Journal: June 28th, 2010

I was in San Francisco last week, taking care of some stuff and seeing friends, and got back to Serenity Valley on Friday. I’m planning on staying up here for a couple of weeks, at least, since, once my bills are paid towards the end of the month, I have relatively little to worry about until the middle of the next month (when I have to start thinking about bills again).

I got in right around dusk on Friday, and headed straight to my garden. My neighbor had been watering my garden for me in my absence, and wanted to see how my little babies were doing. Lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised to see little itsy bitsy vibrant green shoots sticking out of the dirt in neat little rows! Baby corn! They’d sprouted in just about a week, and man do they grow fast. I can see them getting bigger by the hour.

A row of beans have also started to sprout just in the last couple of days, though some of them seem a little under-developed. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, but my hypothesis is that some of them weren’t deep enough in the ground, and are coming out of the ground prematurely. But, at least some of them are looking just fine. I have three more rows of beans between the corn that haven’t sprouted yet, and I’m a little concerned. I sowed those rather haphazardly (after unexpected rain, mentioned in the last post), so we’ll see if they sprout. I still have some seeds left, so if they don’t come out in the next several days, I’ll probably redo the beans.

It occurred to me recently that growing corn my first year might’ve been kinda silly. Corn is a heavy feeder, and will suck out all the nutrients in the ground. And besides, I don’t actually even eat that much corn, though, maybe my corn will be super amazing and it’ll all be worth it. Nonetheless, that’s partially why I’m concerned about the beans; beans put nutrients (namely nitrogen) back into the soil, so I was counting on them to balance out the corn.

Other than that, I’ve been trying to relax, which isn’t too difficult seeing how it’s been really warm. It’s around 100F in the sun, and close to 90F in the shade, so my natural inclination obviously has been to just sit in the shade, like all animals do when it’s hot out. It’s actually surprisingly difficult for me to just sit back and relax. I feel guilty if a day has gone by and I haven’t done anything productive, as if I owe it to someone to actually do work. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of work, which I’ll hopefully write about in another post…

And speaking of work, now that my garden’s basically done, I’ve been thinking about my hut upgrade in earnest. Today, I came out to Redding (the nearest city from my property, about an hour and a half’s drive away) to check prices of building materials. I also stopped at a place in a Big Town en route to check their prices. The biggest problem is logistics. The place in Big Town would charge nearly twice as much for OSB (for instance), but deliver for only $25. Stuff’s cheaper in Redding, but delivery would be super expensive, and the cheapest option might be to rent a U-Haul, or get a tow-hitch for my car and rent a trailer.

Journal: June 21st, 2010

Friday was a down day. I have those every now and then up here. Maybe it was the weather (partly cloudy, and humid). Maybe it was the isolation (absolutely no human contact for a few days). Maybe it was both. Either way, I spent half the day reading and dozing, and eventually got restless and decided to go into town without any clear idea what for. I tried to get online at the usual place in town, but the internet connection wasn’t working. I then went to the hardware store, where the garden section lady recognized me, which was nice. Not wanting to walk out empty handed, I bought a water sprayer (for watering carrot seeds) and some more seeds (okra, which does well in heat, and beets, which are good companions for corn). Still wanting to get online, I headed to the next town over, another 20 minutes’ drive away (so over 45 minutes’ drive from my property). The only reliable internet I could find was at a McDonalds, so McDonalds it was. I couldn’t remember the last time I stepped foot in a McDonalds, but, well, that’s where the internet was, so that’s where I went.

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”
–May Sarton

Solitude and loneliness seem like flip sides of the same coin. I enjoy solitude, but sometimes I can’t escape loneliness. Ideally, I’d like solitude, without the loneliness. Can the two be separated? This is a process I am still struggling with, and probably will for some time. I know I can’t go for long completely disconnected from the world, but I also know I’m happier being mostly disconnected. I don’t want internet on my property. I’m happier when I’m not distracted by Facebook and Twitter and Google Reader and email and everything on the internet that demands my attention. But I’m thinking of getting a cheap Verizon phone, which should work on my property, so that I can text and call people if I get lonely. We’ll see how that goes.

I spent the better part of Saturday clearing brush around my camp. I do this partially for aesthetics (less brown and more green looks nicer), but mostly I do it for fire prevention. Or rather, I should say, to improve the odds that my stuff can survive a forest fire. There hasn’t been a fire in the woods around my property in a long while, and it’s ripe for one; there’s plenty of fuel waiting for a spark. In my admittedly amateur assessment, though, the area around my hut seems relatively safe. There’s a nice wide dirt road to the immediate North and West of my camp, and it’ll be difficult for a fire to jump that, especially considering that there’s only low brush to the North, and that prevailing winds are from the South. To the West of my property is well cleared BLM or NFS land, so it’s relatively unlikely a fire will come from that direction. Unfortunately, the South and East sides of my camp aren’t as well protected, so I’ve been clearing that area as much as possible. I’m pulling or cutting dead branches off the trees and pulling out dead brush, so that even if the ground litter burns, there won’t be much fuel to ignite bigger stuff. My garden is also to the South-East of my hut, and that clearing will hopefully act as a firebreak, if need be. Ultimately, I’m comforted in the knowledge that a forest fire is good for the forest, and the worst that can happen is that I lose some stuff, most of which can be replaced. Unlike a house, when a forest burns, it actually heals itself over time, and usually ends up healthier than it was.

On Sunday, I finished planting the last few plants, and sowed more bean seeds since the bag of seeds I’d left out got wet in unexpected rain during the night. I also busted out my power tools to build a couple of things. I first built a planter box for my anti-social tomato plants, using mostly scrap wood I had lying around. Then I made a target frame for my 100yd shooting range, using some two-by-twos and one-by-threes that I’d brought up a while ago, then faced it with tar paper I’d bought for roofing.

I had this moment of great satisfaction, when I realized that I had everything I needed. I had lumber. I had screws. I had power tools, and solar panels to charge their batteries. I craved fruit, so I rummaged through my bins and found some canned fruit. For a moment, I could pretend like the world had ended and that I was living off of my stockpile, and that I was all self-sufficient. Of course, that’s just an illusion. I have trees, but I can’t mill my own lumber. I can’t make my own nails or tools. I don’t grow nearly enough food to be self-sufficient, and my stockpile would only last me a few of months, at most. But it felt like a step in the right direction, and it felt good.

Journal: June 17th, 2010

I feel great. I just took a nice HOT shower, and let myself use a few extra gallons of water to even shampoo my hair! The temperature is a perfect 70 degrees, and after I finished my shower, the cool breeze felt so great on my skin that I just stood there for a while letting the air dry me off. I stood there, in the clear air, under blue skies, watching the sun mingle with the tops of ponderosa pines off to the North-West-West. Showering is one of the many perks of summer… When I was up here last Fall, I couldn’t really shower because the sun didn’t shine long enough to heat up my solar shower, and even if it did, it was too damn cold to stand outside naked and actually get wet. Now, it’s just perfect.

Now I’m sitting here, with a cold bottle of raspberry cider. I don’t drink alcohol very often, and never bother to bring booze with me to the woods, but I had this bottle of cider in my fridge, and I figured this seemed like a good time to break it out. I’m in a celebratory mood, not just because the shower felt so damn good, but because my garden is done! Well, I still need to figure out where to put those stupid tomato plants, and I have a couple more plants to put in, but most of my plants are in the ground, corn and bean seeds have been sown, and every square foot of my garden bed has been claimed. All that remains to do is to water them, and see what happens over the coming weeks and months. If all goes well, I’ll have some homegrown organic corn, zucchini, yellow squash, red bell peppers, egg plants, strawberries, tomatoes, and beans! Though, really, I’d be happy if the transplants survive the next week, and the seeds actually germinate at all. It got pretty cold last night, so I brought the yet-to-be-transplanted seedlings inside to keep them warm. But now that they’re in the ground, they’re on their own.

Planting a garden is an act of commitment, but I feel good about it. If I want to see my plants survive and grow, they’ll need to be taken care of. I won’t be able to abandon them for a long period of time, which means I’m committed to spending most of my summer up here. And I feel good about that. The last few days have been great, and I’m happy that this warm season will continue for another few months. There’s no shortage of things to do, and I doubt I’ll ever get bored of being in the woods. There’s constantly something new to see, even just outside my hut. The forest is ever changing, and always full of surprises.

Anyway, the sun’s starting to set beyond the hills, which probably means it’s about time to get ready for dinner. Once the camp fire dies down, I’ll be ready to start cooking. I’ve got some chicken marinating in lemon and thyme, and I’ll have some rice and steamed veggies to go with that. It’ll be good. It always is.

Journal: June 15th, 2010

I worked on the garden some more today. I finished double digging the last of it in the morning, and moved on to spreading and mixing compost. Yesterday, I bought a total of 14 cubic feet of 3 different kinds of compost (“soil builder”, manure compost, “good for vegetables” compost), and since I have a total of 72 square feet, that comes out to a little over 2 inches per square foot. I decided to spread 12 cubic feet (exactly 2 inches per square foot, in theory), and keep a 2 cubic foot bag of compost in reserve for strategic deployment later. But would 2 inches per square foot be enough? I’m not sure. After mixing in all 12 cubic feet, I felt like the soil could use more help, so I went into town to buy more compost. Unfortunately, the hardware store had already closed (though I got more water, so the trip wasn’t completely for naught) so I might just start planting tomorrow, unless I feel like going into town again (it takes right about 30 minutes, so it’s not exactly trivial to do so).

The other challenge has been to figure out how to fit everything into my garden bed. I guess you’re supposed to figure that out before hand, but I’m not the planning sort and I just like to do things and wing it. It usually works out ok, even if not optimally. In any case, the patch of ground I picked out for my garden bed turned out to be 6ft by 12ft (totally not planned… didn’t even measure it until after it was all dug up). And I’ve got these plants, and some seeds, and they just need to go in that patch of ground, right? Boy. Who woulda thought that plants could be so picky? Well, I sure didn’t. It’s like trying to come up with a seating chart for a wedding party. The egg plants like to be in a group, the strawberries want some afternoon shade, the corn has to be in a block with at least 4 rows, the tomatoes hate everybody, corn likes to hang out with beans, but actually so do the strawberries, and one kind of squash is fine in the shade, while the zucchini want both sun and shade. And then I have to take into consideration the fact that my arms are only so long, and my hips only so forgiving, and ensure everything is accessible with those constraints in mind.

I invested quite a bit of time reading about the compatibility of plants, and running through numerous permutations of possible layouts in my mind. At the end, I decided the tomatoes were going to have to go somewhere else. But other than that, I think I’ve come up with a layout that fits most of the things I have, and in a way that the plants themselves will (hopefully) find satisfactory. A section on the southern end will contain strawberries, egg plants, and bell peppers, with a line of corn down half the southern edge, just to provide shade. The rest of the bed to the north will contain 4 rows of corn, oriented east-west. In between rows one and two, and three and four will be zucchini on the eastern edge (to catch some morning rays), yellow squash on the western edge, with beans in between. The space between rows two and three will be left clear for access.

Quick Update

I’m parked outside a pizza parlor in town, mooching their internet connection. In the back of my car is my purpose for this trip into town: 8 big bags of soil and fertilizer, along with 23 gallons of water. So this update’ll be quick…

First, my excuse for the long silence on this blog. I was in Japan for the last half of May visiting my parents, and then the first week of this month, I spontaneously went to Beijing for several days. Awesome times were had, though that’s a whole ‘nother post, and for now, I’ll simply refer your to the copious photographs I took.

Now, I’m back on Serenity Valley. It’s finally warmed up, and you wouldn’t think that it had snowed just 2-3 weeks ago. The temperature’s up in the 80s (in the shade) during the day, with lows comfortably in the 40s or so. It’s great to be back outside in the sun, getting my creaky old body going again. I’ve been helping my neighbor smooth out the dirt (erm, and rock) road, which is only fair since he bought a few truck loads of gravel to cover it all up.

I’ve also been working on my garden bed, which is a lot of hard work. There’s a hard clay layer about 16-20″ down (and about 3-6 inches thick), and I’ve had to get down on my knees to pound in my spading fork with a mini-sledge hammer to break it up (I guess a pickaxe would’ve also worked, but I don’t have one of those). Fortunately, unlike last time, the plants I brought with me have not died, so I’m hopeful. I’m starting to realize that the soil is probably too nutrient poor, hence this trip to buy soil and compost (I did get the organic stuff, at least). Keeping the garden watered is going to be a challenge, but I found a free source of water in town, so for now, I’ll probably continue to just truck wanter onto my property.

I’ve also been thinking about the next iteration of my hut. The big question on my mind is whether to expand/improve my current hut, or to start on an entirely new one and do it right (or at least, better) from the beginning. But that’s a whole other post too… For now, I’m actually back to sleeping in my car, because it has more windows, more headroom, and better ventilation than the loft-cot in my hut. Until my hut improvements are done, I might go back to sleeping in a tent, though, maybe I’ll at least get a cot this time. In a few weeks, it might even be warm enough to sleep outside in a hammock, though there’s always the risk of getting eaten alive (by mosquitos, or bigger things)…

Anyway, the adventures continue. I’ll try to post more in coming weeks.