The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Done July 27, 2014

Most of the projects on my domestic list have been completed. Some, the ones for which I need an extra pair of hands – and some extra cash – remain on the list, but they don’t bother me too much. Overall, my house looks tidy, my garden is blooming and a neighbor has taken it upon himself to exterminate most of the remaining raccoon population. So really, all is at a nice holding point. I even took a walk – for no good reason – down the road to another neighbor’s place. Had a short visit, then returned through the big field, picking some wild blueberries along my return. It’s humid out again, the kind of heavily scented air that comes after a rain in the dead of summer. Most days here in upstate New York are fairly humid to begin with, but when I smell the woods before I smell the grasses of the field, then I know it’s wetter than usual. But it’s not oppressively hot, which is nice. Walkable.

As I stood chatting with the fellows across the road, Phil asked how it was that I didn’t have anything to do – why wasn’t I working? I had to admit that it was a rare moment, and that I’d come to a lull in the list. But as I answered him I couldn’t help but feel that my response was a little lame. It seemed I needed a better excuse for myself. Or did I? In this culture of go, go, go I was lucky to have window in time like this, unspoken for, unfilled with commitments. But still, I couldn’t shake a vague, nagging sense that I needed a better reason to be doing nothing more than walking down the road to fill my afternoon. I’d heard something on the radio the day before about the benefits of living a minimalistic life, so in remembering that, I cut myself a little bit of slack. I guess I could let myself off the hook for an afternoon. I guessed. After cooing to the baby and smooching the dogs, I headed home, still not entirely convinced that I shouldn’t be doing something more important with my day.

Although my personal to-do list has seen some real progress, there is a whole lot to be done regarding the Studio. It’s a world away from done. In fact, it has barely even begun. After dropping a cool fifteen hundred bucks (thanks to mom, of course) we were able to get the bathrooms back up and running.  We’ve hosted three weeks of art classes in the space by the skin of our teeth really, nailing curtains over the exposed studs in the bathrooms, and covering the bottom two feet of the room in used drop cloths. My partner liked the utilitarian look of the canvas, and I agree it looks funky and fun. But this will not do for the long haul. And the only thing between our present situation and the finished product is me and the time I invest into repairing and restoring. That, and a hefty advance on our timber sales (from a cut to be made this coming winter) which will enable me to make the improvements. I’ve never been good about planning things that involve budgets, so I admit that I’m kinda milking this pause in my schedule, as I put off this new adventure into the unknown.

I rode my bike over to the Studio yesterday and just stood in the space. Something inside was resisting this, and I needed to face it. I had to make myself understand that this was my job now.  And what a privilege! How lucky could a person possibly be to have an opportunity like this? Even after the tremendous shock of our initial loss (the burst pipe back in January that has necessitated all this rebuilding) I still find myself settling back into a state of mild complacency. Perhaps it’s just too much, and I’m shutting down. But this is no time to shut down. And as I stood there, contemplating all that lay before me, I experienced a mild jolt of panic about my previous job; there may be no one to fill my chair at the piano this fall at school – and I can’t manage a rehab project and learn Debussy and be mom, too. Not wanting the school’s entire movement program to come to a stop because of me, I promised I’d play until they found a replacement. But have they? I need to look into that first thing Monday morning. I remember a time when I thought I could do it all; It took me a while to come to the realization that I had to drop something. Why haven’t I been pushing harder on this front? Maybe I haven’t quite committed my spirit to this place yet. Yeah, I can see it, but somehow, I don’t quite seem to get how real this is. I gotta get it through to myself that nothing will get done if I don’t do it myself. I need to make this place my top priority now.

I suppose it’s not so bad that I take a short break from things. That I pass a day without fixing, painting, mending, cleaning, sorting… In fact, in this unexpected bit of project-free time I’ve begun to resurrect an old dream (which derailed when I had a baby!) about putting together a ‘guilty pleasures’ cover thing – solo piano, duo, whatever – for the ‘over 50’ set. The kind of tunes that in my past life would garner taunts and severe mocking from my musical peers – but which nonetheless have people singing along as soon as I start to play…. Screw it, my days working in a cosmopolitan jazz scene are over, my days of being in a young, hip alternative band are history, and I live in a moneyed tourist town with a median age of sixty. If I were to do anything musical again (besides teaching), this seems a realistic option.

But I can’t allow myself to become distracted. The cover thing can wait, but the insulation can’t. Gotta get those minisplit heating units in before winter, gotta get the walls back before I can heat. Got to get some prices, map out a budget. I know what I have to do, and after a moment’s pause, I’ll get back to it. For now I’m finished with things here at home, but I’m still nowhere near done.

IMG_9388My painting of the garage doors started with a good prep job…

IMG_9387I always get messier than I should.

IMG_9473A job well done.

IMG_9396Work on the new house begins in the adjacent field.

IMG_9488A walk through the woods to the little house ‘next door’…

IMG_9425…and I return with Ryan and Brandon.

IMG_9435They remembered to check the trap – what mixed feelings I have. Success, and yet it’s a baby. Ich. I hate this business.


IMG_9440But the mood lightens as they smooch good old Thumbs Up.

IMG_9705What a laid-back chicken. Never had a friendlier hen than she.

IMG_9714At the end of a long day together, the boys and their mom head home. Big sister Ava’s going to take the long way, the others cut across the field.

IMG_9523Saratoga folks will recognize SPAC. Mom took me to see the dance company Momix. What a nice treat! Plus we were driven to our seats in an electric car – woo hoo! Using a cane has its privileges.

IMG_9522A little selfie of mom and me.

IMG_9519The ramps to the balconies. In my teens and twenties I saw a handful of shows here on the lawn. Doesn’t hold quite the appeal it once did.

IMG_9544Haven’t had a seat in the actual theater itself in nearly twenty-five years. !!

IMG_9562The whole night was a visual fantasy – impossible to understand how they could do such feats. The outline seen here is created through glow in the dark costumes… the rest was too fast for my low-tech camera to capture.

IMG_9616Back to the work site next morning. Now the well is going in. Impressive to watch, hard to conceive of 325 feet of pipe going straight down into the ground. I just hope this doesn’t adversely affect the level in our own well. Water tables are all connected, and new construction can sometimes have unforeseen consequences. (They ended up with 5 gallons a minute at 325 feet, the Studio’s new well got 8 gpm at just 85 feet. Plus we dowsed to locate the water. Ha! Feeling kinda smug.)

IMG_9643This job definitely requires finesse and skill.

IMG_9617And pipes must be welded on site as the hole goes down. All in all an impressive job to witness.

IMG_9483Wow, these guys are making fast progress. (The Studio’s dark red sign is visible down the road in the distance, just to the right of the machine.)

IMG_9609Shoot. Poor Azealia died last night. She liked to sit in this corner, and likely ended up sleeping here last night instead of roosting. She’d been moving slow all week. I even wondered if she needed a little extra care. But she had a good, long life. She was of Madeline’s generation. Only Thumbs Up and Specks are left from that era.

IMG_9647At least she died peacefully. She had the tallest comb of all. I buried her under the flowering quince bush along with her cousin, Molly.

IMG_9689

And then there were three…. Only three hens – one white, one red and one black – a rooster and a guinea are left after a flock of fifteen this past Spring. Lost almost all to the raccoons. Phooey.

I left to help neighbors with a move, and came back at 4:30 in the afternoon to find a huge raccoon on top of Bald Mountain – flushed with fear I laid on the car horn and the animal reared up and fled, leaving a dead-looking rooster on the ground. I ran to him, found him just laying there – and I saw tons of feathers everywhere… they marked the path of the struggle. It seems he was being a good and strong defender of his tiny remaining flock, giving the raccoon a good fight for almost two hundred feet. I picked him up, fearing he was dead (he’s Elihu’s very favorite), but saw he was still breathing. I checked him for blood. None. So I held him close, talked to him low, and just waited for a few minutes to help calm him. I returned him to the brooder pen for isolation, water and rest. The next morning his crow was that of a sick bird with laryngitis, so I figured his throat had been quite damaged by the attack. Happily I can report that he is now crowing almost as he had before, and he is bravely undaunted by the recent scare. I’m also happy that my other next door neighbor reported shooting five raccoons yesterday. He didn’t get the big one, so Baldy’s attacker is still out there, but nonetheless it’s a great relief. We just want to clear this particular corner of Greenfield so that our birds may live.

IMG_9672The hero of the day and Miss Thumbs Up beside him.

IMG_9794A portrait of our favorite two. The back end of Baldy’s comb was bitten off by the big male raccoon just a couple of weeks ago, but thankfully has healed well. (Note the silhouette of a hand in the thumbs up shape on our gal’s head. Facebook approved!)

IMG_9739Specks stands on my feet as she eats from my hand. She’s three and a half years old now. She’s a cousin of matriarch Molly, and the last to carry Molly’s gene for white. Hope to get some of her babies next Spring. But that is a long way off.

IMG_9751Love my Specks.

IMG_9663Giving Jemima an ‘enforced smooching’.  You’ve heard of the crazy cat lady. I think I’m on the edge of crazy chicken lady… Or maybe I’ve crossed the line. Not quite sure…

IMG_9604A happy garden with a happy hen.

IMG_9807A happy harvest of blueberries, some from our property, some wild from the field.

IMG_9799A happy home where all is done. At least for now….

 

Setback July 15, 2014

Today I’m just exhausted. Yesterday I found out that my emergency water jugs had been leaking on the floor of my mudroom and required some immediate attention –  the sub floor there is the only floor there and it was getting soft and spongey. I dried it out the best I could, then at midnight began to paint. I’d been moving boxes and crap and dealing with stuff all day long and was fired up to get it done. Shortly before this project began, I got a phone call from Sherry, the one person on the planet with whom I’ve been friends with the longest. She called to tell me that our childhood pal Joey had died. We knew it was coming, I’d seen him this past Christmastime and he looked positively ancient. He suffered from a couple of fast-moving cancers and we knew he wasn’t going to be around much longer. So it didn’t shock me, but it did move me deeply. A heavy, sad weight hung in my gut all night long as I digested the news.

How crazy it is that one moment you can be feeling such joy, hope and new glimmers of healthy progress, and yet a moment later you can be consumed by total loss, total fear, total sorrow? I had driven out earlier that day to find a newly painted orange circle marking the post which described my property’s edge. Unfortunately, it was smack in the middle of my driveway. A silent marker that screamed ‘We’re coming for you’ by the new owners of neighboring lot. Well, maybe that wasn’t the specific message per se, but certainly there was an implied warning: Things are about to change. Don’t say we didn’t tell you so.

I called the town zoning guy again today, and in spite of having had several conversations with local residents who all seemed to agree one ‘needed once full acre’ upon which to build – and in spite of his not having denied that assertion at our meeting last week – he told me that wasn’t the case. That if a lot had been described as such before the current zoning laws – then it was fine. All they needed was to make sure the building was setback far enough from the lines – so of course, the smaller the lot, the greater that challenge. But apparently, they’ve got their setbacks met, as the newly planted stakes and red nylon tape will show.

I lost another hen this week too. Dear old Dinah – plucky gal she was, a beautiful glossy black and the first to peck at anything that moved. Like Madeline and Thumbs Up she had a fully loaded and very discernible personality. I swear I don’t know how I’ll take it if Thumbs Up gets it too. Even after watching three absolutely adorable baby raccoons eat up all the bird food (and enjoy the bird bath too) over at mom’s, I still understood that I had a task before me that I had to commit to, regardless of the conflict it created in me. They were cute, but they were predators. The battle wasn’t over.

In Vietnam-like humidity and heat I re-baited the traps, two humane, one designed to kill. Sweat dripped off of my forehead and deer flies paid no attention to the Deep Woods Off that I’d soaked my clothes in. It was a very unpleasant experience. I’m not a woodswoman, not an overtly outdoorsy person, but this was my job to take care of. Emboldened by my small successes, and now hip to how cleverly those raccoons have evaded my traps, I now came up with a more secure method of setting the traps. I tied food in cheesecloth and secured it deep inside the bumane trap with wire to prevent them from making off with it as they had several times in the past. I staked the cages to the ground, I covered the lethal trap more carefully and dripped the remains of the cat food can into the hole. A quick check this morning showed nothing, and I won’t be able to rest well until I see at least three more gone.

Even though it’s my goal, oh how I dread the squeal in the middle of the night telling me the conibear trap has finally snapped… In an effort to release the second raccoon I caught in this trap from his extended death and suffering, adrenaline and compassion helped me to leave my bed, find my boots and sledgehammer, make my way into a dark and rainy night and finally whack him in the head. I cannot convey how wrong this felt, even when its goal was to help, not hurt. But these are strong creatures, and even after four heavy hits (he uttered the most horrific shriek at each one, God forgive me) he wouldn’t die. Instead, he seemed to regain his composure afterwards and relaxed into a slow, rhythmic breathing, which I matched, breath for breath, waiting for the final one. After some five minutes he was still going, and so I said a prayer, asked his forgiveness, and went back inside.

I’ve killed only two raccoons, and it seems there are still another five out there. How long will this go on? I hate living like this – it’s like I make a small advance, and then there’s another setback. I get my house in order, then discover the floor is failing, my son is having a great vacation with his father, then he calls me last night from the doctor’s office, his third day into a high fever. I was beginning to feel hopeful and lighter recently, now all this. And now I have to steady myself for a possible drama with the new developers. I can neither afford to litigate nor to rebuild a driveway. I am in a strange, dreamlike state at the moment. Kind of a low-grade state of dread, which I’m trying to mitigate as best I can by reminding myself that everything happens as it should.

The other night Andrew got raging drunk again, told mom to ‘fuck off’ at some perceived injustice she’d helped mount against him, and then sped off in his car, absolutely poised to kill himself and easily take someone out with him. Tough love won’t come through here; whenever I call mom and my brother’s in the room with her, her voice is clipped and her words brief. It’s as if she’s being watched, censored, threatened. “Is Andrew there?” I’ll ask. She’ll always answer quietly, “Yes”. Yesterday, as I was meeting with an HVAC guy, Andrew barged in and told me my car was in his way. I moved it, and immediately he got in and screeched away again, clearly showing me once again that I had every benefit in life, and that he suffered in this world all because of me. That’s the story he always tells his few friends, Martha and mom. He won’t tell me as much though – because of course he won’t even speak a word to me – so driving off at top speed is the only way he can convey to me what a bitch he thinks I am. And how privileged my life is. If only.

The Buddha plaque I rescued from the used clothing bin the other day is now clean and painted, mono chromatically the same shade as the wall on which it hangs, and he reminds me that I cannot attach myself to outcomes. I must go with what is. I know this, and sometimes it makes me want to put my goddam fist through a wall in protest, but I know it wouldn’t accomplish much. Not only am I faced with acceptance, but now find my ego must withdraw from its zone of comfort as I begin a conversation with the very people to whom I gave a piece of my mind not four days earlier. I must negotiate with the people with whom I have already expressed my disappointment in hopes that they’ll show mercy on me. Ich. I feel as if I’m going through an accelerated life course on ‘growing up and dealing with shit’ these days.

A couple of health issues have appeared too recently, nothing crazy alarming, but it may require surgical assistance. So ok, universe, what in hell am I supposed to learn from all of this? It’s so tempting to feel sorry for myself, but I remember the potential ahead. The Studio is in week two of classes, and if we can just keep moving forward in baby steps like this, then maybe we’ll get somewhere good and happy in the end.

But again, I must remind myself: there is no end. Never a point of happy conclusion. Two steps forward, one to the side, and then a couple more in an altogether unforseen direction. In truth I know it’s about the journey – not the coveted, illusive ‘destination’. So I try to enjoy the circuitous route. And for the most part I enjoy the trip, even with some of its detours, because I know they all serve some purpose, whether immediately apparent or not. And I also know that progress doesn’t necessarily mean forward movement, or even positive, welcome movement. After all, cancer is progress too. Life doesn’t assign good or bad to the continued movement and change. It simply is what it is. As bitchy as I’m tempted to get with all of this self-administered spiritual assistance, I know it’s all true. Even though it would be so much easier to just get really pissed off about everything (I may yet have a private pity party), it’s helpful to remind myself of this stuff over and over again.

I also have to remind myself that most forward movement usually involves a couple of setbacks along the way.

IMG_8794At mom’s, just one property away, these three young raccoons feel totally safe coming out in daylight. Makes me very nervous. The raccoons have taken hens right out from under my nose in the afternoon. There’s no true ‘safe’ time now.

IMG_8790Apparently, the corn isn’t enough to satisfy them.

IMG_8802Adorable, innocent creatures of God that have as much of a right to live as any other creature – or enemy and thief that must be killed and stopped from making progress? Enigmatically, the answer is: both.

IMG_8749Here it is…

IMG_8750…the eye of the storm.

IMG_8881This guy reminds me to keep my cool even when things begin to heat up… I’m just not sure he’d be down with my killing raccoons. He was a pretty peaceful fellow. Oh the dilemmas that life here on earth presents us with. The duality of it all sure can be exhausting sometimes.