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. 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 wear sloggers just to get to the car. And no, that isn’t our pig in the featured photo. We don’t have a place for a pig yet.

On second thought, we do.

Our property remains absent of any real improvements to date (although the upcoming year should finally see some). Our easement was graveled sometime in the distant past but that is the only thing human hands have touched for the seventy years before we happened along.

Imagine plopping down somewhere in the woods to live. The walkways you create trample the grass down leaving only dirt, then mud, when it rains. Everywhere you drive, the same. Unless preventive measures are taken in the form of concrete, gravel and grass – mud is what happens.

The walk from the RV to the car is a study in zigzagging between patches of snow, marsh, and the boards we put down to prevent the loss of footwear. We meet in the war room to strategize before navigating the easement to the main road.  The Long Long Long Driveway

We’d never leave the place without four-wheel drive capabilities and the routes we walk are currently a morass of standing water interspersed with deep footprints. It’s almost spring and water from the melting snow is trapped on the surface by an underlayer of permafrost. It has nowhere to go and mixes with the trampled or driven-upon topsoil to create a real mess.

Last year we discovered that if we hammered holes through the icy layer in the most badly affected areas the water would drain. Where that doesn’t work we cover the goo with boards and fill it in with rocks. The place looks classy.

With improvements planned, this will hopefully be our last year of The Mud Season.

In the meantime, I put on my rain boots no matter the outfit. At least I fit in here in rural America.

Preparing For Coronavirus

I don’t scare easily. I try to assess situations like this and base my decisions on the facts rather than acquiesce to hysteria. This outbreak of coronavirus, however, is a little bit different.

I have asthma so I am one of those people with an underlying condition and am theoretically at higher risk for complications or death. I have significant problems breathing some mornings and a little bit of exacerbation would not be a good thing.

I’m glad we are out here away from town and not in close contact with other people. Our plan is to stay put for as long as possible when the crap hits the fan – which it will. I don’t know what the life cycle of this virus is so perhaps we aren’t being realistic. Still, minimizing our exposure to others seems prudent.

Today we stocked up on things that would help us stay comfortable for longer on our own. We grabbed a bunch of canned dinner-type items such as spaghetti and meatballs – things that provide protein but will keep indefinitely. A bag of potatoes and sweet potatoes seemed like a solid idea also.

We meant to buy some hand sanitizer but it was already sold out. Instead, we grabbed a few bottles of alcohol and some wipes so we could make our own version of sanitizing wipes – one for the car and one for home. The bleach is ready to go for surfaces.

My husband grabbed the extra gas cans and propane cylinders to fill up.  Other than that, I’m not sure what else we can do. Our solar isn’t running at full strength but we can run most of our appliances and charge our batteries during the day. Our battery bank was damaged by over-discharging last year and won’t hold a charge. Until we replace them, we can only use energy that is passing directly from the panels to our trailer by way of the batteries while the sun is out.

We have plenty of wood on the property for heat and if it came down to it, for cooking over a fire. We have an unlimited water supply.

I looked up some natural antivirals and none are proven to be effective in warding off this virus but no proof doesn’t mean they don’t work. There simply isn’t evidence either way so we eat lots of garlic and I add coconut oil to my coffee for now – just in case.

Our entire school district closed this morning and some individuals are awaiting test results. The high school our son attends is being sanitized. I hope he isn’t sick. We activated the sanitation protocol and I’m crossing my fingers.

If it wasn’t for my asthma, I wouldn’t put much thought into this but because I’m at a higher risk,  I’m ready to call the number that is listed in the local health department press release at the first sign of symptoms (should I come down with any).

Being able to sustain ourselves for a good month is reassuring to me. Could we outlast an outbreak though?

 

The Long Long Long Driveway

7/10’s of a mile of hell.

It is a buffer between us and anyone who isn’t hell bent on visiting us.

The postal service won’t drive up after that one time they dared and left us a note saying “never again”.

The UPS driver delivers but only in summer. The first few times he drove up the easement, we could hear the overhanging branches scraping along the sheet metal shell of the box truck. He finally asked us to cut them back. We know he’s coming before we see him.

The route is dusty in the summer, clogged with heavy snow and slush in the winter and becomes a bog in the spring. It hasn’t been graded and graveled in God knows how long and has a very steep incline towards the end.

It is our driveway – 7/10’s of a mile of natural disaster area. It is our only way in and out and it is the bane of my existence. We have been within eyesight of our front door and had to abandon the vehicle with our groceries to go get the shovels and salt.

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When the thick layer of snow and ice begin to melt and the ground is still frozen, crevasses open up and torrents of water with no place to go converge to form streams in the ruts. When the ground thaws, driving through the mud displaces giant slabs of Play Doh-like ooze. On subsequent passes, we drive on the tops of those and squish them down until the road is finally flat and dry again. We lay down rocks in the worst places.

We had the gauntlet to ourselves until the neighbors moved in. One of them drives a little sedan that isn’t suited for the terrain. I occasionally see them use the straightaway to make a run for it, essentially hurtling themselves at the slope. I can hear the scraping of metal on bedrock as the car careens up the last fifty feet of so-called road and I wonder if their oil pan will survive.

A couple of weeks ago we spotted what is still left of the vehicle abandoned halfway up the grade, wheels frozen in knee deep mud. I don’t know how they got it out.

The sheriff once drove all the way up over an issue about a dog. We found part of a bumper near the gate the next day. The Washington State Patrol once stopped us because chunks of our driveway were calving off the underside of our car onto the freeway.

Someday we will have our little slice of heaven repaired. Until then, I shut my eyes tight and pray every time we back out of our parking spot.

The Never Ending Repair Cycle

*Update at end.

I keep reminding myself I asked for this. I entered into this adventure willingly but I’m reminded daily that it comes with a price.

Living out here away from the cities and towns and utilities is very hard work. It’s exhausting and I’m pretty sure my blog will someday morph into “Stories Formerly From Off The Grid”. I’m up for that.

I’m also up in the middle of the night again unable to sleep. There’s either an air or water leak in our RV fresh water system and the pump keeps cycling on and off about three times a minute. It’s driving me nuts. I could go disconnect it but that would mean putting my sloggers on and going outside in the rain to disconnect the pump wires from the battery which might wake my husband.

We’ve tried to track down the cause and have repeatedly reinforced the heat hose going from the external water tank to the pump without success. I’ve listened carefully for the sound of running water inside the RV but haven’t heard anything. I’ve crept around the outside underneath of the trailer looking for drips but have only spotted a drip coming from one of the holding tanks.

My next step is to temporarily fashion an intake hose out of garden hose to replace the heat hose. If that stops the cycling of the pump, at least I’ll have isolated the cause. Then we’ll have to get the heat hose back on without issues – somehow.

On top of the leak problem, our furnace has decided to stop working. Sweeps of the online RV forums have given us some clues as to what might be amiss but now we’ll have to open an outside access panel that’s sealed tight with some kind of goo to access the fan reset switch, if there IS one. Sigh.

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But wait – there’s more! We accidentally put bad gas in the smaller of our two generators which effectively gummed it up. In an effort to fix it, I accidentally stripped a mechanism inside the carburetor so it’s JB Weld time. Hope that works. In the mean time we’re using the gas hog generator.

We tried to install a propane refrigerator to replace the electric one but after having it sit in the middle of our fifth wheel kitchen-hall-dining room for about a month while we tried to get the used gas model to actually work, it’s tucked back into it’s nook and suddenly I don’t mind that it’s responsible for about half of our energy consumption.

I’m ready for some amenities…and bed.

Update: We took the face off the water pump and lo and behold: there was a tiny pebble jammed in the intake valve causing it not to close all the way. It sure feels good to solve a problem and not have to listen to that confounded thing go off constantly!

Fixed the drain hose too. I forgot to mention that one. 🙂 Two jobs to go….

 

Featured Image by  Christopher Burns on Unsplash.

 

My Junk

Our property, no matter how hard we try, is very rough looking around the edges. Development will come later than we originally anticipated. We expect things to change within the next year and a half but for now the place looks junky.

We try our best to keep things organized but it’s difficult to make rust, metal, tarps and trailers appear attractive. Our newer neighbors are building around us and I’m thinking a tarp along the property line with a picture of a house might be a nice touch-  or a gigantic f**k you. Just kidding 🙂 My husband insists it doesn’t look that bad and points out other people’s yards while we’re out to make me feel better. It’s rural America after all.

My quest for gold has given rise to a new especially trashy looking collection of buckets, dirt piles, mud piles, pots and pans, holes in the ground and a plethora of tools for metallurgy that lay strewn about outside our shed. Ironic how something so stunning may potentially be the byproduct of such a mess.

I have a large Tupperware container full of useful stuff. It’s all attached together and when I grab something, everything comes out at the same time:  brackets, screens, parts of tools I’ve dismantled to make “better” versions of the old, hooks, buckets, parts of old stoves and a set of unused clothes pins we bought on the road a couple of summers ago.

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Two of my homemade furnaces made of clay and old parts.

Being on a budget, I have to make due with what we have and the farmer’s dump on the hillside has been the go-to place for everything from mangled but still usable rusty tools to household appliances and parts to old vehicles. I figure the original users would appreciate me resurrecting them. I have harvested screen, fencing, bones (not human), marbles, two can openers, assorted remnants of seventy year old kitchenware and numerous other items. There is even a pair of egg beaters fused with a tree.

The other day I got distracted on my way to repair the water line in the trailer when I veered toward the hillside. My son came home from school in time to see me wandering away from the dump with an armful of tools for the pipe repair (which I never put down), part of a shovel, part of a leftover wheel from a child’s wagon, a long sharp object, an old tractor carburetor, and a candle holder. This stuff comes in handy.

I left the mangled bird cage behind; this time.

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Try to beat this.

Here It Comes Again

Winter.

Forget fall. Autumn and spring seem fleeting in this part of the country. Blistering heat, wildfires, and drought suddenly give way to moderate temperatures with some sprinkles. That lasts about a day and fall is done. The only other sure sign that the changing of the guard is occurring is junior’s empty bed. School has begun.

As Winter cannonballs itself onto the scene, it gives me the impression of being alive.  It’s a supernatural being that changes not only the landscape but your frame of mind. For us, living in the rough, winter grabs hold of your thought processes and emotions and dominates. You can’t not think about it as you have to rearrange your entire life around it. It won’t be ignored.

The first year we were here Winter seemed to wage a battle against us. Being invasive by nature, it crept into our trailer and froze our water pipes as I systematically hunted down each draft and cold spot and crammed whatever material I could find into crevices and holes.

Since we couldn’t wash our dishes inside due to the frozen pipes, I piled them all in a big tub to take to the shelter we were temporarily staying in to wash. They were forgotten and the whole lot froze into a huge dishburg that didn’t thaw until spring What Happened To Our Dishes Last Winter.

One morning I was inspired to write a poem when I noticed frost creeping up the inside trim of the door: Cold. Giving it a name and acknowledging it as a sentient being helped me to deal with it.

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 I’m not looking forward to all of the work ahead of us.  The what-ifs have begun to play over and over in my mind: What if the car gets stuck again. What if the water pipes freeze. What if we run out of wood. What if.

I compiled a never-ending to-do list last week. Everything from insulating the windows and doors, skirt the RV, take down the tent we never used after I set it up last summer, hang all of the extension cords, chop and stockpile the wood. Today we bought an ax to dispatch the trees on the hillside for firewood. I personally don’t like chainsaws due to lack of experience and being from King County.

I try to temper my snowmageddon anxiety by reminding myself that if the car gets stuck we have shovels, portable pads to place under the tires for traction, and salt. We developed a protocol for dealing with the rest of the issues like keeping the hoses in the basement of the fifth wheel between uses. We run a heater fan in that space 24/7 to keep those and the water pipes thawed.

I buffer my anxiety with thoughts of sledding, creating snow sculptures and of course, Christmas. We wanted four seasons and we got two and two quarters. It’s better than the 365 days of rain in the Puget Sound region we left behind.

Writing also helps stave off winter worries. I’m looking forward to sitting by the crackling fireplace making blog posts while I thaw out. The construction of the fireplace is the single best improvement we made regarding winter and it has a story of its own.

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 no 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 everyday 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 wildlife 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 overconfident.

Perhaps most remarkable is that we’re even starting to get along with the neighbors. That’s true progress.

 

Yard Carp, Gobblers, Cats, Skunks, One Brown Bear And One White Rabbit

“Tell Dale to make sure the door is shut because wild animals are getting into the house”.

This was my response when our son left the trailer door open on accident the last two nights and as near as we can figure, one feral cat and one skunk who likes cat food paid us a visit. We got rid of the cat door for a reason.

Learning to live with the “locals” has consisted mainly of putting up fences and keeping doors shut because we don’t necessarily want them in for dinner (unless it’s a gobbler).

My husband loves the “hordes” of turkeys that cross the property daily. The adults have a crop of youngsters that make peeping sounds and are currently cute. I wonder at what point does a turkey stop peeping and start gobbling? Is the transition from cute to ridiculous slow or overnight?


Deer are called yard carp around here and they have finally made it into our garden. The fence is almost seven feet tall but apparently not high enough. They still prefer tomatoes and squash leaves. I put a motion sensor light near the garden after considering making the fence even higher. I was on my way with supplies in hand when I got distracted by one thing or another. That was enough to derail the project until next year.

Seeing a white rabbit feels lucky; not so much a bear.

In addition to our other friends, a very large muscular cat or bobcat decided our place would make some great new territory so we trapped and relocated it farther out into the hills last week. Hope it doesn’t find it’s way back Homeward Bound style.

We spend all of this time and energy keeping the animals at bay then go and bring more home. That would be our cats.