Monday, February 23, 2009

Make a path into the woods

The first mark on the land was dramatic. We had walked the land and knew that there was no flat land anywhere to place a house, much less have a practice field for Christi's dog agility runs. This homestead was not well suited for her plans of starting an Aussie Club and having Agility Trials. The raw power of the land would allow only the homestead with some gardens, and with hard work, pastures and rolling fields. We will have to find more urban land for the kennel's business requirements.

We did know the perfect location for the house. There is a knoll, actually a knee on a ridge. From there, we could look around at the distant hills and up both sides of our property. Though we could not see the property to the south from the knoll, we felt safe from the south. A good friend and his wife had bought into being our southern neighbors some time after we had bought ours. Apparently the idea of homesteading a piece of mountain was contagious. I was thrilled. The creek was low to our west and the access road high to our east.

It was time to make a driveway. The knoll was a 1/4 of a mile from the road and involved a drop ff a ridge and crossing a saddle to the knoll. We had already talked to the electric coop who said that they would set poles and run overhead line up to a 1/4 of a mile from the road. Obviously, our fate was cast. We had our dream site. But how to manage it?

We stopped by a neighboring property where we saw a man digging a lake with a rather large bull dozer. When we met Mike Nally to show him our work, the day was frost bite cold. He was bundled and warm, whereas we were obviously not prepared for Arkansas ice. Nevertheless, the enthusiam of the day kept us from freezing in our steps. Mike was a dream. He spoke of building and excavating like an artist and natural land steward. We learned more about the native trees from him in those minutes than we could ever have learned from books or internet. We had cherry trees and walnuts and more oaks than we could use. The tall pine were part of a managed forest, though they were a hazard to powerlines and houses since they did not set good tap roots in the rocky shale loam. We had to clear 30 feet for an easement to give the electric coop room to manage lines in ice storms. Dreams of being off the grid were far off yet.

Mike turned out to be semi-retired, but putting in a lake for a former client down the road. It would be a real gas saver to drive his bulldozer to our land rather than haul it back to his land. He was quick to invite us to see his new farmhouse and the huge lake we was carving there. More on that in a later post... As his prices were much less than we had been discussing with others, we set about working on machine time. We would only pay for the hours his machine clocked, like a taxi. I was used to design/build and knew we could never plan exactly what we wanted. Hourly was the best approach and turned out to be very reasonable. After all, in this forest, we could not even see the contours clearly. We cut and then looked, flagged a path and then adjusted.

We cleared the top of the knoll and then marked our house corners. We did this twice, reducing the top of the knoll a good four feet in elevation. What we bought with this decision was house and yard space, as well as excavated tons of the the best shale the county had. This saved so much fuel costs of hauling in rock, that I can hardly fathom it. Having rock on site is fabulous. Mike brought in a dump truck and other heavy equipment to load the shale and then pave and compact the drive all the way back to the road. I was amazed at the toys he brought out. Having run a large construction company building developments all over the state, he had a lot of toys. It bothered me at first to see the deliberate destruction along the drive, but his act was one of concentrated effort in the smallest part of the land that he could, leaving the rest of the land undisturbed. My truck will have no problem leaving the road and coming down the drive to my house. It need not go cross country though clay and loam.

We also cut a rough drive down from the driveway into what we planned to have barns and paddocks for rotating sheep around. We held back from going further. Mike would have loved to pave all the way to the creek, lol. I don't need my truck there. I can still walk. We will have Mike back later to build a damn for a lake on one of the seasonal runoff creeks near the knoll. He has had some personal knowledge of laying geothermal piping in his own lake and encouraged us to consider that, or a wood burning furnace, or even a heat circulating system involving a triad of Living Machine, tilapia fish farm in a greenhouse, and radiant floor piping. For an excavator, Mike was brimming with green construction techniques. As a green consultant myself, I was delighted to hear my thoughts given back to me so easily and persuasively without any jargon or mysticism. Mike spoke from the heart.

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