Disappointment, Failure, and Growth

I haven’t looked at this site in almost two years. I haven’t written in it in almost three. So it’s time for an update.

Our landlord in Tennessee wouldn’t sell us the dome house for anything less than an exorbitant amount. Meanwhile, come Summer, we found out that snakes like to breed under the house and then start pouring out of the walls. So Manny and I ended up moving to another house closer to work in North Carolina.

Over the next year, we made great friends and Manny grew as a person and was able to expand herself and her horizons. She became more beautiful every day.

I, however, became wrapped up in my failure from the dome house- not because it was that much of a failure on my part, but because I lost a future I had so desperately come to want. The year passed by- I spent all of it at work, stressed, drunk, or sleeping. For a lot of reasons, it could have been a good year, but for me, it just wasn’t.

Except for our Tuesday night dinner parties. Those I will always remember fondly. They solidified some lasting friendships and were a time to be creative and social and have fun. But apart from Tuesday nights, I languished. I hated my job, and I spent so much time at it that I couldn’t enjoy the beauty of the area I lived in. Eventually, I couldn’t enjoy much of anything. When the year passed, we moved back to Florida and split up.

The year following, my head-space was akin to a drowning man who was drowning only because he was unmotivated to surface. My failures had piled onto each other in my mind- I had lost my dream-future, I was separated from most of my friends by either time or distance, and I had lost my partner, whom I care for deeply. I threw myself again into work at a new job. My off time was spent trying to stay as far from sobriety and my own thoughts as possible.

But gradually, the time I did get with my thoughts healed me. Self-evaluation led me to recognize that the weight of failure I had put on myself was largely unfounded. The dome property didn’t work out, but I tried everything I could. The relationship would have ended anyway, and I was able to eventually salvage a new friendship with Manny once I got my head out of my ass.

I started to take care of myself. Looking back, a large part of my depression probably stemmed from malnutrition- while I was getting plenty of calories (I gained 40 pounds in 2 years), working as a GM in a fast-food restaurant 60-plus hours a week had probably left me very deficient in key nutrients. I never had the energy to workout, or really do anything else, during my time in North Carolina.

Some new friendships (and old ones reopened) really helped me get back on my feet, mentally. I never lost the ability to take care of myself physically, but I owe a lot of the progress in my mental recovery to some friends that really let me see the good in life again.

I began to think in terms of making things better for myself, my friends, and my community again. I started forming a new plan. There was a reason I left St. Pete, FL in the first place. I wanted to travel away from home, to write, and to do something great. I got a gym membership, and started cutting down on cigarettes and drinking. I also started fleshing out a plan- a plan called Lieutenant Planet.

I wanted to get back to nature, like my life in Tennessee. I wanted to travel and write. I wanted to benefit my community. I put all that together and founded an initiative- A traveling environmental journalism/activism initiative. I put my notice in at work 4 months ahead of time, and I started researching, building a site, building a social media base, and telling people about the project. A lot of friends thought it sounded awesome, but a lot of them, I could tell, didn’t think I would actually do it.

January 1st, 2019 – I left. I toured Florida, writing about environmental issues around the state. I got the Ocala National Forest roadways cleaned up. I made a lot of connections in the environmental protection scene in Florida. Now I’m in Louisiana, doing the same thing. I’m living in my van, doing research, writing, and visiting environmental problem areas. I have a website for the serious stuff at lieutenantplanet.com.

I also have a more fun subscription site that houses an ongoing video series of my travels and reports, at patreon.com/lieutenantplanet. And I’m slowly starting to build an income through independent environmental journalism and activism. I’m 6 weeks in, and I have quit smoking, I drink only on occasion, and I am now a vegetarian.

At 31 years old, I sold almost everything I owned, quit my job, moved into a van, and started doing something good. I dragged myself out of my own depths to do it, and I couldn’t be happier.

I will be keeping this site to use as a personal blog space to remind me of how I turned it all around. I’m also interested in keeping the idea of the Ponderer’s Society alive, but right now I am focused on building a community of Planeteers, and saving the world.

 

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Spring Is Upon Us

I think we may have gotten our last snow of the season yesterday. Here’s to hoping!

Which means planting needs to start soon. Holding back the flood of ideas and being realistic, I’ve decided to start only with an herb and vegetable garden. My plan is to expand it throughout the year, and build a greenhouse for it (and some other potted plants) by winter. I will also be taking care of the apple orchard and the walnut trees.

The farm field needs too much work to be able to start this year. The ground has been untouched for years, it was covered in briars and straw and overgrown cotton when i started on it with a machete. A tree had fallen onto the fence around it, which I chopped up into a few pieces and heaved out. With the tree gone and the fence repaired, Manny and I raked. And raked and raked. And picked up organic debris of all kinds. Separate days of raking. And it still needs more raking. Now that spring is upon us, the grass from outside the fence is creeping in. Weeds are sprouting everywhere. I got a handheld tiller for the garden, but that’s not going to get the job done on the farm. The ground is too rocky- I need a gas-powered tiller. I need to get every plant out and churn the clay-like soil. And I need to do this a few times over the year, adding compost and letting everything lie fallow.

Next year I will have a plantable farm. Toying with the idea of the hugelkultur technique, using raised-row compost beds for extra surface area. I’m also thinking of incorporating aquaponic raft-gardens on the big lake. Ultimately, I want to use a wide variety of growing methods, and open visitation dates for the agriculture departments at the local schools. The big plan is to create a community-based group promoting critical-thinking in education and politics, especially in regards to sustainability. That last sentence I have to repeat in my head sometimes, because I’m still getting used to the change of lifestyle, the surroundings, the massive learning-curve… Thinking of the future often seems like a luxury I can’t afford.

But when I do, the future is bright.

 

It’s Been Awhile

The past six weeks have kept me busier than I imagined. The training program for my new job is finally coming to an end, and I start with a salaried position this week. Progress.

Also, Fiona had her puppies. This ate up all my time outside of training, because Fiona decided to have EIGHT of them! Her first litter, eight puppies. The first few weeks we kept them inside, but the smell and the cleaning got to be too much, and with one of my first paychecks, we decided to fix up the old shed out back, and fashion into a puppy house until the pups are weaned and ready to go to new homes (we have a few people adopting already!). First job was sealing it- a major chore for a dilapidated shed. A few bottles of caulk and a lot of light/dark testing later, it was sealed. Then I put up some insulation and set up a heater. The first time we moved the pups in, momma started to dig out through the old particle-board floor. So we moved them back out and I reinforced the floor and the walls. We have a doggy-door, but have decided to wait to install it. First, we need a fence outside the shed. But also, the pups are still too small to be outside alone. We have resident coyotes, hawks, etc that would snack on a puppy in an instant. Now they are all settled into their own giant, heated doghouse, with bedding and electricity. The pups will be ready to branch out on their own in a few weeks, but we might keep one or two, along with the momma, and let them keep the shed. We just need some fencing.

Manny has started a job as a teachers assistant for 3-5 year olds, and today is beginning an Early-Childhood Education course at the local community college. She is happy with the job, claiming she found a way to be an adult without having to really be an adult. With her working 40 hours a week, and me working 55 hours a week, the farming will admittedly be on smaller level than I had hoped, at least this first year. I plan on having a full herb garden, a small vegetable garden, and some flowers, so we can learn this year on a variety of different plants. We are also going to take care of the apple orchard and try to bring it back to a healthy state, as well as gauge the crop yield for those and the walnut trees that dot the property. By summers end, I’d like to have a greenhouse built, and try my hand at winter growing as well. Next year, perhaps, with some money saved up, we can grow from having multiple gardens to starting a small farm.

In the meantime, Spring is in the air! Today the high will be in the 70s for the first time since we came here. We have just about made it through the winter. It was more of a task than I could have guessed, but we made it, and are flourishing! The winter anxiety is starting to recede, and the future looks bright.

And it’s perfect writing weather.

 

As requested, pictures from the past month:

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After a particularly chilly February night
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Manny standing in the middle of our frozen lake after a 0 degree night
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My first snowman! With the last of the snow on a 60 degree day 🙂
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This is a picture from our front gate. Behind me is about a mile of driveway, which I walked up and down every day to get to work and back, because the car couldn’t make it. It’s raining slush, but I took the picture to remind me of the struggles of the first winter here, and the feeling I got when I rounded the corner and finally saw the light from the house (that tiny dot in the middle).
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This is from a few days ago, on the way to work. It’s finally starting to get warmer.
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Manny and the pups, the first time they went exploring outside ❤

We Aren’t in Florida Anymore

Today Manny and I are stuck at home. We haven’t had much in the way of internet for the past week, but I just hassled our provider for some extra high-speed service- for our safety, and to write about the past couple of days.

I will start with the day before yesterday. The day started with a light snow, with more forecasted. My mother, in her infinite wisdom and generosity, advised me to get snow pants and sent me some money for such a purchase (I was supposed to start at my new job almost a month ago, now I start next week. If anyone would like to donate to the cause, though, our gofundme account is a great way to do it!). Kerin had the day off, so we all went to the mall in Boone together.

When I say mall, I’m using the term loosely. The mall in Boone is comprised of maybe a dozen stores, and one can see every one of them from the middle of the building. I don’t mind- they have a Radio Shack. Anyway, Kerin went shopping for some clothes and so did I. Manny tagged along with a sweet tea in hand while I picked out and tried on some snow pants. I got some on sale, and, pleased with my purchase, waited on Kerin to be done at Rue 21. As I waited, I kept glancing outside- the snow was getting heavier. When we were finally done with the mall, in fact, the car was covered in about 6 inches of snow. So, 30 miles away from home, this was the day I was to learn to drive in the snow.

We made it to Walmart no problem (I know, Walmart. I’m not happy about it either). Manny and I got a prepaid phone on the Verizon network for emergencies, as our cell phones on our network only worked when our internet worked through a signal-boosting piece of hardware. Verizon, we have gleaned from the residents of Mountain City, is the only provider that works here. Kerin got an electric blanket, for half the cost of the overpriced ones in the mall. She has her RV hooked up with propane now, but the old heater, we have since found out, doesn’t actually work anymore. Go figure.

After a quick stop at the liquor store, it was time to head home. Never was I able to go above 40 miles per hour on the highway, and only that fast because a snowplow had just made a round. That said, when we finally got to our turn, I slowed down to ten miles per hour, and fluidly slid in the opposite direction into the parking lot of the Baptist church at the base of our mountain. I wanted to leave the car there, but Manny, with her pioneering spirit, wanted a go at the wheel. We made it 50 yards to the end of our street. At which point some people behind us helped to push us off the road. During this time, we witnessed a few more trucks get stuck. In fact, a 4×4 with giant snow tires slid into a ditch not 20 yards away. I felt better about how far my little Pontiac had gotten.

At this point it was walk or bust. So the three of us gathered up all of our bags, locked the car up on the side of the road, and proceeded up the mountain. It was an uphill walk, in 8 inches of snow, for a mile and a half. I could feel the entitlement of my generation melting off of me as I climbed. For the first time I understood the oft-talked-about urge to lay down and fall asleep in the snow. It looks so soft and inviting, and it is difficult to trudge through, even for someone used to walking on soft beach sand (Ha!). On the way up we noticed deer tracks from the family of deer that frequents our valley, crisscrossing the trail. Little spots of red alert us to the fact that one of them has been injured, though we don’t know the cause.

After what seems like hours, we reach the top. In unpacking all of our purchases, I realize that the snow pants I had bought are nowhere to be found. Fuck. Whatever, we are happy to be home. After a few shots of whiskey and a movie, we retire to bed.

realsnow

Only I can’t sleep. I’m worried about my car, on the side of the road at the bottom of the mountain. I’m worried about Kerin being able to get to work the next day- her van won’t make it down the mountain in that snow. I tossed and turned, worried about our livelihood, our transportation, and what tomorrow would bring.

 

Daybreak. I don’t want to disturb Manny’s sleep. But around 8 o’clock, I can’t stay in bed anymore. I sneak downstairs, put on some pajama pants, a coat, a hat, gloves, and my boots, and then go get the snow shovel. I start at the van, and work my way down the driveway to the gate. I go inside for water some time later and Manny is making coffee. I greet her and go back out. Around 11, I come back in and have some coffee and breakfast. Then Manny and I go out again- to make the trek to the car. I had shoveled about a half-mile of the mile-long driveway. The rest of the driveway we kicked through the snow where the tire tracks would be, so Kerin would be able to go to work. When we got to our street, we found that it had been plowed and re-graveled. We went to the end of our street, and thank heaven, my car was still there. We shoveled it out, and unstuck all the doors. My snow pants were still nowhere to be found, and my pajama pants are caked in snow half-way up my shins. We start up the car, and move it, slowly, up the hill onto our street, leaving it at the end of our driveway. Then we made the trek back to the house, kicking through the snow again to mark the way for the van.

When we get back, my socks are soaked. The bottom of my pants are stiff and frozen. But a hot shower later, things are back to normal. Kerin has made plans to stay in town overnight- there is a strong snow storm coming and she knows she won’t be able to make it back. We wish her luck, and the hours of shoveling pays off as she drives away. Manny and I start collecting more firewood for the weather ahead- she collects, I chop. Daylight wanes, and we go inside for dinner. That night, last night, it starts snowing again.

wood

This morning, Manny and I woke up to a fresh blanket of snow. My work from the day before was completely hidden. It’s about a foot deep. My orientation for work has been postponed to Sunday, after the snowstorms. We’re not going anywhere. So today we have stayed inside, with our now-incredibly-pregnant dog Fiona (Farm dogs, I have learned, will go a long way to get to a bitch in heat). We managed, through our minutes-on-the-hour connection to the internet, to get our new prepaid phone to work, which we promptly used to call our provider. We managed to get a little more high-speed service, and that brings us up to date. Today, as we watch the snow and the gusts of powdery wind outside, we are staying warm with hot homemade soup, a roaring fire, and Miami Vice on DVD. It’s not supposed to stop snowing until the day after tomorrow.

We definitely aren’t in Florida anymore.

 

 

 

Winter

I’ve never taken a winter vacation. I suppose this is my first. I landed a management job, but I don’t start until later this month. Kerin is making money bartending though, and that is getting us through at the moment. Without disposable income, some things have come to a halt- Acquiring a landline phone service, major gardening tools, and building materials will have to wait. Eating right and staying warm are the primary focuses as Manny nurses a broken toe and I wait for my salary to kick in.

Time off has allowed the creative juices to flow, and given us ample time to research and plan our way forward. Manny has been exploring her options for education in the relatively new field of food-healing. I support her 100%, as I have often thought that healing in this country is too heavily weighted on after-the-fact care and treatment, while almost ignoring preventative measures. Sure, “eating healthy” is popular, but a lot of people don’t know what eating healthy really means outside of macronutrient data like calories and grams of this and that. Her dream is to take a holistic approach to cooking good food (Man she can cook- she’s put 20 pounds on me in two years!) for people that will not only satisfy their cravings but satisfy their health needs. She wants to take spice-ology to a new level, one that stresses health benefits and taste equally. For her, this farm is a starting point for her to launch a career doing what she loves- cooking for people. Not just for their taste-buds, not just to fill them up, but to improve their quality of life through food.

For me, this property is the future. When I look outside I see greenhouses filled with veggies, an herb garden next to an outdoor kitchen, rows of exotic flowers, and mountain-side plots of ginger, garlic, and mushrooms. I see a barn with goats and a flock of chickens. I see a smokehouse, a root cellar, a cider press, a cheese shack, and a few beehives. I see solar panels, wind turbines, and hydro-electric possibilities. I see more cabins for family and friends. I also see a meeting ground- a safe place for people to come together as a community and express opinions. A hub for progressive education, critical thinking, and local politics. A ponderer’s society, if you will.

Looking through such long-term time-noculars is addicting. The first years of the process will be filled more with outside work, and gaining disposable income to be used as capital. In three years, I hope to have the property officially in my name. In ten years, I hope to have invested enough time and resources into the property to be able to make an income from the harvests and goods that come from it. This will allow me to manage my time in order to become an active political citizen in the community I will have inhabited for a decade already. A grey-haired, bespectacled mountain man and community leader, with a house and property that proves anything is possible- that is who I want to be.

But for now, it’s Winter. I made my first snowball the other day, and promptly threw it at Manny. She was not amused. Also I suspect the neighbors dog has impregnated Fiona, so Spring puppies may be on the horizon. Here’s a picture of her staying toasty:

fiona

 

And here is a tentative layout for the outdoor herb garden and compost heap, with a layer of snow just for effect:

snowgarden

And lastly, I’ll leave you with a couple pictures of the big lake, before and after a hard freeze:

foggy
Before
frozenlake
After!

Mountain Life

The many mental and physical transitions I have gone through over the past few weeks are daunting. The most notable change is the fact that I went from being a night-owl to a morning person- in the first week. I wake up at dawn every morning and before I’ve gotten through half of my first cup of coffee I’m ready to go. Having a piece of land to work is intensely rewarding, and exciting! I’ve never been an avid “gamer,” but one great way to describe this feeling to a city-dweller is by comparing my real-life to a gamer’s virtual reality. I have an infinitely-manipulable world around me, I can use every resource, and my real life and wellbeing are on the line. Grinding for resources is a real struggle- Firewood, for instance, requires dedicated time and effort, and failure to procure it means freezing your ass off. But chopping firewood (something I’ve never had to do before, growing up in urban/suburban Florida) is an enchantingly romantic task, especially when you are doing it to keep yourself and your loved ones warm.

Time escapes me here. Wintertime in our valley grants us a daily allotment of about 5 hours of direct sunlight. Lacking clocks and jobs for the first two weeks was incredibly calming, and changed my sleeping habits drastically. It also has changed my perception of time. In the city, everything happens extremely fast. You get used to that, and when things take even a little time, impatience sets in. Here, my time is slowly changing from minute to minute to day by day. My thinking and planning habits are being stretched from what I want to get done today to what I want to get done this month. This slow-down gives me time to really take in my surroundings. The natural beauty of this environment does not go unnoticed. For instance, here is a picture of the last apple in our orchard:

lastapple

Sights like this make you sit and ponder, and fill you with appreciation for the beauty that you have missed in the past. Here’s another picture, of the dwindling light over the valley:

sunset

The appreciation of beauty begets motivation to make your surroundings more beautiful. Some people can find this motivation in urban surroundings. I did, to a degree, but being a political scientist makes it all too easy to see the ugly that lies under the beauty that lies under the ugly. Here things are more straightforward. If you need something, you make it. And if you appreciate the beauty around you, you think of both form and function, as well as preservation. For instance, we needed stairs going down the hill next to the house. The hill is steep and takes a long time to walk around, and the grass can be slippery. So I made stairs. But I didn’t want to destroy the hill, I wanted to incorporate stairs into the hill. So using a shovel and my bare hands, along with a few bricks and indigenous clay and mountain rocks, I made stairs:

stairs

You can’t just make stairs in the city. And stairs like this would be completely out of place if you tried to. But here, they are perfect. Today I will be clearing fallen leaves and branches from the creek that runs by our long driveway, all the way down the mountain, in hopes of reducing the amount of standing water by the house when it rains. Gravel will also help. There is a quarry just down the road that can supply that, but for now we must wait. Money is growing tight. Not having to think about finances for a couple weeks was amazing, but Manny and I have jobs now, and I have a feeling Kerin will have one by the end of the day today. Thankfully we have plenty of firewood ready, and food to last us until our first paychecks. We have made our home comfortable, though the RV still needs work to be winter-ready. There is much work to be done in the valley before the spring, and many more tools and materials to procure in the meantime, but we are settled in and have our sights aimed forward. Of course, any help is greatly appreciated- We have made a short list of supplies needed on our GOFUNDME account, if anyone is able and interested in supporting a couples’ dream, and sustainable farming and education. The more funding we can obtain through crowdsourcing, a little at a time, the more time we can dedicate to this wonderful and rewarding venture, out of our regular jobs in the city!

Until next time, happy travels to you and yours from me and mine.

The Beginning

We have arrived!

Actually, we arrived on November 17th, late at night, after a 48-hour journey that the RV did not make it all the way through. My girlfriend Manuela and I stayed the night that cold Tuesday, after some Mexican take-out. Kerin, our good friend and avid mountain-hippy from Alaska, took her van back to Charlotte that night to be with Stormy, her beloved 1977 SportCoach RV. Little did she know that it would be a week-long fiasco to get Stormy finally laid to rest on the property.

Meanwhile, Manuela and I cleaned, organized the stuff we had (minus all the stuff still in the RV), and bought supplies. I have my first wood stove now, and it is my primary method of heating, so first on the list was an axe, shears, a small handheld saw, a hatchet, a few knives, two shovels, and a few grill lighters. Next we stocked the house with food. A few thrift store stops after that, and we had a home.

Yesterday Kerin finally got her RV on the property. All in all it took 4 tows and one week to get the beast from Florida to her home in Tennessee, but we are finally all here. We ate a hearty beef stew and drank hot-totties to celebrate.

Phone and internet installation required some research and some shopping around. We got internet today, but for the first week we had to travel to town (about 25-30 minute drive) to make any calls or use the internet. We might get cell service if we switch providers, but that’s a problem for another day.

Our new german shepherd puppy, Fiona, has acclimated very well to mountain life. We took her from a friend in Florida who was overburdened with animals, and brought her up with us, along with our pet Rat, Houdini. Houdini has the whole loft to run around in when we let her out, and Fiona has the entire valley. The family is happy.

That brings us to today. Manuela is currently baking pies for Thanksgiving tomorrow. A fire is crackling away in the wood stove. Kerin has made a trip out to Charlotte to pick up her friend for Thanksgiving. We also hope to have our landlord over- an amazingly handy, self-proclaimed old mountain hippy, who built the geodesic dome house that we currently live in some 30 years ago. He raised a family on this property for over twenty years- it is a legacy, and we have assured him that we will treat it as such, and revitalize and expand it after the past few years of lackluster tenants.

So, I’ll leave off today with some firsts:

My first hard frost:

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The first time I’ve ever seen an icicle:

icicle

My first broken axe:

axehead

My next major purchase will have to be a chainsaw.