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 EL-14.

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.

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I feel accomplished. I can slingshot and I can buck lumber.

If there was a merit badge for rural living, I think learning how to use a chainsaw would be one of the requirements. A Carhartt jacket would be the badge, but I cheated – I bought one for myself just last week.

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Wild Turkey Anyone?

My husband calls them The Horde.

They are the collection of wild turkeys that cruise the area searching for food and doing whatever else turkeys do. 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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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.

A Beautiful Pain In The Ass

Winter is making up for lost time.

After missing its first cue and being upstaged by warm, wet conditions, it has rushed the stage and stolen the show. Determined to make an impression, it has commanded our attention to the tune of four feet of snow in as many days.

With the advent of the first falling flakes,there was the mad dash to move anything smallish undercover lest we not see it until spring. Electrical cords, water hoses, tools, small animals such as cats; everything in danger of disappearing for months went into the RV or shed. We learned the hard way our first winter here.

Our almost mile of easement has gratefully been plowed several times over by the neighbors with another methodically mowing the drifts with his newly purchased Sears snow blower.

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Me? I’m out there with our trusty Walmart Backbreaker Deluxe hand-powered snow shovel with an ergonomically designed handle that only allows you to throw snow to the left comfortably.

Roofs, panels; anything prone to collapse from a snow load ( which means everything), we’ve cleared off multiple times. I’ve seen enough collapsed structures around to motivate me to keep on top of this chore.

Our SUV is older and used and is a supreme mountain goat. Although every drive to town is a nail biter to me, she’s carried us steadfastly and surely every time.

Speaking of the car, a sizable branch, overloaded with the weight of snow came down off a tree right onto her windshield the other day. Could easily have cracked the glass but didn’t. The culprit was promptly dispatched into bite-sized pieces for our fireplace.

The heavy snowfall clung to the trees bringing them down everywhere in the region. It made our last drive home from town nerve wracking and kept the utility companies busy with downed lines and evergreens. Snowplowing is a thriving industry in this part of the country also.

Despite all the difficulties caused by the heavy dump, the winter storms of the past week have left a magical white wonderland behind. This place is beautiful in the winter.

As far as theatrical metaphors go, I’m keeping that stage hook close by.

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.

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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.

The Small Small Trailer

An essay in inadequacy.

When I bought our twenty foot Jayco Lite travel trailer before our house closed in the spring of 2017, I figured we’d be living in it for a few months while we looked for a new home.

I was wrong.

We lived within the confines of it’s half-inch walls for almost two years.

When I spotted it in an ad, I was sucked in by the extra amenities and the price. Plenty of room for the job as I saw it at the time. It came with a TV, radio, an air conditioner, central heating and something else so appealing I’ve forgotten what it was.

It also came with a badly rotted floor which I didn’t know about at the time. The rest was standard.

We spent a summer living in the thing expecting to find a property with a house. We didn’t, and ended up crammed in for much longer than we expected. The single table inside was only big enough for my son and his computer so I spent a lot of time in our bunk at the rear or outside in our half-built shed. My husband even moved his TV and Xbox outside during the summer. It was too cramped in the tiny house on wheels.

The sink was too small, the bathroom was too small and the hot water heater was glitchy. It became an art form to take a shower. We had to set the timer for twelve minutes exactly from the time we turned the hot water heater on. Whoever was taking a shower had to be ready to jump in at the mark or the water would boil out of the tank outside within a couple of minutes.

We managed to break not one but two windows and had to tape them up and when the freezing temperatures hit, we had a major problem on our hands with the canvas walls of the pullouts.

We ended up putting rigid sheet insulation and plywood around the walls and over the roofs of the pullouts but zero degrees doesn’t care. The rain had a tendency of finding a way through the tarps we put over them too. Wet mattress pads, sheets and pillows were the order of the day. I don’t know how we survived but we did.

Some time during the summer the rotten floor made itself apparent and we crawled under the contraption to shore up the floor with two by fours to prevent a “yard sale” while driving down the freeway at sixty-five miles an hour.

There wasn’t much between the outdoors and us in a canvas pullout.

One night shortly after we’d set up camp on our new property, we heard a distinct scraping sound against a trash barrel outside just feet from our heads. We’ll never know what was out there. I took the outside position only one time and ended up on the inner side within minutes.

Last fall we got a fifth wheel, not knowing for sure when we’d be able to build a real house but our fifteen year old insisted that he didn’t want to see the Jayco go to waste. He’s a teenager and he still lives in it.

We were quite happy to say goodbye and move next door forty feet away. At least we no longer have to worry about Mr. Foot reaching his hand under the canvas wall and making away with my husband.

 

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.”

Itching To Get Out

After months of snow, we can’t wait.

The advent of Spring has left us dying to get out; maybe go on a hike on solid ground. My husband and I love the outdoors and we live in the woods but we’d like to see some different trees for a change.

Morel mushroom season is 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 area is cross-crossed 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.

A local promised to take us out to pick but we have been warned that bears love huckleberries also. We’ll be sure to bring our bear spray The Man, the Bear and the Truck.

While in town the other day I stopped by the Colville National Forest ranger station 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 areas. If we have to use bear spray, the ranger told us to spray in a half-moon pattern horizontally in front of us to create a sort of wall. I would have just sprayed straight ahead.

I asked about Morel hunting in previously burned areas of the forest where they thrive after fires. The staff told us there are hidden holes and the danger of falling trees so I think we’ll stay away from those. There’s plenty of mushrooms out there as it is.

When I asked about road conditions the ranger recommended a phone app called Avenza. It’s a free download that shows road and recreation maps of various sections of the national forest. You can also use them 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. Crawfish are fun to catch (and delicious to eat) although I don’t know where to find them on this side of the mountains. We knew the back roads and where to look for things where we used to live (except for the time we got lost) but here is a new story. We’re still plying the locals for their secrets.

Lastly, I have gold fever again and have been all over our property crushing and breaking rocks. I dug a hole right into what I believe is the location of the fault running across our property. Imagine having your own private fault line? Take a look at the photo that shows its location. 🙂

The back of our SUV is crammed with prospecting equipment just in case. If you look for gold in Washington state, you have to keep a copy of the Fish and Wildlife pamphlet with you. It has the rules for prospecting in it.

Let me close with an example:

“You can pan in the northwestern upper corner of the easternmost part of whatever creek as long as you use a sluice no longer than your arm but no shorter than the length between your elbow and your hand. You cannot dig more than three feet past the upper waterline of a hundred-year storm nor under the lowest point of a hundred-year drought on Saturdays and Sundays and only on tributaries to every river in Washington state except Snohomish County. You may wear only bright purple and use a shovel rather than a pick ax unless you are driving a Suburu in which case, you may wear purple with polka dots. This only applies to prospecting done during leap years.”