From 116 to 6 Degrees In 6 Months

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.

Wintertime Is Here

Wintertime is here three cheers
Time to feed the deer
Winter time snuck up oh f*ck
Wading in the muck
Wintertime is cold and old
Shoveling up the road
Wintertime’s too long begone
It goes on and on
Wintertime is white no light
Sun’s dipped out of sight
Wintertime’s a mess no less
Put away the dress
Wintertime means sleds warm beds
Snow atop the shed
Wintertime is ice that’s nice
Hear the skater’s slice
Wintertime snowballs and falls
Hatchets, axes, mauls
Wintertime is fire and choirs
Racing Radio Flyers
Wintertime is crisp snow drift
Giving others gifts
Wintertime is here we fear
Donning our snow gear
Wintertime is snow we know
Gifts with great big bows
Wintertime is great full plates
We all celebrate
Spring’s a dream away let’s pray
Counting down the days

The Wood Goddess

The Story Of A Local Wood Cutter.

Did you know that firewood with smaller rings burns longer? Or was it hotter?

I learned this the other today from a person I’ll call The Wood Goddess or Goddess Of The Wood.

Winters are cold here and a fireplace warms a space like no man-made heat source can. The sound of crackling, the smell of fresh cut logs, the way the heat radiates can’t be substituted. Warming a house with a stove or fireplace is a ritual.

The ambiance soothes the soul and draws people around at gatherings. A hot stove dries socks and gloves and beckons pets to doze close .

Fire can mean survival and a good supply of fuel means security.

Last year we hauled our electric chainsaw and about two-hundred feet of extension cord down the hill behind our RV to where three large trees lay.

The thirty-foot trip, wading through five feet of snow in blizzard-like conditions might as well have been an expedition to Antarctica. We bucked the timber then cussed our way back up the nearly vertical slope with the rounds. That was the worst part: the second was splitting. Third; hauling it to the RV.

Fourth? Getting the damned fire started with wet wood.

It took a lot of patience and an assortment of tools: a propane torch, bacon grease, maybe some candle wax, some skill, and a lot of patience. Especially at three in the morning, freezing cold, in a robe.

Not this year. We found The Goddess Of The Wood in the local classifieds after having decided we’d could live without being self-sufficient in all things.

She doesn’t leave anything under your pillow but who wants splinters in their bed anyway? This supernatural-like figure brings the gift of ambiance upon request and now we can eliminate steps one, two and half of four.

She pulled up yesterday with her roundish canine companion Cocoa riding shotgun.  Cocoa ambled off to find the best vantage point from which to keep watch while The Goddess set to work. She explained that his figure was due to snacks handed out by family members.

I was impressed as The Goddess told me how she and her daughter make forays into the national forest where they fell trees, buck the logs, and split them on the spot so the wood is ready for delivery.

She has been selling firewood for about three years after some health issues threatened her sense of happiness. She was previously a nurse but found the switch in vocations to be life changing.

The woods can heal the body and spirit, I believe.

After she threw the last round, we said our goodbyes as she boosted her rotund partner into the truck and off they went. As she drove away I found myself wondering if there is a deity of wood stacking.

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.

DSCN2763

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.

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.

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.

 

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.”

Oh My – My Underthings Are Showing

Melting snow reveals a disaster area.

Nature’s petticoat of snow has finally lifted to reveal an unkempt, half-awake landscape; much like my husband’s face in the morning when he first wakes up.

We are officially in the “before the pretty green things begin to grow” and the “cover your blemishes with snow and forget about it until Spring” phase. In other words, the place looks like shit.

Little bits of garbage that strayed from trash bags are all over the place, mud has replaced snow, and everything’s a general brownish color. But you know what? I love it! The snow is gone, the snow is gone, the snow is gone, the snow is gone! 🙂

That means mushrooming, gardening, gold panning, huckleberry picking, trash hauling, and spring cleaning – yay!

A sense of renewal and expectations for the coming year are at the tops of our minds. No more frozen hoses, frozen batteries and frozen asses. The sun will now take over the task of keeping things warm.

One of the upper springs.

We’re using our solar panels again. We missed the height of the sunny season when we installed them last year so we’re very pleased to see we can run most things all day on sunshine alone.

Spring fever is upon us and thank God! We have a bog that used to be a driveway but I’ll take that in lieu of four-foot snow drifts.

Today I am grateful as I pull on my rain boots to slog through the mud to pick up trash.

Happy Spring!

 

December In March

Really?

I wake up at three in the morning, open the door to the RV and what am I greeted by? Spring crocuses? Nope. The sound of songbirds (although not likely at this hour?) Nope.

Try a foot of new snow on the doorstep. It’s March, for Gods sake.

Did spring lose it’s way and accidentally pass our driveway? Nope. I can see that the city down the hill is coated in fresh white. The county too. As a matter of fact, large sections of the country are experiencing an identity crisis of seasons.

I don’t know if it’s global warming or the natural long-term patterns of the planet but the thermometer reads zero-degrees and our pipes are frozen again. No water for coffee until we thaw them.

We managed to stay above twenty degrees for most of the winter until March – and more snow is forecast for Monday through Wednesday coming up.

The cats and I went to scrounge for some catnip in the garden this morning but it’s buried under four feet of snow. I dug a trench to the last remembered location of the wilted heap and began to dig. This should be easier this time of year.

I scooped out a bit of the magical kitty herb and excavated my way back to the driveway, cats in trance behind me. For a half a second, I considered shoveling the whole garden then wondered “what was I thinking?”

The wilted mass that is catnip.

Water’s been mission-impossible for the last week in the below-normal temperatures. Needing to refill out water tank, we’d drag the frozen hoses inside, filling up our RV with loop after loop of frozen rubber to melt the ice, then drag the thousand-feet of tangled, anaconda-like mess outside only to have them freeze up again by the time we had them strung out and ready to siphon water.

The water pump is freezing at night again and no water means no coffee unless we go outside and dip the coffee pot directly into the water tank.

We got the car stuck in the snow trying to back out of the driveway. I made things worse when I jumped into the driver’s seat and confidently backed into a tree. Our tires are really worn so it’s off to Walmart to have new ones put on or we won’t be able to get back home.

At least they have coffee.