A BIG-PICTURE BREAK AT UNDERHILL HOUSE

“Throwing yourself into worthwhile, fruitful hard work that you believe in – as much as you can handle and more– is a kind of luxury not everyone gets to experience.  It’s also exhausting.” 

That’s what Benjamin Mee says in his book We Bought a Zoo (a very good read and quite different from the film of the same name).  The Dartmoor Zoo is 33 acres.

We have 44 acres, and while it is not a zoo, building Underhill House, like every intense, heartfelt project, can be stressful at times.  Perhaps this is especially so when one has decided to explore something experimental like alternative building techniques which may help pioneer viable ways of housing ourselves that are less destructive to the planet.  The constant barrage of decisions necessary can be wearing.

Getting to step back and look at the big picture is revitalizing, and we got a chance to do just that – seeing photos of  how our land looked from a small plane a few weeks ago.

Our friend, Charles Heide flew over and took these pics.  He emailed me one, at the time, but the files were large, so he gave us the rest on a CD this past weekend when the Heide family visited us from Racine.

I’d like to share these fascinating photos.

Aerial 1 was shot close to directly above our building site.  To orient yourself, south is to the right.  The drought was beginning to set in.  You can see that the septic drain field just north of  the midline between the barn and house is looking pretty brown.  The winter rye we planted early this spring has been hit hard by the dry weather.

The pond to the south of the house is almost completely dried up.  It’s only about a foot deep and is about a quarter of its usual size.

Aerial 2 is taken higher and shows our entire 44 acres, which I’ve outlined in white.   It would be a perfect 40 acre square – a quarter mile on each side, but the county road follows the valley floor and creates an extra triangle of land where it bends.

In the northeast (upper left) corner of our land is the prairie we are restoring.  Deciduous woods snake from the northeast corner to the southwest corner across two ravines and a small ridge.  The other two corners are filled with evergreens planted by the previous owners, who have made planting trees their calling. Those rows of teenage trees and the lure of becoming their caretaker and watching them grow was one of the big attractions of this land when we first saw it.

Aerial 3 is looking at our land from the southwest.  You can see Smith Conley  Creek running along the country road on the west side.  We have been involved in monitoring that stream.  It supports a lively population of invertebrate life.  It contributes to the upper east branch of the Pecatonica River which flows into the Rock River and on into the Mississippi.  We take our stewardship of the Mississippi River Watershed seriously.

Aerial 4 shows our entire property and also the land to the north and south of us.  To the north, inside the circle is Bruce Paull’s farm.  He milks over 300 cows and runs a very traditional operation.  His land runs along our northern border, where he alternates corn and beans.   Climbing from our land and then on through Bruce’s takes you to the top of the Military Ridge that defines this part of the state on any topographical map of Wisconsin.   You can see the contour farming he does near the top to minimize erosion on the steep slopes to the north of us.

Aerial 5 shows how beautiful the contours are from the air, but you can also see the drought starting to take its toll.

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3 replies

  1. Hi Michael!
    Yes, I have spent much of my recreational time gazing at these images. It’s a priceless gift.
    And on the subject of the drought the photos document, I am happy to add that it is raining here today.
    What a glorious sight, sound, feel and smell a rainy July day can be.

  2. Wonderful photos, Denise and thanks for all the descriptions to “fill in the blanks” for the rest of us. I’m glad for the rain also.

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