A Look Back, a Look Forward

2016 opened with Dani and me quite a ways apart from each other. On January 1st I said goodbye to Green Gulch Farm of the San Francisco Zen Center. I had spent five days there as a rogue (unnofficial) volunteer in the kitchen, clandestinely sleeping in a very frigid Charley where I wasn’t even supposed to park overnight. I had performed a pilgrimage to  one of the two burial sites for the ashes of Alan Watts. As I left Green Gulch behind that day I headed to the other burial site: Druid Heights. I was the guest of the last original residents of Druid Heights, the sublime Ed and Marilyn Stiles.

As Ed made me coffee and regaled me with  stories of the light and the dark side of Alan Watts my thoughts drifted to Dani who was still at her meditation retreat. Dani never had the joy of meeting Ed and Marilyn, which is a tremendous shame. We now live on opposite coasts of the country and they have had many health challenges. Our hearts go out to them and we hope 2017 will be wonderful to them in spite of the challenges.

On January 2nd I picked up Dani from her retreat. We don’t like being apart from each other for very long, so the ten days we were separated were not easy. But joyously reunited, the Ambling Full Tilt journey continued with trips through the redwoods and a return to our Mecca: Yachats, Oregon. The remainder of the AFT journey was spent half expecting to find a parcel of land for our micro farm. We drove over most of Western Oregon in that search with a major base of operations at Ecolodge Gardens with our friend and benefactor Marcel (whom Ed had introduced us to remotely).

With a lot of work we managed to fail in finding anything that we could see through. It was with feelings of disappointment that we wrapped up the AFT journey in an anti-climatic fashion – nothing went according to plan the last few days.  In early February we re-adjusted to our new lives not-on-the-road back in Boise.

Through April we continued our search for our future home in earnest, including two trips to Nevada County, California, where we made offers on two different pieces of property. The deals each fell through for various reasons, all the more painful because of the time and energy we put into the process. As a consolation exercise we started searching for land in Maine with zero expectations of finding anything. How wrong we were…

There were enough promising leads and contingency options that we decided to move.  I drove Charley back to Nevada County, CA to pickup a trailer we had purchased as a tiny house foundation and left there thinking we would find land nearby before too long. We were wrong. I picked up the trailer and had a harrowing drive to get it over Donner Pass in the Sierras during a blizzard and far enough across Nevada (pitch-dark in pounding rain) in order to rendezvous with Dani and her fully-laden U-Haul in Wyoming the following day. Thus began our sprint across the continental United States.

In early May we landed in Dani’s parents sun room where we lived for another two months as we searched for land. And searched. And searched… But, as you all know, it happened: we found our future home. At the beginning of July we moved in and began the word of setting up a homestead and micro farm.

Even working ourselves to exhaustion I think we finished only half of the things we had hoped for in 2016. Progress is slow when you have to learn everything from the ground up! Once the snow started flying we both enjoyed an excuse to have “couch” days; to spend time just reading, writing, and pursuing individual leisure activities. We were both surprised at how quickly late November and December flew by!

Yet the winter was always going to be our planning time for the future farm. As the snow gently buried us on the last evening of 2016 we knew we could have one last day of fun and quiet celebration on new year’s day; but then it would be high time to get back to work.

So on this second day of 2017 we have both been diligent in our work pursuits. The to-do list is tremendous. We need to complete our full build-out plan for the farm, develop budgets for each phase of construction, then decide what infrastructure projects can be funded and executed this year. The house’s post foundation has two bad spots that need to be repaired, which will be a very big project. We need a garage and shop. We need to decide on the extent of raised bed construction for this season and develop our crop rotation plan. We then need to start the seeds, which will require growing infrastructure indoors. We have to finalize the plan for chickens, coop, run, paddock and chicken garden. We have to devise a comprehensive fencing plan. We hope to do all the major earthworks this season even if we don’t have the farm built out for several years. I want to start growing hay, feed and green manure crops outside raised beds. That means hay and feed storage must be figured out even though I have no idea how any of that works beyond “there’s a reason haystacks were a thing.” We need to devise a plan for growing season extension and expand our food storage program. We also hope to develop cottage industries like a farm stand and value-added culinary products like spice blends. I’m rather smitten with blacksmithing and we want to build an outdoor kitchen. Therefore I’m devising a plan for making my own charcoal out of hardwood I harvest on the property. Further I’d like to build at least one solar oven. Our two day power outage has convinced me that some kind of wood heat solution needs to be implemented before next winter – a huge undertaking.  And, of course, more winterization work needs to be done on the house; the cold and the snow prevent it from being done now. And all construction work needs to be funded so we’re looking at ways to raise money for that. Cottage industry will help, I hope to self publish a couple of small books soon, and I’m putting the word out that I’m available as an unskilled worker…

So there is a lot to do! But we’ve got our living expense budget figured and it should be funded soon, we’ve got almost all of our reference materials assembled, we are reading through our reference materials, creating the high-level plan, and formulating strategies for the specific tasks. And today we managed to work on all that as well as doing the laundry (line-drying is interesting in below-freezing temperatures!), we shoveled all the snow that needed shoveling, and got the generator buttoned up and back in storage mode.

I hope all your dreams for 2017 come true! But dreams don’t come true without a lot of hard work. C’est la vie. At least it’s a labor of love.

Happy new year!!

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Not Eating the Couch

“I firmly believe that we all need to find something to do in our lives that stops us from eating the couch.”

― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Rest assured, the couch is safe. For now.

What Ms. Gilbert is referring to in the quote above is how a creative mind that isn’t busy creating will actively seek destruction instead. Like the unemployed border collie she mentions  in the aforementioned couch-eating metaphor, those of us with endlessly restless minds will tend to wreak havoc on our environment, others, and ourselves just to have something to do. Most of my adult life up until I gave myself permission to live authentically can be characterized by such cycles of self-sabotage and destruction followed by hopeful rebirth. Falling down just to have a reason to stand up.

“I’m no longer interested in watching you rise from the falls you keep taking in vain just for a reason to stand.”

― Buddy Wakefield, Live For A Living

Lucky for me and my couch (and my life partner and anyone else who has to put up with me), there is no shortage of tasks to occupy my monkey (border collie?) mind these days. The reason I haven’t managed to write anywhere other than in my head for the better part of at least a month is because I have, as some kind of weird insurance against boredom and/or cabin fever in the coming winter months, signed myself up for some extracurricular commitments in addition to the care and feeding of the homestead and myself.

As we tick off the winter preparation musts around the place and bring in and preserve the last of the summer harvest, I’m volunteering time, cooking, and recipe write-ups to the Unity Food Hub, sorting cranberries at a local farm, helping a caregiver friend bring in her cannabis harvest, and playing volleyball forty minutes from home in Belfast. All of this is in the interest of reaching out to and becoming a part of the broader community, as well as diversifying my knowledge and giving me something to write about other than my unending gratitude for having the chance to manifest my dreams in a place that is one big scenic route. No designation needed. Seriously. If there’s an ugly part of Maine, I haven’t seen it yet.

So, while I haven’t been creating in the literary sense, as the trees get more and more bare, our pantry gets more and more full of the fruits of this bountiful region we now call home. I’m creating a food store, community connections, friendships, and a little space for myself to get some exercise and different perspective, a kind of exercise in and of itself. And then there’s all the knitting it was too warm to do, and all the planning for next year’s garden and the beginnings of our ventures into small livestock raising. Not to mention the ongoing projects that will be reconstructing this house and adding outbuildings and landscape infrastructure to the property.

The benefit of having nearly everything you are doing be brand new to you is that it makes you more game to try the unfamiliar and less devastated by failure. Though I am saddened by every preventable loss in the garden and will certainly be worse when it comes to the inevitable loss of the chickens we don’t even have yet, I’m learning to take ego and apprehension out of the equation and just try, try again when my efforts don’t quite pan out as hoped. And Lance and I are both learning that “good enough” is sometimes just fine.

Vegetables and flowers grew. Major hurdles have largely been tackled. We’ll likely survive the notorious Maine winter in our little camp-turned-home, and reasonably comfortably at that. We’re quickly closing in on six months here. And each day that passes, as well as nearly every person we meet, lets us know this is the place our creative minds will be forever soundly occupied with the business of living and cherishing every lovely detail, just the way we hoped they could when we dreamed all this up in the first place.

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Another Day (or Thirteen) on the “Farm”

Once we finally arrived and entered our abode to actually stay there, I was a little lost amidst the flow. After unloading only a couple items we hit in quick succession: Bug War: Part 3, patching the bedroom back up, deciding on a layout, unloading the mattress and laying the big pieces of the bedroom out. I then headed out to tackle the problem of having no mailbox because a snowplow took it out last winter.

As I did that, Dani completely set up the bedroom, bathroom, removed all the doors from the kitchen cabinets (we hope to use them on the upcoming chicken coop) and began getting a rudimentary working kitchen in order since everything was boxed up and the cabinets were unusable. After that she moved to repotting every one of her some two dozen second-round seedlings. All the while I still worked on my mailbox post.

It was silly, really. Something so basic as a means to keep the mailbox in the air (and hopefully not easily destroyed by a careless or doomed snow plows)… this was nothing but a glorified stick. Yet I felt it a matter worthy of my full attention and my far-too meager skills. After putting the mailbox bits together I noticed a warning on its carton stating most places have standards you should adhere to. They recommended an overall deck height of 41-45″ but said to call your local post office to confirm.

This being Maine, I couldn’t be bothered to do all that, so I wandered down our road (it’s dirt, so it’s not a street), tape measure in hand, and checked out the height of all my neighbors’ mailboxes. They were all between  39″ and 43″ high. So I figured the mailbox carton wasn’t lying to me. I decided 43″ should not attract undue attention. Then began the second wrinkle in my plan.

I had only scrap material I had scrounged around the property. There were three sections of 4×4 none of which were 54″ (the height I needed to sink the post into the designated bucket, which was 9″ deep). So I had to improvise plates to butt two of those sections together. But no two were 54″ total (always longer) and none had clean-cut ends. I had a mediocre circular saw, two saw horses, two quick clamps, a speed square, one pencil, two ham fists and practically zero experience.

Dani and I had built the saw horses. We also built a plant shelf and a bed frame. But this was my first solo project and my most free-form; and I had to only use what I could find around me. I’m actually pretty proud of it.

mailbox

Even with as little skill and experience I have, I cut the 4×4 pieces reasonably well in spite of an unfamiliar saw that was incredibly clumsy. Also because of inadequate blade depth, I had to cut each 4×4 once, then flip it over and do another cut to finish. I did this free hand as I had borrowed the saw and had neither the time nor materials to make jigs with. It went pretty well, though my binding plates had to be simple blocks as I did not have the skills or the tools to make something that looked like an enclosed ring.

The third wrinkle was the post needed to go in a bucket of cement where the old post holder was: a buried metal milk jug full of rocks, dirt, rust and black widows. It was nether sturdy nor aesthetically pleasing enough to be entrusted with the new mailbox post. Also it was not so decrepit as to just disintegrate when I wanted it removed. As our first evening wound to a close with the sun setting it was obvious I wouldn’t get it all done in one go. So I had to “lay up” and just shove the post in the old milk jug and shore it up with rocks until we could tackle it again with more daylight.

We cleaned things up and went inside. Dani done a great job on the place and I’m glad we didn’t realize just how much work was in front of us at that time. We might have grown a bit feint-hearted.

As the afternoon and evening gave way to night we were treated to twinkling stars and fireflies through our bedroom windows. Coyotes cavorted and the breeze moved through.  The Milky Way wheeled overhead. It was like camping in a tent under the stars. But in your bedroom in your own bed! Could a more amazing thing be imagined?! Oh yes, I suppose that the disintegrating, ant-infested floor under the bed was less than ideal. But no place is ever perfect…

What really blew me away was slowing awakening the next morning to sunlight, a gentle breeze moving through and rustling the leaves on the nearby trees – and birdsong. And that’s it. No noisy vehicles, no loud stereos, no barking dogs, no people yammering (or, god forbid, hollering). And this was our home.

We made coffee and met the day. What ended up happening in the following days cannot be recounted in detail with any economy of words. As I’m trying to finish writing this we have completed thirteen days living in our new place. And what has transpired in that time is mind boggling (at least to us):

  • Installed satellite internet service
  • Removed all existing furnishings from the house
  • Primed and painted all the kitchen cabinets and all the main living area walls
  • Sealed the house with foam sealant and/or silicone caulking
  • Cleaned the place from top to bottom
  • Found a leak and miscalibration in the new well pump and pressure tank system and fixed that
  • Removed everything from the existing shed
  • Created a huge junk pile in the front yard (from cleaning out  the house, the shed and some bits of our “forest”)
  • Eradicated all yellow jackets and wasps from the shed (~20 active nests and dozens of old ones)
  • Cleaned up six old mouse nests (full of excrement and hantavirus concerns) and tons of old poison in the house and the shed
  • Sealed the shed and repaired it in a few places.
  • Took inventory on all existing items on the property; moved junk and figured out a storage solution for the few left-behind items we kept
  • Set up storage systems in the shed and house
  • Unpacked, unpacked and unpacked (…still ongoing…)
  • Got sand delivered and filled in the old well pit
  • Got the raised bed soil mix delivered
  • Collected, relocated and stowed all reclaimed building materials (including for the initial raised beds)
  • Ran hundreds of miles (literally!) of errands for all needed tools, building materials, household items (from storage needs to groceries) and garden materials
  • Preparing meals and doing dishes in spite of having not storage in the kitchen
  • Rebuilt and painted some kitchen shelves and repainted the only remaining kitchen cabinet doors
  • Painted and finished the new mailbox, dug up the old mount and installed the new box in a new bucket and cement – resulting in me puncturing my fingertip with a spade drill bit (don’t ask) and subsequently was very grateful that a nurse forced me to take a tetanus shot last year because of the crash that ended my last (possibly final ?*sniff*) skateboard ride…
  • Reloaded the shed
  • Removed a giant, dilapidated aerial off the roof
  • Found even more plants that we wanted to give a home to; to the point of bungee-cording a young, 8′ tall mulberry tree in suspension in the back of Charley a’ la MST3K: Riding With Death where they have to transport tripolodine. Immortalized on Facebook here.
  • Protected our materials from the sneaky, punctuated, rainy times
  • Made a plan and almost-complete implementation strategy for Phase 1 of Favorite Day Farms: Operation “Holy Shit I Can’t Believe We Even MADE It Here!”
  • Built two 8’x4′ raised garden beds revealing what we would later determine was a white grub infestation on the 2.5 acres
  • Transplanted all vegetation including many that were started from seeds in Boise at the end of February and survived in spite of two trips to northern CA, a cross country trip and far-too-extended dwelling in containers
  • Did two rounds of battle with a groundhog (or muskrat – data is scant) including damage control after the veggies’ first night in the raised bed
  • Installed emergency fencing the next morning
  • Planted our first tree, the mulberry; and planted an elderberry bush and many amaranth plants outside the safety of the fence
  • Faced an invasion of Japanese beetles eating at all our new transplants. Continually, all are now terminated on site with extreme prejudice. How’s that for trying to live in balance with nature?
  • Finished arranging the kitchen, bedroom, living room, bedroom and bathroom
  • Built a “first round” compost bin with reclaimed pallets
  • Gone further rounds with the carpenter ant infestation (the saga is ongoing), but I think we are on the winning side.
  • Empirically Verified it does, in fact, almost always take twice as long and twice as much effort than you thought it would to get anything done.
  • Learned from our mistakes and…
  • Are continuing to go to sleep in a quiet, beautiful, albeit ant-infested home… the fuckers…
  • Aaand… waking up to wind and light; to trees and birds singing sweet songs – of melodies pure and true…
  • [We actually have a mom and pop finch raising two little finches the red prince weigela in front of our main window and right next to the gate of our now-fenced garden. Today the chicks became fledglings!]

Sometimes I wake up feeling like I was in a car wreck. But at least the pain is by us and for us. We spent careers killing ourselves for those respective systems. This is our chance to kill ourselves for ourselves – hooray!

I jestingly and lovingly call it: “Farmer Bootcamp”. Fall in, maggot!

Maine Maxims

Two plus months in Maine and there are some definite trends in differences we are noticing as we navigate around the state we now call home.

  1. Cash or CHECK?? – Yes, really. Square is for squares, apparently. It is more common for eateries and just about anyone else to happily take a check if you don’t have cash. But a card? Fuggedaboutit. Go ahead. Leave home without it. But where the hell is that checkbook anyway?
  2. You CAN get there from here (any number of ways) – Between our house and Waterville (our nearest “big” town), my parents’ house in Waldo, Unity (our closest place for quick grocery runs, hardware, postal needs, etc), Belfast (bigger town that is like a mini north end Boise, but a seaside New England version), there are several possible numbered routes, a few dirt road “shortcuts”, lots of zigging, zagging, and meandering, road name changes, and not a few hairpin turns, railroad track crossings, and frost heaves…
  3. …And speaking of frost heaves: A “good road” is (sometimes) hard to find – All these spidery, interconnected routes are subjected to both the ravages of the infamous Maine winter and a lot of heavy trucks that don’t otherwise have a way to get from place to place. Then, of course, there is the added tourist traffic for leaf-peeping season and all the other Maine marvels that make this place Vacationland. Summer road crews scramble to patch things up where the damage is worst and repaint the striping in spite of impatient motorists who will pass five cars in a no-passing zone, ruining the freshly painted lines in the process. Driving in Maine is always an adventure, and Google Maps (which can be notoriously misleading in “normal” places) simply cannot keep up with this maelstrom of motorway mishaps and will often direct you where you are going via roads that are dirt or (worse) start out paved and then just inexplicably become dirt and potholes for a mile or so before the same road changes names for the 18th time and makes you do the driving equivalent of a Triple Axel to stay on it. Needless to say, when you suddenly find yourself cruising down a smooth stretch of blacktop, the reverent words “Good road” invariably fall from your mouth and those of anyone else occupying the vehicle. Ayuh, they do.
  4. Leave a message (AKA Call the landline?????) – In a less populace, more rural state such as this, people tend to serve multiple functions in a community. Our realtor, for instance, aside from being the most amazing, detail-oriented, can-do, hardworking realtor we’ve ever encountered, also functions as a firefighter and town selectman, as well as having many hobbies, a home to maintain, and an active family and social life. So when you call, for example, B&D Well Service, that B&D isn’t some carryover from whomever started a business that was bought and is now run impersonally by people who don’t even know what the original name stood for. Nope. B&D are often a husband and wife named something like Barbara and Dan and one of them functions as the secretary while the other is out performing service calls. Or else, the business is a one-person operation and you’ll need to leave a message for the sole proprietor, who will likely call you back within the hour IF their number is a cell and it receives a signal wherever they happen to be working. But what has been especially surreal for us, neither of whom has had a landline since probably the late nineties/early 2000s, has been the prevalence (owing largely to the aforementioned unpredictable cell service) of phones connected TO THE WALL in people’s homes. We saw them at every farm we visited last year, but are still trying to weasel our way out of plugging a phone into a jack by any means necessary. Tinny, delayed Google Hangouts calls, for the win!
  5. Bugs – Newsflash Former Desert Dwellers! Where water and vegetation occur naturally and abundantly, so too will the crawly, buzzy, pesky ilk of the insect world be natural and abundant. Did you know that there is some manner of fly that is obsessed with nothing but circling your head incessantly. No biting. Just buzz, buzzzzzz, buuuuzzzzz, buu-AAAARRRGGHH!!! And my karma for an entire lifetime of being basically impervious to any mosquito I ever met and stating with absolute confidence on many occasions that mosquitoes don’t like me? Maine mosquitoes think I am delicious. Carpenter ants in the floor joists? Check. Every manner of invasive beetle you can imagine? Got ’em! Ah, well, at least there are no mol… What the hell kind of chubby-cat-marmot-thing-with-no-legs dug up my freshly planted garden??? Not technically a “bug”, I know, but that varmint galls the shit out of me.

Just a few observations from our first several weeks here. And you know what? Even I, the kid who hated dirt and had an irrational fear of all things insect until I was well into adulthood, find all of the above charming, endearing, and so wonderfully Maine. 

 

Friends at Forty(ish)?

Welp, here we are. Right smack between Mid-Coast and Down East Maine. Milestones have been made. Progress is happening on schedule. Questions have been answered. Ceremonial whoopie pies have been consumed. The journey, nay, the Amble, we started on 13 August 2015 has reached it’s conclusion. We’re just waiting for the final piece of the farmstead puzzle to fall into place. It’s basically all over but the paperwork. So, what, oh Worrying One, is there to worry about?

Friends. Where we couldn’t find land and ultimately live in either Oregon or California, we seemed to make friends and find like-minded folks with whom to network effortlessly. But here, where we do have wonderful network of family with longtime ties to the area, we do not yet have, nor exactly know how to go about making, friends.

One might think this is related to our notorious status as introverts. But no. You see, we’ve become fairly good at functioning in polite society in spite of our natural tendency to prefer only each other’s company. Inherent social awkwardness notwithstanding. Lucky for us, our existing friends don’t seem to mind that so much.

The issue here is distance. This region of Maine has several small, vibrant towns that can all be gotten to by any number of circuitous or slightly less so routes, depending on your mood and maybe the weather. But rolling hills and trees and numerous water features tend to make everyone a bit spread out in the areas where most folks live. And this is exactly what we want ultimately. But being new to the area and neophyte builders, farmers, and homesteaders in general, it would be nice to know precisely where in those areas of commerce and connection, we could find some folks to befriend and exchange ideas with as we undertake our new life.

Edit: I wrote the preceding about a month ago after we had just arrived. Saturday, while we waited for the well to get tested at our prospective property, we met a couple of our very nice neighbors. This was a good place to start. 🙂

 

“The last I heard…”

It started with Maria.

When it comes right down to it, the whole business of Ambling Full Tilt, which gave way to the blog you are reading now, came about because my friend Maria sent me a link to a Craigslist ad her husband Patrick had found for a finished tiny house.  This sweet little home on wheels had been built by some gifted and talented kids in Mountain Home, ID, with the help of their teacher Dave Holland. Maria and I had recently been discussing my love of the tiny house concept and when she passed along the listing, Lance and I both felt as though it set in motion a palpable shift in life as we knew it then.

The monumental message came through in early July of 2015. We were on the Oregon coast, a place we had increasingly been thinking about moving because we both loved it (much like I love Maria) at the cellular level. It felt like a part of our souls. It felt like home in a way that Idaho was rapidly ceasing to do, especially since I had finally decided, as Lance had about a year and a half prior, to stop pretending that the concept of a day job made sense to me on any level.

Cut to August 13, 2015: We had visited the tiny house and loved it, but ultimately decided that we need to do some more research and find out what and where home really would be for us. Our fact finding mission we dubbed the aforementioned Ambling Full Tilt was conceived and underway within three weeks of its inception and we hit the road with a fully plotted out map and a half baked plan.

Six months later we arrived back in Boise, slightly homesick and worn out after spending the last month on the road searching fruitlessly for land in Oregon where we had been flirting with yurting (another option for “tiny” living) and had begun playing a tiresome game of Realtor Roulette. It soon became apparent, though, that we had been homesick for familiarity and friends and not for the place itself. Homesick to sick of the place we once called home took almost no time, and we began to get antsy about figuring out where we belonged.

Shortly after we returned, we visited our friend Mike at his shop downtown and he made mention of the Nevada City/Grass Valley area of California as a place he had much admired long ago and one that seemed to be right up our alley. As it turned out, our friend Marcel we had met and stayed with in Oregon has a cousin in that area and so we were introduced to his cousin Andrea and her husband Frans, who are lovely and every bit as gracious and welcoming as Marcel had been. We like them, we liked the area very much. But two 500-miles-one-way trips yielded nothing but frustration in terms of our land search and once again we realized that a place that had seemed promising wasn’t a good fit for us.

Somewhere in the doldrums of Nevada on our way back from that last trip, Lance asked what I thought the land prospects in Maine, where we had spent the previous September with my parents and worked for a week on a farm as WWOOFers, might be like. The same idea had been in my mind at the time because this was a place we both loved and agreed felt like home, but we hadn’t seriously considered based on the fact that we needed to finish the adventure we were on at the time and thought the winters would be overly much to handle for our liking.

Once we got a look at the prospects for the real estate market and had offers from my family members for some fail safe places to hole up should we still come up with nothing in time to take shelter for the notorious winter, our only real question was: When do we leave? With our commitment to travel to Florida for Lance’s brother Tim’s wedding looming a mere five weeks away, we figured we’d better get to Maine sooner than later so we could at least fly there from the same side of the country and already have ourselves somewhat established by the time we got back. So, true to our MO from the previous major road trip we planned, we set a departure date three weeks out and got to work on the logistics.

With only three weeks to pare down and pack up, five days to get here, and nine days after that to take the Florida trip, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to explain all of this to everyone. And although it was about four months from getting back to Boise to making a decision and heading for our new home, we had a lot of back and forth about where to live, what to live in, and the occasional panic-induced wild hair to just sign up to go work on farms indefinitely or become expats in lieu of hanging around to witness the general state of things here in the US. I don’t think that requires further explanation.

All this is to say that in spite of the nebulous state of things and lack of time to explain the goings on as they’ve happened, the crazy dream of the microfarm and sustaining ourselves has never changed. The Where and the How, yes. But never the Why. So, in response to the oft heard phrase, “The last I heard, you were…”: You’ve heard the last. We’re here. Ever now. And closer than ever to realizing our dream.

We’ll see what happens after our first winter in Maine. 😉

The Long and Winding Road…

Well, here we are. Maine. What a place to breathe a sigh of relief. What air to breathe in! After the most harrowing trip I’ve ever taken we made it to Maine without major incident, though it seemed disaster was always lurking behind the next corner.

I had to take Charley to northern California to pick up our trailer which has since become know as Max. Before 10AM I’m usually about as useless as a VCR head cleaning tape; but I was up at 6:00AM and on the road by 6:30 that first day, Friday April 29th. I drove all the way to Nevada City, CA to pick up Max. The cinder block under the tongue jack had crumbled and I had to scrounge old wood cuttings to make a system to get the tongue jack high enough to couple. Once that was done I piloted Charley’s tow ball under the hitch with no one to help guide me. Next I had to finish the rigging to make the tarp cover all the necessary bits (our spare lumber and windows) while NOT covering the unnecessary bits (the uncovered wheel wells, which would have shredded the tarp in the first day). It took three hours and every bit of my wits to finish the job. And all this was before I could even try hauling Max with Charley for the very first time, to say nothing of making the two hour drive to my first night’s stop. But before I could hit the road for the last leg of the day I had to check the electrical connection. Continue reading

It’s Not All Fun and Games

The Adventure Versa went bye-bye today, like so many other significant things that have vanished. I sold my first guitar, a ’77 Ibanez “lawsuit era” Les Paul. My first acoustic guitar, and Alvarez “Midnight Special” is also gone. I bought the first when I was 16, the second a few months later when I was 17. Also gone: my beloved 1970 Fender Twin Reverb and my bass-amp-to-end-all-bass-amps; a hand picked rig featuring a BBE preamp, and an Eden cabinet that could break windows. Likewise my beloved home theater, built and rebuilt over 15 years probably to the tune of $30k-$40k, also gone for $1100. Hundreds of DVDs containing movies that have marked my heart and soul for my entire life… many special collector items that almost no one besides me even seems to care about, sold for pennies on the dollar…

My lifelong dream to surf lead me to other boards in this landlocked state of Idaho: a great skateboard from my brother I renovated, a Bongo board for indoor training and the crown jewel of them all: My 44″ Arbor Genesis longboard… wait? Why would an Idahoan be into surfing what what does that have to do with skateboards?

I have always wanted to surf since I was a teenager; my heart aches for it. It took until my early 30s for me to get to Waikiki. Once there, my instructor pushed me into my first wave (a mellow 3-4′  rolling wave) on my the first board I ever touched (probably justifiably considered a “kiddie” board – a SofTech foam board)… it was rapture! On my first try I got up and I rode that wave on my n00b foam board and absolutely loved every nanosecond of it! On my best ride that day I covered over a quarter of a mile a la’ Bruce Brown’s Endless Summer. The girl surfing next to me (it was her first time, too) was right with me; the wave broke smooth and flat and just rolled forever… we must have been only 15 feet apart for 15-20 seconds. We gawked at each other unable to believe that such a thing was possible! Real surfers may balk at such romanticism for an unremarkable wave and unremarkable “performance.” But this was our first time ever and we were doing it and it just kept going. We whooped and hollered at each other and, eventually, the wave petered out and we sank in.

That bug bit me. Once I was back in Idaho I got into skating. And the resulting boards (including a river surf board for the Boise River) have all gone away; evaporated in the downsizing. Each of these items goes to some random Craigslist person, never to be seen again. Each a little chunk of me; each a little chunk of my hopes and dreams.

After all the purges I’ve done where I got rid of stuff I didn’t really care about (the three before the Ambling Full Tilt journey), now I’m at the last purge: where I really care about the things that are going away. Yet I’m the one insisting they go away. It’s an odd tension. I can’t have all this stuff with me as we move forward. But now I must purge elements attached to my former hopes and dreams. I currently live in the land where dreams compete against dreams!

It’s tough chasing you dreams. I would love to surf and skate and play music all day long. And to be a race car driver on the weekends (a long story). So what am I doing? Selling everything. The relics of my former dreams are being liquidated to finance this dream: to build a farm with Dani.

Why? I want to write! I can’t not write, even though I’m not even particularly good at it. But if Dani and I can raise veggies, care for chickens (maybe goats), AND get our finances in a row, we won’t have the bills that require being slaves to money that hamper people from doing what they love. We will write! Maybe it will amount to nothing. But maybe it will amount to more than nothing?

Writing is dream one. Music is dream two. Surfing is dream three and racing is dream four. We must make choices that further the pursuit of our dreams. There are no rules. It’s a little heart-rending to sacrifice elements of the lesser dreams for the greater. But we have to move forward somehow.

And now we’re looking to move to Maine to start a farm.

How do you eat an elephant?

The Vagaries of the Search

As I mentioned in my last post, perhaps the reason the tales of finding land are rarely told is because they are so fraught with disappointments along the way. Spending time dwelling on them seems counterproductive. We have been rather silent over the past couple of weeks for a few reasons. Not the least of which was, after advertising our first trip to California in the hopes of finding land, things didn’t end up working out. It’s never very comforting advertising that sort of thing. There were other things too, like the saga of Babs the chicken, but that is a tale for another time.

After returning to Boise from our first trip to California, we had seemingly hit a brick wall. Nothing was happening. After over a week of very hard work, it seemed we never made one iota of progress. Dani finally wrote her “Universe’s Waiting Room” post when it seemed there was simply nothing else to do. That afternoon the tiny house trailer deal gelled, a new land parcel was listed, our agent mobilized and things began to move very quickly.

The tiny house trailer was uncanny for several reasons:

  • It was designed to accommodate the Morrisons’ hOMe design, the very house we were intending to build.
  • The owners had already installed flashing, insulation, wooden anchor beams and subflooring.
  • They had purchased all the windows they had intended from the build.
  • Work was forcing them to move so they decided to sell the project at a huge discount and…
  • They were two hours away from where we wanted to search for land anyway.

In a whirlwind of activity we made arrangements to go and were on the road in just over two days.

We hit the road knowing we were travelling on the only day when snow was likely on Donner Pass. We couldn’t go sooner, and we were not going to delay, so we bit the bullet. It was harrowing. We tried to hurry over the pass and miss the incoming storm (and the guaranteed, subsequent chain restrictions), but didn’t quite make it. The snow began falling heavily and visibility dropped. We neared the summit, having passed a couple of wrecks already, and thought we might make it over altogether when all traffic ground to a halt.

What followed was a most torturous wait as emergency services very, very slowly cleared vehicles and began to open the lanes of traffic. Each passing moment brought more snow, more potential ice build up under the warm traffic jam (the outside temperature was 27 degrees) and decreasing probability that we would make it over the pass smoothly.

As we chewed our fingernails wondering how long opening the road would take, snow accumulated. What you see on the mirror is what gathered just in the 30 or so minutes we waited while they cleared the wrecked cars:

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It may not look like it, but that is about two inches of snow.

You would assume the folks clearing the road were pros, but it was a maddeningly long time before we got to move again. As we pulled through we found no fewer than four vehicles smashed up from driving too fast in the snowy conditions. And the lack of skillful driving continued as traffic tried to move forward; some people were so paranoid at sliding that they seemed unaware that it takes a certain, small amount of momentum to drive uphill on a slick, snowy mountain highway. I carefully tried to filter through the slowpokes and stay out of the way of the dangerous speed demons. Sure enough, some vehicles came to a stop while the wheels still TRIED to roll forward and began to move backwards creating new blockages for the several miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic behind them. Being near the head of the queue, we slipped through. Thankfully none of the speed demons caused wrecks or went off the highway.

It was a longer climb to the top than I had hoped and many traffic jams were caused with people pulling over and a applying chains, then getting back on the road. We white-knuckled it through the slow downs praying to the weather gods that we would not get stuck. Somehow we made it to the summit, then began the real danger: getting up was hard, getting down safely was much more challenging.

Regardless, we did succeed and breathed huge sighs of relief as we transitioned from the snow zone and below-freezing temperatures to merely rainy conditions. After nine hours on the road we picked our way to the plot of land. We made it without incident and, apart from being a little torn up from some septic testing, it was actually almost exactly what we were looking for. By far the best parcel we’ve seen to date, the back end of the lot was actually a serene, year-round creek. It had electricity across an easement in the property line and a well already drilled. We decided to make an offer!

From there we headed to the home of some of our new friends (met on the previous trip), who had graciously offered to host us during our stay. We got settled and even finished up the offer paperwork that night. The following morning the offer was submitted to the buyer’s agent and we thought we were possibly well on the way to actually having the land for our future home! So naturally the first thing we did was head out first thing in the morning to drive almost three hours to pick up the tiny house trailer.

The trailer was actually everything we could hope for, so we bought it.

After all these months and all the deliberation, we finally had committed to the tiny house path!

Because the trailer also came with a large amount of lumber, thirteen windows and no sides (truly flat-bed!) packing it was quite a challenge. Also the last time I hauled a trailer was 20 years ago and it was a little pop-up camper. This was over 30 feet long and weighed almost a ton. I was somewhat apprehensive.

Loaded up, we pulled out and began the second afternoon in a row of harrowing driving. Long story short (too late!) we got back to our friends’ place but missed the turn to their driveway. We checked Google maps which said there was no way around, I would have to reverse. I hyperventilated a bit, shoved the truck into reverse and began to back that large trailer uphill on a very narrow and not perfectly straight street. If you’ve never reversed with a trailer, I do not recommend starting under these conditions. I was doing okay when our friend heard the noisy diesel working away and came out to offer help. He assured me Google was wrong and there was a route “around the block” and he suggested I try it.

“It’s very narrow.” he said. “A very tight turn, especially for a  trailer this long. But you can probably make it.” he reassured me in his personable, Dutch manner. He did, however, fail to mention it was narrow and tight and vertical. The 3/4 ton, turbo diesel made a good clip up the hill at about 0.5 mph.

“That’s your turn there.” he said indicating where there couldn’t possibly be a turn. I was thinking maybe Google actually was right.

“Wait, where that green sign is?” I ask incredulously. I didn’t think my Versa could easily make the turn, let alone this ridiculous convoy I was piloting. He assured me that was where I needed to go. After a few blinks, I decided it was at least possible and going forward was certainly easier than going back. He comforted me further by adding “If you get stuck, then we’re going to have a real problem.” I didn’t respond.

As we got closer to the turn I stopped the truck and hopped out to toss a small woodpile off the shoulder of the road down into a neighbor’s yard. I needed to be driving there, dammit! With some careful shoulder driving and liberal use of driveways as roadways I set up the rig for the acute-angle turn. I barely sat in the seat as I checked every mirror while moving slightly faster than a snail’s pace. Swing left! Cut right! Dodge the tree! Check the mirror THEN QUICKLY SWING IT IN SO IT DOESN’T GET CARVED OFF BY THAT TREE! OH! And make sure the trailer doesn’t run over that three foot tall stump! Then dodge that OTHER tree!!

“Ha! You made that with three inches to spare! No problem…” he offered.

Sphincters unclenched, we moved forward. I’ve wasted too many words already but parking the trailer on their 20% grade driveway safely and detaching it (we weren’t going to drive with it all over town after all) was yet another challenge. But one accomplished successfully.

The victories were to be short-lived, unfortunately. What followed next was three solid days of delays and miscommunication regarding our offer on the prospective property. [Aside: However we were very fortunate on the social front to meet with all the new friends from our previous trip; and we met even more wonderful people through them! But on the property side of things it was a nightmare.]

Not only did we not get the information we needed, the information we were given was consistently miscommunicated. Having made the offer on Tuesday morning we had assumed we would have a counter offer that day and the back-and-forth would be wrapped up in one or two days and then we would be back to Boise to start wrapping up things there. We thought this because we had been told this was a motivated seller. Not so. It took until Friday night to receive what we were sure was a legitimate counter offer. We countered-the-counter Saturday morning. Another two-plus days were needed before we finally received the formal rejection of our offer (this afternoon).

All of this was made even more challenging because the entire transaction was obfuscated by issues with the existing septic system, the tests and directions the current owner pushed things in requiring a new system, and the unreflective, overly-complicated nature of the septic design culture in the area. Additionally our friends were probably not expecting us to be guests as long as we were. As gracious as they are, we didn’t enjoy finding excuses to occupy our time as we inhabited their space primarily waiting for the buyer/agent and consultants to get their collective acts together.

And so this chapter of our journey is brought to a close: the “Closest-but-no-cigar” yet. We have learned so much through each and every false start, that we try not to get disheartened at the setbacks. But this being the closest one yet – the first plot of land where we could actually visualize it as “home” – makes it even harder to take.

Having received the rejection this afternoon, we will drive back to Boise tomorrow morning leaving the trailer behind, in storage under the care of some other, very gracious, new friends. We will have to travel to my brother’s wedding back East in mid-May, so we booked tickets to fly out of SFO. This will force us to pass back through the area. Either we will find land in California before then and can move the trailer to it during that trip, or we won’t and will will bring it back to Boise to begin the build at that time.

The Sierras feel like home. But is this home? “All signs point to ‘Yes'” says the Magic 8-Ball. But the Magic 8-Ball didn’t have to put up with this shit. Tonight we nursed our wounds by searching for land in Maine just “for funsies.” What we found was shocking: more fantastic sounding land than you can shake a yard stick at (har har). But there is a price to live in Maine: the weather. Yet a price of simply overcoming environmental hardships (even if it is six months of winter) seems far easier and more enjoyable than the hardships of dealing with petty landowners/agents and a deluge of bureaucracy.

Yet it seems we’ve met all these wonderful people in California for a reason. And we love it here. It’s not very satisfying to think “home” lies somewhere between Maine and California. …somewhere…

Again: is this why the tales of the search for land are never told? It seems they are usually summarized simply in a smile, a knowing shake of the head and the utterance: “…we looked so hard for six months before we found this place…”

We are wrapping up three months in the search and it’s taking a toll in so many ways. We will keep moving forward, though. What else can we do?

Greetings From the Universe’s Waiting Room

There’s a scene in Under the Tuscan Sun where Frances Mayes, in a moment of despair, laments having bought a house for a life she wants, but doesn’t see on her horizon. Her Italian friend/realtor consoles her by telling her an  anecdote about a railway over the Alps that was built before there was a train in existence that could make the trip. Eventually, of course, her ideal life situation comes to fruition in ways she didn’t realize or expect and they all lived happily ever after. The end.

Right now, I am in despair as I think about the seedlings I started, so sure that we had finally found THE plan, and not knowing whether, in about a month, they will go into the ground at my parents’ place, go into containers to be transported to our new home if land suddenly materializes and the stars align, or die as a result of our indecision and displacement. Crippling though indecision and displacement may be, I don’t think they will actually kill us or thwart our plans to grow into self-sustaining farmers. But they do make it very difficult to maintain ourselves and our plants, as we both require consistent care, feeding, and a stable environment to thrive.  And although I willingly agreed to leave the relative stability of our former home in search of a life that more resembled what we both dreamed life could and should be, sometimes I can’t help but wonder if it might be easier to surrender to the status quo. Get the job, pay the bills, and have the things so it will all look good on paper and no one will question or deny us the right to live as we please.

Right now, we’re freer than we’ve ever been. Ironically, we’re not free to live as we wish simply by virtue of having enough cash to buy land and build a dwelling.  We’re trying to do things unconventionally (without a loan) and build an alternative to the standard house structure. Unconventional or alternative are words fraught with eyebrow-raising suspicions when dealing with the folks who deal in real estate transactions and building practices. Even in places that are ostensibly friendly to homesteading types. Try to do things inexpensively and in an environmentally friendly way, and there are myriad rules and codes (some of which are contradictory) waiting to tell you why you can’t. The system is rigged, whether you’re in it or trying to fight your way out.

And I can’t for the life of me figure out what all of this means. Research and constant communication have become both of our full-time job these days. We are putting it all out there and entertaining what feels like a million different options just trying to get ourselves set up somewhere so we can move on with building our life. And we keep seeing what seem like positive signs only to have the rug yanked out from under us, contacts who at first seemed enthusiastic and helpful go MIA, someone else get there first, etc.

And it all feels a bit personal in a “pride goeth before the fall” kind of way. Like every time we dare to think it’s happening and share that with someone or many people, the Universe says “NOPE. Sit back down. It’s not your turn.” This is why I have come to think of our current state of limbo as the Universe’s Waiting Room.

We’ve read all the magazines twice and the water cooler is broken. Can it be our turn next, please?