A New Adventure
in which we discover who, what, and why
I decided that the easiest way to keep everyone up to date with what I’m doing at the family homestead—the house many of you know as Truepenny—is to continue Jenny’s tradition of a newsletter. Just as I’m bringing the house into the twenty-first century, however (we have satellite internet now!) I thought it was time to go digital. I set up an account with Substack, a hybrid of a blog site and a newsletter, which I hope will make it easy for you to access these posts by email or on the web, whichever you prefer.
As I know I never have time to read weekly newsletters myself, I’m planning on posting these once every three months, near the solstices and equinoxes. We’re not long past the Spring Equinox now, so I’ll give you a brief rundown as a starting point in my next post, then catch up in June. I’m hoping that allows you to hear about what’s happening without getting overwhelmed by the volume, and it’ll let me focus on getting stuff done rather than spending hours at the keyboard every week.
So for starters, here’s the current cast of characters:
Sam, which would be me. I’m a middle-aged California native with environmental illness, trained in plant pathology. I love cooking and baking, gardening, fiber crafts, writing, hiking, woodworking, and Making Things.
Jennifer, my aunt. She lived at the house for fifty years, all told, and she knows most of its history and a bunch of its stories. She’s moving into town, and I’m helping her with things as she gets older.
Conrad, my uncle. He owns the house, though he lives about an hour away. He’s on board with getting the place back in shape, and lends material, financial, and moral support.
Rue, our man-of-all-work. He does the heavy labor I can’t, and he cuts down large trees when we need him to.
Recca and Kathyrn Jane, mother and daughter from a family who have been friends of our family for as long as I can recall.
Mary Jane, a no-nonsense lady who has been Jennifer’s friend for years.
The cats: Charlotte, my 17-year-old kitty from California; Cricket, my 1-year-old love bug; Only, the toothless housecat; and Other, the barn cat.
You’ll be reading about other names as events unfold, of course, but that should at least let you keep track of the people I mention most often.
Here’s a link to a Google Photos album I update from time to time, which can give you a sense of the surroundings and how things change with the seasons.
The project at hand is to bring the property I call Three Creeks back into good condition. Jenny has never been especially physical, and since Granny died in 2007 she’s really just been marking time until someone could take over. Conrad has done what he could, including putting a new roof on the house about five years ago; I’m very grateful for that, as a leaky roof in the Pacific Northwest can doom a house. But it needs more repairs, from the drafts around the ill-fitting front door to rebuilding the treacherous back porch steps. And I’m looking to update it as well: putting three-prong outlets in the rooms, setting up wireless internet for safety and entertainment, and replacing the somewhat sketchy old metal plumbing with modern flex pipe. There’s more furniture in the house than it really needs, and lots of things which have simply accumulated over the years. I’ll be spending a lot of time sorting through it, giving some items to family members who want them, and donating or disposing of the rest.
That’s just the house, not even touching the outbuildings. The five acres it sits on has gone to seed as well, in a rather literal sense; slightly more than two acres of pasture didn’t have sheep on it for years, reverting to alder trees, blackberry brambles, and Canada thistle. A lot of the land around the house, including the slope below the main driveway, has been taken over by common couchgrass, a tough and persistent perennial grass that chokes out most other plants. The garden is overrun with horsetail, nettle, comfrey, blackberry, and dock. Salmonberry and thimbleberry have encroached on all sides, nibbling away at the front lawn and swallowing the upper parking area, while clumps of Japanese knotweed seem to spontaneously materialize. Beavers altered the creeks, raising the water level below the house to almost the garden fence and turning the lower pastures into a huge marsh. I’ve started turning it around in the last two years, draining the garden and the pastures, clearing thickets, cutting volunteer trees, and putting down lime to bring back the soil fertility. It’s a long road, but it’s easy to see progress at the end of the day.
My long-term goal is to restore the place to the quirky, beautiful homestead I remember when I was a child, and make it available for family and friends to visit regularly. I’m making plans with entertaining guests in mind, including children. Beyond that, I’d like to improve on it, moving it further toward being a real working farm, producing enough food to support me and my guests plus some to sell or give to charity. The land can be improved with a bit of work, and I’m bringing my plant science degrees and all the experts of the print and digital world to bear. I want to make the property more independent and sustainable, and look into taking it off the grid. I’d like to update the interior, making it more useful and accessible without losing its character. And I’m working on ways to protect the property from threats such as wildfire, floods, and ice storms.
This newsletter will likely roam across all sorts of subjects: animal husbandry, carpentry, computer networking, landscape design, small-town politics, cooking, soil chemistry, creekbed restoration, orchard and turf management, flea-market economics, and more. It will be focused on what progress I’ve made and what I plan to do next, but I’m sure you’ll get a good dose of local color as well. I’ll try to keep it entertaining, and not too long.
On that note, welcome to the adventure.