Homesteaders Are Usually Dead By My Age

female lumberjack

After we returned to the US, years ago, the Turk accompanied me on a work trip to visit a group of homesteaders. These people lived without electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. It wasn’t for religious reasons or out of necessity. It was just a bunch of crazy hippies who’d decided homesteading would be cool. After a lunch of kale and canned meat eaten while bundled in winter coats, they proudly showed off composting toilets and guest huts made from mud and straw. Being a writer, I’m always enthralled with strange life choices but the Turk was visibly twisted at every turn. Eventually, the free-range rooster chased him to the car where he waited out my adventure. On the road back to civilization we were a little shell-shocked.

“What the hell that?!” He exclaimed.

“It’s odd right?”

“Odd? No. It crazy. Why people choose live like that? In my country people live like that in village because they have no money. Only in America would people choose to live like villagers.”

In the past week those crazy hippies kept crossing my mind as the Turk and I have battled our own turn to villager life at our little house in the woods. As weather moved from fall into winter this week, our wooded home began to take on the characteristics of a death trap. When encased by 40-foot pines, the chance of a tree or substantial segment of said tree, plummeting to earth like a pre-historic spear is real. This was exactly what I saw happening as the prediction for the first snow was revealed. Though the prediction was for a dusting, I have a solid skepticism of all weather personnel. Instead of a dusting, my mind saw a heavy snow pushing a 40-foot Christmas tree through my roof and into my cranium as I slumbered.

As the snow began to fall, the “dusting” mark was quickly surpassed. Reports on the local Facebook page warned of a wave of power outages creeping down our street. Block by block, transformers were blowing and, of course, our generator was in the garage, safely wrapped in it’s original packaging. (Because the Turk has yet to admit his fear of it and has thus far avoided installation.) Amid the sparkling flakes falling gently to the ground, one could hear the creaks and cracks of breaking limbs plummeting around us. The Turk and I contemplated pulling out his stock of company hard hats for protection but chose instead to turn up the television loud enough to mask the noise until the power failed.

By a twist of fate, we kept our power but as the sun came up the next morning there were two surprises, three to four inches of snow (Dusting my ass – hence my skepticism is justified) and a massive 20 foot branch sprawled across our front lawn mere feet from the front door. We thought we’d dodged a bullet but later realized we were not so lucky as three trees had crashed through our back fence.

“I have to fix fence. This not safe. Anything can come in here.” He lamented.

“Just what do you think is going to sneak into our backyard besides Sasquatch? There is nothing around here but woods and cranberry bogs.”

“What if coyote jump over fence?”

“If he does I’m sure he won’t stay long. We’ve got nothing to offer.”

“I will fix this weekend.” He claimed.

“You’re going to physically bend the chain-link fence back into place with your bare hands?”

“Why not? I am Turk.”

We spent the following weekend hacking and chopping the down trees into fire wood while simultaneously laying scars in my brain for the next tree-fall, I mean snowfall. After a brief attempt by SuperTurk to bend the steel pipes of the fence back into shape, he decided to table that project for a few weeks. The weekend of fence work and hauling wood made me feel rather Laura Ingles and though I loved Little House on the Prairie, I’m not really down with it in 2018.

Another added dimension to having a house in the woods of New England is that it comes with a well. The Turk and I have never had a well before but he assured me that as a water engineer he was more than capable of caring for the system and saving his family from death by toxic water. It was going well until Thanksgiving week when our water turned brown and took on an unbearable iron stench. Our shower smelled like a crime scene and every tub, sink and toilet in the house turned dark orange.

For days the Turk was in denial about the water but after pouring himself a nice glass of brown water, he stated “Maybe something wrong with the well.” He then disappeared into the well closet downstairs not to be seen for hours. Every few hours he would trudge upstairs, pour another cup of brown water, mutter Turkish profanity and return to the well closet.

Meanwhile, like Laura Ingles, I went out to fetch water, (So maybe it was Poland Spring in a jug rather than water from a babbling brook but it was totally the same.) This is not the first time I’ve had to go out and fetch water. Back in Turkey, tap water wasn’t safe to drink. In the city it was easy, you made a call and a sweaty Turk delivered bottled water but when we lived at the Turkish water treatment plant (yet another relocation for the Turk’s job) I had to trudge across the grounds with a toddler tied to my back and bring back drinking water from the purification building. Foolishly I thought we’d gotten past that stage of life.

By day two, the kids were refusing to shower and my hands had turned black from washing dishes, so the Turk decided to seek assistance. Hours later he returned with some new tricks from the local well company and by the next morning his attempts were starting to pay off as the toilets turn from brown to light orange. (We’re going to stick with drinking the Poland Spring for a bit longer though.)

Between hauling water, dodging falling pines, chopping downed trees into firewood, and shoring fences, the Turk and I are basically homesteading and we’re both too damn old for it. While I love our secluded little corner of New England, there is something to be said for suburbs with city water and free of 40-foot pine death traps. But as I tell the boys, “This builds character.” And if this week is any indication, by the end of winter I should have more character than Sally Fields in Sybil. Wish me luck; it’s going to be a long winter.

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Hello Darkness, My Nemesis…

Yeti&woman

Last year we sat in Indianapolis trying to decide if we would take my husband, The Turk’s, relocation and start over in New England, The Turk pro-New England and me not so sure. Our evening conversations looked something like this:

Me: “It snows there for like 8 months!”

The Turk: “You born in Iowa. That is like tundra. You will be fine.”

Me: “They have hurricanes.”

The Turk: “Here there are tornados.”

Me: “It’s so far north it’s like Canada. We’re going to freeze.”

The Turk: Slyly eyeing my extra 20-post-baby-five-years-ago pounds, “I think you be fine.”

Eventually I agreed to take the plunge into the frigid North Atlantic, but my climate worries were never truly eased. Since our arrival in June we’ve had winds that made me doubt the Turk’s choice to buy a house surrounded by 40-foot pine trees and rains that made me glad to be far above bog level. But these are small potatoes compared to what  awaits us.

Winter is coming. (Insert Game of Thrones music and other nerd references of your choosing here.)

But before the seasonal horrors I must face such as traversing an insanely steep, ice covered, driveway or dodging snow covered pines as they fall upon my roof, I must contend with last weekend’s horror, (aka the stupidest idea since literally, the dawn of time) the end of Daylight Savings Time. Instead of waking in the dark and enjoying sun well into cocktail hour, we swap the clocks, ultimately screwing up the body clocks of every human and animal in that time zone and beyond. For what? No one really knows. Daylight Savings Time is bad, but the end of Daylight Savings Time in New England is a horror unspeakable.

Last week the weathercasters began bantering about the time change. “It’s almost time to change those clocks New Englanders and you know what that means.” The helmet haired man teased.

To which I would scream, “No! What dose that mean Helmet Head? How ‘bout a recap for the newbies?”

The next day he was at it again. “Day Light Savings Time is almost over and New Englanders, we all know what happens.”

“No we don’t Helmet Head.” I’d scream at the television causing my children to question my sanity. “Some of us have no clue! Don’t be such a Masshole.”

Finally, the morning news explained everything, “It’s about time to turn back those clocks and get ready for 4:30 sunsets.” The beautiful Asian anchor lamented while sharing a forced chuckle with her co-anchor. I’m sure they shared other important tidbits of information but my brain was stuck. The sun would set at 4:30? How could this be?

As most do in a panic, I turned to Google for confirmation. Though she seemed like a credible new source, the beautiful Asian anchor was wrong. The sun didn’t set at 4:30 in my new homeland. No, depending on the day, it set some days as early as 4:12. God help me.

Indiana was the westernmost edge of the Eastern Time Zone. It didn’t belong in the Eastern Time Zone at all but had wiggled its way in against the wishes of many a few years before we moved there. This meant that sunset in Indiana was more than an hour later than most places on the East Coast. In the summer it sucked trying to get kids to bed when it was still light at 9:30 but in the winter, the sun would still be shining to usher you home from work and well into dinner prep, usually setting around 5:30.

Were we spoiled by sun time in Indiana? Most certainly but a 4:15 sunset seems excessive New England. It’s not that I’m a sun bunny or anything. (Especially when said sun is hot and makes my butt sweat.) But I really hate darkness. I hate driving in the dark because I’m old and blind and sometimes see things that aren’t there like a loose moose or a crazed yeti. I hate being outside in the dark because I’m pretty sure there is a murderous madman lurking behind every building, bush or tree. To top things off, I now have a house in the woods and you know what happens in the woods at dark? Sasquatch. Sasquatch goes frolicking through the woods in the dark and now that hairy bastard will be frolicking through my backyard from 4:30 on every damn night leaving his big-ass footprints where I’m trying to re-grow grass. Not cool Sassy.

On the first day of the time change I lamented my newly found horror to a few other parents at the football game. These were all native New Englanders and they had a few tips.

  1. “Get some good fuzzy jammies and get used to putting them on early. We tend to jammie up as soon as we get home and stay that way until morning.”

This seemed reasonable. If I love anything it’s loungewear and staying home. What’s better than an excuse to extend my loungewear time and remain homebound?

  1. “We drink more in winter.”

I think this goes without saying, but hells yes, sign me up. Perhaps I can convert Nugget’s closet into a wine cellar. He’s little and his pants don’t take up much room. It is for survival after all.

  1. “The time change here means you need to do two things, hook up the generator and refill your antidepressants. No shame in happy pills. Everyone else here is on them.”

I liked this acknowledgement of using the pharmaceutical assistance invented for getting through metaphorical darkness to get through the physical darkness of New England. And fortunately, we bought our generator a few months ago.

I’ve tried to keep my panic at bay about the impending period of darkness but I’ve been unsuccessful. The looming sunset is always on my mind.

“Boys, you know it’s going to get dark soon. You better get ready.”

“Mom, it’s 11:30 in the morning.”

“Exactly. You have 6 hours left of this day. You better use it.” (Insert horrific tween eye rolling here.)

It’s 3:30 now so I’d better go. Looks like its time to put my jammies on and pour the wine. After all, if I’m going to make it though my first New England winter I’d better adhere to the advice of the natives. Maybe in time I’ll adjust to the darkness and learn to embrace it by treating it like a sort of hibernation. But for now, I’m going to keep whining as I turn on the security lights in the hopes of keeping a Sasquatch from doing a soft-shoe on my back deck.