Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mind Over Matter

I watched Larry in my rear view mirror, making a counterclockwise motion with his hand. 

Since I was looking at him in a mirror, I turned the wheel clockwise.

He immediately began shaking his head, then started making clockwise circles.  Did he want me to turn the wheel clockwise, or swing the back of the truck clockwise, which would move the trailer counterclockwise…?  Wait a minute… 

It seemed that no matter which way I turned the wheel, as soon as I started to back up, he shook his head more vigorously than the last time.  Finally I stuck my head out the window and yelled, “Which way do you want me to turn?” 

“You want to move the end of the trailer that way,” he said, pointing to the left, “So move the end of the truck this way.”  “But I did that,” I said, “and it went way over in the wrong direction!”  “That’s because you were too far over this way,” he said.  I did not see how that was possible, considering I was backing up a path about eight feet wide with pine trees lining one side and rocks the size of Volkswagons on the other. 

There are few things that test a relationship more than one party directing the other in backing up a trailer.  (For the record, they include:  renovating a kitchen or bathroom, teenage stepchildren and towing a vehicle with a chain.  The latter should be illegal for married couples to do together; it would probably lower the divorce rate.)   My friend Judy simply stated, “Remember, just point the back of the vehicle in the opposite direction you want the trailer to go.”  That advice went out the window, though, as I tried to follow Larry’s directions and this time came within a hair’s width of kissing a tree with the front of the truck. 

I don’t blame Larry and, in fact, I don’t even blame myself.  I blame the whole dynamic of “backing up.”  In a perfect world, if it’s pointed in a direction, that’s the direction it should go, whether you’re going backwards or forwards.  The fact that it doesn’t work that way shows a major fault with physics. 

I was beginning to feel like a bit of a loser.  Here I had this awesome truck, and Larry had just refurbished a 16’ foot utility trailer.  I took it for a few spins around Charley Hill Road and practiced backing it up -  a little.  But when it came to getting hay or really maneuvering it around, I always hopped out and let Larry do it.  The path from the road to the barn is not straight.  It’s lined with rocks and trees, has some slope, has a funky curve right before the barn that requires pivoting around a tree, and is generally a poorly designed arcade game.  We are often in a “get-r-done” mode, so instead of my taking hours trying to back it up, it is vastly easier to jump out and let Larry do it.  He hauled his J24 sailboat on a trailer with his Blazer for years, and apparently it’s like riding a bicycle.  The first time I saw him back the trailer down that path my jaw hit the ground.  He made it look like the simplest thing in the world.  Each occasion made me feel a little more inferior.

The F-700 in its "hay day"
The worst backing up was not with the trailer, however.  The F-700, when loaded with hay, was a great grassy behemoth.  It looked, and felt, like it could easily tip over.  Even with the side mirrors, it was nearly impossible to see around with a load of hay.  To his great credit, Larry backed that beast all the way from the road to the barn, with no power steering.  Larry counted on me, on the ground, to tell him how he had to turn to navigate the driveway.  I did my best, and eventually we worked out a series of hand signals the equivalent of landing a fighter on an aircraft carrier.   It was not pretty, however, and very stressful, and I would have paid anyone anything to do it for me.   

This year, when getting hay with the trailer, it worked out that we could just drive straight up to the barn as far as we could go, unload onto the hay elevator, and then Larry would back the whole caravan back out to the road.   One Saturday, we got our second load in late, and it was totally dark by the time we were done, plus the elevator chain broke with five bales to go.  We called it a day and left everything where it sat. 

Larry had weekend duty, so in the morning he left for work until noon.  I was homebound until he came home and backed the truck and trailer out.  This was not acceptable.  This was just stupid, really.  This was my opportunity to figure it out on my own and Just Do It, or crash and burn trying.  I took a deep breath and thought only of Judy saying “point the back of the vehicle the opposite direction of where you want the trailer to go.” 

Twenty minutes later, I had successfully backed the whole shebang out onto the road, turned it around, and then backed the trailer into its storage spot (conveniently wedged between a pile of rocks and a cherry tree that is getting cut down at my next opportunity).  I took my time, had to get out and look around a few times, had broken a sweat and needed a spinal adjustment at the end of it all, but I Just Did It.  Amen.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Year in Review

Here we are in the beginning of November and, as usual, we have a laundry list of things that we didn’t get to/need to do before things freeze.  By the same token, it’s good to look back at the things that we did accomplish this year.  This is the 6th official year of The 30 Acre Wood and it’s nice to no longer be in the life-or-death gotta-get-things-done mode of the first several years.

As far as accomplishments, I’d have to say getting the riding ring in was one of the biggies.  We’d been talking about it and planning it for the last several years, but this was the year we finally corralled Bill and his trackhoe and turned him loose in the ring.  Like most things here, it didn’t turn out quite like we thought.  It turned out much more fabulous.  The rocks, prolific as they are here, ended up forming a beautiful wall/edging around the entire ring, thanks to Bill’s skilled placement, and there were some big honkers.  That damn pine that Larry just had to keep (“You never should have brought me to the St. Clement’s horse show!” was his defense) stands between the two house-sized boulders that are permanent ride-arounds.  It’s a true Adirondack riding ring.  Next year we hope to start bringing in fill for footing.  In the meantime, it’s quite useable and a joy to have.

The second biggest accomplishment was getting the center beam of the house replaced.  Well, it couldn’t quite be replaced (for reasons that I’ll elaborate on in a future post), but once again, Bill and his trackhoe and team of Doug and Bill Jr. brought in a 26’ beam through a hole in the back of the house, slid it through the exterior and an interior wall, secured it underneath the old beam, and jacked up the 1st floor ceiling/2nd floor floor.  The goal wasn’t to get it perfectly level, but to get it shored up and more stable, and in that regard it turned out great.  Again, it wasn’t quite what we envisioned, but even better.  We were able to take the cob-job supports off the exposed beams in the living room that we like so much, Bill did a great job framing in the new beam, and we gained an extra support in the living room, which blends in perfectly and the cats love to claw and climb on (it’s rough cut wood, so who cares).  Just to have the ceiling not quite so swayed – you could see the polite, unspoken fear in the eyes of people who walked into the house for the first time – made the whole thing worthwhile.  Bill, Doug and Bill Jr. did a fantastic job on what had to be a challenging project.  If you look at the back of the house, you can’t even tell where they went in, and Doug skillfully replaced the sheetrock with my beloved ancient wallpaper in the kitchen.  A little red paint and her scars were well hidden.

Our biggest setback ended with a big capital purchase.  The 1950 8N tractor, which served us well and was used for applications it was never intended for, gave Larry fits all year.  He was spending more time working on it than using it, and as a result we got way behind the curve on getting in our firewood (the wet spring didn’t help, either).  Antique farm equipment is fun when you aren’t counting on it.  Unfortunately, it just wasn’t working for us anymore.  After much consideration, swearing and wrench throwing, we decided to sell it and find a new tractor.  We were fortunate to find a Ford enthusiast who was thrilled with his purchase, and the 8N went to its new home in Jay.  Two weeks later, we bought our 2004 John Deere 790 with bucket, backhoe, york rake and flail mower (that last one sounds good and dangerous, doesn’t it?).  It drives like a dream, starts right up (what a concept), and I can’t wait to go popping stumps with it in the spring.  We have started scraping the mud out behind the barn in anticipation of putting down a new surface soon, and while it’s still hard work it would be a nightmare without the tractor attachments.  We are very excited about having this new piece of hard working equipment in our arsenal.

I also bought a woodsplitter this year, and it’s probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever bought in my life.  Nothing against my industrious and hardworking husband, who has been uncharacteristically stubborn about his insistence on splitting wood by hand.  That’s all fine and good, when you have the time for that kind of crap.  Normally Larry skids the logs out, we stage them, he cuts them into lengths, then splits, and I stack.  My point was, I could be splitting the wood myself, saving him lots of effort and time so he could concentrate on other things, and I wouldn’t have to be waiting for him to split a huge pile of logs to get the job done.  I had been making this argument for the last couple of years, to no avail.  This summer our friend Bob bought a splitter and showed it to us at his camp, extolling its virtues.  I told Bob my quandary with my husband and his good friend.  Out of the blue Bob brought the splitter over to our house and left it with us for a few weeks.  Sheer brilliance.  I had a field day with it and it didn’t take long to sell Larry on the idea.  Within a week of Bob picking his splitter up, I bought ours, a good used model.   Another excellent, hard-working piece of equipment.

So we continue to move forward towards self-sufficiency (of sorts).  It’s satisfying to look back at the end of each year and see what we’ve accomplished.  We’ve also done other things like get the gardens going, I built an adorable little “pioneer fence” in the front yard and did some perennial planting, Larry built a bridge out back for the tractor to cross the stream, and we fine tuned the pasture fencing.  We put a gate in next to the barn, acquired and rehabbed a 16’ utility trailer, and did some major hauling with it.  Out of sheer necessity, I managed to back the truck and trailer away from the barn and all the way out to the road, then backed the trailer into its storage spot (despite Larry’s attempts at coaching me on this whole process, in the end I had to do it my own and by myself, and I was pleased as punch when, 20 minutes later, I had successfully navigated about 70 feet of truck and trailer backwards down a path lined with trees and rocks, then back it back up the same path and got the trailer in its spot between two trees and a pile of rocks.  Talk about empowering!).

I can only imagine what the winter brings.