Time is of the Essence

9 04 2010

April 4, 2010

So I’d been dividing my “to do” list into categories, specifically: “Things I Can Do without Electricity” and “Things to Do before the Snakes Come Out”. Knowing that snake season is encroaching, the latter of the lists commands priority.

Now, I have no problems with snakes. I grew up with them, both in our yard and in our house (caged, most of the time). I’ve always found them fascinating, regarding them with caution and respect. My favorite is the King Snake, and I would consider myself lucky to have a nest of Lampropeltis living in my crawl space. They not only eat mice and other household pests, but they’re the best Organic Snake Deterrent on the market: They eat poisonous snakes for lunch, and the other serpents know it.

When I attended the Meadowcreek Weeks camp here, a herpetologist from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission did a snake presentation, complete with live specimens. She put a King Snake in one pillow case and another (non-venomous) variety in a separate one. Then she put the two pillowcases next to each other: the second snake went crazy, writhing about, trying to get away from the King.

King snakes, while not dangerous, will bite if thoroughly provoked. They don’t have fangs, but rows of short, sharp chompers instead. They’re chewers, and if you harass one into biting you, good luck getting him to let go. The best thing is just to leave them alone (by all means, don’t kill them) so that they can continue hunting for the critters you really don’t want around your house and garden. But if you ever come upon a King Snake eating a copperhead, take a few minutes to watch without disturbing the process; it’s pretty awesome.

I’d decided that cleaning up some of the lumber piles and debris in my yard should be the first task on my “Before the Snakes Arrive” list. I think I can salvage enough lumber to build a Wood and Wire Three-Bin Turning Compost Unit for the hay and manure I’ll need to clean out of the barns, and maybe even a Worm Composter for my kitchen scraps. I like the design of this worm composter because it will keep the ‘coons and armadillos from scavenging for treats.

Keep the Critters out of Your Compost!

I have nothing against scavengers, either, but it would be nice if some of my kitchen compost made it to the garden a la worm castings. I think this should do the trick!

Low and behold, as I approached the first pile of yard debris and construction cast-offs, a solitary serpent slithered from the fallen leaves and sought shelter beneath a nearby rock. The first snake of Spring, though suggested it may have been a lizard (and we do have a species of legless lizard here in the Ozarks), has graced us with its presence. It seems my Snake-Free window of opportunity is quickly closing.

Note to Self: Print a “Snakes of Arkansas” guide to have on hand for future encounters. (You can find one here, if you’re interested)





This Will Be My Labor of Love

3 04 2010

April 1, 2010

Who knew “roughing it” could be so comfortable!  I slept like a dream last night, right through my first wake-up alarm, in fact.  Despite my late start, I was able to get in a couple of productive hours before I drove into town for work.

John (the resident who helps maintain the property) stopped by to see how things were going and discuss some of the major issues with my residence.  He’s going to turn my water on this afternoon, which will be great!  We so often take running water and indoor plumbing for granted.  There’s actually an old wooden outhouse in my backyard, a reminder that modern conveniences were slower to arrive in this part of the country than others.

One “amenity” that never quite made it to my house is city water, and what a blessing it is to be without that “necessity”!  The reason my residence is called the Spring House is because there’s a natural spring that flows from the side of the mountain into my back yard, running down a small stream until it reaches a beautiful private pond in the front.  The spring also provides my house with all of its “tap” water, meaning that every faucet I turn on yields crystal clear H2O, every bath I take will be chemical-free, even my clothes and dishes will be washed with spring-fed water.  Eat your heart out, Daniel Vitalis!

The obvious question is, “How does the water get from here:

Mouth of the Spring

The namesake of the Spring House


to my illustrious indoor plumbing?”  The simple answer is:  A RAM pump moves the water from the spring to a holding tank located further up the hill using the power of gravity.  You read that correctly: UP the hill using ONLY the power of gravity, no power source.  For a more complex explanation about how it works (and instructions on how to build one for around $50), check out this Off-Grid article.

Because my house is located at the bottom of the hill, gravity pulls it from the tank, through the plumbing, and out whatever faucet I have turned on. Hot water is currently heated using an electric hot water heater, but a woodburning outbuilding stove is on my wish list. While they require a bit more effort than just setting a thermostat, they conveniently heat your water AND your house (and your barn…and your greenhouse…) efficiently. The woodburning stove that’s in the house no longer functions, so I say, “Why not kill two birds with one stone?” (Am I allowed to use that phrase now that I live on a Wildlife Preserve? My PETA friends are free to come up with a PC alternative!) Also, we had an ice storm that felled a lot of trees a couple years back, so it’s feasible that I could collect cords of firewood for several years without having to down a living tree.

Of course, there are plenty of home improvements that take precedence over my dream heater. I have a roof to replace, a dangerous tree that’s leaning against one side of the house, a busted toilet, holes in the hardwood floor (but at least they’re hardwood, right?), the entire porch ceiling has to be ripped down and redone.

Not to mention missing outlet covers and switch plates, cracked linoleum, dirty walls, absent light fixtures, misshapen lavatory necessities, totalled trim, gaping screen windows, and truant door knobs.

Then there’s the barns to shore up, the front facade of the house that has decayed to the point of necessary replacement, which will mean a whole lot of painting, all of which could have been avoided had the gutters been cleaned out. Oh yeah, can’t forget new gutters!

So, this will be my labor of love. That’s how much I love this water.

Spring House Water

Crystal clear water/Emerges from the mountain/Dappled by sunlight

And it’s not just the water. I’ve loved this valley, the dream, these days full of wonderment at Mother Nature’s whim for years before I knew the spring existed.

Wind Chime

Hanging a windchime in the front yard as world renowned beadmaker and former Meadowcreek resident Sage Holland looks on.

And though we say that love is blind, I have no illusions with regards to the task ahead. It’s a full-time job to be accomplished in part-time hours. I still have to run my shop in town to support my Meadowcreek habit. Progress will be slow, but steady, and for now I will celebrate the small victories. This morning I changed the locks on the door, hung a windchime, and added a little flair to the front porch. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Birdhouse Perched on Porch

After I hung this birdhouse on the porch post, I realized that the color scheme might work well when I repaint. What do you think?