Thursday, April 23, 2015

Lessons For Hikers

We live in this very technological world these days, and sometimes we forget that there is dirt and rock under our feet.  The weather's been nice for hiking during my lunch break. I try to pay close attention to nature as I walk. Here are a few lessons I've learned.

Trust Gravity

If you're headed up and up and up, and you feel like your getting lost on the trail, let gravity pull down to earth. Turn around and go down the trail. You may slip and bust your butt if you move too fast, but at least you won't exhaust yourself going nowhere. Gravity will take you home.

Avoid Shortcuts If You Can

Shortcuts get you where you want to go a little faster; especially when you feel lost up there on the trail. However, you will never be an expert on that hill if you take shortcuts.

If It Twists On The Outside, It Probably Isn't Stable On The Inside

Just like people. You cannot trust a tree that twists and twirls to get to the sunlight. It sure is pretty to see, but beware.  It will fly apart on you when the weather gets rough.

Get To Know The Locals

Please don't forget that they were there before you, and where most are fairly harmless, it's not unheard of for an arrogant newcomer to get bit in the ass.

Always be nice to the locals. They're the reason you came out here in the first place.

Come Prepared

Bring lots of water. Drink it often. Make sure you have a snack if you're going to be out for awhile, and for god's sake, don't wear wimpy shoes. You'll be most productive if you're wearing a proper pair of hiking boots. You're also less likely to fall down. And that gets us back to gravity.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

What a High Speed Train Could Do for Our Sanity

We went to a great party at Paradox House Vineyard last Saturday. I've known the Rowletts for many years, and they always throw the best parties. Their vineyard is in Industry, Texas; not far from the land we're still waiting to close on. The instant I drive into Fayette County, I start to relax. I feel like myself. The vineyard is in Austin County, but that's only 20 miles or so from our property, so the effect is the same. Peace, joy, relaxation.

What on earth made me leave this?

Mostly the need for a better job. Plus, I thought I would do better socially if I left the country and moved back to Austin. Granted. It was the right move at the time because I doubt I would have met Tammy while living in La Grange. We had to leave our roots to find each  other, but NOW, we can get back to who we are on the inside.

Thursday, I sat in Austin's crazy, and what feels unnecessary, traffic. I did it again yesterday. It feels like a waste of quality time. And it's not like I'm making a big salary to compensate. I will have to be resourceful to realize my dreams. Same goes for Tammy. She literally breaks her back taking care of indigent dental patients. She works harder than anyone in private practice, and she is paid less to take care of the sickest, poorest, craziest, most criminal in the city.  You can see how we circle the rim of resentment.

However, we see the beauty of having a city home.

Austin is a beautiful city. It's why half the planet wants to move here. We may lack the superior art and performance venues that a city like Houston has, but we make up for it in natural beauty.  We'll always keep our downtown condo.

Why am I posting this rambling piece?  Because I haven't written in over a week. I got sucked into the grind of just trying to go to work, keep a smile on my face, not lose it on my stupid commute home, not think about the massive buildings that are going up around me, that will put even MORE people on the road that offers zero mass transit options...

Brain dead. No inspiration. Tammy says she's going to start feeding me fish oil because she worries about my brain.  Goddam!  Am I that bad?

A high speed train would do wonders for our sanity... and our joy. I want a fast ride to work, right up Capital of Texas Highway. But I could totally get behind a train from Austin to Houston that would drop me off in Fayette County.  Whether I rode it to work everyday or made a quick escape on Friday nights, I cannot think of a better solution to traffic in this congested little city.  

Anyway, we signed the contract amendment on the property. It says we close May 8.  It cannot get here fast enough.  So next time I write, I think I'll post some thoughts on topography and why that's important when you build a house.  I may also do some research on lumber harvesting, and how to sell good trees that will unfortunately have to come down to make room for a structure.

In the meantime, this tiny little space will be our natural paradise.  Fortunately the rain is making it greener.

Bring on the fish oil, Tammy, if it makes it easier for me to imagine that wall as sunrise over a valley.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


I got an email yesterday that the closing on our property will be delayed at least two weeks. Boo.  We expected to close next Friday. However, I am OK with a delay due to cautious and thorough research by the title company.

Apparently, there are 7 heirs to this property/estate. One has died. Now they have to track down his two kids in San Antonio. The property has a very old deed. It's been in this family for about 100 years!

I get it. Clear titles are good titles, so this may be a little advanced for real estate novices, but let me tell you! Make sure you have a very clean title for anything you buy.

1. No liens.  A title company should never allow you close your deal if liens are on the property.

2. No back taxes. If you read carefully, or get an attorney to read for you, you'll see that the title company will clearly state that "it ain't their problem" if the tax man comes lookin' for his money from a long time ago. Check that shit. Do not buy property with back taxes owed.

3. Any other restrictions. In our case, their is a water conservation district with sort of dense rules.  Actually, the rules are very straightforward. They're just written like some dude on the legislature - or his secretary, actually - would write them. I'm a good reader. I read that stuff to make sure I was not restricted from digging a well on my very rural, very raw land.

4. Utilities in general. Make sure you can get them. You probably are not the "off the grid" person  you think your are.

5. Pay for the lawyer. If this stuff scares you, come up with the cash and get a lawyer. Get the paperwork read and explained to you.  Do it. Seriously.

Soooooo.... In the meantime, we can research flat pack houses, cabins, rain water catchment, tractors....

May 1 is a long way off, but we will happily wait for a clear title.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Tiny Houses - Frankly, I Like the Idea

One of the things Tammy and I have to figure out is what the first house will be like once we're ready to build one on our property.

I started following to get some ideas on floor plans. Although we probably won't go THAT tiny, it's easy enough to add a few hundred square feet to a tiny house to simply make it a small house.

If you're a newbie to building your own paradise, here's an Austin couple that's made the transition without leaving the city. Check out Eddie and Lacey's tiny house on wheels.

Tammy and I are pretty good at small, if not tiny, living here in Austin. With her daughter and a dog in the space, it often feels cramped. I admit it. I want my own private office where no one can bother me, but you know what? I don't think my blog has suffered because my "office" is in the master bedroom. Small house is fine. We eat our meals together at the table. We cook together. We have a nice patio where we can relax and interact with the neighbors. And the community is very pretty. We don't ever need a big house.

More than anything we want a little cabin in the woods because we love big nature.

Back in 2000, I bought some raw land and built a 900 sq foot cabin. It had a 600 sq ft. foot print, and a 300 square foot loft. Not tiny, and barely small, it was easy to expand that structure over the years, and eventually, a tiny cottage with a small kitchenette, was added to the property.

The kitchen was only as wide as the front door. Nobody was cooking gourmet meals there, but it was perfectly fine for simple living. It had a small closet by the kitchen.

 Think of this space as an efficiency apartment with a better view.

When Tammy and I build our cabin, it will have to be bigger than this structure because the two girls are actually three. We'll have to go "bigger" to accommodate for privacy. 

Also, I can't take credit for this tiny house design. I have to give a shout out to Sheryl Cox, who was the first person to turn me on to tiny living. As I recall, she guided the concept on this very livable cabin. But I wanted to share it to give an example of very comfortable and efficient living. 

Also, this particular cabin had an 8X16 foot storage room on the end of it. It served as a long-term, temperature controlled space for the shit we just couldn't part with. The thing about that storage space is that I eventually got rid of just about everything I had in there. I'm happy about that. It's freeing.

Since I recently wrote about the power of nature, I'll leave you with a lesson in tiny living. Personally, I think this is the most refreshing tiny house on the planet. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Nature is a Nuisance Around Here

This past week, I walked down to the mailbox, and on my way back, I passed a wild animal trap with a dead possum in it. Apparently, the HOA has instructed the grounds keeper in our condo community to trap wild animals that stray onto the property. He is to relocate them to the park down the street.

This is like telling someone to trap air and relocate it to the next room.

Even in the city, nature is alive and well. And honestly, it upset me that our HOA is participating in such a stupid, uninformed practice of relocating the ubiquitous residents of the urban forest. They are alive and well and in abundance. They come onto the property to eat from bird feeders and drink from bird baths. I am not a wildlife biologist, but damn! How myopic to trap and trap and trap and then actually let an animal die... in a trap... by the condo unit.... WITH THE BIRD FEEDERS!!!

Let's take a moment to relax into the picture below. Enjoy the mighty beauty of the sunrise over the natural world. I can't wait to get back to it.


I'm so happy you all had a good laugh over the toilet dilemma that awaits our arrival on our new piece of raw land. Our land is about 10 miles from that sunrise up there in that picture. I once saw a flock of wild turkeys where that sunrise is happening. I've seen a deer or two there. Heard a few coyotes singing from that location. As I recall, I took that picture about 10 years ago on a cool spring morning. What is not present just yet, is a snake.

Snakes are so scary to people. I mean, yeah. If you're uninformed you may get bit, but if you're informed, you can safely put that hoe away and simply avoid close contact with a snake. Snakes don't want to be around you either. They don't like you any more than you like them. In a few weeks, I will be tasked with teaching at least one of my family members how to live in harmony with snakes.

Just like that poor possum that died in a trap, snakes may be near by because they need food or water, or maaaayyybeee... you decided to move into that snake's territory. Snakes don't wander aimlessly. They have about a 3 foot by 2 mile wide territory. Instinct dictates their lives. I surely do wish humans would think about this before they decide to kill off animals that have a purpose in nature. I understand the need to remove them for safety reason - because most people don't vibe with the natural world so good - but if you're thinking about a land purchase, please be considerate of the neighbors.

Poison Ivy

I hate this shit.

I looked up it's benefits. None to humans. However, deer eat it. It's a food source. Some bug or something places it's larvae on the underside of the leaves for safety reasons. Otherwise, it's a plantlife terrorist. 

If you're in a non-manicured setting, the stuff likes to grow just along the line between the shaded woods and the full sunlight. It looks like this.

Go ahead and blow that picture up to see the 5 points on the leaves. The red stem. The seemingly harmless and beautiful 3 leaf cluster. Just like snakes, it will always be there. It's up to you to learn how to avoid it. 

Don't Close Your Eyes and Miss It

Here's the truth. I'm upset about that dead possum because it was a juvenile, and it used to quietly sit in the tree in my courtyard, hurting no one. I have no food or standing water for it. It was just living its life. When I feel trapped in a confined space, populated by tired trees and waning sunlight, I like the serendipitous appearance of a wild animal.

Nature tries very hard to keep a foothold on this city. There is nothing as beautiful as blooming wildflowers, climbing vines out of control with color, and a fancy cardinal singing his spring love song. 

It is the promise, to the human race, that nature is too powerful to defeat. No matter what tragedy we exact on it, it continues to forgive us and remind us that it is our mighty keeper.

Happy Easter, everyone.