Tucked away deep in the woods at the southern edge of the Tug Hill region of New York. Dragonwood is our off-grid sanctuary. Six acres of pond and gardens bordered by forest on three sides.
The project began in 1995, when after a long search, Debe and I purchased the property from a local logger. To date we have built a cabin, a bridge, out house, two sheds in addition to expansive gardens and stone work. We have a generator, propane lights, refrigerator and grill, a wood stove and modest solar system. A dug well and small stream suitable for watering gardens and other needs and a nearby spring for drinking water.
The Dragonwood Chronicles will serve to document the project with photographs and notes. Future projects will include additions to the cabin, a root cellar and a studio building.
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Another summer at Dragonwood is dawning near to the inevitable end. As Labor Day fast approaches it will soon be time to start packing things away and prepare this place for another long nine months that it will sit dormant awaiting our return late next spring.
Dormant may not exactly be accurate though. The chipmunks, deer, dragonflies and all the non-human residents here will continue on, it is only Debe and and I and our little grey cat that will leave. Kevin II will be up to check on the place and work on his cabin when he is able. Kevin Ridgeway will visit to harvest "sticks" as he calls them for his rustic furniture business and friends Dick and Jeannie will check on the place from time to time.
This summer has been wonderful here as it always is, however this year presented it's own challenges. Life off the grid requires a bit of a pioneer spirit and this year we had to reach back and grab onto that in a big way.
The first three weeks brought an unusual amount of rain. I think it rained almost everyday. Not complete wash outs, but a good soaking rain shower or thunderstorm at the least. This was quite different from the previous year when we saw very little rain. Rain is good. It is good for our gardens. Our little stream flowed well into August and the pond remained full all summer. Our wild flowers flourished and the woods were full of mushrooms.
That much rain however, makes it tough on the humans here though. Things remained damp and really didn't dry out thoroughly until the middle of July. Cooking outside is not as much fun in the rain. Getting up in the morning and making that first cup of coffee is much more pleasant on a nice morning and bathing becomes less pleasurable when it's cold and rainy. You haven't lived until you have had to dodge rain drops on your way to the outhouse in the middle of the night. No life is not intolerable during a rainy season, but definitely a bit more rugged. The rest of the summer has been really quite nice, with only occasional rain and mostly sunny pleasant days. Last year was exceptionally warm with over twenty days topping 90. That is not at all common in this part of the country. This year we may have eclipsed 90 two or three times, much more typical of a northern New York summer. Actually August has been quite cool and we are hoping for a few more hot days before summer comes to an end.
The rain we had early wasn't just inconvenient, but also made earning a living tougher for us as we work outside. We did manage to do some framing for a few long standing clients and Deb did a series of small oil paintings. I managed to do some welding and produced a couple of new sculptures, but not the amount I had looked forward to. Finger Lakes Gallery in Canadaigua made a couple of nice sales for us which helped and we just received word of several nice sales at Gallery on First in Sanford. We also helped our son with his chainsaw carving venture and attended a couple of shows with him, helping lug carvings and gear in our truck as well as doing some finishing which amounts to burning with a propane torch, then brushing, sanding, painting and sealing.
My biggest project for the summer was a ninety foot, dry stacked stone retaining wall and and two smaller stone walls for a house about five miles down the road. This project consumed most of my time and energy for better than a month. It was physically demanding, but also very rewarding. I had to tackle it in small sections. The stones were natural field stones, which around here is mostly sand stone. They are irregular and make for a real challenge fitting them together. Picking up and moving the same fifty pound stone a dozen times trying to find the right fit for it. An altogether different sort of deal than working with cut, quarried or manufactured stone. My goal was to complete ten feet at a time. Some days that happened and all too often I fell short. Once the main wall was layed up then I had to begin leveling the top with cap stones and making adjustments, and of course backfilling as I went. There is something very satisfying about working with stone. Knowing the customer is happy is a good feeling, but just being able to stand back and see the results of ones labor is a satisfaction that is a reward all it's own.
I do not claim to be a stone mason and never set out tho be one, however it seems to be a natural extension of my work as a sculptor. Drawing on inspiration from Helen and Scott Nearing and the artistic influence of Andy Goldsworthy I have found a new way to create a long lasting functional art form. This is two summers now that I have landed large stone scaping projects and of course my ongoing stone work here at Dragonwood. Our friend Terrie suggested that it must be a "Vermont thing", that men from Vermont have something in our DNA for stone wall building. Maybe there is something to that or maybe it's just having grown up with them everywhere you develop a reverence for that sort of thing.
Our gardening has been a bit of a mixed bag this year. We arrived too late to plant a lot of vegetables. I did set in a half dozen cucumber plants that are producing very nicely and four tomato plants that are loaded with green tomatoes. I may have to cut some trees or move them in the future as I don't think they are getting enough sun. The forrest has encroached on my raised beds. Trees that were very little years ago have now grown quite large and shade my beds too much. This does not seem to bother our garlic crop as we did have another bumper crop this year, albeit the bulbs seem generally a bit smaller than some years.
We had our best blue berry harvest to date this year, however we arrived too late for our asparagus. The horse radish plants look healthy I will be harvesting some to bring back to Florida.
The perennial and wild flower gardens were magnificent this year, but the local deer herd decimated our prized hosta collection. We have well over 100 hundred hosta plants and over 50 varieties and the white tail deer figure they have quite the salad bar here at Dragonwood.
I begin to get a bit melancholy knowing that it soon will time to pack this place up and head back south. Then again we can look forward to our wonderful life and our friends and family in Florida and know that Dragonwood will brave another New York winter, resting under a blanket of snow awaiting our return next summer.