Good Night and Good Luck—

A.V. Walters—

There was a time when I recognized the gentle, diplomatic art of compromise, back when pragmatism seemed like a viable solution to the tensions inherent in any reasonable system. No longer. I’m afraid that, despite the fact that I’ve been unable to rid myself of this vestigial appendage, I’ve come to see reasonable as ridiculous.

You’d have to be naïve or foolhardy to think it was a rational strategy in today’s political environment. Compromise requires a willingness on both sides to surrender some, in exchange for the common good. It requires a measure of good faith, both in the negotiations and in the articulation of each side’s stated starting point. Good luck with that.

Civility is dead. And, it took any chance of an honest broker with it. We have entered the era of the stubborn stalemate, the sneak attack and the tantrum divide. We have become ungovernable.

The symptoms are unmistakable: Rogue Police Departments demanding apologies from Sports Figures, when the latter have deigned to speak truthiness; Law Schools dropping the instruction of rape laws, because it’s too sensitive; Corporations equating any criticism for their policies with Naziism; torture apologists threatening us with what the world would be without the use of their questionable talents; and, of course, the end of The Colbert Report, only in part, because extremism is so ubiquitous as to not be noticeably funny anymore.

Liberals stand, scratching their heads, impotent in negotiations because they foolishly started out with (OMG) the facts. There is no middle anymore. The raging tantrum of extreme politics has, in the name of compromise, pulled us so far to the wacko-right that the balance is forever skewed. I am at a loss for how we find the road back to civility and balance. I’m afraid that the distraction factor is the point, and that nobody is actually interested in governance anymore.

It’s too bad. Serious issues need to be addressed—Climate change; contamination of our food and water supply, the failure to address the peacetime nuclear threats of waste and operations, our disappearing civil rights. All of this stems from the death of our democratic ideals under the erosive influence of corporate money and its undermining disenfranchisement. In the wake of the collapse of our attention spans, corporations do what they will. I don’t know what to do about it. Help me here—I’m looking for a place to start.

A Long, Dark Winter–

A.V. Walters

Long time, no blog.

It’s not all dark. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, up in Copper Harbor, driving into, and then, back out of winter. We enjoyed an initial, if unseasonable, winter blast early in November. I would have blogged about it, but then the news and photos came in from Buffalo. Really, we couldn’t compete with that. How could I even complain that the season had caught us unawares, when southeast of us the Lake Effect had dumped five feet of snow in two days? Then, it rained, taking all of our snow with it. We went to bed the evening of November 24th, with no snow in sight. We woke to five inches on the ground, and a long, white drive (over the river and through the woods) up to visit my mother for the holiday. The further north we drove, the deeper the snow. It was lovely, but then I wasn’t the driver.

After about a week of visits and goodies, we retraced our steps home, to a cold, but nearly snowless landscape. It’s been a roller coaster of a winter.

We’re losing our light as we tiptoe up to the solstice. But the real darkness in our lives lately has been the news. 2014 has brought repeated waves of senseless tragedies, the lather, rinse, repeat, of police violence against unarmed, young black men. And, even children.

I’ve always made a conscious effort to keep politics (other than about food issues) out of this blog. But, the last thing this country needs, right now, is for its citizens to go silent, to go dark.

I’ve always had a fierce belief in the Rule of Law, and so the recurring failure of the legal system to deliver a fair and reasoned response has been heart-rending. From my safe, middle-aged, white, woman’s perspective, I cannot even imagine how betrayed our African-American communities must feel. The Grand Jury system has been rigged, not only in its failure to deliver justice, but in the fact that its lack of transparency has repeatedly pre-empted our constitutional guarantee of an open trial by jury. We fail to deliver justice to the victims of these assaults and, in so doing, we compound the historical injustices to disadvantaged and minority communities. Even worse, it’s been done in secret. This is a clear abuse of the Grand Jury system—District Attorneys have a clear conflict of interest when they choose to use the Grand Jury process to investigate police abuses. It’s difficult to hold my head high. I am ashamed of the American Lie of fairness and (color) blind justice, in our legal system. The racist, Old-Boy network of mutual back scratching and “justice” with a wink and a nod remains. I feel sick about it. And the news has been full of revelations of deeply ingrained racism in our institutions of justice and public safety, not to mention the bias and propaganda we are seeing in the main-steam press. There is no “post-racial.”

Just when I wanted to throw up my hands in disgust, I read that a group of young people from the Ferguson community were working with the Department of Justice to find constructive solutions—a six point plan that, if implemented, would begin to restore faith in the system. I read of the flyers that Ferguson protesters tucked onto the windshields in the areas of the marches—reasoned, honorable statements against racial bias, seeking to step beyond the tragedies to solutions. And I saw huge crowds of peaceful protesters, people of all races, stepping up to bear witness that this, this is not our way. I am humbled that my angered paralysis was not as strong or as wise a response as those from the affected community who are reaching across to their tormentors to seek peace and fairness.

It gives me hope, even as the bodies line up and the scales of justice tilt wildly, the wrong way. This evil must not keep us from being our best selves. We cannot afford to be discouraged. Our dignity, our very humanity, is in the balance. We certainly cannot give up and turn away as small minds, full of hate, decide what kind of world we’ll live in.

Join protests. Write letters. Talk about it. Turn to it and face it, not away from it. Racism is our underground disease and collective shame. Our founders capitulated to it—and our worst war was fought over it. In the scrutiny of the light of day, its ugliness becomes increasingly apparent and perhaps that is our best hope to overcome it. It may be that we will never be free of racism. If constant vigilance is the price of a just society, I have to be willing to do my part.

The solstice is only a fortnight away. Two short weeks and we’ll begin to turn the tide of darkness. The promise of spring will lift my heart. Maybe the hope I see in the dreams of young people, earnestly opposing injustice, will bring peace to my anguished heart and to this troubled nation.

First Snows

A.V. Walters

snow days

I’ve been off for a couple of days of travel for the day job. It’s just as well. I’m not much use building right now because of a pesky little broken rib. It’s my own fault. We were moving a washing machine (a great craigslist deal) and, because I wasn’t communicating from my end, I got myself underneath it in a creative and unfortunate way. Sometimes I think I’m sturdier and stronger than I am, and that can lead to trouble.

There’s not much one can do for a broken rib. In days past, they used to immobilize patients, or tape them up. These approaches frequently led to pneumonia. We’re like sharks that way; stop moving and you don’t breathe. So I’m wandering around, doing what I can. With all the other delays, this one is just icing on the cake. A few days travel and work for a little recovery time is a good thing. Then, I’ll take advantage of my limited capacity to do Kubota work. Yay! I’ll get to use the tractor and backhoe!

We have a few weeks yet before the ground freezes. On the way to the airport, the other day, the road was so icy that we floated through a corner–where four other vehicles were stuck in the ditch! Our car has all-weather tires. (I think Rick decided that morning that it’s time to put the snow tires on the truck.) Still, the ground isn’t frozen. There’s still time to dig in the septic tank and maybe even the field.

Despite representations otherwise from the power company, our work site does not yet have power. Like us, they’ve experienced weather delays.  The most recent promise is for early this week. With it nippy, power would sure be nice. Running a generator indoors is not a good idea, even when your “indoors” is a breezy, windowless, roofless cabin. It’d be great to work with artificial light and power tools, without the drone, and stink, of the generator. Maybe, just maybe, this week will bring electricity.

We’ve already seen snow. When I returned from my work foray (48 hours, one seminar and seven flights) the season had changed. We’re ankle deep in the big white fluffy stuff. My mum, some distance to the north, is knee-deep. Being as it’s only mid-November, it’s a tough call whether this is “it,”—whether winter has arrived for good. The weather report for the week calls for snow, every single day, time to find that snowblower that I’ve been talking about.

Actually, I’m excited to see snow. It will bring a return to our snow-shoeing adventures. As soon as the rib is fully healed, I’ll get back to my plan to improve my generally spastic cross-country skiing. Here again, the delay is probably a good thing. Hunting season started yesterday, so it isn’t a good idea to go traipsing through the bush. In the meantime—just don’t make me laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

What doesn’t kill you…

A.V. Walters

 

The glow and promise of raku!

The glow and promise of raku!

Yeah, right. It’s raining, and we have to go purchase building materials, and go vote. That means we have a day off from working at the site. We bemoan this, though we really need it. We both ache. There are times, at the end of the day, that I’m so tired I want to roll into bed without so much as dinner. (Though, I’m not going without a glass of wine!)

I know that this adventure is both taking its toll, and building us up. We’ve both dropped weight (though Rick is downright skinny and I’m beginning to bake goodies, to fatten him up a bit.) I have forearms like Popeye. I guess it’s making us stronger.

Actually, I know it. We took a couple of days at Labor Day to go visit my Mum. She’s a potter and had weekend plans to participate in a raku firing event. For those who may not know, a raku firing is a fire-filled, fast, somewhat ceremonial, blast furnace of a ceramic kiln firing. It’s a blast. From my childhood as a potter’s daughter, raku meant party. It combined the best of everything—fire, good food, a soupçon of danger, and that ooh-aah factor every time you open a kiln. Anyway, though I said that she’d need help with the event, I really just wanted to be there—to help and to live the fun that is raku.

The fired pot--headed for reduction in wood chips.

The fired pot–headed for reduction in wood chips.

As we loaded up the truck (kiln, tongs, gloves, pots, and propane) I grabbed her two, small propane tanks. They felt empty.

“Mom, we’ll need to stop and get fuel—these are near empty.”

She gave me a funny look. “No, I exchanged them last week.”

I hefted them again, two tanks at arms length, and and shrugged.

Rick came over to resolve the debate. “The seals are still on those tanks—they’re full.”

I looked down. Lugging one tank is normally work—two tanks would not usually be within my capacity. So, I guess it’s true. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It was a great firing and a great day.

It’s About Time

A.V. Walters–

IMG_2054

Lately, my job has been sanding. It gives me a lot of time to think. I work in a bubble—face mask, ear protection, hat and eye glasses—for safety, but it keeps me in my own head. Of course, there’s always the day job, so my attention is split, part to regular work and part to building. While I sand, Rick has been busy working the site, rough wiring, and building, installing the boards that I’ve finished sanding.

In the Zone

In the Zone

I learned sanding from my Dad. I think I earned that chore as a little kid because I was observant and, well, anal. I have a constitutional tolerance for the tedious. Now as I sand, I hear my Dad’s voice—and it’s a comfort.

“No, go with the grain. There, that’s it.”

The task of sanding is so integrated with my childhood memories that the sandpaper, the smell of sawdust, and the feel of sanding are enough to bring my Dad back. His voice and advice is a part of the physicality of the job. I’m using the sander he advised me to buy. I’d burned through two Black & Deckers, prepping my house for a paint job, when he said I needed better tools. So here I am, twenty-six years later, still using the Porter Cable he’d recommended.

We’ve had a lot of trouble with lumber on this project. We’ve rejected nearly a third of what we’ve ordered from local building supply houses. We even tried the local “specialty” builders’ outfit—and paid a significant premium for what was supposed to be custom picked lots. You can get quality lumber from the discount guys, but you’ll have to spend a ton of time picking through it. So, we swallowed hard and tried a “pro-builder custom order.”

It was a more than a disappointment. It was just as junky as if we’d picked from the top of the rejects pile at the discount stores. For this we paid an extra 25%? I called to complain. Rick and I sorted the pile into junk, usable and good. The sales guy lives not far away; he said he’d drop by. When he did, he looked at the pile and shook his head. “Yeah, that’s just not right.” Even then, it took two more deliveries to get it right. Another delay.

Every glitch just burns daylight. We’ve had snow flurries already so the delays are really a problem. We want to achieve a “defendable” enclosure before any serious snow accumulation. As for lumber, we’re back to hand picking on our own—it’s cheaper and, if you get junk, you know who to blame.

“Check your sand paper. See, if it clogs up like that, it’s time to change the paper.   Here, let me show you.”

“Daddy, how will I know when it’s done?”

“You’ll know, honey, your fingers will know.”

My dad had a belief that sometime, in our past, there was a Golden Age of Tools and Materials. Even when I was little he would curse the shoddy workmanship in building supplies. When materials fell short of the mark it was the fault of some national disgrace. I grew up to the litany of, “Goddamn Canadian nails!” or “How can they sell this shit!” He cursed like a trucker.

Rick shares this creed. He’ll eye a 2 X 6, shake his head and throw it back in the pile. “You just can’t get quality materials anymore!” (Another kind of echo from my Dad.) Picking up yet another bowed or twisted 2 X 10, he points out the wide soft wood between the growth rings, “See that, plantation lumber, grown fast and weak.”

Was there really ever a NeverNeverLand of strong nails and straight lumber?

I don’t believe it for a minute. It’s an argument about quality that’s been going on at least since the Industrial Revolution—and probably back beyond that—to the woodworking guilds of the Middle Ages. Wood is an agricultural product. Trees are not perfect. What makes lumber true, is time. Time and effort. Somewhere in the chain of commerce someone has to care enough, or make enough money, to make it worthwhile to spend the time to do it right. It’s the same for building and for any craft. In a world of mass production, suppliers will produce any product that will sell. Unfortunately that means that the quality will be as marginal as the market will bear.

As my father aged he became more and more of a fine craftsman. He complained less about milled lumber, not because it got any better, but because he bought raw, and milled and finished it himself. Towards the very end of his life the furniture he built was more art than craft. He was not fast. He certainly couldn’t have made a living at it. But he knew the work was good and it gave him great satisfaction. He reached the point where he’d select wood for its “flaws,” knots or whorls, and then fashion the piece to highlight these natural features.

In the months before he passed away he and I were enjoying morning coffee at a walnut table he’d made. “See this?” he tapped a spot where the grain swirled and rippled, catching the light. “That’s where I let the sun out.” He smiled and ran his hand along its smooth edge.

Rick and I are building a log cabin. The purveyors of the materials would prefer we call it a log home, but ours will be a modest dwelling that fits within the cannons of the design’s history. It’s suited to the simple lines of its primitive forebears. There is a lot of natural wood. Rick is taking the time to position the beams to their best advantage, even to straighten them with weird clamps and strapping devices of his own invention. I don’t think a builder could afford that level of care on a paying gig. This will be our home.

A traditional log cabin would have beams across the log perimeter, with a heavy plank ceiling that served as both the ceiling above and the floor for the second level. We searched for the right material that would work, and be in the spirit of a log cabin. We settled on kiln dried, southern yellow pine, beveled, tongue and groove, 2 X 6s. It was a special order so we had to take the quality on faith and wait several weeks for it to arrive.

IMG_2059

When it did, it was a huge disappointment. The wood was much more knotty than the catalogue description. It was not “finish-milled” and ready, as described. Rustic shouldn’t be synonymous with slivers. This wood bore the deep mill markings, chatter and the “tear-out” that you get when the mill’s blades are not sharp. Worse yet, the wood arrived moldy. And I’m not talking about the ubiquitous blue stain that comes with some pine. This wood was alive with green and orange colonies of mold. (Again, I can hear my Dad’s voice, “Kiln dried, my ass!”) Our expensive special order was a bust. We had to decide whether to reject it (and pay the chunky restocking fee AND wait for new wood) or whether to roll up our sleeves and solve the problem, which brings me to sanding.

IMG_2058

I am neither as strong, nor as skilled as Rick in building. I am really just a knowledgeable gopher, but I can sand. And that’s what we did. We bleach treated all the areas of mold and then sanded it all to remove any sign of mold or mill markings. All 150, 12-foot lengths, both sides. (There I was, sanding pine, a wood my father didn’t think was worth burning!) It took me an extra two weeks—while Rick worked on site grading and electrical. It’s up now, and looks really good. A silk purse from a sow’s ear.

I have my hands on my hips now. “Really Daddy, how will I know, how will my fingers know?”

“You’ll know it’s done, honey, when it’s as smooth as a baby’s ass. You just keep sanding ‘til then.”

 

My Dad's Sandpaper Box

My Dad’s Sandpaper Box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Territory, New Toys…
A.V. Walters

In the early days...

In the early days…

No! Did I say toys? Tools, tools, really it’s new tools! It’s a whole new world of what one needs to do—snow, building, planting. First, after carefully reviewing the used market for almost a year, we got the Kubota tractor—which we we’ve needed for road grading, excavation, and will certainly need for snow clearing. Rick cut in the driveway and dug out the foundation for the cabin with it—it’s no toy.

Then, I saw a good deal on a log splitter, on craigslist. In Two Rock we heated with wood and we split it all by hand—both of us. Of course, Northern California doesn’t pack nearly as much of a winter punch as Michigan. We used to use about two cords of wood a year to keep toasty. Here we figure we’ll need about five. The log splitter was a good call. I used it, feeling like a bit of a traitor to my trusty maul and wedge. But in an afternoon, without breaking too much of a sweat, (though it is still work) I split about a cord. Wow. We already had chainsaws (when we met, Rick and I owned the same brand and model of chainsaw. Kismet!)

The generator/inverter was a no-brainer. So far, there still isn’t any power to the site. (Though it looks like next week the electric company will bring in the underground lines for power—with phone and internet piggybacking in the trench.) Everything needs power—nailers, sanders, lights, saws. So the generator can’t be considered a toy by any stretch of the imagination.

Back in the spring, we were looking at the costs of excavation—road, foundation, well line, septic. It was daunting. We’d already bought what’s called a back-blade (it’s like a big scraper) so, my next job was to look for a used backhoe attachment for the Kubota. It took awhile—It was my job to make it work financially—to make any purchase pay for itself with savings from what we’d otherwise be paying others. I also had to learn about what implements would fit on our tractor. There’s a whole culture of tractordom—sub-frames, hydraulic kits, three-point attachments and PTOs. Things need to match—and I’m not talking about accessorizing. I found one—and we finally hooked it up. It was quite a feat—first, installing a sub-frame, and then uniting two pieces of equipment that weigh tons. The conjoined parts look like a large, prehistoric insect. Usually, I’m not one much for mechanized things, but horsepower does have its advantages.

Rick immediately started digging the line for the well. He’s far more mechanically inclined than I am, within an hour, he had the levers and controls figured out, and he was trenching like a pro. I’m a little jealous. I want to dig, too. (Don’t worry, my turn will come.) In the meantime, I’ve become quite the craigslist maven. Hey, there’s still a snow-blower to consider. A 3 point snow-blower is a thing to behold—throwing a veritable fountain of snow 20-30 feet in the air. Winter is coming… they’re tools, after all, not toys.

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving!

Guylaine Claire Cover jpg

On Monday. And I forgot to send a card.

No, really, usually I celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with a turkey and the whole traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is my favorite of all holidays. What’s not to like, eh? A day in which we get to reflect on the good we have in our lives—and to share it with those around us. (Of course I do American Thanksgiving the very next month.)

This year there’s just no time. Rick and I are struggling to get as much building done as we can, while the weather holds. There’s an oversized helping of thanksgiving in that, too. So what is missed, is sharing.

So, to share the day, for Canadian Thanksgiving, I’m offering my most Canadian novel, The Gift of Guylaine Claire*, as a free Kindle download on Amazon. It’s available, Monday only at:

http://www.amazon.com/Gift-Guylaine-Claire-V-Walters-ebook/dp/B00CMYC8LG/ref=la_B008AL153M_1_2_title_1_kin?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413081503&sr=1-2

You don’t have to be Canadian to enjoy this offer. Because everything is marketing, if you enjoy the book, please let me know, or post a review on Amazon or GoodReads. In the spirit of the day, feel free to share the link.

Thank you, and have a wonderful holiday.

 

*Readers’ alert, my sister says this is a two-box-of-Kleenex book, but maybe she’s just a sap.

 

 

 

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