Sunday, August 26, 2012

Keep On Trucking

While I've been busy getting the fencing up and cleaning and landscaping various parts of the yard, I've also been taking the bowsaw and loppers into the woods on almost every walk with the dogs and methodically hacking my way into the wilderness. It hasn't been easy since the woods are quite overgrown in some places. I am fortunate in some respects because although the trees have taken over, someone, many years ago, clearly had the same idea I have and cut paths into the woods. They weren't immediately apparent so in my hacking and slashing I have created paths almost right next to paths that are probably 20 or 30 years old. A couple days ago I discovered a path that simply needed the pine trees trimmed and it curves around right at the property line so obviously whoever cut it knew where to stop and loop it back. I see now it's going to be relatively easy to fence through that part of the woods which is very nice for me! In all that hacking and slashing I have made a few interesting discoveries.

I didn't realize when I bought the house that I purchased two trucks as well. I discovered them on a walk shortly after I moved in. I have no idea how they ended up in my woods but there they will stay for as long as they take to decay. There are trees grown up around them that are probably 30 or 40 years old, there is no way to remove them without taking down some trees and frankly, I'm not interested in that kind of work just to remove two trucks. I will need to clean up around one of them because there are at least 4 bicycle frames surrounding it, but otherwise I think it can be left as a kind of 'art piece' in the woods.

I don't know what year it's from but I think it has probably been sitting in these woods since before television was invented. It's rear wheel well is about 20 feet away behind it and other than the wheel well, this is all that's left. I remember from walking out behind the town of Pictou, before I moved, finding a truck bed in the woods - a tree had grown in the middle of the bed and was at least 40 or 50 years old. What is is with people leaving trucks in the woods?

The other truck is on its roof. At first I was unable to identify its model but after mentally flipping it back on it's 'wheels' I think it's a Suburban. It's definitely a truck with 4 doors, very long and quite heavily built. I can only think of the Suburban as a truck like that. It hasn't been in the woods as long as the other truck but it's certainly fared no better. It has bullet holes in the side - target practice I imagine - no doors, no windows, no tires, and the interior has been stripped. I will have to fence around this truck because it has a lot more sharp edges and the dogs are more likely to want to get inside it since if I was a forest creature I'd try to live in there and the dogs will want to investigate. It's not a very good photo but if you're interested this is what the bottom of a Suburban looks like after it's been in the woods for a couple decades.

So now I know what to do with my Explorer when it's given up the ghost. I'm kidding, I'll probably donate it to some cause or another. I owe that truck a lot more than being left to rot in the woods alone and overgrown. It's never let me down and when it does finally go it will be a sad day for me and the dogs. Lots of adventures in that truck! I suppose the two trucks in the woods have had a lot of adventures too, in a way I'm glad to have found them so they can now become part of backdrop of the story of the dogs and my life.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

You Don't Have Mail

The second time I came to see the house was with my parents so they could look at a place I was interested in. While we were there we wandered along the road and when my mom looked in the mailbox she discovered there was mail in it. I thought it a little strange that this place was still getting mail but you know those junk senders, they'll keep sending stuff long after you've moved or died.

When I moved in I knew I'd be replacing the mailbox, it's hideous. It's one of those home-made jobs that was probably (not) very nice 20 years ago but hasn't been painted or maintained since and certainly needs replacing. It's in pretty rough shape, has no name or number on either side and is just a brown box that the post office delivery people know from decades of delivering mail. It was a bit of a beast to remove, it had three bolts holding it on but after some elbow grease and a little convincing I was able to take it off its very sturdy and useful post and set it by the garbage bins. I mean really, would  you keep this thing?

The next day I had an unexpected knock at the door. It was the girl who lives across the road with her parents - I'd put her age at about mid-twenties - and she was there to ask me if I removed her parent's mailbox. I'm quite sure I looked incredibly surprised - so much so that two of the dogs made it past me out the door before I could stop them (bad Cora and Leeloo!).

After many apologies and "I thought it was my mailbox!" she explained that this house has never had a mailbox, the person living here has always picked up in town. Why anyone would go through the trouble of driving all the way into town, especially when you're handicapped, is beyond me. In my defense the mailbox is right at the end of my driveway, as you will see. The brown mailbox should not get mail to it - I know this because once I realized I had to install my own post and box, I looked up the regulations. What that mailbox is missing is either a name or a number and according to Canada Post, they should not be getting mail. Now why, you might ask yourself, is my neighbour's box at the end of my driveway? Well, because their house is right across from mine and all the mailboxes are on the right hand side of the road to accommodate the delivery drivers heading in only one direction and not having to double back. Makes sense but still, that mailbox should have a name, dammit.

So I had to find a post (fortunately there was one in the shed), dig a hole into gravel (super fun), realize that I could not get the hole deep enough to make the post the right height, buy a support bracket, cut a piece of wood to set the box on, find screws that were long enough to hold the box to the post but not too long to drill right through into the box, secure it all in place, paint the post white, find a lighted post cap to put on top of the post (so it's pretty), cut the post down because it's a true 4x4 and about 1/4 inch on each side too large for the post cap, slice my finger on the bow saw, jam the post cap on, and here we have it. My mail box. I feel it puts the crappy brown one to shame. When I removed it I had rather hoped they'd just replace it but no, they just screwed it back on (even though I offered to replace it and/or re-attach it).

Here's mine from the other side. Ain't she a beauty? Now, mail me something.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hit the Deck

Besides the fence, one of the other major projects I needed help with was taking apart the wheelchair ramp that led from the driveway to the back deck. If you don't remember what it looked like here's a little reminder, the ramp went from the back door along the side of the house to the driveway, all told I think it was about 35 feet long and quite serious about its job.

I don't know who built it but they took the task astoundingly seriously, so much so that by the time we finally got the thing apart I had a burning hatred for the carpenter. In the end it took sheer force of will to disassemble that beast - she wasn't coming apart without a fight. They didn't screw the boards together, which would have made things a lot easier, they used two 2.5 inch nails on every single joining, sometimes they used 3 nails just to mess with us and most times to get one rail off you had to remove two other rails which were attached by no fewer than two nails. Once a board was removed we tried prying the rest of it off using just the leverage of the rail to twist out the nails. No dice, the 4" x 4" posts just split apart because nothing had ever been stained or treated and the wood was completely dried out. Everything just split apart. Short of ruining the entire deck we did the only sane thing we could think of ...

We used a chainsaw.

It was still hard work. I took over for a bit and for the first time in my life wielded a spinning, growling, spitting machine that beat the ramp into submission. Section by section, piece by laborious piece, that ramp became no more than shadows of its former self. The chainsaw was feeling the strain so while my Dad switched to a sharper chain, I used the reciprocating saw to hack my way into a few other small pieces of wood that needed attention. I don't think I need to mention that we did all this work under the blistering sun on a 30+ degree day. Sweat was dripping down my nose and my Dad's clothes were soaked through but still we soldiered on and completed the second most difficult task to date.

The entire point of taking the ramp apart a section at a time was so that we could reuse a large portion of it - otherwise I might have simply cleansed it with gasoline and a match. Before moving in, and even after moving in, I had been giving a lot of thought to what and how to reuse that ramp. Several ideas came to mind but just a day or two before we took it apart I had a moment of illumination. I knew what to do with 3 of the 4 sections and I am pretty pleased with the result if I do say so myself.

The bottom portion of the ramp was the longest so it was used to go from the deck to the ground. The dogs love - did I say love? - I mean *adore* the ramp. It's so much fun to run up and down! Cora demonstrates the 'up' use of the ramp. I do have to put some grip on it because they slide a bit but now that they've grown accustomed to the angle they are sliding less and bounding with gay abandon more.

We put two shorter sections side by side so that I now have another deck at ground level. The upper deck at the back door isn't really big enough to have a table or chairs on as well as the barbecue so the little deck at the base of the ramp is a nice place to sit and relax (once the mosquitoes are gone). The dogs also like to survey their domain from there, they are so used to having the concrete pad in the backyard that this is a small reminder of what they knew. They stand on the edge of it and scan for squirrels - Cora is our model today.

I then enclosed one side of the ramp with lattice to finish it and to hide the support underneath (to prevent the ramp flexing at the join) and closed the ends of the lower deck so you can't see the joists anymore. It may not look like a lot of work but I sawed those lattice by hand - lattice, if you don't know, is incredibly hard to saw with anything other than a handsaw or a table saw (of you have one big enough). I also put a short piece of lattice on the other side to hide the support but left the rest open so the dogs could go under the ramp and lie on the grass in the shade. Raimi has already partaken of this aspect multiple times.

I'd say this portion of the work to the deck is about complete, currently it's pretty much as I want it to be, everything is level, and although I had intended to use the final section of the ramp for the front deck I think I may add it to its companions and make the lower deck 12 feet wide instead of just 8 feet. Esme demonstrates the emergency exit handily built into the ramp - you never know when you might need to bail over the side. 

One last cute photo of Esme making sure the heather plants are doing okay in their planter. They need to get into the ground before winter hits but I still haven't decided where to plant them. I'm not sure they'll survive the winter in a planter. They are happily blooming now so I'll just leave them until they're done and decide what to do with them later - that it assuming Esme doesn't root them up and Boy doesn't pee in them.

And that is the adventure of the deck. Later that day, because my Dad had the chainsaw, he asked if there was anything else we needed to do. I said I had a couple downed trees in the woods that needed to be cut since they were right in the paths I wanted to make - they were too high to step over and too low to duck under. He asked if I wanted him to leave the chainsaw and would I be able to cut the trees without dismembering myself? I said sure, maybe.  I could see the wheels turning in his brain as he considered how my solitary use of a chainsaw might conclude. He said "Alright, let's go cut some trees." And we did. He carried the generator (the chainsaw is electric) and both of us sawed apart some stubborn beech, pine and maple trees. It opened the paths right up to make it a lot easier for me to create even more paths in the woods for me and the dogs. It was fast, simple and I got to learn how to cut through trees. A couple days later at work a gentleman came in to return some crutches he'd rented, the pharmacist and he were discussing his need for them and he said "Do you want to see the scar?"  The pharmacist said "Sure!" and so I got to see what my leg might have looked like had my Dad not stayed to help me cut the trees. This gentleman was using a chainsaw, let go with one hand to move some branches, it over-balanced and the blade swung down, caught his pants and chewed right into his leg. He said had he been wearing chainsaw-safe equipment it wouldn't have been so bad but he was only wearing jeans. That day at my house, I was wearing shorts. After seeing the scars on his leg I am extremely grateful my Dad stayed to help me. I may be a pretty independent sort of person, determined to do things on my own, but I think I know what my limits are and I'm glad my Dad does too. He likely imagined me lying in the woods bleeding to death because the chainsaw he lent me cut into my leg during one of my many moments of inattention. So once again, it can never be said enough - Thank You to my Dad for taking care of his daughter in every way a Dad possibly could.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ridgeback Proof Fence

The first thing that needed to happen once I moved in was a fence. The road is quite close to the house and the speed limit is 80kph so it's almost highway speed - not that many people go 80, it's more like an average of 90 or 100 as far as I can tell. There is also a lot of heavy truck traffic in the form of dump trucks, graders, and tractor trailers which, travelling at 80kph and meeting with a Ridgeback or a Puli would result in instant tragedy. Fencing as soon as possible was a must but the soonest I could get it done was 2 weeks after I'd moved in because the fence had to be ordered - I didn't realize this before I moved in. I'm sure the neighbours all thought, and probably still think, I was the worst dog owner ever screaming at the dogs to come when I couldn't see them. I saw a quote one time about parenting advice to children and it stated "I yell because I am afraid" and that was never more relevant than walking the dogs and panicking at the thought of them near that road.

My ever helpful Dad came out one hot sunny day to help me fence once I had all the equipment. We couldn't do more than across the front, the dog yard and to the road because the foliage here is so substantial we will have to wait until Fall to be able to even walk into the eastern acre of the property. I haven't walked more than 20 feet in, it's just too dense. Still, there are another 3 acres to explore and  the dogs can survey at least one of those acres from the deck.

I chose the hottest summer in probably decades to move and have to do a tonne of work, most of which is outdoors. I feel completely insane. After what looks to be several years of neglect to bushes, landscaping and various other small but time consuming chores, I am taking back parts of the wilderness a bit at a time. I feel completely insane. Oh wait, did I say that already? Lately I feel gripped with a desire to work work work and keep working until it's done. I have list after list of things to do and every single thing involves lifting, shifting, hefting, moving, slashing, carrying, transporting, throwing, hacking, cutting, smashing, removing, nailing, sawing, snipping, or pushing. Some of them my Daddy helped with, namely the fence and the deck.

The fencing process was not easy and although digging holes with the rented auger was a snap, pounding the poles in, back-filling the dirt, rolling out the wire, nailing it on ... nightmare. We sweat buckets and despite liberal applications of bug spray we got bitten and my Dad said his back easily had 70 or 80 bites. I owe him big time for his assistance - best retirement home I can afford ... I swear. The dog yard, looking at it from the western side of the property. Esme is at the gate which has yet to be built and the deck and ramp are in progress. So ... all in progress.

The space between the house and the shed is also a work in progress, it's been a few different configurations, right now it's a combination of fencing, expen and part of the ramp that was along the house. It has since been re-used for decking in the dog yard. That will be in a whole other blog.

The part that blocks the dogs from getting to the road was the one I was most concerned about. This is The Boy demonstrating the side of the fence he's supposed to be on. There should be rails along the top, and those are coming, but for now the most important thing was a barrier between them and the road.

This is the path that leads down to the woods on the western side of the property, it's right outside my back door and the dogs delight in racing down the hill to scare up critters unknown. I rolled that fence down there myself after my Dad left and let me tell you, page wire is *heavy*. I managed to get it all the way to the creek and now I'm just waiting for the undergrowth to die back so I can man-handle it a little more easily. The dogs respect the fence and have not tested it and my peace of mind has increased tenfold since right on the other side of that fence is a ditch full of years of garbage including broken glass, rusted cans, bicycles, and some sort of farming implement that has long since rusted away its identity ...

Although at this point the fence it may not look impressive, installing it was a lot of work and took the better part of a hot damn day but it was worth it for the safety of the dogs. The middle part of most of the posts still need additional staples, the gates aren't done (thank doG for expen panels) and there are a few other things that have yet to be completed. It will all have to wait until the middle of September because my parents leave for three weeks of dog shows and although there are several things I can do without my Dad's help, there are also several things I need to do that simply require two people. A thousand Thank You's to my Dad for his uncomplaining assistance in helping ensure the safety of the dogs. And to my mom, for loaning me her husband ... I know I need to find one just like my Dad, but a younger model.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Gift

I'm back! I was just over two weeks without internet and although I did have my iPhone to tide me over it's not the same and I certainly couldn't write blog posts on it. Our move was a success and we are settling in very well, painting, fencing, moving rocks and stones and cleaning up the yard to at least begin to establish what I envision the property will look like in the future. Baby steps are hard when all I want is for the place to be exactly as I want it right away, not a year or two from now. Certainly there is nothing like this to teach you patience, one thing at a time and the value of hard work. I can safely say I have never worked as hard in my entire life as I have in the past 3 weeks. Every single day sees me moving stones, securing fencing, painting, installing hardware, trimming back bushes sorely in need of attention, hacking out paths in the overgrown weeds, cutting back trees and learning how big a branch loppers can cut, when to upgrade to a bow saw and when, at last, to let the chainsaw do the work for you. In this time I have seen the slow but steady transformation of the house into a place that clearly shows my mark.

So what of it? I don't even have one photo yet of the work I've done. I realize now it's because I've been too busy working to take photos. It doesn't help that this summer is turning into one of the hottest on record, almost no rain for weeks on end, and the back breaking work I (and my Daddy) have been doing has been under scorching conditions. At the end of the day I can't bring myself to take photos, mostly because it's too dark, but also because it's just one more thing to do.

Today, though, I took a break from carrying the loppers or the bowsaw into the woods and took my camera. I thought it appropriate that the first blog from our new home include the reasons why we are moved. The dogs are slowly coming to realize that this is where we are now. They are still learning the sounds, or lack thereof, of the country. Blissful quiet and the occasional sound of a neighbour's dog are what we listen to now - that and the cheeky squirrel who lives in the woods right behind us. More on him later. Right now I invite you to join me on a portrait journey of the dogs and their very own wilderness.

The Boy will forever be the poser and it is no trouble at all to take his photo no matter where we are. He will oblige infinitum by standing and looking at the trees for the resident squirrel, he makes it almost too easy to take his photo. Here he is, in his very own woods, gazing up at the treetops in an often vain attempt to spot the squirrel.

Leeloo was likely the first to discover the creek, or brook as it's called here. It marks the border to the back of the property and since Leeloo is a perpetual rule-breaker, she is on the other side of the brook in this photo. The brook is almost empty, per the aforementioned drought, which is why she was happy to pose for me on the opposite bank. Thanks to Leeloo though I did discover that I own an extra half acre which I thought was not mine. In point of fact I own a little clearing in the woods which in the spring I suspect is a little marshy island.

Leeloo has gotten a lot better at posing as she's aged, it must be a maturity thing. It's only taken 4 years to get here. She owns these woods, as if there was ever any doubt, and she doesn't care who knows it. Pity she is not the one fencing it.

Esme, little bugger, is almost impossible to photograph in the woods, much less in an almost empty creek bottom. She never sits still long enough for a decent photo so this was the best I could do. I also had my long lens so low apertures plus low light equals a little red suit with some blurry black cords. She wears her suit in the woods to stop her bringing home half the forest.

Oh Miss Coraline. She is one in a million. She is perfecting the art of not listening, or listening when she feels like it and I am often a millimetre away from a 'Come to Jesus' meeting with her when miraculously she can hear me again. She was the first to learn that right outside the door is the wilderness. The dog yard just doesn't cut it anymore for Miss Cora and every time she goes outside it's to go for a walk on 4 acres, not a pee in the small yard. We are still working out the kinks ...

To my eye Cora is still very much the puppy; in her face, attitude, mind and body. My mom put it best when she said that Cora's elbows were very close friends. Indeed they are! Fortunately I know they'll go their separate ways ... in about a year as her mother's did! Despite her faults Cora has my heart and those eyes ... they get what they want more often than they should.

I was impressed Raimi ventured into the brook, we do own half of it after all, and perhaps he was just taking his fair share. It's quite deep, the banks are actually about 3 or 4 feet high and I suspect with the winter run off it is quite a sight. Must remember to keep an eye on little Esme!

Up near the house the land is cleared and I have about an acre to mow. Oh joy. The dogs think so anyway. We fenced last week along the driveway to prevent the dogs from getting to the road and now they run with gleeful abandon. They adore the pine bushes and do endless loops around their bases, the needles brushing their backs, ridding them of flies and goading them on their way. As if Cora needs goading.

In the days to come I'll be posting photos of the fence, deck and various other projects my Dad and I have undertaken in the last 3 weeks. The good thing about not having the Internet is how much more I got done. Most of the work is outside but I did paint in the house and things are almost as they should be insidefor now - I need a new sofa and a bed but they can wait until winter - too much to do outdoors right now. Some other projects will have to wait until I have the money to spend but many things I can do now myself, it just takes a little hard work. I have a vision of what I want the place to be and we are well on our way to realizing it.