040 The first three months

040 The first three months

Three months ago, when I adopted this neglected piece of land, I had no idea what I was in for. It was covered in brambles and trash, but all I could see was the potential.

In July, I adopted a neglected piece of land filled with trash, brambles, and a lot of potential. Three months later, winter is settling in, and I am thinking back on the season behind me, thinking ahead to the necessary preparations for spring.

When I first got here, I couldn’t walk most of the land. The only way to get into the garden house was to squeeze through a partially opened door. So I knew, step one was to clear the door and get a look.

Clearly, it had been a while since anybody cared for this place. Offensive graffiti, moldy mattresses, and a whole lot of trash covered the room.

The hut is still a mess. There are still graffiti on the walls. Everything is still covered with things. Yeah, it looks a mess. But it is dry, and now that the winter is coming, I’ll have plenty of time to work in here, to figure out all the ceiling stuff. But so much has happened in those three months, and I’m so happy with it all.

Outside, grass was overgrowing heaps of trash. It was hard to decide where to start, so I started in front of the hut and worked outward from there.

From the inside, it definitely did not look good. I knew water was getting in but not how far the damage went.

If you ask me, what I did most throughout this project, I’ll gladly tell you: I carried a lot of things. And I wore these overpriced headphones a lot. They were a gift, and they work for me, so I choose to ignore what I look like.

Day after day, I showed up and trimmed everything that grew around the hut. I needed to see the roof. I found rain barrels buried under the A-frame roof that still seemed to hold water. A solution to a problem I hadn’t even considered yet.

I sawed branch after branch. And carried each and every one to the piles near the gate. As I said, there’s been a lot of carrying things.

I adopted the land just in time to miss the cherry harvest but I got to harvest the currant bushes. When my husband first walked this land, he saw trash, work, and problems. There are a lot of those here. But when I first walked this land, I saw a walnuts, cherries, currants, and blackberries. I saw land that got a chance to recover, projects, and a whole lot of potential. I saw a hammock between a walnut and a cherry tree, evenings around a fire, and a place to grow food for my family.

A neighbor lent me a ladder that I would come to loathe, a ladder without which none of this would have been possible.

When I saw what the top of the roof looked like, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. But I still went to work. I applied a temporary fix for the roof that turned out to be even more temporary than feared.

I took out the old roof nails to reuse, could not even find enough to get the job done. So, I made it work. I don’t know how I ever thought this would do anything. I should have known it wouldn’t last the storms of this area. It wouldn’t even last to the next storm.

And then, the rains began. And they didn’t stop all summer. 2023 has been my personal year without a summer. I’m still surprised most of the “temporary fix” made it through the rains. But water was dripping into my garden house, and it slowly dawned on me that I would not get a weather window.

I couldn’t even reach a good portion of my land, as everything was too overgrown after years and years of neglect. Pepper still patrolled it all. I hope the stray cats still come here to catch the mice. Pepper is a dog full of anxiety. Spending time here with me has been good for him, too.

Whenever I wasn’t in the headspace for roof work, I cleaned up, cleared the land, made mountains of trash.

I have a love/hate relationship with power tools. I really, really don’t like noise. But they are so much fun to use.

Seeing the path to the gate without trash piles feels surreal now that they’ve been there for so long. People have made promises. People have broken their promises. I might have to rely on myself instead.

Nature doesn’t care if I get food out of this. I’ll have to do some curating, chop down what I don’t want growing here. Give some help to what I want to keep.

I had started a balcony garden in spring. Now, it was drowning. Drowning, drowning. The rain just wouldn’t stop. I even got a bout of winter depression in the middle of summer.

I gave up waiting for a weather window, and started using every hour that it wasn’t pouring. I did research. I talked to people at the hardware store. I formed a plan. And then, I got to work.

When the rain inevitably started again, I’d go inside, clean up, and get rid of a lot more of other people’s trash. I wanted to be able to breathe in here. So, all the moldy materials, half-emptied bottles, and bags filled with trash had to go.

I dug out the old window, figured out how it worked. Well, at some point.

There was trash everywhere on this land. Everywhere. No matter what part I touched, I had to clean it first.

But, I was making progress. The trash piles were growing but so were the places without trash.

When it rained, I dreamed of the garden, made a lot of plans. Most of them have already changed. I dreamed of blackberry jam, only to learn that wild brambles carry few fruit. Even with blackberries from the forest, we never had more than what we ate fresh. That’s okay. They were delicious.

I’d done everything I could to prepare for the roof. The only thing I couldn’t change was the weather. Some days, when the rain started, I took off the headphones, and kept working. The old roof put up a good fight–both against years of neglect and my efforts to repair it. Luckily, the roof had stayed just intact enough to preserve most of the wooden structure underneath.

The roof put up a good fight, but so did I. I grew muscles where I hadn’t know there should be any. And every bit of mobility-focused training I’d done since my diagnosis was worth it now.

I tried to keep more trash from entering my land. But squirrels, rats, and mice had done quite a job. There was styrofoam everywhere in bits and pieces.

When I wasn’t in the right headspace for work at heights or with tools, I found other parts of the land to work on. A couple of very hot afternoons were spent fighting with brambles. The blackberries won the first few rounds but in the end, they were gone, trimmed back for next year.

I got barely any berries for my troubles, but I cherished every single one. Nothing tastes as sweet as the fruit of a lot of labor.

I found another cherry tree under the brambles. Worth it. So worth it all.

I don’t know how many hundreds of kilograms I’ve carried from the car to the garden house. I only know that my shoulders have never been this strong or this healthy.

I found elderberries next to the roof (and then missed them getting ripe between rainstorms). I didn’t harvest a single berry this year. Next year, I won’t miss the season. For now, it was all about the roof.

Because I was working alone, I started at the bottom, thinking I’d just trim the boards for the top row. I should never have trusted the previous builders’ work. Once I finished the first half, I had to redo it all. Twice.

For now, I was making good progress. Slotting in the boards was extremely satisfying work. When my shoulders and arms were too sore, I found other things to focus on instead. But most days, I could be found on the ladder, balancing board after board until the first side was finally done.

It wasn’t easy. I’ll never pretend any of this was easy. But it was simple, repetitive work that cleared the head.

People kept asking why my husband wasn’t there to help me. I told them that he was working, and it was the truth. But another truth was that he’d offered help plenty of times but I wanted to know if I could do it myself. I can’t explain why. But it’s the truth, too.

Now that the roof is done (and it was done in the nick of time), I can honestly say: I did this. I built a roof. I’ve done every step myself. But I am also really glad that I accepted help for some of it. It’s a little weird how proud I am that the help was with something I did myself on the second side… I am really proud to have done all of this myself. I’m proud to say that I’ve built a roof. But I’m not proud how hard it is for me to accept help.

This season taught me what I am capable of by myself. I hope next season teaches me more about community. Maybe, if I’d accepted help sooner or more often, I would not have had to redo this side of the wood twice.

Before I could close up the first half, I had to tackle an urgent issue: The terrace was crumbling under my feet. I needed a flat surface to set up a place to work. So, the terrace had to be tackled first.

I tore off the OSB boards (yay, more special waste), and found a layer of rotting pallets underneath. Pallets, especially wet ones, are heavy. I dragged them all onto a pile, one by one.

I used the concrete blocks underneath to make a flat surface, a temporary solution to replace later. From experience, I can tell you that temporary solutions are usually what stay the longest. But for now, all I needed was a surface to put a table, so I could trim some boards for the roof. Well, and the terrace had been a hazard before. Now, I could walk without sinking ankle-deep into rotting wood.

It only took one afternoon to tear it all up and build a place for the table. I was ready to tackle the roof. I quickly realized that the roof was all kinds of crooked. Never trust the previous builder, I guess.

So, I took down board after board, and moved them all. A few more days of climbing ladders, balancing boards, and a whole lot of loose screws that hadn’t hit the beams because the beams were in random places.

Redoing all of this twice brought on quite some frustration: Frustration with myself for not noticing, frustration with the builder for building so crookedly and without rhyme nor reason, frustration with the weather that had keps me from working on the roof so long that the boards were swollen now.

I’m glad I didn’t try to make it work with crooked boards. I’m glad I started over. But it was tough. The roof became my gym, my therapist, my playground. By the time the first side was closed, I was bruised and scratched all over, but I didn’t give up. All the obstacles along the way make me even prouder to have done this. I built a roof.

And before long, I was taking steps forward again instead of undoing my hard work. The first side was done. I’d accepted the offered help from two friends, and they’d be here in a few days. I was on a deadline for the second side of the roof.

I knew I could do the wood alone. I wasn’t so sure about the rest. So, I got it into my head that I’d get the second side wooded up before they got here. Fair chance…

When there was a week left, I lost some time to a festival, some more time to recovery and rain. And then I realized that I’d miscounted. I was missing materials and had to go back to the store instead.

I would not be able to finish the wood in time. It was hard to accept. But once I did, I cleaned up instead. The trash piles grew, and the rest of the garden got easier to navigate with every day of cleaning.

I took apart the old swing, decided to keep the frame as a toy for now. It’s perfect for swinging and balancing exercises. The child in me will have a lot of fun with this piece of trash left on the land. I can’t wait. I borrowed my neighbor’s trusted Pinkie and cleaned, cleaned, cleaned.

The roof was teasing me to continue but I was tired from dancing, and my friends would come to help soon. When I’d recovered, I made sure the roof was prepped and ready for efficient help from four extra hands.

Now that I trusted the beams more than the ladder, I made quick process, climbing the roof like a monkey all day. I removed every single nail from the second side, every piece of old roofing material, so we could work properly. Even the weather was taking a break from the rain and let me work without having to hide in the cabin all the time.

With more hands (and the ability to start at the top instead of the bottom), we made quick work of the second side. A couple hours later, the tree of us had done what had taken me weeks on the other side. I was happy and frustrated. I was most worried about the step after this. But here we were doing something fast that I knew I could do alone.

It was a lot more fun this way, of course. But part of me was still mad at myself for missing the deadline. I screwed in the last screw, and the second side was closed up for good.

The frustration didn’t last long. A lucky sale allowed me to get the outer layer I wanted: green shingles. This made the rest of the process much less scary. I’d still have to do one layer I didn’t want but it would be fine.

One sunny afternoon, I lifted more than 400 kilos of material from a pallet into my car, then carried them in. And with that, it was time to get over myself and tackle the layer that scared me so much. Let me just admit this: laying bitumen sheets is a two-people job. There, I said it. I still did it alone.

I’d have accepted help with this step, but it wasn’t an option. The one part that I didn’t think I should do alone… I got creative. I relied on clamps. I accepted mistakes. And I made it work.

It started raining after the first sheet. I kept going anyway. The day before, with a rain storm on the horizon, I’d prepped everything, trimmed all the rolls. I’ve learned a lot from this project. One of the biggest lessons was that prep work makes things so much easier. I’m not good at switching from task to task. I’d much rather cut all the sheets, then put them all up.

Every roll was a struggle. I’d been scared of this step for good reason. This is the one part I didn’t enjoy. When you work alone, you make up for extra hands with extra steps. I took a lot of extra steps. Somehow, don’t ask me how, I made it work. I did the thing even I didn’t think I could manage alone.

The outer layer ended up a lot different from the plan. I’m so glad there won’t be a second layer of those sheets. Instead, I did it properly. I put up metal edges to route and collect rain to where it would collect it at some point.

The second side was easier than the first. There were just better spots to set up the ladder. I still struggled with every single one of those sheets, wondered if any of this would work at all. And just like with the wood, I ran out of material before I was done. Never trust someone else’s math, either, I guess.

But I didn’t go back to the store for another roll. Instead, I used another color that the previous owner had left. I still think that was the right choice. This project needed some progress, and I finished the layer that day.

The original plan had been a second layer of the bitumen paper sheets. This plan was so much better. Instead of struggling with heavy rolls that unrolled on me all the time, I’d be dealing with much lighter sheets.

It took me a few rows to get the hang of them, to find the little notches that show how much to overlap. But even then, the process just felt so much better than the previous layer, and I was happy.

There are more than 400 of these sheets on my roof. I don’t know how many nails I nailed. I don’t know how many sheets I trimmed to offset the rows. I don’t know how many times I climbed the ladder. I’m surely not exaggerating if I say I did it a thousand times.

With another strong storm on the forecast, my husband came along to help put on the edges of the second side.

I keep forgetting how useful it is to have someone hand you tools. I almost get why all these homesteaders have kids. For once, someone else was doing the climbing, and I was sitting and working instead.

After the storm, I took out the nails to replace them with water-tight screws. In retrospect, I would have done that on all the metal edges, but it’s not what the instructions said.

Slowly, I could see an end in sight. This was the last stretch. I was almost done. I went to the garden to work as often as humanly possible, sometimes twice in one day. I needed to get this done.

I was on another deadline, more or less. A set of really strong rainstorms had been forecast again. I really didn’t want to test the middle layer’s ability to keep out water. Technically, it should. I didn’t trust it.

The autumn storms typical of this region had already started, and the wind was strong. It kept catching in the sheets or my pants, and making it harder to work on the ladder while being safe. And while I’ve been improvising a lot, I’ve always made sure that I was safe throughout this project. The roof project had me wearing headphones for a second reason: to be able to call someone for help. Luckily, scratches and bruises, a swollen finger once, were all that I had to deal with.

Finally, I was putting on the top of the roof. I was skeptical that these sheets would hold. But they did and do. Again, the instructions called for nails. I chose to use more water-tight screws instead. Better safe than sorry, and I still had some left. I would not be able to return them, so I might as well use them.

The garden was an absolute mess. There would be a lot of cleanup still. But the roof was finished. Finally!

The rains came to test the roof. It held tight. A few weeks later, the strongest storm I’ve experiences came round. I was surprised that it held. The roof had been built with weather directions in mind. That storm blew the wrong way.

The storms came and passed. More storms came. And the roof managed to keep the water on the outside. Winter was coming fast. The sun rose later every day, set earlier, often barely came by at all. I tried not to let that stop me. I admit it often did. But I never managed to stay away for long.

“This isn’t the nicest weather to do this.”

For the next few weeks, I continued cleaning. The owners of the land had promised to deal with the trash. I don’t know how many steps I walked, carrying usable materials and trash around the land. I sorted trash, carried everything to piles of different materials. All the while, I waited to get an actual date for pickup. The call never came.

I filled trashbag after trashbag with things I needed gone from this place. The trash piles grew into what I now call my trash mountains. It looks like a landfill here now.

Motivated by them taking away the trash, I cleaned in high gear, getting as much as possible done and onto the piles. I took apart the moldy bench in the cabin to add to the piles. The weird monster was built from parts of the ceiling, held together by endless amounts of screws.

I also cleaned up outside, fighting enough with one large tarp that it made an entire episode. But at the end of the day, the tarp, too, became part of the trash mountains near the gate. The leaves changed color quickly, littered the ground with all the shades of fall.

And I decided to tackle a part of the land that I’d ignored so far: the second hut, or shed, or whatever this is. After all, someone would be picking up all the trash soon, so I needed to add as much as possible by then.

I often got sidetracked by things that were just in the way, easy or fun to tackle, and not rotting away… Sometimes, it just feel good to make something look neat. So, I did a lot of that.

The shed is filled with shards of plastic, shards of what used to be materials to fix this very shed, I think. I dug up an old chest when all the trash was gone. It felt like finding treasure.

Degraded chicken feed was a first hint at what I’d find in the roof. I put on a mask and started tearing off the ceiling. Chicken feathers started raining down. And just a few sheets later, an entire half-mummified chicken fell from the beams. My very own dinosaur fossil.

I found more degraded chicken feed under the bench. Must have been one happy mouse family living here.

Within an afternoon, I’d cleaned out the shed until only the crates and bench were left. My goal was to get as much of the rotten material onto the piles before they got picked up, so I got to work.

“Okay, it’s time to tackle the second hut. I’ve cleared everything around it, and there’s no excuse anymore, because I want the people who take the trash to also take the roof.

“It’s in pretty bad condition, so I’m just going to take it all off, put a tarp on, and deal with it later. But for now, I just need to get the materials off my land.”

The roof was in the worst shape. It wasn’t rotten enough to remove easily but none of it was intact enough to save.

I’d also returned the tall ladder as quickly as possible after finishing the garden house roof. That meant working with my shorter ladder, and not being able to reach all parts properly. My ladder will be tall enough to work from the inside, though, so it’s all good. I could just borrow the tall ladder again, but I think you’ve gotten the gist that I’m not good at accepting help.

Remember that storm from the wrong direction? It will take off this foil. The cover will work for multiple storms but get blown off during that one. But I didn’t know that then. A storm flood wasn’t on my horizon yet.

“I covered the roof. It’s actually looking okay. It’s definitely… there’s some holes in it. But it’s the best I can do at the moment, because I don’t have a proper tarp. That’s the one I used for the other roof. So, it’s not in really good condition. But it’s better than an open roof, so we’ll just leave it at that for now. And I’ll be continuing to take down the roof from the inside.

“Yes?” “Yes!” “Yes!!” It might look like absolute crap, but it is working.

“It’s going to be one of the big projects I tackle soon. If I have to tear it all down, that’s okay. All I really need from this is a slab of concrete that I can set something on. If there are walls, that would be awesome. If there is something to hold up a roof, even more awesome. But all I really need is a level ground that will stand what I’m putting on it.””

“There are parts of the land that looked better back then like the area that is now covered in the mountains of trash. But there are also areas that look a lot better than they did back then like my garden house. I’m really, really proud of the garden house, because that’s been my biggest project. And, when I got here, I couldn’t even open the door, let alone store anything inside that I wanted to stay dry. Now, there is a roof. I built a roof. And I’m so darn proud of it.”

“I’m so glad that I took on this project. This land has healed me as much as I have healed the land. I’ve been working and working around here, but, really, this has been the best thing I have ever done for my mental or physical health. This has healed me so much.

“I am so grateful for all the projects I could take on. Anyway! I am excited even for winter. “I’m excited for winter” are words I never thought I’d say but I’m excited for winter. Okay, granted, I’m a lot more excited for spring but still.”

Anyway, so long, and thanks for being here!