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We are about to venture Across the Street

I’m noodling one of those philosophical blogosauruses (blogosauri?). With luck that’ll be coming along soon. But Sunday, between rounds of making notes for that, Ava and I made an inspection tour of our property. (The land is hers as much as mine, as any four-legged critter that dares step foot on it quickly learns.)

As we walked, Ava took advantage of the “facilities” and read her pee-mail while I drew plans in my head.

Though The Wandering Monk and I aren’t yet done with the inside of the house, our attentions are starting to turn to the land and how to improve it. We got a huge kick in that direction when those two “danger trees” were cut down and hauled away last month.

Not only did I breathe a sigh of relief, but in the new sunshine and open space, The Monk and I were inspired to talk about the Dreaded “Across the Street” — a subject that has always had the word “someday” attached to it.

As you know if you’re a regular reader, Across the Street is also mine — a great surprise when I closed on the house. The purchase had been so rushed (10 days from offer to close, due to a time crunch the foreclosing bank faced, and due to Andy) that I had no idea what I owned, other than a leaking, moldy, terrifying, spider-infested, mouse-ridden shack that multiple people, including contractors, kept telling me I should tear down.

Then I realized I had this extra quarter acre on the other side of the road.

—–

It was a jungle. As I gradually began cutting into it that first year, I discovered three broken toilets, a 1970’s vintage microwave oven, a large refrigerator, multitudes of old tires, enough broken glass and scrap metal to fill several 55-gallon drums, two heaps of defunct carpet (with padding) protruding from the ground, concrete blocks, multiple rusted metal tanks of unknown purpose, many cracked plastic buckets, three small concrete culverts, and intact glass bottles of various vintages for medicines, shaving lotion, and faux-maple syrup. Topping all — hundreds of plastic bags of cat poop.

You really have not lived until you’re making your way down a treacherous slope of broken glass and you put your foot into a slippery, oozing, bag of cat leavings embedded in gray, liquifying litter lying just under the surface of the soil.

Meth heads gladly came for the fridge and the microwave. I hauled porcelain shards to the dump for months. Even now I spend several afternoons each summer picking up the glass that continues to find its way out of the ground. Then I had that big leaning tree cut. It’s still a mess over there, but now you can see the potential for something nice.

I’ve had the image in my head for years: a gravel path with steps curving down the hill, a lawn, maybe with two or three landscaped ovals, maybe a fenced-in chicken coop in one corner, another trail winding up the other side, and at the bottom in this intimate little fern grove …

… a small pergola gazing upon a swamp wetland natural water garden below. I know the design and position of the pergola exactly. It will be simple to build — just a shed-roofed, four-post structure with a gravel floor and cedar lattice half-walls for charm and privacy.

But this whole thing remains a fantasy project. Because when and how am I ever going to get to this when there’s still so much work left on the house?

As parklike as the land looks from a distance, it’s waaaaaay not ready for prime time. The carpet, padding, concrete blocks, and many other obstacles are still in place. Despite my best efforts to remove cat-poop bags, I fear I’ve only, gods forbid, scratched the surface. And the “lawn” is nothing but a mass of weeds under which hide ankle-twisting holes — not to mention a minefield of broken glass and rusty blades of metal.

Several more years before I can seriously take that on, I’m thinking.

Meanwhile, where other people have statues of Kwan Yin, the Buddha, or cutesy little gnomes in their gardens, Thanks to trashy homeowners past, I have Mrs. Butterworth:

—–

Then oddly enough, Amazon’s capture and summary execution of my Associates account — though still a damn bad thing — brought several blessings. One involved Across the Street.

After Amazon, I told The Monk that house projects would have to stop. But as I did so we were standing over there with the tree newly removed. In the sunlight and open space we both saw possibilities. It also turned out that The Monk, who cuts lawns as well as raises house foundations and replaces rotted walls, was ready to get rid of the ankle-grabbing pits and hidden obstacles he’s been patiently dealing with for years. And he’s in a slow period on his real job (which has nothing to do with construction or yard work), and he offered to clean up, smooth out, and replant the lawn area Across the Street for free; I’d only have to pay for materials.

I wasn’t about to accept “free” — certainly not from a guy who already does so much for so little. But I was thrilled he wanted to take on the most daunting part of The Great Across the Street Rehabilitation, and take it on now. Among other reasons: Early fall is the ideal time for lawn planting in these parts.

No freebies. But we worked out a barter; he wants some interior design consulting from me when his own fixer house is ready.

Shortly thereafter, that blessed blog angel flew in and ensured that the loss of Amazon wouldn’t be an immediate catastrophe — or any catastrophe for a long time to come. Even though I told The Monk about that, he still wanted to go with the barter deal because we both recognize the long term remains precarious and nearly all the angel’s contribution must be set aside for more practical things. And off we went.

Today, the weed crop over there is dying, The Monk having sprayed it last week. Thursday or Friday we two go over in our leather gloves and boots and haul away all the remaining junk we can yank, dig, or pry out of the ground. Then we’ll spread topsoil and seed.

That suddenly, about 1/4 of the endless Across the Street Fantasy Project, which I assumed was years away, will be done.

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8 Comments

  1. Val E. Forge
    Val E. Forge September 3, 2019 8:06 am

    Damn, Claire:

    I’ve been in the low income rental property business for over 31 years and Across The Street beats anything I’ve ever seen. Damn! The way you tell some of it is funny as hell!

  2. David Gross
    David Gross September 3, 2019 8:23 am

    Love the Butterworth shrine!

  3. Comrade X
    Comrade X September 3, 2019 9:32 am

    Cat poop bags, ANYTHING BUT CAT POOP BAGS!!!

  4. jed
    jed September 3, 2019 9:33 am

    Cat poop? Geez.

    I’d be tempted to lay out a labyrinth over there, if there’s a big enough flat spot.

    I’ve experienced the glass problem. Some weird effect going on there, where it somehow gets buried, and then only slowly makes its way back up to the top. When I had my garden area, I’d remove glass every year.

  5. Pat
    Pat September 3, 2019 9:58 am

    “When I had my garden area, I’d remove glass every year.”

    Rocks, too.

    In the soil, both rocks and glass work themselves to the top (just as glass and splinters do when embedded under the skin). I’ve had both rocks and glass rise to the top, especially after a rain, and I have to throw them away as they show themselves. (They play havoc with carrots some years, because carrots don’t like rocks/glass getting in their way as they grow.)

  6. Claire
    Claire September 3, 2019 12:06 pm

    “Cat poop bags, ANYTHING BUT CAT POOP BAGS!!!”

    My sentiments exactly — although until buying this place, I confess it never would have occurred to me to dread cat-poop bags in the landscape. Because after all, who on earth would …?

    “Love the Butterworth shrine!”

    Now that you put it like that, I think I just may keep it.

    “I’d be tempted to lay out a labyrinth over there, if there’s a big enough flat spot.”

    Flat? What is this “flat” you speak of?

    “Glass.”

    I’m so glad it’s not just me. I tell you, I’ve cleaned certain spots until there’s barely a tiny shard left. I’ve scuffed up the dirt looking for more pieces that might be lurking under the surface. Then it rains … and there’s a whole field of the stuff again. Sure, it might be that the rain merely reveals some fragments that I missed. But it’s so much more than that …

    “funny as hell!”

    Since you own rental properties, Val E. Forge, I’m guessing you know that sometimes you have to laugh at what people do because the alternative is to break down and weep.

  7. Val E. Forge
    Val E. Forge September 3, 2019 5:36 pm

    Yeah, I’ve had adventures with glass shards and animal droppings as well. Dealing with low income rentals for the last three decades has been the biggest commercial AGAINST socialism I’ve ever seen.

  8. Joel
    Joel September 4, 2019 6:24 pm

    People can be so…

    A few years ago I got a paying gig cleaning up a 40-acre property that had suffered a succession of *very* low class renters. Over the course of almost two weeks I filled a full-size container with trash, head-high – and to this day I wonder how they ever found so much glass to break.

    And yes, there was cat poop. In fact the *toilet in the house* was packed full of used cat litter. I never figured that out – and politely declined the job of cleaning up the house.

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