Back to the land...

This blog is an account of our experiences trying to homestead in Eastern Tennessee. We've bought almost ten acres with power and a well, and a small shed for the well pump. Half the land is already cleared.

This year we haul out 10 tons of trash from an old burned down home. We plant a large garden, and fruit trees, and build a compost bin specifically for humanure. We build a small pad for a gazebo up under the oaks, and begin building our house/barn, with grading, a stone foundation, a concrete stem wall, and the modified post and beam frame. Everything is done by hand. We also dig four thirty foot swales across the top of the clearing and plant the berms with blueberry. A lot of work, and a lot more to go . . .

I'll also cover the process of picking out a piece of land, the negotiation, and "where to begin?" phase, at least how it all went for us.

[YEAR 2] - We build the shell of a 16'x25' two story cabin from scratch . . . check out how it was built.

[YEAR 3] - We try to finish the cabin . . .

[YEAR 4] - I move up permanently to the property to homestead full-time . . .

[YEAR 5] - Rachel and I try to make it as homesteaders . . with a wood cook stove, dairy goats and a cow, finish the barn, expand the garden, fence pastures, plant more fruit trees, build a flock of healthy layers, grow our own animal food - in other words . . . WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK . . .

[YEAR 6]
'Homesteading in Tennessee' is now HOLDOUT FARM. Check out our new farm website. We produce premium quality raw dairy products from our fodder-fed goats, pastured eggs, organic fruits and vegetables, and offer a seasonal list of classes on Permaculture Homesteading.
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Saturday, November 29, 2008

August in Tennessee

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When we get back to Tennessee, the first thing we notice is the screened-in tent. This time it's finally destroyed:

It already had a huge rip at the back, when I tried to tie it down hard in a wind. It ripped right where it was tied. We later taped this rent with duct tape and sewed all around the outside of the tape - a strategy that usually works with a tear like that.

Once during a heavy rain Rachael and I sat around the fireplace watching it pour. The floor of the barn was a sheet of water. Then a gust hit and actually picked the tent high up into the air, and Rachael and I ran to the car to get out of the rain. I slept that night in the back of the Explorer with the kids (very claustrophobic). It rained for three days solid. The tent was covered in little rips, which we sewed, and one of the poles got bent.

But this time it's not worth fixing anymore, so when we go to town we replace it. This is the new tent ($40):

It's not quite as tall, and doesn't fit as well, because it's hexagonal, but it's far more stable.

The garden after two weeks away is full of food. We can even smell some tomatoes rotting. It's exciting to check it out. Here's some squash:




Beautiful. And it has a very clean taste, nothing like ordinary grocery squash.

And there are tons and tons of tomatoes, I don't know if we'll be able to eat them all. There are about 40 plants:


We also have cantelope, which is doing very well in the 4th bed near the potato bin:


Brooke picks one that's only the size of a baseball but very fragrant. It is dead ripe and delicious.

However, it seems we've missed the prime of the berry season. The blackberries are now on the wane, and the blueberries are mostly gone.

Here's where the barn is at, before I get back to work:



The driveway is settling in nicely.

I have lumber delivered to finish the frame. It takes me ten days. I then seal it with Thompson's Water Sealant (I get a 5 gallon can for $45). I'd planned on waiting till just before winter to seal the barn, but after one heavy rain I noticed a green mold forming on a lot of the wood. I tried to spray it with a 50/50 bleach/water mix, like a local builder had recommended, but though it stopped the mold, it didn't disappear. So I felt I'd better seal the wood now and not wait. It took two days to brush on the sealent, and it's almost as thin as water. But it does work - I noticed pools forming on the sill plates after a rain - the wood wouldn't absorb it. And the barn also took on a lacquered look, which was neat.

Once I had the frame done I moved on to the four main beams which will support the roof. They are doubled joists which go from each center 6x6 post to an outside beefed-up 8x8, across from left to right. I put them in on double hangers. Each beam is a doubled 2x10. I get one board up and in, then the second, use clamps to get them flush and tight, then go on to fasten them together with screws and ring shank nails. I use a few spiral nails also, whatever I have. It takes an entire day and a half to get these four beams in.

Here's the original drawing for the barn:




The gambrel roof has two separate pitches. The upper pitch is shallow, the lower pitch steep. At the break in roof pitch, it's usually a good idea to have an interior wall or some other type of support. I'm going to have four posts that run from the break in roof pitch down to the big 4x10 beams [as well as posts in the same line at the front and back of the barn]. Where the top of the posts meet the roof, there will be a beam that runs front to back, and the roof framing will connect directly to it with bird's mouth cuts and metal connections.

So that where these posts for the roof rest on the 4x10 beams isn't put under too much stress, and possibly sag, I'm adding knee braces. These will be doubled 2x6's. They will take the load from the posts supporting the roof directly to the exterior 8x8 posts and into the ground. These inner roof-supporting posts will be set about 4' in from the outside of the building, directly in line with the front and back studs 4' in on the lower story.

Here are shots of the 4x10 beams and their knee braces [these photos are taken later, after the joists and bridging are in]:



It's difficult to see the 4x10 beams in these photos, because they're centered above the parallel 2x6 horizontal braces. The knee braces go up through the horizontal braces and connect to the beam via toe-nailing (screws actually), and large mending plates on either side of the beam. The bottom of the knee braces are connected simply with toe-nailing (again with screws). These knee braces should take much of the load of the roof and distribute it down through the posts.

My wife comes up and we try to pack as much fun into her visit as possible. We take our canoe and paddle a few miles down the Obed River. At the beginning is a heavy rapid, a waterfall really, and I persuade her to ride down it with me in the canoe. The girls watch from the bank. Patty and I are still so shell-shocked from our 3 month, 500 mile trip up the massive Susquehanna River, fighting it every day, that we're both rather terrified of rapids. But we go down and it's actually a lot of fun. We make it all the way through and only get stuck on one rock.

There's also a great rope swing you can take way out into deep water in the river, which is an absolute blast. Rachael and I do it over and over (Brooke is too scared, and Patty doesn't want to get her hair wet - right). And there's almost never anybody around. The place is so virgin in a way.

We'd taken another canoe trip up the Emory River earlier in the summer. On the way back down we found a huge mulberry leaning out over the river covered in fruit. We ate for a while from the boat. Rachael and I jumped into the river to get at some lower hanging boughs. We ate a ton and got covered in wine stains from the berries.

We took a 6 mile hike up to the top of Frozen Head peak, in Frozen Head State Park. It reminded us a lot of the Appalachians the higher we climbed, as well as our old hiking days. At the top was a clearing with several black cherry trees, covered in cherries. And there were also many huge apple trees, 30 to 40 feet tall, loaded with apples, that were excellent. We ate and gathered some and climbed the fire tower for the view. Next year we'll bring backpacks and get a supply of apples.

Every recreational area around our property we tried was pretty great. No disappointments at all. Frozen Head even had free hot showers at the trailhead, so in a pinch we had a place to bathe. We all took showers at the end of our hike.

The Morgan County Fair was running, so we went one evening. The parking was rather expensive, and the event was mostly a carnival. Carnies called out to us to come play their games as we walked the aisles. This was particularly annoying to Patty and I, as in our teens, after we dropped out of school, and took a train west, we ended up in a traveling carnival for 6 months - calling people in, and swindling them, and sleeping in the back of a Ryder truck, working with mostly ex-cons. We knew that lifestyle all too well.

Brooke rode a pony, and both the kids got to try rock climbing. Here's Rachael, nearing the top:


And Brooke:

They had a little zoo, too:

We're still thinking about getting goats.
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The carnival sucked with its overpriced rides (which are actually dangerous and put together with mouse keys by drunks - we knew from experience), so we left and went to see one of the main attractions, the mud derby. It was interesting because this is where most of the locals were. It was their own brand of cheap entertainment, mostly improvised. We watched kids and adults race their 4 wheelers through the mud. We felt pretty out of place, but it was mildly entertaining.

Patty had brought birdhouses which the kids painted and I hung up. Here's Brooke's up on the red oak beside the fireplace:

No birds yet, but many large grasshoppers have checked it out (you can see one on the sill).
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I did a little framing while Patty was here. I did the X frame over where the barn doors will go. I half did it because I thought it would look cool, and half for structural purposes - it will strengthen the upper 2x10 beam which will serve as the header for the deck to be hung off.
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Here's a shot from the front:

And the back:


The boards are all 2x6, except the horizontal boards at the bottom which are 2x8. We might hang a barn door on rails on the 2x8.

The day before she leaves I order the 45 joists (2x10, 12 footers) from Christmas Lumber in Harriman. I actually spend an hour picking out the boards myself - for joists you want the best boards you can get, no splits, no big knots, minimal bowing. I also pick out 2x8 boards for the bridging. With fasteners and hangers this step alone in the barn costs us about $800. That's about all we have at the moment, but we decide it's better to invest now in the barn and work towards getting it finished than sit on the money.

2 comments:

joanne said...

i really like what you are doing and think about similiar lifestyle. would like to be part of a small-medium group of people doing this, in an area that could be a geographic community. A place to make long-term friends and community parteners, people of all ages people to help each other out building, growing,. teaching kids, helping out with elderly ect.joanne s and alex

robatsunbright said...

Try Morgan County in Tennessee! We'd love similar-minded neighbors. Morgan County has no building codes, a great year-round climate, hardwoods and big rivers, tons of recreational lands, such as the Big South Fork Rec. Area, Frozen Head, Catoosa WMA, Obed Wild and Scenic River, etc., and it's only an hour from Knoxville, so it's not totally isolated. The land is up on the Cumberland Plateau, and rolling, and quite reasonable price-wise . . . like 4k to 5k an acre for good land. Check it out.

Blog Index

10/30/08

BUYING RAW LAND

11/8/08

TRASH CLEANUP

11/10/08

WINTER IN ATLANTA

11/12/08

SPRING IN TENNESSEE

11/14/08

STARTING A GARDEN

11/15/08

BUILDING THE COMPOST BIN

11/15/08

THE FROST

11/16/08

GRADING THE BARN

11/18/08

DIGGING SWALES

11/19/08

PLANTING FRUIT TREES

11/19/08

BUILDING A STONE FOUNDATION

11/20/08

THE CONCRETE STEM WALL

11/21/08

BUILDING A SMALL 12'x12' PAD

11/21/08

THE GARDEN

11/22/08

BUILDING A DRIVEWAY

11/23/08

INSTALLING THE SILL PLATES

11/23/08

THE MODIFIED POST AND BEAM FRAME

11/27/08

FRUIT IN THE GARDEN

11/28/08

THE BARN FRAME

11/29/08

AUGUST IN TENNESSEE

11/30/08

HANGING THE JOISTS

11/30/08

CLEARING THE LAND

11/30/08

COUNTRY NEIGHBORS

11/30/08

THE HARVEST

12/1/08

PLANS FOR A CABIN

12/14/08

THE LAND IN WINTER

12/22/08

BARN UPDATE

12/29/08

WINTER PLANTING

1/4/09

EDIBLE PLANTS

1/10/09

WINTER TREES

1/12/09

WINTER TREES II

1/21/09

CHATTAHOOCHEE RIVER

2/11/09

THE STRAW BALE CABIN

3/26/09

THE STRAW BALE CABIN II

4/2/09

1880 FARMHOUSE

5/6/09

HOMESTEADING / THE CABIN

8/13/09

THE POST AND BEAM CABIN

8/22/09

RETURN TO TENNESSEE

8/25/09

SITE WORK

8/30/09

DIGGING THE FOOTERS

9/4/09

THE PIER FOUNDATION

9/10/09

911

9/11/09

FINISHING THE PIER FOUNDATION

9/12/09

THE GIRDERS

9/13/09

FRAMING THE FLOOR

9/16/09

DECKING THE FLOOR

9/17/09

THE POST AND BEAM FRAME

9/19/09

THE RAFTERS

9/20/09

INSTALLING THE METAL ROOF

9/21/09

FRAMING THE WALLS

9/26/09

DOORS AND WINDOWS

9/27/09

TENNESSEE IN JULY - OUR LAST MONTH

10/2/09

TENNESSEE IN OCTOBER

10/10/09

THE BARN FLOOR

10/15/09

PIGEON MOUNTAIN

11/10/09

NOVEMBER

11/16/09

PERMACULTURE: ANOTHER ROUND OF FRUITING SHRUBS

11/22/09

DRIFTERS

11/30/09

THE BARN ROOF BEGINS

12/20/09

'DRIFTERS' PART I

12/30/09

WEATHER

1/1/10

NEW YEAR'S IN TENNESSEE

1/25/10

DRIFTERS: PART II

3/2/10

MY SISTER'S WEDDING

3/21/10

FERTILIZING WITH HUMANURE

3/28/10

THE ADDITION FLOOR

4/19/10

THE ADDITION

5/11/10

RUNAWAY

6/13/10

FINISHING THE ADDITION

.........................The Timeline.........................

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1992
-MAY . . . for Patty and I's first date, we skip school and go to the Pinnacle - a wooded overlook off the Susquehanna River.
-SEPTEMBER . . . I leave our hometown of Lancaster, PA for college - Penn State in Reading, 45 minutes away.

1993
-FEBRUARY . . . Patty and I both drop out of school, and camp in some woods behind a grocery store in Lancaster.
-MARCH . . . Patty steals her mother's credit card, and with it we take a train to Utah. We ultimately end up on the Northwest Coast, living in Port Orford, Oregon.
-APRIL - OCTOBER . . . We join a traveling carnival and work in it for 6 months. We sleep in the back of a Ryder truck, and go through California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. I run the guns, and Patty does the goldfish. We save $9,000.
-NOVEMBER . . . We return to Lancaster and are arrested for stealing the credit card.

1995
-OCTOBER . . . We bike from Lancaster down to Charleston, South Carolina. Patty wrecks in North Carolina, and a friend drives us the rest of the way. We live in Charleston for 2 weeks.

1996
-JULY . . . Our first daughter June is born in Lancaster, PA.

1997
-MARCH . . . We sell everything in our apartment, and hike out of Lancaster with backpacks and our 9 month old daughter. We reach the Susquehanna River.
-APRIL - JUNE . . . We get a canoe and paddle 500 miles up the Susquehanna River to its source. We camp on islands. We get a ride to the Erie Barge Canal and paddle west.
-JULY . . . We are arrested in Little Falls, NY. Our daughter is taken, we're charged with neglect, and we fight the courts for months. We are cleared of all charges, but never get her back.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We take a bus out to Ruidoso, NM and camp in woods just out of town. We return to Lancaster and camp in the Brickyard for the rest of the month.
-OCTOBER - FEBRUARY . . . We live in an apartment in the Amish community of Strasburg, PA. Amish go by in their horse and buggies every day.

1998
-FEBRUARY . . . Our second daughter Rachael is born. We try to deliver her on our own at home and fail. Patty ends up in the hospital with a c-section.
-MARCH . . . We get a ride from a friend down to Covington, Virginia. We stay a week, and look for places to camp in the surrounding national forest. We find nothing, and go to New Mexico.
-MARCH - MAY . . . We camp in the Gila National Forest, north of Pinos Altos, a mile from the nearest trail. We camp above a spring with an infinite view west. We start building a hogan.
-JUNE - SEPTEMBER . . . We live downtown in Santa Fe, NM. Patty markets her paintings, and I get a N.Y. literary agent for my first book 'Flesh Aflame'.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a house in Crescent City, California, on the Northwest Coast, a mile from the ocean, on the edge of a bird sanctuary. It's great until the rains begin and we run out of money.

1999
-JANUARY - FEBRUARY . . . We camp in the Uwharrie mountains of central North Carolina, and look for a place to build a winter home.
-MARCH . . . We get a canoe and paddle the Holston River down towards Knoxville, Tennessee.
-APRIL . . . We get dropped off in the Smokies and paddle Fontana Lake. We stash our canoe at Chambers Creek and hike in to the Smokies for a secret camp. Patty paints the creek, and we stay 3 weeks.
-MAY . . . We live in a trailer just off the ocean in Myrtle Beach, SC. The sky is beautiful after storms and we love the pelicans.
-JUNE . . . We camp in the Brickyard back in Lancaster, PA, saving money for an apartment.
-JULY - DECEMBER . . . We live in Lancaster and save for our trip back out to New Mexico. We also buy the jeep.

2000
-JANUARY - JUNE . . . We camp and travel all over the Southwest, from the Gila, to Organ Pipe, to the Weminuche in Colorado. Brooke is born in February in a motel in Deming, NM.
-JULY . . . We stay in condos with a friend in Aspen, Colorado. I do concrete work. We then go to California, and look for a place to live in the Russian River area.
-AUGUST - OCTOBER . . . We rent a small house in Tesuque, NM, just outside of Santa Fe. We hike up into the Pecos Wilderness. We become vegetarians.
-NOVEMBER . . . We visit a friend in Tucson, AZ, then drive to Crescent City and the Northwest Coast. The beautiful weather is over, and the rains have begun. We don't stay long.
-DECEMBER . . . We return to Pennsylvania, and live out of our car in the Philidelphia area while Patty works at a restaurant. We sleep in parking lots and rest stops. It's the coldest December on record for the area, with the wind chill it's -10.



2001
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JANUARY . . . We head south for warmth, try the Chatooga area of South Carolina, then camp in the woods of northern Florida.
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FEBRUARY - JUNE . . . We live in Asheville, NC, in the middle of the Southern Appalachains. We spend nearly every day out on the trails, hiking, and learning plants.
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JULY . . . We get mountain bikes for touring, and bike the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Smokies.
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AUGUST . . . We camp in the Weminuche Wilderness of southwest Colorado, and do a 6 day fast.
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SEPTEMBER . . . We stay in Loveland, Colorado with a friend. We climb Long's Peak on the day after 9/11. We then drive to Vermont, and look for a place to live in the Burlington area.
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OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a house in Tucson, AZ, and try to become raw fooders.

2002
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JANUARY . . . We hike in to Jordan Hot Springs in the Gila.
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FEBRUARY . . . We bike in to Turkey Creek Hot Springs. We stash our bikes near the mouth of the creek, and hike the rest of the way. Many of the pools have been ruined from floods.
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MARCH . . . We go to Vermont again, this time the Bennington area of southern Vermont. It's way too cold.
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APRIL - JULY . . . We rent a house in Asheville, NC again. This time we have a large garden, and become 100% raw fooders. Every day I'm out hiking the trails gathering wild edible plants.
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AUGUST . . . We cash out all our credit cards, and move up to Shining Rocks Wilderness in the Southern Appalachians, camping at over 5,000 feet. There are blueberry fields everywhere, and blackberry, and wild cherries. Not only are we mono-raw fooders now, much of our food is wild. I hike barefoot everywhere. We bathe in the pool below the falls.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We visit a friend in Atlanta, and on a night full of alcohol I break my foot in 3 places. I'm told I'll be crippled with arthritis, and ultimately never walk again.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a furnished condo in Tucson, AZ. I cut my cast off prematurely with tin snips.

2003
-JANUARY . . . We camp off the Gila River at Box Canyon, just up from the city of Gila. I'm still on crutches. We meet Jabber-Mike, and Vet-Mike, and Doug. We trade juniper berries for Doug's black walnuts. We're still 100% raw fooders, and Doug teaches me the local plants.
-FEBRUARY - MARCH . . . We return to Atlanta for free medical care so I can learn how to walk again. PT is hell.
-APRIL - MAY . . . We go back to the Gila and camp off the Gila River. We gather cattail, nettle, primrose flowers, and harvest prickly pear pads. We find the most perfect hot spring in all of the Gila, man-made, at Brock Canyon.
-JUNE . . . We fall off our raw food diet, and camp up at Black Balsam again off the Shining Rock Wilderness. We gather wild strawberries. We then camp above the Amicalola Falls in north Georgia for 2 weeks. We become committed to the idea of buying land.
-JULY - SEPTEMBER . . . We live in Woodstock, GA, just north of Atlanta. I do a 14 day water fast.
-OCTOBER . . . We paddle Fontana Lake in the Smokies, on our way to Nova Scotia. We find a great camp and gather wild persimmons, but ultimately abandon the trip.
-NOVEMBER . . . We go back to camping off the Gila River at Brock Canyon. I begin 'June'. We run totally out of money, and gather and clean 10lbs of desert willow seed to sell to a local guy in Gila. He gives us $20/lb, and we use the money to get back to Georgia.

2004
-JANUARY . . . We go to north Florida, and check out the sinks, and the aquifer springs, and paddle the Wacissa River.
-FEBRUARY . . . We paddle the Suwanee River in North Florida. Patty makes a basket out of greenbriar.
-MARCH . . . We camp in the pine flats of Apalachicola National Forest. We make baskets from grapevine, cordage from the retting of Spanish Moss, and a mat from palmetto. We camp here for 3 weeks with no money while we wait for our tax refund. We're 100% raw fooders again.
-APRIL . . . We camp off Owl Creek and paddle the river. There are free hot showers in a nearby campground. There's a great trail with wild blueberry, and we gather the new shoots of bracken. We later camp in Tate's Hell.
-MAY . . . We camp at Sand Creek in the Ocala National Forest, an hour east of Atlanta. I gather cattail in the Beaver Pond. I edit and type up the 'June' book at a nearby library for a literary agent.
-JUNE . . . We drive out to Oregon and camp off the Illinois River in the Siskiyous.
-JULY . . . We camp in the Adirondacks off Jones Pond.
-AUGUST . . . We camp in the Jemez Region of northern New Mexico. We gather wild mushrooms, and sell lobster mushrooms to chefs in Sante Fe. We camp at San Antonio Hot Springs for a week, and Big Tesuque Campground outside Sante Fe.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We go back to the Gila and camp at Brock Canyon. We gather desert willow seed again. We swim and play games in the river. We see tarantulas. I gather prickly pear fruit in baskets we've made from willow. We take a trip up to Turkey Creek Hot Springs.
-OCTOBER . . . We camp in the Oconee National Forest southeast of Atlanta, under persimmon trees in a field. We also camp up on Pigeon Mountain near Rocktown.
-NOVEMBER - JANUARY . . . We live in Atlanta.

2005
-FEBRUARY - MARCH . . . We move to Portland Oregon. We paddle the Wilamette River, and go to the nude beach at Sauvie Island, just after Mt. St. Helens erupted.
-APRIL . . . We return to north Florida looking for land to buy. Everywhere is flooded, and there's been a lot of damage from the previous hurricane.
-MAY . . . We camp up on Pigeon Mtn. The weather's perfect, and there's more wild food here than anywhere else.
-JUNE . . . We go to Arizona, and camp in the Hannigan area of Apache National Forest. We ultimately try to get back out to Oregon, but car problems make it not possible.
-JULY . . . We return to Pigeon Mtn in Georgia. The blackberries are in.
-AUGUST . . . We stay in a campground off the ocean in Jacksonville, Florida, while we look for jobs and a place to live.
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SEPTEMBER . . . We move back to Atlanta.
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OCTOBER . . . We abandon the jeep with 320,000 miles in a motel parking lot.

2006
-MARCH . . . the girls and I camp up at Pigeon Mtn, in a secret camp we've made.
-JUNE . . . the girls and I go back to Pigeon and camp longer, this time starting a wigwam from red maple saplings, muscadine vines, and grass I collect naked in the field with a small knife.
-AUGUST . . . the girls and I camp up at Graveyard Fields off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Every day we gather the wild blueberries and swim in the pool beneath the falls. We hike all the trails, and establish a secret camp in a grove of juneberries.


2007
-FEBRUARY . . . We look at property in north Florida.
-MARCH . . . We look at property in Asheville, NC.
-JUNE . . . We look at the 10 acres in Sunbright, and make an offer.
-AUGUST . . . We close on the Sunbright property, and take the kids to Disneyworld.
-OCTOBER . . . The girls and I camp up on the property in Sunbright, and clean up the trash from the fire. I build a fireplace out of old concrete blocks.

2008
-APRIL - SEPTEMBER . . . The girls and I camp up on the property. We clean out the rest of the trash, build a compost bin for humanure, plant the garden, and fruit trees, I dig the swales, do the stone foundation for the barn, and the stem wall, and the post and beam frame. We build a pad for the gazebo.

2009
-APRIL - JULY . . . The girls and I camp up on the property again. We build the 2 story cabin from scratch, plant another garden, and more fruiting trees and shrubs.
-OCTOBER . . . I put the upper story floor in the barn.
-NOVEMBER . . . The girls and I begin building the barn roof.