A Little Cabin In The Woods

Had someone been squatting on a neighbor’s land?

We’ve been looking at land for a few months and we often check Google Earth for a closer look from a couple of miles above the earth. There are two parcels for sale adjacent to us and up the hill towards the mountains that we’ve been interested in.

I noticed what looked like a shack on the property in the latest satellite imagery and rolled back the timeline a couple of decades. Someone had built whatever it was after 1998 and it had a roof as late as 2016 – the last captured image date.

Was the object a shelter with someone living in it? I got permission to walk the property for a closer look and I told the real estate agent I’d check for a possible squatter.

I use the My Tracks app when I go for hikes to keep my bearings so I started to record my movement as I crossed the property line and continued up toward the mysterious – whatever it was.

I climbed up the steep hill and through some almost impenetrable thickets toward the structure until the app told me it was almost directly in front of me. I peered through the brush – and there it was.

A cabin!

I wasn’t expecting to see such a well-made and picturesque abode. It was minus a roof and a chimney but someone had taken the time to craft this little building and had been living in it.

Anticipating the possibility of surprising someone, I had made my approach noisy – like I was out hiking but it was immediately apparent the tiny house had been abandoned for some time.

No squatters.

There was debris from the once-household scattered about outside, including parts of the fireplace and chimney but I wanted to see inside first. I called my husband and told him I had found the place as I crept through the doorway and into the little space.

The sunlight shone directly into the interior and onto the floorboards which were still sturdy. Some kitchen items had been left behind but the place had been cleaned up well, before whoever it was left – aside from what was outside.

The stovepipe remained attached to the wall while the rest lay in a heap with some other rubbish near the shell. I looked out a window in the rear to see what “they” saw when they looked out. I imagined seeing snow or maybe wolves through that window on a dark night.

They’d left behind a wooden wind chime and a couple of fish shaped dishes they’d used as ashtrays; a match and some ashes were still in them. I put the little trays in my pocket; no one was coming back for them.

I picked my way to the back of the shelter and found an animal cage. For a split second I considered whether it might have been used for a human (my vivid imagination). There were a couple of saws, a cup and an empty toolbox strewn about.

My curiosity satisfied and my mission complete, I stood and looked out at the view the mystery people would have enjoyed. It was spectacular but how did they get up here? There were no roads nearby. They must have cut the logs for the cabin on the spot.

I used my Tracks app to navigate down the hill to “safety” – across our property line. I breathed a sigh of relief although I had really enjoyed the afternoon’s adventure.

I don’t know if we’ll end up buying the two parcels next to us but someone had built a house with their own skills and a few tools and lived there for some time.

I wonder who they were?

Blog To Book

I’m publishing a book of our adventures. This is the last chapter:

 

Out of all of the milestones of the past two and a half years since we left western Washington, the night we packed up the trailer and truck in a downpour at Tinkham Campground is the most emotional to me.

It was the night we said goodbye to our family, friends, our old home and our memories (bad and good) and left it all behind.

Over the summer of 2017, we inched our way across the state while we looked for land to buy and that time on the road was only the beginning of a grand adventure.

From the day we first pulled into our driveway until tonight, as I write this last chapter, our experiences have been vivid and memorable, harsh and rewarding. These stories are as much about our emotional journey as they are about our experiences.

From the coldest days of our first winter here when we had to walk through drifts of snow from our truck to our property pulling a wagon converted into a sled to the hottest days of summer we spent melting because we weren’t used to the climate, so much has occurred that could only happen in a place like this.

Everything we previously took for granted like water and electricity, we learned to appreciate as we had to work for them. We had to think every project through and we learned as we went. How to drive in the snow, keep warm in an RV, install and repair appliances, use propane (safely), and how to survive on our own – are obstacles we overcame although we sometimes threw up our hands and walked away.

Today we wake up to see the sun coming up over the mountains across the valley, framed by the massive Ponderosa Pines that populate our hillside. We rise to the sound of pheasant calling and turkeys lined up for breakfast outside our sliding doors. From the other side of our RV, the Huckleberry Mountain Range slopes up into the distance, carpeted with trees and capped with low-lying clouds.

The skies are unobstructed by light pollution and we’ve seen things up there that we can’t explain. On a super-moon event (when the moon is closest to the earth), it sets over the distant treeline, seemingly gargantuan as it slips out of sight over the horizon. The cover photo is one I took at three o: clock in the morning during one of these occurrences.

The spring we dug has provided life and convenience to us and is the centerpiece of our property. It’s where I go to meditate, think, and to cry. It’s the part of our land that draws me the most. There was no sign of water when we moved here. Now there is a series of pools and a trough going down the hillside that we use for all of our needs, including water for our garden. It’s all gravity. If we need water, we just turn on the spigot like a garden hose. I am grateful.

None of us can imagine living back in “civilization” again. We like it out here with the deer, turkeys, skunks, pheasants, occasional bear, cougar, one white rabbit, and, of course, two cats.

We’ve adapted to our new home and are prepared when winter approaches. I recently bought a pool in anticipation of summer. I set it up a couple of weeks ago on a ninety-degree day and it’s been thunderstorms ever since.

Although we still don’t have a house, we’re comfortable in our fifth wheel and we have the shed for projects and hobbies. We installed the solar power system (and boy hasn’t that been an adventure). All the delivery drivers that come up here are impressed.

We paid off our property a few months ago and when we’re outside, my husband sometimes gestures at the landscape and points out that “we own this place”. It’s a nice feeling. The trees, the rocks, the dirt below our feet belong to us – or do they, really?

I wrote about our adventures because I wanted them preserved for my own benefit and perhaps for family members in the future. I recently read an account of my Grandfather’s life and found it fascinating. What is everyday existence for us can take on a whole new meaning for someone down the road.

Our every day lives changed forever that night we packed up and headed east in the fall of 2017. It took a turn for adventure and I hope you have enjoyed the ride.

 

What Is Off-Grid?

Does it have to be an ideology or could it just be circumstantial?

When I first contemplated starting a blog about our adventures living off the beaten path, I considered calling it Stories From Almost Off The Grid.

To be honest, we didn’t originally choose a lifestyle of independence.

We kind of fell into it.

After we sold our house and hit the road looking for property, our priorities were nature and seclusion – not necessarily living off-grid. The stories naturally followed, however, and I started my blog with that theme.

I once posted on Facebook that we lived off-the-grid and the town troll suggested that I couldn’t be considered off-grid because I had the Internet. Another person once suggested the same applies because I have a phone.

Ridiculous.

One could argue till the end-of-time as to what qualifies as “true” off-the-grid status. It varies for everyone.

Our family happens to live this way for a lot of reasons but I feel the adaptations we’ve made and the hardships we’ve overcome help to define what it is to live off-grid. When we bought undeveloped land we had to change our paradigm and we had to get busy.

We installed a solar power system and dug a spring through breccia and bedrock with our own hands. We planted a garden and learned to install and repair our own appliances. Having to provide for ourselves taught us how to be more resourceful.

We like not having to pay someone else for our power although only through the summer (until we tweak our solar power system). My husband wants ducks and geese for their eggs. We want our own dog – not the neighbor’s. We’re planning on farming truffles but to pull it off we’re having to think outside the box because it’s too cold here.

We have been inspired.

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Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

At the end of the day, this idea of living independently has caught on with us regardless of how we came into it. I believe that however or why a person comes to live off the beaten path isn’t so much the point – it’s the experience.

Besides, you can’t make this shit up. The stuff that has happened to us since we left the suburbs makes for one hell of a story.

 

 

Chasing Bridgette

She was finally on her way to the truck doctor – but they were closed.

Bridgette is my husband’s other woman.

I’m not even jealous because she’s a part of our family. She’s heavier than me but stronger and she’s willing to take the garbage out. Unfortunately she’s been sitting in one spot for over a year now.

You might say she’s lazy but Bridgette is our 1986 Ford F-250 pickup truck and my husband is very sentimental about her. She might need a new engine. We’ll see.

My husband acquired her in a moving-out deal and she pulled us and our trailer from our old to our new home and throughout our three-month journey in-between in 2017. Bridgette The Truck

To me she has a personality – she reminds me of a horse.

That summer, she threw a shoe (got a flat), leaving us to camp on the side of the road for three days while the tire store put seven hundred dollars into matching replacements and a rim . She lost her brights right after we pulled onto the freeway in torrential rain on our final journey over the mountains and across the state to our new home. I had to drive the whole night with the low-beams on.

Her driver’s side window wouldn’t roll up that night and we had to pull out the door panel in order to manually push the glass up so I wouldn’t freeze for the drive.

We were told by her owner that she had a hole in her front gas tank and to not fill it up too much or it would leak. Her defrost was broken, and her four-wheel drive mechanism busted the first winter we lived here leaving us to walk and/or push her through the slightest of slippery conditions.

But we love her. Especially my husband.

That’s why we’re contemplating putting so much cash into replacing the engine.  We had the other repairs done last year before catastrophe hit and we limped her home for the wait.

Our driveway recently dried up enough for someone to come and get her so we called the repair shop a couple of days ago and made arrangements for an inspection. This morning we called the tow company.

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When he arrived, I told the driver I was writing about it so he took the time to describe how a vehicle is secured as he hooked her up. He backed up and slid brackets under the tires before hoisting the rear end up then wrapped two chains around both axels to keep the truck from “jumping” out on the bumps.

Bridgette has a manual four-wheel drive lock so he disengaged it from the drive train so as not to drag her to town. He wrapped the driver’s seatbelt around the steering wheel at the top and locked it into place to keep the wheels facing forward. He stuck red lights onto Bridgette’s hood that complimented her running lights quite nicely.

The driver asked us if they were expected in town, we said “yes”, and off he went with our beloved beast.

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Then we called and found out the shop was closed. What if there was no place to park the truck? What about the keys?

We freaked out and jumped into our car and sped after Bridgette.

Down the hill we went and sure enough, we could see the white speck that is Bridgette about a mile ahead of us on the straightaway towards town. Trying not to speed, we caught up to her at a railroad crossing a couple of blocks away from her destination.

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The driver was positioning Bridgette in a vacant spot behind the shop by the time we’d parked and I hurried over to explain but there was a key drop-box and it really wasn’t a big deal after all. I thanked him for putting up with my incessant talking and picture taking and we left her to wait for her turn on the lift.

What we do depends on the estimated grand total – repair or not?

I’m willing to have another woman around as long as she sleeps outside.

Memorable Moments

Times we won’t forget since we moved.

Here is a list of some memorable moments we’ve had since we left “civilization” over two years ago:

  • Finding a man asleep in the back of his pickup truck minutes after a bear ransacked his belongings at his open tailgate – inches from his feet.
  • Driving with a twenty-five foot trailer behind me for the first time and coming to a halt at a bridge we weren’t sure was wide enough for us.
  • Shaking a skunk out of a cage at 2:30 in the morning.
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    A passerby.
  • Watching the solar eclipse on the beach of a river at a campground.
  • Coming home from work to the first snow we’d seen in years. Three feet of it.
  • Hitting the ground after a bullet ricocheted off a tree near us and yelling “there are people down here” when our neighbors almost shot us.
  • My husband walking out the door to our RV to see a bear about thirty feet away.
  • Finding a skunk in my kitchen in the middle of the night.
  • The night our cat jumped onto the canvass of our camper-trailer, collapsing it onto my head and my half-asleep husband mumbling “are you sure that’s the cat”?
  • Bambi
  • The night we packed our trailer to leave for our new home in eastern Washington in a monsoon then having the lights on the truck go out on the freeway.
  • Getting a flat tire while pulling our trailer out of the woods and living in it for two days on the outskirts of a residential area while we had the tires replaced.
  • Letting an extremely aggressive wildcat we’d caught out of a cage.
  • My husband listening to the bays of a wolf pack while he stayed in the trailer alone one night. We found tracks outside the trailer the next day.
  • Striking water under pressure and seeing it gush out of the ground while we were digging our spring deeper one summer. We’ve been set ever since.
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  • The family from hell we camped next too while on the road who got drunk every night and fought. It ended with half the crowd screeching away in a cloud of dust and spraying rocks one morning.
  • Driving down the highway as we neared our new home with Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down a Dream playing on the radio as the sun tipped the horizon to the east.
  • Runnin’ to a dead-end after we discovered the road to our property had been washed out and having to back the trailer into a dirt ravine to turn around.
  • Pulling up our driveway for the first time on the morning of September 18th, 2017.
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    Our latest four panels.

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.

logs

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 the trees back but we still know he’s coming before we see him because of the rivet-busting potholes.

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 – seven-tenths 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 make a run for the last portion of road – speed helps. I can hear the wrenching sounds of the suspension as they lurch along, bouncing violently over the uneven ground. The scraping of oil pan against bedrock sends shivers down my spine as the car careens up the last fifty feet of hill to safety.

A couple of weeks ago we spotted what is still left of it abandoned halfway up the grade, with it’s wheels frozen solid 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.

A Beautiful Pain In The Ass

Winter is making up for lost time.

After missing its first cue and being upstaged by warm, wet conditions, it has rushed the stage and stolen the show. Determined to make an impression, it has commanded our attention to the tune of four feet of snow in as many days.

With the advent of the first falling flakes,there was the mad dash to move anything smallish undercover lest we not see it until spring. Electrical cords, water hoses, tools, small animals such as cats; everything in danger of disappearing for months went into the RV or shed. We learned the hard way our first winter here.

Our almost mile of easement has gratefully been plowed several times over by the neighbors with another methodically mowing the drifts with his newly purchased Sears snow blower.

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Me? I’m out there with our trusty Walmart Backbreaker Deluxe hand-powered snow shovel with an ergonomically designed handle that only allows you to throw snow to the left comfortably.

Roofs, panels; anything prone to collapse from a snow load ( which means everything), we’ve cleared off multiple times. I’ve seen enough collapsed structures around to motivate me to keep on top of this chore.

Our SUV is older and used and is a supreme mountain goat. Although every drive to town is a nail biter to me, she’s carried us steadfastly and surely every time.

Speaking of the car, a sizable branch, overloaded with the weight of snow came down off a tree right onto her windshield the other day. Could easily have cracked the glass but didn’t. The culprit was promptly dispatched into bite-sized pieces for our fireplace.

The heavy snowfall clung to the trees bringing them down everywhere in the region. It made our last drive home from town nerve wracking and kept the utility companies busy with downed lines and evergreens. Snowplowing is a thriving industry in this part of the country also.

Despite all the difficulties caused by the heavy dump, the winter storms of the past week have left a magical white wonderland behind. This place is beautiful in the winter.

As far as theatrical metaphors go, I’m keeping that stage hook close by.

Winter Lurks

I now dread the once magical time of year.

I used to love the snow.

As a kid living in western Washington, we rarely got it. When it did snow, it was cause for celebration. One of the reasons we moved was the year-round rain but after one winter here, we are cured of the love of snow.

We now live in a land of extremes between hot and cold. Fall and spring seem fleeting here. The blistering heat, wildfires, and droughts of summer quickly give way to cooler temperatures and sprinkles that seem to last a few days and fall is done.

Our first winter here was brutal as we weren’t prepared. The cold crept into our travel trailer through every tiny crack and we had to put up insulation along the walls of our canvas pullouts. I remember lying in bed one summer night while we were still on the road when I realized with horror that we might have to spend the winter in a cardboard box with cloth walls on the ends.

I was right to be anxious.

Our water pipes froze and I had to systematically hunt down drafts and cold spots and cram whatever I could find into crevices and holes to keep warm. With the water pipes frozen, I had to wash the dishes outside in ice-cold water I’d gotten from the spring.

We couldn’t drive our truck up our almost mile-long driveway because our four wheel drive was broken so we had to trek back and forth along it’s length with our groceries, gas and propane tanks.

I wrote a poem about winter that year: Cold.

Cold

I’m not looking forward to all of the work ahead of us to prepare.

I made a to-do list last week. We have to put plastic over the windows, skirt the RV, take down the tent we never used after I set it up last summer, hang all of the extension cords, and stockpile the wood.

Today we bought an ax to dispatch the trees on the hillside for firewood.

I worry a lot about winter but I remind myself that we’re better prepared than last year and I try to focus on thoughts of sledding, making snow sculptures and of course, Christmas.

Although I’m not looking forward to the cold weather, I’m looking forward to sitting by the fireplace and writing while the snow falls outside – and being able to wash my dishes inside.

Two Years Ago Today

We left western Washington; destined for our new home on the range.

The morning we neared our new home driving up Highway 395, the song Runnin’ Down A Dream played on the radio as the first hint of daylight tinted the eastern sky. We were pulling our Jayco Lite travel trailer with our 1986 Ford F-250 my husband lovingly called Bridgette.

That was two years ago today.

The space between then and now has been packed with memories a person cannot make up.

Survival trumped all else the first year while we carved out a place for ourselves among the Ponderosa Pines on the iron-rich bedrock.

We still get our water from a spring we dug and our energy from two gas generators and a solar power system. I’ll be so glad when a glass of water and a shower no longer involves moving mountains.

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We put up a huge portable shed but haven’t done much else because we haven’t had the  money. We’re still living in a fifth wheel but plan on building a small log home when money permits.

I’m not looking forward to another winter as the fall equinox approaches although my husband’s learned how to drive fairly well in the snow and we now have a fireplace to keep us warm.

We’ve learned to live with the wildlife for the most part and our garden is two years old and full of half-eaten tomatoes (deer like them) and squash. I’m growing a gigantic pumpkin that I’m proud of and we introduced morel mushroom spores to the side of our property where we hadn’t previously seen any grow so we can harvest them in the future.

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We’ve learned a lot about living off-grid and are a lot wiser but we remain humble as a precaution. Never take anything for granted and never get overconfident.

We’ve spent the past two years planting some financial seeds that are beginning to produce with big plans going forward.

Perhaps most remarkable is that we’re even starting to get along with the neighbors. That’s true progress.