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!

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.

 

Two Idiots, A Water Heater and a Hero

Most people probably don’t give a second thought to their water heaters but ours came with a story.

When we bought our RV, it had been refitted for use with city hookups rather than for it’s original purpose of boon docking. The electric water heater that had been installed was gobbling our energy so we ordered a propane model.

When the UPS guy dropped off it off, we eyeballed it with suspicion as we’d recently watched an episode of the TV show Mythbusters featuring an experiment with hot water heaters.

They had disabled all of the safety measures on several tanks then set the temperature dials to maximum. Upon overheating to the point of exploding, they blew open at their weakest points – the bottoms – launching them hundreds of feet into the air.

We wondered how high our mini-rocket might be capable of traveling under the wrong circumstances as we wrestled it into its compartment on the side of our RV and hooked up the gas and water. We checked for leaks then lit it up.

We turned the water on to check the temperature but it got hotter and hotter then stopped flowing altogether. Clueless and sure the heater was nearing blast-off, we called it a night.

Our luck was no better the next day so we decided to call a professional.

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

Enter Norstar Heating and Cooling, Inc.

They don’t normally do work on RV’s but they agreed to send someone to come take a look. For two weeks we waited – without hot water.

By the time he arrived, the repairman had attained hero status in our minds.

Armed only with a notepad and a toolbox, he listened with concern as we told him our plight. Wringing our now filthy hands, we recounted our misadventures as he stole sideways glances at the beast that waited behind the access panel that said “hot”.

Finally, he adjusted his collar, turned, and approached his foe with a swagger that would have made John Wayne proud. He opened the hatch, squinted into the darkness and went to work.

We stood back and watched nervously. What if he couldn’t fix it? What if we had to send it back for another? What if this cost us an arm and a leg?

Finally, we heard the rocket-like swoosh of propane igniting as the man cocked his head and made his final adjustments. We tried in vain to read his poker face as he turned and walked back our way to give us the news.

Suppressing a grin, he told us “I turned the heat down.”

Itching To Get Out

After months of snow, we can’t wait.

The advent of Spring has left us dying to get out; maybe go on a hike on solid ground. My husband and I love the outdoors and we live in the woods but we’d like to see some different trees for a change.

Morel mushroom season is approaching but not fast enough so we settled for a drive up the road to DNR (Department of Natural Resources) land near us the other day.

The area is cross-crossed with dirt roads threading through forested hillsides and mountains. There are a couple of silver mines, plentiful sources of wood that some hardy locals take advantage of to make a living (they are a special breed), and hidden huckleberry patches known only to some inhabitants.

A local promised to take us out to pick but we have been warned that bears love huckleberries also. We’ll be sure to bring our bear spray The Man, the Bear and the Truck.

While in town the other day I stopped by the Colville National Forest ranger station for some advice as my husband has been chomping at the bit to go on some overnight backpacking trips. I asked if there were really Grizzly bear in Washington state and in Stevens County and the answer was “yes”.

The ranger said they hung out closer to the Canadian border and at higher elevations so I think we’ll stick to the lower areas. If we have to use bear spray, the ranger told us to spray in a half-moon pattern horizontally in front of us to create a sort of wall. I would have just sprayed straight ahead.

I asked about Morel hunting in previously burned areas of the forest where they thrive after fires. The staff told us there are hidden holes and the danger of falling trees so I think we’ll stay away from those. There’s plenty of mushrooms out there as it is.

When I asked about road conditions the ranger recommended a phone app called Avenza. It’s a free download that shows road and recreation maps of various sections of the national forest. You can also use them off-line. We could have used that a couple of years ago when we got lost in the Snoqualmie National Forest Lost In The Woods; Twice In One Day.

There is wild asparagus coming up although I have yet to find a single sprig. Crawfish are fun to catch (and delicious to eat) although I don’t know where to find them on this side of the mountains. We knew the back roads and where to look for things where we used to live (except for the time we got lost) but here is a new story. We’re still plying the locals for their secrets.

Lastly, I have gold fever again and have been all over our property crushing and breaking rocks. I dug a hole right into what I believe is the location of the fault running across our property. Imagine having your own private fault line? Take a look at the photo that shows its location. 🙂

The back of our SUV is crammed with prospecting equipment just in case. If you look for gold in Washington state, you have to keep a copy of the Fish and Wildlife pamphlet with you. It has the rules for prospecting in it.

Let me close with an example:

“You can pan in the northwestern upper corner of the easternmost part of whatever creek as long as you use a sluice no longer than your arm but no shorter than the length between your elbow and your hand. You cannot dig more than three feet past the upper waterline of a hundred-year storm nor under the lowest point of a hundred-year drought on Saturdays and Sundays and only on tributaries to every river in Washington state except Snohomish County. You may wear only bright purple and use a shovel rather than a pick ax unless you are driving a Suburu in which case, you may wear purple with polka dots. This only applies to prospecting done during leap years.”

Oh My – My Underthings Are Showing

Melting snow reveals a disaster area.

Nature’s petticoat of snow has finally lifted to reveal an unkempt, half-awake landscape; much like my husband’s face in the morning when he first wakes up.

We are officially in the “before the pretty green things begin to grow” and the “cover your blemishes with snow and forget about it until Spring” phase. In other words, the place looks like shit.

Little bits of garbage that strayed from trash bags are all over the place, mud has replaced snow, and everything’s a general brownish color. But you know what? I love it! The snow is gone, the snow is gone, the snow is gone, the snow is gone! 🙂

That means mushrooming, gardening, gold panning, huckleberry picking, trash hauling, and spring cleaning – yay!

A sense of renewal and expectations for the coming year are at the tops of our minds. No more frozen hoses, frozen batteries and frozen asses. The sun will now take over the task of keeping things warm.

One of the upper springs.

We’re using our solar panels again. We missed the height of the sunny season when we installed them last year so we’re very pleased to see we can run most things all day on sunshine alone.

Spring fever is upon us and thank God! We have a bog that used to be a driveway but I’ll take that in lieu of four-foot snow drifts.

Today I am grateful as I pull on my rain boots to slog through the mud to pick up trash.

Happy Spring!

 

December In March

Really?

I wake up at three in the morning, open the door to the RV and what am I greeted by? Spring crocuses? Nope. The sound of songbirds (although not likely at this hour?) Nope.

Try a foot of new snow on the doorstep. It’s March, for Gods sake.

Did spring lose it’s way and accidentally pass our driveway? Nope. I can see that the city down the hill is coated in fresh white. The county too. As a matter of fact, large sections of the country are experiencing an identity crisis of seasons.

I don’t know if it’s global warming or the natural long-term patterns of the planet but the thermometer reads zero-degrees and our pipes are frozen again. No water for coffee until we thaw them.

We managed to stay above twenty degrees for most of the winter until March – and more snow is forecast for Monday through Wednesday coming up.

The cats and I went to scrounge for some catnip in the garden this morning but it’s buried under four feet of snow. I dug a trench to the last remembered location of the wilted heap and began to dig. This should be easier this time of year.

I scooped out a bit of the magical kitty herb and excavated my way back to the driveway, cats in trance behind me. For a half a second, I considered shoveling the whole garden then wondered “what was I thinking?”

The wilted mass that is catnip.

Water’s been mission-impossible for the last week in the below-normal temperatures. Needing to refill out water tank, we’d drag the frozen hoses inside, filling up our RV with loop after loop of frozen rubber to melt the ice, then drag the thousand-feet of tangled, anaconda-like mess outside only to have them freeze up again by the time we had them strung out and ready to siphon water.

The water pump is freezing at night again and no water means no coffee unless we go outside and dip the coffee pot directly into the water tank.

We got the car stuck in the snow trying to back out of the driveway. I made things worse when I jumped into the driver’s seat and confidently backed into a tree. Our tires are really worn so it’s off to Walmart to have new ones put on or we won’t be able to get back home.

At least they have coffee.

Nothing’s Easy In The Snow

We are officially not thrilled about it any more.

Snow – two to three feet of it – blankets the region we now live in.  We used to pray for it – now we just want it gone.

Snow was a major event back where we used to live. Highways would turn into skating rinks, school would be cancelled, and twenty-four-hour news coverage would begin with reporters positioned around the region for the latest coverage.

Snow was a happening – an event. It was cause for socializing and celebration. Cul-de-sacs would become snowball-fight war zones and snowman central. It brought people out of their houses – back in western Washington.

Now we just want it to go away.

Here, snow is simply a fact of life; something you deal with. It’s regarded as inevitable and celebrations happen indoors in crowded kitchens or close to the nearest fireplace.

Four wheel drive is mandatory, especially if you have unmaintained road. You make sure you have a chord of firewood and someone in mind to plow your driveway if you don’t do it yourself. Snow shovels are dug out of the shed and snow tires go on the truck.

People adapt – we have adapted, socially and logistically, to their climates. But still; no matter where you live, nothing’s easy in the snow.

 

The Hill Of Death Revisited

My husband and I went down the road of peril again today. It’s steep and windy, has a very precipitous drop-off (much like a cliff), gets icy during the winter months – and has no guard rails.

After we had a terrifying experience going up the road a while back, we swore off of it but as the weather conditions improved, we began to use it again.

The bad weather’s back but we decided to venture down the Hill Of Death again today, thinking it would be well sanded. Instead, the road renewed it’s title.

I started to record on my phone as we approached because of our prior experiences.

Sure enough, we began to slide about halfway down and I had a heart attack. My husband remained remarkably calm.

I posted it to the local discussion/classifieds Facebook page calling for the installation of a guard rail and all hell broke loose. A cultural debate has arisen out of it.

Some locals swear you should just stay home if you don’t know how to drive in the snow or don’t move to the country.  Others maintain the government has a duty to provide reasonably safe roadways to the public. I agree with the latter as others have had close calls too.

At the end of the day, no amount of local rhetoric about “staying home” or “bucking-up” is going to keep an accident or death from happening because the county won’t install a guard rail.

No amount of “get some chains, idiot” talk is going to bring the dead back to life.

On Facebook, one gentleman replied to my post “it’s Winter”.

That sums it up, I guess – it’s friggin’ Winter. That explains everything.

Here’s my response:

Winter the dis-qualifier

Why sand roads or put out fires

For that matter who needs seat belts

Hunker down wait till the sleet melts

Groceries gas are overrated

Don’t complain or you’ll be hated

It’s winter that makes perfect sense

Fits most every circumstance

If you’re not a seasoned expert

It’s on you deserve what you get

Having standards is for sissies

Center lines, stop lights are prissy

We don’t need no traffic laws

Cause we have hydraulic jaws

Summer fall just pick a season

Don’t need logic or good reason

It’s wintertime yup that explains it

No one should have to maintain it

I believe in common sense

Use your brain in self defense

But we don’t all drive the same

Let’s be clear on who’s to blame

It’s winter – lower expectations

Don’t deserve safe transportation

Its winter after all why bother

That guy who died he ain’t my father

Crash and burn on your own time

Just don’t do it on my dime

If you die don’t take me with you

Safety for the whole’s no issue

Dog eat dog philosophy

Winter means its you not me

Public safety how absurd

No one cares be rest assured

Wait that guardrail they left out

Car went over hit my house

Now who pays who is at fault

Wish they’d sanded put down salt

Suddenly its now my problem

County pay my bills all of ’em

Gubment should have done much more

Car parts on my kitchen floor

Group responsibility

Applies to you but not to me

Its winter that is my excuse

Backfired badly now I lose

 

From Our Old To Our New

Reflections.

When we sold our house on the other side of the state, we had no idea where we would settle down. Personally, I didn’t want to move too far from our old home because of our ties. Friends and family and a fierce resistance to change make me like a limpet: I find a place to stick to and I stick to it.

When my husband and son first pitched the idea of moving, I had a tiny panic attack. We’d lived in our house in Snoqualmie for eleven years and in the surrounding valley for about twenty seven. The idea of leaving it all behind scared the crap out of me. I needed time to digest the idea.

For anyone, moving can be overwhelming because of the logistics alone. The emotional and sociological impacts only quadruple the anxiety. I was looking at selling a perfectly good home and launching into the unknown. My family was my only safety net amidst the potential chaos of change.

Selling a house is stressful enough – packing everything you own (which is more than you think), finding a new place and moving all of your stuff there almost qualifies as a traumatic event. You have to say goodbye to friends and family and schools change. You worry about the effect it’s going to have on your child. Luckily, our son was on board which made things a lot easier in the guilt department.

Not having bought anything yet when we hit the road was an added unknown. We did know we loved the outdoors and wanted something away from the cities; something with trees and acreage.

We spent over three months living in the little travel trailer we’d bought as a temporary home, while we looked for property.  We visited many prospects while we camped and pushed farther and farther east in our search. I didn’t want to move too far away but it became apparent that I might have to compromise.

In August, we decided on a place. We would be situated in Stevens county in eastern Washington about seventy miles south of the Canadian border.  It was beautiful and there were four seasons – unlike the monotonous rain of the Puget Sound region we’d left behind. The property fit our criteria perfectly so we made an offer and waited until things were finalized in mid-September of 2017.

On September 17th, on an especially rainy night near Snoqualmie Pass where we were camping, we packed up and headed home – our new home.

The property we’d settled on was raw land and we knew we would be facing some major challenges to make it livable. Ultimately, reality kicked our asses, especially during our first year but we survived (unlike some of our worldly possessions that succumbed to the forces of nature).

Living off-grid isn’t just living; it’s an experience that involves an interplay between emotions and pure grit. Out here, you interact with your environment and surroundings  because you must. What you do or don’t do directly affects the quality of your life. You learn cause and effect and that’s a good lesson.

If I was a princess type, I wouldn’t survive a day but I wouldn’t be here if I was a princess.

When I’m stressed out, the tasks of daily living become burdensome. I’m easily frustrated and ask myself “what was I thinking”, only to wake up the next morning to the sight of trees, mountains, deer and other wildlife bathed in the brilliant light of a sunrise I could never have experienced from the doorstep of my former suburban home.

Being here comes at a price but the cost reminds us we are alive.

 

 

 

Christmas At Walmart

The Experience.

My husband and I spend a lot of time at our local Walmart. It’s almost a joke between us. Nothing against the brand but frankly we associate it with tackiness. Still, here we are again; the goal of the day: Christmas shopping.

My husband always parks in the outskirts of the parking lot because our truck is big. This somehow makes sense to him. He points out the other trucks and large vehicles as he edges slowly into a moorage slip.

During the mile-long walk across the parking lot and having lost me, he’ll call back “Hurry up Babe” while he strides ahead on his six foot plus frame with me taking four steps to his one (imagine a centipede), trying to keep up.

Which door to go into is usually our next big decision after how far away to park. The Lawn and Garden (Holiday supplies in the winter), the Home and Pharmacy, or the Groceries. God forbid we forget to pick a landmark so we can navigate our way back to where we docked  parked. If we lose our bearings, we may end up wandering the parking lot in humiation with a fully loaded cart looking for our vehicle.  Yesterday our landmark was the giant inflatable Christmas tree. Last week, it was the kayaks on display out front.

Once in the store, the shopping cart vetting process begins with a ten foot test drive. Results are categorized on the following brokenness scale: The Drifter (self explanatory), The Harmonic Resonator (the one that alternates every twenty or so wheel revolutions between a powerful bolt-loosening vibration and a Cadillac-like glide), and The Quitter, AKA Old Ironsides (the one that lost the jousting match with a vehicle). There is a rare exception: The Miracle (this is your lucky day. This one’s straight off the truck from the factory).

Any leftover debris in the cart from a previous user is grounds for immediate disqualification and referral to the CDC. 🙂

I usually have my list ready to go and we set off, me leading the way. First through the Home section, then onto the Toys/Sporting Goods, past Auto and Hardware, looping back to Crafts and Bedding, gliding past clothing and shoes before reaching Electronics and pausing at the conveniently located bathrooms at the back of the store. Rushing through stationary and pets and into the Groceries with my husband, pushing whatever the cart of the day is. Now it’s HIS turn to keep up.

Zigzagging back and forth through the dairy and deli, breakfast and baking goods are but a blur. Gaining our second wind, we skillfully maneuver our increasingly difficult-to-steer barge now loaded with five hundred pounds of Walmart through the morass.

Lamps, rugs, electronics, cat food, and groceries are causing our cart to teeter dangerously on corners so we pull over to adjust the load for more ballast. It occurs to us that maybe we should have gone with shopping cart option number five; the military grade Hammerhead. With it’s semi tank-like build and roomy interior, we’d be set but that would have required a side trip to the Holiday section too far off course.

By now it takes a good push to get the carriage up to speed but soon we’re out-pacing octogenarians and the not-so-intense shoppers as we skirt the meats, frozen foods, and produce, then radio ahead for the tug boats. Eyes scanning for the checkout with the fastest line, we see them; the only other people in the entire store who get that this is a competition. Our mental calculations put us at the check stand at EXACTLY the same moment as them. This may be a dead heat. Increasing our speed by three knots we manage to pull ahead by a nose and the line is ours.

Checkout is an art form. I usually predict the total as me and my husband team up to move the inventory from the cart to the conveyor belt. Heavy items first by category (household before food stuffs), then boxed goods and finally, bakery – the delicate stuff. If you want to eat something on the way home, it gets its own bag that goes on top of everything else. I process and bag while my hubby handles the transaction. We make an excellent shopping team and quite often, my prediction of the total is only dollars off. 🙂

Finally, past the pay portal, shopping cart neatly packed according to weight and type of product, we nose out and merge into outgoing traffic, slowly accelerating to cruising speed.

Then it hits: we forgot the Christmas stuff. We bought everything BUT Christmas. Five hundred pounds of NOT Christmas and there is no slowing the shopping cart now. Might as well be the Titanic. If we’d only made that trip to the seasonal section for the Hammerhead…… But it’s too late to change course as we are swept towards the exit in the current.

As we glide past the smiling greeters on the way out the door in the Christmas regatta, (the only vessel not decked out), we maintain our heading and decide to hit the local shops on the way home. It evens out in the end. 🙂