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.
When we sold our house on the other side of the state, we had no idea where we would settle down. Personally, I didn’t want to move too far from our old home because of our ties. Friends and family and a fierce resistance to change make me like a limpet: I find a place to stick to and I stick to it.
When my husband and son first pitched the idea of moving, I had a tiny panic attack. We’d lived in our house in Snoqualmie for eleven years and in the surrounding valley for about twenty seven. The idea of leaving it all behind scared the crap out of me. I needed time to digest the idea.
For anyone, moving can be overwhelming because of the logistics alone. The emotional and sociological impacts only quadruple the anxiety. I was looking at selling a perfectly good home and launching into the unknown. My family was my only safety net amidst the potential chaos of change.
Selling a house is stressful enough – packing everything you own (which is more than you think), finding a new place and moving all of your stuff there almost qualifies as a traumatic event. You have to say goodbye to friends and family and schools change. You worry about the effect it’s going to have on your child. Luckily, our son was on board which made things a lot easier in the guilt department.
Not having bought anything yet when we hit the road was an added unknown. We did know we loved the outdoors and wanted something away from the cities; something with trees and acreage.
We spent over three months living in the little travel trailer we’d bought as a temporary home, while we looked for property. We visited many prospects while we camped and pushed farther and farther east in our search. I didn’t want to move too far away but it became apparent that I might have to compromise.
In August, we decided on a place. We would be situated in Stevens county in eastern Washington about seventy miles south of the Canadian border. It was beautiful and there were four seasons – unlike the monotonous rain of the Puget Sound region we’d left behind. The property fit our criteria perfectly so we made an offer and waited until things were finalized in mid-September of 2017.
On September 17th, on an especially rainy night near Snoqualmie Pass where we were camping, we packed up and headed home – our new home.
The property we’d settled on was raw land and we knew we would be facing some major challenges to make it livable. Ultimately, reality kicked our asses, especially during our first year but we survived (unlike some of our worldly possessions that succumbed to the forces of nature).
Living off-grid isn’t just living; it’s an experience that involves an interplay between emotions and pure grit. Out here, you interact with your environment and surroundings because you must. What you do or don’t do directly affects the quality of your life. You learn cause and effect and that’s a good lesson.
If I was a princess type, I wouldn’t survive a day but I wouldn’t be here if I was a princess.
When I’m stressed out, the tasks of daily living become burdensome. I’m easily frustrated and ask myself “what was I thinking”, only to wake up the next morning to the sight of trees, mountains, deer and other wildlife bathed in the brilliant light of a sunrise I could never have experienced from the doorstep of my former suburban home.
Being here comes at a price but the cost reminds us we are alive.
Looking across our property at night through the mist of a very low-lying cloud is the beckoning rectangular shaped glow that is our nearly-assembled ShelterLogic 12′ X 30′ snow-load rated shed.
Almost a month after receiving it, it’s up and we’re down to the last touches like installing the anchors that will keep it from blowing away. It’s supposed to take three people about three-and-a-half hours to assemble.
It took us a little longer.
The instructions were all in pictures but our strategy was to jump in as far ahead as possible until we made a crucial mistake then back up and start at the beginning.
Fourth time’s a charm.
We’ve needed a real shed since we moved here. Our old one is constructed of pallets – the roof being a lattice-work of beams haphazardly nailed together with a tarp on top. The parts of the tarp that lay over the openings would fill with rain and snow and sag heavily.
We had to keep it cleared off but it got overloaded once or twice with what was probably tons of snow. Surprisingly, it held while some neighbor’s professionally built structures caved in.
Our antiques, bikes, cleaning supplies, tools – all of it has been going into the shed and suddenly I’m thinking we should have gotten a bigger one.
We got our shed about a week ago and I expected to have it up in one day but there it sits. We’ve been working on it but there isn’t enough time in one day and dark coming earlier hasn’t helped.
The matter with the neighbor over the cul-de-sac derailed us for a day and a half. We left a succinct letter for him and his wife on one of his fence posts and are waiting for a response – if any. He’d previously gone onto our property (past well marked posts), and spray painted survey marks on the ground for the cul-de-sac he was planning – for all of us.
We had wood delivered the other day and you’d think we never get visitors by the way we spent an hour showing the guys around the property. We traded some antique ax heads for a discount. One of the guys does handy work so we may have some help with the work around here. The shed might be his first project if he’s game.
I insulated the battery bank tonight. I got a plastic container and we hefted the batteries and about two-million wires and cables into it. It’s now lined on all sides with foam board insulation.
The fire wood is mostly stacked thanks to my husband and son. We’ve been trying to involve him more in chores for the benefits those things offer a young person.
Work in progress photos:
Black is black and red is red. Our solar battery shed.
Fire wood pile…obviously.
Our sizable new water tank needed to be refilled but alas, the freeze snuck up on us and the hoses froze with water in them. It took us an hour yesterday to drag them all downhill from the spring and get them into a tub of hot water. After soaking them, my husband had to use the pump to force all the ice out. It was exhausting and we’re emptying them after each use from now on.
I moved the ever-growing pile of tools, fasteners, parts, and the propane fridge we got a month ago out of the trailer. We want to put it all in the shed but it still needs to be built!
We need to clean up the messes from all of our projects too. It never ends around here.
I also have a million administrative tasks to do. I’ve been grouchy from the sheer volume of items. I drew a big mind-map on some card stock and filled it with every item to be done – complete with sub categories. I hope to dispel some stress by getting the morass out of my mind and onto paper.
Writing also helps me to cope when I feel overwhelmed. It’s a little like talking to someone only they don’t talk back. 🙂
We had our first snow yesterday. We were sitting in our truck ready to go to town and there they were; the first few flakes of the year.
Here it comes – Snowmaggedon – and slippery-as-hell roads.
The county and city road clearing crews are, for the most part, prepared but some things you just can’t fix…or can you?
We were headed back from town at about 5:30pm last evening when we started up the main road that goes to our intersection. This section of road is part of a big loop and the side we were traversing was washed out completely about a year and a half ago. We had to go the long way around to get to our turn near the washed-out side.
It seemed like forever before the county cleaned up the mess left by the landslide and finished the repairs. We were so happy! After it was completed, I can’t tell you how many times we turned the wrong way to go the long way to town before we remembered “our side” was now open. The new route saved us about five miles one way.
The road is a fairly steep winding grade up the hillside with a very steep slope dropping off hundreds of feet to the side before ending at a creek. A few months ago, someone stole a vehicle and pushed it over the edge where it careened to the bottom, leaving it smashed in the front, it’s doors wide open. Imagine if someone had been inside?
Yesterday, we drove up the road slowly and I cringed when I saw the ice ahead. Sure enough, as soon as we hit it, we began to slide.
I covered my eyes and my heart began to pound. My husband continued to maneuver the truck slowly up the grade but we lost traction one more time and started to slide toward the edge. I completely freaked out and just prayed we would stop before we went over.
It seemed like forever after we regained traction and slowly crept up the remaining length of the road to the top.
We’ll never go that way again until spring or until they put guard rails up.
Did I mention – there are no guardrails!
As we topped the hill, my husband pulled over to put the truck into four wheel drive for the trip up our driveway and we noticed another vehicle across the street pulled over with a woman outside of it. My husband told her what had happened then told me she had just had the same experience as us while driving up the hill.
When we got home, I called the city, not understanding it was a county matter. I wanted to warn someone right away of the treacherous condition of the road. Someone was bound to go over the edge sooner or later. I had my husband call 911 too as I was only able to leave a message.
I posted about our experience on Facebook and asked the question “Does anyone else think this road should have a guard rail?”. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. The general sentiment was that the people wanted one but the engineer who designed the new road had left enough extra space in the shoulder on the drop-off side to negate the necessity of having a guard rail.
Insane. The so-called shoulder is nothing but a steep slope that is in no way safe to pull over onto under any conditions let alone stop you after you’ve lost control of your vehicle and are sliding towards the edge.
Someone will die on that road.
My son rides the school bus that way and I’m calling the school to warn them and urge them to change the route. In the meantime, we’re going to have to pick him up from school every day and give him a ride home.
I wrote the county an email also. My husband and I will not be going in that direction until something is done. I just hope the county takes this seriously and either closes the road or puts up a guard rail before it’s too late.
If we want to plunge down a slope at breakneck speed, we want to be on a sled.
Our first winter here: It’s early morning. Snow is falling and the neighbor is texting to say she hopes the trailer doesn’t cave in.
I go out into the white with my pajamas still on under my coat, boots and gloves. With a huge groan, I wrestle the ladder around to the back of our makeshift shed that is topped only with tarps that are sagging under the load. I don’t want a cave in.
I climb up the ladder with a shovel and start to scoop and push snow off the side. At least the plastic is slippery and I can move some of the snow to the edge and off. One shovel at a time. I figure each push is a little less weight on the “roof”. The snow is heavy and the shovel is cumbersome to manipulate from the top of the ladder.
I’m bummed. The snow is oppressive to me right now. Not fun – like it used to be.
I feel resentful that I agreed to sell our home in the burbs to come out here and experience this. I did agree to it though. Maybe a reward is in our future, I think to myself. I often burst out in tears at this point, wanting to live somewhere else.
Deep down, I know this will pass – that there is meaning in everything. I know I’m learning and experiencing things in life that will be worth telling a story about someday – but this sucks. I’m breathing hard and I’m cold and miserable. I’m angry. I’m depressed. Once again, for the hundredth time, I feel resentment that I’m even here.
When I write, I usually don’t mention the emotional upheaval that truthfully underlies our story. We’ve argued and cried (mostly me) time and time again about our circumstances. I want to blame but I know I have no one to hold accountable but myself. I understand we decided as a family to come out here but this is really, really really hard.
But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
A hundred, not even a hundred years ago this is how people lived but they were used to it. We went in with a certain amount of naivety. I actually hate the term newbie but it fits. Live and learn.
Soon after this, me and my son went to live at an emergency shelter in town for three months while my husband stayed on the property with the cat. I didn’t even care about admitting defeat at that point. I was glad to be able to get away from the cold.
Although I grew up in Utah where the climate is very similar to that here, I’ve lived most of my adult life out of the snow belt. Western Washington, the Puget Sound region is where I’ve spent a majority of that time. It’s the rain belt; a place of moderate temperatures year round and lots of rain.
I used to pray for snow every winter because I missed my childhood days of sledding and snowball fights. After we moved from Utah, snow became the little bit of cake mix left in the bowl you got to lick. There was never enough and you were always left wanting more.
Now I’ve had a bowl-full and some. I’m satisfied. It’s not so fun anymore. As a matter of fact, it’ll soon be the only thing I get to eat every day.
When it snows for the first time each year, the first fifteen minutes of play time is soon over and you have 172,800 more minutes to try to get it out of your boots, car, half-mile of driveway, off of the top of your trailer (before it caves in), off the top of your shed, off your solar panels, and out of your life in general.
The reality of snow is that it slows you down, gets dirty, is heavy, is cold, is wet, and rules your life for months at a time. But snow is also transforming. It muffles sound and brings soft silence. It is fun to play in and it’s just beautiful. That’s why I missed it so much all of those adult years.
I think our biggest problem last winter is that we couldn’t get out of it and get comfortable. We had to trek back and forth up and down our half-mile long driveway to and from our truck because the four-wheel drive broke and with that, the road was completely impassible from the first deep snow on.
We made ruts with our feet as we trudged back and forth carrying groceries and hauling propane cylinders in the wagon we took the wheels off of to make into a sled. The deer and the other animals shared the trail with us. They’re not stupid.
Despite the challenges, I have no regrets about moving.
Thankfully, this winter we’re better prepared. I can now take hot baths when I get too cold and we have a fireplace to keep us toasty.
This year, I can look forward to winter days and nights tucked in safe, warm, and cozy while we watch the snow fall outside.
It was cold and it was solid and it wasn’t letting our dishes go.
It lasted for months; the block of ice that held most of our dishes captive.
I remember the day I was able to wrest the last utensil free of the icy tomb that had encased our pans, forks, spoons, spatulas, glasses, bowls and plates – almost everything we ate off of – in one huge chunk of ice.
We had recently moved to eastern Washington and were living in a trailer on raw land when it happened. As we were settling in, we met our neighbors and stories were told of winters in eastern Washington – temperatures of minus forty-degrees with snow drifts up to the eaves of your house.
When we mentioned we were from west of the mountains, we got the all-knowing nod of someone who has just learned you are from The Coast and they must break the news to you of the impending doom that is winter in Stevens County.
Incidentally, you are from The Coast if you are from anywhere west of the Cascade mountain range. It doesn’t matter how far from the ocean you live; you are from The Coast and are referred to as a Coasty.
The stories were almost true. We weren’t prepared and me and our son went to live in an emergency shelter for three months while my husband stayed in our trailer with the cat.
Occasionally, I’d come to take a load of dishes to the shelter to wash because the trailer’s pipes were frozen. One day I piled them up in a large Tupperware container to get them out of the way and put it outside. For some reason, it sat there for a couple of days filling with water. Before long the whole container froze solid.
The mass was heavy and there was no breaking it up because there were plastic and glass items embedded in it. It sat for a couple of months before it finally began to thaw. I remember when it melted enough to break into smaller pieces I could bring inside and run hot water over and by the end of March, we finally had all of our dishes back.
Now if we could only find the coffee pot lid I lost in the snow in February.
We’ve been debating over how to best insulate the travel trailers we’re living in.
The small trailer our son is living in is much easier because it’s small. Our fifth wheel, however, is like a barn on wheels. We’ll have to locate and seal all the cracks, skirt around the outside to keep wind from blowing through, and find a way to keep the “basement” warm (that’s what they call the lower storage compartment of a fifth wheel)
I’ve had my head crammed in the online RV forums and on Youtube for weeks trying to figure out the best way to do this. For skirting: foam board vs RV cloth skirting vs straw bales vs snap-on panels. For the basement where all of the water tanks and lines are, what kind of heater and where?
When I told someone what we were planning, they asked if we were anticipating minus forty-degree weather for weeks. I told them “yes, we were – and snow up to the roof”. No repeats of last winter when our trailer turned into an ice cube and half of us had to live in town.
Bubble wrap will go on the windows, the door needs to be sealed around the edges, and cupboard doors will get the treatment also. We have a digital thermometer to get readings on the surfaces to find air leaks through temperature changes.
Last year, I tried to use spray foam insulation on the bottom of the small trailer. It wouldn’t stick – accept on my hair. It works great for sealing up cracks and holes though. Insulated sleeves go around the water pipes and we’ll use regular house insulation to fill up some of the empty space in the basement. It’s super hard to get in to lay it out so I’m the one that goes in for those jobs.
As we over-prepare for freezing temperatures, I think about the story of The Ants and the Grasshopper. I want to play the role of the ants this time around.
No more calls from my husband saying “I’m stuck in the trailer. The door is frozen shut!”