Right Out Back

Setting forth, out the back gate.

The girls and I slung our heavy packs onto our backs and headed out the back gate. How can it be that I live someplace where I can literally head out my back door and hike and hunt and backpack? My what privilege I have stuffed into the pack along with my tent and sleeping pad. No wonder it feels particularly heavy.

There is an ease and a freedom in heading out back to an unknown destination. No trail, no destination, no problem. We know that we would be called to the right place and that our feet would not lead us astray. I love not having to drive to a trailhead. Hell there ain’t even a trail here. We follow our own path out back and that is a beautiful thing.

We started out by hiking across an old alfalfa field, which had been part of a large ranch, when such things were the norm around here. Weedy, scratchy and annoying could be an appropriate description of it, but soon we reached what we call the “shrub-steppe,” that is the beginning of mostly native plants and natural habitat. At this point, the land rises at a 30 degree angle up to a flat, glacial terrace. Our little side valley of the Methow Valley, is called Booth Canyon and gets more “canyony” farther up. Booth canyon is hemmed in by two nearly identical terraces created by huge continental glaciers that were several miles thick in this area. We paused at our the up on top of the terrace, where we often gather during Friday homeschool days and just sit and pay attention to the world around us. We call this our “Sit Spot.”

Gazing down the Methow valley from our Sit Spot.

After a short snack break, we continued up canyon, winding our way through sagebrush and bitterbrush. Not much was flowering except for some lovely little daisies and buckwheat. This is rattlesnake country so we paid attention, listening and looking as we stepped.

A bit farther on, we encountered an old two-track road that led back down to the valley bottom. It got weedier again as we neared the old ranch houses and areas where cattle grazed most heavily. Our dog was alert to something, which turned out to be a dead western racer, a bit stinky and already covered with flies. We named this road “Dead Racer Road.”

A bit farther on we neared the creek and found the campsite that we were looking for. An open grassy glade right down to the creek with nearby apple trees that provided a perfectly cozy spot, which my daughters immediately loved. We shared flowers from the shrub-steppe with this spot as a way to thank it for welcoming us in and then quickly set to trimming back dead apple branches so that we could set up the tent underneath their boughs. Before I even had the tent out of my backpack, the girls were climbing the tree and the dog was exploring the creek, lapping up its cold water happily.

Creek Camp

A small campfire, tended by the girls crackled away as I cooked a simple dinner. The fire provided the right amount of heat to make ‘smores and, more importantly, gave the girls a chance to learn about fires and how to take care of them. We cut marshmallow sticks from an apple tree, which the girls mostly did themselves. It brought up childhood memories of doing this very same thing with my dad on one of our many camping trips. Before bedtime we made sure we put out the fire completely. They learned to check for hot spots by holding their hands over the coals.

This past winter, Maddie and I camped beneath a ponderosa pine in the snow. We called it the Sheltering Tree and that campsite, “Winter Camp.” This new spot, right on the creek, was given the name “Creek Camp.” Naming things is powerful and should not be done lightly. I feel the connecting power of getting to know places so well that we have our own intimate names for them. Our Sit Spots, the Sheltering Tree, Winter Camp, Eagle Rocks, Dead Racer Road, and now Creek Camp. These are our names for the places that have meaning to us. Come on out and visit and we’d be happy to take you to these places. They’re just right out back!


By David LaFever

Simple Sustainability

IMG_1674

 

The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.

~ Robert Swan

Reading the local paper I was stunned into puzzlement by one sentence tucked deep into the article about the local brewery expanding. The article said that the average U.S. household uses approximately 250 gallons of water a day. “Whoa, how is that possible,” I wondered. I looked over at the five-gallon jug sitting on a counter in our kitchen and couldn’t fathom how that was possible.  With some internet sleuthing, I found out that an individual uses 80-100 gallons per day. I continued to be shocked and needed to estimate how much our household uses. Here is the run-down for our household (all estimates are just that, estimates of actual water use):

Dishes/cooking/drinking: 20-25 gallons/week
Compost toilet: 1-2 gallons/week
Showers (adults only, 10 minutes shower, 4 times per week): 200 gallons/week
Baths (girls only): 15-30 gallons/week
Laundry (1 time per week which is likely an over-estimate): 15 gallons/week
Total = 251-272 gallons/week for our household = 9-10 gallons/person/day

Only 2.5 percent of the planet is freshwater and yet we Americans use 100 gallons a day. Even if I am off by a long shot on my estimations, I still don’t use anywhere near the U.S. average. Most of you shower much more frequently than I do and I would join you if it was feasible or more convenient, so it’s not that I am some angelic human being. What I did do is design an inconvenient home which means I work harder for my water and therefore don’t use as much. And maybe that is the key to sustainability – design your life so that it’s at least a bit inconvenient and you will use less water and energy and produce less waste. We are talking about convenience and comfort here, not anything close to survival, so why not give it a try. Walk instead of driving. Jump in the river instead of showering today. Pee outside instead of into a toilet. Not only will you find a little bit of sustainability, you may also find joy and fun in it as well!


by David LaFever

 

A Cold Rain Starting

IMG_1600

A cold rain starting
And no hat –
So?
~ Matsuo Basho

 

Its thirty-four degrees outside and raining. The snow on the ground is both crusty and slushy. Not my ideal of winter weather and I wish it was both colder and snowing. Madeleine awakes, hears the rain on the bus roof, looks outside and exclaims, “It’s raining!” She is excited and thrilled and adds, “It’s really raining and hard,” although I don’t think it is raining very hard. I catch myself just before I say, “Yup and I wish it was colder and snowing.”

I am soon caught by her excitement and find myself hastily putting on my rain jacket in order to keep up with her as we head outside to play in the rain and slush. I am soon having fun and enjoying the sound of the rain as it falls to the earth. Plus warmer snow is much better for building a snowman.

 

img_16031.jpg

So why was I not simply and immediately excited by rain as she was? Seems that I, like all of us, exist too much in our heads and in the realm of “wishing for something else.” I find myself all too often wishing for something other than what is actually happening and searching for something just a little more perfect. Do you feel that same way?

Rain is okay, but wouldn’t snow be so much better? What then….

Plop! a large rain drop falls from far above and hits me right on the rim of my glasses, ricocheting into my right eye. Wow, that sure woke me up from my mental reverie! Instantly I am surprised out of my mind and into the body and mind that is larger than myself, namely the present. This exact moment and for a moment I am here. Right here! Now! Rain!


written by David LaFever

How Many Steps?

You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.

~ Yogi Berra

IMG_0468 (2)
The view eastward from the bus.

It takes fifty steps to go from the front door of the bus to the toilet tent (see pictures below) and five more to sit down. Its twenty-five steps to the summer kitchen (see picture below) and almost zero steps to get to the winter kitchen. There is one short step and two tall steps to get into the bus and six more will get you to the kitchen sink. To walk from one end to the other might take you sixteen steps and two more back and a fall would get you onto the futon or Juniper’s bed.

This summer is was 80 degrees Fahrenheit (or hotter) inside the bus; and now that it is fall it gets into the low 40s at night (without a heater or woodstove).

We went 66 days without electricity and just got plugged in last night. We are a bunch of happy lucky idiots!

 

If you have time to chatter

Read books

If you have time to read

Walk into mountain, desert and ocean

If you have time to walk

Sing songs and dance

If you have time to dance

Sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot

~ Nanao Sakaki

 

IMG_0461
Our home.

IMG_0579
The bus in Wolf Creek Woods.

IMG_0720
Our outdoor, summer kitchen.

IMG_0922

Sunset view from the bus.


Written by David LaFever

The Glittering Light of Aspen Leaves

IMG_0419
Stone Meadow, mid-summer.

Nearly two months to the day after we arrived in the Methow Valley, we left Stone Meadow and moved a mere mile farther into Wolf Creek. Stone Meadow is both the house and land which welcomed us so warmly and completely upon our arrival. We didn’t know just how important it would be to have a first place to stay and one that we already knew so well (we stayed here every other visit to the Valley). Stone Meadow was where we first fell in love with this place and it made sense for us to return there before launching forth to an unknown nook of these amazing mountains. I remember our very first night, nearly six years ago, as we awaited the arrival of our friend. Kristin and I stood upstairs, sharing a beer and gazing wondrously at the land all around us. That very first night, we felt we had come home to a place we had never been before, and I knew that this was the place where I would live out my days and return to the earth at the end of them. My Great Changing would occur here. With each subsequent visit we were reminded of the deep, intuitive calling to live here and we have heeded that call. This all began at Stone Meadow. And now it is time for some place else to weave its thread into our tapestry. In gratitude I wrote these words on our final day:

This place, these stones, this sky

Intimate, still, and vast

Has seeped into my bones, and in my marrow

The ceaseless sound of flowing water.

IMG_0196
The top of the Cozy Turtle (our bus/tiny home) and Stone Meadow sunset.

And so with a bittersweet taste in our souls, we loaded up the bus again like a covered wagon and moved on down the road. We are now on the land of a friend of a friend of a friend, still in the area known as Wolf Creek but farther northwest into the woods. There are towering ponderosa pines and Douglas-fir trees above the bus, which are home to nuthatch and the constantly chittering red squirrel (two of whom visited us in the bus on each of our first two nights there). This new land has a completely different vibe, view and feeling. There are views to the east and we awake each morning with the force of the sun, heating up the bus and shining on our faces. We cannot hear the ceaseless sound of Wolf Creek but the Methow River is a short walk away. There is the sound of wind through trees and the glittering light of aspen leaves fluttering in the sunlight. We don’t know how long we will be here but for now this place contains the whole of existence.

Magic in this world

IMG_0111

Here are two moments from my day, both shared with one of the most amazing people in this world:


Sitting across the wooden table from each other, quietly eating our lunch – mac-n-cheese for her and leftovers for me – and she turns to me with a deadpan look and says, “There’s magic in this world. I know because I saw it.”

Like a hammer striking the sky, I was stunned by such a revelation, which of course I know to be true (but all too often forget due to being a “grownup”) and hoped she did as well. The world is full of magic but we seem to forget to see it.

Her eyes were ablaze with magic, excitement and wonder. They were twinkling like stars on a moonless night, like so many nights here in this valley. We looked at each other, smiles slowly emerging from within, creeping up from the corners of our mouths and spreading across our faces until we were both laughing. We laughed because we knew – there is magic in this world!


She’s sitting at the table, both elbows resting on its wooden surface for stability,  a purple marker in her right hand. She is drawing and concentrating so hard on what she is doing that her tongue is sticking out ever so slightly. A quintessential act of concentration. Her map, of trails, campsites, lakes and rivers, is really coming together and now she is adding footprints to the trail.

I sit watching her, enjoying the look of concentration on her face and how it changes ever so slightly from moment to moment, especially the tongue, its position and how much is exposed beyond the lips. I guess I could be distracted by something – a book, dirty dishes, a smartphone or this journal – but this is far better than all that and more. Just here, just watching her drawing is enough and I am at peace.


Written by David LaFever

The Driver

IMG_0169

I’ll tell you about the driver, who lives inside my head. Starts me and stops me and puts me into bed. Opens up my mouth when he wants me to talk and fires up my legs when he wants me to walk.
~Trey Anastasio and Tom Marshall

 

My experience has been that its impossible to know when something begins and ends, which leads me to believe that there are no endings and beginnings, although we tell ourselves it is so. It also seems true that it is not possible to say who is the driver, who is the driven and who is the driven-upon. This was my experience driving our tiny home school bus, which we have name the Cozy Turtle, from northern California to our new home in the North Cascades. Sure I turned the key to fire her up and I pushed hard on the accelerator, but once she got going she had a mind of her own and went where she wanted to. I coaxed her this way and that way to avoid old-growth trees, precipitous Pacific cliffs, guardrails and other automobiles but really I was encouraging rather than driving her.

IMG_0166

Because of her size, mass and numerous blind spots (we all have numerous blind spots, don’t we?), she encouraged me to really pay attention. The radio didn’t work and the noise of the engine prevented hearing much of anything else anyway, so I really paid attention. There was a meditative quality to driving – the seat forced me to sit straight (no slouching) and my eyes were constantly scanning mirrors, looking up ahead and to the sides. There wasn’t anything else to do nor was it safe to be distracted. I felt driven to be a better driver by the Cozy Turtle.

And really where were we going. Yes we were heading north to the Methow Valley but we didn’t know how far we would get any given day, which started late and ended early. We had enough time so that we did not have to hurry, which took a lot of stress out of the experience. The Cozy Turtle, or “Old Bessie” as I called her while on the road, went slow which is really the only way to travel. Going slow and paying attention is the only way to ride.

So we went slowly, paying attention and without an agenda, on an unknown journey to a place we had been dreaming about for a long time.

IMG_0170