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December 19, 2009

FedEx 1, UPS 0


For those who haven’t ventured up the road to Gypsy Rose, this tale of delivery may go unappreciated, but last week's arrival of Marion’s repaired camera via FedEx was a first here on the mountain.

Vermont’s road classification system categorizes all town highways into four classes. Beginning with Class 1, State Highways, and ending with Class 4 that, by definition, “are all other town highways including trails and pent roads.”

Class 4 roads do NOT meet the criteria set out for Class 1 through 3. (Class 3 requires that the road be “negotiable, under normal conditions, all seasons of the year by a standard manufactured pleasure car . . . including but not limited to sufficient surface and base, adequate drainage and sufficient width capable to provide winter maintenance.”)

Traffic is always light on the road that leads to Gypsy. One or two vehicles in a day would be considered heavy traffic during the summer months. Walking, horseback riding and biking are far more common. (Hunting season is the exception, but we won’t get sidetracked with that tale of men and their machines . . . ) Once the snows fall, the sound of a vehicle is not heard, except perhaps for an occasional faint rumble from far away.

During the second week of December we received 10-plus inches of snow. We decided to clear the road to make way for Marion’s departure for a visit to family. (Normally, the Subaru spends the winter months buried under the snows until April and we keep the 4WD truck parked near the junction with the nearest Class 3 plowed road.)

Returning home on a Friday night, I noticed tracks up the lane. “Hunters,” I mumbled, thinking of the damage they’ve done this year. “I’ll sure be glad when the season is over on Sunday!”

The next morning I took a look at the tracks that had come from a vehicle turning around at the entrance to our meadow. Turning back toward the tractor, I peered in disbelief at something that was stuck to the front of the John Deere’s hood. “What’s that?” I puzzled. “It looks like a parking ticket.”


Anyone familiar with these parts would know that a parking ticket is something that’s probably never been seen within 30 miles of our home. What that piece of paper was, however, is something that this piece of land has NEVER seen.

Friday, December 11th was a first. FedEx had attempted to deliver Marion’s camera. A signature was required for the delivery. The tag on the hood of the tractor requested that I sign, stating that another attempt to deliver would be made on Monday, the 14th.

I signed the tag but kept it indoors over the weekend. More snow piled up outside. On Monday morning I walked back to the tractor at the edge of the road and reattached the FedEx delivery tag to the hood. Throughout the day we found ourselves pausing from the routine.

“Was that a vehicle I heard?”


Darkness fell and no delivery truck had arrived. Time to call FedEx and schedule an alternate pick-up. I walked back to the tractor to get the tag, assuming it would have phone numbers printed on it. To my surprise, the tag was missing. Hanging from one of the hydraulic cylinders on the front-end loader was a plastic bag. A box was suspended in the bag. FedEx delivers.

Two days later, I received a call from UPS. They had a package addressed to me. The woman on the phone explained to me that the driver had balked because “the road didn’t look too well traveled.”

“Tell him to leave it at the post office in town,” I responded. “That’s what I’m used to.”

FedEX 1, UPS 0.

December 13, 2009

Preparing for Winter


Two months ago (mid-October) I began wrapping up my work at Local Motion in order to focus on the rapidly expanding list of things that had to be done before winter arrives at the Tunbridge homestead. There were all the usual tasks like tilling the garden (which we’ve expanded to twice the size of last summer’s), stacking and covering the woodpile, etc. There was also the annual ritual of hauling Raven and getting her winterized on her cradle at Shelburne Shipyard (nearly a week’s worth of work in itself, beginning on November 6th this year). The big project for the fall, however, was making preparations for the building of the 20’x30’ equipment shed (the first of two barns we have planned).

The first order of business was hauling the timber 80 miles from the mill in North Hyde Park, Vermont. That was no small feat. Nearly 3,000 board feet of green eastern hemlock weighs in at, well, a lot! (by my estimate, around 8 tons!)

Compounding the transport, which involved 3 loads of 5000-plus pounds apiece on a borrowed trailer, was the fact that heavy wet snow was falling when I awoke on that mid-October day at my sister’s house (home of the borrowed trailer) and headed off to the mill. When I arrived at the land in Tunbridge with the first bundle aboard, there were two inches of sloppy, slick snow atop the equally slick layer of wet leaves on the meadows. With all that weight, I nearly ended up with the entire load – truck and all – inside the greenhouse after I lost traction and slid the final 10 feet (forward and sideways at the same time) to where I’d ultimately unload.

Unloading the heavy timbers alone was a test of my aging body and applied physics. Utilizing fulcrums to their fullest, I off-loaded and stacked timbers that weighed a few hundred pounds apiece before returning for another load.


It’s been a tough couple of years for the building materials trades. Sawmills are no exception. While looking for a source of timber for this project it seemed as if the mills were going out of business faster than I could get to them with an order. Eventually, I found Dennis Heath at M.B. Heath & Sons in North Hyde Park, Vermont. The mill has been in business for nearly seventy years. Dennis and his entire crew are terrific folks to do business with, but he, too, is worried about the future. Going heavily into debt to try and ride out the downturn, he told me that if they can get through the coming winter he thinks they can make it. I wish them well and hope to see them when I return for more wood in the spring.


Next came the cement – over five thousand pounds of it (two trips with the trailer). I moved each 80-pound bag of cement mix four times on its way to the mixer.


Let’s see. That totals 20,000 pounds of lifting before adding water to it. Then came the shoveling of the whole lot into the forms! Combine that with the 30,000 pounds of hefting timbers (each one lifted twice) and I was pretty well spent by the time the foundation was complete. Thankfully, Marion had the foresight to stock up on Vitamin I (ibuprofen) before I tackled the work.










As I raced against the clock, the early taste of winter we’d experienced while I hauled the timbers gave way to a glorious November. We had plenty of warm (relative), dry weather during which our neighbor, Rich, was able to haul in the seven loads of fill we needed to backfill and level the site.




Winter finally arrived with a powerful storm last week. In addition to the snow, we had three days of powerful winds, gusting to hurricane force in many locations. A tree limb narrowly missed going through the roof of the greenhouse, instead glancing off the back wall and tearing an eight-inch hole in the skin.

As I write this entry, the snow is falling again, adding to the 10 inches we received last week. The timbers have all been sorted, stickered, stacked, and covered. During the next three months, I’ll take each piece, one at a time, into the greenhouse (workshop) where I’ll cut the various mortises, tenons, scarf joints and rafter pockets that will hold the frame together when we raise the barn next spring.