Two Years Ago Today

We left King County Washington; Destined for our new home on the range.

Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down  A Dream played on the radio as the first hint of daylight tinted the eastern sky. We were driving a 1986 Ford F-250 my husband lovingly called Bridgette pulling a 2001 Jayco Light travel trailer with a very unhappy cat stowed inside. We were on the home stretch of Hwy 395 headed for Colville Washington.

That was two years ago today.

The space between that day and now has been packed with memories a person cannot make up; plenty of material for a blog. Survival trumped all else for the first year while we carved a place for ourselves amongst the Ponderosa Pines on the iron rich bedrock.  Survival is still the main theme of daily life out here.

To be cliche, I have cried and I have laughed in almost equal measure during the past two years and things will continue to be tough until we finally build a real house. Water is coming from a spring we dug and we get our energy from two gas generators and a solar power system. I’ll be so glad when a glass of water and a shower non longer involve moving mountains.

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 We gained a new cat and relocated another feral one. We’ve learned a lot about setting up systems for every day needs and making them work. We put up a huge portable shed and half built another that’s coming down eventually. We’re still living in a fifth wheel but plan on building a small log home as soon as a deal we have in the works comes through.

I’m not looking forward to another winter of zero degree temps as the fall equinox approaches although we’ve kind of learned how to drive in the snow and have a fireplace to keep us warm.

We’ve learned to live with the wild life for the most part and our garden is two years old and full of half eaten tomatoes 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 they were absent. We even discovered small amounts of fine gold after looking for two years.

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 Looking forward, we’re  a lot wiser now but have an understanding that humility is a necessary state of mind out here. Never take anything for granted and never get over confident.

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.

We are afraid of it as we’re unfamiliar with it’s inner workings and are concerned it may blow up at any moment. It’s not the heater’s fault nor that of anyone involved with it’s design or installation; they’re just suspicious-seeming by nature. It doesn’t help that we’re ignorant of such things despite over a year of living off-grid in an RV.

When we first got the thing, we full of ideas from an episode of Mythbusters we’d recently seen where all of the fail-safe measures were removed on some water heaters and the heat cranked up. The tanks became rockets, shooting hundreds of feet into the air, giving my husband and I pause as to what our own rocket/heater might be capable of. But let’s back up.

When we came by our fifth wheeler it had been gutted and refitted for use with city hookups such as electricity 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. It arrived promptly and we managed to get it nestled into the side of our RV without much ado. We carefully hooked up the gas, checked for leaks and lit her up.

Everything went fine as we turned the bathtub spigot on and off to check the rising temperature but the water got hotter and hotter and stopped flowing altogether. Clueless and sure the heater was nearing ignition, we turned it off and called it a night.

The next day we exchanged the old faucet for a new one and the water ran fine but continued to overheat. We shut it down for a second time to save our very lives lest we recreate that episode of Mythbusters.

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

We needed a professional. Enter Norstar Heating and Cooling, Inc.

We gave them a call and explained the strange behavior of our water heater and made an appointment. Although they didn’t normally deal with RV type systems, they were willing to come take a look. We kept the unit shut off while we waited for our savior- his elevated status growing every day we went without the ability to shower.

Then the day arrived and “he” showed up. He didn’t have six-shooters on his side but he came with a notepad and a toolbox.  Wringing our now filthy hands, we recounted our misadventures as the repairman stole sideways glances at the beast waiting silently in it’s hole on the side of the fifth wheel.

Finally, our man adjusted his collar and approached the offender with a swagger and a coolness that would make John Wayne jealous. He stared at his foe for a moment or two then reached out confidently and began to manipulate the dials with the authority of a….well…appliance repairman. We stood a good ways back and watched with mixed fear and excitement at the prospect of being able to resume our personal hygiene routines.

Then we heard it; the rocket-like flame of the gas feed shot to life as the man cocked his head and squinted suspiciously at the device while he made his final adjustments. With a satisfied nod he turned and walked back our way to give us the news.

His words will haunt us forever; “I turned the heat down.”

 

 

 

Itching To Get Out

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

Morel season is quickly 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 DNR owns a ton of land that they manage for recreation and various other commercial and governmental type uses.

This area is well laid out 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. We’ve been promised to be taken out to pick but have been warned that the bears love huckleberries also. We’ll be sure to bring our bear spray as we always do The Man, the Bear and the Truck.

While in town the other day I stopped by the Colville station of the Colville National Forest 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. I was instructed to spray our bear spray in a half-moon pattern horizontally to create a sort of wall in front of us before the animal gets close if we are unfortunate enough to have an encounter with a predater. Good advice. I would have just sprayed straight ahead.

I asked about Morel hunting in previously burned areas of the forest. The staff warned of hidden holes and falling trees as dangers so I think we’ll stick to safer places. There’s plenty out there as it is.

When I asked about road conditions the ranger recommended a phone app called Avenza which is free but you can download road and recreation maps of various sections of the national forest in addition to being able to navigate 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, and crawfish waiting for my pot although I have yet to learn the spots they like here locally. We knew the other side of the mountains fairly well (except the time we got lost) but here is a new story. We’re still plying the locals for their secrets; more like begging.

Lastly, I have gold fever again and have been all over our property crushing and breaking promising looking rocks and I dug a hole right into what, to the best of my knowledge, is a geological fault. Our own private one. How’s that for a selling point? Our property has the perfect geology for possible gold and comes with natural springs . Couldn’t get any better for a geology/nature fanatic! Take a look at the map I found showing the fault. The photo is crummy but you get the point.

The back of our SUV is crammed with gold panning/prospecting stuff just in case; classifiers, my pan, my sluice, a shovel, the Fish and Gold Pamphlet required by the state to have in our possession so there are no excuses should we be caught out in the field breaking the law. 🙂

The Wild West

This morning when I opened our front door, my eyes were greeted by a skunk rummaging through the bag of garbage we forgot to take to the enclosure rather than three inches of new snow but nevertheless, it’s a sure  sign we ain’t in Kansas anymore.

Our family moved from the “burbs” to the outlying areas of Stevens County Washington almost two years ago now. We didn’t plan it perfectly, maybe not even fully responsibly, but here we are still although I sometimes wonder if we did chew off more than we could handle.

The differences are cultural on top of pragmatic between the burbs and the country. Here there’s a palpable attitude of “buck up” although I often wonder if that’s really necessary. My preferred “trail mix” is not overly-done PC with some buck up added for good measure.

We aren’t super liberals nor super conservative. You wouldn’t catch me dead wearing Birkenstocks, wool socks and a denim skirt nor will you ever catch me posing with my latest kill. Each to their own with no judgement. We are in the middle on most things and for us, a moderate approach to life works.  We love this area and the people though, and are grateful for the breath of fresh air that is eastern Washington.

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of listening to another of our neighbors taking target practice on the upper property. After a few hours of it, I decided to look up the laws of the state and county as it was close and a bit unnerving. It didn’t help that the title of the county’s official welcome pamphlet was The Wild West and had the same “get used to it” tone. Is it possible to live in the sticks without this?

State law clearly precludes any shooting within five hundred feet of a house or any structure and an earthen berm is required to absorb the impact of the projectiles. The neighbor was shooting from about three hundred and fifty feet with no berm.

Sigh. I decided if they make any habit of it, I’m on it. I’m not letting someone with little respect for other’s safety put me or my family at risk. Don’t get me wrong.  My husband loves firearms and I don’t really have an opinion except are you gonna shoot me on accident? They are shooting from the hillside where some dumbass almost shot one of us when we first moved in.

In the meantime, we are looking for property in the same area but with a much bigger buffer between ourselves and other humankind.

Oh My – My Underthings Are Showing

The petticoat of snow has quickly abated and revealed 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! Snow is gone, snow is gone, snow is gone, snow is gone…:)!

That means mushrooming, gardening, gold panning, huckleberry picking, trash hauling, re-grading the road, spring cleaning the property, yay!

All in all, a sense of renewal and expectations for the coming year are at the tops of our minds. No more frozen hoses, frozen batteries, frozen this and that. A lot of energy goes into keeping things thawed and now Mother Nature is taking the helm.

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. And that’s before the proposed upgrades.

Spring fever is upon us and thank God! We have a bog that used to be a road that we may need to hire someone to come in and fix but aside from that, the rest seems doable.

Today we are thankful after an especially trying month previous to this. Putting the sloggers on….

Happy Spring!

 

December In March

 

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 Godsake.

Did spring lose it’s way and pass our driveway by? Nope. I can see that the city down the hill is coated in fresh white. County too. As a matter of fact, BIG 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 a planet but the thermometer reads zero degrees and our pipes are frozen again. No water for coffee until we thaw them.

I’m tired of this. I’m whining at full volume and full speed ahead. No apologies here. You can tough it out all you want. I’m done.

Just when we thought we had this tiger by the tail, it’s whipped us. 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 Winter garden this morning but it’s just that……buried under four feet of snow. I dug a trench to the last remembered location of the wilted heap and began to dig. I knew I was getting close when the felines suddenly began to dig alongside me.

I scooped out a bit of the magical kitty herb and half trudged, half excavated my way back to the driveway, cats in trance behind me. I quickly dismissed a half-second thought of clearing the whole garden patch. Didn’t take too much effort.

The wilted mass that is catnip.

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

Although we’ve done our best to keep the pump and heated hose clear, the zero temps are still having their way with us.  No water until they thaw with the help of a small heater fan every morning.  The cold and snow have also been having their way with our driveway. Already got stuck and shook hands with a small tree last week due to worn tires.

Off to Walmart to have new tires put on so we can get back up our driveway.

At least they have coffee.

Nothing’s Easy In The Snow

Snow……………two to three feet of it as far as the eye can see blankets the region we now live in and it has become like the annoying guest who has overstayed their visit. We used to pray for it but it’s different now that we’ve moved.

I have come to the new conclusion that snow is an entity and it doesn’t want you mobile. Period. It’s heavy and slippery and it’s somewhat evil. That’s my theory. Nothing’s easy in the snow and there is a lot of it here as opposed to where we used to live. Our attitudes have changed.

In all fairness we asked for this. We chose to move here partly because we disliked the constant grey and drizzle of the Puget Sound region surrounding Seattle. Throughout our childhoods, both my husband and I would pray for just an inch or two; please God, so school would be cancelled and everyone and their Aunt could go sledding and make snowmen.

Now we just want it to go away.

Snow was a major event back where we lived. 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 up-to-the-minute coverage of the event. An old standby was the intersections at the base of Queen Anne hill in Seattle, where, inevitably, action was sure to be caught on camera as car after car would lose control on the incline.

Cul-de-sacs would become central meeting places or snowball-fight war zones, depending. Snow was a happening; an event. It was cause for socializing. It brought people out of their houses to come together – back in western Washington.

Here, snow is simply a fact of life; something you deal with, not celebrate. Four wheel drive is mandatory, especially if you have unmaintained road which our almost half mile driveway is. Too many times we’ve had to mine our way through the last precipitous  section of road after having gotten stuck within one-hundred feet of our front door. Groceries be damned.

For several months a year, the very idea of wading from the house to the car becomes an adventure in itself. Once, my husband slipped on the ice and spun into an out-of-control sort of falling dance that lasted for a good fifteen seconds. As he flailed around wildly, I thought he was joking until he desperately pawed at me before he finally hit the ground.

Slogging back and forth to chop and carry wood to the house is plain tiring.

The snow gets so deep here even the wildlife shares the trails once they’re blazed.

Don’t leave that ax on the ground or you might not find it till Spring. Last year I lost a coffee pot lid and never found it. Our hatchet disappeared beneath the ice and we couldn’t find it for a good month. Bets were placed on it’s whereabouts among other items that had come up missing.

The other day we had to exhume two hundred feet of category five Ethernet cable from beneath it. The top foot or so was light and fluffy but the lower layer was solid ice. We had to carefully chip away at the ice with a pick ax for a good half hour in order to free it. God knows where the garden hoses are.

Here in eastern Washington snow is regarded as inevitable; something to be dealt with. Celebrations are considered best to be had indoors in crowded kitchens or within the proximity of a baking fireplace. The weather is met with a sense of resolve and a big sigh in knowing you’re going to have to have your driveway plowed again when you had it done two days before and the roofs are going to have to be cleared for the fifth time in a month.

Here, winter means it’s time to put snow tires on and make sure you have a chord or two of wood for the fireplace. People adapt; socially and logistically to their climates. But still; no matter where you live, nothing’s easy in the snow.

I want Spring.

 

The Hill Of Death Revisited

My husband and I went down the road again today that I wrote about in an earlier post. It’s steep and windy, has a very precipitous drop off and gets icy during the winter months; and there are no guard rails.

Originally we swore off of it but as the weather conditions improved, we began to use it again then they went back to bad and we found the road to be reasonably kept up sanding-wise.

Because of the expectations we’d built up, we decided to venture down the Hill Of Death again today, not expecting it to be the Hill Of Death but now it’s the Hill Of Death again in our eyes.

I started to record on my phone as we approached because the hill had become the subject of some contention amongst the community and I like to document things just in case.

Sure enough, we began to slide about halfway down and I had a heart attack. My husband remained remarkably calm. No, I wasn’t planning on sliding. I didn’t enjoy the experience at all. No set up here.

I posted it to the local discussion/classifieds Facebook page calling for the installation of a guard rail and all hell broke lose. To my surprise, the video has been viewed over two thousand times since this morning (a lot for anything I’ve ever posted anywhere).

An almost cultural debate has arisen out of it. Some folks swear you should just stay home if you don’t know how to drive in the snow or don’t move to the country if you can’t stand the heat.  Others maintain the government has a duty to provide reasonably safe roadways to the public. I agree with the latter. BTW, two other people came dangerously close to sliding off the edge.

At the end of the day, no amount of local rhetoric about “staying home” is gonna keep an accident or death from happening due to the negligence of the party responsible for it’s maintenance. No amount of “buck-up” talk will prevent the issue from the inevitable reckoning that will take place within the justice system. And most importantly, no amount of “get some chains, idiot” talk is going to bring the dead back to life.

Decisions involving public safety on publicly maintained roads are rightfully made and administered by the government agencies responsible for them. In my humble opinion.

One gentleman replied to my post on Facebook with the reply “it’s Winter”. That sums it up, I guess. I wrote a poem in response:

Winter the disqualifier

Why sand roads or put out fires

For that matter who needs seatbelts

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 be landing in the state of Washington or possibly Idaho or Montana. Personally, I didn’t want to move too far from our old home because of the 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 mentioned the idea of moving I had a tiny panic attack. We’d lived in our house in Snoqualmie for eleven years and in Snoqualmie in general, for about twenty seven. The idea of leaving it all behind and starting out fresh brought a strong fear of the unknown to me that went beyond uncomfortable. I needed time to digest the idea.

For anyone, the idea of moving can be incredibly overwhelming because of the logistics alone. The emotional and sociological impacts only quadruple the anxiety. I was looking at selling a perfectly good home (like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane with a parachute) only the parachute didn’t really exist. My family was my only safety net to cling to amidst the chaos of change.

Logistically, there’s the selling of the home, packing everything you own (which is more than you think), finding a new place and moving all of your stuff there. Emotionally, you have to say goodbye to friends and family.  Schools are changed. 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.

As I said, we didn’t know where we would end up when we made the big decision nor did we know if we would buy land with a house or just land. We didn’t specifically think “we want to live off grid” at any given time. That was an aspect of the move that evolved over time. We did know we loved the outdoors and wanted something away from town; something with trees and acreage.

We spent about four months living in the little travel trailer we’d bought as a temporary home while we looked for property.  We looked just over the pass near Cle Elum and Ellensburg, Washington and we explored properties further east and north of where I preferred to locate. As the summer progressed and we visited various prospects, it became apparent to me that I might have to accept the idea of moving much farther east than I’d originally preferred. I would just have to adapt.

After a very long drive to see our future home one day in August the decision was finally made. We would be situated in Stevens county in eastern Washington about seventy miles south of the Canadian border and about the same to Idaho.  It’s beautiful here and there are seasons, unlike the Puget Sound region from whence we came. The property fit our criteria perfectly so we made the offer and went into a holding pattern until things were finalized in mid-September of 2017.

On September 17th, on an especially rainy night at Snoqualmie Pass where we were camping, we packed up and headed east.

The property was raw land and we knew we would be facing major challenges and expenses in making it our home but we were excited about our new lives and felt we were ready to face things head on. Reality did kick our asses, especially our first winter here but we’re still in the game and loving it.

Living off-grid isn’t just living; it’s an interactive adventure. You are directly involved with the quality of your life and the daily activities you perform to make things work.  You have to be hearty and somewhat physically fit to live off grid as the work is hard. If I was a princess type, I wouldn’t survive a day out here but I wouldn’t be here if I was a princess.

When I get stressed out physically or emotionally, I feel overwhelmed and the constant tasks of every day living get to me. I feel frustrated and ask myself “what was I thinking?” but then I walk outside one morning to see turkeys crossing the property or a skunk trotting away from the bag of garbage we accidentally left out the night before. I see trees, mountains, hillsides, other wild animals. We have our spring and our garden.

It comes at a price and it is a life of extremes but that suits our personalities. Our new home reminds us we’re alive.

We have our new paradise and I’m great with it. 🙂