Before dawn, before the birds' song, before my first cup of coffee, I arose, donned my long underwear, thermal socks, and cashmere hat and exited my icy shack. Frost covered the windows, and the ground yielded underfoot like chilled cookie dough. As I traversed the 200-yard walk down to my bogged-down tractor, I noted with satisfaction that the standing water had formed into tiny, frozen ponds.
The weather man had been right for a change. Cold and clear. The mercury substitute standing at just above the 20-degree mark. Everything had a light coating of frost; preparing to shimmer the moment the sun crested the low eastern hills.
I climbed aboard and turned the key to the first position. The orange glow plug light came on and I paused for it to extinguish, indicating the machine, Tommy Mow, was ready to start. All was still. A commercial jet, chased by its contrail, made its silent, lumbering way across the sky. I turned the key full to the right and the engine cranked and caught immediately. Like an aging smoker Tommy expelled a few belches of black gunk and then ran smoothly. This time I checked carefully that everything was fully retracted. I grabbed for the seatbelt, but it was frozen to the chassis.
I revved him up to 2500 rpm, and put my foot on the accelerater. Confident, sure-footed and purposeful, Tommy rose up out of his lumber reinforced mud hole, moved forward to a small patch of high ground, obidiently turned to the right, crossed a narrow rivulet and was free. Like a returning comet we swung around the burn pile at the bottom of the garden, and headed home.
The sun rose, the birds sang our praises and everything shimmered.
It has been an abnormally dry year. While California and British Columbia got soaked, Oregon remained sunny and warm. But on the east side of my new house a river runs through it.
On Friday afternoon, after the work crew had finished prep work on the porch footings, I decided I needed to really get after digging the new footing drain. Now that the porch footings were located I could see exactly where the new drain line needed to go to avoid them.
I wheeled the tractor into place and started digging with the backhoe. It was mucky, but I was pointed downhill and I figured I could my escape just by coasting down to the bottom of the yard, making a right at the burn pile and I then would be on relatively dry ground again.
After repositioning the tractor several times to dig the 30 foot long trench, I was done. I mounted the drivers seat, reached back to pull on the two levers that retract the hydraulic, stabilizing outrigger arms, turned my head south and started to exit the bog. After 10 feet I came to a stop and began to sink. I looked back, and the outrigger, on the opposite side that I had leaned to, had failed to retract. It had been stuck by the suction power of the clay, and dragged through the mud like an anchor. Whether or not this was the actual cause of my getting stuck, I will never know.
I tried using the bucket to raise the front wheels, I rocked it back and forth, I checked that I was in four-wheel drive. But the tractor just kept sinking, eventually settling at the axles.
Making my own stream
Where my tracks had been, water now flowed freely down and pooled under the tractor. It was getting dark. I decided to abandon the effort that evening. I was gone the next day, but swung into the driveway in the early evening upon my return just to make sure it hadn't sunk any farther. It had not.
Animation: Raising the Deere
Today, I went out to raise the Deere. Using the hydraulic outriggers, the bucket and lots of large lumber I was able to raise it up. My plan now is to wait till Tuesday morning when it is supposed to be below freezing overnight and hope that hardens the ground a little. I have also dug a channel in the mud above the backhoe that is diverting the water around the tractor. I could have a neighbor pull me out with his own tractor, but where's the challenge in that? Plus, instead of the ignomy of getting my tractor stuck in the mud and having to be towed, I will be the guy who managed to get a tractor stuck in the mud up to the driver's seat (all tall tales grow taller) using nothing more than his wits and his Leatherman. Am a man or am I a mouse? We will find out in short order.
I arrived back home from a trip to town just after noon to find the first, upper story, tall window had been installed. I didn't really want to inquire how. The windows are 3 feet x 6 feet, hefty and delicate. Nonetheless there they were. The first one was in and the opening for the second one, shrouded since September, was uncovered. The interior space came to life with the kind of light and joy that only the sun and the sky can achieve. The rays of the sun sped past the openings and drenched the upper back wall exactly as planned. These valuable photons will be collected during fall, spring and winter by cementitious panels that are designed to radiate the energy back at night and otherwise moderate the temperature fluctuations in the house.
As I stood outside looking up at the windows a bald eagle flew from left to right across the roof. A sign of good fortune.
The front and back doors are in. I have a key to the house. Adding some foam around them and sealing the windows make it start to really feel like home.
The doors were made by Mountain View Window and Door of Scappoose, Oregon. I provided the material of 2"-thick, salvaged fir planks from the old shop. The interior doors are also made from salvaged fir, but have panels of solid cedar from the shop exterior. The wood is probably 50-years old. Even so, it's not old-growth. It's simply finished with teak oil.
The door hardware is from Emtek and is sandblasted brass. The doors have an easy mass to them. The design is a simple Shaker-inspired pattern of a cross. The doors have numerous pits, bores, channels and from bugs. There are nail holes and the resulting nail stains. There are places that one can see tiny rays of light coming right through the door. They are quite dramatic.
The roof was completed last week under dry weather. Since then Mother Nature has mocked our puny attempts at waterproofing. What is stainless steel and silicone compared to a tortoise shell or the fur of an otter? That's it, a fur roof!
Jordan attaches the final piece of ridge cap.
The roof leaks like water torture, in maddening, persistent drips, around the vent and chimney penetrations. The four skylights that were "flashed" the old-fashioned way are gloriously dry, and I expect will be so for a hundred years. The other two holes were flashed using the latest, most modern, installed-from-the-top design. The high-temperature silicone for the chimney is spatula-red (apparently this stuff only comes in one color no matter what the use) and has an astounding temperature range of -100 to +450. The ads say, "... lasts for years but installs in minutes." We have concluded that the old ones have to be removed, which means removing part of the chimney, the roof thuroughly cleaned in that spot and a new, square one (different brand) installed.
The rather unusual "turnbuckle" detail that will support the gutter.
I don't have time to write much about it now, nor time to post pictures, but today two great things happened:
The roof is finally complete.
The front and back doors are in.
The last piece of the roof was screwed into place this morning. By noon my doors were on. Now I have a key to the new place. The weather continues to be suspiciously dry and clear, making the house seem even more inviting.