The Cyberactivist's Scrapbook
A peek inside my life.
By: Virgil Butler

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Sunday, 2-Apr-2006 12:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Backdated entry as we built house

Me taking up rotten sub-floor
David and I patching rotten floor joists
Laura cleaning up after us, geting the rotten stuff and cutoffs
Yes, I hate backdating, too, but in this case, it is the best way for us to show you exactly how fast and how hard we all worked and how much we accomplished in just one day. Also, keep in mind that very few pictures were taken, as we were so busy working all day every day and didn't have our own still camera to keep up, either. We had originally planned on taking pictures of the progress we made each day at the end of the day in order to keep Laura's daughter informed (as well as other friends and family, but mostly her daughter, who was coming up May 4, leaving us not much time to get this place dried in and livable enough to at least camp out in, which we did, though barely), so most of the shots that have people in them were taken by Laura's mother when she came down to check on our progress each day - most, but not all. Laura did take some of them.

But, it was really "all hands on deck" for the past couple of months, with Laura and I getting up before daylight to gulp down our coffee and then working past dark cleaning up after the workers left. There were nights we stayed up after midnight and even a few that Laura never slept, as she hurt too bad to do so. And, despite the fact that she has not only been eating normally (and even feeding our crew vegan sandwiches for lunch, which they loved!), she has dropped way too much weight - enough that you can see her bones. She has lost yet another 20 lbs. or so, so none of her clothes fit, and we are having trouble finding any at the resale shops that are small enough for her now, as she hasn't weighed this little since her early 20's. I mean, she now probably barely weighs much over 100 lbs., but she will gain it back once we settle down and aren't nearly killing ourselves. She just hasn't let her physical problems and pain stop her, saying it was worth it, as it was only temporary and that the worst of it would only last for a relatively short amount of time (a couple of months, which it did at that pace) and when you consider the fact that the house would last us the rest of our lives (and she didn't want anyone getting hurt), so she has worked longer hours than anyone because she kept going long after the crew had gone home and I had to come in and lay down on the bed just so that I could even try to work the next day, cleaning up the day's mess so that everyone could start fresh in the morning, even though she sometimes worked long after dark and couldn't even sleep from the sheer agony she was suffering many nights because of pushing herself that way - all against doctor's orders. That didn't stop her, though. She would just stay up and read, and then drink herself some coffee the next morning and be right back at it. If I didn't know better, I would have sworn she was on speed or something, but no - she is just that determined to get this house built, as a cabin in the woods has been her dream since she was a little girl, and she has been up here for 10 years making many sacrifices trying to make this happen, starting out in a tent and working her way up.

And, luckily, Laura subscribes to the same line of thought that I do - a clean workplace is a safe workplace - so she was out there every evening after everyone left, picking up dropped and broken nails, the cutoffs from boards, and sweeping up the mounds of sawdust - even though it would be that way all over again the very next day, and she would have to do it all over again. She may have been very tired and sore, but as she said more than once when someone would bring up the fact that she was pushing herself too hard and losing too much weight and sleep, "I hurt 24/7 anyway and probably will for the rest of my life - it's just a matter of degree. And this is worth a couple of months of agony to get this done," as we will then have it dried in and to the point that we can slow down and do the inside work during the hottest months. (And she was very determined that we would have the place dried in and able to be camped out in by the time her daughter came up to visit on May 4th - hence the daily pictures to keep her informed as to our progress so that she could see how fast and hard we were working and know whether or not for sure we would get it done in time for her visit (which we did, though not as much as we had hoped - we wanted at least some wiring and plumbing run, but her daughter is made of the same stuff laura is and was more than happy to camp out in that house with us and even help work on building in her room), as we were having a lot of rain at the time - even worked through it when it wasn't raining very hard!) Laura even went out at night by flashlight to cover the woodpiles with the tin when we had unexpected rain, no matter how wet and cold she got and no matter what time it was and how tired and sore she already was.

I did help her as much as I could, but I just haven't recovered enough from my injuries to even be able to work every day. which makes me feel terrible, especially when I see her out there doing stuff that she shouldn't, pulling muscles and hurting herself to the point that she would just sit and cry at night after she was finally done. There were even a fey times eh didn't eat supper because she was just too tired and sore to want any. It really ate at me, watching her do that to herself, but there was nothing anyone could do to stop her. She was going to get the work done and get it done in time for her daughter's business "even if it killed" her, so she said. She is one very determined and tough woman - way tougher than she looks. And, when she gets her ind set on something, there is no stopping her. Hmmm. Kind of reminds me of someone else I know well. Me! Maybe that's part of why we make such a great team. Because I have never had a relationship with a woman who was willing to get out there and bust ass like that and endure rough living conditions for long lengths of time the way she does and has ever since we have been together.

But, even when I force myself to get out there and try to work on those days when I am doing poorly and feeling so dizzy, all I do is fall into things (or off of ladders and such, hurting myself even worse), knock things over, mess things up, and just generally get in the way of everyone else and make them worry about me and my safety instead of what they are supposed to be doing. The crew has sent me away quite a few times, telling me to just go and lie down somewhere and rest, as I was really disturbing them and getting in the way. One day when most of the people didn't show up and Laura had made yet another run to town for supplies, I went out there and worked anyway, but for the life of me, I couldn't hit a nail - just kept missing the thing. The sole worker who had shown up that day even sent me inside, worked alone, and then told on me to Laura because he was so worried about me. It's just hard to sit in here when everyone else is toiling away, especially poor Laura. It drives me crazy. But, I guess she and the doctor are right - I just have to pace myself and not try and push myself into doing what my body says "NO!" to.

And, she was also right in that the sooner we got the place dried in and the tin roof on, the better off we would be, as we could not only work even on rainy days, but that it would only continue to get hotter as the time passed. That deck did get really hot by the middle of the day, but it was nothing compared to when we were putting on the tin roof. That work could only be done in the mornings because of the heat (that week it was getting into the 90's every day), and Laura spent quite a bit of care making sure everyone was not only properly hydrated, but even went so far as to "mist" everyone with the hose nozzle whenever they wanted to cool off a bit.

(For some reason, I don't have those pictures of us laying the tin yet. Laura's mother has been working a lot of overtime and not sending out the photos every day as we had hoped she would, and just now when we started putting all of this together, we saw how many were missing. And the dates we entered these shots on are the dates we actually received the emails of the photos, from her, not always necessarily (in fact rarely) the days we actually did the work, though most of them are no more than 2-3 days apart from the work to the sharing of the photos.

It is interesting, though, that some of the missing shots are what we laughingly call "the butt shots." Every project Laura's family has ever done through the years has shots of everyone bent over working with their butt in the air, and one of the days that the tar paper and tin was going on the roof was "buttshot day," when everyone got a picture of their butt taken. Some could care less, like Laura, her mother, and her sister, and even the contractor (who just shook his head and chuckled when Laura's mother asked him if he had ever worked for such crazy people before - no he hasn't, but he had to admit that we were fun and easy to work for, especially as we actually listened to him and did things exactly the way he recommended whenever he asked us how we wanted something done, which is of course what we hired him for - if we knew how to do those parts of the building process, we wouldn't have hired him, and we kept telling him so, but it seems that the majority of people want to tell him what to do and how to do it) though Arron tried very hard not to lift his butt high enough off that roof to allow laura to get a shot of it. She did get one, but not as good of a one as some of the rest of them.

Hey, you have to keep a sense of humor and make the work as fun as possible, and trying to get a shot of someone's butt who doesn't want it taken is lots of fun! (Don't worry, we will get that series and post it, even if we have to go up there and get on her computer ourselves to do so. That entry will be labeled "Buttshot Day." ha ha ha! (Oh, and because of my dizziness, I am the only one who was not up there that day working on the roof getting a shot of my butt taken, though I have no doubt that it will happen before the project is through (and there is that one of me pulling up the rotten sub-flooring that shows it somewhat. But during "Buttshot Day," I stood below on the ground and watched all of the fun, passing up tin as it was needed. But even Laura's mother was up there on that roof with her butt in the air, as she just had to drive a nail into that house just to say that she had done so.

This may have been a lot of back-breaking and tiring work the past couple of months, but it has been fun, too. Laura's family is really good at making sure that hard labor is done in a fun way, and they have a good, even if a bit warped sometimes, sense of humor.

Laura has also been very particular in making sure that the "right energy" goes into building the place. No negativity is tolerated. She considers the house to be sacred ground, and she doesn't want it embedded in the boards of our new home, as it is intended to be a sanctuary-type place of love and peace. Anyone who gets mad is immediately told to take it outside of the house until cool off. The only really big fit she threw herself was when we pulled up that rotten plywood and discovered the extent of the damage underneath. And, boy, did she throw a big one! She said it didn't count, as that was destruction and not construction. I can't blame her either, as that was a lot of extra work and materials that we had already paid for once and toiled away hard putting down (those 2x10 floor joists are heavy - and those are not easy to replace because there are just so many trees that you can get that size of board out of - just as the beams are that hold them up!), and we were paying that contractor to build, not destroy, however, we were sure glad he was there to make sure that our foundation was solid and done right before we continued to go up with any more of the house, as anyone knows that having a solid foundation is essential to having a house that is solid, doesn't sag or even fall down through the years. And, luckily, we were able to use slabs in many places just to connect the good places on either side of the rotten parts, so we didn't deplete our stack of carefully-counted lumber quite so badly, though we did have to use some of it in places. As I said on my last post on the blog, we were determined to do this job right, even if it cost a bit more at first, because we will be living in it for the rest of our lives, and we won't have the money or the physical ability to come back and redo things in 10-20 years, so it will save us money in the long run if it is done right in the first place, with no corners cut anymore than necessary. It will also save on utilities and be easier on the environment, since we won't use as many natural resources the way we are doing this. Laura really did design it well, with wonderful air circulation. She has had this thing built in her head for years, refining it as the years went by as she gathered scavenged materials and slowly worked towards making her dream a reality. In fact, she scavenged enough stuff that she will be able to give her sister some of it for her place, which is going up next just as soon as she gets the money to do it and our house is done so that we can help her.

We want to build something that will last, not only for the rest of our lives, but will be in good enough shape to hand down to her children so that they will always have a place to come to - either to live full-time or just to come and get away from it all. And, though we are using rough-cut lumber we got out of the woods here as opposed to store-bought stuff, we want it to look nice. Laura intends to use that same rough-cut pine on the walls inside and use her decor of nice things to make it look nice. And, from what I have seen so far, it will work wonderfully. Just like the majority of the house will have hardwood floors with area rugs, as we have also lost a few hardwood trees big enough to saw up. She bought us a planer the other day, and I tried it out yesterday, and oh! is that wood going to be pretty! Our home will be worth way more than it cost us in money to build it. It just takes a lot of work - a LOT! You have to want it really badly to do this, but we do, and we will have a paid-for house when we are done - before Laura is even 40 yet. Very few people ever accomplish that even if they ever manage to live long enough to pay off a house. And, even if they do, it sure isn't as nice as it was when they bought it.

Anyway, we hired us a contractor named David Ashcraft who is the husband of one of the nurses who works at the hospital with Laura's mother and heard how desperate we were to find someone to help up. We couldn't find any contractor who wasn't booked way in advance - the soonest one could come out was the end of the summer! And, as you will see from the amount of rot you actually see us replacing (which isn't nearly all we had to replace, by any means), we were right in that the wood we had down on the house, and even in the covered woodpiles that were full of rat nests with some of the once-gorgeous boards all chewed on and rotten in places, couldn't have made it through yet another season of spring rains. Those were absolutely full of pack rat nests, too. Anyone who has ever dealt with such a situation knows the mess rats can make and the damage they can do, the sheer amount of stuff they carry off into those nests, and how much they stink when you tear them open and clean them out. Laura did the vast majority of that nasty work and took great risks in doing so, as she was being bitten by the very same ticks that had bitten those rats, some of whom she found dead, especially when she went to cleaning out the tool shed and our little cabin she and her ex built to winter in the first year her family moved up here in nothing but tents and started tearing down barns for the lumber. But, even though we have endured thousands of dollars in damage, especially to our truck, and she has lost a good bit of everything she had stored all these years, we have not hurt a single rat - one of our dogs kills them, but he does it as humanely and quickly as possible by leaping up and grabbing them by the neck, shaking it, and breaking their necks before he runs off into the woods with his "prize" - he is really fast, and I have never even heard one make a single squeak when he does this. And he has gotten quite a few of them that I just happened to see, but we don't kill them and even have one right now in one of those humane traps here in the trailer waiting to be carried out and released into the woods unharmed. Even the two nests that Laura tore open that contained babies had the babies carefully returned in their original nest just as close as she could manage to where she found them so that the mother could come along and get them and move them somewhere else. Lots of people think we are nuts for doing this, especially given the large amount of damage they have done to our stuff, especially the vehicles, but we don't kill animals - not even rats, and especially not baby ones. We will either trap them or Junior will get them as they slowly lose their homes in the woodpiles, sheds, and cabin, and have to find other places to live and other places to scrounge for food besides the dog dishes (which will be inside when we finish the house). I couldn't tell you how many hundreds of pounds of dog food we have found as Laura has gone through and torn up the nests as we uncovered the wood and started going through the sheds and cabin for building supplies and tools! We should save quite a bit of money on dog food once they are gone!

Anyway, I will start posting the photos trying to put them up on separate days so that you can get an idea of how much we got done in a day's time and, once they are all up, how much we got done since we started (though there has been more done since the last ones were taken, of course - there always is, as we have only taken off 3 days to rest over the past couple of months). I will try and do better at keeping this updated from now on now that things have slowed down quite a bit. And again, I am sorry that I had so many of you worried by being out of touch for so long. But you can see why that was.

And this is only part of that story. More will be told on the blog.

Thursday, 2-Mar-2006 02:21 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Pictures of Sophia's puppies

Sophia nursing puppies
Sophia's puppies
Sophia's puppies
We were finally able to take some pictures of the puppies Sophia had now that we moved them outside. They were born 2-2-06. Their story is on my blog, the latest version of which is found here. We have had our share of troubles raising these puppies, as their mother started drying up early and refusing to feed them. We have been bottle-feeding some, while teaching the rest to go ahead and accept a soupy paste of solid puppy food mixed with puppy formula.

Sophia quit feeding them a bit early, when they were not quite three weeks old, but we have managed, including getting up at all times of the night to feed, especially bottle-feed the littlest one who would not accept the paste as the others did. At first, it was two of them doing this, but finally we got one of them to do it, and now, as of today, the other little one is officially off the bottle. Anyway, Sophia, the mother, will occasionally allow them to suckle, but she just doesn't produce enough milk to satisfy these hungry puppies.

Anyway, now that we have them moved outside where there is enough light for a picture, you can finally see them, just as you can see what I meant in my last post about them looking like hunting dogs and attracting hunters. Goodness knows, we don't want that! The dogs of hunters are some of the worst-treated dogs around here, just as I described in my last post.

Moral of this story - PLEASE spay/neuter your animals, and IF you find yourself forced to hand your animal(s) over to a rescue group, please do not LIE! about whether or not the animal(s) was fixed. All of the three males who came with her were fixed at the same time and given their rabies shots, and we could have just was easily packed her up and gotten her fixed as well IF we had known the TRUTH!

***A note to veterinarians: - we are trying to get vets to comply with putting a small tattoo on the female because of the fact that the scar fades so quickly. If this had been done by all area vets, who have not universally accepted doing this (even our vet doesn't do this - in fact, when we first told the rescue group of the puppies, we asked them why it was not discovered that she was not spayed before bringing her out here and putting her with intact male dogs until we could get them neutered) as we have been pushing for for years, we also would have known that Sophia was not fixed. PLEASE try and help the rescue community by putting a small tattoo there whenever you spay a female. And, activists, please inform your vets of this practice and insist on this being done to ALL spayed females! Goodness knows how many unwanted puppies may not be brought into the world and face uncertain fates as these will. Thanks!

Saturday, 5-Nov-2005 00:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Another reason I won't leave here...

Facing downriver toward the bridge
Facing upriver towards the rapids
Facing across the river to the other side
View all 5 photos...
Because of all of the fallout we have had to endure because of my loud mouth, there have been quite a few people suggest that we move elsewhere to do our work. Besides the fact that I am just stubborn enough not to be run from my home (if I was a coward, I would have never spoken up!), this place here is just wonderful, and Laura and her family are more than attached to it. Six generations of her family have been on this place and in this river. There is more to that story, but I try not to involve my family or hers in something that we do anymore than absolutely necessary. They really have nothing to do with our work, so I try to protect them from being targeted. Doesn't always work, but I do try.

Anyway, I thought that these beautiful scenes taken from our riverbank speak for themselves as to why we all find this particular place such a wonderful paradise worth staying for. I hope you enjoy them. The offer is still open for any activists who wish to come and camp out to take a break from it all and live in a peaceful environment for awhile to come and visit. As you can see from the pictures, we even have a tent that stays set up, just in case someone wants to come and stay. And there are more placed in other, more secluded locations, not to mention acres and acres of National Forest that border us that you need no one's permission to camp in...

A very beautiful and peaceful place to be. At this time of year, we get what the locals call "the leafers." Thee are people that drive all the way down here simply to look at the leaves changing in the forests. October is the busiest time of the year for tourists. The local Lum 'n Abner Museum and store/post office (where I get my mail) makes more money in the month of October alone than in the rest of the year put together. It is what gets them through the rest of the year. It is truly that beautiful around here.

I am serious about anyone wanting to come and camp out. I really could use some help building the chicken expansion before winter sets in. It's really important that we get this done.

Sunday, 16-Oct-2005 00:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
What we did for World Farmed Animals Day

October 2 vigil here
October 2 vigil again
Me giving my talk at the Walk
View all 7 photos...
We just did a small vigil here, and although no one stopped to pick up leaflets or talk to us, only one person actually flipped us off, and our presence was noted by all of those passing by. This is the first visible thing we have done locally because for a long time we were worried about how the locals would feel. They still burn people out up here. Not as often as they used to, but there can still be problems if you go against what these people believe is right and normal.

We also attended the Walk for Farmed Animals in Nashville again this year. I did a small talk, as did another local person, then we commenced to walking with our signs along downtown Nashville streets. We all froze our butts off, as it was cloudy, damp, and chilly the whole time, but we did have a good time. And this Walk raised over $3000 for Farm Sanctuary this year, just about doubling what we raised last year. This was also our first time to have our own literature available for people to take home with them. Laura has edited and combined some posts and printed them up on her new printer/copier/fax/scanner she received for her birthday. We used up all of the ink in the cartridges doing it, but it was worth it. As our organizations grows, we will continue to offer such things and more as our budget allows. We would like to progress to bumper stickers and T-shirts at some point for more outreach possibilities. For now, all of the donated money is still going to the animals. The money for the trip and the materials offered this time came out of our own pockets (including those of Laura's mother and grandmother for the gas in getting to TN and back, which we are very thankful of). You can see the size of the group that attended this year, along with a smaller cropped version of that same picture that zeroes in on Laura, me, Laura's mother, and Billye Thompson kneeling down in the middle. She is the one who organized the event again this year, and we stayed with her mother. Another wonderful person! Saw some old faces and some new ones. All in all, it was a great, if tiring and painful, trip. and we got to shop at Wild Oats again! Always a major treat!

Also, we were lucky enough to tag along with Billye to Shepherd's Green pig sanctuary, where she was getting an interview and some footage for her new TV show, called Animal TV, that will be broadcast in Nashville on the community broadcast channel (and yes, some episodes will feature yours truly). It was a lot of fun, seeing and petting all of those pigs. They have over 200 pigs there of all kinds. They do a wonderful job of trying to make the pigs' lives as natural as possible. Of course, they spay and neuter each one, as they don't wish to breed even more when people are still out there buying cute little pigs and then abandoning them after they have lost their novelty, gotten too big, or whatever. They even had a wild pig there. Brought back memories of my childhood days when I used to hunt those and when we raised others for meat. I am glad I have a much different relationship with pigs now. I could no more eat them now than I could one of our chickens, cats, or dogs.

The foster dogs are doing fine and getting better under our care. Some are fully rehabbed and just awaiting their neutering to be placed in good homes.

Meanwhile, we just continue to plug along and do our work.

Thank you to all that have supported us in the past, present, and those who will do so in the future. without your help, we could not do what we do and help so many.

Saturday, 15-Oct-2005 00:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Just a pic of our riverbank

The riverbank in fall 10/2/05
Snow last winter 12/04
snow last winter 12/04
People have been wanting to know what our place looks like. Well, the left side of the riverbank is ours. This pick was taken from the bridge that goes over the river and serves as a kind of edge to our property, even though it actually goes a little further. Laura took this picture on the day of the vigil right before we got started. You can read about the vigil in the next entry dated 10/16/05.

The other two are pics taken by Laura's mother of the snow we had last December, right before Christmas. The first one is taken from the side of her house ad shows the corner of it, while the other is still taken for her place, but looks up the driveway towards our place. In perusing more of the pics on this photo page, you will see more of our place in the background areas. I know there were some when Paul Shapiro (then working for COK) came to interview me on the riverbank as well as some taken last Halloween.

Yes, I know we have gotten behind in getting all of this updated, but there had been a bit going on, and I took my whole day off on my birthday, the 13th. After Laura checked the emails for anything vitally important, I got to play video games for the rest of the day and stayed up all night doing so. Nice, relaxing birthday, where all I had to do that day was to take care of all of the animals here, which doesn't really take that long at all.

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