Archive for the ‘Photos’ Category

Building Catfish Pond

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

“In a home, it’s the site that matters.”
-Lao Tzu

How we built a ten bedroom, two story house on Saturdays, with a little help from our friends.

It was getting on late summer of 1977 when it began to collectively dawn on us, the residents of Catfish Pond, that winter was going to come again. We were living in the oldest surviving army tent on the Farm. Between it and the two shacks next to it we needed 4 wood stoves. We had no money, of course, no carpenters, and about a dozen little kids among us. It was clear we should build a house.

The crew consisted of two farmers, a printer, a truck driver, and a couple of poets. Michael, one of the farmers, had hung sheet rock in Colorado once, so he was put in charge. The plan was to move in by Thanksgiving. Not knowing what we were doing made it easy to be optimistic. We actually moved in a few weeks before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving of 1978. It took a little over a year of Saturdays, during which time we earned the money, wrecked the materials, learned the skills, and built the house.

In accordance with the teaching of Lao Tzu, we began by picking the site. That was easy, and fun, walking around in the woods, arguing with your friends. The important thing about the site is to remember where the sun is. Our house is 62 feet long, built lengthwise on an exact east-west axis. Our long south wall, filled with windows, fills the house with sunlight all day in the winter. On a sunny day, with the temperature below freezing, we can heat the whole house just by opening the curtains. No need to build a fire until evening.

The next step was to dig the footer. It was all pick and shovel work in a mixture of rocks, clay, and tree roots, but it was something we knew we could do. So we measured and strung a few strings, and dug the ditches.

Pouring the footer was likewise well within our ken. The hardest part was helping the driver get the cement mixer unstuck from the mud. Once the footer was poured, the house began to feel more real. It gave us the impetus to get some jobs wrecking cinder block. People were glad to let us haul it away. All we had to do was knock it loose, load it in a truck, bring it home, and chip the mortar off of it. Lucky for us, Rodney, the mason, lived across the street. He showed us how to set it up, and taught us how to lay block. A bunch of the block had come from a pool hall, and was painted on one side, some pink, some blue, as I recall. So when we laid the block, we made a geometric pattern out of the different colored blocks.

One of the many Saturday jobs we got, to earn money and wreck materials, was rebuilding part of a stone wall foundation for a huge barn on this old woman’s Tennessee farm. Ruby was in her 70’s, as thin and mean as a snake. We jacked up the barn, hauled boulders and mortared them into place. It was quite beautiful when it was done. Then she cheated us out of some of our money. But, with what we had learned, we got a couple more stone wall building jobs.

Once the foundation was up, all we had to do was deck it and frame it. We already had a lot of the lumber from a house we had wrecked. By the time Thanksgiving came, the foundation was built, the first floor was decked and framed, and we were broke again.

During the winter all work on the house came to a stop. Caught up in the exigencies of our last winter in the tent, we almost forgot the house was there.

When spring came, we remembered. By now we had learned enough building the house and working off the Farm on Saturdays, that Michael figured we could take on something more challenging, so he got us a job building a one room addition on a house in Columbia. We contracted to do the whole thing, foundation, framing, roofing, siding, insulation, dry wall, wiring, painting, all for $5,000. Since we could only work on it on Saturdays, we split the job with the farming crew, who did some work during the week. We all learned a lot of stuff, made a little money, and built a nice addition.

Now we were in a position to do something. We collected all our lumber and roof tin, bought some more lumber, and talked to the construction crew. Charles and Sam came over with a crew and in one week, framed the second floor, raised the roof, and tacked on most of the silver board. We were broke again, but, in our back yard, was a huge, silver house.

The next big project was insulation. The Farm made a deal with a factory in Nashville, who just threw away all their loose fiber glass scraps. Free fiber glass! So one of the truckers filled a semi with fiber glass and parked it in front of our house. Three of us, one hot summer day, put on long-sleeved shirts, gloves, and bandanas over our faces and unloaded the truck. We filled three rooms up to the ceiling with fiber glass. To put it in the walls, I brought home some 4X3 book cover stock from the print shop, stapled it to the studs, and stuffed the fiber glass behind it. We also filled the attic a foot deep in fiber glass.

Thomas, one of the Farm electricians, came over one day and helped us wire the upstairs. I learned enough helping him that I could finish wiring the rest of the house by myself. Willie, the Farm plumber, and a guy who was here with his old lady to have a baby, put in all the plumbing, PVC for the drains, and copper for the running water.

Everyone had the same experience of seeing most of the house get built by somebody else. In the end it was hard to say who had built the house. Although we had all worked hard, it seemed to have happened by magic. Synergy is the hand of God.


This is what it looks like now

The New Kitchen

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

The dishwasher quit working. It would just make this horrible noise and not do anything. So we figured we’d get a new one at Home Depot and have them come and install it and take the old one away. But when we looked at their terms, they said that they wouldn’t do removal and installation if the flooring went up to, but not under, the dishwasher. Sure enough that’s what our crappy, glued down hardwood veneer floor did.

So we called up our friend and jack of all trades, Daniel, and asked if he would come help us. He came, expecting a pretty simple one day job to get the broken dishwasher out. He came and he took it out. The floor underneath was rotten. So he took out the cabinets and sink in order to replace the floor. The walls behind the cabinets were rotten, and the cabinets were too, all the walls behind all the lower cabinets, and all the cabinets. So they all came out. The walls were stripped down to the lath.

Then a friend offered to give us a bunch of pre-finished solid oak flooring that he had left over from building his house. How could we not replace the floor? So the crappy floor came up and the glue was laboriously scraped off the subfloor.

Candace had already stripped all the wallpaper off the walls, and we had a gas line put in and bought a gas stove from Scratch and Dent. Candace had also found 200 square feet of 12 inch marble tiles for $100 on Craig’s List. She painted the walls, the wainscoting, the ceiling, and all the cabinets.

Daniel had not bargained for this. He just thought he was taking out the dishwasher. Even though we were of course paying him, this was not on his schedule. Nevertheless he saw it all through, plumbing, electrical, installing cabinets, sheet rock, wainscoting, light fixtures, laying hardwood floor, tile counter tops, and aesthetic collaboration. It took a couple of weeks, all in all.

Here is a link to a slide show of the process.

Iraq and the Rest of the Middle East

Friday, March 4th, 2011

The chaos, rebellion, whatever you want to call it, that is taking place in the Middle East, in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Gaza, etc., is, although no one will say it, illuminating the truth that Iraq is in the best, not good, but relatively best, shape of any country in the Middle East, excepting, as always, Israel.

There are some protests taking place in Iraq, but they are not trying to overthrow a brutal, venal dictator. They are demanding better, less corrupt, performance from their elected representatives, much like the tea party is doing here in the U.S.

Nobody is shooting them down in the streets, like Ghaddafi, or cutting them off from access to the internet, like Mubarak; or bribing them, as the Saudi royal family is doing with their subjects.

Thank you, George W. Bush (and U.S. military forces), for bringing this tiny, flickering light of freedom to the world’s darkest neck of the woods.

Easy Rider

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I am not a big fan of the movie “Easy Rider”. I don’t like the portrayal of the South as a bunch of ignorant rednecks who shoot people they don’t understand. It may have had more verisimilitude at the time, but it is certainly not the South I have come to know in the 22nd century. I personally know better than the movie’s soft focus idealization of the hippie, communal, back to the land, movement. Dealing cocaine is not my favorite metaphor for the free enterprise system. All that said, the movie, for me, is really about the ongoing decline of courage in America and the rest of Western Civilization.

When I look around, I see frightened people. Afraid to change jobs, afraid to move, afraid to get married or divorced, afraid to associate with people different from themselves, afraid to age, afraid to question whatever orthodoxy they are constrained by, afraid to face reality without prozac. I see the percentages of takers versus makers reaching an unsustainable tipping point.

When I think about my father flying bombers over Germany, and the other young men in Europe in World War II, the Americans in the great depression, the soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, the troops wintering in Valley Forge, the pioneers, I can’t help thinking that there has been a considerable decline in the daring manifested by the desperate pilgrims that first sailed the North Atlantic to the New World.

I sailed the North Atlantic in the winter in a troop ship, the U.S.S. General Harry Taylor, in 1956, from New York to Bremerhaven. It took two weeks. It was no picnic, but my life was never in danger. It is in no way comparable to the death-defying courage of those who sailed back and forth between Europe and America in the age of wooden ships and iron men (and women).

The national character is about to be tested. The global financial system has collapsed. Since the collapse there has been a world-wide attempt to cure the disease of over-borrowing and over-spending, with a massive increase in borrowing and spending. You don’t have to be Ron Paul to have doubts about the efficacy of this homeopathic solution.

The market has come back to some extent. There has been some anemic GDP growth. The pundits are all talking about the “recovery”. This is an illusion, folks!

The collapse has not gone away. It is being postponed, and the longer it is postponed, the worse it will be when postponement is no longer possible. The politicians, pundits, and bankers are all in denial. Ordinary people, many of whom have been living off their home equity loans, are just beginning to wake up to the reality.

The Federal Reserve, and the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, and the Chinese Communist Party, and Wall Street may be able to string it out for another year or two, but when we all completely, flat out, run out of money, the ride will not be easy.