This is an excerpt from "Blue Rock Ridge."
Making a List
Would you quit you job of eight years, pack up your belongings in an ancient VW bus, and move up to Northern Mendocino County to live in a windowless sixteen by twenty foot cabin? Neither would I, except that I did. Together with Annie, who was four months along with our oldest son, I left San Jose (and San Jose State University), and all the creature comforts of city and civilization, to relocate in the coastal mountains of Northern California, about halfway between San Francisco and Eureka.
Up here, on a wind-swept ridge, we took up residence in a one room cabin that I had built the previous summer with the help of a neighbor and two of my brothers. We had no running water, no electricity, no propane, and no source of heat. There were no windows, cupboards, shelves, or appliances, and there was no way of refrigerating food, except to go to town for ice to put in the ice chest.
We arrived on May 31, 1982, inexplicably expecting that June would be bright and sunny as it was in San Jose. What we found was California's infamous June Swoon, which produced a climate consisting of mist and drizzle, (mizzle?) and temperatures in the forties. I had tacked pieces of plywood over the window openings to keep out the critters, so we didn't get wet, but we also found that living in a cave was not that much fun either. Being excited about our overall outlook was all good and well, but facing the daunting prospect of trying to muster up a few of the basic elements of comfort and civilized living, proved to be a serious challenge.
Where did one start? I like lists, so Annie and I dug up a notebook and pencil and set about the task of brainstorming a list of the most important creature comforts that most people would find essential to maintain existence (no lofty goals). We kept in mind that there was a limited budget and a pressing need for an immediate infusion of income.
Our initial list, with no special focus on prioritizing, looked something like this: find/install a wood stove and chop some wood; install a propane line that would fuel a cook stove and a refrigerator and then acquire a refrigerator; find a source of water and direct it into the house after first setting up a sink/drainage system; build an outhouse; install windows; build steps up to the loft, build/install steps up to the front door (the only door, I might add); buy and install a hot water heater; obtain/install a bathtub, and prepare ourselves, both mentally and physically, as best we could, for the arrival of a new-born baby.
As I reflect on the fact that, when Casey was born the following September, we still did not have hot water in our cabin, I shudder. And yet, as events unfolded, that doggoned list of priorities directed forward progress, and which of the other items on the list was less important? There was a sense of urgency juxtaposed with the serenity of our immediate environment. Couple that with the necessity to maintain gainful employment with my brothers, building homes for others who had made the move, I found that when push came to shove, shove wouldn't budge.
We had to settle for the things that got done and not whine about the rest. Annie puts it most eloquently when she reminisces, stating flatly, “I remember one of those first days sitting on the bed in semi-darkness in a little white sun dress with red polka-dots, listening to the sound of water dripping everywhere. I was cold, wanted a hot bath and a warm fire. I thought to myself, 'What in the heck have I got myself into?' At that point I couldn't even answer my own question.”
What did compel us to move out of the city and up to the country at this particular point in time? Start with pollution, proceed to traffic congestion, dwell on kids growing up on the streets versus kids growing up on twenty acres of rolling hills, and finish with the final component of living in your own home while forging a new life away from corporate America. So we knew why we were here; we just didn't know whether we were going to be able to stay. Fortunately we were about to discover the secret to life on the mountain: community.