Sunday, December 16, 2012

What If You Have Two Dreams?

This is the first post on Bleecker Mountain Life.  It is also a post I made on my other blog, Drift Away, the trawler my wife, three dogs, and I cruised from Connecticut to Albany New York to Brunswick, Georgia.  I think it's a nice segway from the dream behind curtain number one to the dream behind curtain number two.

I present What If You Have Two Dreams.

Warning.  This is a long one, and profound.  I usually try not to be that serious on this blog, but this is a good one.  If you've come here while you have a few minutes to kill at work, you might want to come back later.  But if you have the time, this one might strike a nerve.

I've had the dream of cruising in a boat ever since I learned that small boats can cross oceans.  I was in my early 20s and had just started boating.  I first learned about it from reading magazines at my yacht club, and then from books borrowed from the local library.  I was awed by tales of brave men and women single handing their small vessels against the power of the sea, and intrigued by their descriptions of tropical islands with waving palms and white sandy beaches.  You can actually do that in a little boat?  And live to tell about it?  I started dreaming, and hoping that I too would one day be able to cast off dock lines and wander where the wind took me, without a care in the world.

I've never been too interested in crossing oceans, but I always thought I'd cruise in a sailboat one day, probably to the Caribbean.  As it turns out, our boat is a 46' trawler, and our islands turned into the ICW.  But the dream is the same, and I don't think I've missed out on anything.

We cruised, in a weird way.   We wintered in Connecticut, cruised south, stayed on the Chesapeake until  after New Year's, and summered in Georgia.  Yes, I know the way it's supposed to be done, but I've always marched to the beat of a different drummer.  Ask anyone who's known me for any length of time.  There's something wrong with me.

But listen, I've had a second dream, for many, many years.  It all began during the energy "crisis" during the 1970s.  Energy prices were soaring.  There were shortages, especially of gasoline.  There were odd-even days to refuel your automobile depending on your license plate number, and gas lines.  Remember gas lines?   And you could only buy up to ten gallons, no more.  Gasoline was suddenly a precious commodity.  Prices soared to $1 a gallon, but we felt lucky to get it at any price.

I was in my late twenties, with a family and a raised ranch house in Saratoga Springs New York.  It's only heat source was electricity, which was very expensive.  What if those prices became unaffordable?  Or what if electricity was rationed like gasoline?  What would I do?

Being a sort of impulsive person, I dove into research of alternative energy, and long story short, bought a Vermont Castings Vigilant Wood stove and installed it, along with a Metalbestos chimney.  I loved that stove.  It provided wonderful heat, and the fuel could be found by walking in the woods behind my house.  Later, we had a 20 acre woodlot where we could harvest our winter's fuel.  Utility companies could kiss my ass, and it felt good.

We started a weekly "Energy Conservation Night" at our house.  We turned off the lights, the TV, and the stereo.   No computers, no games.  For light, we used candles, kerosene lamps, and the fire from the wood stove.  My daughter, Becky, who was maybe six or seven, was very dismayed.  No TV?  Well, her mom and I got out a board game, I don't remember which one.  We played it, sitting on the floor in front of the warmth of the fire, illuminated by the soft glow of candles and oil lamps.  We talked, we laughed.  We had fun.  We loved it.  She loved it.  We all looked forward to it.  Before long, her friends asked if they could come to our house for energy conservation night.  It was a hit.  Half the neighborhood kids were at our house, interacting like kids did a century before.  It was a hoot.

A few years later, I returned to college as an adult student.  I took an earth science course, with the professor focusing on environmental issues.  Half our grade was a final paper.  I chose to name mine "A Self Sufficient Homestead", using what I learned about alternative energy as a basis.

It was an involved project.  I won't go into detail here, but it involved Clivis Multrum composting toilets, solar hot water heating, passive solar heat, and energy efficiency.  I even wrote a computer program that calculated the solar gain of things like southern orientation (including latitude), the R value of insulation, moving and sizing windows, etc.  The paper got me an A+.  It also planted another seed.  Another dream.

I always thought it would be wonderful to actually be able to implement some of those ideas in an actual house.  Live like people used to, harvesting the land, living free from ties to big oil and international corporations.  Now, I have my chance.

My wife, Pamela, and I bought ten acres of land in Bleecker, New York, in the Adirondack Park.  If nothing else, I think land is a good investment.  They're not making it anymore.

The Adirondack Park is the largest protected park in the United States, roughly the size of Vermont.  It is a combination of state owned and privately owned (and regulated) land.   It was officially protected in 1894 by New York's Constitution and declared forever wild.

Our little ten acres, out of the park's six million, is all woods, with a road built from a ramshackle trailer that was hauled in there by the previous owner out to the road, which was blocked off by the county highway's guard rail.  It was logged a couple of years ago, and the really valuable timber was gone.

Pam and I, and the dogs, drove from Georgia to New York for my daughter's wedding in Vermont last week.  While up there, we went to the Sheriff's 911 coordinator to get a mailing (and 911) address, and then to the county highway department to arrange to get the guard rail cut so we could access the road.  We called a logger, met with him, and arranged to have half of the ten acres cleared.

On the two day ride back to Georgia, we talked about going back north in the spring and what lies before us.  We'll be busy contracting with a bulldozer guy to come in and level and smooth everything off, which will also get rid of logging debris.  We need to get a well drilled, which we'll contract out, and then build a small guest cottage, complete with outhouse until we install a septic system.   We want to be off the grid, so power will be by solar panels and a wind generator, using what I've learned over the years in boating.  The power to pump water from the well will be by wind to cisterns.

I know, you're thinking "Whoa, slow down there!  What about fixing up Drift Away?  What about finishing that?  You're so close!  You're only a few days away from the Bahamas!  Have you lost your mind?"

No.  Well, OK, maybe.  OK OK, yes we have.  Cruising has been my dream for 40 years, but it has only been Pam's for a handful.  Don't get me wrong, Pam loves the boat and our lifestyle, but she's also been a horse person her whole life.  On our trip north last week, we stopped at some kind of horse rodeo thing.  Pam's friend Kim (you'll be hearing a lot more about her) was in some kind of horse event where you ride into a herd of cows and cut specific ones out and send them off.  Yep, you get it.  I have no idea what they were doing, but Pam did.

So why not combine my dream of living in a small, self sufficient homestead in the woods with Pam's love of woods and horses?  And her love of family back in the frozen tundra of upstate New York?

Call it mountain insanity if you will.  When Pam and I went to New York last summer, we instantly fell back in love with the Adirondacks and the forests.  When an opportunity came along to buy a piece of it, and just like with Drift Away, we snatched the gold ring.  Just like with Drift Away's dreams of cruising off without a care in the world (HA! Yeah right!), we have dreams of a small cabin in the woods, with a large garden, a few chickens, and a couple of horses to boot.

What of the boat?  We have a few months to consider that.  Do we keep her, or sell her?  We've invested a tidy sum making her a boat again, and we're at the point where everything works.  It's only cosmetics now.  Wouldn't we be nuts to sell?  Probably.

Next spring, we'll be busy cleaning up the mess that the loggers left behind, using the money we get from logging to buy a chipper and wood splitter.  If we're lucky, we'll get the small guest cottage done by winter.  We could then go back to Georgia after the holidays... or we could stay in Bleecker working on the property.

Should we sell the boat, and focus on Bleecker?  That's the heavy question weighing on us now.   Selling Drift Away and swallowing the anchor seemed unthinkable a few months ago, yet here we are, at yet another fork in the road of life.


  1. Can't wait to hear the stories you'll feed us on this blog. Not sure what kind of score you'll be able to keep with the pooches but I'm sure you'll come up with something. Maybe, how many rodents they each bring in. If so, I'm putting my money on the pup! My big concern is what kind of internet connection you'll have. Will you be able to power a satellite dish or something? You know I need my morning fix EVERY morning so we can't wait till you decide to "head ta town"! Good luck to you and Pam and your wonderful furry family!!!

    1. LOL! Thanks, Mark.

      Electricity shouldn't be a problem, I hope. Solar and wind should provide enough capacity, with a generator backup. My concern is internet service. There's no cable, no DSL, and no cell service. I'm going to be looking for suggestions in an upcoming blog.

  2. I hope the critter count won't be who comes home with porcupine quills in their muzzle! :)