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.

Cold

 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. I’m not sure the thought scale is even but we asked for this. 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 it’s 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 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.

 

Holes

Give me a shovel and I’m happy.

I grew up in Utah in a middle size 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. Most people laid or planted grass and a farmer who still owned many acres worked his land behind us well after he was surrounded by “civilization”.

Our yard, however, was different for two reasons: First, we had a commercial size playground set that attracted every kid for miles and secondly, because my father had the foresight to leave the back quarter in it’s natural state. The rear fence was lined by four huge trees for climbing and the rest was dirt.

Mud is the perfect toy. It’s great for the 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. Essentially, I grew up in the dirt.

Fast forward to adulthood and the continuing fascination with digging. While we were on the road looking for property to buy a couple of years ago, I dug a few test holes out in the woods looking for water. I knew we were going to be roughing it and I wanted practice. I youtubed instructions on how to dig a water well with nothing but PVC pipe and was successful at one point. My husband promised me that when we got our own property, I could dig any time of day and for as long as I wanted. I couldn’t wait.

Now that our realm is measured in acres rather than feet and there is no HOA from hell to tell me what I can and can’t do, I dig to my heart’s content. I need only the slightest excuse to grab a shovel and open the ground whether it be in search of water, gold, artifacts or to plumb the depths of a fault (a couple of months ago, I got about three feet down before I realized I wasn’t going to run into lava).

When we first got to our new property, I went looking for a likely place for water. To my delight, I found it a little over a foot down and we have have used the springs along a hillside for our water supply without digging a deep well.

I subsequently dug several other test wells and named them alpha hole, beta hole, etc. Most I’ve since filled in lest someone happen along in the middle of the night without a flashlight and break a leg.

Recently, with the drought and all, I began eyeballing a spot I suspected may have been a well for the original occupants of the property seventy years before our arrival. The rocks seemed to be piled into a depression that gave me the impression of a filled-in well.

Although I’d previously dug down about five feet, the idea of digging deeper was daunting because of the terrain and brush surrounding it. With our current water supply dwindling however, I surveyed the area again and finally made the decision to excavate.

Me and my husband spent about a week clearing vegetation and moving the already existing piles of rock farther away from the hole. We spent day after day digging by hand, pick and shovel farther down into the earth until I heard my husband exclaim excitedly “look at this!”. I looked down to where he pointed and saw water actually squirting up and out of a crack in the rock.

We already had water in the bottom of the hole but this was what we were looking for. A strong new water supply. To our best estimates, our new well is producing about a hundred fifty to two hundred gallons a day. Plenty for ourselves and our garden.

We set the pump and laid the hose and power cord over a tree we placed across the opening, cleaned up the bottom and sides and we’re back in business! I felt a great sense of relief and was doubly glad I’d decided to go through with the back breaking project.

My latest excavations are test holes for gold. I currently have about five or six of those going. But I really don’t need an excuse to dig any more.

Geology 100 And Gold

Looking for gold in my backyard.

What do you call the course that comes before Geology 101? 100, of course. I am a minus expert in Geology but I’m finding it increasingly necessary to become acquainted with the science in my search for gold

Luckily, our property is a microcosm of the geology often associated with gold. We have a fault line, maybe geothermal activity, quartz intrusions, LOADS of iron, magnetite, garnet and other “heavies” associated with gold, bedrock for easy access, evidence of contact zones with geological maps verifying zones nearby, and the remnants of volcanic activity. We got it all. Every type of rock you can think of. Igneous, quartz, quartzite, gneiss, shale?, metamorphic rock, sedimentary and on and on. It’s all there, but is the gold?

Since I don’t currently have a good metal detector for gold, I’ve been dowsing with rods. I’m not totally convinced of the art’s validity but once I read about the earth’s magnetic fields and the fact that magnetite, which has magnetic properties and is heavily associated with gold, could possibly be influencing the metal rods, I’m half convinced. Besides, it’s fun to wander seemingly aimlessly around the property carrying two metal rods out in front of me. The neighbors love it.

Once I find a promising looking rock, I crush it with a very crude setup and pan it out. I haven’t yet found anything I could say is gold but I’ve been told it exists. 🙂

 

 

 

 

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.

A “Nostalgic” Look At The Property

I have a really nice camera that has a sepia filter. I thought that setting might fit into the nature of the history of our property as it was last occupied 75 years before we bought it. There is a “farmer’s dump” here and we’ve found so many neat and wonderful things there!

With that said, here’s a look at the property in sepia.

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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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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. 🙂