"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.