autumnal bike commute

The first days of autumn in New York City are still balmy even though you can spot a yellowish tinge on the leaves of the street trees and it is now dusk at 7 o’clock. When its not hot I like to ride my bike to work the long way, all the  way around the southern tip of the island instead of the quick way straight across from east to west. It’s easy to forget that Manhattan is an island because it is so dense with people and buildings from edge to edge. On the morning of 9/11 as I was shepherding the children home, through the shock and fear in the streets, we passed a cluster of people gathered around a parked car listening to the radio for news, when a woman shouted “they’ve closed all the bridges and tunnels to and from the island” and I thought “we are trapped”. After that, I’ve never forgotten that we live on an island.

East River Brooklyn Bridge

East River Brooklyn Bridge

My bike commute starts on the eastern edge of the island where the East River looks over to Brooklyn. In the old days, they say that the river froze so solid that people could walk over the ice from Brooklyn to Manhattan. They say that entrepreneurs  sold hot potatoes on the icy river to commuters. The workers carried the potatoes in their pockets to warm their hands on their trek across the iced over river and then have the roasted potatoes for breakfast.

Williamsburg Bridge

Williamsburg Bridge

As you ride on the paths of the East River Park you pass many sports fields. You can smell the salt in the air and the morning sunlight sparkles on the water. It is much cleaner now and you can catch glimpses of ducks and other water birds living there. As you hit the eastern edge of Chinatown by the river, you see clusters of Chinese seniors practicing Tai Chi and exercising in the park near the South Street Seaport. Fishermen in baseball caps line the railings with long poles in their hands.

The old Fulton Fish Market

The old Fulton Fish Market

You hit a wall of commuters getting off the Staten Island Ferry and subways as you round the southern most tip of the island and move from East River to the Hudson on the West Side.

rsz_nyc_commuters-2

At this point, I ride on the sidewalk dodging the walkers and taking care not the scare them. They have enough stress. To ride in the street here is dicey because they are curvy and packed with speeding commuter buses bringing in Wall St. workers from the land of suburbia.

Westside bike lane heading north

Westside bike lane heading north

Once you cross the street at the tip of the island at Battery Park, you can get on the West Side bike lane north and now you ride along side a different river – the Hudson.

Remnants of an old pier on the Hudson River

Remnants of an old pier on the Hudson River

summer’s end 2014

It was a good summer. The best summer in a long time because I was at the trailer in the country working from home for most of it and my daughters were close. There is nothing better than to be around your family and your dogs. Being in the country allows a slower pace that is that is good for observation. In the city you miss things because you have to move at a certain pace or you will be the one blocking foot traffic. You can’t look up at the sky for too long or you could step in dog shit. In the country your eye and your mind have the freedom to wander.

hayfieldrev

This summer I saw how the deep green of the mid-summer vegetation changed. Now everything has a yellowish cast to it. The fields are lime green from the goldenrod in bloom. There are tiny flowers blooming making splotches that look like pink smoke. Over anxious maples that are turning red and russet colored bushes signal the wan of summer and the start of autumn. Everywhere you smell the sweet smell of the last of the hay being cut. The nights are heavy with the song of black crickets.

Here are some things that I learned this summer:

I enjoy seeing livestock when I look out the window.

I like to doze off to sleep and wake in the morning to the sound of softly tinkling goat bells.

I write more when I’m alone

Water boils faster on the mountain

Jersey cow milk makes the best butter

We went through a lot of sugar due to the hummingbird feeder, the brewing of Kombucha and the canning of peaches

It sure is nice to have lights on in more than one room (first full summer with solar powered electricity)

There are more women farmers than I imagined

If you leave your hair loose when you walk in the woods, deer fly get caught in it and it’s easy to kill them that way

Blue jays have a beautiful way of swooping down when they fly and they really love wild blueberries

In the country you experience sudden unexpected fragrances depending on the direction of the wind and which plants it is blowing through at the time

Hummingbirds chitter

Cowbella Farm's Jersey cows and a woman farmer

Cowbella Farm’s Jersey cows and a woman farmer

redChairs

Lolo, a Toy Fox Terrier sun bathing

Lolo, a Toy Fox Terrier sun bathing

First sighting of Fall

First sighting of Fall

a country flea market

I love yard sales and country flea markets. The possibility of finding treasure and a good deal is irresistible. In the northern Catskills, yard sales seem to be an art form. Towns even hold community-wide yard sales that are like rural block parties with live music and the volunteer firemen barbecuing chickens on Main Street.

Every Sunday there is a Flea Market in the Town of Broome in Schoharie County. I am spoiled by this flea market. I don’t ever bother to go to any of the flea markets in New York City because I consider them to be overpriced and yuppified. The country flea market has a great mix of stuff. Real antiques and tools, handmade garden ornaments and old lace, garlic and tomatoes from someone’s garden. I find good stuff here.

Some of my favorite treasures found here are:

- A bright yellow garden hose for the day we have running water
– A garden tool that is shaped like a hoe but has spikes that is perfect for mixing compost into flower beds
– Old cast iron skillets that are smooth as glass inside so that you can fry an egg in it without sticking.
– Hand embroidered cotton pillowcases and linen dishtowels from the 50’s.
– A hand forged meat cleaver

schoharieCountyFleaMarketWS

BlackSmithSignFleaMarket

FrillyGlasswareFleaMarketRollingStoneAlbumFleaMarket

OldtoolsFleaMarket

PiesFleaMarket

rsz_butterickpatternfleamarket copy

MatchboxCaseFleaMarket

heather ridge farm – good food, good friends

I met Carol in April of 2011. It was the start of the college search for Oona in the spring of her junior year of High School. We had scheduled time for an interview for a summer internship at Heather Ridge Farm where animals are lovingly raised on pastures and they operate the Bees Knees Cafe which serves “fiercely local” and delicious food. A tall woman with beautiful curly hair cut in a pert bob and a wide smile welcomed us at the door of the old farmhouse that serves as the café and farm store. All the while smiling, she sat Oona down at one of the tables in the Bees Knees Café for her interview while I made myself scarce in the farm store. After the interview Carol invited us to visit the barn where the spring lambing season was underway. Farmer John (why are there so many farmers named John?) showed us around the maternity ward where we saw a newly born lamb still wet from birth.

Heather Ridge Farm and the Bee's Knee's Cafe

Heather Ridge Farm and the Bee’s Knee’s Cafe

Carol and John feed us with both the food they grow and their friendship. They give us advice about things that city folk don’t know about such as goat fencing. When Hurricane Irene devastated the area in August of 2011 and the roads off the mountain were washed away and the town was flooded, we ate their beef and chicken. They serve seasonal food, everything has its time and place. The following spring, again in April, I stopped by after driving up from the city on a Saturday afternoon for lunch. It was a week after the funeral of my only brother and I’d driven up to the trailer by myself just to get away and dig in the dirt. Carol served me up a bowl of Nettle soup. I’d never seen anything like it. It was an intense green and creamy, thick and very hot. On a small plate was a slice of homemade Irish bread smeared with the yellowest butter I’d ever seen. It was a grey day and I looked out of the farmhouse window to the view of the mountains shrouded in mist. The green soup warmed me to my toes. Its warmth was as soothing as a mother’s fingertips on your brow. The green soup was spring itself.

Morning farm chores, feeding the pigs

Morning farm chores, farm intern feeding the pigs

farm solar power

farm solar power

Devon beef cattle

Devon beef cattle

The Bees Knees Cafe's Chef Rob with his file cabinet smoker

The Bees Knees Cafe’s Chef Rob with his file cabinet smoker

the county fair

County fairs and summer go together. Lemonade and funnel cakes. Cotton candy and roller coasters. Here are some photos of our visit to the Sunshine Fair in Schoharie County in New York.

Sunshine Fair

Sunshine Fair

In the show ring - the dairy goats

In the show ring – the dairy goats

SunshineFairSchoharieCounty2

An old grain thrasher from the late 1800's on display

An old grain thrasher from the late 1800’s on display

The cow beauty parlor

The cow beauty parlor

New York State's Agriculture Commissioner, Schoharie County's own Richard Ball

New York State’s Agriculture Commissioner, Schoharie County’s own Richard Ball

A pretty Brown Swiss cow

A pretty Brown Swiss cow

the trailer

A 1976 Marlette mobile home, compact and apartment like, it sits on 20 acres of piney woods and meadow.

photo shot with the Hipstamatic app - Yuri 61 lens and Rasputin film

photos shot with the Hipstamatic app – Yuri 61 lens and Rasputin film

The previous owners brought the trailer in and used it as a hunting cabin. They tinkered with it and added things like the front porch, which is built of pieces of scrap wood, metal and cinderblock. The porch is wide enough to feel like a New York City stoop. All similarity ends there because the porch is draped with leafy Sweet Autumn Clematis vines and we have a visiting porcupine that likes to gnaw on the steps. The beds of Hosta that ring the trailer are in bloom now and buzzing with bees and hummingbirds. The tiny hummingbirds stick their heads inside the lilac colored flowers so deep that half their bodies disappear.

marletteTailer2

We have no running water so we pump from a well that is outfitted with an old-fashioned hand pump. The water bucket system flushes the toilet that is connected to a primitive septic system. The sinks and bathtub are connected to a grey water system where the water is flushed out to the back meadow. Only biodegradable soaps are used. Pumping water for the buckets is really good for your core and your triceps.

Bucket power

Bucket power

I’ve become really good at dishwashing without running water. Everyone, even guests are trained to remember which is their water glass and to be conservative about creating dishwashing volume. We grill a lot and make one-skillet meals. I use sturdy Bagasse dinner plates that are made from sugarcane waste and go straight into the compost bin. Marinating meats takes place inside zip lock bags.

The back meadow has a nice view of the woods. In June I like to sit on a lipstick red Adirondack chair and watch the light show that is fireflies. In August, we are lulled to sleep by the song of black crickets. Moss grows like a carpet in the shady parts of the back meadow and red squirrels chitter like monkeys in the pine trees.

adirondackChairs

We have been here for six weeks. This is the first time we are spending all summer here. I’m getting spoiled by the smell of the mountain air and the feel of grass under my feet. The dogs run free without collars on and chew meaty bones on the grass, their heads greasy with marrow. For the first time, I have seen the cornfields growing up from little green tufts in rows of dirt to what I see now where the stalks are over my head and topped with a cornflower.

cornfield

off the grid connections

We bought the piece of land nine years ago as refuge from our urban lives. A green and wild world in the Catskill Mountains of New York. We got it for a good price because we are off the grid. No electrical poles for a half-mile in either direction. We have a mobile home the size of an average New York City apartment so we feel comfortable within its confines.

no poles, no wires

no poles, no wires

We installed a solar system last summer and then we yearned for more connections. Namely, phone and internet. We don’t get a strong enough signal to use our cellphones. Year by year, the signal inched tantalizingly closer to us. The first year, we could sometimes make a call if we stood next to a chicken coop about a half mile up the road. It depended on the weather. Now the signal is just a quarter of a mile away. Our next door neighbor has two bars on an elevated spot on her land so we tried climbing ladders in different spots in our meadow and even went into the forest and climbed to the top an abandoned deer stand. Nada.

We are friends with a couple who live nearby and are also off the grid. They are fully connected with a landline and DSL. They became our advisors. They’d asked the phone company to put a box on the nearest pole and ran cable for a half mile to their solar powered cabin. And it worked.

In our town the phone company is independent and has been in existence since the late 1800’s. They understand rural folk, unorthodox situations and the desire for connectivity. The planner came and walked with me to the closest pole. That pole is on the land of our neighbor to the north about a quarter of a mile away from our mobile home. “Yes, we can put the box here”, he said, “but the cable is your responsibility in every way”. Our neighbor said “Yes, we will help you and you can connect using our pole, but we don’t want to see the cable, make sure you tap it down through the forest”. It is important to be neighborly in the backwoods. One hand washes the other. And people like to help.

Our neighbors Martha and Richard, the architects of this thing gave us their left over cable along with instructions about how to connect the pieces. The cable was like a ball of yarn to be unraveled along the road and then we had to splice the pieces together and house the connections in a waterproof casing. We were instructed to go to the electrical store in the next biggest town to find the waterproof housing. It was just me and Oona since our resident male (Frank) was out of town. Electrical store + do it yourselfers + females = Offensive Macho Bullshit. I started by being polite and humble – more flies with honey and all that. Oona, from her experience with male shopkeepers in feed stores, said “Ma, they don’t respect humble, you have to be assertive”. So I countered with “I’m the customer and I’m explaining to you what I need”. It worked. The grumpy guy went to the back and emerged with the pieces of plastic that would serve as the waterproof enclosures for our spliced cables.

cable1rev

On a brilliantly sunny afternoon we began the work of unspooling the roll of cable along the roadside so that we could connect the pieces and run it through the woods from our mobile home to our neighbor’s telephone pole. David and Lily, our upstairs neighbors in the Loisaida homestead and our 15 minutes away neighbor in upstate New York, stopped by and volunteered to help. Thankfully David took some photos because I was yelled at twice for stopping work to take photos for the blog.

cable photos - david schmidlapp

cable photos – david schmidlapp

I was nervous. I’d been working from home at the town library for the wireless. I had the schedule of hours of the libraries in three neighboring towns and had a folding lawn chair in the trunk after sitting for half a morning working on the stone steps of a closed library with my laptop using the wireless leaking from the building’s interior. It was stressful to duplicate the connectivity that one has in an office in New York City while being off the gird in the backwoods of New York State.

oona was in charge of the splicing

oona was in charge of the splicing

this houses the connected splice

this houses the connected splice

insulating foam for waterproofing

insulating foam for waterproofing

The nice guy from the independent phone company that is over one hundred years old arrived promptly to hook us up. I kept waiting for him to tell me what we were doing was not possible. But he waded calmly with me through waist high blackberry brambles to reach my neighbor’s telephone pole on a bright morning after a night of violent thunderstorms. When we reached our mobile home and he asked me where I would like the phone jack, my heart soared. I watched as he expertly drilled and connected and pulled a modem out of a box. I handed him the plain black phone I’d bought that requires no electricity. And then it rang.

internet tv via roku

internet tv via roku