Friday, July 6, 2012

We Got Decked

This crazy hot weather has been knocking us out. Mountain temps aren't supposed to get up to, let alone exceed, the century mark. And we are in our second straight week of heat in the mid-90s and going as high as 102 degrees some days. All of us here--buffs, plants, and people--are focused on little other than the essentials of hydration. Since we're in serious water appreciation mode right now, it seems like a good time to talk about something that has really helped us to make the most of our farm's best natural water feature, Sandy Mush Creek (shown below in late autumn).

When we moved into this house four years ago, we couldn't understand why the porches were oriented away from this gorgeous, big creek that makes a beeline for the house then curves away at the last minute. The house (winter view below) seemed to turn its back on the best feature. We've longed for a deck that would set things right.

Fortunately, the fine folks at the aptly named River's Bend Construction, helped us come up with a design that would work with the challenging terrain behind our house. We wanted the feel of being out over the creek but with a fairly narrow strip of level ground before a steep, rocky slope down to the creek, we thought we might have to settle for a standard rectangular deck. Cantilevering to the rescue. Part thrust stage, part ship's deck, the final product features a rounded deck and low benches to keep the deck from obliterating the view from the house.

That was March. Fast forward to now. We stained the deck. The foliage returned. And it got hot. Damn hot.

Built over the area where the sleeping porch was on the original farmhouse, we are using this deck daily as an additional room--one where we can beat the heat by being out in it. Thanks to the copious quantity of black walnut trees along the creek and a steep ridge to the west, we get a fair amount of shade in the late afternoon. And just sitting still above the creek seems to help us attract whatever miniscule breeze may be wafting about.

We had worried a bit that by creating this new structure, we might lose out on some of our wildlife sightings. But once the hammering stopped, the critters came back. In fact, now that we're able to be out there more, we're seeing all sorts of activity. We're not the only ones seeking relief from the heat. Just this morning, I saw a doe and two spotted fawns splashing around in the creek. On the 4th of July, we saw a young beaver (or possibly a muskrat) swimming around the bend in the creek followed by a half hour of watching Harry, our resident great blue heron, slowly walk his way up the creek. Normally, he's so skittish that if he senses any movement or sound on our part, he takes off (an impressive display of wingspan results but I feel bad for chasing him off). Apparently, we were high up enough that he didn't see us, focused as he was on his spear fishing.

Last month, I saw a duck with 6 ducklings which she loaded up on her back to get through the "rapids" at the bend; a seemingly disoriented bat dive into the water and drown (I fear white nose syndrome has made its way here); and a huge raccoon methodically make its way along the edge of the creek digging every 12-18 inches, presumably looking for turtle eggs.

Best of all, has been the bee tree.

One morning when I was enjoying my coffee on the deck, I noticed a lot of honeybee activity near the little dying hemlock tree (not sure if you can see it in the center of the picture above covered in poison ivy). Since the tree lines up with the bee hive down by the garden, I thought they might just be passing by as part of their flight pattern. But the more I watched, the more I could tell that I was seeing the flight angle and approach of bees taking off and landing in this tree. I hiked down as close as I could get to see if I could see a swarm. Nope, just bees flying in and out of a crevice in the side of the tree. A bee tree!

It's not a very large tree, so I wouldn't have expected a colony to set up shop inside but there it was. A feral group of honeybees making their home right in front of me. Too cool. If the tree were remotely accessible, I would consider trying to capture the colony and convert it into one of my managed hives but it is impossible to reach safely, let alone to do the kind of chainsaw work that would be required to cut out the bees. In keeping with the mellow, contemplative mood that inevitably results from sitting on the deck, I'll just let them be.


  1. That is one gorgeous deck, Alison! What a great addition to the house. We still have sliding doors looking out on the prairie where a deck should be. Every year we talk of building one. But it will block out all sun to the basement room, which has proven to be the ideal place to start seedlings. So unless there's also a greenhouse built with the deck...

  2. Such a clever solution to the view...inside and out. I can hear the rushing water. Beautiful.