Narrowing down the possibilities

Leah and I have found four potential building sites in this general area. Two are on Lavender Mountain within an easy walk of our current house, one is about a mile and a half away at the bottom of Lavender Mountain in Little Texas Valley, and the fourth is about five miles away in Big Texas Valley. Each of these sites has advantages and disadvantages. We have managed to winnow the choices down.

The first we rejected is the land on Big Texas Valley Road. It looks buildable, but the road it faces is not pedestrian friendly. Is it ridiculous to reject a potential home site because I can’t walk dogs on the road it faces? That’s what we did.

The second we rejected is the land at the bottom of the hill. Its biggest problem is that it slopes gently from each end to the middle, where there is a drainage ditch. We would want the house roughly centered on the lot, but that wouldn’t be possible here. It’s also generally kind of ugly land and it would have no view at all.

That leaves two possibilities. The one we prefer is the closest. It’s roughly square, it has some nice, mature trees, and it might have a view, depending on how high the house site would be compared to some tall trees across the road from the lot. The biggest drawback for this one is that it’s too expensive. We have set a limit on what to spend for the lot, and this one exceeds it by a good margin. We asked the real estate agent, who lives up the street from us and who handled the sale of my mother’s house, to ask the owners if they would consider an offer. We haven’t heard back yet, but we don’t expect good news.

The other issue is that this land slopes enough that a house would have to have a basement. That’s OK with me, but Leah prefers no basement, and, of course, a basement adds to the cost.

That leaves the other lot on the mountain. This one is a close second. It has a good building site and, again, potentially a view if enough trees are cut. This site is actually three lots offered separately or as a group. Any one of them is well within out budget, but the three of them together are slightly over, although that might be negotiable. The building site here is on a rounded hillock that slopes gently away in all directions.

The biggest problem with this site is that my cell signal goes from LTE (Verizon’s 4G), to 3G, to 1X as you approach the site along Fouche Gap Road. That might be a big “so what?” for making voice calls, but we have to use Verizon’s cellular service for our internet access, and 1X is essentially unusable for data. That would mean switching to satellite internet service, because there is no other way to access the internet up on the mountain.

Both of the rejected lots have access to DSL (Verizon’s LTE service is about as fast as the fastest DSL service that AT&T offers, as far as I can tell). Here’s why DSL isn’t available on top of the mountain.

our phone lines

That “Bell cable” lying in the ditch is our telephone line. It’s mostly buried but is right out on the open in other places. The cable was marked to make sure a county crew didn’t cut it when they did their annual weed mowing.

Cable television is, of course, out of the question.

DSL is fairly slow, but as far as I can tell, the data limits for most DSL plans is about 30 times higher than our cell data limit or a reasonably-priced satellite plan (150 G vs 5 G for our current plan).

So right now we are waiting to hear back from the real estate agent, and expect the news to be negative. If it is, we’ll make an offer on the second choice, and I’m pretty sure we can manage one or possibly two of those lots.

Assuming we end up buying a lot, we’ll probably use what’s left from our land budget, if there is any, plus whatever we end up getting after the sale of my mother’s house to start construction. We should be able to get a good bit done. I think we could get the site preparation done, a well drilled, and a septic system installed. Depending on how much we have, I hope we could get at least the foundation completed. At that point, we will need to sell our house. Our current plan is to live in our travel trailer on the building site until the house is done. That might end up being kind of stressful unless I can really expedite the process.

In the meantime, I am doing all the work on the house that convinced me we needed to move in the first place. Once I’m finished with the outside I’ll have to complete the basement by installing floors, bathroom fixtures, doors and trim. I don’t look forward to it, but I’ve done most of that before.

And now for something else. When we took the dogs for a late walk Wednesday night, a state patrol car drove past us up Lavender Trail, and then down Wildlife Trail. When it came back by us, it stopped and the trooper talked to us for a while. It turns out that he recently moved up to Rome from the Atlanta area and was looking for some land for sale on Lavender Mountain. He specifically asked us about the land that is our second and mostly likely choice. We learned that his wife has cancer, and they have a daughter. And we learned that he makes about $35,000 a year. That’s the standard for a state trooper after finishing trooper school. Leah and I both felt sorry for him, and I personally feel a little ashamed that the state of Georgia can’t do better by its employees.

A hint of fall in the air

When I walked the dogs Wednesday morning it was possible to believe that it was not going to stay hot and humid forever. Although we have had a few relatively cool nights this summer, this felt like the first real hint of fall.

We’re used to July and August being hotter than June on average, but it does seem odd when you think about the fact that the days have been getting shorter since June 21.

I made a plot of average monthly high (in red) and low (in blue) temperatures for Rome. I made it for two years so you can see how the ups and downs cycle through the year. The green line is an arbitrary number that shows how the incoming sunlight varies through the year, normalized so that the values are similar to the temperature values. What this plot shows is that temperature lags the change in heating caused by the change in incoming sunlight, both in summer and in winter.

sun_and_temps

So, the warmest days are not the longest days and the coldest days are not the shortest days. That’s because the Earth acts like a pot of water being heated on the stove; it takes a while to bring it to a boil. But in July, even with days that are shorter than in June, we’re still getting so much sunlight that the Earth wants to be warmer than it already is. We’re lucky the seasons are as short as they are. If they were longer, it would be so hot that we’d probably all have to move further north. But we’d still have to keep a winter home somewhere even further south.

In the meantime, we have opened all the windows in the house, because it’s finally cooler outside than inside.

They’re back

The two persimmon trees next to the road are heavy with fruit now.

persimmons on tree

A few days ago the fruit was almost all green, but there were a few that were getting close to ripe Here’s one that something tasted.

eaten persimmon

You might remember that I found possums pruning our persimmon tree last fall. They’re back.

This branch lying under the tree was the first indication.

branch on ground Here’s the end of the branch. This branch is about a thick as my little finger (in fact, you can see one of my little old fingers at the left). It looks like a miniature beaver chewed it.

cut persimmon branch end

The green persimmons are now starting to turn slightly yellowish. If things go like they did last year, there will still be persimmons on the bare branches even into December. But I expect to find a possum up the tree any night now when I take the dogs out for their walk. Zeke will let me know.

Pileated woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker (dryocopus pileatus) is one of the most impressive birds in the forest. Crows may be slightly larger, and eagles may look more imposing, but nothing thrills me more than the cry of a pileated woodpecker. To me, they symbolize wild nature more than just about anything else in our woods.

Pileated woodpeckers are hard to see in the forest, but it’s not so much because they’re shy as the fact that they seem entirely uninterested in anything human. They mind their own business, and that rarely has anything to do with people.

According to various sites, they feed largely on carpenter ants, which they usually find in standing or fallen dead trees. That means they need a mature forest that isn’t cut or managed to eliminate dead trees. That tends keep them away from large population centers, since most people don’t want dead trees nearby. Despite this limitation, their range is large. Here’s the US Geological Survey map showing their range.

US Geological Survey figure

US Geological Survey figure

According to the USGS website, the pileated woodpecker averages about 15 inches long. It has a prominent red crest and a white throat. It’s almost entirely black, with white on the under side of its wings. But if you’re looking for a pileated woodpecker, I don’t think you will have any problems identifying it. Here’s what the USGS says: “No other living woodpecker could be confused with the Pileated.”

The best view I ever had of a pileated woodpecker was many years ago at my parents’ house. My father had cut a small pine and laid the trunk along the edge of a terrace in the back yard. After it had dried and started to decay, a pileated woodpecker lit on it and started pecking at the bark. When a pileated woodpecker pecks, it hits like a hammer. This bird means business when it feeds.

They are not rare in the woods around the mountain. I hear their call quite often, but although I have looked for an opportunity to photograph one, I haven’t been able to do it. I see them at a distance, too far to photograph, or maybe flying over the road, there and gone before I can even think of getting my camera or phone out.

Since I don’t have one of my own photographs, here’s one from online:

"Pileated Woodpecker male" by D. Gordon E. Robertson

“Pileated Woodpecker male” by D. Gordon E. Robertson

Wednesday I was able to get a poor quality recording of the “wuk” call, along with dark and shaky video of some trees where the bird seemed to be perched. I was with the dogs, and I kept walking while videoing, hoping the bird would fly. I was holding the phone vertically because I wasn’t sure where the bird was and I wanted to catch it if it flew. That’s why there are black bars on either side of the image.

I normalized the volume of the clip, which brings out the call, but unfortunately, it also brings out the jingle of the tags. Sorry about that.

Cornell University has a website with good examples of pileated woodpecker calls. If you have never heard a pileated woodpecker, go listen there and imagine yourself deep in the woods.

Climbing the walls

We get a lot of bugs climbing the walls of our house. This is probably the most common sight.

grasshopper

I think this is a carolina grasshopper, but I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure it would make a tasty treat for this wall climber.

mantis

The praying mantis is one of my favorites. I like they way they turn their heads to follow you, maybe trying to decide if they could take you down.

I saw this little green anole on the wall outside the front door.

greenanole

These little lizards are not as common here as the blue-tailed skink, and neither is as common as they were before the cat population boomed. This one will be safe as long as he stays on the wall.

I saw a walking stick but I didn’t get a photo of it. It wasn’t the cool blue of the one Pablo saw.