The Road Less Traveled

25 08 2010

The road into the Meadowcreek valley is usually pretty quiet. Limited to the neighbors and a few locals who enjoy nearby swimming holes, traffic is usually drowned out by the chirping of birds and buzz of insects. Most of the time we can even tell who’s driving down the mountain by the sound of their car. If you’ve ever wondered about the meaning of “tranquility”, just move to a rarely traveled road for the best definition.

I was turning my compost pile in the front yard this morning as the caravan of vehicles made its way down the mountain. From the air, I imagine they must have looked like a colony of termites slowly working their way through the woods, twisting and turning along the steep and cumbersome (yet oh-so-charming!) dirt road. Had I not known they were coming, the shiny white government vehicles might have been cause for alarm. Instead, I was ecstatic to see them, but not because I knew who they were and why they were coming. Rather, I was excited because for the first time since beginning my residency here, PEOPLE WERE COMING TO THE VALLEY TO LEARN!

The Ozark Highlands Office of The Nature Conservancy was hosting a workshop on the maintenance of dirt and gravel roads, and let me tell you, they could not have chosen a better site for a demonstration! Meadowcreek is a great destination for quaint country sight-seeing but the road that seems so idyllic to Sunday Drivers can present a challenge to daily commuters. If there’s a malady that can affect a rural roadway, we probably have it. Luckily, The Nature Conservancy arranged for the Stone County Street Department to bring their graders down for the workshop.

Arrangements for the workshop attendees and sponsors to have lunch at our dorms had been made, and I headed down to make sure the facilities were in order. (A big thank you to Sage Holland for the use of her vacuum and donation of her superb mopping abilities, as well as to Kaylee Tejeda for his plumbing know-how!) After some tidying up and re-arranging of furniture, Meadowcreek was ready to host our 25-30 guests from across the state of Arkansas.

Honestly, I was unprepared for the enthusiastic questioning from some of the diners. I’ve talked about Meadowcreek in casual conversation before, and I have most of the “History of Meadowcreek” from the website memorized, but I’d never had such a captive audience! How motivational and invigorating it is to have people show interest in a project you are passionate about. “This place has so much potential” seemed to be the mantra of the day, an affirmation of why I am here.

It was also a good day for networking, both with The Nature Conservancy staff and government officials from various towns and counties in the region. I’m looking forward to learning more about Project Wet, Project Wild, and Project Learning Tree, which one attendee noted would be excellent programs for Meadowcreek to offer. And perhaps The Nature Conservancy will keep us in mind as a meeting facility if they offer more workshops here in the future.

In other news, Meadowcreek has two major projects in the works. Charles and Shirley Rosenbaum, with the assistance of John North, are working with the Humane Society on a Horse Rescue Mission to aid in the rehabilitation of neglected and abused horses. Country Oaks Bed and Breakfast in nearby Mountain View has generously donated hay to help with the feed needs of the rescue horses. Horses may be sponsored by individuals or groups to help provide for the veterinary, grooming, and other needs of the horses. Lodging is available for those who would enjoy extended visits with the horse(s) they sponsor, and riding is permitted.

Bev Dunaway is actively pursuing funding opportunities for the construction of the Meadowcreek Greenhouse. We already have a greenhouse frame, it just needs to have new ends built, center support posts added, and a cover put on. The completion of the greenhouse will enable Meadowcreek to provide a variety of gardening and agriculture-related programs during an extended growing season. I’ve been working on a budget for a “dream greenhouse” that we can use as a demonstration model for market gardeners and folks with an interest in year-round harvesting.

If you plan on being in the area and would like to stop in to see our progress, feel free to drop me a line. We’ll even let you go for a ride on our brand new tire swing while you’re here!

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It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood!

9 04 2010

April 5, 2010

I woke up early this morning to put the first coat of paint on the dining room walls. There was nothing really wrong with the color of the walls, though they were slightly dirty and had a few nail holes that needed to be patched. Since this room needs the least work to be presentable (some paint, new baseboards, and new flooring, plus a thorough window washing), I decided it was a great place to start.

The Eating Cave

Even with the full morning sun coming through the window, it still looks so dark in here!

This should brighten things up!
New dining room wall paint

I had work at my shop in town today, but decided to call someone in to work tomorrow and Wednesday so that I can spend a few more days working on the house. Bev dropped by the store to chat and I asked her what was happening with the Meadowcreek garden and who was in charge of it. She told me to talk to John and the other residents and for us to figure it out amongst ourselves, but that we each needed to have our own separate plots.

This was good news for me: I have about a hundred baby kale and lettuce plants waiting to be transplanted, and it would be great to get them all in the ground tomorrow. This would give me a chance to meet the rest of the residents, as well.

After work we loaded up the car for a 3-night sleepover in the Valley and headed down to meet the Hermansen family. Bev had called ahead to let them know we’d be dropping by to talk about the garden. The Hermansens consist of John and Debbie, their son, Debbie’s brother and mother. Only John and Sonny were home, and we shared a nice long chat. They’re occupying the lower dorms while they renovate their house.

John has a few plants started in the dorm, having rigged up an ingenious indoor mini-greenhouse. I think the bulk of his gardening will be staples like corn and potatoes, and canner-friendly beans, peas, and cucumbers. And no Arkansas garden would be complete without peppers and tomatoes!

I actually didn’t have to broach the topic of the garden myself; John H. had just gotten off the phone with Bev when I arrived, and it was the first order of business. He envisions more of a “single plot community garden” rather than a “separate gardens with a cooperative effort” model.

So, here are few talking points on both sides of the debate, and I’m not going to tell you which one I’m leaning towards. See, I’d hate to bias your opinion, which I hope you’ll share in the poll and comments section below.

Single Plot
A single plot would allow for growing entire rows of a single crop, with each family designating how much of that crop they need. Days of responsibility could be assigned to each family so that individuals didn’t have to work in the garden so frequently. People could just pick whatever they wanted and take it. The garden would look more organized. It would encourage a sense of community instead of separation. No concerns about whether the garden space was divided fairly. Group gardens cannot sell at the Farmer’s Market.

Individual Plots
Individuals would be able to sell excess produce at the Farmer’s Market or share/trade with other Meadowcreek residents. Gardeners could grow a wider variety of crops that suited their particular needs. More individual time committed to gardening tasks, less flexibility in schedule. Each person could use their own gardening methods (organic/conventional, green manuring/crop rotation, mulch and fertilizer preferences). No disputes about whether the harvest was distributed fairly.

Of course, there are many other pros and cons of both arguments. I’d love to hear your feedback on this issue. Which arrangement do you think work better? Which is the most fair to all of the residents? Why?

So while my baby greens remain homeless, I did manage to get eight raspberry plants put in my front flower bed. I’d call the day a success.
One of 8 Raspberry Plants in the front flower bed





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?





The Meadowcreek Initiative, Day 1

1 04 2010

March 31. 2010

The day has finally come:  After 4 years of finger-crossing and persistent pestering, the Board of Directors determined that I wasn’t going away.  Bev (she’s the Vice-Pres) called yesterday morning to give me the news–the Board had voted in favor of offering me the Spring House residence.  So here I am, spending my first night camped out on the bedroom floor, journaling by candle light.  (Primitive camping, that is…we don’t have power, water, or internet yet, which might explain why my posts show up online a day after I write them for a while.)  Hyla is chattering away right next to me, too excited to sleep despite the encroaching midnight hour.

And I’m excited, too.  We spent the afternoon up the hill in the small community of Fox working on Gus and Cynthia’s farm.  Today was potato planting day, and it’s always such a joy to chat with Cynthia while we work.  Hyla is crazy about Gus and his goats (they just had babies!), and we always end up staying longer than planned.  I’d hoped to make it down into the Valley long before sunset, but it was dark by the time my eyes came to rest on the “Welcome to Meadowcreek” sign.  Home!

If my heart has ever been anywhere, it’s been here at Meadowcreek.  This valley is magical, something I realized when I attended summer camp here in sixth grade.  Given, a lot of things have changed in the past 17 years. but it still has that “take your breath away” and “renew your spirit” vibe that stole my heart as a child.  There’s a lot of work to be done, but I am confident that we will be sharing the magic of Meadowcreek with the world again very soon. This place has far too much potential to be kept a secret for long, and I look forward to educating, motivating, and captivating minds of all ages in the future.  As for all that work that needs to be done:  “Ain’t nothin’ a little sweat, blood, and elbow grease can’t fix!”

I should hit the hay soon as tomorrow will start early…but this entry wouldn’t be complete without mentioning my really awesome neighbors  Samantha and Robert.  I dropped by to introduce myself and let them know that if they saw an unfamiliar grey car at the Spring House, it’s just me.  (We have the most incredible neighborhood watch in all of Stone County down here!)  Samantha is about my age and has children close to my daughter’s, which is wonderful.  Her parents are also residents, her father John having maintained the Meadowcreek property for the past couple of years.  You can’t overestimate the value of good neighbors, and from tonight’s front porch conversation, I can tell that I’m going to enjoy having them as mine.  By the way, if you haven’t spent an evening shooting the breeze with an old friend (or even a brand new one!) lately, there’s no better time than spring!

Off to bed now.  Looking forward to what tomorrow brings…