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Chris Wyatt and his wife Karen Russell trudge through the dense brush around their newly acquired country cottage, Patterdale Hall. (Submitted photo)

The Patterdale Hall Diaries | Welcome to orientation

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By Chris Wyatt

As this is the exciting introductory splurge of writing, we need to hit a few points. The property we bought is on 1.8 acres. Most of this is forest and wilderness, but about half an acre is manicured lawn and vegetable beds. I mow the half acre and it keeps me fit. Forget those ride-on mowers. I lost 30 pounds over the summer of 2022 just by push mowing.

We had to fix the roof, the plumbing — twice — and the chimney on the house. We will also need to rebuild the walls.

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What we have is a small house with a living room, a kitchen, a toilet and a bedroom. The only source of heat in the house is a wood-burning stove. It is a large wood-burning stove. I am in paradise. This winter I had to learn to keep the house temperature above freezing while also teaching multiple classes. I had to learn how that stove works and which wood lasts four hours rather than one. The way the stove heats is something I approach with scientific focus. If I don’t, I fail and a pipe might burst.

This is very exciting.

How do I heat the house, maintain stability in the Yellow Springs house and teach four classes in the spring? It’s not all me of course. It’s us. When Bob can drive, he can heat the house. Karen can also heat the house, but will be stranded when she’s out there, because she can’t drive.

I digress. I’m going to spend some time talking about the wood-burning stove after I have learned more about it. Today is today and I have some reading to do.

As winter approached, I checked Weather Underground, and temperatures were forecasted to plunge below freezing over the coming weekend. I had a week to prepare wood. We were fortunate that Jim had sorted about two cords of split aged wood and so there wasn’t too much to do. I made kindling from some logs. I used a couple of different axes — the main work horses are made by Fiskars and are a splitting maul and a felling ax. The felling ax is razor sharp and perfect for making kindling, whereas the splitting maul is for beast-mode log splitting. A maple tree had been damaged by the wind, and so I brought it down with the chainsaw, and Bob and I cut it into appropriate lengths, about 16 inches. Then I split the logs so they would dry faster. It was hot, sweaty and rewarding work. The wood is now stacked under a tarp but won’t be ready to burn for about a year. I probably need to bring down a few more trees, and we have massive honeysuckle that needs eradicating, so that will be the first to go.

My grandmother taught me to split wood with an ax when I was about 10 years old. It is incredibly satisfying, so I taught Bob and Morris to do it as well. We have always enjoyed a fire, especially cooking over a  fire. For a time we had two fire pits at our home in Yellow Springs, one for bonfires and one for cooking. One massive pit and one easy to manage pit, they made for fun evenings in the backyard. Now though, Jim’s old house has a burn pile made of honeysuckle that is the size of a truck, and the fire in the house is how we will survive cold weather. Really, we should have had a bonfire on Nov. 5 for Guy Fawkes, but it was tinder dry in Southwest Ohio, and I was not going to be responsible for burning hundreds of acres of corn. That would have been bad. I am responsible in my dotage.

Before I dive much further into diarizing events out in the country, I need to talk a little about the name we settled on for the place. We could have continued calling it “The Old Prether Place,” as that is what it is, but it felt like ours now; it had moved on. Karen and I pushed a few names around. Morris was fond of “The Shed,” and I quite liked “Crow Crag,” which is the name of Uncle Monty’s cottage in the movie “Withnail and I.” Eventually we settled on the name “Patterdale Hall,” which is dripping with irony as there is nothing hall-like about it; Morris’ “shed” moniker is much more accurate. “Patterdale” comes from the type of dogs we have. We own two Patterdale terriers, Betty and Archie. They are little black terriers full of mischief, and Betty is clever, whereas Archie is not. Both are scruffy little dogs, and they are incredibly resilient rescues. Betty was a stray, and Archie came from the pound. Their character suited the place we now own: tough, small and scruffy. Neither dog is particularly well behaved; Betty is very stubborn, and Archie is an idiot, but they are very loving to us, and little Archie sleeps in my armpit every night.

It’s Patterdale Hall, and it has quite old bones. The basic structure is about 100 years old; it was originally a barn that was converted to a home. A tiny home. It is perfect for Karen and me to grow old in together. It needs a lot of work, but soon it will be weatherproofed, and if we are out there, we can keep it warm. This will be a recurring theme. Keeping the house warm is an operation.

*Originally from Manchester, England, Chris Wyatt is an associate professor of neuroscience, cell biology and physiology at Wright State University. He has lived in Yellow Springs for 16 years, is married and has two teenage children and two insane Patterdale terriers.


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