Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mile 6269: Life at 55 (mph)

      … is pretty slow.  On the western portion of interstate 40, where the speed limit is 75, it sometimes felt like we were going backwards. On the plus side though, creeping sluggishly across the country gives you a real appreciation for the enormity of it. You also become very aware of the landscape around you and how dramatically it changes over the course of 1000 miles or so. After spending some time in the deserts of Utah followed by a few days catching up with old friends in Durango, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico, we hit the open road. The days have been long and some of the nights too, as we find ourselves at the mercy of whatever parking lot we stagger into. We did get a fantastic, and much needed break in Fayettvile, Arkansas where we visited my sister’s family for week. Lea, her husband Walker and our nephew Xander, graciously opened their home to us and gave us a feel for Northwest Arkansas. The week was filled with visits to farms, canning projects and ceaseless amazement at the creativity and intelligence of a two-year-old! While we wished we could have spent more time, fall was hanging in the air (even in Arkansas) and so was the reminder that we need to make it north before the snow begins to fly.
     And so here we are again on the road. Crossing into the Eastern Time zone in central Tennessee yesterday, we made one last stop for good southern BBQ this afternoon and now we crawl north through Virginia. The towns are getting closer together and the leaves are getting more colorful with each slowly passing mile. While there haven’t been a whole lot of photo ops from the freeway recently, I thought this might be a good opportunity to share some previous pictures from our trip that haven’t yet found a place on the Blog. Enjoy!

We haven't really posted any interior photos of the bus since we finished it. Here it is.

Camping with our friends Tammy and Jeff in The Southern Bitterroot Mtns of Montana

Huckleberry Season!

Our cozy abode under the full moon.

Western Slope Cutthroat Trout straight out of a pristine alpine lake. This is the life.

Late night jam session with T & J

Champagne morning at sunbeam hot springs on the Salmon River in Idaho

One of the classiest "skoolies" we have come across yet!

My little friend.

A fine looking rooster called Chablis.

Prime solar country.

Canyonlands Utah

The desert life at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Arches NP, Utah

Dolores Canyon, Colorado

Bus party with some old friends in Durango, CO.

Classic Santa Fe, New Mexico

Heidi and Xander in Fayettville, AR

Canning dilly beans with the Fam.

Turns out I really like Water Buffalo. This one at least.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kate, Billy and The Pursuit of Happiness


Kate and Billy prepping for a river trip after a great week.

         If I had a dime for every time I heard the word “lucky” in the last two weeks around Willow Creek Nursery, well, I’d have a whole lot of dimes.  Luck might not be the first word that comes to mind for many passing through the Camas Prairie of southern Idaho. While there is an obvious and unique beauty in the steep, sage covered foothills of the Sawtooth Mountains, some of the first words that came to my mind were challenging and rugged. This is especially true in the late summer during the peak of wild fire season.  As you might remember from our last post we had entered Camas County through smoke that turned the sun to pink, the landscape to an obscure, hazy, dream and the air thick, heavy and hazardous.  The fire was called the Beaver Creek fire and was named after an area where lightning first ignited the blaze only four miles from Willow Creek Nursery.  Fortunately for us, and the inhabitants of Camas County, the wind carried the flames and the smoke away from the valley and out into the National Forest to the north.  Although the fire had started in Kate and Billy’s “back yard” Willow Creek was spared this time. Lucky. 

Smokey roads through Sawtooth NF
Residents watch as the hills burn directly behind the town of Hailey Idaho

          Kate and Billy don’t deny the challenges of the place they have settled. What it really comes down to is water, or the lack there of.  What they have done is adapted to it, and they make the most of what is available. It is easy to see their success.  In the sun-parched landscape, Willow Creek Nursery is an oasis.  The two acres, which Billy started some twenty years ago as an ornamental tree farm, have now grown into towering poplars, shade giving spruce trees and enchanting curly willow groves.  Although the Willow Creek that once ran through the property was diverted long before Kate or Billy arrived, water still flows underground giving the property a relative lushness on the surface and good water for their well below.

The view up Willow Creek Rd

Pruning in the "enchanted" willow forrest
             Since Kate’s arrival at Willow Creek the couple’s focus has shifted to include a more self-sufficient lifestyle.  They now produce a good portion of their diet on their own land. We arrived at a good time to see it in action. The first tomatoes of the season were ripening on the vine and everyday plump summer squash were ready to be picked by the basketful. A beautiful mixed flock of chickens, turkeys and roosters range the property, clearing it of garden pests. The hens provide eggs while the Toms grow fat for their imminent contribution to Thanksgiving and beyond.  Much of this great homegrown food ends up in Kate’s kitchen where it is transformed into something amazing. In a previous life Kate was a professional chef. In this life, Kate’s culinary energy and talents are focused on feeding her family, friends and those very lucky people who come to help out around the farm. I could go on for the rest of this post talking about all of the amazing meals that we enjoyed during our time at Willow Creek, but it can all be summed up recounting my birthday dinner menu; elk roast with morel mushroom gravy, hot peppers from the garden stuffed with home-cured bacon and cheese, with Willow Creek salad greens on the side. We did plenty of work at Willow Creek but never enough to deserve the meals we ate! 

Billy pulls bacon slabs off of the smoker

One of the gardens and green houses at Willow Creek Nursery
        When Kate and Billy aren’t busy preparing incredible meals or working on their property, you will most likely find them in the barn working on their other life pursuit, making bee’s wax products. They use raw bee’s wax from a local apiary to produce beautiful hand-dipped candles, hand salves and leather conditioners, which are sold at local farm and craft markets.  This may sound like a lot of work, and it is, but candle making is always accompanied by good music, good laughs and undoubtedly, an impromptu dart game or two.  Kate and Billy have defined there own version of success and these self described “hippie candle makers” are living there own unique dream with gusto.  

Hand dipped beeswax candles in the making
The final product!

             After our stay at the nursery, Heidi and I were feeling very lucky indeed. We felt lucky to have met Kate and Billy, lucky to enjoy two rewarding weeks of working and leaning on the farm and especially lucky to realize the most important lesson of all. When you have a dream, some motivation and whole lot of gratitude, a little luck goes a long ways.  

Kate, Heidi and Mic (the local guitar guru) at the Fairfield Farmer's Market
Rugged Beauty
Heidi explores Rancho Cielo during some R&R

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A visit to Skookum Farmstead

    Here is another one from the archives that I wrote a couple weeks ago and haven't had a chance to post. Just for a quick update on our progress we are currently passing through Hailey Idaho (about mile 3500) where they are battling one of the largest wildfires currently burning in the country. It's a very strange and somewhat apocalyptic scene. We are safe and hopefully headed away from the smoke toward our next farm stay. We will have more to post on all of that soon, but first lets go back to a happier and less smokey place; the Skookum Farmstead.  

      Inspiration and affirmation are two words that come to mind when thinking about our visit to the Skookum farmstead in the little Skokomish valley just north of Olympia, Washington. Inspiring because our new friends Jon and Christy have followed their aspirations and are in the process of realizing their dream of managing a small farmstead the benefits of good homegrown food and hopefully a small supplemental income in the future. Affirming because in many ways Jon, Christy and their three wonderful daughters are pursuing a very similar goal to our own, and they are making good progress.

      When we first arrived at their property, Jon eagerly waved us through the gate and into a large green pasture. Jon’s warmth was immediately evident as he welcomed us to his farmstead in progress.  A large man with soft blue eyes Jon already fits the part of hog farmer perfectly with a long blond beard worn in the traditional Amish style. He showed Heidi and Me around the property all the while letting his excitement wash over us. One gets the sense that when Jon gets an idea in his head, he pursues it with vigor, fervently researching and inquiring on the topic.  Some might call it obsession. I call it awesome. 

     Jon and his family were first introduced to leading a more self-sufficient lifestyle when a local organization called GRUB (Garden Raised Bounty) helped them to construct three small raised bed gardens. Jon now holds a seat on the board of GRUB, which strives to encourage local agriculture as well as local involvement especially from the area youth.  From those first garden beds Jon and his family grew a decent crop of food and a new interest in sustainable, local agriculture.  The next adventure was raising a flock of twenty-five chickens for meat, which with the help of a neighbor expanded to forty in the following years. 

      The next chapter is just now beginning with the purchase of this beautiful 40-acre property, which was a collaborative effort between Jon’s family and some close friends who live in Seattle. The land consists of roughly nine acres of fertile pasture, a small wild orchard, two beaver ponds surrounded by wetland and a wooded hillside. Since signing the papers in October Jon and His partner Casey have drilled a well and set up a fenced area for five very happy pigs.  The pigs are a rare heritage breed called Tamworths and are valued for their excellent foraging abilities and lean meat.

     Jon’s vision for the property is intentionally vague at this point. He views his family as tender’s of the land more than farmers. For that reason he is spending a lot of time getting a feel for the property and researching various avenues that would best suit it.  He has plenty of ideas about resurrecting and expanding the current orchard, acquiring more animals to graze the pasture (cows, sheep or goats) and growing produce especially garlic, potatoes and blueberries. The goal is to find the best balance with the land that will produce good food for the family primarily and hopefully some additional income as well. Jon also views the property as an opportunity for hands on learning. Hands-on workshops are one example of what the future may hold for the Skookum Farmstead.

    Our day on the farm concluded with some fine al fresco dining around picnic tables near the pond. Jon’s wife Christy arrived with their three lovely daughters. We shared stories, pizza, laughter and even some live entertainment with singing and guitar picking from the family band. At one point during our conversation Jon had mentioned that he hoped that the farmstead would answer the question “what does it mean to be successful?” After an afternoon like the one we had, I think that the answers are already rolling in.     

Check out the progress at Skookum Farmstead by visiting their farmstead blog.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Home On the Road

A bit of a preface here. We are a bit behind on the posts these days. Here is one from over a week ago that we haven't been able to post until now. Hoping to get caught up soon. Stay tuned!

Home on the road:

     It may sound paradoxical, but the strangest part of being on the road is probably how utterly normal it feels much of the time.  I think that most people who see us driving around, and there have been plenty of blank stares, think that we are RV’ers in some crazy rig. While we are covering a lot of miles and hitting quite a few popular destinations along the way, our approach is a bit different. Probably the biggest difference being that this is our home. For better or worse, we are carrying almost everything we own. Even though the scene is changing constantly, our house remains our home. We still try and make our meals from scratch and from the freshest most locally sourced ingredients possible.  Finding good local food on the road is as challenging as the rewards it brings. This morning was one of our better excursions on that front. We parked at a Library in Sequim WA and took the Vespa out to find some local farms and markets. We were able to source pastured meat, raw milk (legally sold on store shelves here in Washington), produce and cheese in an incredible five-mile radius.  This has not always been the case. In fact we have been eating a nearly vegetarian diet for about a week due to scarcity of responsibly raised animal products. Farmer’s markets are always great, but they almost always happen on weekends making them a bit tricky to encounter in our travels.
    Another difference between what we are doing and most RV folks are doing is that we are completely used to living off grid and are prepared to do so for long periods of time. The benefits of this are huge. For one, we can be as comfortable in the middle of nowhere as we would be in a cramped RV park, parking lot or city street.  We usually go for the first option, generally being beautiful, private and free! I am in-fact writing this post from one of those very places parked next to a babbling brook in the dense forests of the Olympic Mountains, 12 miles from the nearest highway.
      Its nice to think that we could go on living this way forever, moving from town to town and farm to farm back and forth across the continent ad infinitum. Unfortunately this is purely a romantic notion. Of course we are burning a disturbing amount of diesel on this adventure, which is not only unsustainable in the grand scheme, but also costs a small fortune. Money requires working and working is significantly easier while standing still.  Furthermore, although we are “at home” our truly desired homesteading lifestyle poses some significant challenges. We can still make our bread, preserve foods and even get our hands dirty on a farm here and there. On the other hand I can’t even brew a batch of beer on a constantly rocking bus let alone grow a garden or keep a flock of chickens. Believe me, I have thought about the logistics; while they are quite entertaining they’re nowhere near practical.
            So, for now we are living, learning and having more fun then one should be allotted for an entire lifetime.  One of these days we will find some good firm soil to hold our roots in one place for a while, but in the mean time, we will keep on rolling and keep you posted along the way.

Now for a bunch random pics not really related to this post :) You can see full size images by clicking on them.