Sunday, May 2, 2010

Freedom Friday

Friday was the last day of class. What a relief.

Don't get me wrong. I love teaching and I love my job, although I know I complain a lot about some of its more stressful sides. But college teaching is stressful. You're in front of an audience trying to deal with something important, and you need to deliver. I imagine stage acting or giving political speeches is similar.

The other thing is, there's a place you have to be, several times each day, no ifs, ands, or buts. You can't easily take a week's vacation, or schedule a day for the dentist, or call in for a comp day if your car won't start. You have to be there, ready to go, with new material prepared and rehearsed. It's the only way to handle the job responsibly.

So when the last day of class rolls around and summer is here with the vastly greater freedom of schedule, and that three-and-a-half month vista of stress-free days ahead, there's a great feeling of relief. Saturday morning was like that. Like a birthday, or a vacation.

I think I got into the habit of summer when I was a college student myself, at the University of Montana. I was older, having been in the service, probably not unlike one of those mildly creepy, non-trad, older-guys-around-campus that these days make me routinely suspicious when I see them around our eighteen-year old girls. An escapee from normal wage labor, I had been used to working eight hours or more, five days or more a week, with the usual vacation time and so on, so when my first college summer rolled around, the summer of 1990, I was admittedly at a bit of a loss.

But I rose to the occasion. I grew a big garden on an allotment (community garden), put up a lot of veggies, did some fix-up work on my rental house, walked the dogz (Liza Jane, the world's best dog ever!), went fishing, climbed some mountains and otherwise spent time outdoors (oh, those Montana hot springs!), wrote some articles for an environmental paper, did some search and rescue training, and generally pleased myself. That summer set up a pattern that I keep up today, more or less, with the few minor differences being that I work on our own farm, not a community garden, and I do a lot of wind power work.

Aimee has her own pattern involving the greenhouse, gardening, raising chicks, doing marine research, guest lecturing, grading AP biology, occasional trips to the shore, and the like.

So what did I do on my first day of the summer vacation? I worked my butt off, of course. That's what we do. It's just a different pace, and a different kind of work, and a whole lot less stressful.

Mostly I think because you can see the difference right there.

So first I raked up some branches and twigs and trash where the chickens have been spreading stuff out of one of my brush piles that is on top of one of the old trash middens we have around here, some of which must date back to the Romans. (My hope is that brush rots and buries the trash naturally. It's illegal to bury trash in Maine, but it's not illegal to pile brush on top of someone else's fifty-year old trash.) Then I moved the creep feeder to the sheep's security pen from the North Paddock, so we could use it to make sure wee motherless Quinn gets her kibble.

That was a good start.

So then I cut more sumac out of the New Paddock. I've developed a severe dislike for this tree, because it has so few uses. This is probably short-sightedness on my part. Apparently this particular variety, staghorn sumac (not poison sumac), can be used for firewood, but I'm not bothering. It's supposed to burn fast. And it's not a normal firewood species in this part of the world. I don't want to risk it. Perhaps it's just the name, too much like the poison variety, which puts out a chemical weapon if you burn it, a substance that can sear your lungs. Guilt by association, I know. But firewood is too important to us for me to want to try something very new. I might save a couple of pieces and experiment, but not a whole bunch. So I'm piling it up as waste, just to get it out of the way.

I don't burn brush piles, although most folks do here in Maine. Brush piles eventually rot down, while burning is dangerous, smoky and can start forest fires. And they are always about half the size after the first winter, because the snow pushes them down. It's not like we don't have room for them. Small critters, squirrels and deer mice, use them for cover. After two sessions of sumac-cutting over two weekends, we have a much larger area of brush free-grass in this paddock, and Thorndike's grassy ruin is much more visible.

According to neighbor Hamilton, this is a collection of outbuildings, not the main mansion.

I have a bit more cutting to do in this area, but not much. And the power line to our neighbor's house is now much more free of brush, which helps us because when the trees short out their line, our power goes out too.

One big cherry tree is all wrapped around the power line, and I don't know what to do for the best, so I left it. When I get a chance, I'll talk to Ham. Best thing to do is probably to call the power company, but it's his land, or at least his mom's.

It's definitely his line.

So that took me up until 10am. Car Talk time. So I listened while cleaning up the shop, which needed to be done just because, but also since Aimee has a project to do, a new chicken tractor. Her exacting nature with these kinds of projects doesn't allow for the natural disorderliness of my shop, which is usually playing host to a half-dozen different jobs at once. I put tools away and made space for her and swept up.

I also exercised the generator. That's a funny phrase to use, since it sounds a bit like like walking a dog, but if you have a generator that you don't use regularly, you must exercise it. You check the oil, start it, run it, test the power output, shut it down. Only this time there was no power.

Cursing once more the feckless people who have occupied our spare house for nearly four years now and cost us thousands of dollars because they won't make any contribution to the costs, and because we're too nice to kick them out (there's a kid involved -- I won't be that guy who made a kid homeless), and who almost wrecked this and another generator we provided them with for free (the Bale House is off-grid), I began to take it apart, pushing wires around, looking for a loose connection. Something was loose, but I don't know what, since it powered back up during these efforts, and so I decided it was fixed and put it back together.

This family is supposed to be out of there this spring, in fact they no longer live there, just keep their stuff there. I will be able to get the place back, one way or another. I gave them until May to get their shit out. After that, it will be dumpster Sunday. Then I'll have to make repairs, fix all their damage, and find a more responsible tenant.

Or not. One option is to use it for guests and visitors, a family camp. For old students and family members and ex RAFMRS to use, for free, or a donation to the cause. Why not? It's in a nice woodsy setting, great for walks and deer-hunting, fifteen miles from the Maine coast, very rustic. There's even some fishing. But it sure is buggy. Mosquito city until August. One reason we moved out. And the folks who stay there would have to be self-reliant, 'cos I'm not going to blast over there every five minutes to empty the compost toilet or pump gravity-fed water. Those off-the-grid systems are not for the faint-hearted.

Those morons who borrowed (stole is more accurate) this house for so long kicked in a wardrobe door! An obvious boot-hole. Imagine that! How shitty is that? To borrow someone's house and kick in a door?

Anyway, back to the thread. After fixing up the generator, I sharpened my chainsaw, the nice new one. Then it was time to cut down the dead elm in the North Paddock, which had succumbed to the Dutch Elm, and so had to go or it might infect others. That made about a quarter of a cord. Elm makes "fair" firewood, according to the Forest Trees of Maine, our bible for such things and free online, but it's bloody murder to split. All twisted up inside, it used to be employed for wooden bowls and wagon-wheel hubs, because it makes good circular shapes and doesn't split easily. So I don't split it. Not needing any wagon wheels around here, it's better to leave it whole and use the biggest rounds in the wood furnace, where they'll burn all night. The door of that thing, The Beast in the Garage, will easily admit a foot-wide chunk of elm.

The elm quickly dulled my new saw blade. I will need to buy a couple extra blades so I can get them professionally sharpened and keep spare blades. But I do like having a more powerful saw.

So then I planted the potato patch, which took me up to dinner time. Too tired to plant the onions, so left those for today.

Some vacation, huh? But it felt good to get so much done after months of too much schoolwork on the weekends.

Aimee's chicken tractor looks pretty good. It will be picture perfect, of course. Everything she ever does is. How come she married a dodgy bodging geezer like me?

Photos of the world's prettiest chicken tractor to come. Something to look forward to.

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