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Below: an image of a vacant, but decently maintained, log house I drove by while last in the field. It is not owned by the state, but is surrounded by 14,000 acres of state park and is in a pretty remote area near the Pennsylvania border. The log style, the scalloped fascia and barge boards, and especially the two front doors makes this house, in my humble eyes, a traditional "flur-kuche"  (or "hall" and "kitchen")  farm house... not to be confused with the distinct Anglo "hall and parlor" style. Given the highly traditional woodwork, windows, and door placement... I would not be surprised if this house dates from the 18th century, but it's hard to say without getting a closer look. It's most definitely no later than around 1860.

When I last went out, I went with Charlie. I have a feeling we're going to be close, Charlie and I. Out of the entire Department of Natural Resources, which owns and manages more than 400,000 acres of land,  it's just the two of us who have training in cultural resources and historic preservation. Just the two of us. 

Charlie had asked me to accompany him on a special trip, probably the firsrt of many  we'll do together. He had been made aware of about 40 rock shelters all in one state park that date from the Late Woodland Period. Some are just large overhangs where Paleo Folk gathered, but others are full out caves. They've been documented by various archaeological groups, but not for a long time, and no one in living memory the DNR had ever bothered to check in on them and see how they were faring.... even though they are our responsibility. So that was our mission, to rectify this by trying to find as many of these archaeological sites as we could, to see how much traffic they were getting and to document their condition.

It was a beautiful morning when we started our first hike into the park. We had a few miles to go before we needed to leave the main trail and bushwhack to the first site, so we were chatting freely and cruised along. Charie was telling me about how he'd just returned from a separate field visit last week where he'd found morel mushrooms. "I've got morel vision," he said. "They just seem to pop out, they were everywhere I looked."

"I've never seen morels before," I told him as we hiked along,"And certainly not for lack of trying. I hope you have your morel vision today!"
Of course as I said this my eyes were drawn to the trail edge .... and to my astonishment a dozen morels were right their with their phallic heads poking up out of the leaves! Absolutely amazing. We gathered a bunch and kept going.



Several miles later we turned off trail and began scrambling up steep valley walls until the earth gaveway to rock, at which point we knew to begin looking for our first rock shelter. Sorry for the crappy photo.... but here's the first one:

You can see the opening in the lower right portion of the wall there, which is really a 20 ft overhang. That cave extends back 30 feet. I had my head lamp on and started into the mouth of the cave. We weren't going to go in very deep, but just enough to get a look around,  when I saw something on the cave floor that made me pause. It was round and white. And it had eye sockets.

"Charlie," I said, "I know looking into dark caves excites the imagination, and it's quite possible that this is just a lump of wood.... but I swear that looks like a skull."
I did my best to focus my headlamp on the thing ahead.  Charlie, who is 6'3 and was having a bit more trouble fitting into the cave than I was, peered over my shoulder. The light from his headlamp glanced off the thing with the eye sockets, hit a large set of ribs behind it and then landed on a random mandible. It was definitely all deer-- a large deer, too--- but a strong deterent to explore the darkness any further.  We extracted ourselves from the cave, took a few pictures and notes about the general site, and were ready to move on. 


As we were hiking along to our next site I started to see stacked stone throughout the woods.Keep in mind that we're not on a trail- we're using our topo map to go where we need to in this 14,000 acre park. At first I blew it off as being stacked stone from previous logging (loggers moved stones insto stacks to help the logging equipment get through) but then I saw more intentional stone structures like this remnant of a stone wall shown below. After I nixed the notion that they were from logging, I thought they were perhaps old spring houses..after all, they were near the creek.... but the feel of the terrain wasn't right for any type of homestead.
I kept my eyes open for any other signs and I put my thinking cap on. What were these stones? These walls?

And then all of a sudden I realized that the earth in certain areas around us had been manipulated in unnatural ways. It was  hard to tell at first because everything was covered in trees and greenery... but there was a definite artificiality to the landscape. Most obvious, of course, were these rock lined "spring house" structures we'd noticed before, but then there were also these dips (for lack of better terminology) carved into the valley wall, three of them sitting like pockets in the hill side, each about 8 ft deep and 20 feet wide.

Just above and perpendicular to these pockets was a single trench with spill ways dumping into the pocket areas. Once again, it was hard to get good photos because it's all covered in leaves and trees--- to the casual observer it was all very subtle, but this is a good one of the trench/canal system running above the "pockets."

Given our proximity to the creek, I guessed that this was some type of mill race or canal, with the "pockets" below as spillways or cooling pools. But that wasn't all. Above the canal way I found several other sites where the earth seemed unnaturally flat in squares, softened and elongated by age, of roughly 20 ft by 20 ft. Charlie and I paced  around them... there was lots of stone that definitely could have been foundations... and then we started to find it.

At first it was covered in moss and greenness and we were not sure .... 

But more pacing and some lifting of stone and we were positive. Red brick. Hand made. And lots of it. Suddenly we were finding it everywhere.


We're wondering if we've found the sites of an 18th/19th century mill complex-- most likely copper and gunpowder, as those are the industries that area was known for.
The documentation on this site is severely lacking, as in... we haven't been able to find any yet. It's not going any where for sure- I'm much more worried about the 1820 farmhouse I'm working with that has 3" of rot through its first floor joists-- but we'll definitely be revisiting this site and trying to gather more information!

We managed to find a few more rock shelters  that day before the sun began to tip too far in the sky, and then we made our way back to our vehicle and the long drive home.   All in all.... a pretty cool, very excellent, marvelous day!
25 March 2011 @ 06:31 pm
Hit the road headed southward on I95 with the "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" audio-book ... and I must say it was a fantastic listen! Brains, ninjas, and high tea...how can you possibly go wrong? I can't wait to crack open "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer" on the next leg of my journey.

On my way southward I visited farmer Horseshoe at Moondance Farm. His real name is Alex, but he's been called Horseshoe (or just Shoe) for just about an eternity. I'd never met him before, but he is a pen-pal of my mom's and his organic farm was on my route southward. When he heard I'd be passing through he insisted I stop by for for a beer and  chat. And so I did.

Shoe grows both food and ornamental plants for markets in North Carolina. He mostly grows organic and heirloom stuff. He also has lots of chickens, who live in an incredible chicken wonderland in the woods. He has a long tangled beard, a sun bleached pony tail and bright blue eyes... and he walks everywhere barefoot, especially in his garden. He greeted me with a hug and we drank Corona with lime juice while touring his gardens, coops, barns, and green house.

Shoe is a special kind of person. A really good person. A true nurturer, a hard worker, someone who is gentle and soft spoken. He's very shy about his speech-- a true Appalachian dialect-- but to me he sounds like poetry. Before I left he loaded all kinds of goodies into my car. More heirloom tomatoes, peppers, eggplants... and a few herbs and other special plants. I offered to pay him, but he said all he wanted was a big smile. I gave him what he asked for, as well as a hug... and threw in some banana bread I'd baked the night before.

I spent the night at  not far from Shoe's place at a friend's family homestead called "Down Yonder Farm."  I arrived there before they did and let myself into the old house and got settled in my usual bedroom. A wild storm came up that evening- violent and windy with heavy rain- and we ate our dinner with the doors and windows open- cool air and moisture thrilling out senses.  Before bed we talked music, rescued a possum and a frog from the dogs, and listened to the post-storm peepers off in the woods.

I love visiting Down Yonder. It's one of those too few places in ones life where you know the door is always open. I can always walk in there and be welcome, comfortable, and at home... even though the place isn't really my home and the folks aren't my parents, even though they're old enough to be.

At 6 a.m. the next morning I was roused by the braying of the donkeys who yodel like maniacs at the sunrise. We drank our coffee together and then I wandered out into the yard to watch the deer and a few cranes out by the lake. By 7:30 we were all in the barn doing chores. I like to think I helped... but I was mostly playing with the 3 week old filly who's mane was as soft as any baby's hair. By 8:30  I was on the road again listening to tales of Elizabeth Bennet attacking zombies, and by afternoon I was in Georgia.

Today I spent some good time reading my book and schmoozing, and then I helped my mom in the garden. We put out some herbs, kohlrabi, lettuce, and cabbages, but mostly did a lot of clean up. I'm sore and my back in sunburned.

Thus far... good vacation. Great.
09 January 2011 @ 05:36 pm
I babysat for two new boys last night-- Aiden (3) and Dylan (5). I brought Spiderman and X-Man stickers and we had a good old time making sticker-stories with crayons and paper.  Aiden was coloring Wolverine with a purple crayon (which is the color of X-man blood, apparently) when he turned to me with a worried expression on his face.

"Do you have nipples?" he asked.

He was completely serious. It seemed like he was asking his question with genuine curiosity.... and possibly some concern. Just to be sure I understood him, I repeated the question back to him. "Are you asking me if I have nipples?"

He nodded and asked again innocently, "Do you have nipples?"

It has been my experience that the best way to deal with such  questions is in an honest and straightforward way. Besides, what were my options? Lie to him and tell him I don't have nipples? And so...

"Yes," I told him, " I do have nipples." I paused. "And so do you. "

"No I don't!" he began to say, but his brother Dylan interrupted.

"Yes you do! And I have nipples, too! And so do Mommy and Daddy!"

"That's right," I continued,"All people have nipples-- that's because we're mammals, a special type of animal, and all mammals have nipples. Do you guys know any other mammals? Can you tell me who else has nipples?"

"Who?" they asked, excited.

"Well... your dog, Gypsy, has nipples, so she's a mammal."

He and his brother both laughed. 

"And cats have nipples, too. And bunnies have nipples....who else?"

And we continued on for quite some time listing all the animals we could think of that had nipples. I never learned why Aiden was asking about nipples, but at least he now knows a bit more about mammals.



12 November 2010 @ 09:01 pm
Eli is asleep in the next room. I love his whisper breath and long eyelashes. I love his chapped cheeks and his sticky fingers.

I had a rough rough rough week that included the complete Death of my Laptop and loss of all my writings and photos.

But it doesn't matter. I think, because of Eli, I know that the most important stuff, the most beautiful stuff, is truly ephemeral. It flashes before your eyes. You hear it, feel it, witness it... and it's gone.

Eli fills me with peace and calm. My zen child. And I'm so glad I'm spending this evening with his teachings. Thomas the Train and all.


I'm writing from a borrowed 'puter.  I'll see ya when I see ya.
05 November 2010 @ 06:30 pm
I'm sitting on a bar stool in the kitchen drinking whiskey and canning applesauce. I made it (the sauce, not the whiskey) from the apples Banjo Boy and I picked on our trip. Out of the fifty pounds or so that we hauled home, I dried a hell of a lot... but just got around to dealing with the rest. Actually... I think I still have half a box of apples left somewhere around here. Who knows what I'll do with them.

I also canned pickles and hot sauce, and put up turnips and greens... and turnip greens. And broccoli. Lots of broccoli.

I should get around to cleaning up the kale and collards in the front yard. They're looking kinda rough and overgrown. You know what they look like, actually? They look like Cookie Monsters. Like green, shaggy characters from Sesame Street. And I should pick the last of the tomatoes, too. There are a lot of them out there.  And I should string up the basil to dry.... and I should... and I should....

Some other day.

*pours a little more whiskey*

My heart and belly feel warm. I'm thinking of friends and family and the loveliness (and love) that fills my life, my home, my pantry.

This morning, before work, before the canning, before the laundry and the other meals I cooked,  I ran 6 miles. It was incredible. I loved every minute of it, like biting into chocolate. Like kissing. Like... more than kissing.  And it just set the tone for the entire day, made it ... perfect. Beautiful. Sexy. The leaves were bright and the air teased with its chill and the sky was naked.

And I am so thankful, so thankful, that I had this good day.

21 October 2010 @ 08:51 pm
Last week Banjo Boy and I went to Southwest Virginia. We pilgrimage there every year when the leaves begin to change. Sometimes we camp. Sometimes we stay in rustic cabins built by the CCC.  The closest town consists of a few buildings clustered around a single intersection. There's a general store, a hardware store, a lawyer's office, and a barbershop. All buildings from the 19th century. There is also a courthouse, a few antique stores, and a diner where they serve biscuits and gravy and grits.

There's no cell phone service. No internet. And it's perfect. We go down there and disappear.

Ten years ago, Banjo Boy began to come to this tiny place to play music with the old folks. He befriended Elzara, the keeper of the general store, who is a lively old hag well into her 80s. He also befriended her boyfriend Hubert, who arm wrestles at the store every Thursday night for money... and wins. And this is also where Banjo Boy found himself a Banjo Mentor, who lives in cabin by himself and comes out only once in a blue moon to play music. 

And there are other characters, too. It seems like everyone in that small place knows Banjo Boy, has played music with him, let him camp on their property, or fed him.

When we visit this place, we say hullo to some folks, but then we run off and adventure.  We spend days exploring trails and back roads. And taking pictures of abandoned farmsteads and interesting buildings. This time I found an old house that had burned. The vinyl siding had melted away to expose a rough hewn timbers beneath... an early single pen log cabin. There were other interesting sites, too, that we discovered on this trip, and we even found an overgrown cemetery deep in the woods.

We did our traditional "Apple Hike" that brings us through an abandoned apple orchard. Once again, we filled our packs with as many apples as we could carry.

We had two special encounters that were almost too freaky to explain.

And I hope to share picture and stories soon....  

Here's one quick picture. I have one of me sitting on the same rock, four years in a row.

08 October 2010 @ 02:38 pm
I'm in the middle of doing cost analysis on my Maybe-Decision to sell my car. It has proven to be a tricky equation. How is that taking steps to simplify your life can actually be rather complicated?!

First, the bad news: My car is not made of solid gold. Or oil. Or any other substance out there immune to depreciation. Like 99.9% of cars out there, it began to devalue the moment I drove it off the lot. This is frustrating, but it is what happens to a lot of what we buy/use/consume,  and especially with cars.  At the time I bought the car,  it was a worth while cost/risk. But equations have shifted since then... and that is a bullet I've gotta bite.

The good news is that it looks like I can sell my car for a bit more than what I owe on the loan. This is important because if I owed more than it was worth, I'd have to make up the difference upon the sale of the car --  much like paying someone to take my car from me. And that would suck to the extreme. This way, though, by selling the car for a bit more than what I owe, not only will I pay down the loan, but I will have some cash on hand. I need lights for riding my bike in the dark, a reflective vest, and I could use a set of water proof panniers for carrying my stuff... and cash comes in handy for that!

There's also Bittersweet news: Clearly I won't earn back my down payment in the sale, or the total $$ I've put towards my loan since I've owned the car. But, according to my calculations, I will earn it all back in 1 year with the savings made by ditching my car and insurance payments. And if I ride my bike to work or carpool instead of taking the metro, I'll earn it back in  8 or 9 months. Those are good goals to think about, I suppose. If I ditch my car.


Yeah. I've got 'em.  I'm not sure how hardcore of a bike commuter I am.  It's a 12-14 mile commute (round-trip). I've done it before, it's not terrible. I actually really enjoyed it, for the most part. But it's not just a few blocks away... and there are hills! (oh, look at me whining! haha.)

Also... my parents are pretty freaked about me even thinking about ditching the car, and I value their opinions and input, so of course it makes me question my actions. Even though they understand the numbers when I tell them how much I could be putting away in savings, they believe that having a car is pretty high up there on ones hierarchy of needs.

Still.... I think ditching the vehicle is worthwhile. I don't need it. I've lived here before without a car. I could use the $$ it would free up. I would like to save the environment and use my own Human Power to travel sustainably.  I would like/could use the exercise. I know not everyone can ditch their cars, but I think I'm in a good situation to be able to do so. So why not?

My brain moves slowly.. I'm still thinking! Still weighing it all. 

: )

01 October 2010 @ 08:25 pm

I'm thinking about selling my car.  

I bought it last December. I needed something more reliable than the car I'd inherited. My job at the time was tenuous and the possibility of finding work outside of the city was very high. It was also an "independence" thing. I didn't want to have to rely on anyone else for rides. Independent women drive their own cars, right?

It was really my first ever major purchase (besides College... but who thinks of education as a purchase in the same vein as a material thing?). I remember how good it felt to haggle until I got the price I wanted. I felt like I won something. I WON! Look at me! I bought a car! I'm a grown up!

And I love my car. It's exactly what I wanted. A 2009 Toyota Matrix (albeit pre-owned) in dark metallic gray. So awesome. So versatile.

But...the truth? 

I got a new position at the same old place of work, one that, even with potential furloughs on the horizon, is about as stable as they come. For a variety of reasons,  although I should be payed more for what I do and wish my job was more engaging, I'm not likely to go elsewhere for the next several years.

So the need to work and to drive outside of the city never came. And while I enjoy my car, I don't need it. I walk and ride by bike and take the metro a lot. And I carpool. And between the cost of gas (when I do drive my car) and my loan payment and my insurance.... I'm not sure the equation is balanced.  Far from it, actually. I could be putting away so much more money if I didn't have my car.


I'm very concerned about our future.

Ours, as in yours and mine.

I believe strongly that our economy is not going to recover, that we have turned an important corner. There might be times when it feels like it's getting better, but we're all headed for some very major change in the next decade, or even the next few years, in terms of lifestyle. And that lifestyle doesn't involve cars. Or, it involves a lot less of them.

For a long time I've been interested in living a more sustainable life. It was something I grew up with, have been  nostalgic about, and have longed to return to and explore further. But recently I've realized that the time line has, perhaps, not been what I thought it was, and my desire to make this transition to an off-the-grid life has taken on a new sense of urgency.

It's time to take stock. Save until it hurts. Pay of my debts. Cultivate, both my yard/garden and other skills for the life ahead.  And even if I take a loss on my car... I'm thinking it might be worth it.

Just thinking right now.  Just thinking.

16 September 2010 @ 09:58 pm
I ran during my lunch hour. Felt great. Felt the frustration of the job and life and all of everything leave my body. Made sure to relax, to breathe. Each pounding foot fall felt better, better, better. Tickled when sweat dripped onto my shoulders. Showered, slipped back into my work clothes. Pinned on my badge and when back up to the 8th floor. Best lunch hour. Ever.

Walked home from the metro today. Didn't take the bus. Just popped open my green polka dot umbrella and walked the 2 miles homeward. Thinking. Deep stuff, ya know. Life and ....and.... everything.

Came home to my garden. The flowers, the squash, the tomatoes. All's lookin' a bit ratty these days. We're at the tail end of the season here and we haven't had too much rain.... it's raining now, though.

Fixed supper for myself.  The tomato sauce had some fluffy mold... but I scooped it out and used the rest of it any way. Please don't tell anyone.

I sat on the floor in the empty living room  (freshly painted!) with the dog and the cat and watched crap/wonderful internet tv.  I hate that show Covert Affairs, but I have a major crush on Chris Gorham's character.

Just a little more silliness and then I'm hitting the hay.

Windows open. Rain dripping. Crickets chirping.