Cranes and Girders and Trusses, Oh My!

Everybody gets excited when a crane shows up on the scene,  lifts huge girders high in the air, and swings them around like toothpicks. The big red crane looks like a man-sized version of a child’s toy.



The fellow driving it looks a little like Wayne Newton. A white, ten-gallon hat almost covers up his long sideburns, and his triangular shape attests to many hours sitting in the operator’s seat.

The chance of getting any non-housebuilding work done around here these days is slim and none. Here was the view from my desk last Friday.

The crew came out yesterday, even though it was Saturday. They were trying to catch a few hours of rare sunshine to start sheathing the main roof. They got a good start. Won’t be long now until we’re fully dried in.

I’ll never forget the look of this amazing skeletal structure. Looks to me like a dinosaur’s spine, or a super contemporary skylight.




Sweat Equity

A week ago today, Buck and I were out back with our orange metal dibbles, planting more trees. Because of storm forecasts, the framers were at another project today, one that is already dried in, so they could work indoors. The framing contractor had rigged up a sort of tent out of heavy plastic, to cover the open seams on the second floor where they had cut into the existing roof, leaving our westerly exterior wall vulnerable to rain.  Planting our trees, we could hear the sounds made by the brisk wind as it was getting under the plastic tent. It sounded like sails flapping at a marina. We had already gotten rained on once, and the darkening sky promised more.

There was a loud ripping sound, and a strong gust split the plastic tent.  Buck and I watched as our protection blew off the roof. “That’s it for the tree planting today,” Buck said to me. “Now we have a different problem.” And so, expecting a deluge any minute which would pour water into the open seam of our little home, Buck began to do what he does so well: that is, to protect his own.

I served as carpenter’s helper, digging discarded small nails — the kind that are pushed through a red plastic circle — out of the clay around the foundation, large nails scattered about the floor, and various sizes of cut 2 x 4 wood, as Buck got on an eight foot ladder, and fashioned a weatherproof seal out of large sheets of plastic, pulling it tight and securing it so that the wind couldn’t find a place to get back in. I kept looking at the sky, dark and rumbling. As Buck worked feverishly, I noticed that it began to change. Off in the west behind the darkness overhead, was a starkly contrasting cerulean sky. At first I thought it was a reflection, or a mirage. But no — by the time Buck had finished his work, my neck and shoulders were roasting in a sunburn befitting a sophomore on spring break. We got lucky, and the crisis was averted.

Rough weather returned over the weekend. By this time, the north wall of the existing house was put in jeopardy. The framers ran out of plastic covering on Friday afternoon, and by the time we realized they were several feet short of protecting the house, everyone was gone, it was the weekend, and rain started on Saturday morning. Buck to the rescue again. This was more complicated, and required cutting plastic, duct tape, flashlights, and rain in the eyes, but he got it done, and we ended up with only half a pot and four towels worth of water in the house. On Sunday morning, Buck secured the remaining leaking areas, which was a good thing, because it came a flood. Later in the afternoon when the rain stopped, he swept all the water off the plywood on the second floor, while I took a push broom to the standing water on the slab below. It was like rolling small waves with the broom. Kind of fun, actually. I would get a head start, push the water, run after it and push some more until it flopped off the edge. Weather forecasts predicted rain until after midnight Sunday, but a strong wind blew the storm system out late Sunday afternoon, and we’ve had bright sunshine and brilliant stars ever since.

Little by little and bit by bit.




Fantasy Becomes Reality


The news bones are connected to the old bones. Them bones them bones gonna walk around; them bones them bones gonna walk around. Them bones them bones gonna walk around. Now hear the word of the Lord.

It was 2:45 this afternoon when I left the house in all its noisy, bodacious creativity. Buck stayed to meet with a cabinet man from Flomaton, Alabama who was driving over to bid on the project, while I drove downtown for the weekly “caring ministry” class at Christ Episcopal Church.

I drove from rapidly developing country property into town land in decline. The most striking scenery was a vacant pasture recently turned into grazing land for actual cattle — Black Angus by the look of them, with many little calves enlivening the view. Their eventual fate may not be so bucolic, but on this afternoon, I wanted to pull over, slip under the fence, and set a spell in their presence.

Later, driving the 35 minutes home from town, happy that I had made a vat of spaghetti sauce earlier in the day, and that a loving man and glass of mellow red awaited my arrival. I almost ran off the road gawking at the sunset. I at first thought, “Damn, I wish I had my camera,” and then, “Damn, a real writer would know how to describe the high, scattered clouds decorating the lush coral sunset melting like a copper ingot in the impossibly blue sky.” Me, I need my camera.

Our framer, John, told me he would have a set of stairs built to the second floor before he left today. Driving home from town, pushing slightly over the speed limit, hoping to get there before the sunset made its final curtain call for the day, my mouth was dry thinking of what it must look like, up those plywood stairs to the raised platform, unguarded by any borders. I hoped Buck was already up there, taking in the scene.

But when I opened the gate and bumped all the way to the house, driving too fast for a smooth ride on that dirt road, I saw a strange pick-up truck, and knew the cabinet man was still there. Maggie met me at the car. I stuck my head in the door to say hello. Buck knew I was hot to run up the new steps. His eyes held mine as he said, “Be careful. There isn’t a rail.”

I feel like Jonah, in the belly of the whale. There is an organic process at work here, a digestion. The dead opposite of boredom.


Is there anything more exciting than a newly built stairway to the stars?


Every great house has a surprise or two. One of them here is Buck’s design for a bridge spanning the distance between two undeclared spaces on the second floor.


Going down? The elevator is a concession to the optimistic hope that we will get old enough to need it. That, plus it seems like a ridiculously fun gadget in the meantime to carry us and a supper cart up to the second floor terrace for sunset, moon, and star gazing.

Chapel In The Woods

It’s “just” a series of second story floor joists. Maybe it’s that electric blue sky. I don’t know. To me, it looks like an avant-garde chapel in the woods. I almost wish we could leave it just as it looks in this photograph. Almost.






These photos are a place-marker as a reminder for the art of the balance beam that these guys perform and the beauty of the pine woods. In a few minutes, the boys will arrive to cut into the front wall and connect beams. Buck and I have furniture to move somewhere. When we lived in the stunning Smoky Mountains, I used to move from window to window, staring in fascination as snow covered up the mountainside and pasture below. I was reminded of that yesterday, as I moved from window to window here, hopping from one foot to the other in excitement as the bring orange forklift handed off floor joists to the framers to form the base for the second story of our home.




In the afternoon I walked the woods. It was that special time just before a thunderstorm, when the air is fragrant and moist. Dewberries are beginning to form on the bushes down by the stream. New palmetto beds are emerging from the sand hills. Moss spores have begun to fruit, and the pines are sending out growth tips. I returned home refreshed, my hair a mass of wind-made curls.




Rain Day

Walls change everything. Sometimes for good. Sometimes for ill. They divide and block. They enclose and secure. They provide perspective, shelter and a vantage point.


Framers worked from 7:30 to 5 yesterday, assembling and lifting walls. Most of the day, it was only John and Scott. Jason joined them in the early afternoon. John lost part of his crew to other jobs temporarily because of a several day delay in pouring the foundation. These guys have to work. They can’t afford the luxury of laying out, waiting. Time literally is money, and they feel it on payday every Friday afternoon.


The sun went away in the afternoon, dissolving into a grey chill with a stiff wind. I put a thermos of hot coffee and a basket of warm chocolate chip cookies by the door. Scott, who had never made eye contact or spoken to me so far, stopped in his tracks, jerked up his chin, looked straight at me and said, “Thanks. I could sure use some coffee.” Turns out he’s the only coffee drinker of the three, but when I pulled the basket back inside later, the cookies were gone.


It’s not easy to keep a framing crew together. The leader of the pack, John, a master framer, has to get his workers a solid forty hours. He tries to have three or four major projects going on at the same time, at different stages. I heard his red and silver truck rumble up at 7:10 this morning, doors slamming and gutteral exchanges among the men. Steady rain had been falling for several hours. I wondered what would happen next.


It didn’t take long to find out. The talk stopped. Doors slammed again. John gunned the red and silver truck. It sounded like a political statement, a rude gesture to the weather. He is hot to get this project dried in. Then the rain won’t matter. I hope they have another dried in house to go to and work today.


My own experience of the rain this morning is quite different. My raft in life’s river is in a quiescent spot at the moment, a smooth ride. I have it easy, curled up like a fat tabby cat in a corner of the sofa, munching on dates and a warm whole grain seeded bun with a couple of thin slices of buttery Havarti cheese, sipping on a mug of coffee that I whisked up with milk and cinnamon. Buck is working at his desk. Maggie is snoring gently in front of the fireplace.


I am always aware that life’s river is moving, carrying me to a different spot, and that where I am today is just that: where I am today. A snapshot. For today, it’s comfortable, sweet and precious.





The Lintel Blessing

Coming home from an expedition in search of an exterior front door, we were surprised to see a bold, black scrawl of words written on a piece of framing. We were even a little uneasy, until we read the words.  “God bless this house with spiritual growth and love,” was written on the lintel of what will be the opening to the front door of the new house. The frame containing the lintel piece has not been nailed into place yet, and is lying flat on the concrete slab.


It was late afternoon, one of those crispy blue moments when everything is seen in sharp relief, breezy and fresh. Quiet.

We opened the door, went inside and Buck asked me for a marking pen. I found one, and he added his own addendum to the message: “And God bless all who built it,” with our names and the date.

I have an idea who wrote the blessing. And I have an image of that person finding himself alone at the job site this afternoon doing a bit of work. I even have a sense that he may have found a space for spiritual communion here among the longleafs. Maybe it didn’t happen that way, but not everything needs to be fully explained. A little mystery along adds depth to the richness of our tapestries, and allows for the open moment of possibility, a respite.





First Wall

The framing team arrived at 7:10 this morning and were measuring, sawing and assembling when Buck and I left the house mid-morning to go to various supply houses researching tile, granite, and carpet. “Witchy Woman” was playing on their radio when we pulled out of the driveway.

We fondled so many pieces of tile I feel like my fingerprints have been nearly worn off. When this is all over, I could probably get a day job as a safe-cracker. We looked at huge slabs of the most extraordinary, over the top granite in an outdoors supply yard, with names like Peacock Gold (it’s actually black with gray-blue chunks and gold speckles), African Waves, Ubatuba, Rojo Alicante and Blue Pearl. Returning home, we gratefully contemplating the pot of chicken soup made last night.  Our framers were still working, racing the setting sun. It was thrilling to see the first wall.

IMG_1386 Maggie’s world is changing every day, too, and like me, she loves a good sunset – – and aren’t they all?Last thing Framer John said today as he was packing away his tools: “You’ll need to move that TV, your computer and all that stuff in the corner over there before morning.” He went on to explain how he would be taking a chain saw to the remainder of the I- beam hanging out several feet into the space where the screened porch was. Then he will be removing the siding on the exterior wall between our office area and the old porch, preparing to build new walls and connect the existing structure with the new one. To protect existing windows on that wall, the crew will board them up with plywood. I asked Buck if we would have a hole in the wall on the side where we’re living tomorrow. Buck said, “I don’t think so, but we might. All I know is, whatever John’s going to do tomorrow, he’s fixing to rise hell out there.”  Uh hum. I learned in Psychology 101 that flexibility is the hallmark of the healthy personality. Keep reminding me of that, would you?

This is another in the flurry of “lost posts” which will be put into chronological order with others in the Sanctuary at Longleaf Preserve category. It was published in the original Switched At Birth blog on February 28, 2005 at 11:04 PM. It is the chronicle of a time between January, 2005 and June, 2006, when we added a permanent home onto the 1 bedroom, 1 bath cottage we lived in about 5 months out of the year during the time we had a home in the North Carolina mountains. Buck was born in Pensacola. My grandfather sold strawberries in the farmer’s market here more than a hundred years ago. It’s home.


Life at the Construction Site



The upturned root structure of one of the giant longleaf pines felled by Hurricane Ivan has become a gentrified bungalow for some critter family.



I almost didn’t see the five wild turkeys feeding in the early morning fog. Maggie froze, one foot up in a point. The big birds saw us, too. “Whuh, whuh, whuh,” their wings carried them slowly into the tree cover.


Seeing this broken tree, I was amazed by its resemblance to the concrete truck boom here last Saturday.

This has been a whirlwind week, the new realities of living in the midst of a construction site becoming ever more evident. Our cottage has become headquarters for a stream of suppliers and would-be suppliers, branch office for our builder, and coffee shop. One day our builder came in the door at 7:45, a tile guy with a proposal at 10 and Todd Oliver, the Pella fella, to discuss the window and sliding glass door order at Noon. Buck and I scarfed down half a tuna sandwich, then headed to town to look at fireplaces and insulation.

The framer came in on Wednesday to go over the plans and clear up a few last minutes changes, then was back again on Thursday to mark up the slab. Friday brought truckloads of trusses, hundreds of 2×6 inch studs, and yet another pile of red clay — this one for the porte cocherre (a fancy car port) foundation. The framer, John, and his crew spent all day Friday sawing and moving the studs into counted-out piles in stacks laid out at the various spots on the slabs where they will be needed. Saw horses were built and are in place for the hammering and nailing to begin on Monday morning.



John will be annoyed that the dump truck spilled all that red clay so close to the pretty trusses.


Meanwhile, Buck and I are beginning to long for a cool, dark cave to hole up in. . . . maybe we’ll find a Holiday Inn room, king leisure, down and out.