Tales of a Modern Homesteader

The Modern Homestead Manual describes modern homesteading as “… living beyond the sidewalks and power lines.” That is definitely me. I don’t raise rabbits, cows, goats, chickens, or other animals for food, but do have a garden (which is in terrible shape this year), do live a very isolated, country life, and do consider myself a modern homesteader.

We all have stories. This is part of mine. I have given up trying to tell this in chronological order. I started to tell the stories in order, and then …  well, the telling got in the way.
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December 19, 2010

It has been three solid days of rain, with me and the 4 wet dogs stuck inside. Oh, sure, I’ve gone out in the storm to fill the generator, and yesterday to switch propane tanks, but while I want to be able to go outside, I don’t want to brave a pouring rain, a whipping wind, all the while trying to keep my poncho around me, and me dry. Get wet, and it takes forever to dry off.

This afternoon, in a few hours, is the annual Ladies of the Sur holiday luncheon at Ventana. I can’t get there. Some of these women I only get to see a few times a year. I am saddened I can’t make it. It is what comes from living as I do.
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March 7, 2012

My heavens, it has been a long time since I wrote about living in the wilderness. We had a quiet fire season this year, and so far, a VERY quiet winter. In fact, we experienced one controlled burn that got out of control across from Gorda Mountain, and two fires yesterday. One was a controlled burn a couple days ago that reignited, the second took out a house. The cause will be investigated, but one photo seems to hint at a burn pile. The reason given yesterday was a downed power line, which is completely possible due to the high winds we have been experiencing.

My wilderness life continues to get easier. I have amenities I haven’t had since my town days. It is getting almost too comfortable up here, but much appreciated as I grow older.
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December 18, 2010

As expected with these storms, Plaskett is closed. Many trees are down according to my neighbor. I prepared for this, got everything for Xmas dinner early. My neighbor couldn’t get to work today. He and the X are going to work on it tomorrow, but there is more coming tonight and tomorrow, so it won’t stay open long, I don’t think. The X may have to open it again on Xmas, if he wants Xmas dinner! Of course, he has my turkey in his freezer!

I have gotten pretty good at weather watching. It is a survival skill up here. I have to know what is coming, when, and stock up on extra everything – dog food, gas, food, and wine.
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December 15, 2010

Ever since I came back from New Zealand, I have been into the NZ wines. Theirs is the best Savignon Blanc, and they also make a good Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. The Kiwis don’t use corks, only screw tops. I don’t miss corks, I have a whole grocery bag full of corks that will make a bulletin board someday, and the screw tops are generally easier to open. Except the Sav tonight. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get it open. Then I got the idea that only comes from living out in the wilderness. I found my pliers. Worked like a charm. So I sat and drank the Oyster Bay Sav, while I strung popcorn for my Christmas Tree. Isn’t life grand?

We do have a serious series of storms coming in for the next 10 days, so tomorrow I run to town for more wine, dog food, gas, and the makings for Xmas dinner, as my son may be here on Xmas Day, and my road out may be impassable until Xmas. Gotta love it.
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July 20, 2010

Only a month after I wrote that there was still moisture in the bushes and trees, and it is drying out quickly. I have entered high fire alert for the season, and will live here until the rains — always looking, always alert, and always aware. It is like living in a war zone for 3 or 4 months, without the noise, thankfully. Plaskett is ripe for a fire this year. Hopefully, the brush clearance the USFS is conducting from now until the end of the summer will help all of us.

Driving out the “back way” yesterday, there are many places on South Coast Ridge Rd. where it is more like a tunnel than a road, due to the overgrowth of the roadside brush. Will be very happy to see this taken care of.
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July 14, 2010

Just had a guy hike straight up the mtn. (not the road) in shorts, no shirt, and no water or water container. Of course, he wanted some water from my tank. I said to use the hose, not the connection up there. (I didn’t want him to screw it up, or leave it cracked open by mistake.) When I found out he had no water container, I gave him a plastic quart jar I had, after he had drank his fill, and filled it with water.

What was he thinking, or not? Doesn’t he know that one never goes hiking up here without water? He is lucky he came upon me, and that he didn’t get lost. I sent him back via the road.
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June 20, 2010
I have to laugh now at the story I wrote two days ago, because the very next day, a fire broke out on Plaskett Ridge Rd. It was about 1/2 way between me and the coast, as the crow flies. I’m 2 miles, approximately.

Thankfully, while the grass is tall and very dry, the brush and trees still have enough moisture to not rage. The fire yesterday was called about 4:30 pm at 12 acres, with forward spread stopped. One tanker and one helicopter worked it, as well as lots of crews. It was in rough terrain, but the great ffs were assisted by the fact that it is early in the season, and there were no winds.

But 24 hours after it was first reported, I still have a lot of traffic coming through my place – not nearly what I had during the Chalk Fire of 2008, the Plaskett 2 of 2000 or the Wild Fire of 1996. But enough to drive the dogs absolutely crazy.
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June 18, 2010

Living up here, paying attention to the critters and the plants, I know more about what “season” it is than if I watch the calendar.

For example. We have entered the “fire season” but I know the moisture is still quite high, despite the dry grasses that cover the hills. How do I know this? I don’t have any sophisticated hydrometer or other equipment. I know because I am still finding ticks on my dogs. Not a lot, but a few.

Ticks inhabit the coast all year long. Up here, they only survive if there is sufficient moisture. They are never a problem in the summer and fall, only the winter and spring. This is not true for those who live below the fog line, but for me, consistently above the fog line, it is.

So, for now, fire is not a danger, because the ticks are still present, although in increasingly lesser numbers.
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April 2, 2010

When I left this morning, it was a beautiful spring day – crisp, but sunny. I was in awe of this place where I have landed for the second half of my life. I wonder, as I drive my quiet road how this came about. Oh, I know the “reality” of it – the luck, the work, the determination. But I wonder about the “other reality” of it. How did I come to be so very lucky in this lifetime? Did dedicating my legal career to help the poor, the unfortunate, the unlucky, gain me a special place like this? How have I lived my life in such a way to deserve this? If I could bottle it, more people would be happy – finding and living their dreams. Perhaps some day, I will be wise enough to see the individual threads of my life and follow their patterns, so that I can share this tapestry with others. (Note to self: all my optimism generally finds new life in spring.)
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April 8, 2010

The guilt I feel for not continuing Gideon’s heart worm medication is palatable. To see him sick, and know I could have prevented it, if I kept him on the medication. The vet thinks the cough is actually an upper respiratory infection not cause by the heart worm, and put him on a cough suppressant. It is working. His cough is down from persistent to occasional. But the new vet wants to move the first shot up to May, and then the 2nd and 3rd shots in June. By July, I will know if we have beat this dreaded parasite.

Why don’t people get this one, huh? Why our helpless fur kids?
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April 1, 2010

Gideon went to the vet on Monday the 29th. I thought he had heart worm, the vet thought he had an upper respiratory infection. I made sure he did a blood test. This is one of those times I wish I was wrong. So, for now, he is on heavy doses of antibiotics, heart guard and house arrest. In three months, he will be given the series of arsenic shots. I can only pray for the best.

Also, it snowed last night, and I woke to a winter wonderland, in Spring. Not the first time it snowed during the Spring – one time, it snowed on Mother’s Day! Such beauty.
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March 18, 2010

I love spring … I really, really love spring. The air is warm and bright, the flowers are beginning to come out to play, and the bugs have not yet been awakened.

I did see a baby lizard today, which tells me the baby rattlesnakes cannot be far behind.

One of the wonderful aspects of spring, is that the washing can start again. I do use town laundromats, upon occasion, but I really like my “washing machine” – a 5-gallon bucket on the back deck. When the sun is out, the temperatures are warm, I will wash 4-5 items in the bucket, and lay them out to dry on the chairs in the sun. Everything smells so much nicer than those chemically-induced smells of a “real” washing machine. I admit, it is a little harder with levis and sheets, but with most of my clothes, I prefer a bucket – just not in the winter.
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March 7, 2010

I got a new cellular booster for the cottage, so now I have pretty decent cellular service in there, which covers both my phone and my 3G wireless network. I am a happy camper, in that respect.

The road closed in several places Thursday night, and the blogging and emails have been at a frantic pace for three days now — all day, every day. I hope to take a break tomorrow.

My road gets worse, and worse, with each storm. I slid into the rut from hell Thursday night, fortunately, I had a few glasses of wine in me from the Legends Fundraiser at TreeBones, so did not panic, just backed down and tried to straddle the rut again. It is hard to straddle a rut, when the clay is saturated. Sliding is almost inevitable.

Knowing I was facing the possibility of being stranded Thursday night, given the saturation of the coast, I finally got around to “winterizing” my Jeep. When I say “winterize” I mean, I am prepared for being stranded, and having to sleep in my car. This year, I bought a brand-new sleeping bag good down to 30 degrees. It is in its own case, so it won’t get full of dog hair, traveling in my Jeep. I also bought a plastic storage container, with lid, to keep dog hair, dirt and mud out. In that I have placed a brand-new pillow. I also have a battery-operated lantern, a flashlight, a jug of water, an unread book, some power bars, and a first-aid kit. I need to add a change of clothes. I already carry a jacket, so I think I am set. If I get stuck, it will probably follow a town run, which means I will have a bunch of groceries, probably my laptop, so I should throw in a new DVD to watch. I already carry an invertor for recharging my phone and lap top. Can you tell I was a girl scout? If I am stranded, I want to be comfortable!
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February 23, 2010
Winters up here are hard. Systems tend to fail, no matter how prepared I think I am. That’s why I have back-up, often at least two. Today, I needed to use several of them.

Part of my homestead is a very old trailer, while I build my house. I have Phase I completed, the eventual kitchen/family room, but for now, my bed, bath, and kitchen are in the trailer.

I’ve been living in this trailer for 15 years, while I survived a divorce, learned to live up here alone, and paid off the land. A couple years ago, I started building. It is a slow process, as I am paying as I go. I want to retire with no mortgage, rent, or utility bills, and I am getting there.

Being an old trailer when I bought it for $1500 in 1994, it is ancient now. I have been concerned about an electrical fire, and today I had one. We relit the forced air heater today, after a week or two of it being out. It has a wall thermostat, like most houses. Set the temperature, and forget it. When it came back on for the second time this morning, it was sounding really strange. I started smelling something burning, but convinced myself it was my burn barrel. The next thing I know, black smoke is pouring out of the kitchen drawers (the heater is under the sink, and the drawers are next to that).

First, I shut down the heater, even though I wasn’t sure that was the culprit. I opened the front door, as I was overcome with smoke. I opened the roof vent. Then I started pulling out the drawers to check for something on fire. I turned off the pilot and the gas to the heater. Pulled everything out, but saw no flames, and the black smoke had ceased.

I found my fully-charged fire extinguisher, and have placed it in a prominent place. Now, and throughout the day, I will monitor conditions all day, to make sure the emergency is over, which it appears to be. It was ony a mater of time.

So, I am using the stove for a heater, and I have a Mr. Buddy heater with 3 16 oz-cannisters as a back-up. I ALWAYS have a back-up, and often two! That’s what living up here has taught me – always have a back-up, for everything. The cottage has its own heating system, with a back-up.

A couple hours after all of that excitement, I became aware that there was no 120 power, anywhere. I checked the generator, it was acting strange. I got my dog-sitter. He isolated the problem to the electrical to the trailer. Once that cord was removed, I had electrical to the cottage. Now I had to figure out how to get electrical to the trailer. My dog-sitter did. We ran the old extension cord through one of the bad screened windows, and hooked it up to a spare power strip I had, by-passing the trailer’s electrical. Now, I can charge my laptop, my cell phone, one light, connect the batter charger for part of my 12 volt system (frig & internet), and run an extension cord to the TV (which probably won’t get any signal today, as the digital antenna doesn’t like storms, and needs its own power source.)

So, my back-ups are spare power strip, spare extension cord (I have one more), spare 120 light, battery operated lanterns, old-fashioned lamp oil lamps, flashlights, extra heater, and a back-up generator that will run all, except for the delicate electronics, which I can always charge on my Jeep’s battery. What a life, huh?
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February 5, 2010

Quiet, peaceful day. The wind and rain stopped a little after 7 am. By then, the wind had wrestled me for my nerves, and was winning. It is hard to explain what happens when the wind blows up here for hours or days, but it is grating. I can understand the protagonist in Chocolat, who when the Mistral blows, moves with the wind. I have a friend who lives in Provence, and she tells me her Mistral stories. Up here is not much different. The wind becomes the sound of Mother Nature, and she is not friendly. She is in one of her moods and her mood becomes mine.

I can usually withstand up to three days, but this morning, when the wind finally stopped, I was about to scream. I’ve tried making it my own. I’ve tried becoming “one with the wind.” I have tried many things in my 15 years. None successful. The wind shrieks through my body, my brain, my calmness, and I become another person. I even renamed the ranch from Wind Dragon to Wind Dancer, in order to make friends with the wind. It does not want me as a friend.

I have to wonder, sometimes, what it is about the wind? Is it Gaia’s temper tantrum? She gets up to 145 mph up here during the winter. Is she just forcefully showing us what she can do? Or is she simply shouting at me because I am deaf?

Next time she blows, I will listen to what she is trying to tell me, up here on this isolated mountain top. I will listen to the sound that quiets all others. I will listen to the music contained within the hurricane, and rejoice that I am honored with being her audience.
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Groundhog Day, 2010

I don’t know if he saw his shadow or not, but I do know we are in for 6 more weeks of winter. It is an El Niño year. More rain is on the way, and winter up here is always the hardest. Staying warm, staying dry, keeping the systems operating — all are challenges. It would be nice if winter were over. But I know it is not. Once a month or so, I run off to town to spend the night. To live the life of luxury in a Motel 6, usually. I know — luxury? A Motel 6? Well, hot baths on demand, 24-7 power and tv. No dog hair covering my bed, nice dinners or lunch out. Luxury is relative, is it not?
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Christmas 2009

Here, in the mountains of Big Sur, the commercialism of Christmas does not reach. The holidays are more about family and friends. Shopping is a difficult process, and given the death of my friend Lee on the 13th, and dealing with his estate (who died and left you in charge? Lee did), there has been no shopping. No time. Work is screaming at me, probate takes a lot of time, and there is too much to do to think about Christmas.

But tomorrow, on Christmas Day, I will make the hour-long trip (one way) to the next mountain for a Christmas Open House. Friends will come out of hibernation for a time, to join together to celebrate the holiday season. The weather is expected to be clear, but chilly. Perfect for Christmas. And seeing people I have not seen in a while will lift my holiday spirits as little else can.
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December 4, 2009
I am never as prepared for winter as I think I am. LOL. The water pump gave out a couple days ago, so no water inside. Plenty outside. The caretaker is off doing his crazy whatever. The ex is unavailable, so I make do. I fill up every viable container I can find, and bring that inside. I put a 5-gal. bucket, filled with water just outside the door. I make do, as I always do. I feel more like a pioneer — albeit one with a laptop, an internet connection, a cell phone, and a DVD player. But for the basics, it is not that much different than early pioneers. I still carry water. I still chop wood (although the wood stove has a few more repairs before I can get it hooked up and working), and I still grow some food. We won’t talk about bathroom facilities. That’s too much information.
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November 11, 2009, Veteran’s Day or Rememberance Day, as some call it. Winter is just around the corner, and I feel like, “Didn’t we just HAVE winter?” Winter is the toughest time to be a modern homesteader, at least up here with the cold, damp, and windy conditions. I am prepared in some respects, but not at all in others. After the storm of October 13th (wow, what a day THAT was!) my roof got recoated — twice, so I shouldn’t have any more leaks. Everything that needs to be “tied down” is, pretty much. Water system is good. I need to get my 5-gal. back-up propane tank filled. I have an emergency back-up generator that works. I have stocked up on canned goods. Now, I need to stock up on propane, lamp oil, gasoline, and probably get one new battery, at least, maybe replace both of them, while the weather is good. Always lots to do to get ready for the quiet time.

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October 1, 2009

The 18th Annual Jade Festival begins 1 week from tomorrow. It is always a marathon. Three days of greeting people, organizing and handing out meal tickets and t-shirts to the volunteers, taking photographs for … well, because that’s what I do.

I run the main SCCLT information booth. I am lost and found, I am who one speaks to about just about everything. It is long days of social interaction, music, and fun — not to mention the Jade and other vendors.

We open our little part of the coast to visitors from all over who have been coming for years, some since the beginning. We grow in size beyond our capacity to host them. The campground will start filling up in just a few days, and be full long before the festival starts. Rooms along the South Coast are probably already reserved.

I always look forward to it, but when I am packing up my little booth on Sunday night, I am always glad it is over. It is intense for the few of us who put it on each year.
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Septemeber 16, 2009 – TOWN RUNS

For people in Big Sur Valley, a town run is just a town run. It takes an hour, and hour and a half, round trip. For those of us in the mountains of the South Coast, a town run must be well planned. It is four hours, round trip, and sometimes requires an over night stay, if the errands are too long, or too difficult.

For example, recently, I had been paid with IOUs for months by the State of California. That meant a lot of things got postponed. So once the money started flowing again, I had many things to catch up on. An overnight town trip required two nights in town.

Arriving in town in the early afternoon, I first check into my motel, so I can get my favorite room. After getting settled in, I head for Costco. It is my least favorite errand. It is two hours, trekking up and down each of the food isles. Non-food is pretty easy, but the food items are always moving, only sometimes available, and I prefer the grocery store. But a couple times a year, I need to stock up on big stuff — winter prep and the like. So I do that, first. It wears me out, so I come back to my room.

The next day, I take care of a couple of minor errands — picking up the part for my wood stove, going to the bank — then meeting a friend for lunch who picked up a a couple of 1930′s suitcases for my storage shelf at an estate sale. The best part of my day. Then, an hour and a half at Jiffy Lube, and $300 later, my fluids are in good shape. Then, new tires. Once all of that is done, I am ready for a nap, or at least putting my feet up again. Office Depot and Home Depot will have to wait.

I probably could have done all this with one night in a motel, but I am getting older, and after a two-hour Costco run, I couldn’t walk anymore, and had to put my feet up for a few hours before I could tackle the next chore. How will I do when I am 70?
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August 8, 2009, opening day of hunting season. I wrote on my daily blog about what this is like, so I won’t repeat it here. I wrote the following to a dear friend whom I’ve never met, but feel close to due to her history, my history, and the sharing over the internet. I decided it also needed to be reproduced here.

The South Coast is still wild, and probably always will be. I think I have finally been accepted, after 20 years of living here, 10 years of teaching the teenagers, and 10 years of being the “voice” of the South Coast at the Big Sur Multi-Agency Advisory Council. One of my neighbors said, “How come you got appointed?” And I said, “Because I was the only one willing to stand up for us. Anytime you want the job, G., let me know, as I will GLADLY give it up!”

I love it here, and will slowly write the story, as I have been on this blog. Now, of course, I have hunters pissed off. Teehee. What’s a single, hermit, 60 year old, Mtn. Mama to do other than piss off hunters?

During the fire, I found a hunter in the closed section of the forest, scoping out the area for deer last week. I stopped and talked to him. “Can I help you?” I said. “No, can I help you?” He said. “Well, the forest is closed, and I wondered what you are doing here.” I said. “I’ve been coming here for 35 years,” he said, “And are you the one who put up the damn gates?” “Yes, that would be me.”

He was pissed, and took the opportunity to tell me why he thought I should not have done that. I said, “I did that 13 years ago. Get over it!” We talked for quite a while. I told him of the shitting by my spring — my water source, fer gawd’s sake, and the trash, and the disrespect for my private property. I think he finally got it, but he still questioned my decision.

I closed off 120 acres of a vast hundreds of thousands of acres. Too bad. I could, I did, and I am proud that I did. Yes, I am the witch with the gates. I love that someone carved “dick head” on my reflectors. If they only knew that it was a “cunt” that got the best of them.
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Memorial Day Weekend, 2009

On Sunday night, campers showed up after dark, and decided the middle of the road, right in front of my gate was a great camping spot. They broke camp at dawn, luckily for them. Here is a shot of the campfire they built, AFTER the ex had moved it to get through.

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A neighbor had the same problem at his house. Found a camper with tent smack in the middle of the driveway leading to his house. He told the people that if they stayed there, when he came out to go to work around 5 am, he would probably just run over it. I guess they decided to move.

Life in the Wilderness has enough challenges. We really don’t need these yahoos without a clue.

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Cinco de Mayo, 2009

I had company today. The best kind. Working company. The ex and Paul F. worked on my water system today, and I prepared lunch, drinks, and other provisions. It was nice to have company, but even nicer to have company that was helping me in one of the most basic of survival necessities — water.  Our survival needs, in terms of how long we could withstand deprivation are: air, warmth (shelter), water, food, and love. I am blessed to have all of the basics.

I did not even realize the holiday, as I am wrapped up in so very many things. Before Dakota’s injury, my holding tank down at the spring gave totally and irrevocably out. It is toast. And, as is usual, that means redoing the entire process. The spring has been dug out and redirected, temporarily. The old holding tank has been removed. The old settling tank has been removed. All the fittings are going to be redone. The new holding and settling tanks purchased, the placement for both reformed and secured. All that is left is putting the tanks in place (happens tomorrow), new fittings purchased (happens Thursday) and then the whole thing put back together (sometime while I am on vacation). The system gave out about a month ago. I had 600 gallons in storage, which for me, without a garden, is enough. But to have to replace a water system (all but the storage tank) is a monumental task. Fortunately, this one sur-vived for 13 years with only simple maintenance. I will have so much water, I won’t know what to do with it all. It will be nice when I finally have a “real” bathroom to divert some of this water to. Next Spring, I hope. 

Dakota came home the day after her second surgery. She required 24/7 care. We’ve been literally bonded for a week. She goes no where without me, and up until yesterday, when her drain came out, I took no more than 5 minutes away from her. BUT the dedication is paying off. After a week of a very slow recovery, she started really rebounding yesterday, and today, wants nothing more than to be “normal” — to play outside with the other dogs, to run and jump, to have her own say in her life, but it cannot happen, yet — not until I get back from Morocco and Greece, as the dog sitter (after allowing her to go search for me the last time I was gone overnight, thus causing this injury) is not allowed to let her out on her own. She MUST be with him at ALL times. I cannot afford the emotional and financial drain again. At least until I have recovered.

She goes to the vet for suture removal on Thursday. The ex takes her. I leave for SF that morning. 

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April 25, 2009

Dakota returned on Monday. She had been hit by a car and was badly injured. It took her four days to crawl and limp 5 miles and 3250′ in elevation. Her love for us (me and the other dogs) was so great, she was able to make it. Such courage and strength. She is a warrior dog.

She has been at the vet’s since Monday, has had one surgery, and is having another on Monday. We miss her terribly, but want her healed sufficiently before she comes home.

On another note, we had two fires this week. One near Rancho Rico on Monday, and one at Salmon Creek on Friday. What a start to the fire season. It could be a rough one!

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April 19, 2009

It is peacefully quiet up here today. Dakota went looking for me on Thursday, when I went to town for an overnight stay. My dog sitter did not keep her inside, as he was supposed to. I went looking for her at Plaskett Creek Campground, and at the school. I asked a couple friends who are down there to keep an eye out for her. She has not returned, nor has she been found. I keep hoping, but each day, the hope is lessened.

While down on the coast, I saw that campfires have now been banned, outside the developed campgrounds. I saw that Plaskett was way beyond overflowing. It was a madhouse of epic proportions. I heard that the garden at the school had been vandalized on Friday night. The crowds were  beyond the usual summer craziness. I understand that because much of the forest is closed due to the fires of last summer and fall, and because the Big Sur State Park is still closed, the burden has shifted down here. It is ironic, as we are the only place that has not burned. We have heavy fuel loads with the SOD the forest has experienced, and we are ripe for a fire. The increase in traffic, illegal camping and campfires almost guarantees that we will be next. I shudder to think of what this summer will be like.

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April 8, 2009

Ever since I was a young girl, I have envisioned the earth as a living, breathing being. I have seen humans as a parasite, like a tic, who suck the blood from Mother Earth. As long as we don’t overtake the host, host and parasite survive.

Yesterday’s mudslides at the State Park brought this back to mind. Everyone is hustling to get the State Park open by Memorial Day. The businesses need the influx of tourists to support them, particularly after the extensive fires last year. However, I found myself thinking that Mother Nature is fragile, and scarred, and healing. She cannot take millions of tourists, right now. I imagine that she is yelling at us, via this horrific mudslide, that she is not ready. She needs more time to heal. 

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April 7, 2009

It is days like today, when I sometimes wish I lived in town, where things are easier. I’ve been sick for 4-5 days now, and I’m not getting any better. I keep trying to work, and that is probably setting back my recovery. I haven’t had this grunge in about 3 years. And where did I get it? I am practically a recluse, for pete’s sake!

My day started with the news that the 500 gallon water tank at the spring, where I collect water to pump up to the gravity feed tank has developed a crack. It is not holding water, AT ALL. Not an immediate emergency, as it is raining — no, pouring– today and tonight. But there will be a fire season in a month or two. Okay, that goes into the financial planning department.

Next, I ran out of gas for the generator yesterday. That’s not TOO bad, as I have to run to Cambria, in the pouring rain to overnight a brief due last Friday, anyway. The court gave me until today, come hell or high water, and both have parked themselves on my deck outside. So, I go. When I get back, I find the unused 55 gallon plastic cherry container I bought for $25 and put it under the gutter on the cottage. At least I’ll have an extra 55 gallons to water the potted plants with, or my dogs, who ever gets thirsty first. The next morning it is full!! Wow, better get a few more of those puppies!

I get back, safe and sound, but cannot fill the gennie, as the wind is blowing madly, the rain is pounding incessently, and I must transfer gas to a smaller, more manageable can. Cannot do that in the rain. Luckily, I do have enough battery power in the lap top to type and post this, enough battery power to run one light tonight so I can read the book I so providently picked up in town. 

Oh, it is hell to be a modern homesteader when conditions are so dismal. But I have it easy compared to those who came here before me, I remind myself. Everything is relative, isn’t it?

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February 26, 2009 – Economy, digital, and tics

These are the things on my mind tonight. I haven’t been paid in a month, the state owes me money – enough to get me through 2 and 1/2 months of expenses. I have four bills I haven’t even submitted, yet, because … well … will they get paid? it is a helluva way to live. I’ve only been paid 4 out of the last 8 months. But, how else can I work at home, making decent money with my law degree? There are trade-offs, for sure, but today, I worked in my pjs and had a very productive day. Earned some bucks, whenever they will be paid. 

We, as in local broadcast, switched to digital on the original 2/17 date. I have a digital t.v., but I am on the very outskirts of the analog broadcast signal for San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Santa Maria. That’s NBC, ABC, and CBS. I can get by with those. But my poor antenna has been battered and torn by years of amazing winter winds recorded at up to 145 mph. Whew. That’s strong! I’ve never lost the antenna — the ex did a great job of setting that up — but I’ve lost parts of it. Whole “fingers” are gone. I’m willing to spend a couple hundred dollars, if I can bring in the signals again. Rather that, than the monthly fees for satellite. I’m not picky. I mostly use it for background, anyway. Why pay $100/month for junk, when with 3 free channels (although my digital scanner indicates I may get 4) one can get all the junk one needs?

And tics. Besides the winds that winter brings, water brings tics. With 4 dogs, tics can be a problem. Tonight, I found a tic on my computer monitor. Getting it off, without dropping it on me, was a challenge. One I was up for. After I got that one taken care of  (I burn them), I found one crawling up my neck. That one got the same treatment. Fortunately, I’ve trained Mama Dakota to get the tics on her two puppies. That leaves me with the job of taking care of her — at least the spots she can’t get to — and Gideon. 

One of the problems is that once I find a tic on me, I get the creepy crawlies. I have been bitten. Once, at Ventana, when one dropped out of a bush. I still have the scar. But the one that will never be forgotten was the one that got me in the belly button (mine is an “inny”) after I got out of the hospital for a ruptured appendix. I already had pain, so the “new” pain was associated with that, but it kept getting worse. Finally, I laid down, and had the ex check my belly button for invaders, and sure enough, he found one.

Tic bites are painful for the first day or two, after they are removed. Then they itch like an sob. I really hate tics. And when they get in my bed, or on my body, my “no-kill” policy goes out the window. Just like threatening rattlesnakes in the garden. But that’s another story.

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February 25, 2008

For three days, I thought Dakota had been carried off by a mountain lion. Thank god, I was wrong, and eventually found her shut inside a storage trailer. What a sigh of relief, after grieving for three days. I wrote this in response to a comment by a wildlife biologist, Rog in Alaska. Z, currently in Texas, also wanted to hear the circumstances that caused me to believe as I did.

Personally, I have lost two other dogs to mountain lions (verified as I heard the attack of one, right outside my window, and found the physical evidence of the other), and my only neighbor has lost three. Mountain lions do kill dogs, and have around here. My neighbor witnessed a stalking during the daytime, which I explain below.

I think mountain lions are some of the most beautiful critters on earth, and I honor and cherish them. I have been one of the lucky ones, and have seen mountain lions three times, fortunately, I was in my Jeep all three times.

One of the reasons I have *four* dogs, is to keep the mountain lion at bay without harming or endangering them or our top predator. I also take every precaution, such as making sure ALL dogs are inside from before sunset, to after sunrise. But they stalked my neighbors dogs (2) in his yard during daylight hours, to within 20 feet of the house! Fortunately, John was able to scare her off without putting her in danger or his dogs.

Mountain Lions attacking dogs, or deer, or whatever, is part of the natural cycle of things. She must eat. I know that. I understand. Why should I apologize to the mountain lion for thinking she did something that is part of her nature? She may not have gotten to my dog THIS time, but she has before, and may again. I have not defamed her in any way, just recognized who she is – a great predator.

The reason I thought it was the mountain lion (and my caretaker, who has better ears than me hears her come through this portion of her territory twice a month like clock-work) is because something was in the forest, just past the cleared section, driving Dakota nuts. Her hair was up. She was barking like crazy. All 4 dogs were spread out, as they do, with Dakota on point, Bear behind her, then Miranda, then Gideon, who was by the house. These four dogs were in a line going out quite a distance. Something was here…mountain lion, bob cat, coyote, fox, something. Out of all the possibilities, it was only natural to think mountain lion, as the others would have quickly departed upon being faced by Dakota and the rest of the pack. That was the last time I saw her, before I opened the door to the storage trailer. That’s how I came to the conclusion I did.

So, I am not sure an apology to mountain lions in general is necessary, as I have provided no “misinformation” other than being wrong about the cause of Dakota’s 3-day absence, and I did post the one re being humbled, and drawing everyone into my “drama” but I’ll be more than happy to let anyone persuade me that an apology to the reputation of mountain lions is appropriate. It is not “murder” when a predatory critter stalks and kills to fill its belly. Only people commit murder, of each other, and other critters when for trophy, rather than self-defense or to provide necessary food.

The mountain lion, particularly this one, knows I have been living in harmony with her for a number of years. I had another one, the one I saw three times, for whom my property was part of her territory. I am sure it was her that got my other two dogs. She eventually wandered down to the highway and was hit by a car. I know it was the same one, because the nocturnal visits and cries I had heard for several years stopped. It was several years before the current one included me in her territory.

I am not a wildlife biologist, I just happen to live in a wildlife biologist’s paradise. (I am sure Alaska, where Roger lives, is even more so.) I have seen many bobcats, foxes, coyotes, the elusive mountain lion, and untold other critters, both furry and winged. I feel blessed to be a part of this cycle of life and death. I live with it all, all the time, and would not change that, even if it kept my dogs safer. As someone wrote me, these dogs are so lucky to have all this room (120 acres surrounded by national forest), lots of fun things to do, important jobs, and a whole lot of love.

Yes, there actually are several lessons for me with this one, Z. One, is about going public with my grief; one is my relationship with my dogs; one is to check the storage trailer if anyone shows up missing; and one is to pay closer attention to what my dogs are telling me! Other lessons will no doubt come to me.

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February 17, 2009

Life in the wilds of Big Sur … hm … it is a ride I would never have wanted to miss. Up here, 5 miles from the highway? Well life is just so … alive. Granted, I may be hunkered down, inside most of the time, on my computer, or reading, but outside? What a rush. Mother Nature is in command, completely, and totally, and she knows it. She shines, during times like these. She is the Silver Goddess of rain, sleet, hail, snow and clouds that go from white to black in an hour. She changes the color of her head dress as some of us change the color of our hair. Her blue eyes can be green, turquoise, or gray, as she chooses, reflecting the colors around her. She slows us down, so when the rush of spring is finally upon us, we are rested and ready. She is making sure I *really* rest up this year!

The last few days have been a roller-coaster of emotions, dealing with the weather issues, and my family issues. Hospitalization of several families members, the death of others. It has been a very difficult time for me. And yet, I am more aware of  the cycles of the seasons, and life and death. It has been displayed in all its glory to me in the last week. I am awed to have had this experience.

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February 16, 2009

This has turned into an online journal, of sorts. It is all I can do to stay dry and warm, right now, and try to find things the winds have blown into the next zip code. Granted, living on a ridge top offers forever views, which I truly appreciate. But during wind events, I know how exposed I am. When my ex lived here, he called it Wind Dragon Ranch. When he left, I renamed it Wind Dancer, begging the winds to be kind, and dance with me. My one and only neighbor’s wind gauge broke one year when winds hit 145 mph. Yup, hurricane force. I forget which category. Doesn’t matter. Still hurricane. This winter has not been too bad. I still hate having things blow into the ocean that I thought I had secured. Yup, the ocean’s a mile away, but I’m still convinced some things made it that far.

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February 15, 2009

The winds howl. The trailer shakes. The rain pounds. Its a weather event that is predicted to last until Tuesday. It is all I can do to stay warm. Forget getting anything done, today, at least. 

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Valentine’s Day, 2009

It has been quiet, albeit a cold day. Instances of snow, rain, sleet and wet dogs have peppered my day. Amid the quiet, I watched, listened, and paid attention to the incoming storms, wind warnings, and flood watches. Such is the life up here, in the middle of no where with the wonders of internet.

I checked the forecast discussions throughout the day. I knew what was predicted. Hours after I posted all the warnings (wind & rain) to my blog, I was getting multiple warnings of same. Certain people I have come to trust, as their warnings come in a timely manner. Others, well, they have a life, and they may be hours behind the warnings. I might have a life, in another life, like spring, maybe fall, but during summer’s fire season, and winter’s storm watches, I have little, since I started this blog in July.

But besides the blog, what do I do? Mostly, this time of year, I make sure the critters are feed, the systems work, things are tied down, covered, or otherwise protected, and try to stay warm and dry. Those are my priorities. And if there is any time left over, I work at my profession and stay in contact with my friends.

But today was an “odd” day for many reasons. Family matters took my attention. Mother hospitalized yesterday, Uncle got out of the hospital yesterday, Brother in crisis for many reasons, and kids? Ah, they each have their problems, which they are not yet ready to make public on the internet. So, the daughter, niece, sister, and mother has been very busy this Valentine’s Day. And Valentine? Not this year.

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2/12/09

Snow levels down to 2000 ft.

With accumulation, may reach 10 inches by Saturday. I’m hunkering. May  
have trouble w/ gennie, so may not be able to get internet, much. Will  
run off of battery two or three times throughout day, if necessary.  
Have plenty of heat, water, dog food, me food, booze, and cigs through  
Tuesday. Phone fully charged, so that should last for a few days. Have  
a 12v. plug in inverter in Jeep, in case I need to recharge anything.

I drove down the road during a break in the weather on Tuesday, to get  
prepared for this upcoming storm. We had already had 3-4 inches of  
snow on Monday, but I am photographing a cluster of Indian Paint Brush  
in full bloom!! What a treat. The native berries are flowering. This  
is the cycle. Conditions can be this extreme, this close to the ocean,  
in the central part of California.  All the critters (including us)  
are confused after such a hot, dry January.

Indian PaintbrushIndian Paintbrush on Plaskett

Someone want the movie rights to my story? One-legged mountain mama?

Excuse me, the ex stopped by to stock me up on propane. I provided the  
food and booze, and he brought the roses.

And, for now, I am curled up in bed, WITH power until around  
9:30-10:00 pm, keeping up with the incoming storm, my blog, and the  
first of six trashy (lawyer) type thrillers (oops, only 1 lawyer, 3  
cops, 1 financier, 1 Navajo cop, one Walter Lamb), and a classic, The  
Illiad, by Homer. I’m good, really.

(PS, Debbie won’t let me worry about her, so I don’t want anyone  
worried about me. I am WELL prepared!!)

I will post photos and reports all weekend on my blog, as conditions allow. Enjoy  
this winter wonderland, after the incredible fires.

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When I moved up to Big Sur, I was a total city gal … the whole county of Orange is a city, pretty much. It wasn’t when I was growing up there, but as LA sprawled, so did O.C. — L.A.’s bedroom community. I kept moving further out, but the sprawl would follow me, and I got to watch all the orange groves and strawberries fields disappear during the first 30 years of my life. My last house in O.C. was a 1919 bungalow, with that California rarity, a cellar. It was a great old house, and a great old cellar. I loved that house. It had a story. It had many stories, and I added my own.

To demonstrate my lack of self-sufficiency, being a city gal, one year, was a flood year. The cellar started flooding. My old-fashioned, but very efficient, very old, forced air heater was in that cellar. As the cellar filled up, I worried about my heater. Not knowing what to do, I called the Fire Department. Amazingly, they came out! Not only that, but they pumped out my cellar and saved my old heater. They informed me that that heater was well worth saving, as they did not make them that efficient, any more. It was a behmouth. Then, they advised me to buy a “sump” pump, for the next time, which I promptly did.

This is the gal that decided to uproot herself and move to Big Sur in 1985, with not a clue as to what was ahead. I was what some call a touron — a cross between a tourist and a moron. Somehow, I’m still here, and god only knows how I have survived my life, this far.
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9/7/08
I love telling the story of how I came to be in Big Sur. Those that have heard me tell it, love it also. Whether it can have the same effect in writing … without the inflections, the body language, and the drama that story-telling lends itself to, I don’t know, but it is one that is part of the story, and must be recorded.
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9/18/08
By 1984, I was coming up to Big Sur about six times a year. I was in love with a place, a people, and a peace I found no where else.

In November, I was invited to a “Magic Circle.” A woman I’d met in Big Sur, introduced me to Pam, an interior decorator who had an incredible house in Newport Harbor. She backed up to the Estuary, and thus, had only two neighbors. Pam had decided to have a gathering of 13 women, on a full moon in November. I was invited, and instructed to wear magical clothing and bring a “wish list” among other things. I did. On my wish list I had: “Sell my house in Fullerton; buy a house in Big Sur; and get on with the Monterey Public Defender’s Office.”

I had actually had not formally applied for the Monterey PD, but had noted to the head of the office I was interested in relocating. When an opening came up, he encouraged me to apply. Meanwhile, I found a house listed for sale in Palo Colorado Canyon on the bulletin board at Esalen. It was incredibly cheap, because of some major problems: 1) it was up 100 stairs; and 2) it wasn’t certified for occupancy. With the possibility of a new job, and a house I could afford, I put my house in Fullerton on the market. It sold within a very short period of time.

In March of 1985, at my fourth full moon gathering of the Magic Circle, I said good-bye to the women in my group. Everything on my wish list from 4 months earlier had come to pass. I was starting my new life in Big Sur.

A couple of years later, Pam came to visit me in the house with 100 stairs. She had sold her expensive home in Newport Harbor, and was living in her Mercedes, exploring herself and her new options. Only Pam could be “homeless” in a brand-new Mercedes.
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Hallowe’en, 2008

I started my Big Sur life in a house up the side of a hill — a house with 100 stairs. I liked that, at first. I didn’t need a gym, I did not need exercise equipment. Just getting to and from my house was all the exercise I needed. I was svelte and in good shape. Of course, I was almost 25 years younger, too!

I had no need to worry about burglars, door-to-door salespeople, or unwanted guests. People thought twice about coming up, and guest quarters were pretty primitive. And guests NEVER came empty handed. They were expected to carry everything they needed when they came. That certainly helped limit the number of guests.

I look back, and wonder how I did it. I guess, wanting to be in Big Sur so badly gave me the touch of craziness required for that life style — oh, that, and the crazy 2nd husband of mine!

Now, I have that same isolation without all the stairs. I can drive to my front door, but no one else can. I can walk the mile round trip to my back gate, if I want exercise. I always need it, I just don’t want it as much as I used to when I was younger. I am really much more isolated here, than I was in Palo Colorado Canyon.

In Palo Colorado Canyon, town was a mere 15-20 minutes away. Now, I cannot even get to Highway One in 15-20 minutes! It is a good 30 minutes away, down a deeply rutted dirt road, and a village — not even a town — is another 45 minutes.  

But I love it. I don’t miss the amenities, as I have finally got most of my necessary systems working well, most of the time. Winter, which is approaching, is always a challenge to the systems. Don’t have to worry much about the water system, thankfully, but power systems seem to be more of a challenge during winter. I now have TWO backup generators — one, an older Honda 2500, that is completely reliable, just noisy and a gas guzzler; the second, a cheap Champion 1000, but it is brand-new. And heating systems.


9 Responses to “Tales of a Modern Homesteader”

  1. I’m just out of the Sierra’s after a seven day walk with a group of guys(13 of us) called the Wolff Pack. I’ve lived on the island of Maui for the last 25 years but still find a deep need to walk the High Sierras. I used to drive my mom over from Fresno for a week-end at Plaskett Creek. She passed away a few years back but i still come over that way for the jade Festival and look for that ellusive vulcan jade. Happy Trails!

  2. Also you can check our pack trips at mystic owl and trancemist on flickr

  3. Hey, thanks whasabe. I checked out mystic owl, who only has the 2006 wolff pack trip, but checking out trancemist, who has the 2008 one. You guys are some hikers, and, at least mystic owl seems to be getting up there (along w/ me!). Nice group!

  4. Aloha! Jade Festival was a nephrite extravaganza as usual. Just took a nine day solo walk in the high Sierra. If you hear of any caretaking or hopuse=sitting opportunities out that way, I’d like to do a Big Sur winter. Have refs. Blessings, Whasabe

  5. Sorry it has taken so long to respond, whasabe, but caretaking or housesitting opportunities in Big Sur are always difficult to obtain, but even more so this winter, as there are so many long-time Big Sur residents who were displaced by the Basin Fire.

    For example, one long-time (30 year caretaker) has been displaced when the owner lost their home to the fire, and are now using the caretaker’s cottage. There are many, many stories like this, so this winter is particularly rough. Plus, there will, in all likelihood, be many “pockets” or enclaves of people who are completely stranded for weeks (or more) this winter.

    I, personally, know of at least a half-dozen people seeking housing who have lived in Big Sur for 10 years or more. It is tough.

    Good luck.

  6. No ticks rattlesnakes or poison oak in Alaska! We used to do nightly “tick checks” when we lived up the Feather River Canyon.

  7. Hi Kate,
    My name is Heather Harvell. I am in Cayucos for a few months, and up and down the One to Santa Cruz County a lot. I wanted to thank you for your help with the Search and Rescue effort! My Dad, Cal is a volunteer for SLO Search and Rescue. He told me about your Blog, and how helpful it is. I lived high up in the Santa Cruz Mountains on and off for the past five years and I used to Broadcast on KUSP out of Santa Cruz. I understand to an extent what mountain living is, however you are much more challenged where you are, and there is no way I can compare it. I have often yearned to be where you are, but it takes resources I have yet to acquire. My son Sean and daughter Taylor frequently come up to Willow Creek, and I am relieved to see there are folks like yourself who care what happens to them if they get lost, or have an unfortunate experience. I just wanted to say thanks for your help. If someone I loved got lost up there I’d be very grateful for you. You rock, Heather Harvell

  8. My wife and I ran the Big Sur Marathon twice.
    Your blog is wonderful. Keep doing it. We will return to ride some of HWY 1 on our tandem. I came across your site when mentioned on Tandem@hobbs

  9. Thank you for your blog. I live in Big Sur too. I really enjoy your writings.

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