Monday, March 31, 2008

The House Is Up!

Thanks to the hard work of a team of people our house is framed in. It certainly is interesting to see the plans we worked so hard over on paper made manifest by wood, stone and sweat. The office Bret designed is small and intimate, and the windows in the family room are magnificent. The two walls of windows afford light and view. I stood in what will be our kitchen, with the small island Bret put there and looked through the windows, imagining making meals there, with the small gas stove for fire and heat in the corner to the right. I stood in the eating nook and tried to get a sense of what it would be like to sit there. I can't wait until I can walk upstairs and stand in bedrooms.

I am also pleased with our end lot. It seems like we will have ample yard for the garden I have planned, to the east and south of the house.

I can't wait to be moved in. Thank you Church Hill. We will have some more photos up soon.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tracking, Maps and Dreams

I have met and studied with many of the good trackers in this country, and am blessed to have a mentor who is one of the best in the field. He would not say that. He would say he is a non-teacher. He reminds of me of Yoda, only much much taller. I have just returned from the Degaba system, I mean a mentoring session with my non-teacher, mentor where we engaged in conversation about tracking. He is a recluse now, not teaching many people so I am blessed that he even gives me hearing. I asked him to teach me, he said yes, I will take you on. It is always a little nerve wracking to ask a master teacher who has retired to consider teaching you. He told me to come, and to bring good questions.

Tracking. What is it and why do I do it? For me, and this is just me, because if you ask anyone else, they will tell you different things, tracking is about building a relationship with the natural world through pattern recognition. For me, the natural world is a living fabric, a live thing, like a creature, but bigger, more complicated, and profoundly non-verbal. The landscape is a like the Other, a being, something sentient. It takes an immense amount of time outside to get to know this Other, so tracking is about being with, about lived experience. Sure, you can read a book about tracking, and species identification really helps, and the stories of other trackers help, too. To know the natural world you have to be out in it, observing, over long periods of time. That is how you get to know the patterns. Animal tracks are a most bold way to know the place I am in, but others might choose trees, plants, dirt, birds, the night sky. They are all connected, all the things in nature, and the observed connections lead to questions, deeper and deeper questions, and I am completely engaged.

I believe that tracking helps me with my work as a therapist for I have come to understand that humans are about patterns, too. I think it helps my work with babies in particular. I live in a very non-verbal world, the natural world and the world of babies. My lived experience in all arenas of life, observing, noticing, thinking about patterns, exploring them on every level, leads me into ways of knowing and levels of knowledge. Their application is the art and science of my work. And I am always surprised and pleased by something new. Everything changes. So I am always refreshed and begin again.

My favorite tracker author is not someone many trackers know. His name is Hugh Brody. He has written beautiful books and made fabulous documentaries about his work with native people in Canada. My favorite tracking book of all time is The Other Side of Eden. Brody talks about how the Inuit honored him with teaching him their language, and how his knowledge of the language really came from non-verbal patterns. Living their life with them, in the snows and through the suffering, and into the quiet spaces. It's a fabulous read. Brody wrote another book called Maps and Dreams, about the Beaver people in British Columbia. The Beaver people make maps of their territory depending on where the beaver are (or maybe were). The people dream these maps as well as walk them, but animals appear to them in dreams and the knowing the land leads them in their unconscious. They wake and draw the map. Brody's wonderful writing and documentary about the land rights for native people are captivating. The Beaver people dream their last map to spirit world, too.

So, out on the land, my first exercise is to make maps of different kinds, noticing what I notice and documenting it. It is always useful to be with others on the land, because they see things I don't. I often dream of being with people who are as committed to the process as I am but really, the tracking life tends to be solitary. Dreaming might lead to reality though. Tracking, maps and dreams.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The House Design Process

I do not know how this usually goes, but for me customizing the house design to our needs has been an immensely rewarding and enjoyable process. When we began discussing home plans with Church Hill Homes we decided upon their "Millmont" model as something the closest to what we wanted. We prefer (at least at this stage of our lives) to have our bedroom on the second floor, away from the living area, and we also were aware of how the house would sit upon our lot and thus where the rooms would align to the sun and to the surrounding houses.

The only problem was the standard interior did not fit the way we have become accustomed to living in our houses. We prefer an open plan to the more traditional separate kitchen/formal dining room/family room layout. We also wanted to have a soaking tub in our master bath, something the original plans did not include. What could have been a difficult process instead became a collaboration. Here's roughly how things went. The "stock" floor plan looks like this:

This is the back half of the house; we didn't make (at that time) any major changes to the front. The entrance is the back door, which will be fairly heavily used as it leads to the backyard and garage, where we expect one car to be most of the time. The back of the house also points roughly south, so there is the opportunity for a lot of light in that area. I told Church Hill that I liked the size, but we wanted a more open plan, the master bath tub, as well as space for a home office. "Fine", I was told, "why don't you sketch what you have in mind."

I did a rough plan in Photoshop and sent it to them and the next day I received a plan from their designer that took my elements and put them into a feasible scale. Here's what we ( emphasis on the "we") came up with:

The back entrance opens to a small mudroom with storage for coats and shoes. That opens up into the family room area,which is open to the kitchen with a small counter separating the two. We'll have pendant lights hanging down over that and a couple of stools for the kids to eat their breakfast. Across from the kitchen is the office and at the back is a small 2-story bump out that not only gives needed space to the family room but also allows for the tub in the bathroom upstairs. we later decided against the fireplace, opting to put more windows in that back corner.

But the exact design isn't really the reason for this entry. What is more important, I think, is how open and responsive Church Hill Homes was in making what could have been a tug-of-war into a really fun process. I'll have more posts as we continue adjusting our plan, and decide upon interior features and lighting.

The Magic Zone

Warm wonderful Wednesday afternoon and we get to go tracking. Another boy has joined us and I am beginning the think soon I will have my own troop out here learning to read the patterns of the land. This boy is Gaylen, and he is upbeat and enthusiastic. The three of us set out down the sewer line on the west side of the property heading toward the flood plain and immediately we find piles of deer scat. I lead them in the Art of Questioning, a skill in nature awareness that gets observers thinking. So where is the next deer track? The boys look around, find the track, look up and see a deer. We all freeze and then begin a long slow stalk down the path. I explain to them when the deer browses move, and when the deer looks at you freeze. Then another deer appears and they both stare at us for a long time and the boys, frozen, begin to very quietly complain, but then when we move again, the deer are onto us and disappear into the woods. We keep walking then, but the deer have waited and leap way. Wow, the boys say, did you see that? Can we follow the deer? Sure, I say. Perfect!

As soon we enter the thicket where they disappeared, I begin to tell them about deer patterns in the forest, and deer behavior when chased, when my son takes over the storytelling. I am so pleased. He explains that deer will run away and then circle back to see what you are. We immediately find a deer shoulder bone, which Nick claims. Wow again, what treasure. The boys start claiming the next bone, all claiming they are going to find a skull. Skulls are treasures. Then I hear heavy equipment working nearby so I pull the boys out of the thicket and call Pam, Stonehaus supervisor at the site and check in with her. Just so you know, friendly reader, she is very good at her job of caretaking that site. I always check in with her, and I am sure she will find you if you decide to come on site without notifying her. Honor the Fierce Woman. Bring her gifts.

So, we keep going, down the path to the ridge and we then we descend to the flood plain, the future site of SOCA. The path is steep and the boys have made up incredible imaginary games. My son says he has the power to mend the earth since his powers are connected to nature, and he begins elaborate gestures over a large rut. Look, Kate, Kate! The boys shout my name all the time, giving me their interpretations of the rut. It's a den! What makes you say that? I ask, and I engage them again in questions and observations and tell them stories of sign. Yes, I say, sometimes I will crawl into a den and look for animal hair. But they are gone, down the ridge to the huge mud puddles that contain frogs, frog eggs, and salamander eggs, getting muddy to get them in their hands. Eww (that's a good expression), squishy (that's also good). Kate! Kate! Look, one is hatching! We all get real close and stare at the eggs, 4 heads all so close we are almost touching. Then Nick steps back and says, Kate, Kate, this puddle looks like one big deer track! Exactly right, I say, and I get him to explain why. The boy is getting the pattern in a big way.

Then, a small figure catches my eye to the left. It's a little person! Stories of the Little People from many native traditions flash through my mind. We head over to the small figure to explore and see it is an old stature of a boy reaching out to take a horse, one of the old statues from the day when people did that. It is cemented into the spot and the boys interpret what the figure is doing, all yelling about it. He's pointing! They say, but I am turned and looking down along the land that is separated from the flood plain by a creek. Wow! This is it! I have entered the Magic Zone.

Large sycamores mark the river valley, and they are a-plenty here, with paths running here and there among large trees and shrubs. Lesser celandine, a small yellow flower, is blooming in clumps, and I know that if Little People did live there, they would choose this place. I am on fire. I just want to dive in and go and go, looking, sniffing and feeling every corner of this place, but I know I have to get the boys back. They are exploring another den, so I engage them in questions again, and listen to the boys spin stories. My son explains to me the stick he has is magic. Yes, I think, if you found it here. I organize them to head back, and we all agree, we need more time out in the forest together. Maybe four hours, they say.

I am filled with longing to stay and explore. It is hard to turn back from the Zone, but as we hoof it home, we are rewarded. A deer herd streams past us just yards ahead. I have seen pictures of just this kind of image, the animals in almost single file, maybe two deep, but the picture is not the same as the real thing. Maybe this is why artists like to try and capture this moment, but the beauty, grace, and sensuality of the moment are better live. The boys are once again in awe.

What a great day. As we head out, I look back and see the Blue Ridge mountains to the north and think that view can be seen from the Zone, and feel blessed that I am going to live here where I can go there every day if I want to, without driving, just head out my front door and down the path, to take in the river, the mountains, the trees, the plants, the animals whenever I want. I begin to see, in my mind's eye, the games I will play there with the children, and to see, also, that this will be their memory, the land imprinting on them as their home, over the years, growing up. Even when SOCA has their facility there, the Zone will stay, as I believe it is a planned park for Stonehaus.

For those readers on the fence about buying a home in Belvedere, consider that you are also buying access to this place, and your children will have access to all the magic this place has to offer. As a specialist in nature and children, I know this will be worth it. So don't wait, put your money down. You are not just buying a "new home." Stonehaus is working hard to build a place that will be beautiful, full of life and health, with access to nature and activity, and definitely a "great place" to live. Erika Howsare of Cville Weekly asked me, "How is it for you now when you go out there? You know, it is kind of like being on the moon." She is right, the land where the construction is happening is cleared and flat and empty except for stakes, a few houses, lots of equipment. But I laughed and told her, "I have faith." I see the vision. If you want to live in Belvedere, just do it before you won't have another chance, especially now before prices go up.

We track every Wednesday afternoon. Feel free to email me with questions,

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More Photos

The foundation is in place, and we can really see how the house is going to sit on the site. We feel very happy with our location; the house is set to one side of the lot and gives a bit of a side yard, although sidewalk and landscaping will take up some of that space. It is somewhat deceiving to look at the raw foundation - it seems so...small. But having gone inside the model Millmont after the walls were raised we know that things suddenly feel much larger.

Once the foundation is in things happen rather quickly. The three model homes are going up fast, and give use a good sense of the scale of the neighborhood. As I tell others, I a truly looking forward to the day I can tell my children to run over to a neighbor's house to play without having to arrange transport, pick-up times, etc.

In the foreground is the smallest floor plan, the center home is the Millmont model, which our house is based on, and the furthest is the largest of the model homes (I don't know the exact design).

I find the designs elegant and the overall feel is one of harmony and appropriate scale. Coming from Vermont, and our 11 acres, it seems funny for me to be pleased with such a smaller space, but what I came to conclude was land makes sense if it is used, or shared. I am actually looking forward to having a small yard, and the ability to really shape that space.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

First Official Tracking Day

Soft. That was all I could think of this morning. The day was warm and softly wet, rain was gentle, and the trees were blooming everywhere. Red bud. Cherry. Some Magnolias coming out. The tree flowers and the gray sky combined with the warm, wet day to make it feel timeless. Today, I was to pick up my son, William, and his friend, Nick, and go tracking and mapping in Belvedere. The houses there are starting to go up quickly now that they are not hampered by the county, so it is a great to drive and see them, now actually with roofs. My house is still just getting its foundation. I can't wait. Erika Howsare of C-Ville weekly gave me a call to talk about the green development of Belvedere. I told her, like I will tell everyone, that the concept of green efficient homes combined with access to nature and wellness is a good thing, it is news, and it is medicine, too.

But today, I am looking forward to tracking. The red mud is perfect for tracks (and really messing up my car, but what the hey, what is a tracker to do? We get muddy.) So we are off on this rainy, muddy day onto the land, following the trail that will be the nature trail of Belvedere. After I pick up the boys, I begin to quiz them about the hazards of going out into nature. This is the first thing you must do. I quiz Nick in particular, and I hear my son helping him with little sounds. What do you need to look out for in nature? Poison Ivy! Yes, and what does it look like? In the green season, how many leaves does it have? I quickly discern that Nick needs a lesson in hazards (and later, he is quick to teach me that calling him "son" is a hazard. Hilarious!). We go over bees, snakes, ticks, hypothermia, and a hazard that is very common on old farmland, old barbed wire.

I notice my son knows a lot and that pleases me, since I have been teaching him since he was 2. But Nick is a quick study, especially on scat. On our last outing, I taught Nick that poop was actually an important wildlife sign referred to as "scat." He is an amazing scat finder. We find sign related to racoons, fox, coyote, and turkey. It is amazing to hear his descriptions: "Like a curly french fry!", and he loves it when I take them apart, helping me find a stick. Don't touch it, I say.

We find tracks of raccoon, deer, dog, human, turkey. Our favorite place in the wetland, with several frog species, it is great to walk along and see the frogs leaping ahead. Small and different colors, we can see tree frogs, and maybe a green or leopard frog. The kids want to catch them. Frogs seem to be in every puddle, and Nick definitely wants to go into every puddle after them. Eventually, he falls in and so we head back to change clothes and play. On our way back, we walk into a herd of deer. What a magical moment, the deer running just a head of us. My son stops and looks dreamily at me. Wow Mom, did you see that! He talks awhile about one special deer. I know that being with the deer is important for him.

Keep going Belvedere. Make that nature trail.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Friend, and Frogs!

It is tracking time and I drag my son out to Belvedere to do species identification. My 3 year old wants to go. "You are going to have to walk," I say. She agrees, but when we get there, a huge tearful exchange begins because she wants to be carried. I try and hold my line of "you have to walk," but I can see this is a mistake. She is tired from being sick but wants to be included. I am about to pack it in when a blue 4 wheel drive vehicle zooms up, screeches to a hault, and a fierce woman steps out. Wow! It was kind of a surprise to see a vehicle where I was anyway (by the three large oaks that stand next to the Dunlora Farm property). I wouldn't drive my car down there. Then, to see a fierce woman. I am impressed! I know who this is, it is Pam Strother, the assistant development manager of Stonehaus. I had been told about her. Quickly I explain who I am so she is not going to kick me out (or beat me up, I can't tell which she would do first), but she quickly becomes a most gracious hostess and shows us all around, driving us down to the flood plain where the garden and the SOCA facility are going to be, narrating many of the stories about Belvedere I had been longing to here, and rescuing me from the tearful exchange I was having with Eleanor.

The land certainly is beautiful. We drive along the river. I look up along the ridge to see what trees are there, and what patterns I can see when I hear frogs! Please, stop the car! I get out and run over to what seems to be a vernal pool set into a "disturbed area" near where two creek beds come together. It is on the corner of Belvedere, the north east side of the garden. It is a loud singing chorus and I distinguish 3 species before jumping back into the car. Wetlands like that are so important, even if they do pop up in places where the land has been damaged from human use. Frogs mean food to many species, including otter and raccoons. I can't wait to further explore. Frogs mean life, as far as I concerned. Their mating calls are beautiful, and they are gifted beyond most species at camouflage, and it is their elusiveness but directness that hooks me. Come here, see me! they cry, to each other, but to me, they know when to be quiet and hide. I always feel a quiet thrill when I can sneak up on a group of frogs singing their mating calls, and it is something I teach children to do. Get quiet, find a place in your heart where you feel glad, walk softly on the earth, and keep your eyes open!


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Groundbreaking has Really Started

Some photos of early progress:

Let's look again in a few months, shall we?

It's great to be pioneers but it's nice to see another "Sold" sign...

Construction has started on Church Hill Homes' three spec houses.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What to do first?

Looking through the WildlifeMapping handbook, I realized that the first thing to do is to classify the land, and as the good book says, "the non-forest and forest classes may be the most difficult to label. Many professionals can go to the same site and disagree on the classification." Do your best, it says. Then, "recently disturbed" can mean disturbed yesterday or 10 years ago. Well? I would say the land at Belvedere is "disturbed," and not just by the development. It certainly is clearcut, and there is forest, too. There are young trees and some absolutely awesome trees. Reading through the classifications lead me to think about McKee Carson, the landscape architects who have worked hard to consider the natural habitat of Belvedere, and who are planting native trees, nurturing them in berms before planting them in the neighborhood. "There are climax species on the ridge above the flood plain," Eugene Ryang said to me. Trees are awesome, and I can easily get distracted by a handsome tree when driving. And the trees of Virginia are, in part, what brought me back here. The Tulip Poplar, with its funny shaped leaves and blossoms, long staight trunks that grow ever so fast, stayed with me during my years in hardwood forests of the north. (We have just moved here from Vermont.)

But there are surprises in this forest from the start for me. The prevalence of the Eastern Cedar, and the quality of the American Beeches. There are also many Wild Cherry. So, what is first? Classification of land, and identification of species. My eye naturally goes to the patterns on the land, the swells, the gulleys, the animal trails, the qualities of shade and sun. And it often changes, which is one reason why I love the natural world.

Out on the land today, I am walking with 2 boys, one of them is my son, William. We are exploring, looking for "forts." "Yeah," said my husband,"someone built one in the rocks by the river." He tries to tell me it is not much of anything but I shush him. "Come on kids, let's go find the fort." My companions are enthusiastic, each grabbing sticks that become weapons. My son plays Civil War, and we head down the ridge from the back of our rented townhome in River Run, a nearby perch from which we can watch the house being built in Belvedere. It is an adventure, moving among the huge mountain laurel and into the rock ledges. The boys find hideouts everywhere, I know this is what kids need. I smile and am happy, listening to them explore the mysteries of the rocks and the forest, watching 2 downy woodpeckers doing a mating dance. On the way back home, my son leaps up and says, "This is the best day of my life!" All right! I say in my mind, and many more to come.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Getting to know the land

For those following the saga of our selection for a home, you need know, Bret is the one passionate about the house. I am all about the land and the vision of Belvedere. He sends me in to make choices for him about the house, the one that he designed with Churchill Homes (who have been awesome, by the way.) We chose the Millmont design but Bret really changed things around. You can see the selections of house designs at Churchill's website, We are pleased to be the first contract in Belvedere, first homeowner, and I am first business owner. Belvedere Integrated Healing Arts ( ~ my old website is there, more information coming soon!) will likely run out of my garage apartment until the office units are built. I am planting my feet and am becoming the Welcoming Committee, along with other pioneers in the neighborhood.

I am just itching to spend hours on the land getting to know the other species in the community at Belvedere. My son, William, and I are planning to spend Wednesday afternoons Wildlife Mapping (, and want to encourage people interested in learning the art of track and sign to join us starting in April. I was very nicely served the most gorgeous maps from the GIS division of community development in Albemarle County (see Elise!). I can't wait to start really spending time out there. Our first visit yielded evidence of raccoon, deer, red fox, and wild turkey. The most beautiful red fox prints are left in the red clay roads.

Stonehaus has very much impressed me with their commitment to reaching all their goals. I think it is a most unusual development firm, one that is forward thinking and a pioneer in urban development. I had reservations about getting involved with this project, and I have tested this company in a few ways (you can ask them!). But I am convinced of their integrity and am joining them to make their dream (and mine) come true.

Please stay tuned for notes on the land and community development.