The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Stone Cold Busy March 1, 2015

From what I understand, the frost now reaches five feet down into the ground here in the Northeast. And as if things weren’t already taxing enough what with foot upon foot of snow covering every last rooftop and sub-zero temps occurring daily, now water mains are freezing, adding inconvenience to insult and injury. Thank goodness we ourselves haven’t experienced a loss of power or water on top of it all. I suppose we should count ourselves as lucky. And even though I might be the busiest poor person I know, once again, I suppose I should count myself a lucky gal to have a life filled with unending industry. After all, we still have food and heat and more than a few instruments around to play. So things aren’t truly dire. But some days, I swear it just feels like too fucking much. Some days all I want to do is to succumb, to whine, to moan and pound my fists on the responsible person’s chest, to get some answers, to get an apology for all this unending winter, my relentless to-do list and the continued lack of income… Just when I’m at my wit’s end, it does help to know I’m not the only one about to lose it…

Last night Elihu and I snuggled onto the couch, my legs on the table, his on mine, as we settled in for our weekly dose of Prairie Home Companion. The sound effects always make him giggle, and the anecdotes remind us of our life back in the midwest. Stories of fishing shacks on the ice, wide expanses of fields stretching out to the horizon, and people who speak using pinched, nasal-y vowel sounds (interestingly, the local rural accent is similar in many ways to the rural folks ‘out there’.) This week the program was centered around the host’s very same lament: an unrelenting season of cold that had gone on long enough. It made us laugh to hear his take on the ceaseless winter, and in some small way helped to make our own burdens a little easier to bear.

Earlier in the day we’d tried our hand (or feet, as it were) at snow shoeing. I’d only just tried it for the first time a couple of weeks back, and had enjoyed it so much I wanted to share it with the kid. He was excited – which is very rare for Elihu because he really does NOT like winter (Think bright, bright, bright. Headachey, hospital white all around. Exhausting for an achromat) – and so I jumped at the chance to get out in the woods with him. Out the trail we trekked, til we found a spot to don our shoes so we could go off trail. But that, dear readers, became a good twenty-minute process fraught with bindings that broke and straps that would not loosen, nor when finally loosened would tighten up satisfactorily. The whole thing was a comedy of errors, and I felt the clock ticking on Elihu’s patience. In the end, we bagged on the shoes and walked the trail to its end. Elihu asked where the wetlands were, and I told him they were at the end of a different trail. He was very disappointed. His expectation was that we had been headed there all along, and I apologized if I’d lead him to believe that. We took from this a lesson learned: identify your expectations up front. Not a total wash though, the woods were beautiful. The forest does look pretty in snow, I gotta say.

We’d had another miscommunication the day prior too. A friend had needed help driving to some errands, as he was without a car. He kindly offered lunch in return, but since my jam-packed day couldn’t allow for that, I suggested we do errands after school, and he made lunch into dinner. So when Elihu and I arrived at his place to find no one home, I panicked. Our friend’s not in great health, so I began to freak out. I imagined him on the floor, unable to respond. I began to wonder – just how do I dial 911 on my phone? It’s in a different area code – so what exactly do I dial? I made a mental note to figure this out just as soon as I got home. Without a smart phone sometimes things become tricky; over the next hour we made a couple of trips to the local library to use the computer so I could check Facebook. Again, nothing. Cold adrenaline followed us back to his house again. Poor kid was tired, and hungry too. He lamented not being able to go out for dinner. I knew it wasn’t a prudent move, but did it anyway. I took us out. Used the lesson money I’d just made – earmarked for the gas tank – and splurged. We had a good time, but the consensus was we didn’t need to go there again. Another lesson learned I suppose. When I got home I found out that my friend was fine, and he was upset with me for not getting his call. Double checked the log, no call was received. I was upset that he’d invited me, that I’d fit him into my schedule, I’d worried about him for hours, ended up spending money I didn’t have to spend, and then got scolded after the whole fiasco. My call log still shows no missed calls, and I don’t know who’s right, or what happened. Just another frustration on the list. I pray that soon clarity and peace come to my life. Because I am exhausted. (And broke, too.)

The things I’m doing these past few weeks – and the weeks coming up – are all important, necessary things. Costume and prop help for my son’s play (Six foot potted palm, check. Burlap sacks from the coffee store, check. Eleven tunics and sashes, check. Headscarves, check. Oversized gold coin for comic moment, check.). Mammograms and colonoscopies and appointments with arthritis docs, dentists too, for both me and the kid. Piano students to teach, rehearsals to attend. Trips to the feed store, the grocery store, the music store, the hardware store. Check-ins with the loggers, with the carpenters at the Studio, with the lawyer, the town clerk, the accountant, the county department of public works. I bought a computer in December which has yet to recognize the printer, let alone the piano keyboard. So it’s trip number three to the computer repair guy, this time with tower, printer, piano and cords all in tow (Windows 8.1 seems to be rife with problems). And then there’s this tuba in my living room which needs a case and a teacher to go along with it.

I’ve begun to fantasize about taking a vacation. I’m fifty-one and I have never once in my life had a real, stay-at-a-hotel-on-the-beach-and-do-nothing vacation. I begin to wonder if I am even able to sit on a beach for a week with nothing to do. Could I? I’m beginning to think I could. It’s not close to being an option, but I can’t shake the idea. I’ll bet it would feel great to step off a plane somewhere warm… My son sticks his face in the humidifier’s cool output, telling me that it feels like the air in Florida, only better, and says it almost makes him want to cry. I so get it.

This week is our hump. He’s got a lead part in his play, and I’m playing piano for the Missoula Children’s Theatre production at the local elementary school. Both of these things don’t usually happen at the same time, so it will be a tricky week for us. Lots of logistics. Me, I don’t like lots of stuff to do. I don’t like stress, I don’t like fast-paced schedules. Just gotta get through this week.

Yesterday Elihu asked the logger how much longer they’d be there, in his answer lay a great gem of hope for all of us in snow territory: Not much longer. “Why?” Elihu had asked. The logger explained that soon the ground wouldn’t be cold enough to support all that heavy machinery. In a few week’s time they’d be sinking into the mud. My kid looked at me. I couldn’t see past his big, dark glasses, but I kinda knew what was registering in his eyes. The fishing shacks on Lake Desolation will get pulled in sometime soon too. Here was evidence that things were not going to remain like this forever. And hard as it might be to envision now, all of our planning and building and fixing will one day come to an end too. We’re all just waiting it out, preparing for the big changes that are headed our way. Like the tiny seeds that sleep all around us in a bed of frost, we too contain the promise of a changing future.

It’s cold for now, but we all know that ‘now’ never lasts… And in this case, knowing that makes me stone cold relieved.

IMG_2997Elihu, tooting his own horn. Sounds pretty good for just a couple weeks.

He was kinda fatiguing here, but you get the general gist. Oom pah.

IMG_2757Off to see the cutting job in the woods. This is the main (and widest) of all five trails.

IMG_2769We run into John on the skidder, who offers Elihu a ride into the woods. Cool!

IMG_2772It’s a long way up!

IMG_2782There they go…

IMG_2785…pulling entire trees behind em.

IMG_2791Most of the remaining woods looks like this. Not bad for post-harvest. Also, they’ve cut in such a way that it will encourage new growth. Elihu or I may do this process again in another twenty years.

IMG_2794Some parts have remained more densely wooded.

IMG_2802But the main ‘road’ out looks a little open. The forester assures me it’ll ‘green back in nicely’.

IMG_2809Show shoes under his arm, Elihu makes his way over the waiting tree tops to the landing.

IMG_2848It’s impossible to fully comprehend how much power this takes. I mean, those are entire trees. !!

I get a little nervous seeing how banged up my ‘keeper’ tree has become through this huge loading process.

IMG_2874Onto the truck they go. This is all hard wood, and it’s going to Finch Prime, a paper mill in nearby Glens Falls. Folks, use your paper with respect and gratitude. I wish my trees to have been cut for good use. Sigh.

IMG_2899Small heart = Good wood.

IMG_2898Big heart = Not so much.

IMG_2916I like this pattern – I see two birds flying away at right…. However because of the heart it’s probably not worth as much.

IMG_2901This is what thirty-six tons of hard wood looks like. Hard wood is heavier, resulting in a smaller-looking load. Pine would have been stacked to the very top. (Either way, it’s safe to say it’s a lot of elephants.) Not a penny’s come in yet from the harvest due to the many tiers it must go through, and even when it does get here – it goes to mom first (it’s her property after all). She’ll be financing the rehabbing of the Studio from the lumber sales, and in turn the Studio (as a 501(c) 3 in the state of New York) can give her the tax deduction for her gift. I’m hoping a slight trickle down might aid us a little, but the Studio may turn out to be a bigger money sponge than I think, so if any cash makes it to us it’ll be a nice surprise.

Here’s the driver telling us this is a lot of paper here…

IMG_2942Checking in at the Studio. Took a previous day’s digging (not by me!) to access it.

IMG_2924Doesn’t look like much, but insulation’s in and drywall’s going in now.

IMG_2927There’s been some major settling – the carpenter thinks a heavy roof load of snow might be making things worse…

IMG_2928Yikes. Will have roof shoveled this week.

IMG_2922Storage will be a challenge. Live music and visual arts both require stuff. Not sure what we’ll do.

IMG_2951 A quick visit with grandma (and cat Annie).

IMG_2976Mom goes through a photo album from the ’30s. Amazing the number of anecdotes I’m hearing for the first time.

IMG_2953Mom and dad found Annie on their anniversary, hence her name. Annie is the most kitten-like cat you’ll ever meet. It is, however, beginning to creep into all of our minds that she is now very old, in spite of her kittenish demeanor. She’s got some health problems, and is as light as a feather. I can see concern in my mother’s face when the subject comes up. It will be an enormous loss when Annie leaves us. (Her toungue is almost always sticking out. So cute, and so Annie. !)

IMG_2993At the end of a long, cold week, Elihu gives up just a few feet short of the back door and falls on his back into the snow. Hard to believe by the time he turns twelve it’ll all be gone. At least one hopes. !

 

Paperchase February 23, 2015

Paper has followed me closely throughout my life. Of course it started for me as it does for all my brothers and sisters here on the planet; there were the requisite forms my parents filled out on my behalf shortly after I arrived, and the stamp of my inky footprints in lieu of a signature to kick things off… And before I knew it, my relationship with paper had begun.

In my earliest years the collection took the form of preschool art gems. Over-sized pieces of thick, fuzzy paper frozen into stiff waves by watercolor paint… Next came the phonetically spelled messages that immediately preceded my learning to read, and shortly after that I was in school and churning out a respectable daily output of used paper. In high school I filled my paper with far less academic focus; endless doodles lined the margins of my Latin notes, I drew floor plans on any remaining space in which I didn’t doodle, and I wrote the name of a certain cute senior boy (who played bass) – both forward and mirrored backwards, too – across every page of my notebook during sophomore year. I was a doodler. Later came sheets of classical music, lead sheets, chord charts, string arrangements, production notes and set lists. More paper, much of which is now deeply infused with the memories of those projects and the time in my life which they represent. I find it impossible to simply toss the stuff. And so instead, I file it away. I can totally understand hoarders. It’s a safe feeling to have tangible evidence of your life’s favorite moments within easy reach. For the most part, it’s not a drag. What to me is a drag are those piles. The ‘to-do’ piles all over your office that don’t ever get done.

But that’s only one kind of paper battle. There’s the other sort that most folks deal with daily. The better part of my mother’s life these days is spent just keeping up with the shit that she finds stuffed in her mailbox each day. Unlike me, she takes her mail up to the house and goes through each and every piece, whether it’s a solicitation for money (free dream catcher inside!), another outside agency offering to provide electricity at discount prices (never a deal) or life insurance offers (for just pennies a day and no medical questions to answer!), she gives each its moment of consideration. Piles of envelopes wait patiently on the desk for her attention, while correspondence of a similar sort over at my place gets unceremoniously dumped into the recycling bin on the way back to the car. More than enough crap has made it past my front door – I have no desire to give myself yet more things to purge. If I ever become flush with cash, I’ll give some to my friend who digs wells around the world. That’s it. Real results, no waste. If I ever need a discount on my electric, I’ll consider going solar. And as for insurance, they can keep their brochures. If I die, my kid gets all my stuff and then goes to live with his dad. Nuff said.

Having finally put ‘like with like’ over this past, kid-free week (Elihu’s been in Chicago with his dad for winter break), I am finally able – after living here over six years – to know where everything is. Got my old files down low, new ones up high. Seriously old stuff – as in those doodles from the early years (along with Elihu’s thousands of bird drawings) are sealed away in labeled boxes. I know where they are, but they’re tidily out of sight. Finally I have a handle on it. And the relief is almost physical.

Between the logging, the random life adventures and all the organizing I’ve been doing this week, I’ve been going nonstop. Elihu returns tomorrow, and I’m finished with the office just in time. (I have spent several hours trying to get my computer to see my piano keyboard to no avail, and am also having some deep frustration with my new computer and it’s ‘non relationship’ with my printer. So in truth, nothing’s truly resolved and over. I’ve just reached a nice, temporary hiatus of sorts.) Elihu will return this time with his new tuba in tow, so of course we’ll be off into a whole new adventure as soon as he steps off the train.

The logs from our property are ending up going in all directions and will be put to many uses. A local school will be burning the chipped tops in their furnace, some nice looking butternut made its way to a local clock maker, and some of the fine, long hardwood will even find its way across the globe to far-away furniture makers in the not too distant future. And some of the haul will even be made into – you guessed it – paper! Let the chase continue…

IMG_2192My little aviator, ready to fly.

IMG_2204How is it that this never grows old? A plane is always an exciting, enticing sight.

IMG_2222There goes my baby…

IMG_2241Lost in the snow.

For me, this never grows old either.

IMG_2265Leaving the airport I saw hundreds of puffy sparrows hunkered down in the trees, just waiting out the brutal, sub-zero weather as best as they possibly could. Poor creatures!

IMG_2308I had planned to have a mammogram one morning, but found I was driving on a totally flat tire and ended up cancelling. I suspected the loggers might have some compressed air to get me to the garage…

IMG_2320Easier said than done. Their equipment is always breaking down. Steven did a good job of nursing the compressor pump motor along. It took some real patience in the frigid weather. And see – he’s not even wearing gloves. But given the finesse he had to use in getting the engine going, I can understand why. Even I took off my gloves to unscrew some nuts on the tire. Sometimes you gotta feel what you’re doing.

IMG_2342My tire was truly busted. No repairs to be made there. Time to use that spare. So unbelievably cold in spite of the sun, and again, no gloves! These guys were so kind and helpful, and I am extremely grateful for their help. I’ve changed tires myself before, but I was a lot younger then – and it was a whole lot warmer out too! I think I’ve finally reached the age where I can comfortably allow younger people to do things for me.

IMG_2370Now I’m heading out into the woods with forester Dick, so he can show me how the cut looks. (The hat I’m wearing was knit by Lydia, my maternal grandmother. I like that I have something functional – and quite attractive – that she made. She’s been gone since I was twelve, but this makes me feel connected to her.)

IMG_2376Here comes the skidder. Sometimes you can hear the engine but can’t see it for all the trees – until it’s right up on ya.

IMG_2354They cut and drop em in a line…

IMG_2358…then grab em with that giant claw and drag them back to the landing where they’ll be sorted and stacked.

IMG_2383A load slips by while Dick checks out the cut.

IMG_2395It’s the fellow manning the claw who makes all the decisions about what trees should go to what vendors. He stacks them, cuts them to size and then either feeds them to the chipper or loads them on a truck as logs. One full 40′ semi trailer holds 30 tons of chips. Think 15 elephants. !

IMG_2411The dark center is called the heart. While this looks pretty here, this soft red Maple (which is a hard wood – go figure) is not worth as much because the ratio of heart to light wood will make the resulting cut wood irregularly colored. Apparently people want uniformly colored wood.

IMG_2409Now these guys look pretty good. The smaller the heart, the more value to the log.

Love listening to these guys talk.

IMG_2405Dick goes over the pile to see if he agrees with the head logger.

IMG_2423I head home to assess my mess.

IMG_2420Gotta keep at it. Put in over 30 hours just filing. Whew.

IMG_2427Ahh.

IMG_2428Three ring binders are this girl’s best friend.

IMG_2480And finally… at week’s end! Not once in my six years here has my office ever been so organized. Maybe I’ve finally chased the bump under the rug into the next county. Maybe. At least my paperchase is done for now.