Monday, May 30, 2016

Sunday Drive in The Trough

I spent this past weekend at The Shack. Since it was a long holiday weekend, I felt I had more time to just relax.  As a result, I drove around to see some of the local sights.  I ended up wandering many miles away from "home" and saw some really beautiful things. Unbeknownst to me, I ended up on Trough Road - a road through an area with rich history and great natural beauty.  If you are ever in the area of Hampshire and Hardy Counties in West Virginia, you may want to plan to spend some time in The Trough.

What is "The Trough"

The Trough is a canyon that runs along the South Branch of the Potomac River in West Virginia. It was reportedly referred to as The Trough by George Washington in 1748. The West Virginia Explorer gives a bit more of the historic and current information about the area.  

Trough Road

I knew none of this information as I drove up and down the winding road. I marveled at the views from the high points and felt as though I were lost in some magical, mossy, fairy land in the bottom points. Unfortunately, I didn't think to stop and take photographs of the low lying areas; moss covered boulders in riverbeds, towering trees blocking the sun, and steep stone cliffs pushing near to the road.  But I did snap a few photographs at a high point in the road.  

Glorious views of a valley on one side and a cliff on the other side.

Slightly flatter section, with field and farm views. Lush farmlands in the valley.  Before dropping down into the lowest sections, with cliffs and creeks.

The Trough by Train

I knew that there is a scenic railway train located in Romney, West Virginia.  I had already added "ride the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad" on my list of things to do while at The Shack.  Only because I have a sentimental interest in trains.  I had no idea, until today, that this is the exact area that the train runs through.  What a sight this must be from a train!!

The Trough by River

Some of you are aware that I have a kayak. And near Baltimore, it is fairly easy to throw that thing on the Jeep and go kayak a nearby river. The most difficult part of kayaking in the area is getting that 'yak in and out of the apartment - up and down three flights of stairs.  I have seriously considered packing my kayak along with me, up to The Shack, as the South Branch of the Potomac is nearby. One of the main things that holds me back is not having someone to pick me up at the other end of my float down the river. Ah, if only the Jeep could drive itself.  

But I've found the solution. I drove past the Trough General Store on my Sunday drive. After looking it up when I returned to the apartment, I find that they offer all of the equipment needed (canoe or kayak rentals, equipment, and transport) as well as.... wait for it.. shuttle services for folks who own their own kayaks!  

Related Links:

I guess I should educate myself more about what is in the area.  I may be missing out on many more breathtaking and awesome sights. I don't know about you, but I'm looking up some West Virginia travel books and information right now. 

West Virginia travel

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Keeping Watch

Just who is watching whom? In this age of selfies, body cameras, and cameras everywhere, it is certainly hard to tell sometimes. This morning I realized that I nearly forgot to share these "surveillance" photos with you. I found that as I am watching them at The Shack, they seem to be watching me. Watching me more closely than I would have imagined. These aren't the best photographs, but they make me smile every time. I like my curious visitor.

I shared my Moultrie game camera review on Review This! not so long ago.  My initial placement of the camera was in the edge of my yard at The Shack.  Two visits ago, I moved the camera to a pretty little clearing in the woods.  During my last visit, I found this curious young one inspecting the situation before wandering off. 

I chose to stay at the apartment this weekend.  I have things I need to do, it is a rainy weekend, and I remain home some weekends just to conserve gas and money.  But I found that as I was opening my eyes before sunrise, I was thinking about The Shack and all of my guests who may be visiting while I am away. I am so happy that I purchased the Moultrie and that it is up there serving as my guestbook while I am away. 

I hope you enjoy this glimpse of my pretty little clearing in the woods.  

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Homesteading Fears - Too Much To Do

Homesteading and tiny home living topics are trending. Many of us daydream while reading self-sufficient living articles during every moment of free time.  I am not implying that there is anything wrong with that. In fact, I am thankful that I can use the internet to research any topic I may need in preparation for living at The Shack.  I can read the writings of women much like me who are choosing to live as I would love to be living right now. Currently, homestead living seems popular and easy-peasy. This past weekend did not seem a bit glamorous on the mountain ridge. In fact, preparing for homesteading felt pretty overwhelming at times. 

the spring showers view from the back deck

Springtime at The Shack

Morel mushrooms are sprouting, the dogwoods are in full bloom, and the weather is warm enough that I light the fire in the wood stove only at night.  But I don't wake every hour or so, shivering, to add wood. I made my meals on the grill, including one huge mushroom feast. 

morel mushrooms grown on my land

Birds are singing. Deer are grazing. And flowers are blooming everywhere.  The views are breath-taking as I watch spring storms roll in and back out.

Spring showers also mean water in The Shack. Not the kind I carry in (I do not have a water source onsite yet).  Spring showers brings the kind of water that drips in from the leaking roof.  I catch some of it so that I can water my plants during drier times.  But I need a good, solid rain collection system.

To-Do List:

  • fix roof (nail down the flapping metal sheets at the least)
  • add gutters
  • plan and install rain barrel system
  • decide whether to insulate The Shack or tear it down

Intruders: Garlic Mustard and Tent Caterpillars

I read an article in the local newspaper (local to The Shack) detailing how horrifically damaging the garlic mustard weed is.  Deer won't eat it and in 5-7 years it can destroy a forest floor. And guess what I have growing a-plenty on my four acres? Yes. The dreaded garlic mustard weed is in full flower at my place. The best way to eradicate it is to pull it out by it's roots. I spent hours pulling flowers out of my woods. I only cleared a spot smaller than my teeny apartment.

invasive Garlic Mustard weed

Garlic mustard is not my only unwanted intruder. I wrote about my discovery of my tent caterpillar infestation after my last visit to The Shack.  I broke down and used a bit of chemical spray on my apple trees.  In the meantime, I studied more about those plentiful "worms" in my trees.  I want to control them naturally, if I can.  But when I returned during this visit, I noted that while my apple trees looked a bit healthier, many of my other trees were under siege.  One tree was completely covered and looked a bit like a prop from the Blair Witch movie.

ominous Tent Caterpillar tent 

My precious new "antique" rose was also covered in hungry caterpillars.  I sprayed the rose. Then went on to knock the web-like tents down from trees -- one highly recommended way of controlling these pests without chemicals.  

How did I knock down worm nests from trees, you ask?  With a looooong piece of skinny PVC pipe the previous owners had left behind.  It was a bit like using a pole-vaulting pole (made of a limp noodle) to poke a water balloon stuck in the top of a tree.  Focus, aim, poke, if successful run away to dodge the dropping worms, and repeat. I had thicker PVC pipes of the same length, but the light pipe was easier for me to lift for a longer period of time. As a side note: I did not work up the courage to get under that Blair Witch-like tree and knock the massive webs down.

To-Do List:

  • pull the flowering garlic mustard from the remaining 3.9 acres
  • learn to better identify the first year garlic mustard plants (they look different than the 2nd year flowering plants) so I can pull them also
  • pole-vault pole poke the remaining 500 worm-infested trees in my woods

Flower Beds and Rock Gardens

I planted two teeny dianthus plants and another small lavender plant.  Planting and weeding my miniature flowerbed with a pickax. I truly began to wonder about my sanity. Who would work a flowerbed with a pickax? Who would bother? Why am I bothering?  As I chopped the stone littered ground, and made puns about rock gardens, I noticed the gladiolas had broken through the rubble and the lilies had little buds. Later, I came out and picked some mint leaves for my water. Sitting on the deck, sipping my mint water, I decided that I'd stick with the flower bed... if for no other reason, for the fresh mint.

To-Do List

  • install that trellis!
  • transfer the climbing rose from my apartment balcony to the trellis - before it gets big enough to want to climb
  • find a way to plant the sunflowers - as something feasted on the sprouts that were present during the last visit

Miscellaneous Thoughts and Feelings

This weekend, it seemed like each thought I had, and each thing I did, added more to my to-do list.  

  • buy or cut a big "round" for a chopping block
  • install the amazing hand-wood splitter I have that is still in it's box - waiting to be useful
  • cut my downed trees for winter firewood
  • make a compost bin before my DIY version of a "luggable loo" gets full
  • save money for the septic installation
  • patch the air mattress (Willy's toenails are SHARP!)
  • save money so I can remodel or rebuild
  • decide if it would be better to remodel or rebuild
  • on and on and on
  • and on and on and on

Late Saturday afternoon, I sat on the deck and rested my sore muscles.  I felt overwhelmed. I began to wonder, what had I gotten myself into. Full of fear, I started texting a friend. I focused on how much I had to do and how little I had gotten finished. He texted back. Trying to be supportive he said things such as: it's okay to just sit there and relax. It's okay to have days to go up there and do nothing. Just enjoy.

He really made me a little bit mad.  It's not that easy to just sit and enjoy when weeds and worms are threatening my woods. There is just too much to do in general. I feel old and out of shape. I'm not physically strong. I'm not good with DIY. What can't he understand about all of that?! What if I can't do this?

But later, I understood his point and I relaxed. I am already doing it. Things will get done if they get done. And won't get done if they don't. In the meantime, I will enjoy the gorgeous views.

Lessons from Others

I wrote about my encounter with the turtle as I was leaving.  That turtle was a calming presence.  I also continue to read the homesteading adventures of others and most appreciate the articles that address some of the harder truths about the dream of homesteading. Homesteading Honey's article How We Afford to Homestead is a good example of some of the thought processes and decisions that lead to successful homesteading.

I'm feeling much better today. Those to do lists are far less overwhelming and I'm feeling good about my transition to the land... as slow as it may go.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Life Lessons from a Turtle

I am beginning to think I should pay attention to this "animal totem" philosophy. Animals pop up in front of me at strange times. After the peacocks randomly popped up in front of me a year ago, I began to read what people had to say about animal totems and their messages.  And again when a bear crossed the road in front of me the day I had visited The Shack with the realtor.  It seemed that there could be messages coming from these birds and animals when they randomly crossed my path.

On Sunday morning, I was driving down the dirt road, beginning my trip back to my apartment.  The road is steep and curvy.  If I had been coming up the hill, I would have never seen the turtle due to the angle. Going down, I saw it clearly. Right in the path of my passenger side wheels.  

I stopped, got out, and watched it as it watched me.  We just looked at each other for the longest time.  I grabbed my camera and took a few photos, before moving him to the side of the road (yes, in the direction he was headed. Even though that side was the steep side of the road and I could not imagine him climbing that bank).

When I arrived back to my teeny apartment, I looked to see what the animal totem folks have to say about a turtle crossing your path.

He is usually giving you the message that "slow and steady wins the race". Pay attention to details in your current project and take your time with it. Don't be tempted to skip steps or take short cuts. You will get there! Just trust in the process and stay in the moment. Bigger, stronger, faster are not always the best ways to reach your goals.

From Whats Your Sign; Animal Symbolism:

Because of its seemingly wide-eyed, long-lived, carefree attitude the turtle is often thought to be the wisest of souls amount the animal kingdom. We would all do well to take this as a lesson and move at our own pace as the turtle does.

Messages perfectly timed for the weekend I had at The Shack. Homesteading won't be easy. It is NOT as easy as some people make it look.  There will always be a mile long list of things that need to be done. Because of that long list of things that need to be done, I felt emotional and anxious during this last visit to The Shack. I felt very strongly as though I had bitten off more than I can chew. 

After receiving a pep talk from a friend who knows me well, and this visit from a turtle, I am feeling more grounded.  Calm and steady, I will try to live with the life lessons from the turtle.

Related Link:

I have not yet read this book, but due to the high ratings and good reviews (542 reviews and 4.7 out of 5 star rating), I plan on purchasing it.  I definitely think there is something more than just chance that sometimes brings wildlife across my path. The people who owned The Shack prior to me had never seen a bear in that area. But a bear crossed my path, immediately in front of my Jeep, the day I saw The Shack and was making my decision about a purchase.  It seems like more than just coincidence. 

Animal Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Off-Grid: The Slow Life

Another weekend spent at The Shack. It is my place to relax far away from the hustle and bustle of urban and suburban life. A place to work on and prepare as my future retirement home.There are never enough hours in the weekend to do all of the things I'd like to do up there. This weekend was another wonderful weekend on the top of this little West Virginia ridge that ended far too soon.

My friend left the caution triangle there by the door. He likes it because he sees it as truck-related and he likes trucks.  

I left it right where it lay. As a gal raised in Indiana, I think it is a nice homage to Amish country. And how symbolic it is to have a "slow moving vehicle" sign on my future home - that may or may not be ready for me by the time I am ready to retire.

Living the Slow Life

I was just finishing reading a story called Little Farm in the Foothills: A Boomer Couple's Search for the Slow Life. I literally read the last couple of chapters while in a sleeping bag, in front of the wood stove, while torrents of rain fell outside (and plenty fell inside my rickety little shell of a shack). The theme of the little farm story is about how slow things go.  The type of slow that is away from the hustle and bustle of "civilization".  And equally, the type of slow when transitioning to a more remote way of life.  A remote way of life that requires a pickax for gardening, prioritizing the things that come first in order to survive, and the snail's pace of starting a dream on a limited budget.  

Yup, I can relate.

Every..... single.... thing.... I at The Shack takes much longer for me to do than any where else. I don't know if it is because the terrain takes so much energy. Or if it is just enough of an altitude change that I'm struggling for air.  Perhaps, just plain and simple, that I'm getting older each day and am out-of-shape.  Probably a bit of all of the above.  But every thing takes longer.  

That does not include the things that are slowed by budget constraints.  If only I were rich... but that is a separate story and only slightly impacted my activities this weekend.

I don't know how to explain each detail of the weekend. So I'll just try to show you.

The drive up Friday evening.  I arrived to a fog bank so thick I could barely see in front of the Jeep.  I drove slower than I walk, in order to make sure I didn't drive off the ridge.  I wish the photo showed the swirls of thick fog.  It was frighteningly beautiful and mysterious (note to self: check in to affordable fog lights for the Jeep). 

Tree Care and Pest Removal

With the first light, I immediately noticed that my trees were infested with worms in bags.  Some trees were completely covered (trunks, branches, and leaves) in these worms. It was like a horror movie - tree trunks undulating with furry living things. EW! I flashed back to the fall when a visiting neighbor told me that I should have some of my trees taken down (on my to-do list) since they were killed by some sort of bugs.  I immediately took some photos and headed off to the local farm store. They recommended a spray and sprayer.  I went back and selectively sprayed.

I plan to stay away from herbicides and pesticides as much as possible. But this infestation was out of control.  

Since arriving home, and back to an internet connection, I've found that these appear to be tent caterpillars. They aren't as horribly destructive to trees as other pests (however, the articles I read were about a few bags in each tree - rather than entire trees covered by them). There are ways to deal with them such as knocking the nests down and pruning off the branches the nests are on.  I will definitely do some of that during my next visit.  But during this visit, I did give my apple trees a good spray.

Filled and Hung the Bird Feeder

I've had this gorgeous bird feeder and nowhere to hang it since moving to my current apartment.  I am thrilled to hang in West Virginia.  I hung it on the highest branch I could throw a rope over. My attempt at bear-proofing.  We'll see. 

I saw a bird this weekend that I've never seen before. I hope to see more species with this feeder.  I also hope bluebirds move in to the box I hung during my last visit. I also plan to get a finch feeder soon. 

Relocated and Locked the Game Camera

I'm loving my little Moultrie game camera.  It is working out great.  There seems to be at least a doe and some young deer that spend considerable amounts of time in my yard.  During this trip, I moved the camera from the yard to the woods.

West Virginia Morel Mushrooms!

During the bird feeder and game camera excursions, I discovered that I have morel mushrooms!  A wonderful treat that I've not eaten since living in Indiana (I can't find them here in Maryland).  What a wonderful surprise.

Rehomed Easter Plants

I cannot afford to purchase all of the plants I would like to have. So I was thrilled when a friend brought some plants to me. Most were plants that were discarded after Easter, such as Hyacinths.  Using the pickax, I dug and chopped and chopped and dug.  I now have mint, hyacinth, and daylilies planted in the "flower garden" I started during my last visit.

In addition to those tasks, I cooked my food on the grill and tidied up afterwards (can be quite a chore when carrying water in), changed the oil in the Jeep, checked the birdhouse (it is still attached to the tree), tried to decide where to place that trellis, and fell asleep early.

Once I arrived back to my apartment, I was very happy for a hot soak in the tub - which filled with an easy turn of a knob. But oh how I miss that little Shack already.  By the way, look how different the drive out looks, when the fog has moved off the ridge.