Game of Life

Life up here never gets dull. There are so many problems to solve, one after the other, that it reminds me of playing a role playing game, or those adventure questing games. Take for example, last night when I got back from town after dark, and I was putting groceries into my fridge. What would be a completely ordinary task in the city, turned into a mini puzzle adventure game. Let’s imagine I were in a role playing game… (Note: For those of you unfamiliar with in-person (not computer-based) role playing games, the Game Master is the person who controls the flow of the game. In some cases, they will present a pre-existing game, but in others, they will make up a game, creating the setting, the plot, scenarios and rules along the way.)

Game Master (GM): You realize that the compressor sounds weird…
Me: Weird? How so?
GM: It’s really quiet.
Me: Huh. I take out my multimeter and check the battery voltages.
GM: They are both around 8 volts (note: these are 12 volt batteries)
Me: Yikes. WTF? I thought my solar panels were generating a surplus. At least this battery that’s been plugged into the panels for days should be nearly full!
GM: *shrug* They’re not.
Me: Well, 8 volts. That’s really low. Keeping the fridge plugged in over night could damage the batteries. But if I don’t have the fridge plugged in, my food will go bad. I have raw meat in there.
GM: *doodles absentmindedly*
Me: Ah hah! I have a generator. I’ll recharge one of my batteries using the generator!
GM: The generator won’t start.
Me: Why not?
GM: Low oil.
Me: Fine, I’ll add oil, and restart it.
GM: It starts, but dies.
Me: What?!
GM: *shrug* You haven’t used it since last year. What do you expect?
Me: I only got like 5 hours run time out of that piece of shit… Ok. What if I plug in my fridge into my car?
GM: I would like to remind you that if you deplete your car battery, you may not have the means to recharge it. There’s nobody around to jump it for you. Your AAA account just expired last week. Would you like to do it anyway?
Me: Hm. Good point. Let me think, here.
GM: *continues doodling*
Me: Ok, fine. I’ll ghetto charge my Costco battery. I’ll hook up the battery to my car battery in parallel and run the engine, and charge it that way.
GM: Cool. Half an hour later, your battery now has 12 volts.
Me: Phew! I’ll plug in my fridge into that battery, and figure out what’s wrong with the solar panels tomorrow.

And so I was able to keep my food chilled another night. Today, I checked my solar panels, and found that the charge controller was only sending 2 amps to the batteries, instead of the 4 amps it should be sending. I checked each of the 4 panels, and found that one of them wasn’t working (it’s only outputting 2 volts instead of 19). So, it seems like I have a number of issues. One is that only 75% of my panels are working, and, on top of that, they are outputting far less than they should. It’s also possible that the heat has been causing the fridge to run its compressor more often (or longer), and is therefore using up more power. Also, I’ve been somewhat negligent in keeping my solar panels oriented towards the sun, which also further decreases output. All these factors combined seems to have pushed me to an energy deficit, resulting in two nearly completely discharged batteries. I’d been planning on buying more solar panels anyway, but it looks like I should do that sooner rather than later.

You’d think life would be miserable if you didn’t have basic things like electricity or water. But, to me, it all seems like a really fun game. In the city, people have most of their basic needs fulfilled. Flip a switch, the light goes on. Turn the faucet, you get water. Talk into a phone, pizza comes to your door. Yet, somehow, people are still stressed. While people don’t have to worry about electricity or water, in exchange, they have plenty of other things to worry about. The boss, the client, the landlord, the upstairs neighbor who moves furniture around at 2am, your friend who’s inexplicably mad at you, the cable company who double charged you, the phone company and their shitty service, the waitress at that restaurant you went to for dinner who took too long to bring you your appetizers. A lot of these stresses are caused by the fact that, in the city, you’ve delegated so much of your life, that you’ve given control over your life to complete strangers. You no longer have agency over your destiny, and when something goes wrong, you’re at the mercy of other people; people who actually don’t really care about your problems, even if they’re in a position to do something about it. So, people escape to games. They play Farmville and World of Warcraft for hours and hours, because games give you back your sense of control, and you are rewarded (albeit in virtual points) for the effort you put in. It satisfies the basic human desire to solve problems, to be rewarded for doing so, and feel empowered. It satisfies a desire that, sadly, modern civilization has taken away, for the sake of comfort and convenience.

Arguably, what I’m doing out here is a game too. I’m here because I want to, not because I have to. And, it seems, anything that is fun these days, is dismissed as “entertainment”, a mere distraction, because life isn’t meant to be fun. But, when you think about it, humans, and all animals, are programmed to enjoy life functions that are truly necessary. Eating, drinking, solving problems, getting exercise. These are all fun. It’s everything else that’s not fun. Working in a cubicle. Paying the mortgage. Calling customer service. Dealing with the car mechanic. Waiting in line at the super market. The very things that we associate with modern life, turn out to be not-fun. Up here, all I did was to get rid of all that. And lo, all that remained was stuff that we naturally find pleasurable. Eating cake. Napping under an oak tree. Solving my own problems without getting put on hold by customer service. Seeing my own labor make an immediate tangible difference in my quality of life. So, yes. If that’s a game, then awesome, it’s a game I’d recommend to anyone; the graphics are amazing, it’s pretty damn addictive, and oh, you’ll lose weight and get in shape too.

You’re Invited! Hut Raisin’ 2.0 & Campout 1.0

Who: you1
What: Help me build another hut. Come hangout2.
When: August 20-23
Where: Serenity Valley (an hour and a half from Redding, CA)
How: Post a comment to this post (make sure to post the comment on the blog, not on Facebook, and to leave an email address).

The Small Print:
1 – Specifically, anyone who knows me, or reads this blog. Though, depending on various factors, it might not be possible to accommodate everybody (this time).
2 – If there’s sufficient interest, the date for Campout 1.0 may change.

Water tower! Bears! ‘n stuff…

Water Tower

I told myself that I’d reward myself with a pizza and internet if I finished my water tower, and I did, so here I am, on the internets (the pizza’s already in my belly).

I decided to build essentially a free-standing platform to perch the water container on. The platform measures 4ft by 30 inches, but the legs have cross pieces to make the base effectively 4ft by 6ft for additional stability. I did most of the work in the shade, under a nice leafy oak grove next to my hut, but since the final product would be too heavy for me to move, I built it in components, which I then assembled at the final site. The tower isn’t quite square, and the ground isn’t quite level, so it’s leaning a bit, but the center of gravity is well within the expanded base, so I’m not terribly worried. I also used 2x4s for the legs, instead of 4x4s, since the water container I ended up using only has a 50 gallon capacity, and would only weigh up to 400lb. Tomorrow I’ll be hooking up all the hoses, so tonight should be the last time I have to water my garden out of a watering can…

The temperature’s finally cooled down this week, after last week’s 100F+ days (hottest day was Friday, when it was 99F in the shade). It’s been cool enough in the shade, that I’ve been able to finally do some shooting on my 100 yard range. I’ve always wanted to be able to shoot my match rifle on my own property, and now I have. Whereas in the city, I’d have to load all my gear into my car, then drive 30-45 minutes to get to the range, here, I just have to pick up my rifle and walk less than 10 minutes. It’s pretty sweet. Of course, now I don’t have much of an excuse for not shooting more and improving my scores…

The other exciting discovery this week has been bear tracks on the dirt road going through my camp. The prints measure about 9 inches heel to toe, and are about 5 inches across at its widest point. The prints start about 40 yards west of my hut, go past my hut, and ends about a 120 yards down the road. They go over tire marks I left when I headed out for town on Monday, but are under where I parked that night, so the bear passed through while I was away. I think the bears around here are black bears, which I hear are pretty shy, unless they’ve been spoiled by human foods (which, I don’t think the bears around here have). So, I don’t think it’s entirely an accident that he/she paid a visit while I was gone.

Irrigation hell, and other news…

Garden hoses are stupid. If I’d invented garden hoses, they’d have female connectors on both ends, and anything that isn’t a hose would have male connectors. The reality today, though, is that garden hoses have a male connector on one end, and a female connector on the other, while practically all non-hose components have male connectors. So, if you want to connect two non-hose components with a hose, you’re screwed (or, unscrewed, as the case may be). It’d be less of an issue if they had a coupler that’d connect two male connectors, but I can’t seem to find such a thing anywhere. *sigh* Instead, I got a female connector “repair kit”, so I’m going cut off the male connector from one of my hoses to replace it with a female connector, and make a hose with female connectors on both ends, the way God should’ve intended them to be. While I’m ranting about garden hoses, WTF is the deal with garden hose connectors containing lead? Are they trying to kill us?

I admit, I’m a complete idiot when it comes to plumbing. I’m like the opposite of this XKCD comic. I can write software, I can sorta build stuff out of lumber, but when it comes to water through tubes, I know nothing. But, I’m learning, and hopefully I have all the right parts to make some kind of contraption. In my defense, what I’m doing is relatively rare, I think. Most irrigation solutions out there assume you have, you know, water. Out of a spigot. With pressure. I’m sure if I did research, I’d find someone who did exactly what I’m trying to do, but then, what’s the fun in that?

The picture you see here was my first experiment. I got a garden hose, and used a 3/4″-hose-to 1/4″-tube adapter to connect a 1/4″ soaker hose to it. I then siphoned water out of a water carrier perched on top of my car, to see if the water pressure would be enough to force water out of the soaker hose. Well, it failed, quite miserably, but I claim the experiment a success because I learned a lot. The main issue I saw was that the adapter was leaky, and most of my water (and pressure, with it) was leaking out of the adapter. The adapter was also faulty in that, the inside diameter of the 1/4″ end was too small for the soaker hose, so water also leaked from there too.

My second experiment was to use a different method for attaching the 1/4″ soaker hose to my garden hose. I used these 1/4″-to-1/4″ barbed connectors, and poked one end into the middle of my garden hose through a tiny hole I drilled in it, and the other end into the 1/4″ soaker hose. That connection worked much better than the adapter. But, I noticed two problems with this. One was that the soaker hose only released water from a few points, separated by over a foot in places. The other thing I realized was that siphoning is unreliable. I guess air bubbles somehow form or get into the hose, and stops the flow of water.

So, I figured I needed a water container that had a 3/4″ hose connector at the bottom, instead of relying on siphoning action. I was originally thinking of using my 55 gallon drum, but the threading on the lid is kinda weird, so I wasn’t sure how to get a 3/4″ hose connector onto it. So, today, I came out to Redding, hoping to find a water container that already had a 3/4″ connector at the bottom, and some kind of vent up top. I first stopped by J and J Pumps, but the smallest containers they had were over 300 gallons, and cost a little under $300. The guy I talked to suggested that I check out Tractor Supply, and there, I found a 50 gallon rain barrel on clearance for $50 (pictured right). It’s got a 3/4″ male connector at the bottom, and a hole at top, as well as a mesh-covered opening in the lid. I’ll be pumping water into the hole at the top, using a 12V water pump, out of the 7 gallon water cubes I use to haul water from town. From there, the water will be fed into my soaker hoses, attached to a garden hose as the main line, by gravity.


In other news, I woke up yesterday to the rumbling of thunder. I listening to it for a while, then jumped awake. Thunder (usually) means rain. My roof is currently not water proof. Oh no! I hastily put up a couple more 1×3 cross-pieces on the roof, and started laying down asphalt impregnated paper. Ominous dark clouds hung in the sky. The rumbling of the thunder continued incessantly, gradually approaching closer, like artillery fire of an invading army. Put up the barricades! Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough tar paper. I’d used up most of the roll wrapping up my hut for the winter. I’d finished putting up two of the 5 pieces that would’ve been required to cover the whole roof, when it started raining. I had no other option but to cover the rest of the roof with the tarp again…

Unfortunately, it didn’t rain much. Not even enough to completely moisten the ground. Dry lightning rumbled and crackled throughout the day, and by early afternoon, I could see smoke to the south, the south east, and on a ridge line to the north east. The smoke to the south was somewhat disturbing, because prevailing winds could push it my way. I could see firefighting planes circling the smoke low, only several miles away. Fortunately, the smoke in that area cleared fairly quickly, to be replaced by a thicker plume to the south east. On my way into town, I saw half a dozen fire engines heading in the opposite direction, and this morning, I passed a huge convoy of 30 or so assorted fire trucks heading that way, probably to mop up after yesterday.


It’s not every day that I decide to use the toilet, and realize that to do so, I’d need to make a toilet first. Well, that’s not quite true. This is something I’ve realized every day I’ve been up here, but avoided making the toilet, opting instead to squat over a hole in the ground. But today, I made a toilet.

It’s not that I don’t like squatting over a hole. I think it’s actually a superior way to do it than sitting. There’s something about squatting that seems to make things go smoother; it’s slightly easier to exert the necessary muscles, and the right parts of the gut seem to get compressed naturally. Some people also say it’s more sanitary because your body doesn’t touch anything else.

No, the problem I’m having is one of real estate. With 60 acres, you’d think I would never run out of places to dig a shit hole. But, well, I guess I’m picky. I don’t want to do my business too close to my camp, but I also don’t want to venture too far. The ground around here is very rocky and hard, so there aren’t very many places where it’s easy to dig a nice deep hole. Of course, during the summer, I don’t want to squat out in the full sun, so I’d seek shade, under a nice leafy oak tree, perhaps. And I can’t reuse the same spot twice, because digging up my own crap just isn’t something I do. Oh, and ideally, I’d like to go somewhere with a nice view too; I mean, what’s the point of taking a dump in the great outdoors if the view isn’t so great? And so it happens, that I’ve run out of places to go. Or at least, it’s taking longer and longer to find a suitable spot. And when you gotta go, the last thing you want to do is to wander around in the woods with a shovel in one hand, toilet paper in the other, looking for a nice soft patch of ground to dig up.

So, I built a toilet. Introducing the Brent D. Miller Cylindrical Receptacle Accepting Pee & Poop, Ecologically Recycling, or BDM-CRAPPER in short. Brent is an old co-worker of mine, who graciously and generously donated the toilet seat. Though, he said the toilet seat only cost a dollar, and I used a whole 2x4x8 which costs about $2, so I think the lumber cost more than the toilet seat, but, nonetheless, a toilet wouldn’t be a toilet without the toilet seat, so I am naming my toilet in honor of Brent. Thanks Brent.

I guess it’s what people call a compost toilet, which seems like a glorified way of saying “a bucket, with shit and dirt in it.” But, that’s what it is. It’s a bucket, and there’s dirt in it. I put a bag of store-bought compost left over from my garden next to the toilet, and after I do my doo, I cover up my waste products with some compost. I’ve read of other people using sawdust, but I figured compost would already have the microorganisms required for composting, so that’d probably work better. I haven’t quite decided what to do when the bucket gets full, but I think I have a while to figure that one out. I also might eventually need to build a privacy enclosure around the toilet, for instance, if I have guests over, though it’s portable so I could just move it deeper into the woods where nobody can see. After all, it would be a shame to block out the beautiful views and fresh breeze…

super quick update

I’m down to just a few minutes on my laptop, so a super quick update.

I’ve uploaded some photos from last Friday’s fire. A fire crew has been returning every day to check on the fire, and today was the last day. Nothing re-ignited, so I think it’s all good. I also got to talk to the fire crew a bit, and they know I’m out here, which may someday be useful for them or for me.

On Saturday, I went into Redding again to finish some shopping that got cut short by the call from my neighbor. I got some foam insulation boards to put up on my roof, as well as some materiel for my water tower. My current plan is a simple platform with 4x4x8 legs to perch my 55gal drum on, built onto the side of a tree for stability. I got a 12V pump to pump water into the tank, but it’ll be up to gravity to get water out (though I can also pump water out if I had to). Hopefully, I’ll get that up this week, so that I can setup irrigation for my garden.

Otherwise, everything’s back to normal, sans neighbors. I’m having a great time up here, enjoying the beautiful scenery and amazing night skies. I feel fortunate to have what I have, and to be where I am.

Journal: July 16th, 2010

Today started like any other day. I got up around 10, dozed on and off for a while, and got out of my tent around 11. I had some left over carrot cake for breakfast, then started locking things up to go to town. I left my property a little after noon, made a stop at the local library, then headed on towards Redding.

In Burney, I started noticing people milling about by the road, on camping chairs, holding American flags. It didn’t take me long to realize that they were probably waiting for their boy, who, as I mentioned in a previous post was killed in Afghanistan, to come home. Based on flag toting folks lining the road, I figured the remains were being flown into Redding, and would be driven back to Burney on the same highway I was on.

Lance Corporal Tyler Roads, USMC, died just shy of his 21st birthday. The kid couldn’t legally drink yet, and he died in a foreign country that most of his country men (and women) can’t even place on a map. I wish I could honestly believe that he died for a good cause, but I don’t think I can. Afghanistan, nor, for that matter, is Al Qaeda, a threat to our nation. There was a sign in Burney that said “Thank you for freedom.” Tyler didn’t die for freedom. Al Qaeda can not destroy American freedom. The Department of Homeland Security has done more harm to our freedom than Al Qaeda. Terrorists can destroy lives and property, but they can not take away our core principles; at least not any more effectively than our own government could, and has.

No, Tyler died because we failed him. We sent him to a place we never should have gone, and after we did, he died because we failed to bring him home in time. It’s easy to blame the politicians and the military-industrial complex. But last I checked, this nation is still a democracy, which means we, the people, are responsible for what it does. When men and women in uniform die on foreign soil, it’s because we sent them there. We, not they. The reality is, if the draft were in place, this war would’ve ended years ago. If it were my ass, and my friends’ lives on the line, we would’ve filled the streets in protest until the war ended, the way they did 40 years ago. But we didn’t, and the dying continues, because it’s kids like Tyler Roads of Burney, CA (pop. 3500), who are doing the fighting and dying. Tyler wasn’t killed in action; he was killed by our inaction.

Several miles out of Burney, I saw the motorcade approaching. I pulled off the road, and stopped. As the hearse passed by, I took off my hat out of respect, and all I could think was “Sorry Tyler, we failed you. We failed to give you the future you deserved.”


My phone rang while I was browsing the shelves at Harbor Freight in Redding, my first of many planned stops. On the other end was my neighbor’s granddaughter.

“Yo, what’s up?” I asked. She replied with unintelligible yelling, then calmed down enough to tell me that there was a fire and that I should come down with all the water I could. I told her I was in Redding, and asked her if it was bad. She said their travel trailer (that my neighbor’s living out of) and truck were burning. It was “bad, bad, bad.” I told her I’ll get there as quickly as I could.

After I hung up, I stood there for a minute, considering my next move. For some reason, I don’t freak out when other people do. I’m not a particularly confident person, and have my share of anxious moments, but the more other people freak out about something, the calmer I get. I don’t know what it is.

I wasn’t done with everything I wanted to do in town. But then, most of the things I wanted to do related to my property one way or another, and if my property was going to be burnt down, none of the things on my list would matter. On the other hand, I knew it would take me at least an hour and a half to get back to my property. By then, the fire would either be under control, and whatever damage had been done would have been done, or the fire would be wildly out of control, and there would be nothing I could do.

So, I did the two things I did need to do: I filled up my tank with gas, and I went to pee. Then I headed back towards my property, driving as fast as I safely could.

My neighbor’s call had left open more questions than they had answered. I tried to fill in the blanks as I drove. My primary concern was, of course, my own property (yeah, I’m a great neighbor, huh). I instantly thought of the camp fire I’d had two days ago and never properly smothered. Could it have rekindled, then lit my property on fire? It seemed unlikely. Could it have then burned down hill towards their property? It seemed even less likely. They also said their truck was burning, which means they were around when the fire started. If they saw a fire from my property burning towards them, they almost certainly would’ve taken the truck. Besides, if they thought the fire started on my property, she wouldn’t have called me to come help them. So it seemed likely that the fire had started on their property. But, how could a fire start and spread so quickly if they were around? How were they not able to save the truck? Or by “truck” did she mean the quad (ATV)? If so it was conceivable the fire had started while they were in town, and found their trailer and quad burning when they returned? But I was pretty sure she wouldn’t confuse the truck and the quad. I knew they had cans of gas laying around. Could one of them have caught fire? In any case, I tried to assess how likely it was that a fire from their property would spread to mine. My property was up hill from them. But then, there’s a nice wide road between my property and theirs, and it’d be difficult for a fire to jump that. Furthermore, prevailing winds blew from my property to theirs, or at least perpendicular, so it seemed unlikely a fire on their property would get to mine. Then I considered how likely it was that a fire on my property coming from that direction would do damage to my camp. It would have to burn through the 400 yard distance between their camp and mine, past and around my garden, then burn through an area that I’ve cleared somewhat earlier this year. The ground is littered with dry leaves, which would burn, but most of the grass and brush is still green, so it seemed unlikely that that would burn too quickly.

Ultimately, I figured there were too many unknowns, and that I’d find out when I got there. I prepared myself for the worst, and started thinking about the impact of losing everything. I went through a mental list of everything there, and I was relieved to realize that there was nothing there that I couldn’t replace. It was just stuff. Everything that’s important about the property and what I’ve done over the past year is in my head. Though, I’d lose a lot of stuff, that was for sure. I’d lose my firearms. Then there’s the solar panels, expensive AGM battery, the fridge, the generator, power tools, the trailer… The list went on. I figured the total loss would be no more than $10k, which I figured would set me back some, but would be far from devastating. The property value would also take a temporary hit, but in just a couple of years, green would return, and the forest would be in even better shape than it is now. It would mean a sooner-than-expected end to my woods dwelling adventures, but I knew it was temporary anyway. So, all in all, it didn’t seem too bad.

As I topped the mountain pass nearest to my property, I was relieved when I failed to spot the giant column of smoke that I’d dreaded seeing. I passed by the local volunteer fire station, and they still had two engines in the garage. On the county road leading towards my area, I saw another fire truck pulling back onto the road, probably after ending its watch duty. A couple of miles out, I saw a sheriff’s truck heading in the opposite direction. It seemed like things were under control. I got to the dirt road, and was relieved to see the area pretty much as it had always been. Then I pulled up to my neighbor’s lot, which I have to pass through to get to my property, and parked my car among the water tankers and fire engines. There were two tankers, and three or four fire engines. I spotted my neighbors right away.

As they tell the story, they had returned from a trip into town, where they’d filled up a 25 gallon tank of propane. They were sitting in their lawn chairs, when they noticed a cloud of gas coming out of the propane tank, still strapped to the bed of the truck. The granddaughter quickly realized that there was a pilot lamp in the trailer, and got her grandfather (who can’t walk) onto the quad, and away. Merely 30 seconds to a minute and a half after they noticed the gas, it ignited. It must have been a spectacular ball of flame. I saw the propane tank later, and it had actually split down the side, though the investigator also said the valve had opened half a turn, somehow. From there, the fire spread to the rest of the truck, and throughout the trailer. Radiant heat ignited some of the neighboring brush, and burning debris lifted up by convection got carried by the wind to start spot fires nearby. As I’d predicted, the wind was blowing away from my property, and the spot fires were all on the side of their camp opposite to the direction of mine.

When I arrived, the fire was completely under control. The firefighters were mostly focusing on smothering the smoldering remains of the spot fires in the surrounding woods, which understandably was a larger threat. The trailer and truck were obviously a loss anyway, and I overheard one senior firefighter say he decided to direct all efforts to the surrounding brush fire, partially because he knew there was ammunition cooking off in the trailer. Apparently they even had a helicopter come drop some water. To be honest, I was sad I missed that part… I do like helicopters (they were probably Hueys too, my favorite). I watched the firefighters as they thoroughly drenched every patch of smoldering ground, and every smoking tree, even touching burnt out cores of trees with their bare hands to make sure nothing was even warm. They had guys walking around in the unburnt areas, looking for more smoldering debris that could start more fires (apparently they found a few). There were still bits of the trailer on fire, but they didn’t seem particularly concerned about that, and let it burn out before they attacked it with copious amounts of water and fire suppressants.

Since the fire was under control by the time I got there, they let us get close and watch them work. I tried not to get in the way, but I followed the bureau chief around as she pointed out various indicators to another firefighter. She pointed at oak leaves, and how they curl towards the fire. At a burnt stump, concave like a chair, which indicated the direction the fire came from. She picked up cables on the generator, and talked about how, if the copper had balled up, it could indicate an arc. She pointed out how one side of the generator frame had more paint than the other, one side of the lawn chair more fabric than the other. She turned her attention towards the vehicle, at the patterns on the burnt hood of the truck, and how the window had fall out of, as opposed to into, the car. It was all quite fascinating, and made me wonder if I should consider a change in careers. She also looked a lot like a girl I had a crush on in 10th grade.

Eventually, my neighbors’ relatives showed up from Redding, and they started picking things out of the fire and packing up what they’d managed to save. The granddaughter was camping in a tent upwind from the trailer, and most of her stuff had survived. Her grandfather lost just about everything, though hopefully insurance will cover his losses. But most importantly, they’d escaped the ordeal shaken but unscathed. It could’ve been much, much worse.

Phew. Life out here sure never gets dull. And now that I’m back to not having neighbors, I have nobody who can water my garden if I go away. I better get working on that irrigation system, I guess. And good thing I’d already planned on getting fire resistant siding for my hut upgrade. Maybe I should add another water tank too. Just in case.

Journal: July 14th, 2010 (Part 2)

Right now, I’m feeling incredibly proud of myself. I had this moment earlier, when I realized what I’d accomplished. Less than a year ago, this was bare vacant land. There was nothing here, but completely untouched wilderness, save for a single dirt road. Today, I have a hut, a garden, solar-generated electricity, refrigeration, enough water and food to last me a while, and all the tools and assorted materials to build most things. I am comfortable enough, that I can spend my days laying in my hammock reading, and stay up here for months if I wanted to. I’ve done it. I’m living in the woods.

Granted, there’s a lot more work to do, but most of it is non-essential, at least for the time being. One of the bigger construction projects on my list is to build a water tower so that I can setup an automated irrigation system, but that’s mostly so that I can leave my property without depending on my neighbor to water my garden. The other big project is obviously the hut extension, but it’s not something I really need during the summer. It’ll be nice to have an insulated, clean, bug-screened structure to stay in, but I’m actually doing ok without it for now. The hut will become essential when it gets cooler, but I have 3 or 4 months to prepare for that.

I don’t want to call this homesteading yet, though. It’s probably more like pre-homesteading. I still consider it an experiment, and the objective is still to learn. What I’m doing now is also not sustainable in the long run. I’m living off of savings, and burning through cash way too fast. In the fall, I’m probably going to have to find a job again, and this time, I’ll probably take the plunge and get a full time job so that I can pay off all my loans, save enough money for a well, and then some. Once my debts are paid, and I have the bigger comfier hut, and a well, I think I’ll be ready to actually homestead. Without loan payments to make, and big construction projects to pay for, the cost of living will be ridiculously low. The well is also crucial. Right now, it’s not practical to haul in enough water for a garden much larger than the one I have now. But if I have access to virtually unlimited water right here on my property, I can grow a garden large enough to actually become self sufficient, and maybe grow a surplus that I can sell. I’d also be able to raise livestock; the area around my property is an open range for cattle, after all. Even then, I don’t know if it’ll be possible to be completely self sufficient, or make enough money to be cash-flow neutral or better. But I guess I’ll find out, and I’ll let you know when I get there.

Journal: July 14th, 2010

It’s been an exciting week here in Serenity Valley. A couple of days ago, my neighbor came by to tell me about some bear tracks he’d found about half a mile away from our respective camps. The tracks were very faint, but two of them were very close together making them look like “Big Foot” tracks. Bears have five toes, like humans, so the confusion isn’t entirely surprising. But this is the clearest evidence of bears in the area, though these are probably black bears, and my neighbor estimates them to weigh 200-300 pounds based on the size of the tracks, so I’m not terribly concerned.

Later in the day, I went on an ATV ride with my neighbor’s granddaughter through our “backyard”, also known as Lassen National Forest. I feel truly fortunate to have a 1700 square mile backyard, that’s literally a fence hop away. There’s a network of well maintained logging roads throughout the area, as well as narrower hunter’s trails, and a trail that follows the BNSF line that cuts through our section and through the national forest. We followed the BNSF line for a while to one of her favorite spots, then I saw a meadow in the distance, so we went to check that out. It turned out to be a rather large field, maybe a third of a mile long and a couple hundred yards wide, and completely treeless. We found a pond or a spring in the middle of it, which we predicted would be there based on the greenness of the grass. Near that, we found an old crumbling log structure of some sort, probably not a cabin but perhaps a corral or pen for livestock.

From there, we followed some dirt roads back towards our respective properties (my neighbors live in the same section, and have setup a trailer about 300 yards from my camp), by way of an interesting (and random) sand quarry, and the pond near my property, where we found interesting tracks (pictured above). These tracks were huge, but I’m not sure whether they’re dog prints (it’d have to be a giant dog) or mountain lions. (Check out this photo for an analysis).

I went into town one day with my neighbors too, and while on the county road leading into town, we saw smoke in the distance. It was still light colored and faint enough that we thought it was maybe a huge dust devil, but the smoke had turned darker in color by the time we reached town, and if that wasn’t clue enough, it was clear from the trucks driving out of the volunteer fire station in town that we were witnessing the first significant local forest fire of the season. The smoke continued to grow larger and thicker while we were in town, and apparently the fire had grown to 140 acres in a matter of an hour. We could see fire fighting planes and helicopters with buckets slung underneath them circling around and through the smoke. Fortunately, they evidently got the fire under control, though I don’t know what the total burnt area was at the end. And the sign at the local ranger station only said fire risk was “moderate”… (The ranger I talked to today said they thought it might’ve been a sleeper from lightning that struck last week, that suddenly flared up.)

While in town, we also heard the big news of the day: a local boy had been killed in Afghanistan. I’m sure losses like that hit harder in small communities like these, where everybody knows everybody else. I also wondered whether people here reflected on the fact that their boy ostensibly died fighting “terrorists” who would never possibly strike rural communities like these1.

Other than that, life’s been pretty chill. I’ve given up on trying to do much work, and have been relaxing. In some sense, I think it’s an accomplishment that I’ve gotten my property to a level of comfort where I actually can just relax all day. Between sleeping in the tent, and the fully enclosed hammock I got, the bugs haven’t been too much of a nuisance either.

1 – I might mention, though, that during WW2 the Japanese hatched a plan to bomb and shell the Pacific North West, to start massive forest fires. They did manage to send bombs on hot air balloons that did reach the US homeland, and a submarine also managed to lob some shells at the Oregon coast, but they didn’t do much damage. Though, if done right from the actual interior of the country, a similar plot could do quite a bit of damage….

Journal: July 11th, 2010

I got back to Serenity Valley last night from a 4 day trip to San Francisco. The first thing I did, of course, was to check my garden, which my neighbor had been watering for me. Fortunately, I hadn’t lost any plants in my absence, so it seems like my little fence might’ve done the job, though I guess I never know when my garden terrorist might come back with enough persistence to get past the barrier.

The corn had grown noticeably, though the other plants mostly looked the same. The squash continues to do well, and I had a couple of tiny, but ripe, strawberries on one of my strawberry plants. Today, some zucchini seeds I sowed before I left sprouted, and a couple of okra seeds are also sprouting. The bean and corn seeds I sowed to replace the lots plants also sprouted today, though the corn that got razed seems to continue to grow, and are back to being a couple of inches tall. The egg plants and peppers continue to be sort’ve meh. A couple of the egg plants seem to be doing ok, but the other two seem to hardly be growing at all. The peppers also don’t seem to be getting noticeably larger, though they do seem to be sprouting new leaves. I might take out two of the six pepper plants, and plant more zucchini instead…

I didn’t do a whole lot today, mostly because of the heat, and also because it usually takes a day or so to get acclimated. About the only significant “work” I did today was to string up a new hammock I got. It’s a fully enclosed hammock, with sides made of mesh cloth to keep out insects. Unlike ordinary hammocks, I can use it without getting bothered by buzzing insects, or getting my blood drained, though mosquitos might be able to still get me through the canvas bottom.

The other thing I did was to pitch a tent, and prepare my bed. I’ve noticed that how well I sleep impacts my quality of life, and my quality of sleep is affected by what I sleep in and on. I’ve noticed that I don’t sleep as well in or under a sleeping bag, as I do under a proper blanket or duvet. Pillows are also important, and clean sheets also are an added bonus. I slept in the hut last night, but the sleeping pad in my current hut isn’t too comfortable. It’s only 2ft wide, hard to climb into and get out of, and I have very little head room. I’ve also been sleeping in the car, but the back seats don’t fold down completely flat, it gets hot in the morning when the sun pours in through the windows, and it’s annoying to have to move my bedding in and out when I need to use the car to haul things. So I pitched my larger 7’x8′ tent, under a nice oak grove next to my hut, on the western side where it’ll be shaded all morning. Inside, I first placed a 3’x6′ OSB sheet so I have a flat surface to sleep on, rolled out a rug that I bought at Wal-Mart so that I have a clean “floor”, laid down my sleeping pads, wrapped it up in clean sheets, and put the duvet that I brought up from the city on top of that. This is about as comfortable (and clean) a bedding as I’ve prepared for myself up here. We’ll see how I sleep tonight.

Temperature regulation continues to be a challenge. I am obviously not freezing like I was last November, but now I’m having a hard time staying cool. It was 92F in the shade today, and while that’s a little warmer than average up here, it’s not atypical either. It got hot in the tent. It got hot in the hammock. It got hot in the hut. The only place where it was reasonably cool was right in front of the hut, where there’s shade all day, and I can catch whatever air movement there is. Though, I think the hut will stay much cooler if I can insulate the roof. I think that might be a project for the coming week.