Jilly D.

Archive for December, 2013|Monthly archive page

January in the calendar according to Sam Warren

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on December 29, 2013 at 2:50 am
Sam's babies

Sam’s babies

Where the paved road ends, so do the vestiges of “modern” life. There is no cellular phone reception here. No internet connection. No wires or poles visible to the human eye. No email, text messaging, satellite or cable TV. No high speed connection to the digital universe. Twittering is something birds do. Time slows down. The quiet calms the inner chaos. Here is where I make my home with Sam Warren.

I listen to the rain fall on the tin roof, hear the gentle whir of the windmill, let birds waken me before the sun rises, eat an entire meal made from food grown on this land, get to be my own boss, decide how to spend my time and energy, walk my dogs in the woods, discover rare wildflowers and identify animal tracks. These are the luxuries of living off the land. The greatest luxury of all is time.

When it’s high noon, I know it. Same time as yesterday. I don’t need a watch to tell me. The whistle blowing from the Fire Station confirms lunch time. In the morning I wake up without an alarm. When I’m tired I go to sleep.

956725-R1-19-20ABefore I met Sam I used to feel so pushed and rushed in my everyday work life. The meetings, the reports, the email, voice-mail, committee work, service commitments just overwhelmed me. I would arrive at the office in the morning and have to turn on lights to see. I would leave late after running a computer, printer, television, clock radio and heater or air conditioner for more than 12 hours constant. I’d work at home after dark with all the lights and heat on, stereo or television on and my computer and printer plugged in to the grid. I collapsed into sleep with the alarm set so I could do it all over again the next day. My to-do list was days longer than I’d ever live.

You can always make more money. You can’t make more time. I used to dream about doing what I wanted when I retired. Then I faced facts:  I would have less money, not more, and even less time.

100_0931Living off the land allows me the luxury of time. My time is my own. No one can take it from me unless I give it willingly. No one can waste my time either. The relentless urgency of modern life drops away on Warren Pond.

I appreciate these luxuries and am grateful for them regularly because there are plenty of folks who are offended by some of the privileges homesteading grants me. People don’t like it if you don’t read your email every day. Phone calls after sunset aren’t answered and folks can’t figure out why not, if we are home. Some are stunned we refuse to make it to evening meetings or public events scheduled after dark. Others are curious why we don’t just hop in the car and drive. There are plenty who are offended we do not bathe or change clothes every day.

Never having been a fashionista, I love the luxury of dressing comfortably, forgoing makeup and hairdos and wearing shoes suitable for the task at hand. Reminds me of the bad advice I got early in my academic career that I would never get anywhere unless I started to wear lipstick and heels. I got there and neither heels nor lipstick would have made it a place worth staying. I’d rather put on my swimsuit and cotton jumpers in warm weather and denim coveralls most the rest of the year. The biggest joy is having one pair of functional — not fashionable — shoes. You can’t wear more than one pair at a time, so who needs more?

Instead of spending an hour getting ready for work, an hour commuting to and from, 10 hours at work and a few more hours working at home, I quit wasting time. I took the time for living, loving and enjoying each moment in the moment. It used to be that I lived in order to work for somebody who would pay me so I could live. Now I live.

What I learned from Sam Warren about sustainable living is that I could have a higher quality of life with less money and more time. I gave up shopping and worked to pay off my credit cards and car loan. When I moved down to the farm with Sam, I paid down more debt and had no bills. Eventually I could afford to break free of those golden handcuffs called “tenure” and quit my full-time job.

Today, there is no mortgage or rent. The land is now ours free and clear.

We have no heating bills. Sam cuts down the timber, logs it out, saws it up, seasons it, stacks it, and then hauls it inside to make fire for heat and cooking. I have heat today because Sam planned and worked for more than a year to make it possible.Morning chores on the farm

The luxury of being debt free is incredible. For too long wealth was measured by how much credit others were willing to extend to you. The old mentality was that the more debt you had the richer you must be. But the price to pay is one’s conscience.

Everybody knows you can’t buy your way out of debt. It is so much easier to sleep at night knowing other people owe you more than what you owe others. It’s more important to wake up each morning without debt burden on your shoulders. The only way to do that is to produce more than you consume.

Sam figured out how to do that. Living off the land and off-the-grid is hard work but it provides everything we need.

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Wreather Madness

In Holidays on December 14, 2013 at 6:42 pm

First snows and the virtual house arrest during hunting season makes me want to get up and out and do something. For several years in the late 1990s I made evergreen wreaths five days a week during the months of November and December.

Joel Podkaminer owns the Trumansburg Tree Farm and harvests Christmas trees to sell in New York City’s Green Markets. His wife, Tina, many years ago started the wreath-making from the scraps cuts from the harvested trees. Bouquets, garlands, swags. Tina has her own successful catering business (Word of Mouth in Trumansburg on Main Street). Joel hired seasonal wreath-makers to work in his heated garage at the bottom of a ravine on Taughannock Creek.

My first wreaths constructed in 1996 were iffy, but I got better as a buncher. Much better. In 1999 I worked on two wreaths that were eight feet in diameter; they hung on the World Trade Center plaza. Monday through Thursday we’d work from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. making wreaths. We’d stack them outside the garage to keep them cool and moist. Our workshop sat along the deep gorge along the edge of the roaring creek.

The thrill of finishing another perfect wreath pushed me to work faster and harder. The oxygen rush of working with fresh greens made me a bit giggly and the days filled with laughter.

We worked in teams of two. I was a cutter and buncher and I worked with a crimper. My first year I cut for Susie Nash, a veteran wreath maker and scrappy pool-shooting dart-throwing beer-drinking redneck single mother of two sons by two fathers. I had a tough time keeping up with her but the results proved spectacular. In my first year we could make 30 wreaths a day. Susie worked hard but her mouth ran every minute.

The radio played holiday rock tunes. The intoxicating fragrances of pine, spruce, juniper, fir and arbor vitae made it a party. We put on our pine-tar covered aprons, grabbed a pair of cutting shears, donned our leather gloves, and made lush fresh evergreen wreaths. A different crew every year of women, young and old, looking to make some holiday cash. We’d bring our lunches and heat them on top of the wood stove. An electric percolator provided coffee for a warm-up break during the mid-morning.

By the fourth year Stephanie, cousin Tommy’s girlfriend, and I partnered and I cut and bunched and she crimped 50 wreaths a day without breaking into a sweat. We’d show up on Friday mornings and work a half day until noon or when we got paid when Joel showed up with the truck. He’d load up all the wreaths we’d made all week long and Joel would head down to New York City for the weekend markets.

It was the Friday before Christmas when I woke up at first light to a nice blizzard. It had snowed all night. Four inches. I figured we had today and maybe a day or two next week left to work making wreaths. I woke early and got the coffee on and walked the dogs. The snow was such that I knew I could get out the driveway. I hadn’t heard plows go by yet, but I started the truck to get it warmed up. Not much time left to get everything into Santa’s sleigh by noon today and down to New York City. Pay day.

The radio news said the snowstorm was bad but the expected blowing and drifting hadn’t started yet and wouldn’t until afternoon. I ventured out in boots and insulated Carhartts. I had no problem getting up the road although the plows hadn’t cleared Buck Hill Road yet. I crossed State Route 79 and picked up Stephanie at cousin Tommy’s trailer. She had packed her lunch and some holiday cookies for coffee break, just in case this was our last day.

“Really? Do you think he might not need us at all next week?” I asked Steph.

“Well. I don’t even know if he’s going to really need us today, but I want to get paid,” Stephanie said. I turned onto County Route 227 and could see the plow had been by. Route 96 would be clear and we could easily get into the Village.

It was so pretty. White. Four inches of dense wet snow. Just before the sunrise. No shadows. Only a winter stillness. No other traffic.

I parked the truck on Main Street. We slid down the hilly driveway down to the garage and noticed there was no fire started yet in the wood stove. The snow was still on the roof and the chimney was still. That meant nobody had put the coffee on yet either. We’d planned a cookie swap. Gotta have coffee.

We went inside the garage and looked around to see if there were a note left with instructions. Nothing. There were no lights on in the house. Surely Tina was still asleep. 6:50 a.m.

ZZZZZPppppp. ZZZZZZZZZZZppppPP. I rang the door bell. Mack, their dog, barked. Only once. He knew me. I didn’t hear anybody move inside. It was cold out here. Stephanie and I stood in the driveway a few minutes to see if anyone else was coming down the hill.

In bathrobe and slippers Tina appeared at the door and said Joel hadn’t come back from the last trip down to the city.

“He’s been selling all week and has plenty. He’s not coming back for the rest. He’ll pay you when he gets back on Monday. He promises. No work next week either. He’s got plenty of wreaths,” Tina said sadly. She looked apologetic, but cold. And not letting us inside to warm up.

Trudging up the slippery and steep hill, I confessed to Stephanie that I’m a dingbat. She got in my truck and put her seat belt on. She looked over at me, and smiled. She started to giggle. I started to giggle. The two of us nincompoops are out in this blizzard and we can’t stop laughing.

“I really wondered when you showed up early this morning whether you’d show up at all. I had a sandwich ready and the cookies, but I didn’t have my coat on. I didn’t think you were crazy enough to make it this far,” Stephanie said and started laughing all over again.

“It’s wreather madness! We are completely delusional. We aren’t Santa’s elves,” I exclaimed.

“Look in the back end, Jill. Wreather madness. Merry Christmas!” Stephanie said and I saw the half dozen gorgeous wreaths we’d made yesterday in the pickup’s bed of snow. Santa put them there.