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.

logs

Surviving Winter In An RV

How To Stay Warm

We currently live year round in a fifth wheel trailer. They are notoriously under-insulated for winter because they are just that: recreational vehicles designed mainly for summer camping. We have plans to build a real house but for now, staying comfortable in frigid weather requires a lot of effort.

We broke the central heater in our fifth wheel when we tried to install a propane fridge a couple of months ago (don’t ask) so we’re left with space heaters and the fireplace we installed last year to keep warm.

Earlier this month, an arctic front dipped into the northern United States from Canada. Next thing you know, it’s zero degrees and our pipes are freezing despite our anti-freezing protocol.

The area under and near the front of a fifth wheel is often referred to as “the basement”. It took me a while to figure that one out when I couldn’t find the stairs going down (ha ha). It’s the compartment where all of the water tanks, the pump, and the water pipes reside. You have to keep the vulnerable complex of Pex pipes that wind throughout from freezing. Most people add extra insulation and incorporate some sort of auxiliary heating system. The central heating ducts go into this compartment in our “home” but that’s out for now.

We put a couple of small desk-sized heater fans near the water pump and we use a heat hose to go between our 400 gallon external water tank and the trailer to keep the lines clear. Unless it’s ten degrees below. In that case, we have to remove the heat hose and bring it inside to thaw before hooking it back up. Coffee water comes from dipping the pot directly into the tank on those mornings.

We also leave the cupboard doors open between the living space and the basement to equalize the temperatures. It’s all about strategy out here. Thick dark curtains and/or shrink-wrapped plastic on windows help cut drafts.

Skirting is a standard protection used to keep wind out and stabilize the air temperature beneath a trailer. It’s a barrier running the circumference of the rig from the ground to the body. Everything from expensive kits to straw bails can be used for the purpose.

We installed a fireplace last year. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. We used the correct components and installed it to the letter of the instructions for safety. We got a fan that is activated by the heat on top of the fireplace which blows air throughout the living space quite effectively. A bellows is mandatory for getting fires started.

We couldn’t afford a cord of wood this winter so we’ve been harvesting it from around the property. Storms have brought branches down and there are three huge trees laying on a hillside that we had to have felled in order to get an internet signal. Those have provided us with a seemingly endless supply of wood but the work: chopping, cutting, sawing the stuff to fit the fireplace – its exhausting.

We also pick up wood pallets from around town when we go down the hill. Most of them fit comfortably into the back of our SUV and they are free and plentiful.

The first thing I do every cold morning is make the fire in the fireplace and it’s the last thing I do at night. Keeping warm is so much work. I’m glad we are on our way towards spring and summer so I can complain about the heat.

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.

 

Nothing’s Easy In The Snow

We are officially not thrilled about it any more.

Snow – two to three feet of it – blankets the region we now live in.  We used to pray for it – now we just want it gone.

Snow was a major event back where we used to live. Highways would turn into skating rinks, school would be cancelled, and twenty-four-hour news coverage would begin with reporters positioned around the region for the latest coverage.

Snow was a happening – an event. It was cause for socializing and celebration. Cul-de-sacs would become snowball-fight war zones and snowman central. It brought people out of their houses – back in western Washington.

Now we just want it to go away.

Here, snow is simply a fact of life; something you deal with. It’s regarded as inevitable and celebrations happen indoors in crowded kitchens or close to the nearest fireplace.

Four wheel drive is mandatory, especially if you have unmaintained road. You make sure you have a chord of firewood and someone in mind to plow your driveway if you don’t do it yourself. Snow shovels are dug out of the shed and snow tires go on the truck.

People adapt – we have adapted, socially and logistically, to their climates. But still; no matter where you live, nothing’s easy in the snow.

 

The Amazing Miracle Pallet

Never seen on TV

Free wood!

If you live off the grid or just have a lot of projects requiring wood, pallets are perfect.

They are a great choice for many reasons:

  • They’re free
  • They’re already nailed together
  • There are plenty of them
  • They have a billion possible uses
  • You can find them EVERYWHERE

Where can you find them?

  • Behind grocery stores
  • In the alleys behind hardware stores
  • In the garbage/recycling areas of businesses
  • On Craigslist

What can you do with them?

  • Make furniture for your house.
  • Craft projects: Signs, decorations, hangers for jewelry, etc.
  • Shop uses: shelves, tool holders, work tables.
  • Dismantle them and burn them
  • Build a shed or even a house out of them.

To cut them up or dismantle individual planks use:

  • a jig saw
  • a circular saw
  • a pry bar
  • a nifty tool we bought at an Ace Hardware called The Wrecker (a fancy pry bar with extra “bars” for whatever leverage you need
  • a hammer and a chisel for working the nails out
  • a hammer to just whack the slats free (might break it)
  • a couple of two by fours to remove individual planks without breaking them

For assembling various projects use:

  • A drill and drill bits for pilot holes through thick boards
  • A screw guide for the drill (a MUST)
  • Wood or deck screws of varying lengths
  • Nails
  • Brackets made by screwing two pieces of wood together or metal ones from the hardware store to add extra strength at attachment points
  • Circular saw for cutting leg lengths and larger straight surfaces
  • Hand saw
  • Hammer
  • C-clamp for holding pieces together tightly (the third arm) while installing screws
  • Jig saw
  • Tape measure
  • Wood router
  • Wood pencil for marking (works even on wet surfaces)
  • Other hardware such as hooks and hangers
  • Varnish

 General tips:

  • That screw guide for your drill makes sinking those long screws SO much easier
  • C-clamp for securing pieces – night and day
  • Pilot holes for those thick pieces. You’ll strip the screws otherwise
  • Pilot holes to prevent cracking. You don’t always have to but if the wood is prone to cracking or on the thin side, it’ll help
  • Look for the better specimens in pallets. There are some shitty torn up ones you just pass up
  • If you do end up with a shitty pallet, you can add slats from another shitty pallet to make one whole shitty pallet

Here are some photos of things we’ve done so far:

 

 

 

Wood Gathering: A Poem

At night in the woods.

Disclaimer: This is kind of a cliché poem but I had fun writing it.

Air sharp as glass, ice scraping flesh

Breath escaping in frosty plumes

Feet frozen, struggling up hill to the place where the wood lies

Snow glows bluish, dark shapes fracturing it’s crust, frozen in escape

Stillness, snow holding tightly to all sound but the travelers

Constellations assume their poses, looking back through time with patient curiosity, eyes extinguished for millenia

Flashlights swing right to left and back, searching

Pausing, putting down the wood bag; catching breath

One stands watch while the other sets to work

Listening; sharp crack, blade falling

Wood rending under blows

Load bundled, nervous glances; fears better left unvoiced

Back to light, too far away

Not too quick, not wanting to look behind

Home close, steps quicken in urgency

Silent reassurances; nothing is there

A sound from the darkness, wood flung aside, clattering

All thoughts of fire forgotten

In flight, flashlights abandoned

Stairs, porch, door flung open, in

Dawn brings light, safety promised

Door opens, cautious glance

Long shadows cast by an early sun reveal clawed tracks in the snow

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A track my husband found right outside of our trailer last winter after hearing howls “like out of a movie” nearby.