It started out so well.

Upon arrival. Chilly, but anticipating a nice, warm heater.

No one had occupied the Quacker in our absence from Shangri-La.  The property looked just as beautiful as we left it.  The brisk air colored our cheeks pink, the kind of air that makes you want to Eskimo kiss and SCAMPER.  If one is into SCAMPERING.  Which I am.

We should buy stock in the company that makes bungee cords for all the stuff we strap on our rooftop.

We unloaded our usual Beverly Hillbillies assortment of items from the depths and rooftop of our Suburban.  First order of business, though, serious stuff: check the heater.  The weatherman promised us the temperature would fall to arctic levels tonight.  [In Texas that means it’s gonna get down below freezing, y’all.]
Bubba-mon cranked up the generator and lit the pilot.  We had left the thermostat at 50, but since the inside temp was 44, the heater immediately fired up.  We were in business!  Yay!
So we SCAMPERED off on a hike.  Our mission?  Reconnoiter the pond and feeder creek, both of which were practically dried up.  We wanted to discern whether we had a leak in our dam, whether someone or something had dammed the creek further upstream, or whether we were simply victims of a damn dry spell.

Behind me -- ancient beaver dam and lodge. To my left, a less ancient human-made dam.

Because the two acre pond held no water, we got a close-up look at the very old beaver dam.  It pre-dated the human dam, in fact.  Long abandoned, only the sticks and the small hump of an old lodge remained.
The pond bed had quickly sprouted reeds that grew to 10 feet and more, towering over our heads.  The exposed interior edge of the pond revealed layers of sediment and sandstone eroded under the roots of trees.  The path up the creek wound through dark and sometimes spooky forest, and we encountered the tracks of deer, raccoons, pigs, and giant 120 pound mutant labrador retrievers as we hiked.

Dem ain't trees. Dem is reeds gone wild.

We found no new dam in the mile we hiked.  We also found no serious breach of our own dam.  Thus, we concluded that if there was a dam further upstream, it was a “fur piece” away, and that we simply had to wait for rain.  A lot of it.

Years of erosion exposed the sedimentary layers and sandstone native to Nowheresville, and the dearth of H2O in our pond made viewing it possible.

My beloved and I retired to our palace, where, much to our dismay, the temperature dropped inside and out with no answering puffs of heat from our heater.  What once worked now didn’t, where before was warm it was now cold, and where attitudes anon were good… now?  Not so much.  I kid.  Believe it or not (or else), I didn’t have an ugly mood swing.  We fired up the tiny space heater, positioned it four inches from my body, and dressed me up in triple layers.  Besides, it only got down to 26 degrees, so what’s the big deal?  Great weather for snuggling in flannel sheets and comforter.  🙂  We put the dogs in the Suburban to keep them warm, too.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrr, how's a tenderfoot city dog to stay warm around here??? With his pink camo sleeping bag, of course -- one he refused to share with Laila.

So, the next morning, we broke the frost off our nostrils and got to work.  I worked on sleeping in, because Bubba-mon might not love me anymore with bags under my eyes, while he received delivery of the skid loader.  Except that the delivery man was an hour late because the delivery truck was frozen.  So Eric shivered and watched the dogs SCAMPER over the icy ground and cooled (literally) his heels.

Bubba-mon in action with the skid loader.

The skid loader arrived, and what a beauty.  Eric glowed.  Cowboy tried to help.  Laila ran for the hills.  Frankly, the skid loader terrified me.  My husband is the son of Gene Hutchins, contractor and builder extraordinaire, and a freaking “accident waiting to happen”.  Once, Gene was hammering the steel skids of his bulldozer under the watchful, learning eye of young Eric, when a piece of steel roughly the size of a bullet broke loose and shot into Gene’s thigh, lodging so close to his femoral artery that the St. Croix, USVI surgeon refused to remove it, and Gene carries the shrapnel to this day.
Fast forward 35 years, and Eric now operated a mini-version of the dozer.  To Eric’s credit he only got stuck twice, needed my help just once (brains, baby, I’m the brains, ha ha), and paid for  mere “minimal” damage to the machine.  I had the paramedics on speed dial and didn’t even have to call them.  And I fully expected we would have to mortgage the property to buy the tractor after a day under Bubba-mon’s rough hand.  I was wrong.  Yay!

The skid loader doing its skid loadery thing. Bubba-mon at the controls.

But when I say “stuck,” I do mean stuck, stuck in an almost vertical position with its butt (the engine) partially buried in wet clay, and one tread completely immersed in the sticky stuff.  It took one hour and a lot of our two brains to figure out how to get that sucker back upright on dry land.  There ensued flying wood, with the treads acting like a chipper to our traction aiding devices  (logs and old pieces of plywood), which we were able to stick under the treads after  Eric hoisted the body of the machine in the air using the bucket to lever it up.  A very safe operation, I am sure.  *Sigh*  I know, I chose to marry this guy.
But we did get it out.  He promised not to go back down into the wet stuff again, too.  And it was a full five minutes later until I saw him do it , but by then he had dumped a bunch of tree trunks across it for traction, so it was much better.  And, yes, by much better, I do mean, “still pretty terrible.”

The dogs ignoring a photo op despite Eric's instructions.

In nine hours, he cleared the dead trees, reeds, brambles, and garbage from in and around the pond bed, removed the stump we marooned the Suburban on last summer, and blazed a six foot wide trail near our fence line on one side of our property.  The trail meanders through the trees, and it is the first installment of the “Ironman-training” running trail that he will finish out over our next few visits.  The goal is to leave the path fully shaded and not create unimpeded viewing exposure to the interior of the property.
(I promised Eric I wouldn’t tell you about how he hurt his knee or where he got the cuts on every one of his fingers, his arms, and his torso, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.)
Bubba-mon’s next project? He installed a fantabulous 50-foot wireless-boosting antenna.   Rather, we did it together.  Well, I helped a little anyway.  He finished it off with zip ties and a few guy wires, affixed to the side of the Quacker.  I apologize, truly, for forgetting to take pictures of its magnificence.

Laila guarding her place by the bonfire -- and under my legs -- from Cowboy.

One benefit of the skid loadering was the resulting great mounds of firewood.  We built a bonfire that lasted the rest of our visit.  This made the dogs very happy, and they slept outside beside its coals on night number two.  We now have enough wood for about three decades of bonfires.  You may even see us on the side of the road selling it by the cord, soon, to pay for the MINOR damage to the skid loader.  [Eric’s word: cosmetic.  Mine: predictable.]
We capped off our three-day visit with trash pick up duty.  We had put this chore off from the summer for two darn good reasons: heat and snakes.  But the clean-up was an absolute necessity.  The trashy son of the minister-former owner had littered the property with beer cans, broken bottles, old styrofoam mattresses, hunting targets, and shotgun shells.  What would possess someone to say (to my mind at least), “Wow, this property is so gorgeous, the only thing that would make it better is to crap all over it with my trash?????”  Come on, people.  And I know he wasn’t raised in a barn, as my mother would say.
Anyway, we filled four industrial sized trash bags with bottles and cans, and incurred nary a snake bite.  We found a feral hog skull, though.  Just a juvenile but with four outward curving tusks.  Oops, I forgot to take a picture of that, too.  But then again, I’m new to having a real camera.  (Come on, somebody applaud me for not inflicting iPhone pics on you in this blog!)  Eric’s trash run to Nail Creek State Park’s dumpsters included a visit to the poo station therein, maintained for RV guests (and occasional campers with annual memberships like us, don’t worry, we ASKED).  And not to get all “potty humor” on you, but the sight of him rolling 40 gallons (360 pounds) of wheeled Poo Container up his specially-rigged ramp made of two skinny metal fence posts that he dug up for just this purpose… well, it was priceless.  And who didn’t take a picture???  Poo poo on me.

Clark, our 15-year old son, said there's only one word for a picture like this: "Gross." I think there's nothing like a warm kiss in front of the fire, even if Bubba-mon does have an unearthly cold nose.

We exchanged a few more Eskimo kisses as we scampered over our partial running trail one last time, then bid Nowheresville a sad adieu.  What had started well and hit a few bumps ended well, too.
We were a lot warmer when we got back to Houston, but somehow central heating had lost a bit of its luster for me.
Here’s hoping for more Nowheresville in 2011!
p.s. For pictures of our bonfire and a few other highlights of the trip, visit the predecessor post.

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