Some Mistakes I've Made

Colorado has opened up vaccine eligibility to the general public and we were able to get appointments scheduled in April. By the time I head to New York in May, myself and my family will be fully vaccinated.

I feel an overwhelming sense of relief and a deep appreciation for the little things that were impossible this last year becoming possible again soon - hugging my friends and family, eating meals together, carpooling, and seeing live music.

I also feel heartbroken by this past year. It’s tough to get my head around the world opening up again and comprehend all the tragedies that have happened this year. That got me thinking.

So far I’ve been telling you about successful projects and my dreams for this little cabin. I think it’s realistic to also share the mistakes I’ve made in these first few years and the lessons learned. This whole project is littered with missteps and lessons, but I tend to highlight only the successes.

By the way, my next update in May will include photos of the projects I’m getting done out in New York. If you’re not subscribed and want to follow along, you can do so below.

Fighting the Seasons and Careening into a Ditch

My first year owning the property I couldn’t get out there until July or so. That means I started the job of mowing the lawn in the height of the summer, after months of wild growth. That was one lesson learned immediately - to work with the seasons instead of fight against them. This year I am going in May to get ahead of that growth.

To mow the grass that July, I rented a mower for a day. We started mowing first thing in the morning. I was using a machine I was uncomfortable with and I was riding through tall dew-soaked grass. Perhaps you can see where this is headed. I came down the hill and turned left. Instead of turning, I spun backwards into a ditch. I couldn’t drive back out and I was pretty shaken up emotionally.

With two freshly mowed tracks in the acre or so of grass, we headed into town to buy a come-along ratchet system to pull the mower out of the ditch. We waited for the dew to evaporate before continuing. I only ran myself into a ditch one more time. 

That whole day is a grass-and-gasoline-scented blur. My favorite memories of this entire experience was my Dad’s sage advice on how to mow this lawn. He told me to ride this loud, stinky, gas-powered mower like a Buddhist monk. That diametric imagery cracks me up and the advice is wise - hold seemingly opposed ideas together and act with calm grace. I’m sure that’s what Dad meant.

Getting Stuck In The Driveway

Before I purchased this property officially, I went on a second visit in late April. The dirt road was pretty muddy, but we got down the driveway just fine. We were riding in my Dad’s truck, which has four wheel drive so we thought we’d be alright.

After walking around the property for a while, it was time to leave. Dad drove up the steep driveway and the wheels started spinning out in the mud. He stepped on the gas and the wheels just dug further into the slop.

We spent a good forty-five minutes huffing and puffing and pushing and jamming logs and pouring stones into the mud. My dad would hit the gas and the truck would slide sideways towards a tree. Gosh, there’s more to the story I can tell you in person sometime.

Eventually, we were able to get up the last 5 feet of driveway. The solution was pouring buckets of gravel into the mud to get traction. About a year later, the same thing happened to us in the same spot. My dad tensed up and I told him to put the car in reverse and back down the driveway. We knew better this time.

Instead of pushing forward, we backed down and fixed the root problem. A bucket or two of gravel and we got out the second try. Instead of an hour, it took 3 minutes. That’s a good lesson about more than mud.

Lyme’s Disease

A neighbor told me to watch out for lyme’s disease but I didn’t really know how serious it was. I think all the neighbors around me have had it at some point. I checked for ticks regularly but I was looking for wood ticks, which are the size of a pencil eraser. Deer ticks are the size of the point of pencil, which is seriously messed up.

After spending a night up on the land, I found a tick on my leg. Later, I got the tell-tale ring around a tick bite. I immediately went to urgent care and got a strong round of antibiotics. I caught this in time, which is lucky.

I know Lyme’s disease is horrid and have a few close friends that have been seriously affected by it. I’ve learned recently that you have about 72 hours to get treated before it can turn chronic. It’s possible that the bites don’t have a ring around them.

Lyme’s disease is an issue accellerated by climate change. There is no current vaccine available. The only way to prevent it from becoming a serious chronic health issue is to prevent bites and to catch and treat them immediately.

That means soaking clothing in permetherin, checking for ticks daily and showering with a scrubbing washcloth every day. If you do get bit, get a strong regemine of antibiotics immediately.

Now I’ve treated all my work clothing with permetherin and ensure folks that come up to the land do the same. I realize how lucky I am to have caught it and to have it treated in time. This is a somber reality of life in the woods on New York.

The Lost Contractor Problem

This last mistake happened twice this year. Because of the pandemic, I wasn’t able to spend much time in New York. Instead, I hired contractors to do some construction work on the cabin. Every time I try to coordinate folks finding the cabin, it turns into a whole situation. I wake up to voicemails from my neighbor telling me what’s going on.

The first lost contractors were the log cabin repair folks. I emailed them with the date and time that my parents would meet them at the top of the road to make sure they found the cabin. They showed up the day before. My neighbor found them, lost and confused on the road and gave them some guidance to get there. They were in a huge truck with a big trailer, which is a tough squeeze to get down to the cabin.

The next shenanigans came from the contractors installing the new doors this March, which I wrote about here. They had slid off the road and had to get rescued by their boss eventually. That same lovely neighbor tried to help them by snowplowing the path they got stuck on.

The problem here has been putting undue labor on my neighbors, who have had to manage people lost and stuck at the end of our quiet little dirt road. I definitely owe my neighbor a few beers. Lesson learned. In the future, I’ll only be hiring folks if I can be there to meet them myself.

There’s no symbolic lesson here - just the practical reality of needing to spend more time in New York. With vaccinations more widely available and my job becoming remote, that seems to be possible for the first time in a long time.


Hey! If you’re new here, this is West Bluff Food Forest. I'm building a permaculture orchard and repairing a log cabin in the Finger Lakes region of New York. I write about the lessons I'm learning and update you along the way.

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