Winter Lurks

I now dread the once magical time of year.

I used to love the snow.

As a kid living in western Washington, we rarely got it. When it did snow, it was cause for celebration. One of the reasons we moved was the year-round rain but after one winter here, we are cured of the love of snow.

We now live in a land of extremes between hot and cold. Fall and spring seem fleeting here. The blistering heat, wildfires, and droughts of summer quickly give way to cooler temperatures and sprinkles that seem to last a few days and fall is done.

Our first winter here was brutal as we weren’t prepared. The cold crept into our travel trailer through every tiny crack and we had to put up insulation along the walls of our canvas pullouts. I remember lying in bed one summer night while we were still on the road when I realized with horror that we might have to spend the winter in a cardboard box with cloth walls on the ends.

I was right to be anxious.

Our water pipes froze and I had to systematically hunt down drafts and cold spots and cram whatever I could find into crevices and holes to keep warm. With the water pipes frozen, I had to wash the dishes outside in ice-cold water I’d gotten from the spring.

We couldn’t drive our truck up our almost mile-long driveway because our four wheel drive was broken so we had to trek back and forth along it’s length with our groceries, gas and propane tanks.

I wrote a poem about winter that year: Cold.

Cold

I’m not looking forward to all of the work ahead of us to prepare.

I made a to-do list last week. We have to put plastic over the windows, skirt the RV, take down the tent we never used after I set it up last summer, hang all of the extension cords, and stockpile the wood.

Today we bought an ax to dispatch the trees on the hillside for firewood.

I worry a lot about winter but I remind myself that we’re better prepared than last year and I try to focus on thoughts of sledding, making snow sculptures and of course, Christmas.

Although I’m not looking forward to the cold weather, I’m looking forward to sitting by the fireplace and writing while the snow falls outside – and being able to wash my dishes inside.

Two Years Ago Today

We left western Washington; destined for our new home on the range.

The morning we neared our new home driving up Highway 395, the song Runnin’ Down A Dream played on the radio as the first hint of daylight tinted the eastern sky. We were pulling our Jayco Lite travel trailer with our 1986 Ford F-250 my husband lovingly called Bridgette.

That was two years ago today.

The space between then and now has been packed with memories a person cannot make up.

Survival trumped all else the first year while we carved out a place for ourselves among the Ponderosa Pines on the iron-rich bedrock.

We still get our water from a spring we dug and our energy from two gas generators and a solar power system. I’ll be so glad when a glass of water and a shower no longer involves moving mountains.

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We put up a huge portable shed but haven’t done much else because we haven’t had the  money. We’re still living in a fifth wheel but plan on building a small log home when money permits.

I’m not looking forward to another winter as the fall equinox approaches although my husband’s learned how to drive fairly well in the snow and we now have a fireplace to keep us warm.

We’ve learned to live with the wildlife for the most part and our garden is two years old and full of half-eaten tomatoes (deer like them) and squash. I’m growing a gigantic pumpkin that I’m proud of and we introduced morel mushroom spores to the side of our property where we hadn’t previously seen any grow so we can harvest them in the future.

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We’ve learned a lot about living off-grid and are a lot wiser but we remain humble as a precaution. Never take anything for granted and never get overconfident.

We’ve spent the past two years planting some financial seeds that are beginning to produce with big plans going forward.

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

 

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 we had one feral cat and a skunk pay 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 passing on making the fence higher to hopefully scare them away.

We have seen a white rabbit a couple of times which we consider lucky, unlike the bear that has been hanging around the area.

A very large muscular feral cat or bobcat has been terrorizing our cats 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.

Holes

Give me a shovel and I’m happy.

I grew up in Utah in a town named Roy. My Dad passed away months before I was born but I’m told our house was brand new when my parents bought it. No landscaping was in place when they moved in so when my Dad did it himself, he left the rear third of the back yard in it’s natural state.

We had a commercial size playground set that attracted every kid for miles, four huge trees to climb – and lots of dirt.

Dirt is the perfect toy. It’s great for a growing kid’s immune system, and is superior to the most expensive of Lego sets.  You can mold it, make highways for your matchbook cars, or create mud pies. The possibilities are endless for a kid with a bucket, a shovel and a four year old imagination. I spent a good part of my childhood playing with the cheapest toy on earth. I lived in the dirt.

Fast forward to adulthood and I haven’t changed.

Now that we have our own property, I dig to my heart’s content. I don’t need an excuse to grab a shovel. I look for water, gold, antiques and lava (because we live on a fault line 🙂 ).

When we first moved here, I went looking for water and found natural springs on the hillside a couple of feet down. I dug several other test holes and named them alpha hole, beta hole, etc. I’ve since had to fill them in so someone doesn’t step into one and break a leg.

Recently, our spring had begun to dry up due to drought so I began eyeballing a spot I suspected may have been an old well. I’d previously dug down a few feet then left it alone but I decided to do deeper in search of more water.

My husband and I spent a week clearing vegetation and moving the piles of rock that were already there, away from the hole. We spent day after day digging by hand and with a pick ax and shovel until one day I heard my husband exclaim excitedly “look at this!”. I looked down and saw water squirting out of a crack in a rock – under pressure.

We now had a strong new water supply.

We set the pump in and we’re back in business! It’s producing about a hundred fifty to two hundred gallons a day. Plenty for ourselves and our garden. I felt a great sense of relief and was glad we’d decided to go through with the backbreaking project.

I’m still digging – mostly for gold. I currently have about five or six holes that I lay boards over to keep people from falling in.

Maybe it’s time to get the water out and make some mud pies.

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”?

Nowadays, I never know what to expect.

One night when we were still living in our first travel trailer, our cat jumped onto the top of the canvas canopy over our bed and collapsed it on top of me. 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.

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. They could now come and go as they pleased.

I sleepily shambled down the stairs and flipped on the light to see a skunk in the dining room. I shouted something and the poor thing ran into a corner then out the “cat” door which was now officially a skunk door.

To my relief,  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.

I went back to bed. Tomorrow, the cat door comes out.

The Medicinal Mullein Plant

We have a plant in our garden that is almost 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 of them out but then I learned of it’s many uses.

I noticed a couple of the feathery leafed weeds happily sitting in the dirt as we cleared the garden for the vegetables this year and I decided to leave them there. And here it is, happy as ever because of the extra water and fertilizer it normally wouldn’t receive in the wild.

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It’s taller than my husband with a shorter one next to it.

The taller ones 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 but we can use the plant to treat our wounds.

The leaves are soft and coated with fuzz and are supposed to be an excellent expectorant or butt wipe.

It has a million other uses and the leaves make for a good tea which I made the other day. It wasn’t half bad.

I gathered a bunch of the flowers which are soaking in olive oil for use as a salve.

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

 

Mushroom Farm

Growing morel mushrooms in nature.

Morel mushrooms are highly sought after and are currently going for forty-plus dollars a pound.

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. A slurry is a kind of spore soup used to propagate more mushrooms.

We’ve been tossing around the idea of farming mushrooms since we moved onto our almost four acres of land in eastern Washington a couple of years ago. We were thinking of growing 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 mighty morel!

I’m no expert on them but my husband and I have been harvesting them for a couple of years and know they bring a pretty penny – dried or fresh. The biggest problem is that they only grow once a year – in the spring – and for a very limited time. May is morel month but we only find them for about two weeks. You have to know where they grow and we haven’t yet found any good spots locally.

The competition seems fierce.

We’ve been up and down many forest service and DNR (Department of Natural Resources) roads looking for them 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 often along roadsides. My understanding is that the mycelium (which lives under ground), have a symbiotic relationship with certain tree roots. The mushrooms themselves are the fruiting bodies of the organism.

We dried out the few we’ve found and started the spore slurry. This is the first time I’ve made the mixture and the idea is to soak the mushrooms in water that has had salt and molasses added in order to germinate the spores. The molasses feeds the rapidly reproducing spore population and the salt keeps the bacteria away.

After soaking the slurry for twenty-four to forty-eight hours, you spray or pour it 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 directly to the slurry then bury them under trees? 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 at all.

If this works, we might eventually have enough mushrooms to harvest to sell.

For the time being, we’ll have to content ourselves with the ten  to twenty we find each year.

 

Restoration

“Spring” cleaning.

We were lucky to discover natural springs at the top of our property and spent the first year digging the main hole and a trench down the hillside to a place near our trailer.

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In the process, we moved a lot of mud and rocks. It looked like a bomb had gone off.

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Mounds of material littered the ground from the top to the bottom of the area where our spring lay. It was so ugly, I decided to clean it up in order to bring back the natural beauty that was there when we arrived.

I began a restoration.

Surprisingly, it went faster than I anticipated. I raked the rocks into piles and picked up the stragglers by hand and before you know it, the place began to look natural and pretty again.20190518_121902

I started last fall and got about a third of the work done. This spring, I finished but I will leave the rocks in mounds where I hope the plants will begin to grow again eventually.

I can’t wait until next spring to see how it all looks.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

Enter Norstar Heating and Cooling, Inc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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