Ant Invasion – A Poem

One, two, three…..thousands…

Crawling on my countertop
Sugar ants they just won’t stop
From the ground they formed a line
Up the stairs they climbed and climbed
In the door across the floor
Saw them, freaked, and slammed my door
Didn’t work they went beneath
Thousands marching past my feet
Mix the borax, sugar, water
Ant buffet go get the swatter
On the glasses plates and pans
Swarming on my noodles, cans
Every bit of food’s a target
Vacuum over under carpet
Vinegar is my new friend
Bring their ant trail to an end
In the bedroom gone too far
Me and them it’s time to spar
To the store for some more bait
Set it out and sit and wait
Bare no grudge against the mass
But it’s them who did trespass
They’re a part of nature’s order
But my doorjamb is their border

“Are You Sure That’s The Cat”?

One night when we were still living in our twenty foot travel trailer our cat jumped onto the top of our canvas canopy and collapsed it onto us as we lay in bed. As I was holding the animal up off of myself and screeching about the damned thing, my half asleep husband mumbled “are you sure that’s the cat”?

This story is similar.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard one of our two cats munching in our dining room and for some reason, I decided to get up. I stumbled out of bed, put my robe on and made my way out into the kitchen to see what was up or to get a snack or something.

We’d just installed a cat door so we wouldn’t have to let the felines in and out of the house fifty thousand times a day. It was great once we’d taught them the “ins and outs”. They could now come and go as they pleased at whatever time of day it was.

I sleepily shambled down the stairs and flipped on the light only to see a skunk in my RV. I can’t remember exactly what I shouted but the poor thing ran into a corner then out the “cat” door which was now officially a skunk door.

I sniffed and to my great relief, realized it hadn’t sprayed. I wondered if it was the same one I’d dumped out of a cage in the middle of the night a couple of months earlier.

What’s a good name for a skunk?

The Medicinal Mullein Plant

We have a plant in our garden that is approaching seven feet tall that has many medicinal properties; the Mullein plant. I don’t recall ever seeing one growing in the western parts of the state but this thing is prolific in our new parts.

It seems to like to grow in freshly disturbed, mostly dirt areas including the space we prepared for our garden. At first we pulled most that were stationed within the boundaries among our peas, squash and tomatoes until I learned of it’s uses.

I noticed a couple of the feathery leaved weeds happily sitting in the dirt as we cleared the area for the vegetables this year and I thought to myself, “why not let it grow”? And here it is, happy as ever as a benefit of the extra water and fertilizer it normally wouldn’t receive in the wild.

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 It’s so tall I cut off the top in the picture. It’s taller than my husband. There’s a shorter one next to it.

The one’s that have the long stalks are apparently second year plants and the stalk, once dead for the year, can be cut off and used to start fires by spinning it in your hands to create friction. My husband and I tried and ended up with no fire and a lot of blisters.

We can apparently use it to treat our wounds although I’d have to look up the recipe.  The leaves are soft and coated with fuzz and are supposed to be an excellent expectorant or butt wipe.

It has a million other applications of which I’m clueless but I made a tea out of the leaves the other day and it wasn’t half bad. I gathered a bunch of the flowers which are currently soaking in olive oil for use for something. Big help I am.

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 Just look up the Mullein plant and see for yourselves what you can do with one. If nothing else, it makes the garden look pretty impressive.

 

Bear

Doesn’t take much of an explanation. A bear showed up last week and made the circuit between us and our neighbors a few days ago. The neighbors called Fish and Wildlife to make a report. On our end, we’re making sure everything that could attract a bear is locked up tight.

We’ve been watching the cameras and being really careful. I haven’t seen it in any videos for the past couple of days. We’re hoping it’ll move on. It was pretty big.

Mushroom Farm

Morels. 40.00+, a pound. And they’re apparently hard to cultivate but we got lucky. You see, they already like it here. They grow on our property. Just not enough to sell but enough to make mushroom “slurry” out of.

We’ve been tossing around the idea of farming mushrooms since we moved onto our 3.7 acres of land in eastern Washington almost two years ago. For quite a while, we were thinking oyster or medicinal mushrooms but our tight budget, the need for snow-load rated greenhouses, and a lack of knowledge have kept us from moving forward.

Then I had a great idea the other day. The mighty morel!

The morel I’m no expert on but my husband and I have been harvesting them for a couple of years and know they bring a pretty penny per pound, dried or fresh. The biggest problem is that they only grow once a year – in the spring – and for a very limited time. You have to know where to go to get them and how to move them and we have yet to find any real sweet spots.

We’ve been up and down many forest service and DNR (Department of Natural Resources) roads and looked but not a one have we seen – until we get back home. Turns out we are fortunate to have land that is naturally host to morels.

In our area of the Pacific Northwest, they grow around Ponderosa pines in slightly grassy to semi-spongy areas and along roadsides. That’s a generalization but it’s what we’ve found to be so far. My understanding is that the mycelium or main mass of the things live in connection with certain tree roots underground. The mushrooms themselves are the fruiting bodies of the mycelium. That’s the extent of my education on mushrooms so far.

They are far and few between though so we’ve dried out those we’ve found so far and have started the spore slurry. I’m not 100% on the efficacy of the slurry but the basic idea is you soak the mushrooms in water that has had salt and molasses added in order to germinate the spores. The molasses feeds them and the salt keeps the bacteria away.

After soaking them for 24 to 48 hours, apply the liquid or slurry to the areas around host trees where, theoretically, they’ll search for roots to become roommates with.

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 I was stirring the slurry with a wooden paddle when the thought came to me that if they like wood, why not add pieces of wood directly to the slurry then bury them under trees when ready? The thought is that the spores will find and start a home before they are planted. This will be an experiment that won’t show results for a couple to a few years when the mushrooms grow, if they take.

If this works, in a few years we’ll have mushrooms aplenty and might be able to begin to harvest an amount large enough to put a dent in our pocketbooks. It’s one of many adventures we’re embarking upon.

Never put all your morels in one basket.

 

 

Restoration

When we “moved in”, we were intent on securing the necessities of every day life such as water. I was also motivated by sheer curiosity about wells and well digging. During the summer we were on the road before we found some land, I went online to find out more about the subject, knowing it would be something we’d have to think about if we bought raw land.

After we pulled up the driveway and secured the trailer, we were exhausted. My husband pooped out but I was so excited, I traversed every corner of our property before I succumbed to slumber.

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I was driven to find prospective spots for water and my curiosity paid off. I found a trench that ran down a hillside with matted vegetation that suggested it was, in part, a runoff zone. I also found some green grass at the end of a long summer. That meant the possibility of water.  I later came to realize our whole hillside and the meadow above was an intricate and plentiful source of springs and fresh water most likely due to the fault lines crossing the landscape.

I started to dig by our second day, as I remember. I was obsessed with finding the secrets hidden under the ground, being them gold or water. I had a few tools I’d collected over the summer for the task and I set to work digging through the very rocky, sometimes solid rock and soil.

I found water about one and a half feet down. 🙂  My dream had come true.

Zooming forward, we subsequently dug about a twelve by five by five foot hole and use it for our water supply year round. In the process of a year’s long dig however, we threw a lot of rocks and mud around. By the end of the first year, the upper part of the property looked like a bomb had gone off.

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 The shear volume of rock and mud in the form of small to super large slabs of quartzite littered the ground from the top to the bottom of the area where our main spring lay. I came to want to restore the natural beauty that was there when we arrived. I decided to start a restoration.

 Surprisingly, it went faster than I anticipated. I began to throw and rake rocks into piles; to conglomerate the debris. By hand naturally proved to be the most efficacious method due to the nature of which it was deposited in the first place and we don’t have any mechanized equipment. 20190518_121902

 I started last fall and got about a third into the estimated work. I cleaned up the main and lower spring areas where the hillside was slathered in bits and pieces of debris. This spring, I started on the second upper spring area. There’s so much rock I can only gather it up into piles until we can get a tractor of some sort up the hill.

I’m having to painstakingly dig out from between plants because wherever there is rock, there is no growth. The area looks so much better already although temporarily worse in spots because of the exposed soil. Next year, I’m expecting the place to look really beautiful; resplendent with the moss and greenery that come with natural springs.

 

 

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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 had recently seen an episode of Mythbusters wherein the guys purposely removed all of the fail-safe measures on some water heaters and cranked the heat up. The tanks shot hundreds of feet into the air after smashing through mock ceilings without effort, 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.