So let me tell you about my tower #9: Breakthrough

frontDave is gently ripping apart the second floor landing of the house.  He’s poking around to see how to support the dormer and the bridge that will connect it to the tower.  I had been wondering about the integrity of the sagging roofline since buying the cottage.  Today’s  demolition reveals there is no ridge pole and the old front walls bow out.

I visited my mom today so was not home while Dave was working.  Lee and I had already moved the bookcases out of the hall so Dave had room to work.  I expected the landing would be in chaos upon my return, but. Lee had cleaned up so well that only some sheet rock dust and some stray insulation remained.  He’s wonderful.  But I didn’t expect the closets and laundry room to be emptied into my office/guest room.  It’s crowded.  I can live with it.IMG_0433

I also wasn’t expecting to find the dark somewhat rotting wood of the original 1870 roof.  It makes me so nostalgic for my 1780 barn in New Hampshire. But it’s just nostalgia, not regret, and now I have a new old home to keep alive. 

Drafted pre-May 22, 2012, and unfortunately revised & revised & . . .

 *

The thought of writing about the construction of the addition was with me from the very start of the project.  I knew it wouldn’t be Tracy Kidder’s House, but who wants to do what has been done.  It would be my addition.  It was a start.

Finally I had bonded to the project.  I felt a responsibility and a love towards the old beams and the buckling front wall.  My little cottage had stood through 150 years of pelting rains, heavy snows, and the winds that blow down the Hudson, whistling around the cottage walls year-round, occasionally even driving my “outside” dog Tuck inside.

Pulling this portion up now that it fits into the chronology and anticipating reliving that rush of emotion, I was so let down.  The revised draft began:

Work on the tower has been on hold for a week. It is totally discouraging since I don’t feel I can do anything to speed it up.  I’m at the mercy of the contractors and the weather.

My first rewrite was written when I was down, when the weathermen had been forecasting rain just about every day for three weeks. It hardly rained during that time, but who knew.  Dave wouldn’t break through the roof in case it poured, and it did, but only once or twice.

Lee couldn’t start work on the inside until Nick, our concrete man, came and poured the slab over the radiant heat pipes. Nick wouldn’t schedule the truck for the foundation because he worried the truck would sink into mud if the rain should come. Mud never happened.

20120522_190623Dave said he was going to pull out the sheet rock along the staircase to see if there were any supporting posts, but he wouldn’t do that until he was further along with the other work.  I lived with fears of the worst:  the first floor cabinets torn out, the floors destroyed, and all my careful planning of the addition to keep the integrity of cottage intact having been done in vain.

That high that I expected to find in the writing, the high from discovering the old house, is no longer evident in the writing.  Was it ever there?

A lesson learned.  Don’t discard the old when revising.

*

We were on hold for quite a while, both the house and my writing.  Tower #1 was written on June 29th.  It took about five weeks for me to become inspired again.  I didn’t want to write about my tower while down.

Unfortunately other dates are mushy through this, but I believe the slab was poured and the roof was opened up by the first week of June.  It was gloriously sunny and windy weather.  The winds had come in and lasted for several weeks.  Dave and his crew loved working by the water, but hated working in the wind.  It is a miracle no one was blown away carrying plywood.

They opened the roof, and you can see the bedroom door off the second floor hallway. The third picture in this run, taken after the framing had begun on the dormer, shows how the closet, stairway, and laundry closet line up under the new LVL.  Hopefully you can approximate how low the ceiling was at the top of the stairs, low enough to bump one’s head repeatedly, and why we wanted to bump the ceiling up into a dormer.

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IMG_0714If you need help envisioning how low the ceiling was, imagine two bedroom closets built into the front sloping wall that are sized for children, or maybe men, but definitely not women who wear dresses that cover more than their bums. Definitely nothing longer than mid-thigh.  Now imagine bumping your head when stooping to get something from the closet.   We have the former owners who lived here and orchestrated the 2004 redo of the house to thank for this.  Lee bumps his head probably more than I do. My only consolation is that the former owners must have bumped their heads also.

IMG_0713The ceiling on the landing is now extraordinarily high for such a small room, and with the sun pouring in the round corner windows we installed, and the niche in the wall that Lee built with a leftover window from a house he renovated, I feel as if I am in my personal chapel.

Dave found a very non-intrusive way to add posts on either side of the staircase to support the new LVL that became the major support of the cottage and all the new weight it was to bear.  That only required redirecting a few water pipes in the basement.

My office was a disaster until two weeks ago when we  finally decided we wouldn’t be making that much dust for awhile.  We put stuff back into the closets, at least temporarily, and moved some of the furniture over to the second floor of the tower. Yes, I did survive the clutter, but very grumpily.

I should let you know too that Lee has moved into his man cave two weeks ago.  It looks like a squirrel house to me.

My Mast Hoop

There is always something new to learn.

Yesterday I attended half of a workshop on making mast hoops at the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration and Sailing Society in Hudson, New York.  We built a steam box, cut the jigs, sliced and planed the strips for the hoops, placed them in the box and broke for lunch.

Is this called a J spike?

Is this called a J spike?

I stayed to help sweep up the sawdust and listen to the director of the group speak with the press, and then left.  As we crossed paths at the door Casson Kennedy, the workshop leader and chief builder on the Eleanor restoration project said:  “Oh, the best is yet to come,” and I’m sure he was right.  It would have been a hoot to actually curl one of the strips round the jib, clamp it, and take it home to dry. The hoop would settle into its proper place among my other prized possessions, maybe next to my J spike.   Perhaps I should keep my J spike a secret. Two men in Natick, MA were arrested for gathering railroad debris.

But I had tons of things to do yesterday, one of which was to write about my mast hoop experience while I was still excited about it and before it melted into the blur of all the other stories I compose in my head on the spot but never make it to paper.

The original mast hoops

There was a group of volunteers helping to make the hoops, most of them regulars who work on restoring the Eleanor — woodworkers, carpenters, sailors, and some of them, like me, the curious.  There was one school age boy getting great hands-on experience with power tools and the power of collaboration.

I mentioned the workshop to Don, one of my neighbors who is always building something – bookshelves, shoji screens, stone walks, steps and walls, other interesting projects that Adrienne conceptualizes.  He was at the table saw when I arrived.  We spoke during a down time and he told me has fantasized about building a small motored boat that would fit under the railroad trestle that separates a tidal cove from the Hudson behind his house.  This may have been the little push he needed to do just that.  And Louise may have a new member and volunteer to help rebuild the Eleanor.   I hope so.

Louise Bliss is the head of this group.  She is a competent and energetic dynamo.  She has the necessary ingredients to get people enthused to donate time or money.  She makes everyone vital to the project.  Some of us do not suffer fools.  Louise knows no fools.  She discovers talents in the people around her and encourages them to make use of them.  Everyone benefits.  Everyone is happy.

Louise’s new initiative is to try to organize a wine and cheese of all the organizations that rent space at Grossinger Management Building 1, where the restoration work is taking place.  It’s a large drab warehouse – a former furniture factory.  There is a lot going on inside though.  The boat that takes passengers from Hudson to the Athens Lighthouse spends the winter next to Eleanor.  Nearby is the shop of a reclaimed wood furniture maker.  Louise thinks other tenants include a welder and a gym. Whenever I’ve been to the cavernous space, it is dark and and does not invite exploring.

The night before the workshop I eavesdropped on a business meeting of 12526.com, which functions as Germantown’s unofficial chamber of commerce.  It was nice to learn what’s going on in my town and what is available locally.  It would also be nice to know who shares Eleanor’s home and hear their stories.

When I lived in New Hampshire I used to run out to the barn to use the table saw to cut up scrap wood for kindling in order to get the stove going before the sun went down.  Occasionally I would cut a piece for some emergency repair.  I missed my saw terribly when I moved to my small house in the Hudson Valley and had to leave most of the barn treasures behind.  The saw and the tractor made me feel very independent.  Now, with my addition going up there are saws and power tools of all kinds lying around but I have been hesitant to use them.  I Eleanorhave no real need first of all, but also there are too many projects in progress that I could mess up, and there are too many people around to watch me do things in my own clumsy way.

Before the workshop I fretted about about my lack of carpentry skills. In spite of my lack of confidence  people at the workshop encouraged me to lend a hand.  I am so thankful.  Because of them, in the future when the Eleanor sails past, I will be able to claim some ownership.  Louise said she would try to make an extra hoop for me, but this morning’s article in the Register-Star doesn’t give me faith that she could do that.   I’ll have to get the full story.

So let me tell you about my tower #7: The Foundation & the Stories it Dug Up

Looking up the slope and over the shed.

It is fitting that my first tower post after Sandy is about its foundation. The house is perched 20? feet above the Hudson River.  I’ve always worried about the slope giving way.  Now I can also worry about the Hudson rising and sweeping the house down to the city.

Some say the world will end in fire
Others say in ice. . .

Water will also suffice.

Please, please, please:  may all those who admonish me for worrying about “worst-possibles” be the smart ones, and let me be the dummy.

*

Dave started to dig, but I didn’t watch.  Probably petrified.  Up until now the project could be put in a box and stored in the lower yard shed.

I had done that before – designed a new home and then put it in a box that now actually does sit in the lower yard shed.  It was a very happy time for me, one of those times when I was glowing.  Clark and I were starting a new chapter in our lives.

Building a new home was not even a fleeting thought until our neighbor told us he was selling his lot across the stream behind our house.  We lived in a small town with two dairy farms, on a quiet street near a pond with a stream that separated us from a beautiful large lot that belonged to the Davises.  We loved where we lived.

Every now and then the bridge over the stream would cave in and we were at the end of a dead end – that was best.  The boys in the neighborhood (and there were many) used to climb down to the stream and do good old fashioned outside play.

The lot intrigued us.  We were thinking of closing Book Nooks & Krannies.   Morgan and Alex were growing out of children’s books, Clark had actually gone back to high tech so that we could have health care, and without the family all involved, the store was not as much fun for me.  I would be able to devote my time and energy to the house.

The lot begged for a barn. We agreed on a price for the lot, and went up to spend a night at the Yankee Barn show home in Grantham, New Hampshire.  The boys were still sleeping and Clark and I were downstairs in the kitchen having our coffee and talking about how much we liked the casual, comfortable look and feel of the barn home.  All of a sudden a moose walked by.  It’s amazing what influences my decisions.

We spent several months designing our home, studying the sun and views and the slopes and the wetlands.

The timing was unbelievable.  We had already closed the store and were going to pass papers on the land in a day or two, right after the perc test.  But during all this, unbeknownst to me, Clark was dealing with another issue.  His father had just died, and he must have been thinking about his own mortality, because the week before the perc test he went to the doctor to have a swelling checked out.  He had non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  We decided not to do the house.

It was a very sad time for me and a terrifying one for Clark.  We had already closed the store, and I actually had taken a new job – librarian at Lowell National Historical Park. In fact, I started the job the day he received his diagnosis.  I cried a lot in private and in public.  It was Rosh Hashanah and the boys and I always met our neighbors at the temple.  Tears ran down my checks the entire service.

Life went on.

*

The front yard of my home slopes down from the street.  Dave thought if we went with the foundation as originally planned we would need to put in a retaining wall.  He asked if we wanted to raise the foundation slightly.  It would require a step at the door, but that rise would be offset elsewhere.  I can’t remember the details, but it seemed logical.

Nick came and built the forms and poured the foundation and then Sean laid sleeves between the cottage and the tower for the plumbing and heating, and Dave did the same for the electricity. When connecting the waste water pipes from the tower to those of the house we hit a snag.

Besides my obsession about the slope giving way, I also have a thing about septic systems.  This constant worry grew from having to build a new leach field when Clark and I were selling the house mentioned above because ours failed Title 5 in Massachusetts.

Considering all the hassle and money Clark and I spent to replace that leach field I never felt comfortable with the fact that no one could provide me with a plan of the septic system when I was buying my current house.  The county health department needed the date the work was done.   My realtor looked at me funny when I asked who did septic inspections. All I learned was that the septic tank was under the stone that pointed north in the walkway leading to the house.

If one worries long enough about something happening, it will happen.

Sean was connecting the waste water pipes from the tower to those that led to the septic tank and found a mess.  We had pumped the tank about a month before we started construction, so when we now found it full we knew there was a problem.  The 3-inch pipe that led out from the tank ran uphill.   Sean put in a bigger pipe, adjusted the pitch, and now I know all I want to know about the septic system.

A load of stone for the foundation arrived on May sixteenth.   Lee and Derrick spread that and laid insulation, and then Sean came in to lay the tubing for the radiant heat. We weren’t home when Sean was doing this work, but he told us later that our neighbor came down on his tractor to tell him that he was uncoiling the tubing on his land.  About a week later this neighbor installed a green plastic fence at the property line.

Then we had to decide if we wanted a polished concrete or painted concrete floor on the first floor, or did we not want a concrete floor at all.  Research on the subject proved inconsistent,  but it seemed like a cumbersome, expensive process, with lots of possibilities for disaster.

We unfortunately had lots of time to decide.  For the next month or more, rain was forecast at least every other day.  Nick, our excavator, was wary of having the cement mixer sink into a muddy front yard, so he held off until sunny skies were the norm.

We chose to forgo the smooth, slick look of concrete.  It wasn’t until we actually were going to buy flooring that we learned that outside of carpet or laminate there were very few “affordable” options.  We did, however, find a very good looking and well made laminate, and are happy.

By early June the slab was poured and we could move about on the first floor. In the meantime Dave had been building the tower and pondering the bridge.

Sandy at Cheviot

Something woke me from my sleep at 2:30 last night and I went to my window. I could see the glimmer of water where it shouldn’t be, but where I expected it to be. Tuck and I went down to the porch to look.  The Hudson had risen to the tracks but did not go over them, and the puddle in my lower yard was even higher than during Irene.   The electricity was still out.

The basement was dry.  Water in the basement has been an obsession with me since the year waterfalls of the Las Vegas ilk poured through the bulkhead at the street and down the front yard, and again formed waterfalls through the stone foundation into the basement.  I lost so much of my life and family history in that four-foot flood.   But having my sons at the house to go through their damp possessions filled me with bittersweet pride and joy.

Relieved about the basement I dressed and walked down to the crossing to see if I could get a few photos.  I’d never seen the river this high and hope never to again.  Sorry.  I don’t use the settings that often on my camera, and in the dark getting a picture was impossible — even tho the flash kept going off.  I should go back to my rangefinder.

I went online for any other information I could find, but finally went back to sleep.

In the morning, the Hudson had receded, but the backyard duck pond was still at high tide.  When it went down I checked the shed.  It had flooded during Irene and so we had raised it by two cinder blocks, and the day before Sandy I put boards under the snowblower.  Still when I looked inside, water was sitting in the open ash catcher on my charcoal Weber grill.  The water was at least a foot deep in the shed.  I wonder if it will come back up during this afternoon’s high tide.  It’s like living on the Nile.

The electricity is back on and the generator has been tucked away. I heard from my boys that the streets they live in on Brooklyn didn’t flood, no trees hit the car, one spent yesterday making pickles and today has been commandeered by the city to help with the relief effort, the other is on tour with his band JP & the Gilberts and missed the storm completely.  My mom’s assisted living in Jersey has water and gas and is getting a temporary generator for power.  My sister in Jersey has a tree in her driveway but is happy that that is her only worry.  Lee received no calls from tenants.

The sun came out and my dentist called to make sure I went to my appointment this afternoon.

Sunset after the Storm

We in Cheviot did pretty well.  We missed the big winds and heavy rains.  My heart goes out to NYC and the Jersey Shore and to all who suffered losses.

 

 

A Sea Worthy Cause

The next best thing to owning your own sailboat is having friends who do.  On second thought, I think I have that backwards.

If you dream of sailing along the Hudson on a handsomely restored wooden sailing vessel of the early 1900’s, here’s a chance to make that dream come true.

The Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration and Sailing Society is restoring Eleanor, the last surviving example of a “raceabout” that sailed on the Hudson during the early 1900’s.  She was the inspiration of naval architect Clinton Crane, and now is the inspiration of a corps of sailors, craftsmen, preservationists, and dreamers like you and me, who will bring her back from bare bones and have her once again on the water.

Why do I care?

Sailboats are special.

Old sailboats are very special.

The craftsmanship that goes into restoring an old wooden sailboat is even more special.

There are treasures from the past – both tangible and intangible – that should be preserved for the future.

Please take the time to watch the video about this American historical watermark and help hoist a sail.

Process 2: The Five Sighted Men and the River that Runs Through Hills Like White Elephants

The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.

Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

My temptation is always to write too much.

Hemingway to Maxwell Perkins, 1940

Writing about the view of the Hudson River and the Catskills from my window has been a struggle.  There is so much to say, so many stories attached to the view and so much history to my feelings about it.

I remember a story telling workshop led by Jay O’Callahan.  He had each of us talk about some object in our childhood home.  He wanted us to describe it using details.  We could talk about how it looked, or what we used it for, or if we liked it, or what it meant to one family member, anything – but fill it with details.  And that’s how I started writing about the view.  My mind was exploding with ideas, the content grew but I needed to keep from trying to squeeze a book into a brief essay.

Finally I remembered Hemingway and his iceberg theory.  I didn’t have to tell it all.  I could just know it and it would be there.

*

Since I have a view of the Hudson River and the Catskills from my home, when I think of the Hudson River I see my view.   I’m very close to the water.  I went out and counted 70 paces from the back of my house to the river, if I could walk it like the crow flies.  It’s down 14 steps, across a narrow piece of CSX land, thru the lilacs, across a trench where some have said CSX has an overflow pipe to keep the river off the tracks during storms and high tides (I haven’t found any such evidence), over a northbound and a southbound set of rails, through a mess of sumac to the river.

It’s not an idyllic view and conversation ceases as the train goes by.  Although only one unhappy person, who never seemed to want to see anyone else be happy, has actually told me that my house was a very, very bad purchase, mostly because of its location, I am sure there are many others who probably would feel the same way.  I think the realtor who showed me the house was very surprised that I brushed off the train with a wave of the hand.

There are ten windows across the river side of the second floor of my house and they offer ten different pictures.  I delight in each one. Starting from the north, I look up the river and never really see anything, but I keep hoping something will come into view.  From the second window I see the cement plant, which could be worse, and which I think of as a castle lit up at night.

The next picture is of the hamlet directly across from mine.  I have driven over several times, and I sit on a bench put up by someone and peer back at my house, which looks a bit industrial itself.  At night I can see the lights of cars coming down the hill and imagine mothers and fathers coming home for dinner with their children.

When I hear the whistle of the freight train across the river, I look out the fourth window to the one spot where I can actually see the cars going by.

The next window gives a straight on view of the little island with two trees – the old Cheviot dock and an in-your-face telephone pole. I forgot to mention the telephone wires that I usually photoshop out of the view on the computer, and when I’m not focusing on the birds on the wire – out of my mind also.

In the winter there’s a blinking green buoy seen from the next window, and it is joined by a red one in the warm weather.

I’ve got tracks, telephone poles, and a cement factory, and a public launch parking area.  But it’s a wonderful view – not a complete 180 degrees, but close.  In addition to the island, there’s Round Top and Kaaterskill Pass.  Actually it is Kaaterskill Clove Pass.   There are beautiful sunsets and even more beautiful, the reflection of the sunrise in the morning.

I can watch the ripples, sometimes waves of the water and wonder about the currents.  Much has been written about the Muhhekunnetuk – the river that flows both ways, and has two spellings and has two pronunciations.

The pictures change by the minute.  I sometimes see geese with their heads under their wings taking a rest as they hitch a ride on a chunk of ice. I first hear the throbbing and then see the lego barges of red, white, blue and yellow floating by.  I see glorious cloud formations and mist and sometimes the fog comes in so thick I see nothing.  Every now and then the rays coming from the clouds are so outstanding and brilliant that I really believe there must be a God.

*

I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I’ve got to constantly remind myself about that, rather than create posts with titles like the above.

The only time I had even a little bit of hesitancy about my view was when I first visited Olana, Frederick Church’s home.    That story is still in my well.

Morning Report from Cheviot

This should have been an evening report from Sunday (today is Tuesday) but I had a lot going on this weekend.  I also wanted to spend some time trying to find out what was really going on with the tides in the Hudson River.  Sunday the tide went out further than the newbies in Cheviot, a river hamlet in Germantown, NY, have ever noticed before.

There is an island off Cheviot Landing, where back in the day, barges used to stop to load up with produce to feed New York City.  Portions of a strip of land that used to be the causeway to the island pop out of the river when the tide goes down.  The causeway creates an ice dam in the winter, and a field of green that stretches north beyond where I can see in the summer.  I used to think the green was algae, but this year I could see it was plants – perhaps the invasive water chestnut?  The water is shallow on the north side of the causeway and I’ve watched many a canoe become grounded.  Just as I was surprised when I watched my dog walk out into the Hudson, I’ve watch many a surprised canoeist realize he can get out of the canoe, walk in the river, and drag his boat to higher water. Sunday the tide was very low.  The water dropped even more than is shown in the picture below, until I could see exactly where the chanels were to guide my canoe to get through or around the causeway.

The river was so low that one could walk along a muddy edge of the east shore – and one of my neighbors did.  She and I have been looking on-line for some mention of this unusual tide, but even this morning I have found nothing.

We’ve read about supertides, king’s tides, and proxigean spring (not necessarily in the spring) tides.  A proxigean spring tide is defined by Deal Beach Sea Fishing as

        . . . a rare, extreme form of spring tide which occurs once every 1½ years or so when the moon is new (between the earth and sun) and at its proxigee, being the point of the moon’s elliptical orbit that is closest to the earth and 92.7% of its average distance. This produces a 25% increase in the tide

Could our phenomenon have been the down side of proxigean springtide?  The site lists the proxigean springtides up until 2023, but February 26, 2012 wasn’t there.  Poking around more I discovered why.  This Deal Beach isn’t in New Jersey – the hip beach for college students where my sister hung out in the sixties — but is in Kent on the English Channel. It looks like a delightful town to visit.

Poking further on the web I found SeaAndSkyNY, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in weather and waters of NYC. There is a post about a king tide in October 2011. It advises beachcombers of a great chance to go foraging on the mudflats during the extremely low tides during a king tide.

Looking to discover if our phenomenon could have been a “king tide” I found in several places that the term, used especially in Australia, doesn’t have any scientific meaning, but is used to refer to an extremely high tide.

It seems strange to me that this very low tide, has not been reported on the web.  Those of us in Cheviot, who were fortunate enough to have witnessed it, are still talking about it.

As I look out my window right now – just about noon – the causeway is partially exposed, perhaps a little more than usual.  There are white sea birds sitting on it.  I hesitate to identify them as gulls or terns.

Could someone please let us know a little bit more about our Sunday at the Landing?