(hint: it wasn’t an easy lesson)
One of the scariest — and most frustrating — parts of this journey I’m on is that I’m essentially walking it alone. I’m divorced, with no children, and I have no life partner to help me plan, make mistakes with me, allow me to lean on him when I’m tired and lonely and wondering if I should continue this craziness or sell the land and rent somewhere instead.
it started with building foundations
Bear signs in the woods in the summer of 2018 prompted me to rethink living solely in the yurt. Mostly, what I rethought was cooking and eating in a soft-sided structure, which would be vulnerable to bear demolition. So, October of 2019 saw me preparing for the delivery of a 12×24 foot shed to be used as a kitchen and bath building. Cheating? Yep. But I’m good with changing plans in the face of potential bear visits.
Because I want to keep all the plumbing in one place to simplify things, and because I hope someday to have the shed blessed by inspectors, I designed an Uber-Shed, complete with 16-on-center wall framing and roof supports, Dutch lap siding, and numerous other refinements the shed guy thought were completely over the top. (I did let him talk me out of the 3/4 inch flooring, but only because I’ll be adding pretty flooring over the top of the plywood.) And, although code for a shed required only blocks to support the structure, I insisted on putting concrete piers under the blocks to come closer to more stringent code requirements.
Which meant digging holes and filling them with concrete.
On raw land. With no power or water source. Because that would be easy, right?
Sam, my yurt site Excavator Extraordinaire, agreed to spend part of the time I’d contracted with him to dig holes for my shed piers using his track hoe. He was coming out to move some of the trees we’d felled into place for milling, so it made sense to make as much use of the equipment as we could while he was there. I’d kind of overlooked the water thing, which — surprise! — was essential for mixing the concrete for the piers. Clearly, I haven’t been around a lot of construction sites.
But no matter! I had plenty of one-gallon water jugs, and a beautiful creek flows along the edge of my neighbor’s property across the road. All I had to do was dip a bucket into the stream, fill the jugs, and drive them back up to where Sam was digging. Voila!
(If you’re laughing at me right now, try to remember how ridiculously underfunded this endeavor is and how I’m kind of winging it with no one to ask but Google and YouTube, for the most part.)
The logistics were a bit more complicated than I’d imagined, requiring numerous adjustments and prolific swearing to get them right, but after a half dozen trips or so, I fell into a sort of rhythm. Or stupor. Or both.
On, like, my 374th trip to the creek, about the time my back was ready to give out and Sam’s permanent smile was beginning to wear a tad thin, my neighbor Danny dropped by the home site to see what was going on up there.
“y’know, i have a concrete mixer”
Having noticed my gate was standing open, Danny drove up on his 4-wheeler to make sure the noises he heard up top weren’t people fooling around where they ought not be. When he saw what Sam and I were doing — and how we were doing it — he threw back his head and laughed. Hard.
“Y’know,” he said in his country drawl, “I have a concrete mixer.”
Sam stopped in his tracks, turning slowly to look first at Danny, then at me, then back at Danny. He mopped the sweat from his face, swiping off his hat and scratching his head as he considered what to say next.
“Well, we’re just about done now,” he opted for. He was exhausted from the digging and mixing and pouring and all the other tasks he’d been at that day, even though he’d never say so.
I peered at him guiltily as Danny continued. “WHY didn’t you ask for help?” he nearly demanded.
“Aw, c’mon!” I countered, trying not to sound testy. “I don’t know what to ask for — or whom to ask. I’m new here, remember?”
“Fair ’nuff,” Danny shrugged. “But next time, ask. It’s what neighbors are for.“
About then, Sam jammed a bunch of empty water jugs into my hands and told me he’d need me to fetch more water for the next batch of concrete. I sucked in my lips, biting them, and glanced at Danny out of the corner of my eye. He was leaning on the steering wheel of his 4-wheeler, the smirk on his lips struggling not to become a full-blown grin.
“You gonna take the bucket down to the Ramseys’ creek again?” he asked, not quite keeping the smirk out of his voice, “Or do you wanna use my pump to pull it out of the creek over by my barn?”
“May I use your pump?” I asked, my voice sounding kinda squeaky and smaller than I’d have liked.
“Now, why’d I go and offer if I wasn’t going to let you use it?” Danny asked, finally giving in to his mirth and telling me to follow him down and around the bend to his barn, about a half mile away.
it’s not that i’m getting no help
My neighbors, to a person, have been extremely generous with their time and have even donated materials on occasion. Arthur, for instance, not only helped me with my erosion issue, but he also donated some old metal roofing to keep the wood I had milled from my trees covered until it dried. He even gave me a scythe he wasn’t using — most likely as much out of amusement as generosity — when I said I wanted to buy one to help keep the weeds at bay around the entrance to the property. Monty helped remove some trees shading the area where I plan to put garden beds. Others have helped with moving things, building things, and loaning me tools on occasion. And it would be Danny who eventually found the rental that allowed me to start living up here, close to my land.
Even with all of that, it’s sometimes lonely relying mostly on myself to plan, finance, and execute on my (often hare-brained and half-baked) ideas. As lovely as they are, my neighbors are farmers and/or have full-time jobs of their own. They’re busy people, and I don’t want to be a burden to them, so I choose carefully when I ask for help.
But I do ask now. I’ve learned that it makes them happy to be part of my crazy adventure, even if only as a walk-on or extra on the set. They’re truly generous souls, and I’m grateful for every one of them.
So, on that day in October of 2019, Danny’s gas-powered pump made the chore of lugging water much quicker and easier. Later — because I asked — his gas-powered wood splitter made turning several downed trees into firewood much quicker and easier than using my maul (and muscle) would have been. And the rake he gave me has handily cleaned up the weeds I cut with Arthur’s old scythe.
And I bake cookies and bread and meat pies as thank-yous. Because that’s what neighbors do.