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.

 

Hermits

Hiding from the neighbors.

Today, my husband and I took turns peeking suspiciously out our closed curtains to see if the neighbors had fixed their broken-down truck which stood near the entrance to our property.

Neither of us wanted to go outside and expose ourselves to the perceived scrutiny of one of the men who stood around the vehicle with its lid propped open. You see, we’d had this place to ourselves until “they” moved in about a year ago and to this day, we are about as anti-social as they come.

Why didn’t they tow the truck the rest of the way up the hill to their property where all the tools were? Why leave the truck out in the “open” where we could watch every move they made? Didn’t it bother them? Is this a cultural thing?

I hope you get that I’m talking tongue-in-cheek

We understand the psychology of social anxiety. Some of us are more introverted than others and have the perception that we are different and might somehow be unliked by others; in this case – the locals.

We get that it’s our own insecurities and we joke about it freely.

The truth is, however, that we want to be left alone. We want our privacy and if a seven-foot tall fence was in our budget, you better believe we’d have one by now.

Human relationships are the most important part of life but every time our neighbor (Lawnmower Man) starts up his Sears Special, we find ourselves halfway hoping he’ll run over a really big branch that will stop the machine in its tracks – at least temporarily. Although I’ve chatted with him a few times, I’ve always left the conversation wanting to run away as fast as I can.

He has a lot of plans for his property but his property is smack next to ours and every time we hear the chainsaw start up, we cringe and hit the real estate ads. I want to be in control of when I socialize and watching my neighbor cut the grass right up to my property line thirty feet away every other day unnerves me.

We moved to the country for solitude.

Where we came from, our neighbor’s doorstep was two-hundred feet from our own and I was not allowed to plant a single bush for privacy because the HOA said we couldn’t.

One day I set up a carnival-like play area for my then youngster with bean bag throwing, an alien bubble-making tub, and other fun stuff. The power-hungry president of the HOA showed up on my doorstep to point out that the driveways were not designated for such use.

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I took the matter into my own hands and ended up uncovering so much corruption the whole organization had to be overturned.

This history is, in part, why we are so reclusive.

Hemmed in and getting panicky, we are carefully planning ahead to ensure we have a buffer around our new home when the time comes – lots of acreage surrounding ground zero – our front door.

This evening, we finally heard the thunderous rumbling of our neighbor’s V-8 and we rushed to the blackout curtains to take a peek. The hood was down – this was good. All tools were put away. Almost time to skulk out from beneath our rock and sprint to the car for the pop.

But alas, the man and his accomplices decided to gather around the truck to chew the straw for another hour.

Cornhole and the alien bubble-making booth will have to wait until tomorrow 🙂

 

Endcap Entertainment

Grocery store treasures and other games to keep the family busy.

Impulse-buy sports.

Since we can’t recreate away from home, our family’s been looking for new ways to keep busy here on our property. The only games we had were Uno and Pass The Pigs which were getting old.

Fortunately we have room outside to spread out so we looked for outdoor diversions.

A trip to the grocery store was the answer.

Bowling.

We found the giant bowling set in a display at the end of the Haircare isle. With fat, two-foot-tall plastic pins and a hollow ball, it is not to be confused with yard bowling.

It is an illegitimate game with implied rules and is guaranteed to be broken or forgotten about within twenty-four hours of purchase unless you consider the potential for creative destruction.

I couldn’t get the pins to stand up so I filled the bottoms with dirt making it impossible to knock them over with the shell that was the ball. After attempting to pack it, too, full of dirt with unsatisfactory results, I hung the pins from a tree and we threw rocks at them instead.

They’ve been sitting in the shed ever since except that I cut the bowling ball in half and used it for a smelting furnace mold.

Horseshoes – A short story.

My husband picked up the horseshoes game a few weeks ago and we set it up without reading the instructions as per protocol. We positioned the stakes as far apart as we figured we could throw then lobbed the shoes.

If not for the overhead screen of branches the game might have lasted.

All of the shoes, having been knocked off their trajectories, eventually ended up in the nearby bushes next to last-year’s lost cache of slingshot balls where they will remain until tick season is over.

Note to cat owners: Check the pits before gameplay.

Badminton – with an emphasis on bad.

Yesterday we picked up a badminton set, or rather, four racquets and eight shuttlecocks. Most of the family outdoor play equipment had sold out so there weren’t any full sets left on the shelf.

During the ten whole minutes we spent running around flailing at the birdie, we learned this sport is best played away from equipment, rocks and solar panels. My husband speculated that getting a net would also improve our game. Makes perfect sense.

Still, it beats Yellow Jacket Tennis – What is Black and Yellow and Flies All Over?.

Wiffleball – AKA long distance running.

This was another endcap special at Safeway. They were on sale at two for the price of one so I grabbed two.

Play involves mostly running after the ball which inevitably ends up in the bushes next to the horseshoes and the slingshot balls.

If you have an overly enthusiastic five-year-old who thinks running after a ball is the next best thing to ice cream, you can save a lot of energy.

Cornhole – Beanbags gone professional.

Cornhole came home the same day as the badminton set. I’d never heard of it.

It’s beanbags – outdoor beanbags.

It may be a professional sport according to the words emblazoned on the panels with the holes in them. I’ll have to check Youtube to see if it’s true.

My husband says I’m a shark and that I should play professionally. I have a hard time believing that. Maybe the hopscotch I played as a kid is finally paying off.

Thankfully, beanbags don’t roll.

Next week we get a pool.

 

 

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.

The Patriot

A suburban solution to a rural challenge.

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

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

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

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

Enter the Patriot. the patriot

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

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

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

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

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Blast From The Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Turkey Anyone?

My husband calls them The Horde.

They are the collection of wild turkeys that cruise the area searching for food and doing whatever else turkeys do. They seem to live in loose groups and there’s no shortage of them here in eastern Washington.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You people with your sidewalks and your manicured lawns – I envy you right now. We moved onto raw land on purpose but I didn’t anticipate having to train for a cross-country event just to get to the car.

At this time of year, when the snow melts and the ground is still frozen, our property becomes a quagmire.

Imagine plopping down somewhere in the woods to live. Wherever you walk, you trample the grass down leaving only dirt, then mud, when it rains. Everywhere you drive, the same. Without driveways and sidewalks – mud is what happens.

To get to the car we have to zigzag between patches of snow, muck, and the boards we put down to prevent us from leaving our boots behind.

We’d be stuck here without four-wheel drive and we meet in the war room to strategize our route out before we hop in the car The Long Long Long Driveway.

It’s almost spring and water from the melting snow is trapped on the surface by an under-layer of permafrost. It has nowhere to go and mixes with the trampled or driven-upon topsoil to create a real mess.

Where pools of standing water form, we discovered that hammering holes through the frozen ground to the unfrozen earth below allows the water to drain. Where that doesn’t work we cover the goo with boards or fill it in with rocks.

The place looks classy.

Until the thaw is complete and all of the snow melts, I put on my rain boots no matter the outfit. At least I fit in here in rural America.