This week was mostly about establishing a base camp out on my family's land. I'd set the big tent up the Saturday before to let the plastic-smelling vinyl floor and the treated canvas air out a bit, but I'd pretty much just dumped my stuff on the floor and taken off.
Since Thursday had been leg day with all the hiking and Friday had been arm day with all the paddling, I started out a little sore on Saturday, but loosened up by gathering a huge load of sticks and breaking them into lengths for my little cooking stove and my new bigger heating stove. Now that I'm going to be in one place for a while, I can store up fuel and let it dry out, which will hopefully lead to less smoky fires and less need to gather sticks every day. I did some emotional work, and in the afternoon headed to the hardware store to pick up four patio pavers to go under my stoves (weighing 17 pounds each), two five gallon buckets to store and carry water, a 25 foot extension cord, and some pipe fittings for the chimney. Amazingly all of that fit inside my bins just fine. In the parking lot, I was admiring a car with a canoe on top and lo and behold, inside it my old friend and neighbor JD and a buddy, just coming off the river. This is one of the (usually) nice things about living for a long time in a small town: you tend to run into people you know. Although Pittsboro is hardly as small as it used to be, and it's on track to be quite big indeed once the Chatham Park development gets fully underway.
On the way home I picked up some groceries for the week, and at the head of the driveway ran into my neighbors JM and DM, sitting in the sun on their swing set. I'm not sure quite how old they are but they're old enough to be great grandparents, and JM's father used to farm here and sold my parents their land. They urged my to come on over and "set a spell", so I took a spot on one of the swings and we caught up a bit. We talked about all the changes in the neighborhood and JM told a story about when they got electricity in 1945 and the first thing they got was a washing machine for his mama. For some reason, telling them I was getting divorced got me really choked up, maybe it's that they've been married so long, and also I was in a tender mood. "Such a sweet young woman, we thought," he said. They urged me to come pick some scuppernong grapes from their loaded vines, and kept dropping handfuls into my bag until I told them I could only eat so many at a time.
Back at camp, I pitched a tarp for a little outdoor kitchen and stowed all the food in one of my bins to keep it safe from the raccoons and possums. I used the other bin to store all my solar gear on top of the tower so I wouldn't have to carry it up and down the ladder every day. I set up a tidy little system with an extension cord dropping down into the tent and the hotspot inside the bin with a directional booster antenna attached, which actually gives me faster internet than the wired ADSL connection my parents have at their house. Later in the week when high winds came through, I strapped the solar panel to the bin so it wouldn't blow over, and rigged some shock cord to allow the flaps to fold up in the gusts and then drop back into place. I filled my buckets with water from the well, which involves dropping a long, narrow bucket down and pulling it up by hand. As I carried the water back to camp, I stopped every so often to rest, sitting on one of the buckets and gazing at the moon and at Mars, which has been looking unusually bright lately. I ate a simple dinner of oatmeal and tea, and listened to Imogen Heap's album Speak For Yourself, which I've been kind of obsessed with this year ever since running across an amazing a cappella cover of Hide and Seek. I hadn't been listening to music for so long that it hit me powerfully, as if I was hearing it with my entire body.
On Sunday I worked to make up for having taken Friday off to paddle. It was rainy and damp, with temperatures in the low 60s, but it felt great to have such a large dry space to hang out in, and the patter of rain on canvas is one of my favorite sounds. I got to try out my new rain poncho (which is in the vintage military style with snaps and grommets that allow it to be set up as a tarp shelter or a bivvy sack) and I totally love it. I mean it's horribly unfashionable, but it doesn't get clammy inside because it's so well ventilated at the bottom, and best of all I can walk with my hands inside my warm dry jacket pockets without rain running down the sleeves into them. I guess in a way it can be seen as a sort of wearable tent. I walked to the garden and nibbled on mustard greens and cherry tomatoes, and down the driveway to look at the leaves, where I had a nice conversation with long-time neighbor DB, who was driving over to take care of my parents' cat while they were on vacation in the mountains. For dinner I invented a new dish that's just instant mashed potatoes and raw arugula and tender kale stirred together with boiling water so the potatoes re-hydrate and the greens are just barely cooked, which is the way I like them.
I experimented and found out that with some very careful positioning, I can do all the Muller System exercises inside my tent. I learned about this system back in March while reading a novel from the 1920's, and it's been really great for keeping me sane and flexible through a lot of different environments. It doesn't require any equipment except some way to hold my feet down for the sit-ups, which I managed by tying a stick crosswise to the bottom of the central tent pole. This will become increasingly important as the weather cools off, and outdoor exercise gets steadily less appealing even as I need it more to counteract the stiffening effects of sitting in the cold all day.
The week remained a bit damp and cloudy for the most part, which made for some beautiful scenes at night when the moon seemed to fill the air with its glow. I delighted in fresh salads from the garden, night walks, stars among the tree branches, and glow worms in the grass. South winds brought warmth and fresh smells, and blew down all the dead pine needles to form lovely orange-brown carpets. They also blew down all the ripe pods from the honey locust tree near my camp, and I gathered a bag full. If you're not familiar, the honey locust makes long brown leathery seed pods, seemingly evolved to be eaten by some extinct megafauna, and if you crack them open there's a sticky sweet goo around the seeds with a flavor that reminds me a little of green apple Jolly Ranchers except more bitter. I've heard the old timers used to make a fermented beverage out of them and I've always wanted to give that a try.
I borrowed some tools from AP to make a backing for the stove jack and installed the chimney in the tent. I made a coat rack from a cedar branch, a little broom from broom sedge, did laundry down by the creek, and dug a latrine trench. I tried out my new heating stove, which is an unusual kind with some sort of clever Chinese reburner technology. It's incredibly efficient, but a bit counter-intuitive because you have to build the fire upside down and it burns from top to bottom like a candle. I figured I'd probably fill the tent up with smoke once or twice trying to figure out how to light it and control the airflow, and that's exactly what I did. But eventually I got it into its happy place and it definitely did its job, boiling the big pot of water that I'm using as a thermal reservoir and making the tent nice and toasty, at least compared to outside. I also managed to cook one of the tastiest wok dishes I've ever made on it, although doing this inside the tent was not a great idea, and in future I'll probably move it outside to use the wok.
I geeked out with AP about vintage synthesizers, and stayed up late talking with him and GB about relationships and stories from their courting days. I visited my old friend and neighbor RM, who's a geologist by day and a mechanic by night. He and his friend L were pulling the transmission on a huge truck, but they came out from under the lift to catch up and shoot the shit about vehicles, fuel economy, camping, #vanlife, rocket stoves, yurts, and the Appalachian Trail. I spent a wonderful evening hanging out with JD, and we had a long rambling talk on his patio about philosophy, culture, the nature of adventure, and the pursuit of happiness. He had a tree with three tiny oranges on it and we each ate one. When the power came back on I watched him work in his glassblowing studio for a while. I particularly enjoyed the delicate incandescent peach color of the glass when it had just come out of the flame, which reminded me of the sky at dawn.
Oh yeah, and I voted! And of course some more of my neighbors were outside the polling place handing out blue sample ballots and putting signs back up when they blew over in the wind. Wow... it's so hard to believe that it's only been two months, it feels like much much longer (in a good way).
Things I Learned
- There's such a thing as a two-story yurt. I'm not sure whether it still truly qualifies as a yurt in the traditional sense though.
- If you use a Linux laptop (and I know a couple of you do), powertop is a great tool for figuring out what's using power and making your battery last longer.
- Apparently there's a new kind of card theft scam, because somehow a debit card that I haven't used in months was cloned and used to run up hundreds of dollars of charges at a Food Lion in Burlington. I wouldn't have thought they could fake the chip and/or PIN, but since the exact same thing happened to my parents, it's possible that Food Lion's point of sale system is what got compromised. This kind of thing fascinates me but it's hard to find out much about it.
- The smell of tomato plants after you brush past them.
- Leaves fluttering and wheeling like a flock of tiny birds on the wind.
- The ticking sound that a wood stove makes when it's heating up.