Wednesday, September 22, 2010


That mackerel sky. Came to us out of nowhere.

And here's to those who suffer (and you do) the loss of thousands of trees in and around the boroughs of New York City during a recent macroburst. The photographs and stories have been tragic. There are people who walk the earth with a goodly part of their lives respectful and in gratitude to the trees that line their neighborhoods, otherwise gone to hard times and damages. Having that tree outside the window, or as greeting figure right out the door, is bigger than you may think. I can think of beautiful most beautiful poems by Lorine Niedecker, Robinson Jeffers and Philip Booth about their trees. Which are yours. Ours.

Back at the roof job it was time to dismantle the 42 foot by 18 feet of wood scaffold across all the front of the house.Talk about trees! We had deemed it "Michelangelo". We'd take down 3/4s of it and leave a final 1/4 up right at the center of the house with the front door (never used, bookcases are behind it, but one day we discovered a Jehovah Witness caroler knocking there) and lined up with the chimney. The chimney is the next target.

We'll raise the 16 foot aluminum ladder with hook up there by the weekend and latch on at the ridge cap which will allow just enough working room to begin a new design on the chimney. From the rear I can get there by a shorter ladder and hook, and I already have a piece of staging left there from the roof work. On that staging will go the tub of mortar and tools, and eventually me.

I have a plan in my head to ring the top of the chimney with Mexican tiles. Enamel finished. I've been working with these for decades. Around here I once found tiles in shops for a dollar each. That was years ago. Now they can range anywhere from $5 to $10 each depending on the venue. With a little sleuthing by Internet, Sweetheart found a treasure-of-the-sierra-madre trove: 100 tiles at a song. Made and packed up in Mexico in an old box and mailed from Texas. Don't sit and count the days, it'll take a little while before the tiles arrive. By Fed Ex ground and a very sassy young driver who didn't like the fact we don't have a number on our house. "But you found us?" I asked. "I guessed", he hurled. This was the only part of the transaction from old Mexico to old Vermont that reminds me once again that progress hasn't progressed. The lack of etiquette, and etiquette can be sweet.

So into the tile box we go and find 5 tiles wrapped as if by Santa's elves in their own styrofoam package. One after the other, shaped in a cube, packed like sardines. Not a scratch, not a chip, not a break to any tile. Remarkable. I need 18 to do the top circumference of the chimney, and between Sweetheart and me we found the chosen ones. Set them aside. With no idea in the world how they will look. Live on and by the seat of our pants.

We saved all the styrofoam packing. We even tried to read the crumpled up newspaper from Mexico used for padding; got so far. But the styrofoam we will use again right out of our bookshop. In the meantime, with the scaffold dismantled and stacked on the ground, the new roof opens up to us. The little things excite us.

I won't even go into the body pain, tough sleep, bad backs, hip to leg pain we've had for weeks and weeks. It'll take all the romance right out of it. This isn't from this one job, it's from 3000 other jobs, all sizes and predicaments. The worker at a certain age is nicks and bruises and a grin (if lucky). It was Samuel Beckett who told us all not to take this life so seriously. He was correct. And he wrote his best stuff unknown, struggling, an underground war resister against the fascists. I always liked his Irish-French perspective.


If you've gotten this far with me, thank you. I must be testing our endurance.

Finian's Rainbow? Yes! "Follow the fellow who follows a dream" is the essential line in the film. It used to keep campers in line and neighborhoods in-step, and then the big lie was exposed — there is no rainbow. You're actually one step from homeless. But with some desire you might build one yourself — a rainbow. So go build.
"Follow the yellow brick road". Ridicule these sing-song lines but they have gusto. There's a graffiti specialist in NYC by the name of Momo who one day got it into his head to strap a container onto his bicycle and with a handmade spray hose device draw a line as far as he wanted to go. He happened to go 8 miles. It took 15 gallons of paint. He did this between 3-6 AM. Follow the fellow who follows a dream. Yes, sometimes it leads to nowhere. Start again.

as if playing chess

We pile the spruce 2 x 4 / 12s in one area, the 2 x 6 / 12s nearby. By nightfall I will take some of the shorter 2 x 6 used as scaffold bracing and tear out and build a new outdoor stairway for the faraway cottage at the edge of the woods. The last stairway lasted ten years. Here's another ten years.

All the scaffold was built with double-headed 16 common nails. We pulled them all, saved 75%, about 100 nails. I straightened them all out with my hammer on one of the low garden stone walls right where we worked. Reuse every single inch you can. Not a board or plank broken, split, damaged or wasted. All back in a neat pile ready for the next job.

I finished building the cottage stairway in the rain — yes, rain! It's been awful dry around here. We haven't seen old friend rain for weeks and weeks. Beautiful rain. Just tear open the late summer corn in the fields and have a look at no-rain. Returning to the house with the rain I went and had a look at how the steel was behaving in the rain, nice and steady and long, smooth as glass.

CODA (as of Saturday) ~

We are back at the tippity-top (chimney) and maybe one of the more crazed jobs I have attempted: ringing the top side of the chimney stack with Mexican tiles. Where in the world did I dream up this idea? Maybe Finland? Where my mind must come from, or old Ireland? Some inventions are best done alone, but Sweetheart was up there with me and tending to every tool and caulking and wet rag and bottle water spray and mortar tray and trowel needed. Ladder and hooks draped both sides of the roof. Of course mortar dropping wet onto the new and old roof and I have to wash both sides by hand with a water bucket and wet rag. It looked like I was up there polishing the new roof! From the ground Buster Keaton shouted, "It's lookin' good, but you missed a spot!"

photos © susan & bob arnold