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Out of the Pot and Into the Frying Pan

How we came to live in the wild (three-and-a-half miles from the nearest town).

Introduction

  Following are the stories of my family’s journey from a place of perpetual rain, manicured lawns and HOA’s to the turkey capital of the world where we would encounter bugs we didn’t know existed, frigid winters and searing summers, bears and wolf packs, roof-crushing snow loads, neighbors that almost shot us, a driveway from hell – and the best adventures of our lives.

 After we sold our house in suburbia in the Spring of 2017 and pulled onto the road towing our twenty foot Jayco Lite travel trailer, we didn’t know where we would end up by the end of that summer but we figured (rightly) that adventure awaited us on the open road and beyond.

Here’s our story.

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We are a married couple with a sixteen-year-old son and two cats. We want a dog but for now we have the neighbor’s.

The population of the Puget Sound region where we were living was exploding so we sold our house in the spring of 2017, bought a travel trailer, and hit the road. We felt squeezed out like too much jelly on a sandwich so we set out to find a new slice of paradise in the rural regions of Washington state.

The national forest and anywhere else we were allowed to camp became our home for three months as we cruised the real estate websites for property. In September we found a few acres of land near the Idaho and Canadian borders that was just right.

It was three and a half miles from the nearest town in the foothills. At the time, there was one neighbor nearby with nothing else between us and the surrounding mountains. The property was undeveloped and had been unoccupied for seventy years.

Moving onto raw land means you’re on your own. You become the engineer, contractor, electrician (yeah, sure), and if something breaks, repairman for everything you depend on to live. We had to figure some things out.

At first, we got our water from the city standpipe then found out they close it in the winter. Luckily, by that time, we’d discovered natural springs on our property. For power we used a gas generator.  The following autumn, we installed solar but couldn’t use it until the next summer.

We initially used a WiFi hotspot for the Internet but it became us vs the Google data pig.  The neighbors let us use their connection until we got into a fight and they changed their password.

We could only get online from my husband’s spot in our bed anyway, and only if it wasn’t raining. We eventually had three huge trees cut down to get a line of sight to a tower for Internet.

 In addition to the logistics of setting up “shop”, we had to adjust to a different mindset. Hardiness is respected in these parts and the local government pamphlet opens with the words “Welcome to the Wild West” and urges the reader to “get used to it”.

We were fresh from a lifetime of living in the suburbs and afraid to touch a gas-powered chainsaw let alone make a go of living amongst the trees and the turkeys. We wondered what we had gotten ourselves into but we were too excited to be new landowners to let any reservations get in our way.

Then winter barreled in with a seriousness that slapped all thoughts of anything but survival out of our consciousnesses. The neighbors had warned us of sub-zero temperatures and snow drifts as high as the eves on a house. It wasn’t far from the truth.

The weather turned cold and wet and we found ourselves ill-prepared for reality. Our water pipes froze and our worldly possessions disappeared under three feet of snow. Some things we didn’t find until the spring melt.

As the temperatures plummeted toward zero, my son and I went to stay in an emergency shelter while my husband hunkered down at the property with our cats. I worried constantly about him but we visited often. I would take dishes back with me to the shelter to clean and straighten things out while I was there.

Three months later we moved back while it was still frigid. We were low on money and propane. Keeping warm was always a challenge with frost and ice gaining an increasing foothold inside our trailer by the day.

I would grab whatever I could find and obsessively fill small crevices and holes where cold air was entering to cut the chill. Our central heating system was inefficient but we were given a small indoor heater that kept us comfortable until spring.

We sometimes cooked or made coffee over a fire. I would hunch over my homemade rocket stove in the cold and wet while my husband built his pit fire. I remember feeling miserable and hopeless as I struggled to get the stove lit in the freezing rain and snow.

The harsh winter had taken a toll and my outlook had become very bleak like the weather.  There would be many challenges ahead before the days began to warm.

Spring, then summer arrived along with a billion new bug species. I took up slingshot while trying to shoot down yellow jacket nests and we discovered ticks, or rather – they discovered us.  Ticks and Sticks

Sweltering heat made that summer one of the longest I’ve ever experienced but we had things in the works. We tilled rock-hard soil and planted a garden. We deepened the spring and dug a trough going down the hill to a catch hole.

We recommissioned some antique tools we dug up from the farmer’s dump on our hillside. We put a handle on an old pickax head and used it to chip away at the bedrock underlying the spring. A can opener I cleaned up still works like a charm.

We did whatever we could to pass the time and keep our chins up.

Thank you to my husband for helping me to get through it all. When I was at my worst, he would hold my face in his hands, look at me and say “Good things Baby, good things”.

It’s a year later and we have a solar power system, generators, a large shed, and a nicer RV (until we finally build a home). We have a fireplace to warm ourselves by and we have each other.

This lifestyle is tough. I cry often. I laugh often. No day is dull (how many people wake up to a rafter of turkeys outside their window or a skunk in their kitchen)? If life is a journey, we picked a detour and a clown car for the drive.

Welcome to our adventures and I hope you will enjoy the stories and poems that follow. 🙂

 

Did I Already Have The Virus?

I regret not being tested.

As the Covid-19 virus ravages the U.S. and the rest of the world, it’s now spreading to the rural regions of America. I routinely check the local health department website for updates and learned about the first case near us a couple of weeks ago.

I also got sick a couple of weeks ago.

I don’t know if it was Coronavirus but I had a lot of symptoms that match. I had some intestinal issues starting a couple of days after the first reported case in our county. I didn’t think a thing of it until I woke up with a headache and difficulty breathing the next morning. I noticed my eyes were watering and thought that was really odd.

I didn’t feel too well in general and spent the whole day and part of the next in bed. I wondered if I had caught the virus and I called my doctor to ask what to do. They told me there was a testing station behind the hospital in the parking lot and told me to go there if I felt the need or if my symptoms worsened.

For two days I monitored myself and constantly debated whether or not to go. I didn’t want to wait too long if there was a chance things would get worse but I also didn’t want to go and be whisked into quarantine at a hospital if I tested positive. I was afraid, I guess.

Staying home and keeping myself isolated seemed like a reasonable option as I could stay away from other people in the comfort of my own home. I was ready to go in if necessary though.

I’d read that coconut oil might be effective against coronavirus so I was using it liberally. It’s natural, harmless, and even healthy so I thought “why not”? I melted it in my coffee and used it in place of cooking oil. I wonder if it helped if I had covid.

I also drank mullein tea for my lungs. I was glad I’d harvested some the previous summer.

I stayed home for the duration and recovered but now I’m wishing I’d gone in to be tested. That way I could stop worrying about catching the virus having known I’d already had it.

Could it have passed over our family harmlessly or are we still at risk of something potentially deadly? My husband and son had intestinal issues but seemed untouched otherwise.

It turns out that knowing how many people have had covid-19 and gotten better is potentially very useful. Generally, only people with symptoms go in to be tested so officials have no real idea of how much of the population currently has or has had it but have not been tested.

If they knew, perhaps some people could return to work plus officials would be better able to predict the course of the outbreak and the shape of the curve that is so often referred to in forecasts.

If I knew I could breath easier but I missed my chance.

 

 

The Definition of Perfection

What is perfection?

Most of us strive for it but never fully attain it because we’re human and because the idea of perfection is so intangible.

Is it being better than or having more than someone else or does perfection lie in one’s behavior, actions and conscience?

It seems to me as if society measures perfection by accomplishment but I believe a truer measurement of perfection is in our attitudes and conduct, including being honest about ourselves.

I struggle with my self confidence a lot because I tend to succumb to society’s version of what “perfect” is. I see myself as falling short if I don’t perform as well as others or have as much.

When I’m working on my blog, I try my hardest to stay grounded until I go on the Internet and suddenly see hundreds of great looking informative blogs that seem better than mine. Its intimidating and makes me feel inferior when I compare my work to others.

Fortunately, I have a wonderful husband who sees perfection in ways I sometimes can’t.

When I recently told him about my insecurities, he said he thought my quirkiness and personal foibles made for interesting stories and that he valued originality.

He ventured that having a successful blog is about more than having a professionally made logo, being an authority on something or landing an early placement in the search results. He said personal stories can’t be stolen or duplicated.

He also likes my stick figure drawings.

The pep talk brought me back to my senses.

I understand hard work is necessary to build a successful blog or no one will see it but I’m going to concentrate on seeing myself and my blog as perfect the way they are.

Perfection is ultimately subjective and if we see it as being human, we’re already there.

The Patriot

A suburban solution to a rural challenge.

I found it at a garage sale about a month ago. It cost us twenty dollars and is probably twenty years old. Its housing is made of ugly green plastic with Stars and Stripes and the word Patriot on its side.

It’s an electric chain saw. Had I known such a thing existed, I wouldn’t have squandered two years of wood-cutting.

Everyone around here uses gas-powered chainsaws to cut timber down for firewood. I won’t ever use one because they seem too dangerous. Whether or not that’s true I’ve made up my mind. My husband seems neutral. Either way, we have some wood cutting to catch up on now that we’re not afraid of removing a limb while we’re removing a limb.

We had three huge trees cut down that have been laying on our hillside for a couple of years. We hacked and sawed off all of the branches and removed the bark for firewood but we couldn’t cut the giant trunks. They were just too big.

Enter the Patriot. the patriot

It probably has half the power of a gas chainsaw but that’s what makes it so great: less probability of bouncing off a knot and wreaking havoc with the human body. I feel I can use this thing safely.

The day we acquired our new gadget, I ran a couple of extension cords down the hillside and commenced to “bucking” one of the humongous logs. To my surprise, the chainsaw works really well for being electric.

Now we can cut the giant trunks into small sections that my husband splits into firewood. All of that wood that’s been sitting around taunting us is now thinking twice.ax1

I feel accomplished. I can slingshot and I can buck lumber. I feel I have earned the Carhartt jacket I bought last week.

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Two Years Into Blogging

And counting.

I’m two years into blogging and I have a total of sixty-six followers.

Sixty-six.

I care and I don’t care.

care because I’m human and I have an ego. I want to be recognized and praised like most of us do. I haven’t yet reached that state of being where self-awareness and spiritual growth have rendered me immune to such needs.

I don’t care because I have discovered that I love to write. Whether or not I ever reach that tipping point where things take off, I’ll write for the rest of my life for the simple pleasure of it.

I still care whether or not my posts are well-written or entertaining. I’m still convinced I’m the worst writer on the planet but I have become immune to inaction for one reason:

Passion.

No one can stop me from feeling how I do about writing – not even myself.

I like the way I write and to compromise my style to satisfy someone else or worse – to not write at all – would be a terrible injustice to myself. Aside from room for improvement, I like my quirky poems about appliances, insects and dirt.  Ode To A Power Inverter

My eccentricity defines me.

Don’t get me wrong. I constantly strive to better my writing but I can’t wait for “perfect”.

Maybe my subject matter is boring. Maybe I’ll use the word “maybe” way too many times in one post. Maybe I’ll make dozens of grammatical mistakes. Maybe I’ll never hit that tipping point. Maybe I shouldn’t do ninety-percent of my editing after I’ve published a post.

Maybe – a lot of stuff.

The point is, after writing for two years, I’ve learned this about myself: I’ll be writing till I’m dead – even if I never make a dime or surpass sixty-six followers.

I write because I love to write. That’s all the reason I need.

Blast From The Past

About a year ago, I found a broken and rusty bracelet in the farmer’s dump on our hillside. It’s embossed with a boy’s name.

Bottles and jars are cool to find intact but whenever I’ve uncovered something personal, it’s always gotten me to thinking about the person to whom it belonged to and what life was like when they lived here so long ago.

Our property had not been occupied since about 1957 until we moved in. Back then, people threw their trash in dumps right on their land. Their trash is now my fascination – but back to that bracelet.

I wondered who this kid was and I figured there was a chance he might still be alive so I looked through the list of previous owners and did some additional detective work on the Internet and found him! He is 80 years old and still lives in the state.

I prepared a script before I dialed his number and he actually answered the phone. I felt a bit awkward but I asked him if he had lived where we are now and he confirmed it. I told him we had bought his family’s old property and I explained how I’d sifted through the old garbage heap on the hillside and found many items that were most likely deposited there by his family.

I told him about the bracelet with his name on it and asked him if he remembered it. He hadn’t, to my slight disappointment, but he was friendly and open to conversation.

I described the horseshoes, TV dinner containers, bottles, toys, and marbles we’d unearthed and questioned him as to whether or not he remembered them. He mentioned he had two older brothers who might have been the marble’s owners.

I told him I was using what may have been his Mother’s can openers and how what might have been her egg beaters were now growing into the side of a tree. He laughed and told me he was nine when his family moved here.

The call was very pleasant although, for him, it had come out of the blue. I said goodbye and thanked him for his time. Although he didn’t recall everything, I’m hoping he’d hung up the phone with some old memories rekindled.

It felt nice to make a connection with someone who had shared the history of this property with us. It once was his own.

I forgot to ask him if they had a well and where it was located. The privy too. Those are supposed to be treasure troves!

Wild Turkey Anyone?

My husband calls them The Horde. They are the collection of wild turkeys that cruise the area searching for food. They seem to live in loose groups and there’s no shortage of them here in eastern Washington.

We often wake up in the morning to the sounds of hungry fowl outside our windows. They surround the RV (have you seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds?) making their expectations plain. It’s breakfast time.

My husband knows his job: He roles out of bed, throws on some clothes, grabs the thirty-pound bag of food with the cup and steps outside to feed “his” flock. They chitter, pip, pop, peep and sometimes gobble loudly in unison while they skirmish over the offerings.

They nip at each other, driving away their competitors for every bit of seed. Some are scraggly, some look a little sick and it makes me sad. Nature is nature though. I throw food to the ones who look like they need it the most. The rest look pretty healthy aside from the wind-tunnel look.

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We started feeding them a couple of months ago. When we pull into our driveway they make a bee-line to our RV. Most are hens but the males are standing out this time of year.

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It’s the beginning of the mating season and the Toms are dressing up in full window display. To make themselves look most presentable to the females, they “fluff up” with an audible swish of their feathers. Their heads flush with color and somehow they manage to cause their plumage to stand upright.

They angle their tale swag from side to side, as if tuning in a radar array. They tuck their chins in and glide across the ground as if on wheels. Or they stand stock still while the hens ignore them. Somehow, despite the rejection, little hordes inevitably appear in the following weeks. We call them gobblets.
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The Muddy Season

You people with your sidewalks and your manicured lawns – I envy you right now. We moved onto raw land on purpose but I didn’t anticipate having to wear sloggers just to get to the car. And no, that isn’t our pig in the featured photo. We don’t have a place for a pig yet.

On second thought, we do.

Our property remains absent of any real improvements to date (although the upcoming year should finally see some). Our easement was graveled sometime in the distant past but that is the only thing human hands have touched for the seventy years before we happened along.

Imagine plopping down somewhere in the woods to live. The walkways you create trample the grass down leaving only dirt, then mud, when it rains. Everywhere you drive, the same. Unless preventive measures are taken in the form of concrete, gravel and grass – mud is what happens.

The walk from the RV to the car is a study in zigzagging between patches of snow, marsh, and the boards we put down to prevent the loss of footwear. We meet in the war room to strategize before navigating the easement to the main road.  The Long Long Long Driveway

We’d never leave the place without four-wheel drive capabilities and the routes we walk are currently a morass of standing water interspersed with deep footprints. It’s almost spring and water from the melting snow is trapped on the surface by an underlayer of permafrost. It has nowhere to go and mixes with the trampled or driven-upon topsoil to create a real mess.

Last year we discovered that if we hammered holes through the icy layer in the most badly affected areas the water would drain. Where that doesn’t work we cover the goo with boards and fill it in with rocks. The place looks classy.

With improvements planned, this will hopefully be our last year of The Mud Season.

In the meantime, I put on my rain boots no matter the outfit. At least I fit in here in rural America.

Preparing For Coronavirus

I don’t scare easily but the coronavirus outbreak is a little bit different.

I have asthma so I am one of those people with an underlying condition and am theoretically at higher risk for complications or death. I have significant problems breathing some mornings and a little bit of exacerbation would not be a good thing.

I’m glad we’re out here away from town and not in close contact with other people. Our plan is to stay put for as long as possible when the crap hits the fan – which it will. I don’t know what the life cycle of this virus is so perhaps we aren’t being realistic. Still, minimizing our exposure to others seems prudent.

Today we stocked up on things that would help us stay comfortable for longer on our own. We grabbed a bunch of canned dinner-type items such as spaghetti and meatballs – things that provide protein but will keep indefinitely. A bag of potatoes and sweet potatoes seemed like a solid idea also.

We meant to buy some hand sanitizer but it was already sold out. Instead, we grabbed a few bottles of alcohol and some wipes so we could make our own version of sanitizing wipes – one for the car and one for home.

My husband grabbed the extra gas cans and propane cylinders to fill up.  Other than that, I’m not sure what else we can do. Our solar isn’t running at full strength but we can run most of our appliances and charge our batteries during the day.

We have plenty of wood on the property for heat and if it came down to it, for cooking over a fire. We have an unlimited water supply.

I looked up some natural antivirals and none are proven to be effective in warding off this virus but no proof doesn’t mean they don’t work. There simply isn’t evidence either way so we eat lots of garlic and I add coconut oil to my coffee for now – just in case.

Our entire school district closed this morning and some individuals are awaiting test results. The high school our son attends is being sanitized. I hope he isn’t sick.

If it wasn’t for my asthma, I wouldn’t worry as much but because I’m at a higher risk,  I’m ready to call the number that is listed in the local health department press release at the first sign of symptoms.

Being able to sustain ourselves for a good month is reassuring to me. But can we outlast the outbreak?

 

The Long Long Long Driveway

7/10’s of a mile of hell.

It is a buffer between us and anyone who isn’t hell bent on visiting us.

The postal service won’t drive up after that one time they dared and left us a note saying “never again”.

The UPS driver delivers but only in summer. The first few times he drove up the easement, we could hear the overhanging branches scraping along the sheet metal shell of the box truck. He finally asked us to cut them back. We know he’s coming before we see him.

The route is dusty in the summer, clogged with heavy snow and slush in the winter and becomes a bog in the spring. It hasn’t been graded and graveled in God knows how long and has a very steep incline towards the end.

It is our driveway – 7/10’s of a mile of natural disaster area. It is our only way in and out and it is the bane of my existence. We have been within eyesight of our front door and had to abandon the vehicle with our groceries to go get the shovels and salt.

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When the thick layer of snow and ice begin to melt and the ground is still frozen, crevasses open up and torrents of water with no place to go converge to form streams in the ruts. When the ground thaws, driving through the mud displaces giant slabs of Play Doh-like ooze. On subsequent passes, we drive on the tops of those and squish them down until the road is finally flat and dry again. We lay down rocks in the worst places.

We had the gauntlet to ourselves until the neighbors moved in. One of them drives a little sedan that isn’t suited for the terrain. I occasionally see them use the straightaway to make a run for it, essentially hurtling themselves at the slope. I can hear the scraping of metal on bedrock as the car careens up the last fifty feet of so-called road and I wonder if their oil pan will survive.

A couple of weeks ago we spotted what is still left of the vehicle abandoned halfway up the grade, wheels frozen in knee deep mud. I don’t know how they got it out.

The sheriff once drove all the way up over an issue about a dog. We found part of a bumper near the gate the next day. The Washington State Patrol once stopped us because chunks of our driveway were calving off the underside of our car onto the freeway.

Someday we will have our little slice of heaven repaired. Until then, I shut my eyes tight and pray every time we back out of our parking spot.

Surviving Winter In An RV

How To Stay Warm

We currently live year round in a fifth wheel trailer. They are notoriously under-insulated for winter because they are just that: recreational vehicles designed mainly for summer camping. We have plans to build a real house but for now, staying comfortable in frigid weather requires a lot of effort.

We broke the central heater in our fifth wheel when we tried to install a propane fridge a couple of months ago (don’t ask) so we’re left with space heaters and the fireplace we installed last year to keep warm.

Earlier this month, an arctic front dipped into the northern United States from Canada. Next thing you know, it’s zero degrees and our pipes are freezing despite our anti-freezing protocol.

The area under and near the front of a fifth wheel is often referred to as “the basement”. It took me a while to figure that one out when I couldn’t find the stairs going down (ha ha). It’s the compartment where all of the water tanks, the pump, and the water pipes reside. You have to keep the vulnerable complex of Pex pipes that wind throughout from freezing. Most people add extra insulation and incorporate some sort of auxiliary heating system. The central heating ducts go into this compartment in our “home” but that’s out for now.

We put a couple of small desk-sized heater fans near the water pump and we use a heat hose to go between our 400 gallon external water tank and the trailer to keep the lines clear. Unless it’s ten degrees below. In that case, we have to remove the heat hose and bring it inside to thaw before hooking it back up. Coffee water comes from dipping the pot directly into the tank on those mornings.

We also leave the cupboard doors open between the living space and the basement to equalize the temperatures. It’s all about strategy out here. Thick dark curtains and/or shrink-wrapped plastic on windows help cut drafts.

Skirting is a standard protection used to keep wind out and stabilize the air temperature beneath a trailer. It’s a barrier running the circumference of the rig from the ground to the body. Everything from expensive kits to straw bails can be used for the purpose.

We installed a fireplace last year. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. We used the correct components and installed it to the letter of the instructions for safety. We got a fan that is activated by the heat on top of the fireplace which blows air throughout the living space quite effectively. A bellows is mandatory for getting fires started.

We couldn’t afford a cord of wood this winter so we’ve been harvesting it from around the property. Storms have brought branches down and there are three huge trees laying on a hillside that we had to have felled in order to get an internet signal. Those have provided us with a seemingly endless supply of wood but the work: chopping, cutting, sawing the stuff to fit the fireplace – its exhausting.

We also pick up wood pallets from around town when we go down the hill. Most of them fit comfortably into the back of our SUV and they are free and plentiful.

The first thing I do every cold morning is make the fire in the fireplace and it’s the last thing I do at night. Keeping warm is so much work. I’m glad we are on our way towards spring and summer so I can complain about the heat.