May Days
23 May 2021 | 2:39 pm

Things have been pretty quiet in the woods lately. We've watched the world wake up from winter, turn green, pollen-saturated, and lately we've been getting an early taste of the summer heat and humidity that's still to come.

Most of May though the weather was pretty near perfect -- 75 and sunny. The kids have had a blast watching all the birds' nests come to life. So far we've seen three Phoebe chicks hatch and make it out of the nest on our front porch.

Currently we're watching some Carolina Wren chicks in what might be the strangest nest location ever. One of my work projects for the spring was testing full size grills. One day five showed up at once. That was a bit overwhelming so two of them got stacked on the porch and covered with a tarp. A couple days later we had a windy storm blow through. The tarp got twisted up and made a little covered space that a pair of Carolina Wrens decided was a perfect spot for a nest.

So now every time we step out the door one of the adult wrens goes flashing by our heads, giving us an uncomfortably close view of their long, needle-like beak. A wren streaking by inches from your face first thing in the morning will wake you up better than a cup coffee.

Spring is always the best time to get some work done in the bus. The temps are nice, the full force of summer humidity hasn't arrived yet, and the fire ants are still underground, making it the perfect time to crawl under and work on your exhaust system.

Travco and field of flowers photographed by luxagraf
Planting a garden photographed by luxagraf
Note legs sticking out from under the bus.
Planting a garden photographed by luxagraf

I've been tackling some little projects inside the bus too. I got the walls back together with new wires so we can add some solar panels down the road. I also put in a fancy new charge controller that has a phone app I can use to monitor everything (also have a wired backup monitor because I distrust technology). To give you some idea of how dramatically solar components are dropping in price, this new fancy unit was about 30 percent less expensive than the bare bones unit we bought in 2017.

One day I decided to finally tackle the passenger windshield wiper motor, which has never worked. I pulled it out, took it apart and quickly realized the motor was so rusted the magnet was fused to the coil. I managed to track down a similar unit though, which is on order. While I was in there I figured I might as well clean out the area behind the glove box. In vintage RV repair that's the equivalent of saying, "hmm, wonder what would happen to this sweater if I pull on this dangling thread?" It's how you go from this:

To this:

To this:

It's for the best, but it still makes me laugh every time. Every single project in the bus goes so far beyond the initial scope I think it will have. But, as a fellow Travco owner said of that picture of me under the bus, "better there than on the side of the road." Very true. I'd rather be doing all this while we're not living in it, while the weather is nice, there's no rush, and the rest of my family isn't hot, tired, bored, and waiting on me to make everything work again.

As you can see from those images there was a water leak that destroyed the subfloor and was feeding the rust on the metal, which is in pretty bad shape. I found and fixed the leak that caused the problem (seal on the back of the headlight). I'll reinforce the seat platform area with some steel bars, then add some well-sealed plywood on top of that (I'd like to have a conversation with whoever thought OSB was a good choice for Travco flooring). Eventually it'll all get put back together better than it was, and that'll be one less thing I ever have to worry about. Hey, maybe I'll even replace the wiper motor and get that working too.

At some point, after I pull the radiator (pinhole leak from the extension tube needs to be patched), replace the starter, and get her running smoothly again, I'm going to tackle the kitchen. My plan is to put in a new counter top, but somehow I suspect I'll have a photo of the kitchen gutted to the bare walls to post before too long.

Otherwise we haven't done anything too exciting lately, but it's hard to complain about much out here. At least once a day I'll be outside doing something and all the sudden I'll stop and listen... there's never any sounds other than birds signing and the wind in the pines. It's difficult to convey the peace of mind this gives you. It's like the opposite of that subtle background stress you get living in a city. If it weren't for the humidity and insects I'd think we were still camped up at Junction Creek, but without the crowds.

25 March 2021 | 12:48 am

Spring arrives in stages. First there are the warmer days. February sunshine brings a welcome change from the chill of January. Still nothing really changes in the land. Everything is bare, stark, skeletal.

Then the first daffodils come. Spots of green and yellow standing out in a sea of brown leaves and pine needles trampled since last fall. A week passes, the daffodils enjoy their time in the spotlight.

And then without any more fanfare, one day we're walking up the road to visit the cows and the ground is a riot of color. Flowers are everywhere. Blue, purple, white, red, yellow. Tiny flowers, huge flowers.

girl blowing on a dandelion photographed by luxagraf
boy with a toy vw bus photographed by luxagraf
Like a flower, but breaks down.

We celebrate the spring equinox the way most people do easter, with dyed eggs, chocolate treats, egg hunts, and detailed pre-planned fruit plate sculptures of a bunny. The usual stuff.

Like everything, spring in the south has one near fatal flaw: pollen.

Pollen comes like the flowers do, one at time, cycling through oak, pecan, grass, and so on. The one that was new to us this year was one I'd seen once before, briefly, in the Okefenokee Swamp: the pines. Living in the middle of a several hundred acre circle of near monocultural pines... well, let's just say there was quite a bit of pine pollen.

One day the wind kicked up and started sending it all up in great clouds. We looked out the kitchen window and couldn't see past the second row of trees. The forest was a yellow-green fog with great clouds of pollen billowing off the tops of the trees. Thankfully, none of us are allergic to pine pollen, but this much of anything in the air makes life miserable. We hid indoors for a few days, but eventually the rains came and knocked it down and washed it off.

There were couple of nice days to get outside and play, but then the next round started. Oaks, then pecans. For most of March, that's just how it goes down here.

Oak Grove
19 February 2021 | 12:58 am

The creek is our favorite spot in the woods. But the creek is a mile walk from our house. On days when there isn't time to get down there we have another spot. A grove of huge, old oak trees that serves as our closer to home hangout for exploring, playing, and relaxing.

It is quiet and still in here among the trees. Quiet enough that when a pine cone falls, clattering down through pine boughs, there's a distinctive soft crunch when it lands on the leaves and needles of the forest floor.

It's never silent in the forest, but it is almost always still and quiet. Sitting here it's hard to believe there is anywhere else in the world. Everywhere else feels too distant to be real. All that seems real is this log, the stillness of this winter afternoon, and the birds singing as they flutter from tree to tree.

A few trees away, a nuthatch calls. Then there's a chickadee dee dee dee. And another. Farther off a crow cries, closely followed by the shrieking of a red-tailed hawk. In front of me an ant picks its way through the layered humus.

The soft crunch of leaves muted by matted pine needles tells me Elliott is trying to sneak up behind me again. It is impossible to walk silently though, there are too many curled dried leaves waiting to announce your footsteps.

These oaks once shaded something. Perhaps a small barn. A shed for tractors perhaps. There are the remains of a few small buildings, some rusted farm equipment, and my favorite kind of country trailer -- the bed of a pickup rigged up with a chain harness.

There's a good bit of rusty barbed wire lying around too. After warning the kids to watch out for the barbed wire, naturally I was the one to finally end up cutting myself on it. I was trying to trace it through the undergrowth -- my guess is this was some kind of paddock area at one point, hogs would have loved it back here -- when my foot found a piece just barely beneath the surface. It gave me a chance to explain tetanus.

We leave education largely up to the kids. Corrinne is a literacy specialist, so she taught them to read. But mostly we let them follow their curiosity, rather than trying to force them to "study" something.

When they want to learn something we help them with any materials or tools they might need, but mostly we let them explore the world on their own, at their own pace. They like to load up their backpacks with notebooks and magnifying glasses and plant presses and other tools and bring them out here to see what they can discover.

Just as often though they just run around playing in the woods. Like kids do. Like kids used to anyway. Now more than ever we feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to be able to get outside and enjoy the world.

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