"There is no 'try'...there is only do, or do not." ~ Yoda

"There is no 'try'...there is only do, or do not." ~ Yoda

Preparing myself, my family and my friends for the Fourth Turning.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Status Update: The Bridge at Hemlock Creek

We are nearing completion but my, what a battle it has been.

Our bridge design was not completed until late in September - leaving but a few days for the project to be completed before the moratorium on stream work (October 1 to May 15) took effect.  The DEC has graciously granted an extension to the 15th of October.

However, the bridge as designed could not be built within budget - in fact, in came in at 60% over budget, an extra 18 thousand dollars.

Back to the drawing board while we petitioned the DEC.  The final design was in place just in time for the flooding that accompanied the tropical storm that traced a path along the eastern seaboard, inundating the Carolinas, and trapping me on my property when a newly-built section of road washed out.

So we were delayed again, and eating into our extension.  First, the road had to be repaired.  At that point, I left for my mother's house in Fredonia, NY for a weekend of hot food, showers, and a bed.  I returned late Tuesday.  Pumps, not running, ran hoses into the hole containing the first footer.  The footer was still under water.

On Wednesday, AJ called and said he was bringing a larger pump - it turned out to be a six-inch diesel behemoth the size of a water buffalo.  It did the trick, emptying the hole in a matter of minutes, spewing a torrent of muddy water from the outlet hose.  As the water receded, Bill dug a sump to collect water for the pump, and forming work for the footer modifications made necessary by the modified design began.

Through herculean efforts on the part of Bill Kirk (from Kirksway Farms - he does the excavating) and AJ, the first footer was modified, poured on Thursday.  On Friday the abutment was formed.  On Saturday, at 0700 the concrete arrived and was poured.  We were done for at least 24 hours, ideally 36, while the concrete cured.

Dave would return on Sunday, and he and I would strip the forms.  Apparently, he came by during the time I was in the draw, building waterfalls.  I worried about the forms, and the time we were losing by not having them stripped so that work could proceed on Monday.

On Monday, unable to get a hold of AJ or Dave Evangelista (the mason), I went ahead and began stripping forms from the partially cured concrete. Bill showed up around noon; he had not heard from AJ either.  I explained that I was proceeding with the plan we had discussed on Friday, when we poured the abutment, and asked him to return with the backhoe and Bobcat in an hour or.

He promised to do so; in the meantime, I got ahold of AJ who explained that Dave had checked the forms Sunday evening, and decided the stone was still too wet to strip.  He said Dave had said he wanted to wait until Monday afternoon.

Oops.  No matter, the concrete was fine - AJ arrived a bit later, and Bill returned with one of his hands, a fellow named Don.  Together we completed the stripping, moved the equipment across the stream (back breaking work - the panels for the forms weigh close a hundred pounds each - we had a couple of dozen, along with bracing wood, iron pins, wire and so forth.

By Monday afternoon we had back filled the first abutment and moved across the stream, pulled the stumps, and begun to dig.  We took the remains  of the coffer damn stripped from the near side, and re-built it on the far side.

Tuesday was spent digging a giant hole in the far side of the creek, ripping out the root balls from the trees we had felled when clearing the drive.  Next, we made the decision to keep the six-inch pump on hand, as the hole was rapidly filling with water and we didn't believe the 2 and 4 inch pumps would keep up.

We hauled it to town, filled the tank with diesel, returned to the stream, crossed the stream with the pump, staged it, dropped it in the hole and began pulling water.  The discharge hose had nowhere to run but back across the stream - but it only reached so far, and as the pump pulled water, it gushed from the far end onto the bank, and right back into the stream.

A problem, as silt in the water is exactly what we are supposed to be avoiding.

So AJ and I stayed on after the others had left, digging a trench and an earthen barrier to divert the spillage from straying back to the creek, and instead flow to a drainage channel emptying into low ground on the near side.

Wednesday dawned cold again - the second frost this year - as everyone gathered back at the site.  AJ brought an extension hose for the pump outflow.  Shawn and Andrew arrived to help with the framing.  Bill and Don returned.  Dave and his sidekick, Dustin (aka, of course, 'Dusty') returned for a little masonry work. Bill brought the unwelcome news that rain was forecast for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Now, our concern was not so much for the concrete forming and pouring work - we can do that in the rain.  The issues are twofold; the stream topping the coffer damn we had constructed to isolate the site is the first. As bad as this would be, it pales beside the second: The collapsing of the hillside above the abutment into the hole, and, depending upon the stage of the work, either onto the footer, or onto the poured abutment in its form.

Please note: as of this writing, those risks remain live.  Tomorrow, the 14th, we will form and pour the second abutment.  And then will come the rain.

I retreated up the hill, limbed and cut three pine trees remaining from our felling operations into manageable logs.  The branches got added to the burn pile, which alternately issued forth billowing clouds of white smoke, or burned clear and bright.  Done with that, I began the cutting and splitting of the stack of cherry logs hauled up the previous day when beginning excavation, after having felled two additional trees.

This took a few hours.

By the afternoon, the gravel had been laid in the pit, the form set, the reinforcing bar set and tied, the pump was running well, concrete was on the way.  It arrived at 1600, backed smartly up to the first abutment, and extended its boom with attached hopper and hose.  So, the form is set, the steel tied, the creek diverted, the crew ready, the concrete here and it starts to pour.

The concrete, I mean.  Bright sun today.  It fell cleanly and quickly, oozing like soft pudding to fill the form, helped along by men with rakes.  The first arm of the form was poured, and some slight bowing on the outer edge of the form ensued, quickly buttressed by additional rebar driven into the ground adjoining it.

On to the next arm, the plan being to fill the center last.  The outer wall of this one began to swell, as had the other.  Additional rebar bracing had no effect.  Finally two by fours were laid across the arm and screwed in place, arresting the bowing, and preventing a cracked form (that would have been an unmitigated disaster, if the concrete had flowed out.).

Problem solved, the pouring continued.  Then the truck ran out of concrete.  Apparently, the bowing had increased the cubic capacity of the form by sufficient volume to cause the level in the form to be below the desired level.

I suggested large rocks as filler - reasoning that they would displace the concrete sufficiently to raise it's level, and would seem to offer no structural impairment.  I still maintain this would have been the simplest and most effective method.

Dave did not like this idea, but admitted there may be no alternative.  Sending for more concrete could not be done that day.  Concrete arriving the next day would form a cold seam with the hardened concrete from today, impairing the structural integrity of the footer.

Someone (I can't recall who) asked if we had any pea gravel remaining after laying the base for the footer.  I had seen it - I replied we had about a yard. Across the stream I went, bucket in hand, to start hauling stone.  Justin - the driver of the concrete truck (who, by the way, does not go by the nickname 'Justy" despite the alliterative tie with Dustin) - suggested we just throw the stone on the conveyor belt, conveniently located over the stone pile.

Dusty and I got to shoveling - he with a shovel, and I with my bucket.  We got enough stone into the form to raise the level to just about where we wanted it.  It looked like an awful lot of stone for such a small area of concrete, but the men got to working it with rakes and shovels, mixing it in with the existing muck.

Dave voiced a desire for more concrete.  I recalled two 80 pound bags left from construction of the Abode, tucked warmly and dryly inside the Abode beside my writing table (how hillbilly is that?). I asked Dave if he wanted then, and he assented.  I sped up the hill, followed by Andrew, and we each retrieved a bag and carried them down the hill.  Emptied on top of the stone, with a little water added, thoroughly mixed, and dispersed through the form as far as possible.

I headed up the hill to shower - no small undertaking itself, in an environment with no running water - as I had to head into Ithaca to visit the library to use their computers and printers to print out the closing documents for a loan for the deck of the bridge.  This I did, and had a pleasant dinner of onion soup, salad, and an Ahi steak sandwich with fries. 

The food up here is amazing.

So here we are.  2200 on Wednesday, the 13th of October.  Belly full, feet dry, clothes clean, wine at hand, Abode warm, writing, content.  One abutment finished.  The second footer poured.  Two days remaining in our extension.  Financing secured. 

Rain in the forecast.

Stay tuned.

Making the Stream Noisier

Strange title, I know, but important.  First, some updates:  the first abutment was poured Saturday morning at 7 am.  Tomorrow (Monday the 11th) we will strip the forms, backfill, and commence excavation for the second footer.

All the wood that I had available to process has been processed into firewood.  More is down the hill; it will have to wait until the bridge is completed.

I still have two piles of brush to burn before I leave, and two pine trees that need to be bucked up.  Currently, I am staging all pine in logs for later use as outdoor firewood or as kindling for the wood stoves in the house.

Nina has completed the kitchen design (a remarkably sane design - much better than I would have done), and we have resolved most remaining issues regarding home design overall.  My feeling is, we will be on short-final for a completed plan by the end of the month, and I will be up here in November arranging for the construction loan, completing the bridge, and scheduling excavation for the basement.

Cold now at night - frost on the ground.  Had to add a second poncho liner to the one I was already using to reinforce my sleeping bag.  Will have to bring a heavier sleeping bag for winter use.  Wood stove heats the inside nicely, but as the Abode is not insulated, the heat flees rapidly.  I get about a three hour burn from a full charge of wood, meaning I need to refuel the fire through the night, or else hunker down and stay warm in my bag.

I harvested the remaining apples from the tree - they're not much to look at, small and with blotchy skin, but they are some of the best-tasting apples I have ever eaten, even if I only get a bite or two from each.

As to the stream.

Lacking the will to engage myself in the project in which I should be engaged - terracing the yard and hauling stone from the creek to build walls - I turned my attention to the creek itself.  The creek I am referring to in this case is not the major one - Hemlock Creek - it is a feeder draw to the south of the home site, smaller and steeper, with a lower flow.

So, to avoid confusion, I will refer to this unnamed creek as the stream in the draw.

It is a pleasant place, the draw - it runs nearly the full width of the property, and in fact begins well above (northwest of) the property line, farther up the hill.  Where it enters the property, the slopes to either side are steep, with well defined hilltops to both the south and north.

From where it enters, it falls a good 150'  of vertical elevation to Hemlock Creek, below.  Along its fall, the banks tend to steepness, except in a couple of locations where meander has formed oxbows and multiple channels. Numerous trees have fallen across its course from time to time, and have become mossy and rotted, with ferns interspersed, mossy rocks and limbs accenting its path.

The water trickles merrily in its course - I've not seen it dry, ever - over a rocky bed comprising small stone down to the size of gravel and smaller, with larger stones and rocks abundant. 

On this point I must pause, and mention that some years ago Nina and I stayed in our time share in Gatlinburg, in a stream-side room where the master suite was a loft, and the stream audible.  We fell in love with the atmosphere, and determined, when we began our search for land, to at least try and obtain property with running water.

In this, we have been fortunate.

At night it is remarkably quiet out here.  The traffic that races along Creek Road, breaking the stillness with each passing vehicle, ceases; silence falls, save for the wind, the frogs, the coyotes, and in the distance, the trickle-trackle of Hemlock creek.

'Tis not always so.  When Hemlock is low, it is vanishingly difficult to hear it.  The stream does not vary so much in its level as Hemlock, and, moreover, it is about the same distance from the house, with the advantage that once the house is complete, the deck opening off of our second-story loft master suite will be poised to observe and hear the stream falling on its way.

Inasmuch as water will always make its own path, it is not the case that water may not be encouraged towards nor dissuaded from certain paths by clever mimicry of nature.

For example, nature creates waterfalls.  Some are splendid displays of energy, foamy and white, falling so far and so quickly that the falling water, engaging the air, disperses into droplets and rivulets.  Some are more modest, a mere trickle over an inch of space, the sound a tickling gurgle as contrasted with the throaty roar of a cataract.

For my purposes, something in between is desired: a series of falls and rushes that, collectively, add their music to the night silence in sufficient levels that a during a quiet set on the loft deck, perhaps over an evening's slow fire's crackle, their chanting becomes easily audible.

Now, making a stream noisier is not to say we are disturbing its natural state.  Streams may be quiet or noisy all on their own, and the encouragement of one quality over another provokes no indictment of motive.  In making the stream more noisy, I am only making this particular stream more of what it already is.

Such it is with men.  All humans have various aspects to themselves: good or ill tempered, passive or aggressive, anxious or relaxed.  And as I have mentioned before, the goal of each living thing is to become the best possible self it can, that it may thus achieve its greatest harmony with its environment.

So, in the same manner that I shape the stream with my hands, I shape myself.  In much the same manner as I look at the stream, I look at myself, considering where I might improve matters, and move toward greater harmony.

Perhaps I am noisy, and wish I were quieter, or more taciturn and shy, wishing I were vocal and outgoing.  I wish to shape myself, to do my very best to become that Self which experiences the greatest possible measure of well-being.

As I begin to shape myself, I note that I can also manipulate my environment: I can control what and who are around me, and when and where.  Not completely, but in a free country, to a large extent.  I note that some environments generate more feelings of well being than do others.  I begin to analyze the sorts of environments that generate well-being.

I notice another thing, too: as my environment changes, and feelings of harmony increase, there is a corresponding change in my Self, and the things I feel I need to do in order to pursue greatest harmony change.  Because I have become more tuned to my Self and my environment, I can now begin to consider my Self and my environment as part of a whole.  I note the feedback - as my environment changes, causing greater peace, I become more at-peace, and choose to adjust my environment again, which further changes me, and so forth.

When I first begin to do this, I tend to review possible environments and attempt to place my Self within them. In this, I review all extant and accessible environments and attempt to enter the one that more clearly seems to offer the opportunity of increased harmony.

As I find my Self in ever-more harmonious environments, I begin to understand that I have the power to contribute to my environment, and in so doing, alter it.  Moreover, I find that some alterations of my environment provoke greater well-being than other alterations.  Finally, I discover that included in my alterations of my environment is a measurable change in the states of other Entities, attributable to my efforts.

Now, in addition to selecting particular environments, I can refine the selected environment, and, if other Entities contribute to that environment, I can influence those other Entities.

Next, I determine that there are a number of Environments, or Spheres of Comprehension, in which I am a participant: Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Rational, Emotional, Sexual, and Natural.  The sum of these spheres comprise the World, where World is meant to mean an Entity's understanding of the totality of all existence and experience as apprehended by the individual Entity in question. Each of these Spheres is in conflict with the others, seeking to dominate the dialogue, to relegate the remaining Spheres to the Id, while itself assuming the role of Ego.

I experiment, and find I can deliberately influence the amount of influence each sphere has over my Self, and, perhaps more importantly, I can select environments where one or more sphere holds more or less power over the others.

For example, if I am a gambler, and wish not to be so, I may instead choose church and thus reinforce spirituality over emotion as a defining characteristic.  In order to be most successful, the Self determines to leave Las Vegas and become a monk in some remote location.  Emotion and greed hold less sway in a spiritual environment that they do in an the emotionally charged environment of a casino.

If I were this gambler, and I did as described, I would likely find, from all reports, that my need for gambling had gone.  By immersing my Self in an environment where spirituality was more powerful than emotion (a change in environment), I would have become more spiritual.  Being now more spiritual (a change in Self) I would now be less prone to emotion.

I might now choose to re-immerse my Self in the world of gambling.  Having mastered spirituality as an alternative personal framework, I am no longer tempted.  I selected my environment, which altered my Self, which now willingly re-enters the Emotional environment changed.  Instead of tempted, I am now enraged and determined.  My World has changed.  The Spiritual Self determines in turn to change the emotional environment of Las Vegas - to affect the environment, by changing the rules to prevent the exploitation of the emotionally weak, and thus indirectly influence other Beings currently in that environment.

The Self seeks elected office.

The foregoing is but an example.

The larger point is that I now understand several things:
  • In some environments, I feel more harmony than I do in others;
  • I have some power to select my environments;
  • By selecting my environment, I provoke changes in my Self;
  • Sometimes, these changes in my Self provoke me to try and change my environment;
  • If successful, I change my environment to one in which I feel more well-being;
  • In turn, I provoke further changes in my Self, which then provoke changes in my understanding of my World;
  • As time passes and wisdom accrues, I understand that Self and my World are one;
  • And; feedback between my Self and my World occurs;
  • I contemplate, and understand that my environment is equally trying to influence me;
  • I conclude that greatest harmony will be achieved when I and my environment are at equilibrium;
  • I seek equilibrium with my environment;
  • My environment seeks equilibrium with me;
  • To achieve equilibrium is to enter the Environment of the Natural and experience maximum Harmony. 
The Environment of the Natural, in contrast to all other Environments, encompasses all of the others.  We each have our most natural states of being, our Prime Self.  These are the states in which not only are we most satisfied, we are in fact experiencing feels of well-being to the maximal level possible given our understanding of the World, our current immersion in one or more Environments to the exclusion of others, and have tuned ourselves to resonate most strongly with the World we have created and to maintain that resonance for as long as possible.

To reach this state requires that our engagement with each and all of the other Environments is at a peak, the highest peak possible in each particular environment, seeking harmony with the Self as it experiences all other Environments and sums them to the World.

The ultimate experience of Self, then, is to be in complete Harmony with one's World.

It is important to note at this point, that, while abstract, the concepts offered so far have acknowledged no value judgments.  A priori  the maximal states of being for some Entities will invoke the damage or destruction of other Entities.  It cannot be otherwise where chemical Entities must consume and assimilate other chemical entities in order to ensure continued Existence.

The compelling conclusion then arises: one cannot experience maximal states of being without invoking conflict, where conflict is understood to be a reordering of one's environment against the 'wishes' of other participants.

It is impossible to avoid conflict: I wish to eat, that I may continue as an Entity; the corn I consume ceases to be an Entity, and becomes part of my Entity.  Understanding that conflict is unavoidable, and seeking greatest harmony, I seek not only to diminish the level of conflict I experience, but also to mitigate its effects.

In mitigating the effects of my actions on other Entities; and, in mitigating the effects of my actions on  the various Environments where such effects prove deleterious to other Entities; and, in so doing, remaining mindful of the Natural Drive to improve my Self to the maximal degree possible, I reach the unfortunate conclusion that if I am to prosper, others must suffer.

It matters not if the other is corn or a clam or a coworker.  Life itself is the harvesting of Other Entity's resources - often their very components - for one's own benefit, often irrespective of the fact that the other 'wishes' it not so.

But then I realize that my understanding of 'suffering' is biased by my existence in both the Emotional and Physical Environments.  It is influenced by my existence in other spheres as well: the Intellectual and Rational.  Does corn "suffer" when eaten?  Not unless the eating threatens the existence of 'corn' on this planet, assuming that an ear of corn does not it Self suffer when eaten.

To the contrary, it seems that since corn benefits by virtue of being edible, reproducible, and fecund, it has prospered at the expense of other grasses less adaptable.  Thus, my exploitation of corn is not immoral; it benefits us both.  I enjoy continued being, and gain the opportunity to reproduce; the corn would have ceased to be regardless, and yet gets the opportunity to reproduce, supported by the efforts of humans.  In point of fact, many, many other Entities suffer as a result of the partnership between man and corn.

Finally, I note that the corn is incapable of knowing itself as "Self".

I can now conclude the following:
  • Some Entities, if exploited, do not "suffer" in a conscious sense;
  • The level of direct suffering experienced when suffering by an Entity occurs is directly proportional to the level of self-awareness experienced by that Entity and the number of Spheres in which the Entity can be said to participate;
The grand conclusion is thus:
  • It is moral to structure one's environment such that the maximal state of being possible to each Entity present in one's World preserves, as much as possible, and with weight to each Sphere given in order of ascending significance, the various Rights of each Entity as represented by the Seven Spheres of Comprehension: the Physical (existence is permitted); the Sexual (right to reproduce);  Emotional (the right to feel); the Spiritual (the right to experience something greater than oneself); The Intellectual (the right to form Questions and Hypotheses); the Rational (the right to reason to a conclusion as proof in the absence of physical proof); and, the Natural (the right to achieve maximal well-being through harmony with the World)
From this Conclusion, we may develop these Precepts of Harm:
  • The greatest Harm is to harm Natural Beings;
  • The next greatest Harm is to harm Rational beings;
  • The next greatest Harm is to harm Sentient beings;
  • The next greatest Harm is to harm Spiritual beings;
  • The next greatest Harm is to harm Emotional beings;
  • The next greatest Harm is to harm Sexually reproductive beings;
  • The least greatest harm is to destroy an entity that participates solely in the Physical Sphere, if such destruction does not directly or indirectly threaten the well-being of other Entities.
    It then becomes permissible to intervene in one's Environment; after all, one's environment is intervening in one's Self.  Provided one observes the Precepts of Harm by avoiding unnecessary damage to other Entities, one is free to impact one's environment in a manner that provides the greatest harmony to the actor.

    The key is the minimization of Harm.

    I would also note that the Premises of Harm do not apply in matters of self-defense. If defending oneself from harm, the only obligation is to win.  One has a right to exist, and if other Entities threaten one's existence, one has the right to resist by virtue of participation in the Physical Sphere.

    Whether fighting off a predatory animal, a  public consensus at odds with one's demonstrably harmless beliefs or activities, a repressive legislature or court, a virus or mold or bacteria; one is fighting for the right to exist as an individual.

    To repeat:

    Now, making a stream noisier is not to say we are needlessly disturbing its natural state.  Streams may be quiet or noisy all on their own, and the encouragement of one quality over another provokes no indictment of motive.  In making the stream more noisy, I am only making this particular stream more of what it already is.

    I am thus not 'damaging' the stream when reshaping it; at most I am 'damaging' the Entities that participate in the Physical and Sexual Spheres (insects, mammals, invertebrates, certain plants) which comprise the delineation of the micro-ecosystem.

    However, in reshaping the stream I am doing nothing more than any of the other participants.  I merely do it with conscious intent, planning, and on a grander scale than most of the other participants.  Undoubtedly, certain organisms will benefit from the disruption of the environment even as others suffer.  This is the nature of life.

    Since I will be more content, I will have performed the essential task of life: to be more of what it already is.  In my case, re-shaping the stream provides a greater sense of well being.  Other creatures who are part of the stream's ecology seek to do the same thing; the fact that their efforts are less immediately visible in no way alters the fact each and every entity participating in the ecology of the stream is attempting to invoke changes to make its Existence more harmonious with its Environment.

    Why should I, as one Entity among many Entities competing in the stream, be held to any different standard?

    Of course, the goal is Harmony with one's environment.  Random disenfranchisement of other Entities' rights is thoughtless and pointless; I strive to adjust both the environment and my Self, ever conscious of my impact on the environment and on other Entities.

    I may in fact do Harm.  It is in fact unavoidable that I do Harm if I am to continue to exist.  The goal then becomes to effect the changes necessary for self actualization while committing as little Harm as possible.

    As the stream becomes noisier, I find that I do as well, which is only to say that in altering my environment to better suit me, I become more of what I already am, and thus proceed another step on the path to maximal well-being.


    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Much to Discover

    Every day, I try and take a walk around this property, some part of it, new or old, it doesn't matter.  One cannot become acquainted with one's environment all at once.  Today I tramped northeast along Hemlock Creek to the property line, and encountered four separate springs emerging from the hillside, two of substantial volume in the aftermath of yesterday's rain.

    I was already familiar with one, as it adjoins the planned driveway section on the hill, and we already have made plans to accommodate its periodically heavy flows.  It is a steady flow now.  Farther along a smaller spring arises, perhaps 50 meters northeast of the first, then another after 25 meters, a third 25 meters farther in, and still a third another 25 meters.

    The third is also substantial, and judging from the vegetation, the depth of the channel and the lack of sediment in evidence it seems to run pretty continuously.  I recall identifying a seepy, swampy, boggy area up above it on the hillside during a walk some months ago; I think that seep likely feeds the spring I found further down the hillside.

    On the way back, I discovered an apple tree bearing fruit.  The fruit was small, about the size of a baby's fist, its skin mottled and shot with brown traces, but worm free and quite tasty, sort of a cross between a granny smith and a yellow delicious, tart and crisp, juicy.  I ate two.  Only a few bites per apple, but hey, they're free, and only about 35 meters from the abode.

    The Fruit of the Tree:

    I also discovered another stand of wild roses - they're everywhere on this property, as are Hawthornes, and both are members of the same family.  Roses produce a small, berry like fruit, reddish orange to red, known as rose hips.  This edible fruit is a good source of vitamin C, and can be made into jams, jellies, wine - the usual stuff.  Not sure how they taste raw - I'll give it a try and report back.

    I also discovered a Mahaleb Cherry, only some few meters from the Abode.  The fruit is a dark, very bitter, cherry like drupe, very distasteful, but a quick search reveals that the seeds are used in Mediterranean cooking, which is a past time my wife and I enjoy together.

    From Wikipedia:

    The plant is cultivated for a spice, which is fragrant and has the taste of bitter almonds. It is used in small quantities to sharpen sweet foods, such as the Turkish sweet-bread çörek (chorak), the Greek sweet-bread tsoureki or the Armenian sweet-bread chorak. The chemical constituents are still uncertain, but the spice is prepared from the seeds, either by grinding and powdering the seed kernels, or in oil extracted from the seeds.[12]

    The wood is hard, and is used in cabinet-making and for pipes.[13]

    The bark, wood, and seeds contain coumarin.[13][14] They have anti-inflammatory, sedative and vasodilation 

    Away from its native range, the species is grown as an ornamental tree for its strongly fragrant flowers, throughout temperate regions of the world; it has become naturalised in some areas, including Europe north of its native range (north to Great Britain and Sweden), and locally in Australia and the United States.[7][15][16]

    I've also found what I believe are some Red-Osier Dogwood shrubs, notable because of their white, blueberry-like (although apparently inedible, sources differ) fruit. I does have the advantage of being a preferred food of ruffed grouse.

    I'll keep you posted.

    The Best Laid Schemes

    But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
    In proving foresight may be vain:
    The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
    Gang aft agley,
    An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
    For promis'd joy! 

    Robert Burns, from "To a Mouse "

    A wee spot of trouble yesterday and last night.  The last courtiers of Tropical Storm Nicole hung around the party long enough to finish their devastation in North Carolina, slowly traveling up the eastern seaboard and bringing a full day of heavy rain here yesterday.

    As a consequence, I stayed inside most all day, listening to the slowly-maddening drum of the drops on the tin roof of the abode, keeping the fire up, checking on the dog (curled inside her house, waiting it out like me), reading and writing.

    I took some pictures of the event as it unfolded, and will take some more of the aftermath as I am able. Here's one of the coffer damn built to permit pouring of the first footer, which can be seen in the bottom.  I apologize for the poor picture quality.  Please note the breaches in the coffer damn wall, which is otherwise holding well.

    Here's one from last night.  You can see the coffer dam is now fully submerged, but intact.

    And finally, from this morning, around 0800:

    Structurally, the impacts are negligible.  We'll have to wait for the water to recede, however, before any additional work may be done.  There was some damage to the driveway - on the other side of the dirt pile in the background is a two-culvert system draining a swale that experiences flows during heavy rains.

    One of the culverts washed from its location, about two hundred feet downstream.  I am informed of this my my contractor, who told me that the excavator dropped by this morning to check on the driveway.  We have ordered additional stone, an additional culvert (widening it to three), and will repair it over the next day or so.

    Meanwhile, I am reduced to foot power for mobility, as I cannot cross the damaged section of the drive in my car.

    C'est la vie.

    Of far more importance is the impact to our construction schedule, which is substantially behind. After some sticker shock on the 23rd, we halted progress until a redesign of the bridge could be effected, to bring the cost to a more reasonable level (from 48,000 to just under 30,000).  This necessitated a request for an extension from the DEC - by law, stream impacts are not to occur from September 30 to May 15th - which was granted, providing us until the 15th of October to emplace the abutments and complete all excavation and backfill.

    Two weeks is a tight construction schedule - we had been intending to lay forms today and pour concrete tomorrow, but now we are set back a day.

    The abutments are the key; the deck may be emplaced without impact to the stream, and it is of lesser concern.  Without the bridge, however, there is not chance of beginning construction on the house.  And, after witnessing this rain event, I am even more firmly convicted that up the hill is the place to build.

    More later.

    Thursday, September 30, 2010

    The Reasons Why (Part Two)

    In part one, I disclosed the ontological influences in my ongoing attempt to radically adjust my lifestyle.  This disclosure was a necessary predicate, as there are a number of responses to the conditions I am about to outline that have informed this attempt; I have chosen this one from among many, because of who I am.

    These conditions collectively represent what I believe to be our species' present circumstances and the likely outcomes of those circumstances.  Both my circumstances and my ontology shape my choices.  Moreover, my ontology shapes my circumstances, and vice-versa, and feedback occurs.

    In order to shape my response to my personal circumstances, it is at first necessary to understand what my personal circumstances are, and from that basis develop a framework of who I am.  Knowing who I am helps me rearrange my circumstances to better suit me, which further defines who I am and shapes the next rearrangement.  As stated in Part One, the goal is the maximally positive outcome possible.

    Who I am not can in some respects be readily disclaimed:  I am not, for example, a peasant in China.  Nor am I a Brazilian rain forest aboriginal.  I am likewise not a 5th century monk, nor am I a a prehistoric native American, making my slow way across the frozen bridge linking present day Russia and Alaska, together with my tribe.  In turn, who I may not become is similarly disclaimable.

    Thus, my circumstances define the possible range of choices.  My choices define the possible range of outcomes.  The summary outcomes of my choices, coupled with the summary circumstances, choices and outcomes of my predecessors, contemporaries, and offspring dictate the fate of our species.  It cannot be else-wise.  And as always, randomness gets a vote.

    My circumstances include certain facts about my being, that are particular to my being: my intelligence, awareness, ability to learn, reason, remember, predict; my physical characteristics and needs; finally, my preferences, regardless of whether they are innate, such as the preference for satiety over hunger, or acquired, such as chicken over steak, are included in my circumstances. 

    I note that I have a vested interest in my own survival.  I note that I desire to reproduce so that others like me might arise and I might then enjoy their companionship and foster my genetic continuance.  I do not so far find a reason for this to be so; it merely is.  I finally note that I might, at any time of my choosing, end my participation in life by my own hand, but I feel a strong desire not to do so, and am puzzled by those who do.

    To the weight, then, of my ontological imperatives, I add epistemological imperatives:  I am, I wish to survive, circumstances may arise which may threaten my existence, I wish to avoid or counter those circumstances.

    This is no different than any human, or any known organism for that matter, does every day of their lives (excepting those who, for some reason, choose to self-destruct).

    Being who I am, a somewhat educated, late 20th to early 21st century middle-aged American male with substantial technology at my disposal, some accumulated resources, and relative freedom from oppression, I am able to expand my awareness and understanding of the factors influencing my existence far beyond the sphere of knowledge available to most of my ancestors.  As I have greater knowledge of of existing conditions, I can predict farther into the future, and with more accuracy, ever mindful that randomness gets a vote.

    In this, I an not unique in contemporary terms.

    In sum, taking account of my present circumstances as far as I am able to determine them; taking account of my knowledge of my self; taking account of my desire to continue as my self (which includes my capacity as a member of a community at some level); and considering that fact that any choice I make comes at the cost of other choices possible, I must make my analysis and plan my path.

    I note many things about my present circumstances:
    • I live in a global society, where the choices of individuals not known to me nor directly affect-able by   me can be shown to have an impact upon the choices with which I am presented;
    • I live in a world of substantial technical complexity, one in which certain human minds have cast off the constraint of disbelief that ever-more higher technology is both possible and readily available to provide solutions to problems;
    • I live in a world where it is equally misunderstood by certain human minds that the cost of such higher technology may surpass any gain achieved by that technology;
    • I live in a world where, even if the higher technology is both possible and cost effective, it may arrive too late to be of practical value to certain individuals and populations on the planet;
    • I live in a world that has and has had, for the entirety of my existence, access to sources of energy that immensely magnify the capacity for work of any human or group of humans;
    • I live in a country that has and has had, for the entirety of my existence, access to a share of those resources and hence their productive use, disproportional to my country's share of the global population; unlike some other individuals in some other countries, my share is greater;
    • I live in a country, and in a region of my country, that has and has had, for the entirety of my existence, access to fresh water and arable land in quantities greatly exceeding those available to some communities and individuals in my country and elsewhere;
    • I live in a world where the deliberate analysis of those resources, their capacities, their amounts, their usage rates, their replenishment rates, the likely impact of shortages and the range of possible outcomes of those shortages is the widely undertaken, and I have access to the conclusions of such analyses;
    • I am aware that like every other species now existing or known to have existed, the usage rate of resources by my species appears to informed commentators to tend to periodically outstrip the replenishment rate of those resources (resource overreach);
    • It appears to informed commentators that our species has past the point of  of resource overreach;
    • Resource overreach tends to be accompanied, regardless of species, by conflict;
    • I am aware that the climate of my planet appears to be changing; the reasons why are of academic interest only, as I cannot hope to affect them.  My goal is to understand the ongoing changes and their likely impacts; 
    • I am healthy, capable of manual labor, capable of withstanding and/or devising solutions to reasonably undesirable environmental conditions; capable of exploiting available resources to mitigate and counter threats and improve my sense of well-being; and, capable of an exchange of resources, knowledge and skills with others of my kind;
    • I live in a country where it is possible, and I possess the resources necessary, to choose the location in which I live and relocate to that location;
    • To a lesser extent, I am similarly able to choose my lifestyle. For example, I must pay taxes and obey laws, whether or not I like it, but within those constraints I am generally free.
    This, then is what I know.  And in none of these points is a value judgment implied.  From these observations, I may reach some conclusions:
    • I exist, and wish to continue to exist;
    • I wish my descendants and certain of my contemporaries to continue to exist (I have no particular desire for any of my contemporaries to perish; I simply am not directly concerned with most of them);
    • I am prepared to attempt to assure my existence, and the continuance of my descendants' existence by various means: first, by work and, where necessary or desirable, commerce; second, by violence where necessary and unavoidable;
    • Others like me exist and appear to share the above characteristics;
    • Some others like me are capable of desiring, may at times desire, and if provoked by circumstances,  will at times act upon the desire for me personally or my society generally or other societies or individuals to perish;
    • My circumstances are no different that those of any previous or extant human in that my circumstances dictate the available means for survival;
    • Threats to survival exist;
    • I can understand and identify those threats, and greater study will produce greater understanding;
    • With greater understanding, I can better develop attempts to counter those threats;
    • Obtaining and managing a personally-owned source of renewable primary resources is very important to continued autonomy;
    • My labor plus my resources becomes my capital.
    • Being part of a community can be both helpful and harmful.
    Now, we are to the heart of the matter:  why move to an obscure community, in a state in this country that is experiencing a population decline, experiences some degree of harsh weather, where manufactured or refined resources are scarcer and thus more costly to obtain, and where the government is arguably more oppressive (in its taxation and regulation) than other governments elsewhere?

    Why not simply attempt to acquire vast wealth, legitimately or otherwise, and ensconce myself and my family in a castle on some remote island, with a private army at my service?  It falls within the range of possibility.  Why not take up residence on a tropical island, where harsh weather is not a concern, and food is readily available from the landscape?  It falls within the range of possibility.

    To answer this, we must accept certain premises.  I am perfectly willing to debate the rationale  for these premises, and the following conclusions, with any comer; I am perfectly willing to be proven wrong in both my premises and my conclusions.  But potential opponents should be prepared to challenge and respond with reason and facts; I shall not entertain challenges arising from raw opinion or uninformed belief.

    Premise 1:  Some resources necessary for human life are practically infinite (on human time scales) such as the energy obtained directly from the sun, and some are practically infinitely recyclable, such as water;  others are, for purposes of exploitation over human time frames, finite, such as oil.

    One can presume that fossil fuels are even now replenishing themselves.  The problem is, they appear to be doing so much more slowly than we are accessing and consuming them.

    Further, while some resources are infinitely recyclable, such as water, there is no guarantee that the recycling of these resources produces usable quantities in one's immediate environment or over the period of one's immediate needs: it is possible to pollute one's drinking water for a period sufficient to provoke the death of the individual or society reliant upon that water.

    Premise 2:  The accessible and useful quantity of any resource necessary to any individual or any species is, regardless of actual finiteness or in-finiteness, finite.

    Even the sun is finite: it will cease to convert hydrogen to helium when the hydrogen runs out.  The resources of our earth are finite.   While some are perpetually recyclable (such as water), others are not (such as fossil fuels).  Moreover, the aggregate quantity, and as importantly, the quality of resources will be constrained within a particular locality.

    Premise 3.  Circumstances and the structure of the organism control how much of a particular resource a particular individual or collection of individuals may access, use, and store.

    Premise 4:  The discovery of fossil fuels as an energy source dramatically affected the global population of humans.

    Prior to the industrial revolution, itself an outcome of access to abundant, easily transported, and easily employed energy fewer than one billion people at any time inhabited this plan.  This, over a measurable historic period exceeding 40,000 years.  We now number 6.9 billion humans (source).  3.5 million people are born daily; 150,000 die daily, resulting in a daily! increase of 3.35 million people.

    This is only possible because we as a species were able (are able) to exploit the energy and nutrients contained in fossil fuels to dramatically increase food production on a global scale.

    Premise 5:  The population of the world has surpassed, or is very close to surpassing, a level which is calculable to be sustainable given resource limits including starting quantities, usage rates, replenishment rates, and recycle rates under existing technological conditions:

    While technically a conclusion, Premise 5 is stated here as foregone conclusion.

    Every species now known  to exist or known to have existed undergoes a 'bloom and bust' cycle when presented with a windfall resource or resources.  Every species will exploit that resource to the fullest, increasing its population, until the limits of the least available resource place a check on growth.  When growth is checked, an abrupt collapse typically follows.

    Our species includes members who have already calculated and published both the usage rates and replenishment rates for numerous societies individually, and our species collectively, and shown them to be unbalanced.  We have 'bloomed'.  The 'bust' awaits.

    Premise 6:  Humans, both individually and collectively, are capable of a range of behaviors, such as cooperation, neglect, and hostility.  The behavior chosen by my contemporaries affects me.

    Premise 7:  As resources become scarcer through overuse, misuse, or failure to recycle, as climate shifts affect local weather and thus food production; as technology falters in an attempt to retain current circumstances for lack of sufficiently robust energy inputs, there will be conflict.

    Premise 8:  Conflict has begun.

    With these premises in mind, and with the supporting facts and conclusions listed above in mind, it became clear to me that a change is my personal circumstances was necessary in order to improve my chances, and by extension my family and friend's chances, of survival.

    I personally do not believe that some technological white knight will appear on the horizon with nuclear fusion in his fist and a cache of technological solutions to the other problems facing humanity in his saddlebags.  Perhaps one will appear.  Perhaps aliens will land, and solve our problems for us. Perhaps this is behind the reported (and since denied) recent UN selection of a Malaysian astrophysicist as head of its Office for Outer Space Affairs (report) .

    Nothing prevents one from irrationally hoping for a Cargo Cult solution as opposed to taking decisive action.  But if an exterior solution is not forthcoming, then the world is unlikely to intervene to save us from our own inaction, should we find our survival threatened.

    Therefore, better to develop a working solution whilst one is able, and in the event aliens or time travelers arrive with nuclear fusion, spare planets, and beneficent intent we may adjust both our circumstances and our expectations.

    I will readily confess that Upstate New York is not the ideal place to which to retreat;  that said, most ideal places are spoken for, or otherwise out of reach.  Indeed, the search did not begin with a search for an ideal place; the search began for a sufficient and attainable place.

    Further, lest anyone think otherwise, it has never been our intent to relocate and forgo the trappings and pleasantries of civilization; I am no Luddite, protesting technology in general, nor even technology which threatens my way of life, so long as it does not threaten my existence.

    I embrace technology.  I write this from a hillside shed with no electricity save that produced by generator, no plumbing, and with access to the Internet provided by a Blackberry and a laptop.  The trouble is, a lot of our technology is dependent upon energy; without energy, most of it is useful only as raw material.  What good is a backhoe without fuel?  What good is my generator, or my laptop, or my Blackberry?

    I want as much technology as I can get my hands on - but I want technology that either requires only limited energy inputs to use, safely and reliably produces energy itself, draws energy directly from the environment on a sustainable basis, or mitigates the loss of energy in useful systems.  And I want this because it is my sincere and firm belief that numbers don't lie: the pace of human growth and resource consumption are about to collide, and as a bit-player in that collision, my own ability to access large quantities of cheap energy will substantially diminish.

    It is no longer the experience of most of our society (although it remains so for a goodly portion of the world) that some things which seem both easy to obtain and relatively cheap are in fact neither.  If you don't believe me, go and get yourself a cold, pasteurized gallon of milk.  Without visiting a grocery store, without using any means of conveyance that isn't either an animal or one you have made yourself from raw materials (animal, vegetable, or mineral) by hand without access to electricity, and with a container of your own devising, also made from raw materials by hand .

    The comforts and conveniences provided by our energy use are so commonplace to us that they are taken for granted.  Yet it is far from so for a good deal of the world, and it is unlikely to remain thus for ourselves for much longer.  Unfortunately, we seem collectively incapable of acknowledging this fact and people, if asked, either dismiss reality or else invoke some mysterious 'they' as being in the process of concluding a technical solution to be shortly made available, at low cost.

    However, when we as individuals and collectively as a society face a significant and prolonged energy shortage we will all very quickly learn how much things truly cost, and how hard they may be to obtain locally.  Abundant energy in the form of fossil fuels pervades our lives.  Without it, most of what most of us do to survive cannot be done.

    To understand this, simply imagine your life if the the laws of physics suddenly changed and the electricity went out - right now - forever, and imagine if right now, forever, fossil fuels disappeared from the Earth.

    This was more or less the human experience until about 300 years ago.

    It doesn't take advanced mathematics to calculate that substantial energy shortages are not only a possibility, but are in fact likely , particularly in this country, as we use a disproportional share of the energy owned by others. Others, both owners and non-owners of energy sources, are starting to want more even as the amount available declines.

    We are going to face shortages.  As energy becomes less available, our lifestyles will degrade.  I would prefer for mine to degrade as little as possible, and I would like to have as much control as possible over the changes.  And by degradation, I mean our use of energy to accomplish basic tasks: there is no need for our quality of life to degrade just because we have to press the oil for a lamp ourselves in order to have light at night.

    Therefore, Nina and I have chosen to obtain a primary resource - land with running water, trees, game, and arable soil - where we may substantially mitigate the impact of externally produced energy scarcity on our lifestyle, by judicious development and careful exploitation of this resource to in order to replace community provided secondary goods, services, and utilities with self-provided secondary goods, services and utilities where shortages occur.

    I am extremely fortunate in that I have substantial energy available to me to assist me in developing this capacity. It would be much harder without it.  I am extremely fortunate in that I have a spouse who understands all that I have outlined, and is a willing partner.  It would much harder without such support.

    I acknowledge that I will continue to have energy available to me - sunlight will fall upon my land, and, when combined with other resources (nutrients, organisms, and water) can be harvested as food and fuel.  I can directly collect sunlight for conversion to electricity, or to do other forms of work; heating water, drying food, generating temperature differentials in my house that cause air to flow.  Water can drive a stream turbine. I can combine energies to convert its form: grain and the efforts of yeast will produce alcohol; with fire I may distill it to a useful fuel.  I can use a hand-cranked press to obtain oil from plants.

    And this primary resource is most useful to me if I select technology - and develop the skills and understanding necessary to employ it - that maximally, sustainably exploits those resources, including locally produced energy.

    An ATV is an example of a technology useful in exploiting these resources - it could be used to drag logs from the forest to my wood yard. I could distill alcohol for is fuel.

    But a horse can also drag logs.  And a good horse can be had for as low as 250 dollars in this area; this is around 1/10 the cost of even a basic four-wheel utility ATV. And the fuel for the horse is growing right outside, and needs very little interaction from me to keep right on refueling the horse.  Further horses produce more horses, all on their own, and in a pinch, they can be eaten.

    But in addition to choices about what technology I purchase, I must also consider my own training requirements.  I don't know what it's like to survive for very long periods without external energy inputs.  And it occurs to me that if I really propose to survive without said energy inputs, then I am far better off learning to do so when it is an option, as opposed to a requirement.

    We have acquired this resource in a place where people are generally leaving; we are leaving a place where people are generally gathering. Thus, the competition for resources will be less severe.  Land is currently fairly cheap.  The community is small enough that we may hope to know most members, thus cooperation should be more likely than conflict during crisis.  The land is good and resource-rich.  There is abundant water in the region.  There exists, in the form of the Amish and others, practical knowledge on how to do things with limited energy.

    We are close to several Universities and Colleges, one of which, Cornell, has several colleges devoted to the study of agriculture, and the mindset in this region is generally concordant with our own.  The climate, in conjunction with a properly designed and constructed house, removes the need for generated interior cooling during summer months (a huge energy savings).

    Climate change is the unpredictable factor:  how will the weather here change?  We cannot know, but we can make reasonable predictions: generally warmer, wetter, and with a longer growing season, punctuated perhaps by more frequent severe weather occurrences.  This is better than the alternative: hotter and drier.

    Finally, one needs only look at the mess humans have made of this planet to understand that a different way must be found. Someone has to start.

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    Soggy Days and Firewood (Part Two)

    As it happens, yesterday did not turn out to be a day devoted exclusively to processing firewood.  There was some digging. Regardless, it was a highly productive day.

    I began as planned, cutting logs into stove-length chunks ready for stacking, or splitting and stacking, as required.  I quickly realized I was going to have to stop and sharpen my chainsaw.  Now, I thought I might have to do this before I began, but I didn't feel like it, and so I chose the easy way of going ahead and sawing anyway.

    I did, in fact, have to stop after a brief period.  While sharpening, the rain began again in earnest.  Somewhat dismayed, I looked at the growing pile of split wood exposed to the rain (thinking, not of next winter, but of the next few weeks - this is also my heating supply while I am up here).  I looked at the open overhang attached to the Abode (the 'wood shed'), and I noted the litter of tools, spare lumber piled on sawhorses, the generator, and etc. and tried to figure out where I might stack the wood.

    If you've viewed a picture of the Abode, you'll note it is built on sloping ground.  The area under the overhang is not so steeply pitched as that under the main structure, but it sloped nonetheless, and had a rather large mound of grass, what used to be an anthill, in the middle of it. (On a side note: one of my ongoing projects is terracing and leveling the ground around the Abode.)

    So, much as I knew my chainsaw needed sharpening, I also knew that the ground under the shed needed leveling, and organizing, and that I had to arrange alternative storage for much of the material underneath to make room for wood storage.  Wood storage is its intended purpose.

    Now, a cord of wood is 128 cubic feet - generally stacked 4' deep x 4' high x 8' wide.  Of course, four foot logs are unwieldy, so the depth is usually broken into stove lengths, so one ends up with a stack 16"-22"deep x 4' high x 8' wide. Up here, and elsewhere for all I know, this is referred to as a 'face' cord: that which is sold is only the 'face' of a full cord.  Price will vary dependent upon typical economic factors and the participants.

    My wood storage area, if filled to the base of the rafters, is 12' deep x 8' wide x 8' high.  This permits the sheltered storage of six full cords of wood, which should be more than sufficient for a single heating season (see how nicely it all begins to hang together?)

    Of course, I was left with the problem of the shed's utility, which was low.

    So I was faced with a choice: follow the path of expediency, which I did with predictable results in the matter of the chainsaw, or change tack and improve the wood shed.  You can see the results below:

    The equipment will ultimately disappear as the main house and shop are built - but for now, I need a small work bench, sheltered space for the generator, and storage that does not take up floor space.

    So first, I installed a kick plate along the Abode's north wall, using a leftover 2 x 6 x 12 from the shed's construction.  I had purchased some lumber when I arrived, and hauled it up the hill, confident I would find use for it.  A portion of this lumber facilitated joists, to which I moved most remaining lumber, all garden tools, and a few smaller items on the platform provided by the lumber.  I next hung all tools and equipment and fashioned the workbench.

    All this was necessary just to attack the real issue: leveling the floor.  This involved placing a 4 x 6 x 8 across the lower end of the slope, leveling it, and staking it in place.  I next removed soil from the higher end until I had a channel deep enough to hold the second timber, and ensured that the tops of the two timbers were level with each other by means of a line level.

    I allowed some slight slope to remain to promote runoff to the lower end.

    Next, the dirt had to be loosened, leveled, and compacted.  Finally, I retrieved 14 50-pound bags of gravel from the bridge site, where they were staged for pouring of the second footer, hauled them up the hill, and spread the gravel atop the level, compacted soil, and in turn compacted the gravel.

    This was not fun.  I did it in stages of 25 meters each, shuttling two bags forward 25 meters, returning for the next two, until the pile had been moved, then repeating the process in 25 meter increments until all fourteen bags were up the hill.  As it had been raining, the hill was muddy and slippery in places.

    I include this comment because one of the things I am discovering as I undertake this process of homesteading is that patience is very much required - the scale of a man's labor is dwarfed by the effects of machinery and energy.  What took and hour and a half of hard slogging, the heavy consumption of water, and the intent to use only what was necessary and no more, could have been accomplished in about ten minutes with the bridge in place, using just my Subaru to haul the stone uphill, with extra thrown in for good measure.

    There is a lesson here, one which I will return to in a future post. In point of fact, it is this very lesson I am teaching myself, as I undertake this process.  We all know it, intuitively, but to face it, to feel it, to endure it is a far, far different thing. And that lesson is that, absent the leverage of complex machinery and abundant energy, particularly fuel, progress is slow, tiring, and best approached with deliberation and foresight.

    I choose to endure it because I believe that in the not so distant future, I, or perhaps my children, but no later than that, will have no choice but to perform many of our tasks in this manner; I would rather creep up on the concept that have it starkly confront me.  We simply will not have the resources, particularly abundant fuel (notice I didn't say energy), to lavish on such luxuries as allowing each and every high school student to consume gasoline driving their own, personal, two-ton chunk of steel to school in the morning.

    We will have energy - energy is abundant.  What we won't have in abundance is fuel, which is necessary to power most large equipment.  Because of these realities, I anticipate a future where I am plowing with a horse with a cell phone in my pocket.

    (The subject of why fuel and energy are not the same could involve several posts all on its own; however, I would direct the interested reader here: The Archdruid Report, for an excellent treatment in the linked and subsequent articles on the nature of energy and fuels.)

    Our choices for energy use will return to more rational ones - when do I really need to light the fire, as opposed to throw an extra blanket on, given that lighting the fire means the consumption of at least an hour's labor, stored as fuel out in the wood shed.

    More on this later.  The real point is that I  now have a suitable space for wood storage, and a sharp chainsaw, and another day, and I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:1.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Soggy Days and Firewood

    Not completely satisfied with the choices available for format of this blog, but as its free, I don't see I can complain much. 

    Today has dawned soggy and rainy - it rained most of yesterday, and through the night, and is raining now.  This limits my activity.  It's not that I particularly mind getting wet - although the colder it gets, the more I mind - it's that this can be a messy business, and living in a one-room Abode with no running water and only generated electricity poses challenges to cleanliness and hygiene.

    There will be no digging.  This simply invites more mud.  I am regretting having begun the stone wall around the Abode, as I am now left with piles of dirt, slowly clumping to mud, near the entrance.

    Instead, I think I will spend the afternoon in the wood yard - lots to do there.  A number of smaller logs to be cut to length and stacked, much splitting to be done, decisions and work to be done regarding staging of log piles, preparing and driving end posts for the stacks, develping a system for keeping them off the ground.

    Although it has been some time since I have lived in an environment where we heated exclusively with wood (29 years), the principles are fairly simple to understand.

    One the one hand, one can purchase wood, or wood equivalents, such as wood pellets, in much the same way one purchases electricity, or natural gas, or heating oil.  One is simply trading dollars earned via one's labor for energy that will be principally used to provide warmth.

    Or, if one is fortunate, one can exploit one's own resources, apply one's direct labor, and produce what amounts to a capital good: fuel for warmth during the winter (and, potentially, for cooking, heating water, etc).  This can be done as simply as picking up forest litter for an open fire (such as many nomadic tribes have historically done); or it can be as complex as forest management coupled with machine-assisted harvesting, processing and storage.

    There is quite a range of techniques in play up here.  A good deal of scrounging occurs - wood can be expensive, and purchasing wood, when it may be obtained for free, is viewed somewhat askance - it's a cultural thing.  Unless of course, one is of the upper-middle class or higher - in these classes, self-sufficiency can be less of a motivator than in the laboring class, where dollars are dearer.

    To run a proper woodyard, planning is needed.  First, one must anticipate the quantity needed over a given period and do so accurately: there is no joy in realizing in the depths of February's bitterness that the woodpile will not last and further provision must be made.

    Many people tend to overstock.  This carries risk as well:  wood will decay if left for long periods exposed to the elements.  Decayed wood will not burn.  Therefore, one's investment, be it in labor, barter, or cash will have been lost.  It saddens me to see piles of rotting logs that will clearly never be burnt - I am certain there is some family in the area that would have made good use of that wasted resource.

    The approach I intend to take is to have two year's inventory of prepared or near-prepared wood close to hand at the closing of each summer.  Now, this is more complicated than it sounds.  I can't just go out in July, cut down a live tree, log it, split it, stack it and be done.  I'll end up burning green or partially green wood all winter.

    This produces a fire that must divert some of it's energy to driving off the water in the form of steam, robbing me of valuable thermal radiation.

    So, in Year One (this year, as I write), I must either girdle the trees I plan to use next winter, or cut the logs outright, yard them, and later next year cut them to size and split them.

    To girdle a tree, one first selects the tree one intends to use for firewood.  This tree should be carefully selected, using criteria (which I won't go into here) that promote sustainable forest management.  Girdling is the removal of bark in a strip all around the tree.  Since bark is essential for the survival of the tree, this will kill the tree.  It should be done in the fall.

    The following late spring, one will have a nicely dead, nearly dry tree to harvest.  The tree is then felled, bucked (removal of branches and limbs), cut to length (six to twelve feet), hauled to the yard, and left to dry further.

    Over the course of the summer, the tree is cut into stove-lengths.  Stove length is dependent upon the capacity of the stove - the larger the capacity, the larger the log the stove will accommodate.  This is important for several reasons. 

    First, larger logs obviously require less processing.  If I need merely cut the log into lengths and then shove the entire stove length log into my stove, it saves me the process of splitting the log. My neighbor's wood boiler can accommodate an un-split log several feet long, for example.

    Second, placing several large pieces of wood in the burner results in a longer time between refueling events - provided one is judicious with the drafting, and does not overfire the stove. No one wants to get out of bed, where one is warm and toasty, curled up next to their gently sleeping spouse, and have to go shove sticks in an iron box.

    Finally, large chunks resist decay better than smaller chunks.  The ratio of the surface are to volume presents fewer opportunities for water, microbes, and molds to enter.

    Anyway, in the fall of Year One (Y1) I girdle the tree(s) for Year Two's (Y2's) winter. In the late spring of Y2 I fell the trees from Y1.  In the summer of Y2 I process the wood from Y1 Trees for Y2 winter use.  In the fall of Y2 I girdle the trees for Y3. And so on.

    (As a long term alternative to girdling and felling entire trees, particularly if one has a smaller patch of land, one can pollard or coppice one's trees.)

    As an alternative to girdling, I can fell green trees in the fall, cut them to manageable lengths, haul and yard them, and leave them piled to dry.  As I have a large number of logs remaining from the driveway clearing project, I have no need to girdle trees this year.  I estimate I have sufficient wood for at least next winter, and possible the following.

    Firewood Left from Road Clearing

    The Nascent Wood Yard

    In our particular case, we won't really know our annual consumption until at least one winter has passed - and then it will at best be an estimate based upon a single heating season. 

    For this reason, I anticipate having to prepare ten cords of wood for the winter of 2011, double what I anticipate needing.  Of course, I must also prepare the wood I will use this winter, when I am here managing the building process.

    As for the wood yard itself, one can think of this is a production line.  As with any production line, we want to handle each piece in the assembly process as few times as possible - every time I pick up, move, cut, or otherwise manipulate a piece of fuel, I am expending energy and time.  If I am inefficient, I will expend more energy and time than is needed.

    So I want a system where the logs come in one end - preferable away from the house - and out of the other end comes stove ready wood - preferably as near the house as reasonable.  My wood yard location is approximately 40 feet from the planned mudroom entrance; it is also near where our shop will be. In fact, the wood yard is directly between the Abode and the planned shop (which will have its own stove).  To the rear of the abode is the woods from where fuel will in the future be obtained.

    Bear in mind, we will have three fireboxes in our home: the primary heat source in the masonry heater, and two wood stoves, one on each floor.  As these will be sized for different purposes, that may require different size fuel.

    The process involves taking the logs cut to manageable length (six to twelve feet, perhaps longer if mechanical haulage or a horse is used to bring them to the yard) and cutting them to stove length: generally, sixteen to 24 inches.  If the resulting piece of wood is of sufficiently small diameter to ensure easy handling and a good fit in the stove, my cutting work is done, and I can stack these logs ready for use.

    The location of the finished wood piles is important as well - it is from these piles that fuel will be hauled to its point of use.  One wants convenient access and a clear path to the home, and the point of entry at the home should provide provision for storage as well.  Usually, this is on a porch near an entrance. 

    Inside the home, each burner should have it's own provision for fuel storage, as well as kindling, tinder, and ignition means.  The preparation of kindling (smaller pieces ignited by the tinder) is also important, and should be kept in mind throughout the process.  As one is processing logs, certain logs will clearly be more suited for additional processing into kindling than others.  These should be set aside in a separate pile.

    Generally, logs with straight grains, no branches, no forks, and of easily ignited and hot burning species make good kindling.  Ash, maple, beech - even some pine, if used sparingly (I prefer to retain pine for outdoor fires, where the buildup of creosote is not an issue).

    Anyone with a clothes dryer has access to one of the best sources of tinder available to man: dryer lint.  I carry wads of this stuff when backpacking.  In our new home,  I intend to keep a mason jar stuffed full of dryer lint, a box of long matches, and this pine sticks at each firebox as the ignition system.

    Flint and steel work very effectively in conjunction with dryer lint as well, as I know from long experience.  However, there is no need to completely abandon technology. ;->

    If one wants to make even more effective fire-starters, as opposed to purchasing commercially made ones, it is a simple task: get a used eight-by-eight cake pan, pack it full of dryer lint, melt your leftover candle ends (carefully), and pout the resulting liquid over the dryer lint. 

    When it hardens, cut it into sticks.  Each stick is a home-made fire-starter.

    So, today, I will be taking the messy pile of logs left adrift in my yard by the logging process and continue to process and organize them. 

    That said, I'm off to the yard, my chainsaw, my maul, and my axe.  Enjoy your day.


    Monday, September 27, 2010

    A Reply to a Friend.

    **** -
    great to hear from you!  What, you don't like the Jupiter Project as a title?  I can't help that - my Muse provided it, and thus I must accept it.  It turns out that Jupiter (both the planet and the myth) have significant associations with what I am attempting here (I read up on both after selecting the title).
    Which, of course, cannot really be understood until I write and one reads the Reasons Why (Part Two), which will deal almost entirely with the practical, worldly reasons for this step. As it is supposed to rain and be cold for the next few days, perhaps I'll finish installing this wood stove, stay inside, and write it.
    Abby, as it happens, has a tracking device - it was not found by the original animal control agent.  When he turned her over to the rescue organization, as they were preparing her for adoption, they re-scanned her and located the RFID, and contacted us.
    As for the blog, I'll try not to make it all so meaty - but one of things I do hope to accomplish with the second half of my life is a genuine contribution to the pool of philosophical thought developed by man over the millennia.  I am working on an outline for an essay that seeks to incorporate some of what is known or suspected in quantum physics into a metaphysical answer for an explanation of god, and another that explores patterns of exploitation in society, from a moral/ethical perspective (exploitation of parents by their children is not immoral, for example - it is necessary for the survival of our young).
    Taking the universe from the big bang (assuming one accepts such), one can think of its evolution as a series of condensations of form - from energy, to strings, to quarks, to the families of particles that make up atoms (leptons, bosons, muons, etc.), to chemical processes, to conscious awareness.  What might distill from conscious awareness?  A higher consciousness?  Might that consciousness mature over time, and come to resemble something that we, as humans, conceive of as God?  Is my 'soul' part of an interweaving of all human experience into a greater, self-aware Entity that comprises myriad souls that cease to be self-aware as chemical life ends, but nonetheless continue?  Much as a raindrop ceases to be a coherent aggregate as it falls into a body of water, but nonetheless continues to exist?
    Obviously, this approach is informed by Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian philosophies - but, surprisingly, one can find support in Hindu religions that accept the existence of a 'soul' and claim it occupies a very small dimension, beyond our senses.  How striking to learn then, that current thought in quantum physics calls for eleven dimensions, as opposed to the three of which we are directly aware, all of which are very tightly wrapped at the Planck level.
    Perhaps all religions, and all science, like the five blind men examining an elephant, each have only a piece of the answer, and a synthesis is necessary. Call it the Grand Unified Theory of Existence (as opposed to the GUT of physics), I don't know. 
    For this reason, while I appreciate your concern for my spiritual health, I would ask that you allay your concerns.  My atheism is more of a denial of the existence of a paternalistic deity directly responsible for, continually concerned with, and frequently impacting the existence and actions of man, that it is an outright rejection of an acceptance of all things spiritual.  Recall, I have studied Christianity at some length, and at one point in my life considered the priesthood.  My loss of faith stems solely from the logical contradictions inherent in Christianity and related Mosaic religions.
    One should also consider (in your terms) that if your God does exist, and He gave me this mind (to which very few people on this planet have been deeply exposed), and life at a period in history where so much scholarly material is available to a casual autodidact, then perhaps His purpose for me is that I explore these topics.  Perhaps a more accurate understanding of Him is required - certainly, the internecine conflict waged across the globe, where participants on all sides invoke His name and claim His alliance, is not not helpful to our development as either an intellectual or spiritual species.
    Given the weapons we have constructed, it is quite possible for us to destroy ourselves.  I reject submission to apocalyptic inevitability.
    I think the Bible states that the meek shall inherit the Earth - I wonder how many people ponder what that means.  Who are these meek, that they are offered such a divine inheritance?  Are they the ideologues with nuclear weapons, professing love for their fellow man?  The wealthy, Christian community leaders professing concern for the poor even as the working poor's share of wages (a measure of their productive output) declines relative to their own? Or are they the isolated farmers and and subsistence engineers who end up surviving global conflict by virtue of dispersion and luck?
    That said, at the end of the day, I am simply a man examining my own existence - abiding by the Socratic imperative to do so.  I have no hope of directing Humanity towards a more stable and cordial global society.  But I do hope to add to the effort.

    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    Random Notes And Heating Systems

    Have encountered some problems with the bridge - cost rose to an unexpected level.  After much work with the architect and engineer, we appear to have worked the cost back down to an acceptable level.  Footings and abutments should be finished in the next couple of weeks.

    Bridge deck will follow as soon as possible - but it does look to be delayed for at least a bit.

    Weather has begun cooling - trees are starting to change.  I am hoping for a crisp, dry fall - the combination of cold and dry air brings out the color in the leaves.  I have brought my old Canon F-1 and my tripod.  Ithaca is full of gorges cut by streams through shale; always beautiful, in the fall they are simply stunning.

    Trout will begin running from Owasco Lake up my creek in the next few days.  Lake trout entering streams to spawn can be quite large - the largest I ever caught, running upstream out of lake Erie, was as long as my leg, and quite a fighter

    These are likely to be smaller than that, but still quite large for brown and brook trout.  There are also native browns in the stream.

    Turkey are calling constantly around the site - not three minutes passes without hearing one or another.  Occasionally, a grouse may be heard thumping off in the distance, and I have begun to see rabbit along the new driveway.

    We deliberately left the branches and tops of the trees downed for the road in piles off to the sides, intermingled with the existing brush.  These piles of brush provide excellent habitat for rabbits, and should increase the population over the next few years.

    Have begun cutting wood for next winter.  Estimates from the locals, depending on weather and heating system used, range from a low of four cords to a high of 18 cords - egads!  Of course, this turned out to have been due to an attempt to heat the garage; once stopped, wood usage reverted to more normal levels.

    Many systems of heating up here.  Most of you know we intend to install a masonry heater - essentially a fully enclosed fireplace with a counterflow exhaust system.  This system keeps the hot gasses inside the heater for a longer period than a wood stove or fireplace, causing the masonry exterior to radiate gentle, constant warmth.

    For folks in municipalities, gas lines, and of course electricity are available to drive heating systems.  Rural folk have a choice of heating oil, delivered by a truck and pumped directly into a tank at your house; propane gas - much the same except the tank is outside; various wood, wood pellet, and even coal systems.

    The neighbor with the 18-cord budget uses an outdoor wood boiler that heats water which then flows through a series of pipes. He has a rather nice control station in his basement that allows him, through a series of levers, to direct hot water only to those portions of the house he wishes.

    The advantages of an external wood boiler include taking a tremendous wood charge all at once, reducing refueling times; avoiding the mess (ash, wood litter) that can accompany an interior burner; and, of course, it can be located directly next to the wood supply.

    A masonry heater shares some of the characteristics of a wood boiler - it can take a substantial charge - about 50 pounds of wood - and they typically need to be refueled only once daily. In addition, they are highly efficient - most of the heat generated remains in the house.

    They do take much longer to reach full warming capacity - on the order of 12 to 24 hours - and you can't shut them off very quickly if it becomes too warm. For this reason, quicker fired, and quicker cooling appliances are desirable.

    Thus, we plan to have two wood stoves in the house as well - a cast iron one in the master suite, and a steel one in the main living area downstairs.  The cast iron stove provides a nicer appearance, and radiates heat even after the fuel charge is expended, but warms slowly.  The steel stove provides immediate heat to the environment - you see flame, you got heat.

    The reasons for the different behaviors of these devices, all of which burn wood, lies first and foremost in the thermal conductivity of the cladding.  Masonry absorbs heat slowly, retains it for a long time, and releases in gently.  Cast iron takes longer to heat, but once heated, remains work and has good radiant properties.

    Steel heats quickly, and cools quickly.

    Wood is a major source of winter energy in the area - it is possible, and common, to purchase an entire truck of logs.  Of course, if this is the case, one must still do the work of sizing and splitting.  If one owns property, the fuel is free, but the labor cost must still be paid.

    But then, the labor is satisfying.

    As an exercise in discovering this for oneself, I recommend Robert Frost's 'Two Tramps in Mud Time' for some light reading on the joys of splitting wood.