Tag Archives: move


So we relocated to The Church.  On New Year’s Eve, appropriately enough.

Not everything we need has come over with us yet, but we were able to spring most of the important furniture from our soon-to-be-useless storage unit out in Delburgh: A few antique tables, some fireplace pokers, and of course, our trusty inflatable mattress.  The new stuff fell into place like puzzle pieces, as though the furniture had picked the apartment, all by itself.

Moving day was surprisingly simple.  A perfectly-timed thaw in the weather made our few trips back and forth a breeze, and eliminated most of the ice on church property that our predecessor (a not-so-careful caretaker) left in his wake.  We arrived here to find the driveways and paths like clean slates, with even the disturbingly spear-like icicles over the rec room dashed to bits in the driveway.

Now we’re here, and I feel like the most complicated riddle in the world just turned out to have the simplest answer.

For one, I barely have to drive anymore, which is amazing after all the ferrying back and forth in December.  My job is barely five minutes away, and as for Bob’s job, he’s already at it.

And while we’re speaking of work, let’s discuss the wintry chores we’re doing on the property, which are suspiciously like the ones we performed on our own property–only suddenly, these chores come with free heat, free running water, and a cute apartment as incentive.

Collectively, this new gig is the Barnabas Collins to our “Dark Shadows”.  We’re well into the show’s second season, but somehow we’re just getting started.


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A Whiff Of Adventure

When it comes to this relocation, there are too many “firsts” to count.

For Bob and I, it’s our first time in a new town.  Our first home.  Out first vehicle.

For me, it’s my first time so long away from family, my first time so long away from The City.  And all of this is not to mention that “first book” I’ve been clacking away at every morning, with its Sisyphean drafts.

But when the pump inside our trailer broke suddenly last night, taking all of our running water with it, this wasn’t a “first” at all.  Not really: Before he tore it down, Bob and I used to vacation in the creepy abandoned house on our property, and we got used to living without plumbing, let alone anything so futuristic as water pressure.

So instead of filling the trailer’s tank this morning (or weeping openly, for that matter) we took all of the empty soda bottles and water jugs in our recycling bin and filled them instead, bringing three into the bathroom, and another four into the kitchen.  The recycling bin itself (a plastic garbage can) was quickly lined with a clean leaf bag and filled to the top with water, becoming a makeshift cistern.  Now, until the pump is fixed, we’ll heat water on the stove and bathe like the Wilders.  Done and done.

I spent the day intermittently proud and fearful of how quickly we’d adjusted to this setback.  It’s like “Resident Evil 4”; how you spend the whole game toning-up your Punisher, until come Chapter Five, it can take the zombies down with one shot.  And you’re thinking,”Remember when I used to have to empty my shotgun into these things?”

Part of me longs for  the day when, like the prospect of bucket-bathing, all the other “firsts” of this move have safely transmogrified into seconds, thirds and fourths–when all the exciting new developments of Lonesome Valley living have become workyday.  Another part of me knows that embedded somewhere in all these “firsts” is the spirit of adventure.

And then there’s my nose: The part of me that knows that, instead of being in here writing this entry, I should probably be out there buying deodorant…

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Pixelated Transcendentalism

I’m trying to do a lot of “site business” today, posting drafts that have been languishing on my dashboard, and even switching the banner on the site to a grungier jpg that should require no introduction.

But this makes me realize that I’ve been lax in explaining the significance of the original banner.  For the uninitiated, it was this:

Here’s the story: I’ve lived in The City all my life, and it wasn’t until I went to college that I actually “got out” for an extended period of time.  Straight after that, I moved back home, and I’ve pretty much stayed there until this summer, barring the odd wedding.

So when Bob and I first started coming up to Lonesome Valley for vacations, I didn’t have much to compare this place to.  The local towns and villages were faintly Lovecraftian, sure, but the land out here looked like nothing I’d ever seen.

And yet there was something that drew me to it, something familiar that reminded me of being much younger–an elusive happy memory that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  It was only a few months before we actually made the move out that I realized what it was: The horizons out here were Activision horizons.

For those of you who don’t know the score, Activision is a video game company that started designing back in the day, for the Atari 2600.  This was a system whose graphics were decidedly pixely, and in order to convey basic visual concepts like “man” and “spaceship” and “giant spider”, they depended on blending cubism and impressionism–specifically, by making impressionist images out of cubes.  Everything looked like it had been stacked together from Lego blocks.

For most companies designing for the 2600, this limited palette was a liability, and their games tended to look like crude stick-figure versions of what you’d see in the arcades.  But Activision, whose designers had a penchant for taking their games a step further, took a step further with their graphics, too.  Rather than making their human characters look like gingerbread men, they kept them in recognizable proportion, and put little nooks in the chins to give them the faintest hint of detail–your eye filled in the rest.  Their spiders and beasties were reminiscent of hieroglyphs.  And when it came to the top of the screen, they used those little bars and blocks of color that were holding back the other designers, and fashioned them into worlds.

With no vanishing point to speak of in the crush of The City, Activision video games were where I saw my first truly beautiful horizons.  The shifting sky over the car race in Larry Miller’s “Enduro”.  The cotton-candy clouds over the titular squid-besieged mammal in Matthew Hubbard’s “Dolphin”.  The mountain range behind the endless mechanized war of Alan Miller’s “Robot Tank”.

The banner posted above is my favorite of all the horizons, and it belonged to Steve Cartwright’s “Barnstorming”.  It was used on this site as an appreciation of the fact that, with a pocketful of pixels, the Activision designers not only pushed the genre they were working in to the limit, but gave this particular nerd some faint idea of what it was like to admire natural beauty, back in a time when it was in short supply.  The way modern tots having “Baby Einstein” CDs foisted upon them in the nursery will (theoretically) develop a warm and fuzzy association with classical music, so I’ve developed one for mountains and skies, thanks directly to these designers.

But of course, this isn’t to say that I moved to the middle of nowhere just because the place reminds me of Atari games.  Let’s not get carried away here: Lonesome Valley also reminds me of Playstation’s “Silent Hill”.

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A Recipe For The Shivers

Labor Day weekend is revving up, and that means that Bob and my first summer in Lonesome Valley is officially drawing to a close. This is a good time to tell you about something peculiar that happened back in June, when we first arrived.

We were in a local bookstore several miles away. I was busily browsing the biography shelf, when Bob walked up to me and handed me a cookbook, published by a local radio station. “Look at this,” he said, pointing to a specific recipe, toward the middle of the book.

It was Bob’s own recipe for beef stew, in print, with a little bio for Bob right above it.  And from the way Bob was looking into the book, half bemused and half perplexed, I could tell that he had no proper idea how the recipe had gotten there.

What’s even weirder: The bio listed us as living in Lonesome Valley, something we hadn’t even decided to do until the end of 2008, long after the cookbook had gone to print. I grabbed the thing from Bob, if only to prove that the book was really in the room with us.  How did it…know?

There turns out to be a semi-logical explanation, of course: Bob says he remembers hearing about the cookbook, a long while ago. His theory is that he must have submitted the recipe, and simply forgot about it.

As for the premonitory bio, there’s an explanation for that, too: Bob has blogged about Lonesome Valley for years, and in that time he’s found it convenient to pass himself off as a full-time resident. This was probably just an instance of that.

Still, that cookbook remains the most ominous greeting I’ve ever received.

“We have been expecting you… And your stew…”

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Farewell Transmission

As you may know, this summer I’ve been driving a vehicle previously used to transport livestock.

You wouldn’t be able to tell this from a casual glance at the machine, since it seems, at first, like any other SUV. But on closer inspection, you might notice the stray hay Bob was unable to vacuum off the upholstery, or the photograph of a goat in a granny-cap that serves as the front license plate. Evidence of a secret purpose at work.

I call it The Goat Van, and I’ve lived with the knowledge that I would have to give it away all summer: It’s due to be traded for a Jeep that we actually own, once we return the van to the cool homesteading couple who let us borrow it in the first place.

That thought made me sad at first; I knew I would miss having a real Goat Van. But over the course of the summer, and much like an actual goat, the vehicle has found creative ways to make itself unwelcome.

For one, it lost its air conditioning: That option faded into nothing during our first drive out to Lonesome Valley, leading to heavy use of the power windows, and more than a little speeding to keep the “summer breeze” up.

Then the van’s battery died, mere minutes before the fireworks display started on July 4th evening–and then again the next day, while Bob and I were looking at pre-fabs, far from home. Both times, we were rescued by a samaritan jumper, and we’ve since gotten jumping cables ourselves to pay it forward (not to mention a new battery).

But the battery wasn’t the last of it: Lately, the van has developed a dangerous habit of kicking forward when it’s going up a hill, more than once convincing me that it had been rear-ended by an invisible bus. And for those of you unfamiliar with that adage about mountains: They’re just another word for hills.

So today, we packed into the van and drove into The City for the first time in months, getting a little under halfway to the owners’ compound, which is down south. Tomorrow, our plan was to drive the rest of the way, pick-up our Jeep, and return The Goat Van–before it burst into flame, ha ha.

The first length of the trip went by in a heartbeat, feeling more like a commute than a journey after all those weeks of back-and-forth at the top of the summer. I drove to my sister’s house and dropped Bob off, along with our dog, then went out to give my sister a drive home from work.

It was on our way back from her job that the car began to slow down.

I thought that maybe we were experiencing a heat-induced recurrence of the famous “phantom crash” syndrome, only it never kicked forward, just kept slowing. By the time we got on the highway, I was finding it hard to get the vehicle to top thirty miles an hour. Then twenty. The hood began to smoke, the car now crawling along the shoulder, and making the kind of whirring noise a car makes when it breaks down. Then it did just that.

My sister called a friend of hers from work, named Willa, who came by and surveyed the sorry scene. She helped me verify that the trouble wasn’t something as simple as low coolant. Then I got a tow to a nearby garage, where Willa knew the mechanic. He spoke only Spanish but Willa is fluent, and flirts shamelessly; in the end, he checked our car out for free, and pronounced his assessment quietly, just to her.

Willa’s face went blank when she heard what the mechanic said. Then she looked over to me, burdened heavily by the act of translating such lousy news.

“He says it’s the transmission.”


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The house has been disappearing in pieces for over a month now.

Strangely, I never seem to notice these omissions until after I’ve returned home from work. I’ll park the van, climb into the trailer, and somehow miss the fact that the back room has been reduced to a pile of planks, or that the roof has been wrest away. “Did you notice the entire second floor is gone?” Bob asked me last night, and I was forced to confess that, nope, I hadn’t. It could be that my sense of scale has gone “macro” from seeing all the mountains on my ride home. But it could also be one of my old habits from The City: That of never looking up.

The changes I do notice are the additions. Bob and Walt only work on the house every other day, and in the meantime, Bob takes on these not-so-little side-projects of his own. Like the Jane-Austen-style fence that he wove behind the Schmabin, made entirely of twisty tree branches, in a single day. Or the wooden muppet, roughly the size of a ten-year-old, that he carved to stand guard over our rhubarbs. Or our functional chicken house, made entirely from discarded boards.

Of these three new features the chicken house is, understandably, the one that frightens me the most–the only clearer harbinger of impending chicken ownership being a wobbling egg with a beak sticking out of it.

Even if I could fool myself into thinking Bob had just built this thing for show, our recent trip to the poultry exhibit at the county fair would have made his intentions perfectly clear. That, and the fact that his Mac features a Rhode Island Red as wallpaper.

But I’m not as worried about the inevitable chickens as I am about the equally-inevitable goats.

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The Crucible

Lonesome Valley locals tend to be very welcoming of outsiders, provided they are willing to live here through the winter.

Even one winter will do, it seems. The season is a kind of hazing ritual to them: Make it through and you’re an official citizen, crap out and you’re just a “summer person”–a term folks up here say the way pirates in old movies used to say “land-lubber”.

But when Bob and I tell people in Lonesome Valley that we are planning to live through the winter in a trailer, we tend to get the elicit the kind of looks from them that we used to get from our friends back in The City, when we were telling them about our living in a trailer period. “You mean a double-wide?” they ask, assuming they heard something wrong. “No,” we correct, “we mean a fifth-wheel.” And that’s when they unconsciously shake their heads–not because they don’t believe us, but because their undermind is silently begging us not to do something this stupid, if only to spare them from knowing they should have said something when our corpsicles thaw out next June.

For my part, I’m looking forward to the season; I want to see the real Lonesome Valley, the kind everybody up here spends their evenings bitching about. Otherwise, why be here at all?

I remember going to a local butcher shop on one of our first nights, and seeing this folk sculpture of an infamous indigenous pest; the scourge of this region’s communal epidermis. The artist had used a drywall screw for the creature’s mouth, painting its tip with flat red paint, to a depth of about three inches–far from creeping me out (or, in addition to this) it made me want to get bitten. And yes, when I finally got gouged by one of those suckers on the back of my right hand, I wore its fangmarks like badges of honor.

I don’t want to take the easy way in. I don’t want to be a “summer person”. There’s something plainly unnatural about the summer here anyway, you can tell just from the decor: The exteriors, where everybody is now canoeing, biking and roasting hot dogs, do not match the interiors, where everything is decorated with snoeshoes, oil lamps and antlers. The summer here is like a crusty old relative who puts on a good face for their grandchildren.

Me? I want to know just how batshit crazy Grandma really is.

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