Getting to Work

I spend my first day “working” at Howard Mesa.

Sunrise this morning was extra beautiful. There was a line of light clouds just above the eastern horizon and, as the sun made its way west, it illuminated the cloud bottoms. First brilliant orange, then gray, then lavender, and finally pink. Then the sun was up, casting a golden glow over my “camp” before disappearing briefly behind those clouds. Then it was daytime.

It was surprisingly warm this morning: 61°F at dawn. That’s warm enough to have my morning coffee outside, in the sunshine. Alex went right into his cage and Jack, after scouting around a bit, retreated to his favorite hangout, under the trailer. The horses even put in an appearance for a drink and the alfalfa I’d left for them.

The wind started picking up right after dawn. I’d been thinking about burning some of the cardboard boxes we’ve been accumulating, but I won’t start a fire if there’s anything more than a breeze. By the time I was ready to do it, it was already too windy. I’d have to wait until tomorrow. I started work on the partition wall framing in the shed. The wall is 80 inches long and about 70 inches tall, and divides off a 44 inch portion of the shed that will someday be a tiny bathroom. I’d bought a book about basic carpentry, so I knew what to do: nail in the header, use a plumb bob to position the footer, and nail in the footer. Then position the vertical studs 24 inches on center apart.

Interior of ShedI didn’t have to cut any wood. I’d bought all the wood pre-cut to my specifications. There’s a hardware store in Wickenburg (Johnson Lumber) that is very nice about cutting wood for me and that’s where I bought it. I took measurements last time I was up here, so I had exact numbers. That was odd because the vertical studs each needed to be a different length. When I assembled all the pieces, they fit perfectly.

I used 2x6s for this partition wall. The reason: all the piping between the bathroom and kitchen will be in it and I wanted to make sure the wood was wide enough to drill through for the pipes.

Unfortunately, I’d neglected to buy the metal do-dads I needed to attach the studs to the header and footer. (There’s no way I’m going to be able to sink a nail on a 45° angle.) I debated making my trip to Flagstaff today — I even told Mike I would — but I decided to see how far I could get without them. Because the pieces of wood fit so snugly, I was able to wedge them into place. That made it possible to get accurate measurements for the horizontal pieces that need to go between them. I hope the folks at the Home Depot in Flag are as nice about cutting lumber as the Johnson Lumber folks.

Interior of ShedTo see whether I’d be able to get my ever-growing butt past the bathroom vanity once it was installed, I took it out of its box and set it in place. That’s when I realized why it had only cost me $78 assembled with a sink basin: it was a piece of junk. It was falling apart and I had to use some skinny nails I happened to have to bang it all back together. Then I placed the basin in (partially to help hold the thing together) and moved it into place, trying to imagine a wall behind it. Yes, I could walk past it. Next, I worked on the ladder we’d use to get up to the loft. The loft is about 6-1/2 feet high, and just tall enough to sit up comfortably on. We’ll be putting a bed up there. Well, a mattress. And some carpeting under it. I positioned one 8-foot 2×4 on an angle against the edge of the loft, then took the precut 18-inch long pieces and a level and marked off where they’d need to be nailed in. The ladder’s rungs need to be parallel to the ground. This is something I learned when I built my first loft, back in college. The first ladder’s steps had been perpendicular to the sides and the ladder had been placed vertically. This made it very difficult to negotiate. So I put the ladder on an angle and then had to reposition the steps so I wouldn’t hurt my bare feet climbing up and down.

While in the process of nailing in rungs, I managed to bash the top segment of my left index finger really hard. It’s purplish and swollen now and tender to the touch. It’s a good thing that for some reason, that’s one of only two fingers I don’t use when I type. It just hangs out there in space, along with my left thumb, while the other eight get the job done.

There’s one thing you can count on just about all the time at Howard Mesa: wind. The wind picked up as I worked and kept picking up all morning. By 11 AM, when I stopped for a break, it was howling. I tuned in my aviation radio to Weather Channel 2, which covers northern Arizona and heard that a wind advisory was in effect for my area, with winds of 25 to 35 mph, gusting to 45 mph. Soon I began worrying about the trailer’s awning, which was taking a real beating. And Alex, in his cage, having trouble moving around without getting blown around.

I took a shower and had lunch. I ate outside on the picnic table to keep Alex company. Bad idea. My wet hair dried in seconds in a style reminiscent of Einstein. I really need a haircut.

By 1 PM, the wind was very bad. I set up Alex’s small cage in the back half of the trailer, with the connecting door open so he could see me. Then I settled onto the sofa inside the trailer and worked on the index cards I’m using to organize my novel. I turned on my PowerBook and fired up iTunes. Although my 12-inch PowerBook doesn’t have great speakers, I’d rather have 2,205 songs to choose from than listen to whatever’s playing on NPR or the local classic rock station. I mostly played Native American flute music, since Alex likes it. He didn’t like being in the camper’s back room and the camper’s constant shaking and rattling was making him nervous.

Every once in a while, I’d have to go outside and reattach one of the do-dads that keep the awning from flopping around. That requires standing on a stepladder and using a pair of pliers to twist a wing nut tight. I even had to adjust the tie-downs on the helicopter’s blades. They were flopping around far too much.

I made some baked beans on the stove. When I went to add the tomato paste, however, I discovered that the can I’d picked up included garlic, basil, and oregano. Not exactly what I had in mind for baked beans. Why is it that you can’t buy plain canned food? Why do they feel as if they need to add all the seasonings for you?

By 4 PM, the wind was calming down. I brought Alex back outside and came out with a book I’d bought long ago, Cause of Death. This Writer’s Digest Publishing book provides a lot of information about death and bodies for people writing about it. I learned enough to accurately describe the dead body my protagonists discover and get some additional information I may use in the future.

I went on my afternoon walk at 5:40 PM. I know the exact time because I called Mike and left a message for him on his cell phone just before I left. He called back when I reached the gate. Because I didn’t have much confidence in the cell signal, I remained rooted in position for the entire five-minute conversation. Then Jack the Dog and I walked down to “Four Corners” and back, a distance of about a mile. I walked briskly both ways. Jack ran. He chased rabbits, smelled things, and left urine samples here and there.

Back at the camper, I settled down with my PowerBook to write this blog. And that’s where I am now.

Tomorrow, I’m going to Flagstaff. I have a very long list of things to buy before the weekend and expect to spend most of the day there. I’ll stop in Williams on my way to publish my latest blog entries, collect my e-mail, and gather the incoming messages I’m expecting.

What do you think?