Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Dummies

I did not, as predicted, have an easy day of excavating. I got there at around 6:30 and left 12 hours later. Digging the trench for the underground electrical conduit went fairly well. I ran into one boulder I couldn't get out and had to bend the conduits around it. We'll see what the electrician says about that when I see him there this morning.

The big story is the return of Earthworks at the eleventh hour. Four days ago I left a message for Lewis telling him he had until the end of the week to fix the road. I didn't think he'd show. So imagine my surprise when I look up from my excavating to see one of Lewis' henchmen walking my way. He and another guy had a couple loads of material they needed to dump and spread, and my car was in the way. So I walked up to the car with the guy and saw a dump truck but nothing else. "What are you going to spread it with?" I asked. The back door of the dump truck was the reply. I guess you can tilt the bed in the up position and the door drags behind and can be used to spread material. This didn't sound all that effective to me, but what do I know? So I drove my car down thinking I could get out once the material was there. A half hour later the guy returned. The loads had been dumped, but the road was so soft that the dump trucks couldn't do the work. He was coming to let me know because now I had a giant pile of rotten rock blocking my exit. I could get out; that was not the problem. So I asked the obvious, "When are you coming back to fix it?" And he says, "You'll have to call Lewis about that. I don't know when we'll be able to get a machine in here. We're just the dummies." This must be his stock answer in situations like this. He was a dummy and didn't seem to mind at all. Instead of blowing the whole thing off, Lewis had decided to do the absolute minimum and ended up making more of a mess in the process.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Electrician Returns

The electrician maligned in one of my recent entries called and apologized for coming and going so quickly. We met today as I was gluing up the electrical conduit I'm burying tomorrow. It was a quick meeting. I mapped out what I was going to do and told him where I'd like his help. No problems. The excavator was delivered today, and I've got it all day tomorrow. I should be able to get everything done without being rushed.

When I pulled into Porcupine Lane this afternoon, there were two Viking trucks on our road. One to deliver the conduit and one to extricate the first from the sand pit that is our driveway. I apologized for the road conditions, (I was hoping to arrive there beforehand to guide the truck.) and promised to have it fixed before the next delivery. Lewis Tapley should be ashamed of himself.

It has been brought to my attention that I made a factual error in one of my recent entries. (See response to Set in Stone post.) The free stuff from Connecticut came from the estate of the late James (not David) Rockefeller. This should be easy enough for me to remember since the current owner, my brother-in-law, is also a James.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Set in Stone

It's official. Mail addressed to 1 Porcupine Ln, Sedgwick, ME 04676 will miraculously end up in a black metal box at the end of our driveway. In a reflection of how progress starved we are, I was pretty darned happy that I had accomplished something start to finish. Bought mailbox. Painted address. Constructed post. Set post in one 80' bag of concrete. A small victory but a victory nonetheless.

Building upon this momentum, I ordered 1100' of electrical conduit for burying power and phone lines. I'm going to rent an excavator to dig most of the trench. I left a message on Lewis Tapley's voice-mail giving him the rest of this week to do what he said he'd do. I'm guessing he'll use the ultimatum as a excuse blow it off for good. At this point I don't care; this project needs to move beyond one person's shoddy work.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Porkupine Lane

I bought a mailbox yesterday, large capacity and black, and painted 1 Porcupine Ln on the side in bright orange. In a couple weeks this will be our new mailing address. Just in time, too; the rental term on our post office box in Brooklin is over at the end of the month. It's a beautiful, quiet Sunday morning here on the water. Quiet because everyone else is still sleeping. Today we're going to meet the people we're renting the next house from. And, drum roll please, I am buying a cell phone, one of those cheap phones you can buy at Right-Aid for fifteen bucks and then buy minutes as you go. We've had more than a few cell phone moments over the years. Times at which we've said-- It would be nice to have a cell phone right now. But those times were few and far between, and, we reasoned, cell phones don't work very well around here anyway. But, if you're building a house and you're afraid you might miss the electrician you're supposed to meet, it would be nice to be able to make or receive a phone call. We'll see. If it works well enough, we'll keep it. And, Molly reminded me, even Sam now has a cell phone. As if I were now the last person on earth without one.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

On the Bright Side...

After last night's complaining I forgot to mention that we have slender spears of asparagus poking out of the ground, the hazelnut trees have little leaves, the strawberry plants are thriving, and the raspberry canes are emerging. My food obsessed brother from San Francisco lent me Pig Perfect, a short book about one guy's quest for piggy excellence. His search took him all over the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, France and Spain. The storied pigs of Spain are finished on pasture and acorns. Two acres of forage per pig! So for us that means two hogs a year raised on pasture, acorns and, in our neck of the woods, apples. I was disappointed to read, however, that I have never tasted real ham. Ham purists maintain that it must cure for at least a year. Those in the states insist that the coating of mold on a properly cured ham is essential. Not so in France and Spain. Unfortunately, I don't think the climate of coastal Maine is right for air curing a ham over the course of a year. Too cold for too long in the winter. Not hot enough long enough in the summer. Not that that would stop me from raising bacon. But it does raise the question of raising animals appropriate to your environment. Which brings me to another thing Peter gave me to read: Sam Hayward of Fore St wrote a story for The Art of Eating about the old Maine practice of raising sheep on the little unpopulated islands off the coast. There are now a few small operations reviving the practice. No fences. No predators. They survive the winter quite nicely by eating seaweed washed up on the shore. Last summer a group of us went out for an island picnic to what was once, no doubt, an island once used for sheep. From the water it looked like any other spruce covered island, but the ring of trees hid a wide open area in the center now covered in tall ferns. Maybe, someday, when food production becomes, by necessity, more local, there will be sheep on that island again. The way things are going someday may be coming sooner than expected.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Deep Breathing Exercises

We've been back from our journey to Chapel Hill for a few days now. Not much changed in our absence. I made a phone call to our neighbors before I headed over there with a trailer load of stuff from Connecticut. I needed to know whether work had been done, whether our road was drivable. Yes, work had been done. What, exactly, and to what extent? Unknown. I went anyway trailering two sinks, a rototiller, a kid-sized picnic table, and four glass panels that had once been a shower enclosure at the Rockefeller place. Material had been applied to the beginning of the road, maybe the first hundred feet, but the rest was same soft sandiness. I made it down the road without too much trouble (it's slightly downhill at the worst part) and unloaded all but the rototiller which had to go to Blue Hill for repairs. But the Volvo couldn't make it back out with the weight of the trailer. So I had to unhook the trailer and maneuver it over to the neighbor's driveway. I've done this before with an empty trailer easily enough, but the weight of the rototiller made it almost impossible. Once again I was moved to call my nemesis, Lewis Tapley. He'd had over a week to do the work. As expected, I got more of the same bullshit excuses. I called my new excavator friend to close the book on Tapley, and he can't make it for a week. So Tapley gets another week. If he doesn't show, I'll send him the bill for the work he should have done properly the first time.

Today Chloe, Hazel and I spent the morning in Sedgwick, moving things around, measuring things, until it was time to go to the Bagaduce Lunch. The real purpose for our trip was to meet up with an electrician at 1pm to talk about bringing power from the pole to the house site. While we were ordering our obligatory ice cream cones, we ran into our neighbor, Chris, who was there for lunch with two guys from work. When I told them I had to go to meet this particular electrician, they said-- He just left. He was parked right behind you. (I've only spoken to the guy on the phone.) So I got the kids and their cones into the car a fast as possible and got to Sis Porter Rd in as long as it takes to drive a couple miles. Michelle, my electrician, was already there. But where was the other guy? Michelle said she saw a white truck pulling away recently, driving slowly. But. But? It wasn't even 1 o'clock. It's not like we were late. Was I supposed to be there ahead of time with a red carpet rolled out and refreshments ready? He had pulled in, saw nobody and left. I AM AN ELECTRICIAN! I WAIT FOR NO ONE! I stayed for another 45 minutes just in case he'd had to go unexpectedly and come back. This made me disproportionately angry. Polite words cannot convey how tired I am of the "I can't be bothered" attitude. Waiting a minute or two is just too much of an imposition for someone who's just got so much work.

Discussing this episode and others with Molly and Eric over dinner tonight, I was reminded that this is just the way things are. Sometimes progress sails along smoothly without a care and then, BANG!, you hit a wall. At this point, Eric advised, you just have to take a deep breath and.... I don't know. What happens after the deep breath? I reminded Eric that when I meet a wall my inclination is to take a sledge hammer and knock it down. For those who don't know this, I must come clean as a hard driving, no holds barred, slave driver. Fortunately, I am usually the slave, and I'm driving myself. My expectations are high. My time is precious and wasting it sends me in search of my sledge hammer. This part of the process that seems more or less out of my control, that puts me at the mercy of other agendas and bullshit attitudes, is really wearing me out.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Chapel Hill!

In a few days we'll be off to Chapel Hill for Tim and Anna's wedding. We'll be gone for a little more than a week. While we're gone, I hope to get some site work done by a guy recommended by neighbor Damian Bebel. I'm meeting Jeff Gray at the site just before we leave to map out what we want done. Lewis Tapley has yet to fix the road.

We're hauling the trailer down to Greenwich to pick up a couple sinks and a rototiller. I scored a small stainless steel tub while working on a boat in Massachusetts. The boat, the re-christened Starbound, now belongs to Jim and Heather Cassidy, friends from Brooklin. The tub was part of the boat when it was built in the late 40's. One of the boat's previous owners was none other than Burl Ives. Our downstairs bathroom will have a sink from David Rockefeller's estate in Greenwich, CT, and a tub that circumnavigated the globe twice and once held Burl Ives. Now that's recycling!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Quagmired (Part 2)

We're back from our week in Rhode Island and Connecticut. The roads are unposted. We're rearing to go. Guns blazing. Things look good for earth moving. I line up a skid-steer (aka Bobcat w/a bucket) and some dump truck loads of material. And then two days ago we get more than three inches of rain. So instead of canceling I think optimistically: A couple clear days will dry it up, and it had been dry for a while. It's not nearly as wet as it was when I rented the excavator....

I got to Sedgwick first thing this morning. The machine had been dropped off yesterday evening. I tied a rope to a 20' length of culvert that had been languishing at the end our road since January and dragged it to the house site. I left the safety of the road to turn around and promptly got stuck, wheels half buried and spinning in same viscous muck that had nearly sunk the excavator a month ago. Chris came by to say hello and suggested I use some of the mountain of wood chips for traction. I ended up feeding several wheel barrow loads into the mud, and with less trouble than I expected I got out. I installed the culvert in the drainage trench, covered it and drove over to the other side. As I tried to spread a large pile of rotten rock over the parking area, I felt the skid-steer sinking deeper in the ruts I was creating. So I moved on to the trench I dug along the side of the road and tried to fill it in so the dump trucks could get through, and I came close to getting stuck again. Under the seemingly solid turf lurked more of the same mud. Not without reservations I decided to give up. I worked my way back up the driveway doing a little grading as I went. But I had to get stuck just one last time to make my failure complete. I got a little too close to the edge of the driveway, and the left wheels sunk deep into the shoulder. An hour and a half and innumerable expletives later I managed to extricate myself by lifting most of the machine in the air by the bucket and feeding a very large log into the deep rut. At one point the mud had completely swallowed the rear wheel. Free again I used Chris and Anna's hose to clean it up and called the rental place to tell them to come and get it. What I had hoped would be a productive couple of days turned out to be a complete waste of time and money.

When I got back to Brooklin, I called Louis Tapley, the excavator who'd built the road at the root of my troubles, and told him that it wasn't firming up. That it was more or less impassable. Oddly, he didn't sound surprised. He said he'd cover it with rotten rock within a few days. Unbelievable.