Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I drove up to Avalon Farm today in order to spot Mel while she continues to work on a steep and narrow portion of the access road with the tall, top-heavy tractor. She is concerned that the tractor will tip into the ravine while she is working on the high crown of the road, smoothing it down so the road bed is flat. So I am her 911 call, ready to sound the alarm if her fears are realized.

This is my second day on Avalon doing this job. It is such a delight to be able to help just a tiny bit with taming wild Avalon without breaking her spirit or ruining her untouched, organic wholeness. Mel got 40 feet out of the 100 feet in this section of steep road leveled last week, and today she made another 40 feet of progress. Now she has only 20 feet to go, and one more of my trips up there will see the job safely done. She has a good deal more work to do on the road to level it throughout its half-mile of descent into the valley of Avalon, but the grade for the rest of the road is not so steep and the road is wider. So she can work on her own.

We do have a protocol whenever she is working with big tools. She calls before she starts the job, letting us know what tools she is using and where. Then at the end of her working day she calls in to report that all is well. That way we have a fail-safe in place. If we don’t hear from her, we drive up and investigate. So far, this protocol has worked perfectly.

It has turned much dryer since last week. The roadside flowers look dusty and some of the grasses are brown. The crops are further along by far, the apple trees bearing, the tobacco past its bloom and starting to fire up, the corn in tassel and the soybeans coming along well.

I love the look of the tobacco at all its stages of growth. It has a lovely leaf and habit and the blossoms are beautiful. It is too bad that the plant, when used for smoking, is so toxic. The Native Americans think of it as a sacred plant and use it in rituals. Certainly in that usage it is not so toxic, and it feels magical to me as a plant. It carries a lot of power. I never have smoked, so this is not a justification! I just like the plant.

When we were shopping for my bathroom rugs last week, Mel found the perfect welcome mat for inside the front door of Sugar Shack and when I stopped in to meet the new kitty, Mr. J, I could see that it was absolutely perfect! Under Mel’s constant loving attention, the inside of the cabin is beginning to look like a regular home. Her carpentry has created new doors for front and back which close well and lock, and she has painted them red. The inside walls are light yellow. She has begun two storage closets so that she has room to hang her good clothes and to store her things, and they are going to look super when she gets them done. We need some things: a tough bedspread for her bed, a table and chairs that fit in her space, a proper desk and filing cabinet and a better tool shed. She also wants to get new porch furniture, a recliner and a few rockers or porch chairs. But she is content to find these pieces as they come to her for the right price.

This cabin has always been a shack, and no amount of fixing it up will suffice to repair it. But Mel has made it livable and safe for the next five years or so while she builds her own homestead further down the meadow. Then her plan is to deconstruct Sugar Shack after carefully measuring everything and drawing up plans, and then rebuilding it just as it was before on the same site. That way, even if Mick and I cannot afford to build our dream house on Avalon, we will have a little cabin to retire to someday.

I did not see the chicks today because they were inside the coop instead of pecking around outside. Mel asked me not to go to the coop because the chiggers are so bad in that part of the meadow. But she says that they are doing well, rapidly growing to adulthood. The hens are not laying well, though. Perhaps it is the season.

The new cat, Mr. J, is a delightful little being. Unlike Mel’s previous cat, Raffles, who disappeared some months ago, the Jay Man is a domesticated cat who loves laps and sleeps at the bottom of Mel’s bed at night rather than catting around outdoors. He is a pretty animal, a smoke-gray American short-haired domestic cat with yellow eyes. And he’s chatty. He will be good company for Melissa. She is presently pondering what the J stands for! I suggested Jesse and Junie, after an old farmer Mick knew when he lived on his land on Joner Creek, but Mel is thinking Jaguar! Mr. Jaguar has a nice ring to it!

A visit to the outhouse revealed that Mel has spread wood chips all along the path from Sugar Shack to it. It’s such a pleasure to walk along the leveled, cleared, clean path! When I think of what she had to do to achieve that, I stand in amazement. The ground was all chopped up from when the crew built the utility shed some years ago. It was studded with stones and the ground was clay and hard as a rock. She had to use a pick-ax to bust the sod and she got so many rocks out of the area that she was able to build a cunning little flower bed using them. In so many ways, Avalon is sweetening and becoming more user-friendly thanks to Melissa's tender loving care.

After Mel finished her tractor work, I closed my book and we visited the outhouse and Mr. Jay. Then we treated ourselves to a burger at Shipley’s, across the Ohio River in Madison, Indiana, about seven miles upriver from Avalon. It is a lovely drive down into the town and Madison itself is quite charming, the main streets spruced up for tourists. Madison is a tourist destination all year round, but especially during the Madison Regatta. It has many Victorian homes that have been preserved and the architecture of the town is classic river-town brick, also well preserved in many cases.

We used the time as a planning meeting, both for Avalon issues and for the upcoming Homecoming. Shipley’s is a funky, dark, atmospheric old place, narrow and long, with an old-fashioned wooden bar stretching halfway back into the space and antique copper tiling for the ceiling. I had a great time there!

I realized after I dropped Mel off at Avalon and was heading back to Camelot that I had forgotten to sing to Avalon. Gads! How could I have forgotten? I will remember next time for sure.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


I drove up to Avalon today amidst a wealth of lovely wildflowers along the fields and roadsides: the mustard yellow of goldenrod, the delicate white of Queen Ann’s Lace and the rich indigo of chicory. The summer is in full spate, with a sauna-like heat and an ever-changing array of fluffy, drifting swathes of clouds. A recent rain had made the ground just right for working with our big tractor, a tall 1975 Massey-Ferguson beast we call M.F.

Mel is not overly concerned that she will make an error on the machine. She is now well used to it and handles it as well as Mick, if not better. However she wanted to work on the steepest part of the access road today, smoothing the crown of the road down to the level of the ruts and then driving over the flat road with the big wheels to settle the roadbed. She wanted to have me on hand on the off—chance that the top-heavy machine, perched on the crown of the road, might tilt over into the abyss. I was her “911” call on the hoof.

I brought up some reading from my Great Office Clean-Up, Papa’s journals for the last six months, which I have barely cracked. However I also brought up a fascinating novel by Catherine Coulter, one of her FBI novels, and was lost to the world, tracking down a psychopath in a business suit and well guarded with power and influence. Nya-ha-ha! The villain was well and truly caught at last!

In the midst of her work, Mel stopped for lunch and brought us both back a box of chicken and fixings from the little convenience store that lives with the Marathon gas station at the top of our hill. The food was delicious and we planned as we ate, chewing through the final decision to buy 4 of the size 16 rims and 4 size 16 tires for Moonshine, our new Dodge Ram, thanks to a generous contribution by Bob R. Mel had found an amazing bargain – 4 rims for $35 each and 4 wheels for $25 each, both used but quite serviceable. Mel called me later in the day to let me know that the truck handles much, much better now that it has the right paws! I was so glad to hear that!

Melissa has outdone herself in industry and improvement of the site since I was last here. Now the floor of Sugar Shack is varnished all one color, a deep mahogany, while the walls are the pale yellow of the first narcissus of the spring. The place is far brighter! And the ceilings, which used to be an odd combination of silver and bare wood, are now white. This has cleaned the cabin up tremendously and lightened and brightened the feel of the place.

Mind you, there is still a roof to replace, if we want the cabin to be dry. There are still shelves to custom-build into the snug spaces with which Melissa has to work, in order to bring order to her storage. But she has carried to the Trimble county dump and discarded the disintegrating furniture from which she kept getting splinters or stabbing herself with joining brads. She had repaired the pieces again and again, but they were on Avalon in the first place because we had discarded them. So now all the junk is gone!

We need a recliner and a table and chairs badly, and Mel could really use some office furniture – a desk, a desk chair and file storage – but she is a thrifty woman and would rather live with less furniture for a while than go buy things retail which she feels she will run into naturally as she visits yard sales in the area.

The drive up and back book-ended a perfectly lovely day on Avalon. Her sweet spirit soughed gently through the full-green trees. I sang her a song or two, and enjoyed the enlivening energy I always feel there. I have been told that Avalon is a psychic scoop, being a long valley completely surrounded by knobs, so that whatever you bring to Avalon is intensified. I must bring a happy soul to her, because I always feel tremendous joy and relaxation there.

Mel talked some about how she is moving so slowly, and feels that she is not getting all the things done she wanted to do this summer. However I know that like most service-to-others-oriented people, she just sets her expectations too high to match. In point of fact, she has done an amazing amount of work there, and it shows!

This was the first time I was here since we lost Russell Crow, our rooster, and two of the Golden Comet hens. The chicks Mel picked up in Cincinnati on her way back from Bob R’s place in Toledo with the Ram are now about half-grown and were happily pecking away at their food in their coop on the porch. They will soon be old enough to introduce to Dusty Rose and Goldie, our remaining two hens, in the big coop.

I did not wander far on Avalon because Mel said that the fields were swarming with chiggers, very nasty little biting insects to which I am allergic. However on a trip to the outhouse over Mel’s nicely mulched path, I could see that the bottom land by the creek was all mown, and Avalon was in good order. All of that reflects a tremendous output of work. And Mel is keeping up with it despite a recent rash of equipment failures. Our DR brush mower, the tractor, the small mower and the truck have all needed repairs in the last month. Go Mel!

She is now looking forward to welcoming Gary and his guests tomorrow. His sister and her boyfriend, his friend Jessica and her boyfriend and Valerie will join him there for an afternoon at the farm. I hope Melissa puts them to use! The guests were in town for the Dave Matthews band concert which occurred this evening.

And then she will ready Avalon for those who wish to visit on Labor Day, after our Homecoming 2008 closes the previous evening.

We need water on Avalon pretty badly, and so Mel’s next priority will be to arrange for a well to be drilled. Her mushroom logs are very dry and she currently has no way except rain dances to get water to them. She fears that she may lose the whole crop because of the aridity. Fortunately our friend, Shane, of the Law of One Community, will be able to help her with fresh starts, once we do have the well.