The Wood Goddess

The Story Of A Local Wood Cutter.

Did you know that firewood with smaller rings, burns longer or was it hotter?

I learned one or the other today from a person I shall call The Wood Goddess or Goddess Of The Wood – take your pick.

She visited us as we were in need of her magic after a lean season last year.

Winters are cold here and a fireplace warms a space like no man-made heat source can. The sound of crackling, the smell of fresh cut logs, the way the heat radiates; there’s no substitute.

Burning wood is a wintertime ritual. Here’s a poem I wrote about gathering wood: Wood Gathering: A Poem.

A hot stove or fire soothes the soul. It’s draws people around at gatherings. It dries soaked socks and gloves and beckons pets to lie down in it’s glow. A good supply of fuel means security.

Last year we didn’t purchase a load from one of the many local purveyors. Instead, we hauled our electric chainsaw and about two-hundred feet of extension cord down the hill to where three large trees lay, and harvested our own timber.

We waded through five feet of snow in blizzard-like conditions to buck the timber then swore our way back up the nearly vertical slope with the rounds. That was the worst part. Second was the splitting. Third, the hauling into the RV.

Fourth? Getting the damned fire started with wet wood.

It took a lot of patience and an assortment of tools. A propane torch, bacon grease, maybe some candle wax, some skill, and a lot of patience – especially at three in the morning, freezing cold, in a robe.

No more.

This year The Goddess Of The Wood paid us a visit! She doesn’t leave anything under your pillow but who wants splinters in their bed anyway? This supernatural-like figure brings the gift of ambiance upon request and now we can eliminate steps one, two and half of four.

When the cold temperatures arrived this fall, my husband and I agreed we’d had enough of the self-sufficiency thing so we looked around and found some wood for sale. I’d made arrangements for the delivery by message so I was surprised to see a woman pull up. Another tomboy like myself, I thought!

Her roundish canine companion, who rode shotgun jumped out to tour the property while she unloaded. Cocoa happily ambled off to find the best vantage point from which to keep watch. The Goddess explained that his figure was a result of his love of the occasional snack at home.

We chatted as she worked and The Goddess told me how she and her daughter make forays into the national forest where they fell trees, buck the logs, and split them on the spot so the wood is ready for delivery. That’s hard work and I was impressed by these women.

She has been selling firewood for about three years after some health issues threatened her sense of happiness as things like that do. She was previously a nurse but found the switch in vocations to be life changing if I remember her story correctly.

The woods can do wonders for the soul and for healing, I believe.

After she threw the last round, we said our goodbyes as she boosted the somewhat rotund Cocoa into the truck and off they went – presumably home before their next trip into the forest where she will work her magic for someone else.

As she drove away I found myself wondering if there is a deity of wood stacking.

Thank you again to The Wood Goddess. We shall see you in a couple of months.

You Get What You Pay For

It weighs two-hundred and twenty pounds, is green, was cheap, and sits outside our shed in pieces. It was supposed to break rocks into pieces – not itself. It’s Bill, our new rock crusher.

As an amateur gold prospector, I got tired of hand-crushing rocks. It gets old fast – believe me. Gold doesn’t always come in nuggets that you find in creeks, rivers and beaches: sometimes you have to pry it from the rock itself.

This is what we bought Bill for: to process gold ore.

I had an assay done on some ore from our property a few months back that came back at 14 grams of gold per ton of rock. That’s not the mother lode but it’s not bad, either.

The problem is getting the gold out of the rock – especially if it’s disseminated throughout in tiny particles. You have to crush a lot of rock in order to smelt the precious metals out (heat the ore with flux in a furnace).

I needed a more efficient way to get the job done so I went to Amazon and ordered Bill.

He was born in China and traveled a long way to get to us. He arrived in a sturdy wooden crate that looks a lot like the box that held The Ark Of The Covenant in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. At least the box was well made.

We met the delivery guy in town to pick Bill up and it turns out that the guy’s father is a preeminent geologist. This is a good sign, we thought. We were wrong.

The broken adjustment knob.

After hauling him home, the whole family wrestled Bill onto several pallets I’d screwed together to make a table. He was to stay in his crate for safety reasons (a spinning flywheel with no guard, for one). Then we discovered Bill didn’t have a plug.

After some research and a couple of calls to electricians, we determined Bill would work on a North American electrical system. He would run a bit fast, but run he would. We installed a plug and everything went fine until we fed some wet material through him.

The info I’d read said this was OK but believe me, it isn’t! The finely crushed material mixed together with the water to make a nice cement-like paste and gummed the machine up.

Two hours of cleaning later, we started Bill up again only to discover his adjustment knob had sheered off. This is the part that allowed us to set how finely we wanted the rock crushed. Without that function, we were once again dead in the water.

I think it was poor workmanship and materials that lead to the failure. Several screws also vibrated loose which caused a metal piece in the feeder to bend and get jammed full of rocks. Another two bolts came out altogether and when I tried to tighten them, I realized they weren’t long enough to seat.

It was time to contact Amazon and the seller.

This evening, Bill sits partially dismantled and I’m in negotiations with a company across the world about how much of a refund to agree to with some parts thrown in.

And I’m back at it with the sledge hammer.

 

 

Fishing Is Like Threading A Needle

Catching a fish is not a sure thing for me because it seems as if anything that can go wrong, will.

Think about it: you have to attach a super thin, almost invisible line to a skinny, long pole then tie a hook onto the end with fingers way too big for the job. Then you have to squeeze a piece of lead onto it without dropping the tiny chunk of metal into the dirt. Then you have to add a float.

That involves catching the now wildly swinging invisible line with an extremely sharp hook on the end that is now trying to wrap itself around the end of your pole fifty times when you’re not looking, and wrapping it several times around the hooky thingy on the float. Now it’s time to add the bait.

Keep in mind that all the while, you’re being buzzed by horseflies and mosquitoes because you left the repellent in the car next to the tackle box. The fish bucket is next to the tackle box.

After debating whether or not to put down the pole and go back to the car for everything you forgot, you decide instead, to use a rock to dispatch the fish if you catch one. You thread the worm onto the hook trying not to spear your finger in the process.

Finally – you’re locked and loaded. Time to cast.

You release the line while grasping the portion on the pole that is now loose, you bring your arm back – and cast. Unfortunately a bush has grown unexpectedly behind you and you have now caught it.

You can practically hear the fish laughing at you then realize it’s your husband.

As you swat at the cloud of gnats that are circling your face, a sandwich is beginning to sound appealing but one more try. This time you manage to land the lure halfway across the river but the current quickly routes it directly towards a sunken tree trunk.

You frantically reel it in as it approaches the obstacle but it’s too late. The hook does it’s job well – it has now caught an entire tree. Just a quick tug will jerk it free and – the line breaks. All that is left is a tangled mass of spiderweb-thin nylon and the float.

You could barely thread the hook but somehow, what’s left of the line has spontaneously tied itself into thirty different boating knots. This is a sign, you think.

You put down the pole and prepare to go grab that sandwich when your friend casually meanders up with his pole ready to go, casts it perfectly, and snags a trout within seconds. He effortlessly reels it in, kills it, cleans it and wanders off to have his dinner.

You just stand there with your ball of filament and stare.

Culture, Charred Steak, and Gold

We are on another prospecting expedition and I’m sitting by a campfire smelling steak burning just right as the sun nears the top of the treeline to the west. It seems as if I feel less heat already in early August. Pink Floyd’s The Wall is playing – probably for the one-billionth time since the album was created. 🙂

There is laughter and talk of entrepreneurial ventures after the virus recedes – hopefully for good until the next Something comes along. I’ve just had a bite of the best Filet Mignon of my life.

Pieces of gold are being compared.  I feel content at this moment. America – the world – mankind is going to be OK. As we sit around the fire, we share stories about the prospecting culture and the local woodcutters among other things. Bits of information are passed back and forth such as that salmon berries are known by some as Smooshberries – because they are smooshie, of course. 

Local lifestyles make for great tales. The woodcutters are stuff of legend around these parts. They know how to harvest a truck load of wood from the mountains in the dead of winter (I’m from “civilization” so everything is larger than life compared to what I’m used to).

We’re out prospecting with some people we’ve just met and they are very cool. They own a computer store and the husband has a YouTube channel having to do with drones. They want to open a restaurant. I’m sold after the steak.

Earlier in the evening, the husband threw a fishing line in the river and snagged a couple of trout for dinner. I’m rusty and asked for some pointers then proceeded to snag my hook in the nearest bush then break the line. I briefly considered shooting a trout with my slingshot before grabbing a hotdog.

Our other friend’s pooch has taken up residence at my side as I give him a good scratching. His owner is dabbling with constructing campers of a different type for a specific purpose. I don’t want to disclose his ideas without permission so I’ll let that lie for now.

We all have gold in common. It’s fascinating, elusive, and worth almost two grand an ounce right now.

I’ve been focusing on metal detecting for gold ore with some success and we plan to try to track down the source. It’s exciting. I’m sending in a pound of the material for a gold and silver assay which will tell me if, and how much of the minerals are in there.

The evening is mild, the mosquitoes few, the food excellent and the trading of stories and dreams the best. Tonight, the ties that bind are exquisitely charred food, a campfire, stories of people and their dreams – and gold.

Another trip is coming soon. We only have so much time before the legendary winter sets in. Then the gold of the mountains and creeks will be locked up for the season in ice and snow.

the grimmer roci

Other Adventures

Today I changed the description of Stories From Off The Grid to include other adventures.

There’s only so much that can happen to or that a family can do on 3.74 acres.

The garden is growing (peas and cabbage only this year and we planted way late), we moved the raspberry bushes closer to the RV so I could tend to them better, I still slingshot, the appliances are constantly breaking or now getting lost or damaged in the mail, and the pool is still halfway brown, still freezing, and largely unused.

The turkey’s are still turkeying along with this year’s batch of goblets,  I’m still obsessively looking for gold on our property although I’ve expanded my search to beyond the perimeters, Lawnmower man now drives a small backhoe and insists on creating a park-like setting here in the semi-wild, and we are dreading winter.

All is quiet on the western front with the neighbors, thankfully, and I’m running out of off-grid subjects. We don’t have livestock and I don’t make soap: wait, I did a couple of months ago but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and certainly couldn’t write a how-to post on the subject. I cook, but lately, dinner has more often than not, been microwaved chicken patties and store-bought cookies. No how-to-cook posts here.

The solar power system is on the fritz. Nothing new.

Things have been pretty quiet here actually. So, in the spirit of trying to keep things interesting, this blog covers about anything that happens in our lives or that we make happen (I hope we’re still behind the wheel) that might be funny, informative, or humorous.

Other than the propane fridge we’ve long needed getting damaged in transit so we’re still short an LP fridge and me dredging the well, camping for gold is the order of the day this summer. There have been lot’s of adventures at Sheep Creek where we’ve been prospecting. We’re heading out again this afternoon and I’ll take lots of pictures because we might be onto something!

Whether it be the ongoing mess inside our car from packing or stays at motels from hell, its now all free game. The motel featured photo is not the motel from hell . 🙂

 

Gold Is Where You Find It

Listening to the experts.

If you can’t find the gold where you are, go to the gold.

In addition to willing gold into existence on our own property, I’ve decided to drive to it; about sixty miles to a place called Sheep Creek. This in response to a phone call last week from a fellow prospector who suggested we camp and pan for the weekend.

I’m not giving up on my thought experiment of materializing gold out of dirt and rock here at home but I figured it was about time to increase our odds of finding the shiny and holy substance. The caller is a guy we met about a year ago who shares this mental illness called Gold Fever.

The fever causes one to become irrational and obsessed with either conjuring up the elusive metal through the use of chemical processes to spending hour after backbreaking hour in the sun sifting through bucket after bucket of gravel in search of even one tiny morsel of goodness.

Stricken with this disease, my husband and I gladly crammed the back of our Dodge Durango with every manner of implement designed to aid in the finding of the noble metal.

Classifiers of every size, sluices, buckets, shovels, picks, hammers, and as many containers as one can fit as you can never have too many. All of this plus everything but our cookware (my husband recalled later, putting it away on a shelf in the shed) went into the hatch and off we went.

After an unsuccessful exploratory expedition to find a new spot, we turned around  about five-hundred feet shy of the Canadian border and headed for the sure-fire place for gold: Sheep Creek.

The creek is in the Colville National Forest and we found a good campsite for the first night. There wasn’t much time for panning so we set up and planned on heading out in the morning.

Several Sloppy Joes, ten cigarettes, and two UFO’s later we called it a night.

Worth mentioning is that on our way to find a suitable spot, we found a mine, or hole dug into solid rock along the road. It went about twenty feet in before dead-ending. We scraped some samples into some buckets (never enough containers), before continuing on.

20200717_165448
The mine.

The next morning we found a great spot near a rapids, moved camp downstream, and set to work. This is where all of those tools come in handy. Gold is heavy and you have to dig for it under very large rocks and in low-pressure zones in the water or where the water was at the high mark.

You have to ask yourself where gold would logically travel and fall out when being tumbled downstream. It tends to move along with the big stuff and settle with the heavy stuff so you look for those kinds of things and those locations and dig.

We are all amateurs but three sets of hands and brains is better than one. I jumped all over the place digging and sampling while the men found a good spot and kept at it for most of the time. They were rewarded for their efforts.

We spent the better part of the day and half of the next moving large boulders, scooping up buckets-full of sand and gravel and either running it through our sluices or hand-panning.

Our friend had the best of the luck, finding a nice wafer-shaped “picker” about three millimeters in diameter. My husband found some good ones and I managed to eek out a couple of specs with my fishing magnet.

If you throw a powerful magnet into the river, it picks up iron which in turn sometimes picks up gold with it. You separate it later.

By the last day, the fatigue was setting in and it was time to pack up and go. Our treasures were stored in one of the many many containers we’d brought to be separated from the black sands once we got home.

That night, our friend put away all of his camping and prospecting gear and sifted through his black sands to reveal his trophies.

Our car is still mostly loaded and we at least began the process of recovering our gold today. We got home day before yesterday.

 

Gold Is Where It Is

That means it’s on our property – right?

If you can’t find gold in your back yard, look again and again and again.

I’m finally coming to grips with the idea that we may not have a mother-lode on our property.  I’ve spent the last two years searching and coming up with nothing so I finally sent three rocks in for an assay to settle the matter.

An assay is a test to see how many ounces per ton of any given precious metal such as gold is, in the sample. It’s a pretty exacting process that I believe requires smelting the crushed ore to separate the good stuff from the crap and calculating the results.

We have about fourteen grams of gold per ton of rock – at least in the three I sent in. If ours was a major mining operation that wouldn’t be a bad number but for the weekend prospector – not so good. I called the assayer and he said that it is the nature of prospecting to discover a gold vein seven feet under and to the side of where the specimen came from – or not.

I twisted his words into the hope that I could still find that mother-lode. I suddenly found myself power-washing one of our quartz outcroppings today to get a closer look at the parts previously concealed by vegetation.

I’ve taken my metal detector to every square inch of the property in search of anything that sounds like gold – to no avail. Maybe another few sweeps will turn up something different.

With my hopes and behavior, I’m breaking one of the first rules of prospecting: look for gold where others have found it first. And a second rule: if you don’t find gold, don’t waste your time and keep digging.

In my desperation, I’ve come to believe I can will it into existence with the power of my mind.  Just wait.

Road Trip And Motel Hell

You can’t make this stuff up.

I hit the road about six days ago due to pressing family matters and I needed a place to stay for a good price. I headed to Hotwire.com for a Hot Rate deal.

The website offers a list of hotels near your destination but doesn’t tell you the name of the place until you’ve booked. The trade-off for the missing info is a great price.

Like Hotwire, I won’t disclose the name of the hotel I picked but it was in South Tacoma, Washington. Probably not the best neighborhood I thought, but why not give it a chance for forty-nine dollars a night?

I booked it for seven days. We left after one. Here are eleven reasons why:

  1. While you’re waiting in the lobby, the conversation turns to a car prowling – by one of the hotel employees.
  2. Your son, who stayed in the car, has already turned down three drug deals by the time you get the room key.
  3. You have to pay your deposit in cash and don’t plan on picking it up before seven a.m.
  4. The hotel is next to the freeway.
  5. Someone across the freeway launches leftover fireworks mortars directly over the hotel: really big ones.
  6. Someone has taken the parking spot in front of your door leaving you with the space at the dark end of the lot.
  7. There are signs of a past forced entry into your room.
  8. You hear rap music at three in the morning and open the door to discover the source is the person who took your parking space.
  9. You wake up at eight to the same rap music – and a dog barking – right outside your door. The mortars are still coming.
  10. You meet your hotel neighbor who is the source of the barking – her dogs that is – all three of them. She tells you how she inherited one from the guy who died in the room next to yours and how that is somehow connected to the car prowling story you heard in the lobby the night before.
  11. You decide the hot rate isn’t hot enough and head to the lobby to cancel when you hear there’s been yet another car prowling; this time with the windows smashed and the tires slashed.

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

The night we packed up the trailer and truck in a downpour near Snoqualmie Pass was emotional. It was September of 2017 and we were headed east to our new home.

Family, friends, our old home, and our memories (bad and good), would soon be nothing but a reflection in a rear view mirror.

After we sold our house in the spring, we inched our way across the state looking for land to buy and that time on the road was only the beginning of a grand adventure. Since the day we first pulled into our driveway to today, life has been vivid both in experience and emotion.

Our first year was hell. We didn’t have a lot of money and had to deal with the realities of living on raw land in any way we could. We walked through snow, dragging a sled loaded with groceries and propane because our four wheel drive was broken.

Our pipes froze and we froze while we scrambled to find everything we’d left outside under three feet of snow. Our trailer had canvas walls that we had to insulate while at night we listened to animals just feet beyond the material. Spring was short and summer brought a scourge of insects we didn’t know existed, along with temperatures we weren’t used to.

I wondered often, if we’d done the right thing. In my head, life involved literally making it from one moment to the next, knowing we had things in the works financially. The patience required was infinite.

In our time here, we’ve learned how to drive in the snow, keep warm in an RV, install and repair appliances and use propane for just about everything. We no longer take water and electricity for granted. We’ve overcome a lot of challenges and walked away from the rest.

Today we live in what’s still an uneasy standoff between our choices and their consequences. I’d be lying if I said I was perfectly happy living like this but I wouldn’t trade this past three years for anything.

What makes it all worth it is stepping outside to see the early morning sun coming up over the mountains across the valley, framed by massive Ponderosa Pines. Looking the other way, the Huckleberry Mountain Range slopes up into the distance, carpeted with trees and capped with low-lying clouds.

The skies are big and full of strange things out here. We’ve seen stuff we still can’t explain.

Our spring is the centerpiece of our property. It’s where I go to meditate, think, and to cry. This place was dry when we moved here but a lot of digging later, we have all the water we need. Thanks to gravity, it’s the turn of a spigot away.

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, our cats.

We decided not to build for a lot of reasons but we’re comfortable in our fifth wheel for the time being and we have the shed for projects and hobbies.

The place is paid off and when we’re outside, my husband sometimes gestures broadly with his arm and reminds me 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 these stories to preserve our memories of this time and place. I recently read an account of my Grandfather’s life and found it fascinating. What is everyday existence for us can take on new meaning for someone down the road.

Our lives changed forever that night we packed up and headed east in the fall of 2017. I hope you’ve lived, if just a little bit, with us, through these pages.