Building - Memoir by Pat West

January 1987


Lost my notebook again- have been doing very little except sitting outside in my hot tub or thinking about sitting in my hot tub. Sat in it so long New Year’s Eve, my skin got parboiled. Lovely to be outside naked with the cold unable to touch you. This is a high point in my life. Have taken care of a big want.

It was snowing when I woke to a new year. The girls came home, so I fired up the tub again. (Luckily had remembered to put the hose back in after letting the old water out last night). Robin joined us in jumping in and out of the tub with the snow coming down all around. Quite a show- three children in brightly colored beachwear laughing in the swirling snow.

Kids are getting wilder and wilder- two more days till school starts back up. Then winter really will begin for me- two more months before I can even think of spring. Cold with strong winds tonight.


Radio said sunny today, but the sun never showed. A gray winter day. I want the horses away from the house- Goldie even had her mouth on the doorknob this afternoon. They keep the mud churned up and everyone- even the cats- walks it in. Can’t cut fence posts- must keep on cutting firewood (hot tub to feed now too). Made the kids haul in four logs each.

Went to the river this afternoon to saw, wrestle and fight a very lovely, very large mass of roots up the riverbank. It was almost dark when I got it up- felt real good doing it. But now that I’m back, sitting by the stove, I want to sleep till spring.


Sawed firewood all morning- saw is starting to give me a little trouble. It’s running rough, making me work harder. I sent the poor boys back into the woods to drag in more logs. Arthur and John blew in so I took them and the boys to the river for yesterday’s big find. They looked so like cavemen stumbling over the frozen field, carrying this large stiff many- legged beast home from my hunt. Someday it will be part of a sculpture but for now it’s a huge towel rack by the hot tub.


Kids back in school. Hurray! January thaw- snow going- mud returning. Put my new disk sander to work on walls. I am not going to enjoy this. Saw is down- will try to fix it tomorrow.


Getting bad about writing every night. Yesterdays are replaced so fast by the new day that they are hard to remember and lost.

Worked under the house yesterday till time to take girls to a dance. This day was nice- a little less mud. Till I moved down here, mud was something only other people had. No one I ever knew had mud. Now if I were a poet, I’d write poems about mud. If I were a historian, I’d write about the great muds of the past- about mud’s place in history. Wonder what the sawmill is like now?

The horses stepped on my frozen water hose last night, breaking it. Now that they no longer think it’s the world’s longest snake they will keep breaking it, so I ran it off the ground up into the trees. Looks a bit strange but works fine. It will freeze faster up there but will last longer.


Another mud day. Ground is fine until it thaws about 11 am, then it’s a mess. Worked outside joyfully stacking my wealth of firewood and covered it for protection from the rain that’s coming.

Front clouds are making fast tracks across a bright sky tonight.


Was sitting in my chair by the stove last night wishing I could see the end of my road and my gate without getting up. What is the use of building a custom house if you can’t keep changing it to fit your needs? So this morning I went up the ladder on the outside and cut a hole in the wall behind my chair- found out why remodelers charge so much, but don’t want to sit in my chair for the rest of my life wishing. Anyway, with the cops after me now, a lookout point is important.

Lots of people came out today but I just worked around them. Put plastic over my new window hole till I can get glass cut for it- then left for rehearsal. A week from now we’ll be on stage again.


With the weather so cold and windy, I couldn’t work on my new window (don’t have the glass yet anyway). So started replacing the too narrow bottom steps between the rooms. They have bothered me long enough. I sacrificed a 2x 15’’x10’ walnut board. Cut two treads out of it. Did a pretty good job of putting them in. Lovely wood. Much nicer walking down the stairs now. How many times have I rebuilt these stairs?


Watched the first light of dawn hit the top of the cliffs, then work its way down the face to my river before getting out of bed for post time at the daily horse race. Then went to pick up Milo dog at vet’s. Stopped in Christiansburg to see an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while- told her how I needed money so badly- she told me how her liver was poisoned from her workplace and her doc had her on arsenic three times a day. Think I would rather be looking for money.

Put new window in- I like it. I can sit in my warm corner and see out now. My normal half-assed job, of course. Good rehearsal tonight- but I drank too much wine so have a headache now.


Lovely warm day. Instead of being out in it, worked sanding down the little wall next to the door. This is getting to be some job. Wallboards are cupped, warped, hardwood. I have to fill all the cracks between boards with spackling compound, then sand and sand till the walls are smooth but not flat. I want to keep the live feel of an undulating surface. But board and filler must meet on same plane. Bumps and waves when I pass my hand over the walls are well and good, but ridges that catch my hand are not allowed. Sanding the filler make a talc-like dust that hangs in the air, then slowly falls to cover everything.


Just couldn’t stay inside today. Worked all day outside. God, I want to make gardens but will I ever be able to garden again? I would rather be playing with my plants more than anything else in the world. Pitting my landscaping against Mother Nature’s. Am hopelessly outmatched but I love the fight. The road clearing crew are dumping many truckloads of woodchips by my gate. Will have mulch forever. I hauled lots up to cover muddy paths. Cleaned under the house and all around the (dare I say) yard- burned trash-made a place to stand and a bench by the hot tub.


Worked all day sanding Tyree’s loft wall. It is wonderful Rising and falling, but smooth and solid. There is a thick layer of white dust over everything, even my black cat.


Sanded all day. The white dust is insidious- it’s everywhere on everything- this is going to be awful. I went from feeling well to sick in a moment. Thought I was going to die. Really thought I wasn’t going to be able to make the trip to D.C. for the play we were to do in Reston- thought it must be the soup I had for lunch. Wanted to die. No way I could survive a 5-hour car trip. I once drove my four kids 1100 miles without being able to take a deep breath because of two broken ribs- but this is uncontrollable- like seasickness. How could they do the play without me? We never talked about what to do if one of us was unable to go on. Probably because we’re all mothers and know how to keep going.


The show went well except for me still having the shakes. We all had a great time- they even paid us more than we hoped. When I got back home, Valen was sick so no wall work. Made locks for doors out of wood and stone. Now I can lock my house, but only from the inside.


We woke to a white world. Snowed all day- over a foot of snow- no school, of course. Glad I went to the food store- we hate to be trapped with four hungry teens. The snow on the roof is starting to part and slide, making loud sounds. The house trembles. Don’t think most people would like to live in a house as alive as this one. We put seeds in the little north window ledge, making lots of birds happy. Painted tonight. It’s still snowing.


Snowed in- the outside world is out of reach. No housework being done- the place smells of wet socks and gloves. They are everywhere- I make hanging sculptures of them for drying. The big house is out of firewood and the power is out so now I’m cutting wood for two houses. The kids slip and fall, bringing the logs down. Up in the woods the trees seem made of steel. My hands and feet turn to ice while I saw, rest, saw some more.

Last night the pee toilet froze up. Went under the house with buckets of warm water to soak the hose. Felt I was wrestling with a long frozen cow gut instead of a hose full of frozen pee. Sometimes playing pioneer woman gets tiresome.

We put out lots of seeds for wild birds who have surrounded us. Twelve redbirds in one tree- wonder if one is he who hated me so last summer. Some of the guinea fowls that live in trees up the hill are starting to die- with all the snow, their small brains think the ground has disappeared and they just saying in the trees till they starve. I sent the kids to find those they could save.


Pee toilet frozen all day. Worked after dark under the house trying to move the frozen pee down the hose- cold winds cool my buckets of warm water before I can even get started. Monday we got a foot more snow. I spent the evening in the hot tub (made of the only water source now- melted snow) where snow fell on steaming body parts taking their turn above water.

More snow than I have ever seen around here. The kids jump off the deck- roll around in it for a while- come in for food and dry clothes. Dripping clothes drape everything- rugs and floors are wet with tracked in snow. No school all week. We have been in the woods everyday cutting and hauling. Husbend doesn’t even say thank you.

A tree I was cutting fell before I was ready, bounced back into me, knocking me 10 feet down the hill. Luckily the snow cushioned my fall, but I have a bruise on my jaw where the tree hit me.

Yesterday I couldn’t stand not sanding any more so after hauling wood I told the kids to go see their father. Worked on the wall and immediately got sick. I think there is something in the fine, white dust that is poisoning me. It wasn’t as bad as last time, but was the same type of sick. I went to bed.

Today with the kids pushing the car and sitting on the hood for more front wheel traction, we made it up the hill. Got food and a good face mask for sanding.


A thaw day- kids go back to school tomorrow, thank god.

Went to the river three times trying to get ram pump started- last time down the melting snow was raising the river over my pump- so no water for awhile.


The river was backing off from my pump when I checked this morning, so I chanced dumping the last dirty water out of the inside tub. Looks like I got lucky and will have a tub of clean water (you make water last along time when it’s not so easy to come by).

A real melting day.

1/31 & 2/1

Tired- hungry-mad. It was too windy yesterday for sawing firewood- roof banged- house shook all day and night. I spent the day reading my caveman sex books- kids all found someplace to go. Sawed all day Sunday with only time out to fix saw parts as they broke or wore out. Why am I so pissed off? It was a lovely day with green grass showing through the snow.

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