June 28, 2007

such a long time it has been

I think the uniqueness (and specialness) of this ranch life comes into sharper focus for me after spending a little time away from it. Having just returned from a perfectly fabulous week on the East Coast with nearly all of my favorite people, I am finally finally feeling like I have something to say and share here. I could use the excuse that I was "too busy to blog", which as excuses go would be fairly easy to justify, but even good excuses are lame. And I think my first observation is closer to the truth: it had been nearly six months since I'd left the ranch and I guess I needed a little trip to throw things into perspective.

It has been almost three months since my last post, so I guess I've got a little catching up to do. But I also think 'catching up' is kind of lame. I'll add a few pictures a bit later on to provide some sensation of the passage of time. And like kindred spirits, let's skip the recap and jump right back into the NOW.

The turkeys are mulling under the mulberry tree most days, gobbling up all the berries that the crazy winds have been felling. I have only picked a few handfulls for immediate enjoyment. Also to add a few purple stains to the summer patina of my hands, which I am embarassingly vain about. Dirt encrusted callouses from weeding and hoeing. A deep dark tan highlighting my little 27-year-old wrinkles. Green and purple splotches from pulling grass and picking mulberries. Dirt under my fingernails. I look at my summer hands with secret pride.

The mice have decided to move back into the house. I was hoping the 'men of the house' (of which there are now two - brother Adam who graduated from college and is back for good and our friend Layne who is working out here for the summer) would deal with the mouse problem while I was on vacation. No such luck, however, so I guess I'll dig out the traps and peanut butter this afternoon. The return of the mice coincided rather suspiciously with the recent dwindling of our cat population. I think I counted something like 15 cats at one point and now we're down to 4: Max, Mama, and the two grey kittens. I adopted out the two orange kittens, but the other cats have either moved elsewhere or met their death. I'm hoping Mama will have another batch of kittens yet this summer, but she isn't showing any signs as yet.

Adam must have remembered to water my garden for me last week because it grew beyond my wildest expectations while I was away. My tomatoes are bursting out the tops of their cages, with oodles of blossoms and a few fruits already setting on. My green beans finally rooted in and should be producing soon. The squash are covered in blossoms, though the vines are not too big yet. And the basil could probably be thinned for the first batch of pesto. The corn is only 6 or 8 inches tall - 'knee high by the 4th of July' seems unlikely, but it seems healthy otherwise. The potatoes and anasazi beans have bushed out incredibly. And my fennel is over a foot tall already. I think I'll have one or two more asparagus cuttings before I let them go to seed. It has been SUCH a treat to have so much fresh asaragus. Sometimes I eat it moments after picking, but other times I just trim the ends and set them in a glass of water in the fridge for a few days, until I have a big bunch.

I usually spend an hour or two each day, in the cool of the morning and the late evening, puttering in my garden. I set my coffee/beer on the stump and ruthlessly weed and carefully thin and tend and watch. I am so so delighted by my garden. Also proud and fulfilled and contented. Sentimental though it sounds, I truly can't wait to share the harvests with my family and neighbors.

Also, there is this very big project happening: LINK

I will say more about it in a comment. It is not really happening "On The Ranch", but it is something worth commenting on here nevertheless.

1 comment:



Go look at the pictures.

George planted grapes about 5 or 6 years ago. We thought we'd make wine. But then our friend Noah said, "Hey guys, why don't you make vinegar?". So we looked into it. It seemed like a great idea. Lots of people got excited about it, including some folks who decide who gets grant monies. They gave us some money to help build our vinegar facility.

Then the ranch happened...and we were a little busy. Time was running out on our grant, so in March we basically had to kick it into high gear.

I had started looking into strawbale construction with thoughts of my own little house in mind. But I thought it would be a really awesome way to construct our vinegar facility - it is very energy efficient because the bales insulate the walls so ridiculously well and it is attractive and unique and it might bring some additional attention to our new business venture as well. George thought it was a great idea in theory, but we didn't know HOW to build a strawbale house.

As we got down to the wire, it was looking like we would need to abandon the strawbale idea and just put up a stick-built traditional building. But in a last-ditch effort to save the idea, I called a strawbale construction/stucco dude in Colorado. Tony miraculously agreed to help us out. He sent me some blueprints for a similar structure that I could use to help design ours.

Then we had three college graduation parties, three weekends in a row. We had to call in a lot of favors and twist a few arms, but we managed to get the foundation ready by the end of May.

While we were away to Adam's graduation our neighbor did all the dirt work - cleared the sod, brought in sand from the horse pasture, leveled and packed it all down.

Then the plumbers stubbed in all the drains and the water line while we were at Eric's graduation.

And then while we were off at Meg's graduation, the concrete crew came in and poured the foundation.

Tony arrived the next day and his friend Chris came a couple of days later. Tony and Chris and George and I worked from dawn to dusk for six days, putting down the toe plate, building the load-bearing window and door frames, the corner and additional support posts, putting together the top plates and assembling the beams.

Once we had the frame up and the beams in place, we called in the crew. Eric and I got everything as square, level, and true as we could, while everyone else started stacking bales. It only took one day to stack all the bales (thanks in small part to my clever design and in large part to the additional help we had that day). As we finished stacking bales, Tony started chain-sawing all the walls, to smooth and shape the bales in preparation for stucco.

The next day was super epic. Starting early with a big crew, we felted and lathed everything, strung chicken wire along the top and bottom of the outside wall and pinned the wire into the bales. At about 6 in the afternoon, Tony started spraying stucco. He sprayed until midnight without a break, with a massive 'support crew' keeping him supplied with freshly mixed cement. Then another crew of folks followed Tony to trowel the stucco level. Once it was sufficiently dry, the trowelled walls were 'broomed' to texturize them. No one took a break from lunch onwards, working without food or beer for nearly 10+ hours. I shifted into 'epic' mode pretty early on in the evening. I'd sort of forgotten that I had that gear and it was kind of thrilling to feel it kick in.

With one coat of stucco on the outside and no roof, the following week of glorious rain was a pretty frustrating time for dad. He wrestled with tarps everyday trying to keep the inside walls from getting soaked.

Finally our trusses arrived - Jack the carpenter and his crew (which includes a welder and a masonry man and all of whom are wonderful to work with) put them up in a day. Then the steel went on and we were able to start working on the inside.

We got the interior walls framed up in a day and then I went on vacation for a week. When I got back last night, the inside was looking fabulous. the doors and windows are all in, the drywall is all up in the office portion of the building, the electrical and plumbing is nearly finished, and the windows are lathed and ready for stucco on the inside.

Tomorrow we will start spraying stucco on the inside bale walls. Then another coat on the outside. Tony will have to come back again in about a month to spray the finish (color) coat.

This whole process has been so amazing to be a part of. I have learned SO much. And it has been so gratifying to see something that I designed actually come to reality. Plus we've had the best crew of folks helping us out.

I'll keep putting up pictures of the progress (link above). And if you're in the neighborhood, you should definitely stop by and check it out. You can see it from the highway, east of Karen and George's house in Cody.