I see the purple bunches of berries hiding behind the pokey, holly-like leaves every summer. I walk past them without a thought, thinking “most likely poisonous”.
For five years I’ve never given Oregon Grapes so much as a second glance – until my husband picked up a fifteen-dollar book on local edibles. Now when we go out, he’s always on the alert and you’d be amazed at what you’re missing if you live near the woods.
Everywhere we’ve always walked, hiked, gardened, and just been – there are tons of wild plants you can eat, use as a medicine or make tea out of.
Dandelions, Bear Berries, Cat Tails, Rose Hips, Oregon Grapes, Miner’s Lettuce…you could walk outside with a bottle of dressing and have a salad within minutes and within a hundred feet of your front door.
Last week we grabbed some containers and scoured the hillsides of our property for Oregon Grapes. The berries are a deep purple and grow in bunches – like grapes. They’re bitter and will need sugar to make into jam – or jelly.
When we got back to the RV, we spilled our bags out like Trick or Treaters to see who’d picked the most. A trip to the store for a large pot, some pectin, and jars was all we needed to prepare for The Jam Making or The Making Of The Jam – or jelly.
This was a first for both of us but it was my husband’s project. We had several recipes floating around, some slightly contradictory and all of them missing important information such as “when or do you squish the berries before or after boiling them?” and some other “holes” we had to fill in.
My husband did most of the work but I stuck my nose in a couple of times when asked for an opinion. Together we managed to not mess it up and some guessing later, he had the mixture in the containers and ready to can or jar.
The jarring or canning part has to be done carefully but after following the directions from five different publications, we had Oregon Grape Jelly or Jam. The jars have to cool for about twenty-four hours for the contents to set and for the lid to seal.
Then came the first taste: good. No, better than good: excellent!
We’ve spent the past week discovering new ways to enjoy the stuff. Corn bread with melted butter and Oregon Grape Jam or Jelly, peanut butter and Oregon Grape Jam or Jelly sandwiches, cheese and crackers with a dab of Oregon Grape Jam or Jelly.
I’m sold but is it jam or jelly and canning or jarring?
It’s a hot July afternoon and my husband and I have just dropped our truck Bridgette off for another “makeover” at our local mechanic.
As we walk up the street past a State Patrol vehicle waiting for maintenance, a stream of expletives erupts from the rear wall of the shop. We turn and look back at the edifice, then at each other appreciatively.
Not every mechanic has this kind of passion.
As we speculate about the nature of the injury, another volley punches a hole through the distant sounds of traffic coming from the main thoroughfare. We glance around and are thankful we’re back a couple of blocks.
This must be a doozy. Strangely, we find the barrage reassuring.
While a lot of people buy a new vehicle when faced with larger car repairs, we fix what we already have rather than buy a whole new can of worms from the lot down the street.
We figure about a third of our beloved 1986 Ford F-250 (Bridgette), and the Durango (The Mountain Goat), is still original. At least we know what’s under their hoods and who did the work.
Bridgette’s “curb” appeal is increasing with her years but it comes at a price. Think of Aunt Alice needing a hip replacement. You wouldn’t spare a dime although her personality hasn’t aged as well. The comparison assures me I’m going to hell as I feel I may have offended the truck.
We’ll be expecting “the call” after Bridgette is inspected but thinking of automobiles as indispensable modern day horses eases the impact. The usual presence of law enforcement vehicles outside the shop also helps; they appear to have a government contract for maintenance.
We climb into the Durango and head out, knowing Bridgette is in good hands. Besides, we think; if it’s good enough for the State Patrol, it’s good enough for her.
Summertime in a smallish rural town (but big enough for a Walmart)…
You enter the store from the hot tarmac that is the parking lot and find yourself in the seasonal section. Being the beginning of summer, it’s a week or two too early for the Christmas display but the school supplies are already flying onto the shelves.
You scan each isle, hoping it’s not too late. Then you see it: the last pool – and it’s a biggun’. Fourteen feet across and exactly forty-eight inches deep. “Big enough”, you think.
Someone turns casually into the isle. You possessively lean against the box then turn around to put it into your shopping cart: now the pool is too big.
You’re here because last year’s record-breaking heat wave reduced your life to the bottom level on the hierarchy of needs: not melting. Since then, a body of water close by during the summer months is mandatory.
The folks at Walmart agree. The pools – boxed behind scenes of families splashing in impossibly blue water – sold well – with only one left.
It looks perfect for the job until checkout where the price, the call for assistance, then the visual of the rear of the car sagging as they load it hits you.
“What have I done?” you think. But it’s only the beginning.
Water is generally measured by the gallon but I catch myself calculating man-hours, equipment, blood, and sweat for each unit.
The old pool.
One gallon equals one hour of filtering, ten minutes of debugging, ten-seconds of chemical treatment, and two-minutes of vacuuming for every one minute of pleasurable use. Add some random number in for the unforeseen month it takes you to level the ground by hand before setting up.
It took us two tries and one draining to get the behemoth level enough to be stable. By that time, the spring water we were “plugged” into was no longer flowing down the hill so we had to pump day in and out for a week to get the damned thing full.
Then came the filter and after-market heating system a huge pool will require in order to be habitable.
Two months after purchasing the largest above-ground pool we’ve ever owned, it sits, largely unused, luring in any insect with wings, while I sit in my air conditioned RV typing a blog post.
I wake up at 5:30a.m. in the meowing…uh, morning to meowing.
One of our cats – the one who wears black- is pacing the bed on my side, sorrowfully trilling. Either the cat dish is empty or he wants to be petted while he eats, as per protocol The List .
For his sake, I find myself hoping the former is the case.
I slide out of bed and shrug on my robe to find the dish and water are full with him waiting at the door. I open it and he gazes out and doesn’t move so I gently “usher” him out and down the steps so he can go and do – whatever.
Since I’m up, I shuffle the three feet from the front door to the kitchen to make a chicken sandwich. The rotisserie bird is encased in the world’s loudest resealable cellophane bag which is also impenetrable until I’m done with it. The bag will no longer be resealable.
After struggling to put the sandwich together in the faint super-early morning light, I sit down to eat. I open my mouth…
“Meow????” – now from his perch directly outside my husband’s “office” window near my spot.
Did I mention the cats have their own way in and out of the house?
I put the sandwich down, open the front door of the RV and call him. He calls back – from his perch outside the window and doesn’t move. Two more tries and he’s found his way back inside where I dutifully pet him while he eats.
The sandwich sits, untouched.
For those who mock me, go ahead. I lost my dignity long ago when it comes to cats. Have at it.
Did I mention this is our child’s graduation day? I hear my husband sneezing in the bedroom and I have a runny nose. We have three Covid tests left in the medicine cabinet and three people.
Twenty minutes later: negative all around. Time to get dressed.
Good job kid!
Note: Just got back from graduation…pictures to go through…will post later.
We were on our last legs as we trudged through two feet of snow over the last quarter-mile stretch back to the car. “One more bend and we’re there” my husband called back encouragingly as I slipped and fell again, my muscles fatigued.
Why were we doing this? The mine we had just purchased.
My coat was stuffed with rocks I hoped contained some gold. As I rolled onto my stomach and tried to brace myself to get up, I felt like a villain from a movie who’s greed becomes their downfall. You know the type: the character who feverishly claws gold coins and diamonds into their hats and pockets while fleeing a collapsing temple only to be crushed by a four-hundred-pound gold nugget.
Maybe my gold nugget is waiting for me back at the mine.
We were there that day to scope out the patented mineral claim that includes The California Mine, the Bachelor Claim, the Arizona Fraction and 45 acres of rugged terrain. The claims were worked mainly between 1900 and 1902 with some ventures in between; but it’s been closed since 1935.
We won’t be setting foot into any entrances and will be going back after the snow melts to walk the place and mark anything that looks remotely dangerous. Next, we’ll sample the tailings and build some sort of access to the mine with the help of a friend with some heavy equipment.
We’ll probably camp there often over the summer and bring back loads of just tailings to process. We should have some of them assayed. Depending on how all of this goes, we’ll have a mining consultant have a look at the place. All of our next steps will depend on the ones before them.
Our ultimate goal is to enjoy our property in it’s natural state but we sure as heck didn’t buy a patented mining claim to look at the trees grow. We may or may not build a house there because of the high elevation. Someone lives just down the county road on the way and has a power box installed so it’s not totally out of the question. It would be infinitely easier to work the place as backyard prospectors if it was our backyard – but the snow…
Aside from the economic potential, this place is turning out to have one hell of a history as a producer and investment in its heyday. The back story spans over 100 years, as we’ve discovered it so far, and will appear in my next post.
We made it back to the car (obviously) and drove home, enthusiastically discussing various possibilities for the beautiful hill we now owned. We’ll be sorting through our backpacks in preparation for future trips.
In addition to piecing together the mine’s history, we’ll research the regulations that apply. The consultant will be the ultimate expert and advisor when that time comes. We do things by the book and we have no plans to plunder the environment. The main ore body is most likely cleaned out and the mine is reported to be flooded. We only want to pick through the leftovers, which, at 26oz. of gold per ton for some specimens from crosscuts that were brought up through the main shaft, shouldn’t be too shabby.
When we left the temperate Puget Sound region four years ago, we were tired of the year-round rain. We wanted contrast – seasons.
I can now tell the difference between winter and summer.
At the end of June, the thermometer topped at 116 degrees. Now it’s the end of December and it’s 6 degrees according to the digital thermometer in the car. That’s over a hundred degree difference.
Our outdoor thermometers disappeared so after a fruitless search at Walmart today for another (apparently everyone wants to know how cold it is), if we want to know the temperature, we have to get into the car, make sure all the doors are shut, turn it on and read the overhead display.
I was also shopping for a snowblower while out. The sidewalks in front of the stores were empty. I wouldn’t be surprised if the run on cold weather survival tools is why we couldn’t find an electric blanket either.
I knew I was gambling a couple of months ago when I purchased a plastic electric snow shovel at the local hardware store. I was skeptical but after the salesperson truthfully explained that the thing was only good for use on a perfectly smooth patio or risk chipping the cheap plastic blades, I bought it anyway.
Little did I know what was coming. This year’s a whopper so far and it’s just begun.
We’ve had approximately fifteen feet of snow in the past week (or so it seems), much more than the Patio-Pal is made to handle. It doesn’t help that it’s not ergonomically designed.
Imagine pushing a two-hundred pound golf club around in two feet of snow while depressing some sort of “on” switch lest it turn off. Some improvements were imperative.
First I screwed a bent baking sheet to the bottom to displace the weight and make it slide more easily. I then moved the extra grip to a location where it’s not supposed to be. The grip broke off after a few minutes but the sled effect actually helps. Slopes are a bit of a problem because it now wants to slide downhill, but overall, I consider it an improvement. I also taped the “on” switch to the “on” position and use the plug to turn it on and off.
Now I need about a thousand more feet of extension cord.
I might order a gas powered snow blower but I’ll give the little one another week. With winter being off to such a rare start, we may break down and order the Snow Hog 5000 Self-Propelled Deluxe before the month is up.
To keep warm, nothing beats a fireplace. I made a smaller one this year out of an old propane tank and it works like a charm. We call it The Boiler because it looks like something out of a steamship boiler room of yesteryear. We have to cut the wood into smaller pieces but it suites our needs and gives us more room in our dining/living room. Space is at a premium here.
The car has new tires and the undercarriage had a good once over at the mechanic a couple of months ago so it’s a real mountain goat. Our beloved Bridgette, the truck – not so much. She has four-wheel-drive but we’ve never gotten the hang of driving her in the snow. We won’t leave untreated gas in her tank while she waits for spring like we did last year, but sit she will, until then.
Getting around the property after a good dump is difficult (I’m talking about the snow). Step off the path and you’ll sink. I considered getting snow shoes while I was out but decided we could stick to the trails for now.
God forbid I try to forge my way out to the various security cameras who’s line of sight is now totally obscured by tree branches loaded with snow. I followed a game trail out to one today and knocked the snow off only to find the now bent branch still obstructing the view when I got back to the monitor. It’ll have to be cut. It can wait.
The hoses are frozes as they are every winter. We pump our water from the spring at the top of the property through them to a large water tank next to our RV. I’m personally tired of loading them into the hose-thawing shack and have been looking for an easier way to refill the tank.
A couple of days ago I dropped a water tank heater inside the tank and loaded it up with snow. I knew it wasn’t the most efficient method but anything seems more efficient than hefting the hoses onto the hooks in the shack. Probably not efficient but it felt like it was easier because the water was right there but frozen. Don’t worry, we use the water for everything but drinking.
The next day we dragged the hoses all the way up to the top of the property and wove them into one of the springs. We reasoned that because the water wasn’t frozen, the hoses wouldn’t freeze either. By golly, when we dragged them back down the next day, they were clear! We will try this again, but for today, I shoveled more snow directly into the tank.
This is tiring. I want a house. That is next on our list.
The water pump is on the fritz again. We’ve lived here long enough to have long-term routines. Winter always catches us off guard. The water pump freezes then starts acting funny. It cycles on and off at intervals. I adjust it with an allen wrench, it works for a day, it drives me nuts after a few more days of cycling on and off, and we head down to the RV store for a new one and the cycle begins again. They make rebuild kits; we just buy a new pump.
The bi-annual water leak in the RV basement happened like clockwork only for the first time in four years, we actually used the proper parts to fix it.
We’ve been setting up some small-scale ore processing equipment in frigid temps and snow to hell. We ordered it well before the first expected snow but it was delayed, and our plans to unload with a fork lift were foiled.
Some moderately heavy equipment would be nice right now but it’s expensive. We’ll wait until we can afford it and look for a good deal. For the most part, we live on the cheap to save for the stuff we really want.
We hired someone to bring the machines up and around back where five people took six hours to push, pull, maneuver, cut down trees, roll, come-along, pry and shed blood sweat and tears to get thousands of pounds of equipment into place by hand. Imagine pushing a small car without tires through the snow; and the job isn’t done yet.
We have to build a shed around one of the machines now that it’s in place. Try that in a blizzard. We’ll need this stuff up and running by spring because we bought a historic gold mine and a couple of other claims on forty-five acres over the pass. It was one of those things we really wanted and lived on the cheap to get.
Spring, some exploration (not in the mine itself without expert help), and some sampling will tell us whether we purchased just some beautiful property or a little more…
There goes the water pump again. I give it two more days.
It was a huge moment for us – a major landmark on a journey that began on the evening of September 17, 2017, when we pulled onto the road at Snoqualmie Pass, rain pouring down, on our way to a new life.
On the fifth of November, 2021, at precisely 3:05pm, I flipped the switch.
We are no longer off the grid.
Actually, I didn’t flip a switch; we plugged in a power cord. It took three tries. I stood at the “console” recording video while my husband and son both unplugged their respective cords from the generator and brought them over to the shrine – uh – new power pedestal that stood at the end of our driveway.
Our son was to do the honors. He plugged in his trailer as we watched the meter. He checked to see if he had power. Nothing. My husband then cracked open the breaker panel and sure enough; the switches were in the “off” position.
He flipped them all over for a second try. This time he plugged in our own extension cord. His slow walk back from the RV said it all; nothing. I was getting nervous at this point. Had the power company done something wrong or forgotten to turn a dial?
One more thing, my husband thought. He reset the mini-breaker in the middle of the outlet. A light! I started recording again. He plugged in and…four years of generators and not enough solar panels later…
WE HAD POWER!
That morning, I heard heavy equipment starting up in the driveway after waiting for two weeks since the pedestal was installed. I peeked at the security camera monitor and spied a backhoe and a gigantic roll of power cable attached to a digging machine.
It sure wasn’t UPS.
I woke my husband up and sprinted out to greet the workers, my husband struggling behind me. We watched a backhoe dig a trench from the location where the transformer was to be located toward the pedestal with the meter and plugs.
The powerful bucket easily broke up the ground, neatly depositing ton upon ton of earth and rock in piles next to the road. My husband and I eagerly eyeballed the debris for boulders. Gold, maybe?
We snuck up on the mounds of fresh smelling dirt when the crew went to lunch and picked through it. I found a rock that looked like a huge stone foot and set it aside. My husband grabbed a couple of samples before we retreated.
No gold. Not visible, anyway.
The work commenced but the sound of bucket grating on stone reminded me we’re sitting on top of bedrock. Fifteen feet from the pedestal and we were looking at another couple of grand should the guys have to use a hammer attachment to break up the rock.
About the same time, a hydraulic hose broke so the driver took the machine back to exchange it for another. Upon returning, he was able to scrape enough rock away to make the trench deep enough.
In the meantime, the funny spool with the machine attached dug it’s way down the easement and to its destination at the power pole down the hill. The crew installed the transformer box, laid the cable and brought the meter in- all while we stood around gaping. They couldn’t have understood.
Finally, trench filled, driveway scraped flat, jaws still hanging open, we watched as the backhoe operator disappeared down the driveway to join the rest of the magical electricity elves.
Then we did the official plug in.
We are now slaves to a big corporation and we don’t care. I never said we chose this way of life as a matter of principle. We almost had electricity early on but the neighbors wouldn’t let us run a couple of hundred feet of cord across a remote portion of their property – so we waited.
A few months ago, the opportunity presented itself again. We debated whether or not to go ahead as we still might move but after factoring in some dynamics, we decided to do it. At the very least, our property value just increased.
No more waking up at five in the morning to refill the generator. No more daily trips to fill up the gas cans. No more oil changes, spark plug replacements or broken pull cords.
I love solar. I love being self sufficient. We’ve learned so much from having to go it alone. I wouldn’t trade our experiences and lessons of the past few years for the world but would I do it again? I don’t know.
Besides, we have some really big equipment on the way that will require too much electricity at once for a solar setup. That, however, is a story for another time.
Our first evening with public utilities closed to the sound of silence – except I swear I could hear the meter counting up the watts and kilowatts.
It’s 7:45 am as I sit in our shed and look over the latest in the news (a habit I need to curb). I’m the only one up. I hear gunshots from next door and realize Mr. **** (Lawnmower Man), is probably after some critter that is after his chickens. I wonder if he got “it”.
I also hear the usual dogs barking, the roosters, and from farther away, the whinny of horses. A morning in the country.
It was cold last night and I’m thinking we need to move the stove back in for the winter. Nothing better to take the chill off. We went from baking to chilly pretty fast. I ponder how humans have such a limited tolerance to temperature variation. One tip in either direction…
Fires have been raging across the county for weeks but the rain of the past week has cleared the air. The two-month-long stretch of smoke and heat left us dragging. Larger pieces of burned bits of trees were beginning to fall from the sky last weekend along with the ash.
I guess I’m glad for the cold and rain. The water is getting gardened. 🙂
Our garden is best classified as “wild” this year, with volunteer pumpkins and what I think is cantelope fighting for space within the narrow confines of the fencing. The beans never beaned. They just vined like crazy – most likely because of the excessive heat. The pumpkins are pumkining but are still small.
I’ve busied myself with projects such as the cat cabin Building A Cabin For The Cats. After it was finally done, I decided a zip line was the next “just the right thing”.
We have plenty of trees and hundreds of feet of old telephone pole cable half buried on the hillside. That’s most of the ingredients. I spent half a day digging the cables out and discovered they’re in excellent condition. Breaking the old bolts on the plates that secure them was tough.
Cable can be dangerous to work with. It’ll spring up and whack you hard if you aren’t conscious of it at all times. Hanging it requires a lot of tension. We had to buy a cable puller to get it around the tree trunks.
I ordered a trolley. It’s the thing with the wheels that runs along the cable. I’m going to recheck and reinforce all of the connections before we try it out. If it’s fun, we’ll run a series of them; just in time for us to move.
Speaking of that, Holdmybeerguy appears to be trying to claim adverse possession of the end of the easement by putting up a barrage of no trespassing signs with a note that says “Not a easement” (sic).
We can’t let him do that. We have an ownership interest in fifteen feet on his side of the property line going up the hill towards his trailer. Once we’ve relocated, we’ll be having the road professionally graded and graveled – all the way to the end – where he can see everyone coming and going. He deserves it.
We’ll be adding an extra entrance to our own property at the very end. It’ll boost our property value and prevent him from claiming he has an exclusive right to access (adverse possession). A better road will benefit all of the land owners. If they want to chip in, fine.
I still have to tell the story of the skunk but I’m shivering.
As the summer lags on and the clock seems to almost stop, a little project can break up the monotony.
The Cat Cabin sounded like just the thing to keep me occupied for a couple of hours. Three weeks later, I’m finally satisfied and now it sits, in all its feline glory, behind our shed.
I wanted to keep it simple with a few rows of “logs” for a frame with some plywood for the roof. I broke down the Toilet Teepee (don’t ask), and cleaned up and sawed the logs to size. Cutting the slots was by far, the worst part. How does one build a full-size cabin for God’s sake?
I used The Patriot (our electric chainsaw), to cut the grooves and began to stack. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would. Now it was time for the upper deck. I made a floor out of boards screwed onto a pallet which my husband helped me place on top of the logs. Next was the roof.
I originally used a couple of pieces of insulation board but it looked tacky. It was around that point that I became obsessed with the details. I decided looks were imperative and I wanted rustic. I replaced the fake roof with real wood and installed decorative support beams.I hit the town woodpile again looking for matching pieces because now I had a color scheme: Lincoln Log green and brown. Six cans of paint later (with red added because the brown was out), the cabin was starting to look like – a cabin.
I added a back deck with all-natural railings and a cat toy. The entrance now sported a driftwood figurehead of nothing in particular – it just looked cool. Painted pine cones were the finishing touch.
Now I needed some cats.
Tuna juice and the addition of an extra door finally got them in but by golly – they now have a Cat Cabin. Even the skunk likes it. Oh – I didn’t tell you about the skunk that’s moved into our shed?