Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
Sunday, August 24 2008
One of the reasons Ray and Nancy had come upstate this weekend was to continue their hunt for a weekend house. The place near Phoenicia had been a structural money pit, and a place they'd been looking at near Kerhonksen seemed overpriced. This left a house on Sawkill Road, the first house they'd looked at in this search. Because it had been the first, it hadn't wowed them. But now that they've seen what can be bought within their budget (under $200,000), it is looking more appealing. This afternoon after a breakfast at the place that used to be Bread Alone in Uptown Kingston, we all went there to have a look.
From the outside, the house looked to be simple gabled house modified with long symmetrical shed dormers running the length of the second floor. Initially, the most unique thing about the house was its front porch, which was nearly enclosed by enveloping outer walls that had been punctured by several ornate ventillation structures. Nancy had three concerns about the place: it was dark, it had a seasonal stream running in a ditch a couple feet from one of its corners, and she thought she saw evidence of moisture in the basement.
I looked at the ditch for the seasonal stream and, while it was indeed close, it didn't look like it was having any effect on the house, which sits high on a foundation of stacked bluestone. I got to see this foundation from the inside when the realtor let us into the basement. I pay careful attention to basements not only because I enjoy geeking out on the mundane technology no one else understands, but because I've developed an admiration for a well-built foundation wall. You might recall the struggle I had with a slowly collapsing foundation wall back in the Fall of 2004, and that was on a house that wasn't yet ten years old. This house on Sawkill had been built in the 1930s, and it looked to have an entirely sound foundation. It was so thoroughly undisturbed that I suspected it to be founded on bedrock. There was no sign of water from the temporary stream, though I wouldn't be surprised if it occasionally overflowed its ditch and found its way through the stacked bluestone. The puddle that had concerned Nancy consisted of about a teaspoon of water in the very center of the basement slab. It was clearly the product of condensation of humid summer air against a cold surface.
As for the darkness upstairs, part of it was a consequence of the dark window trim, dark curtains, dark furniture, and a black rear-projection screen the size of an overturned ping pong table. The current owner of the house couldn't afford his mortgage payments and now his house, which is worth less than the money owed on it, is being sold out from under him by his bank. Looking around at the Saab in the driveway and the several massive flatscreens, it was easy to see that the current owner has issues with managing his money. Perhaps he'd gotten a home equity line of credit just to put a flatscreen in every room.
Having seen the extremes of what settlement can do to a house at that Phoenicia property, it was satisfying to note the Platonic perfection of the plane of the floor and the ease with which windows and doors could be manipulated. Start with a sound, square foundation, and it trues up everything built on top of it.
My only recommendation was that the windows on the south side of the house (which later proved to be the southeast side of the house) be enlarged and modernized with insulated glass so as to benefit from passive solar. This would also help with the house's gloominess issues. This would make the kitchen much more cheerful, though it would require that the kitchen cabinets be moved to the opposite wall.
Ray and I explored the woods on the steep slope behind the house, partly to see if a dogwalking trail could be developed. We found another house at the top of the slope, which was a little disappointing. But there was still a way to get past that house and access the woods beyond, though the steepness of the slope was a bit of a problem. Ray referred to this patch of woods as his "masturbatorium," a joke I immediately scatalogicized by suggesting it would be a great place to drop a log (or find logs for the building of fires).
One problem with the house as its proximity to Sawkill Road, a rather busy road linking Woodstock to Kingston. A fence would have to be built to keep Suzy the dog from wandering into traffic. But beyond it, at the bottom of a steep slope, was Sawkill Creek itself. Sawkill Creek is plenty big enough for swimming, and at this point in its channel there is no development on either side. All one would need to get down to it would be a little mountain goat trail. I made an initial recon mission to see where such a trail might go, but had to turn back after brushing against a some lush Poison Ivy foliage.
On the whole, the house seemed like a good one, and if Ray and Nancy can get it for less than $200,000, it looks like a good deal. What's more, it's fairly close to us. For a creepy spycam look at the house, check out this image from (which has better coverage of this area than Google Maps).

From Sawkill, we drove to Zena Road, across Route 28 to Basin Road, past the Reservoir Inn to Dike Road and then across 28A to Dug Hill Road. That was 11.1 miles, and not even the shortest route.

Later the four of us went swimming at "the quarry" on the Esopus (visible in this aerial view). The others had never been there before, so I warned them about the redneck factor.
Somewhat surprisingly for a Sunday, only three people were swimming at the quarry when we arrived (they were teenagers and had come in a bright yellow pickup truck, so I suspected one or both of the girls were the same ones I'd seen posing for a MySpace photoshoot atop that truck's hood some weeks ago). Also surprising was the lack of trash; someone (probably a single middle aged female dog walker) must have cleaned the place up. Representing the redneck demographic were a couple of guys on four wheelers (which I jokingly pronounce in the überAppalachian style, "fowah hwullar"). One of these was incredibly fat and I guessed he was taking advantage of $4/gallon gasoline while it was still available, since there was no other way for him to get around in nature. He had a grim look on his face, as if he'd just buried his murdered family in an earthen dam and was wondering if I was a witness and should be buried along with them.
We hadn't been there long before the teens had left and another bright yellow vehicle rumbled up and parked a couple dozen feet away. The people with four wheel drive are never happy in a natural setting unless they park exactly where they want to be. Eleanor started barking at them immediately and I could see there was at least one dog in the vehicle. One of the people got out and asked if our dogs were friendly and I said yes, so out came the dog, a big brown Chocolate Lab hybrid with a somewhat paranoid demeanor. And then out came the woman (she was big and fat) cradling an adorable little brown puppy, about half the size of a housecat. The dogs all seemed to get along just fine, with the puppy trying to encourage Sally and Eleanor to play. But they were leery about doing so, as the big brown dog seemed suspicious of their intentions and would occasionally growl at them. She wasn't even the puppy's mother, it turned out. She had nevertheless decided to assume a maternal role.
Meanwhile the big fat woman and what I took to be her husband, a red-faced man with a gut the size of a dorm refrigerator, ambled into the water. The red-faced man had a Budweiser in his hand, and occasionally he belched loudly. Mind you, three in our contingent were drinking sixteen ounce Busches, but our drinking wasn't nearly so flamboyant. At one point the big fat woman chided the red faced man for never going a moment without his beer, and he said something about how going swimming and drinking beer were made for each other. "That doesn't explain why you're always drinking beer even when we're not swimming," she retorted.
Meanwhile, a skinny older man who had come with the fat couple was crouching quietly on the shoreline. He was such a non-participant in the goings on that it was as if he was a spectral presence. The only function he served was to gather the empty beer cans that the red faced man hurled onto the beach.
In our contingent, the ladies were both sitting on towels, drinking their beers and thumbing through trashy magazines that Nancy had bought along with the beer. And Ray was swimming the entire length of the quarry and back, a third of a mile or so. He had a strange mechanical froglike stroke that, in combination with his bald head, made him look more like some sort of mechanical device than a human.
The red faced man kept fake-drowning to encourage the big brown dog to dive in and rescue him, something she did even though she seemed to also know that these drownings were not actual emergencies. The little puppy preferred to play along the shoreline and snuggle with us on our towels, though the red faced man and big fat woman encouraged her to swim out to them and she did, though her shivering indicated that it wasn't her preferred place to be.

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