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!

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 train for a cross-country event just to get to the car.

At this time of year, when the snow melts and the ground is still frozen, our property becomes a quagmire.

Imagine plopping down somewhere in the woods to live. Wherever you walk, you trample the grass down leaving only dirt, then mud, when it rains. Everywhere you drive, the same. Without driveways and sidewalks – mud is what happens.

To get to the car we have to zigzag between patches of snow, muck, and the boards we put down to prevent us from leaving our boots behind.

We’d be stuck here without four-wheel drive and we meet in the war room to strategize our route out before we hop in the car The Long Long Long Driveway.

It’s almost spring and water from the melting snow is trapped on the surface by an under-layer of permafrost. It has nowhere to go and mixes with the trampled or driven-upon topsoil to create a real mess.

Where pools of standing water form, we discovered that hammering holes through the frozen ground to the unfrozen earth below allows the water to drain. Where that doesn’t work we cover the goo with boards or fill it in with rocks.

The place looks classy.

Until the thaw is complete and all of the snow melts, I put on my rain boots no matter the outfit. At least I fit in here in rural America.

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 the trees back but we still know he’s coming before we see him because of the rivet-busting potholes.

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 – seven-tenths 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 make a run for the last portion of road – speed helps. I can hear the wrenching sounds of the suspension as they lurch along, bouncing violently over the uneven ground. The scraping of oil pan against bedrock sends shivers down my spine as the car careens up the last fifty feet of hill to safety.

A couple of weeks ago we spotted what is still left of it abandoned halfway up the grade, with it’s wheels frozen solid 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.

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.

 

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.

No Geology – No Gold

Chances of finding gold are slim without a little knowledge.

Someone once told me that finding gold is like shooting a ghost.

Knowing some basics about geology is a way of evening out the game. If you want to find the noble metal, it’s important to be able to identify the types of rocks and other indicators that gold may be present.

Luckily for me, our property is a microcosm of the geology often associated with gold so I don’t have to go far to study.

We have a fault running through the middle of our land, springs, quartz formations, loads of iron (gold rides the iron horse), magnetite, garnet and other “heavies” associated with gold, bedrock for easy access, contact zones (where two different rock types meet), and past volcanic activity.

It’s all there – but is the gold? If you want better odds at finding it, learn as much as you can about gold-related geology but it that doesn’t “pan” out, do like I did: try divining with rods.

I’m not convinced dowsing works but since I learned that magnetite is heavily associated with gold, I wonder if there are deposits the could be influencing the metal rods?

Besides, it’s fun to wander around outside holding two metal rods out in front of me at two in the morning. I wonder what the neighbors think?  I’m known to keep very odd hours.

Once I find a promising rock, I crush it and pan it out to check for particles of gold.

I haven’t found any yet but I’ve been told that like ghosts – it exists. 🙂

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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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.”