Imagine yourself in cramped and dimly lit quarters. You are hunched over, unable to stand up without hitting your head on the ceiling above. Sweat is dripping down your face and sore back as you swing a pick ax in your wet hands. You wipe your face with your hands to divert another drop (stream?) of salty sweat before it makes burning contact with your eyes. Dust is everywhere. Dust in your nostrils. Dust sticking to your sweaty body. Occasionally and more frequently than you care for, your pick ax suddenly stops as it makes impact with a solid rock. Eventually, once there is enough loose clay, dirt, and sand in front of you, you trade in the pick for a spade shovel. Each scoop of the soil gets tossed into the ever growing pile a few feet away that marks the next phase of work.
Before you can begin swinging the pick ax again, you need to clear out that pile. Putting the ax down and grabbing the spade shovel you start filling a line up of assorted 5-gallon buckets. Those buckets at one time contained tractor hydraulic oil or bulk restaurant pickles. Most of them have long since lost their plastic handles which would generally make handling them a little easier on the hands. Instead, only the metal wire handle is left. It takes you no time at all to fill up those buckets, barely putting a dent into the pile of loose soil you have amassed. Now, its time to drop the shovel, grab a full bucket in each hand. “Bend at the knees, lift with ease,” except the bending doesn’t stop until you get to the steps, for fear your head will again make contact with that cursed ceiling. You make your way over to the flight of stairs. Stairs? If you want to call them that, poorly maintained steps, some missing due to dry-rot and replaced with cinderblocks. Calf muscles and knees strain as you cautiously take each creaking step upwards, always thinking about how terrible it would feel if the step below you gave out, and hoping that remains only a thought, never to become reality.
Once up, you head outside to the somewhat refreshing and cool winter air. Refreshing for a while anyways, until that sweat starts to cool and leaves you with a chill. You now gather some more strength to unload the two buckets into a wheelbarrow. After another two trips down and up, the wheelbarrow is full. Six bucket to one wheelbarrow. You are now tasked with the chore of maneuvering the wheelbarrow across the ice and snow, about 100 yards away where you can unload the warm soil onto the frozen, snow covered ground. Whoa, keep that ‘barrow upright or there’ll be more work, or a wheelbarrow in the abdomen or wheelbarrow leg in the shin bone.
You think you are done? Not quite. Only about another 100 or so rounds left to go, maybe, but I lost count 20 buckets ago. Back to the pick ax.
This is what my first winter at our house looked like…
This is where we started from..
This was what my life consisted of nearly every weekend and many evenings through that winter. Crazy? Probably! Would I do it all over again? Absolutely NOT! Am I happy it is done? Most certainly! This is the cost of failing to look over a house from bottom to top before purchasing it, and being too stubborn to drop an idea, no matter how crazy it may be. Dare I say, this was my stupid tax? Well then, I should be paid in full.
From a bunch of men from our Church stopping by to surprise us one Saturday….
to putting a bounty on each bucket of 25 (eventually growing to 50) cents in hopes to entice the older children to help carry up a few loads, we eventually we got the basement dug out, foundation reinforced and concrete poured, and most of the walls down there framed up. We turned a dingy dirt floor crawl space with a 4-5 feet clearance, depending on where you stood, into a proper usable basement with a concrete floor and seven foot clearance. With that in mind, you can see why me and my wife are collectively breathing a huge sigh of relief going into this winter.
I will have my time with the shovel again in the future when we transform that pile of basement soil we have outside from a pile of weeds into an all-year fully self-sufficient greenhouse based on the earthship design. But, for now, I am enjoying every project that does not involve a 5-gallon bucket, pick ax, and shovel!
So, with where we came from fresh in your mind, I’d like to transport you to where we are now. Still a long ways off from complete, but also a long ways off from where we started! As promised last week, here are some before and present pictures of the house and barn. Before/afters, my favorite!!!
House, before. Red… Tasteful!? Was it meant to match the barn??? Notice the white coming through the red? Yeah, that is not your imagination..
House, present. Only trim, fascia, and a porch left to go.
Barn, before. Anyone have a bulldozer? Giant bonfire maybe?
Barn, present. A work in progress, but now moving forward into usefulness from decay.
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