Long Overdue

I know that I am long overdue for a post, and offer up as my lone excuse that I spent the last month in the land of no science: aka Kansas.

On the subject of which, I want to caution everyone to avoid AT&T's Uverse at all costs. The house I was staying at and remodeling (well this time doing exterior work) tried this UVerse tv and internet back in October, and from the very first day of installation on it was nothing but trouble at all levels. The salesman lied, the installers damaged the home (and turns out stole the DSL modem from the previous DSL installation!!), customer service was anything but service. There is NOTHING good to be said about this company. They never did honor ANY of their promises, would not offer any compensation for the time spent trying to get it sorted out, nor even pay for the damages to the home. One of the customer service reps, who claimed to be the head of billing, said that I should feel lucky to get the empty promise of a $15 dollar credit for spending over 19 hours on the phone trying to resolve the issues. She went further in saying that was pretty good pay for my time, though she tried to deny it when I called her on it and made it clear I was writing down everything she was saying.

I dislike being negative, especially when resuming the blog, but please everyone save yourself the hassle and avoid Uverse! Even the guy at the UPS Store where you have to go to send Uverse the equipment (yeah they threaten to charge you if you do not ship them back the equipment!!) said that he was getting dozens of the Uverse returns every day. Obviously no one is happy with this program.

I will do a further update as to the goings on soon..