March 9th, 2015 §
Living in Edinburgh it’s easy to forget that it’s actually a pretty small city surrounded by some beautiful farmland and countryside. I got my first taste of rural Scotland when one of my classmates invited a few of us Botanics folk for a weekend house party at his place on a working cattle farm about 45 minutes outside of town. It was absolutely lovely to be holed up in a cozy home being plied with delicious food and drink for two days. It certainly didn’t hurt that my host is a former chef at Michelin-starred restaurants. I ate the best food I’ve had since moving to Edinburgh.
It was a very late night Saturday, up many hours later than I’ve been in years. But even with two hour’s sleep a few of us rallied for a long after-breakfast walk, and I thought you’d might like to see a more rural side of Scotland.
At the top of a great hill behind the farm was a wind farm, furiously spinning in the gusts.
A view northwest to the Pentland Hills, at left, and over the Firth, at right. The lump in the middle distance is Arthur’s Seat.
Walking back down the hill the Firth stretched out in front of us as a blue ribbon. Beyond it were snow-topped mountains.
Naturalized snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) alongside the creek, or “burn” as my Scottish friend corrected me. Beyond were thousands of daffodils just about to bloom.
As we were walking along, most of our conversation was about school and plants. We kept sharp eyes peeled for plants to add to our pressed plant assignment, and it was absolutely wonderful to be in the company of engaging, inquisitive friends whose interests were right aligned with mine. Our geeky Latin-speak would have put some people off, but here we could relax and practice our new language. It was a very profound moment for me, to be able to revel in the safety and stimulation of new and wonderful companions. After a lifetime of learning about plants on my own, I am thrilled to have found my tribe.
The country roads were lined on either side with beech (Fagus sylvatica) hedges whose coppery leaves glowed in the sun. Hedges are such a nice, attractive alternative to fences, and provide so much safe habitat for birds and little creatures.
I returned from the country feeling completely refreshed, like I’d had a vacation. It was wonderful to be back in my native habitat for a bit, and to see some more of this lovely part of the world while sharing passions with some pretty cool folks. I am incredibly grateful for the experiences I am having in Scotland, and each day those experiences deepen and become more amazing as I move further into this new chapter in my life. Exciting times, can’t wait to see what’s next.
April 28th, 2014 §
This marks my 500th post on the Bonafide Blog, and as I’ve crept up upon this day I’ve been thinking about the role this blog, and the farm, have played in my creative life.
When I was young I wanted to be an artist, and chose photography as my medium. But making art was hard, and it came at great personal cost as I struggled to find my footing on the ever-heaving icebergs of inspiration, on-demand creative output, and madness. Eventually I traded the stress of artmaking for the relatively stable ground of what I believed was a less art-filled, more art-less, life. I stopped hauling huge cameras around, quit stressing about missing some perfect shot, and started to live my experiences without the filter of a lens and my unreasonable expectation to make every moment into “art.”
Releasing my identity as a photographer was probably a healthy decision, but over the last dozen or so years my creative output declined to the point where I no longer believed I was a creative person, with nothing to contribute to the big worlds of photography, art and writing.
Then, four and a half years ago, came the farm and an unpremeditated decision to write about building a house, just to have a personal journal of the project. Yet even after beginning the blog I mourned what I perceived as my continued creative death. I still wasn’t “making art,” and I viewed what had been an integral part of my life as an atrophied limb, never to regain function.
But when I look back over these 500 posts, I see that most of them are about things I have made, taught myself, or found fascinating. I realize that instead of disappearing, my creativity just broadened, deepened, and diversified. It only felt like it was missing because it was everywhere. Instead of being about a conscious, intense, and usually stressful decision to sit down and “make art,” art has simply been diffused into just about every aspect of my life.
I have the farm to thank for this expansion of my creativity. This homestead is a safe and healthful incubator for ideas and a laboratory for me to learn, experiment, mess up, feel inspiration, accomplishment and limitation. No, I don’t have any new photos framed and hanging on the wall, but I do have hundreds of stories and thousands of images, right here on this blog, chronicling the creation of my life on this farm.
So here’s to 500 posts, and realizing that what you had wasn’t gone at all. It just became so large as to be invisible, growing huge and all-encompassing in a quiet and most beautiful way.
February 13th, 2014 §
The second wave of this big storm ended at dusk, and with just a bit of light left I went out with the dog to get some photos. I didn’t take an official measurement, but the snow came over the top of my wellies, which are 16″ tall. That’s a lot of snow, especially for here—the most since “Snowpocalypse” in 2009/2010, the winter I built my house. Tonight the national news reported that 60% of the U.S. is under snow. Impressive and wonderful, to have a real winter again.
Being snowed in makes feel especially fondly toward my little farm, which gives me everything I need. Looking back on it from across the pasture, I can see the candles lit in the windows, a warm coop that shelters my flock, a great garage full of capable machines, a beautiful wood stove burning through the sidelights, and a black dog that’s happy to break any trail I need. I never expected to feel as in love with a place as I do here. It’s a feeling I looked for my entire life, and I am blessed to have created it. On the eve of Valentine’s Day, my love is right here.
More snow photos to come, I imagine, in the morning.
March 9th, 2013 §
December 23rd, 2009 §
And what a doozy it was!
A snowstorm last Friday and Saturday dropped a “historic” two feet of snow on the farm. The roads weren’t clear enough to get up to the house until late Tuesday night, when the Intrepid Tractorplower arrived to clear the driveway for the siding delivery later this week. Thanks go to I.T. for both the photos and his mad snowclearing skillz.
I can’t wait until next year when I’ll be able to awake to these wintry views and make my own footprints through the fields.
The board and batten siding was installed on the second floor last week. That will all be painted one color, same as the siding below, so my house will lose its charming zebra stripes. As soon as the horizontal siding–which was delayed in the storm–arrives and is installed, the exterior of the house will be truly buttoned up and work will head inside, where the HVAC ductwork has been completed and the plumbers are now roughing in for fixtures.
December 13th, 2009 §
Last week marked a huge turning point in the development of this little dream I call my home. My builder installed a contractor’s lock and for the first time, when I left the house, I locked the door behind me. It’s a big moment for a house–when it crosses from being a public to a private space.
Lots of developments last week. The delayed windows arrived and were set Thursday. Of course, the doors had gone on a week or so earlier. I spent much of last week and even the week before agonizing over exterior trim. I had a very specific idea of what I wanted…kind of a vintage-looking Craftsman trim. But we lost at least a week while my builder ordered a PVC sill that looked horrible and definitely wasn’t what I wanted.
I’m thrilled with how the trim turned out and particularly grateful to my dad for helping me persevere to get what I wanted. When the PVC sill didn’t work out, I was discouraged enough that I considered scrapping the idea of a sill altogether, thinking that my builder would never “get” my vision and be able to make it happen–which was disappointing as what I was asking for really didn’t seem that hard! Thankfully my dad was there to mock up exactly what I wanted, using scrap trim pieces I pulled out of a wet garbage can, and when we showed it to the the trim carpenters they were immediately were on the same page. So…yet another lesson learned in what seems like a daily education in when to push and when to concede.
The HVAC crew also got started running the ductwork on Thursday:
All of a sudden, the house went from being a pristine frame, all lumber and light and air, to being the skeleton around a series of vital systems. I missed the unadulterated cube immediately, but I sure am going to enjoy being able to push a button on the wall and get nice warm heat or air conditioning! This is just one more step along this home’s path toward growing up:
Starting tomorrow, the siding will begin going on, which means the house will be weathered in. The plumber is also slated to start rough in and we’ll keep hustling toward the finish line. It’s been great to see this burst of action–between the framers, trim guys, and HVAC crew, there must have been a dozen guys on site last week!
December 2nd, 2009 §
What’s that electrifying development I hinted at a few weeks ago? Perhaps it’s best explained by what’s no longer there:
The Pole is gone! Remember what it used to look like, all gangly and awkward and festooned with overhead lines?
The Central Virginia Electric Co-op folks came out and plucked this unsightly necessity from my viewshed, dropped it back in the ground way up by the road, and laid underground wire to the house through that nice long trench you see at the base of the first photo. Not having the pole looming over the back corner of the house is a huge improvement and really classes up the joint. It is strange, but the backyard feels even more expansive now that it’s gone.
It also improves the view from the soon-to-be-screened back porch:
November 26th, 2009 §
I am thankful for the farm.
And for my new roof:
And for skylights!
November 19th, 2009 §
I’ve searched for an old mantle for at least five years. When I lived in my apartment, I wanted a mantle to make a focal wall and add some architectural interest to an otherwise character-bereft space. I set up CraigsList feeds to scope out any old mantles offered for sale. I searched and hunted but never found a mantle that made me pull the trigger.
And then last May, a mantle found me. I was up at my house, before I closed on it, after the previous owner had held a yard sale to clear out her belongings. There propped up against the wellhouse was the most beautiful old mantle I had ever seen. I loved its proportions, its old black paint, everything. Turns out it was for sale by the man who had helped orchestrate the sale of the farm to me–the brother-in-law of my home’s owner. I asked him how much he wanted for it, and at the time felt too directionless to accept his offer. The mantle disappeared, but didn’t leave my mind.
All summer I thought about it. And then when I got to the point with the house where I needed to figure out what to do to the interior fireplace bricks and potential hearth, I knew I had the perfect mantle in mind. I called up the man, who’s a woodworker, and went down to his shop. We struck a deal, and on Saturday he delivered the mantle back to the farm. My parents and I horsed it into the house and against the bricks. Miraculously, it’s fit was darn near close to perfect. And I love it.
Turns out its previous owner had removed it from a home built in 1840 in Farmville, Virginia. It still has its original coat of black paint on it, which I’ve heard is incredibly rare for a mantle that old. The paint is crackled and gorgeous, and all I plan to do to the mantle is wash it down and wax it to bring out the beautifully faded finish and exposed wood grain. I think I will add a big bluestone hearth below it, and a cute little Jotul stove similar to the one I fell in love with in Alaska. After I paint or parge the bricks, it should be pretty neat.
I made a change from the plans and decided to keep the kitchen and living room open to each other, instead of building stub walls with five-foot pocket doors as I originally drew. I think it’s an interesting effect, to enter into the lower ceilinged, cozy living space that the opens up into the vaulted ceiling in the kitchen. We’ll see. If I change my mind, these are easy walls to add after the fact.
On Sunday, I had my first porch picnic with my parents. The porch is now officially broken in! We’d gone up to try the mantle on for size before I cleaned it up, and ended up staying all day picking up leaves. Dad blew them into piles, Mom and I picked them up and put them in the bucket of the tractor, and then I drove them down into the woods and dumped them. I had quite a massive pile by the time I was done, and I am keeping them all piled up so that they’ll hopefully decompose into very nutritious leaf mold for next year’s garden. It was a fun, gorgeous day, and it felt good to be looking after the house. We had a gorgeous pink sunset, which I enjoyed from the new front porch.
November 17th, 2009 §
A couple of important tasks were completed last week, including the rough framing on the front porch. It’s still not finished–the columns will be beefed up with some inset panels and of course stairs and railings are to come. The ceiling inside the porch will be tongue and groove, which I will paint haint blue to keep away all the bad spirits (and insects). The porch floor will also be tongue and groove, laid perpendicular to the house and painted as well to replicate the look of an old farmhouse or cottage porch.
Also of note is that the cap of the old chimney was knocked off and the stack rebuilt a good five or more feet taller to clear the now taller, more steeply pitched roof. My builder and I met at a brickyard the other week to try to match the old brick to the new. It was impossible to find an exact match. Bricks aren’t made to the same size now, so my chimney has a little inset where the smaller bricks join the old bricks. I did find out fascinating tidbits from the elderly gentleman who helped me match my brick, including that my old bricks were made right up the road in Somerset, Virginia. I also learned all about how the firing process is what creates the different colors and textures in bricks. And I never knew there was such variety and such regionality in that each area’s clay makes a different kind of brick. It was actually a really fun field trip, looking at bricks!
Now that the chimney’s completed I think it looks great. We really did a pretty good job matching the texture and color of the old brick. It’s a pleasant surprise as I was anticipating having to paint the chimney to disguise the change in materials. But as it is I rather like that one can tell that there was an old chimney that was added on to–it’s a bit of homestead archaeology.
And one more shot: The house from the road, sporting its fly new dormers. Last week the soffits and fascia went up, windows and doors were delivered…then we lost three days as tropical storm Ida ripped my safety fencing to shreds and turned the basement of the wellhouse into a Roman bath. But this week promises to be lovely and it’s a good thing–my painter is arriving in the morning to paint the trim, and then the roof shingles are going on! And an electrifying development happened early last week that I can’t wait to share.