Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Friday, July 22, 2011

Blue Rock Ridge

Blue Rock Ridge
I am not an adventurous person by nature; new experiences do not thrill me.  Why try the new restaurant in town when there are so many that we are already familiar with? Why switch one motel for another when we are recognized and greeted by name at that one place and not at the others? So when I think about the move we made from San Jose to Bell Springs back in the Spring of 1982, I still marvel that we were ever able to pull up stakes, load up the VW bus with much of our material wealth fitting nicely in that same van and end up here on a windy ridge in Northern Mendocino County, five miles up a dirt road, off of the 101.
I never thought of the move as being part of the “getting back to the land” movement that was prevalent back in the day. I thought of it as the next logical step that had brought me, first of all from Southern California's San Gabriel Valley in 1974, to San Jose, where I attended the university for the next eight years, while making land payments on twenty acres of land up North.
The one and only "Old Paint"
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 my then-partner-now-wife 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 to a ridge top 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), while keeping 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 (more copper pipe for propane); obtain/install a bathtub, and prepare ourselves, both mentally and physically, as best we could, for the arrival of a new-born baby.
Big smile from Casey
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 %!*# have I gotten 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 (Annie had occupied a management position at ATT prior to the move up North). So we knew why we were here; we just didn't know whether we were going to be able to stay.
Fortunately, we also had a lot of things working in our favor. The first was the actual site, situated a few hundred feet below Bell Springs Road, along the ridge itself. Most people assume, that if you have twenty acres from which to select, you might have a tough time of it, because they picture a square, flat parcel, instead of a three hundred feet wide by three thousand feet long piece of property.  Our options, without bringing in heavy equipment for putting in a road to get us to the lower part of the property, were limited to one site. Therefore, we built on that site, determined to take advantage of the things we could, and not think about what we might be missing.
Our house is a very fine house, with two cats in the yard...
What was not missing was the view, which provided a panoramic picture of the coastal mountain range.  From our vantage point on the ridge, while hiking up the road to Blue Rock, we could see the ocean from three different spots on a clear day. That means that there was a whole lot to look at in between. There are countless shades of green in the spring, contrasted by the blending of all into one uniform crystal blanket which is the grandeur of the winter wonderland after a three-foot snowfall.  In the winter water flows everywhere; in the summer the land turns first yellow and then dun-colored as the sun draws all moisture up into the heavens to await the coming of autumn. Available water is the deal breaker out in the country. You either have it or get it, or you end up back where you came from.  End of discussion. 
Trees on our parcel included oak, madrone, Ponderosa pines, the occasional fir, and vast unlimited quantities of manzanita. We found this last to be the most available, because after the tree dies, the wood becomes brittle and malling it becomes possible, but it retains much of the oils which cause it to burn very hot and very clean. Burning a mix of manzanita and just about anything else reduces creosote build-up in the chimney pipes and thus reduces chance of chimney fires. At that time I didn't know what a chimney fire was, but I was soon to find out.
Wind was omnipresent, chilling us to the marrow in the winter, while bringing welcome relief to the heavy, August heat. One summer the wind in July was so incessant that, combined with the heat, it turned all the leaves on the oak trees brittle and brown three months before the norm. They hung from the trees in mute testimony to the complaint that the wind never stops.
The second thing working in our favor was the availability of information from those who had traveled the road before us. I remember one of those earliest days when things were wet and cold and tempers were unraveling. I was frustrated with myself for not remembering that the previous summer, when I had come up to work with the boys and get my foot in the door, that June had been overcast and cold. I still could not have had a stove in place, but I might have had one lined up already.   
  As it was providence interceded in the form of my brother Matt, who popped by one morning to see how things were going. Upon seeing our dejected frames of mind, he bustled about with me in tow, while he secured an old, rather small wood stove that had been brought up from La Puente by the original pioneers, my folks, who had preceded us up here by five years. In fact, this little stove had been pressed into service on at least three different occasions in three different households, and still it was ready for use again.  We went next to neighbor Rex, from whom we scored some old used, but perfectly adequate stove pipe to insert between the newly acquired stove and the chimney pipe, which I, through the urging of my brothers, had had the foresight to install the previous summer when we put on the roof.
The new "addition" off to the right
Soon we had a cheery fire burning in the little wood stove, which turned out to be just fine because it only had to heat up a little cabin. Just like that we had a toasty room and, after firing up the Coleman stove and heating up some soup, we were able to warm up our insides. Annie and I looked at each other and decided that if things could improve so much in such a little time, we should hang in there because each step forward was another step closer to achieving our goal of raising kids in an environment different from the one each of us had grown up in.
I wanted my sons to find other means of evening entertainment besides throwing oranges at unsuspecting vehicles, and being chased through groves of orange and avocado trees by angry dudes who who resented having their 55's tarnished by orange juice. “Hey,” we argued amongst ourselves, “we could be using rocks.” But the fact remains that, if kids are going to be out after dark, there are better, less hazardous ways to have fun. Besides, our kids were too worried about bears, mountain lions, raccoons and even skunks, so that when they were small, they used to conduct furious debates about whose turn it was to go out and turn off the generator when the time had come to go to bed.  That's one way of keeping your kids off the streets.
In addition to providing guidance and experience for the travails of forging an existence out here in the boondocks, those who came before us were also able to support us by encouraging us to come over and shower, inviting us to dinner or just to being there for us to come over and watch a film or play some cards. We enjoyed visiting households which had resembled our own in the early days, but now had become hotbeds of civilization, with the aforementioned shower and cooking facilities. We could do this; it just took time...and money...and energy...and advice.
Clancy, Conner and Lito
The third thing we had going for us was the fact that we were genuinely “off the grid.” Commercial electricity was not an option, even though there were 15,000 volt lines running across the top of the property, because there weren't enough people up on the mountain to make it worth PG&E's while to put in lines which carried conventional household current. We got a unique sense of pleasure being free of Big Power and the arbitrary nature of price raises and cuts.  Mostly raises.
The fourth thing that enveloped us up on the mountain was the sense of community. The folks who lived up here were very similar to us, in that they shared the values of independence, farming, belief in collective education and the quality of good fellowship. By that I mean that people believed in (and continue to believe in) working together to build structures, teach the children and have fun.  People gathered together to play baseball, celebrate holidays, party and plan. Memorial services, weddings, birthdays and book clubs provided other forums for people to mingle and mix.  We have a weekly farmers' market at the local quarry, where community vendors sell prepared food, beverages, produce, baked goods, nursery starts and a host of other home-produced goods. This provides a regular opportunity to share views and enjoy one another's company.
There is also that special quality of a small community that bands people together in times of hardship or need. I have seen the most remarkable contributions of time or money from the most unlikely of candidates. Home hospice, elder care, folks helping newcomers out with firewood prior to a big storm arriving, these are the things that happen routinely in a small rural community.  I compare that to the apartment I rented in Covina, California, when I first got out of the military. I lived there for nine months without ever talking to the couples who lived in the apartments on either side of us.  Except to nod or wave in passing, we never  managed to get together for a drink or a meal. Here, one makes it a point to know one's neighbors. You never know when you will need to call on them for a favor or, in turn, be called upon to feed and water the critters or water the vegetable garden.
The fifth thing that stands out as favoring us was the sense that we didn't have to worry about being ripped off. Our back door didn't even have a locking mechanism for the first twenty-nine years until  we built the addition this winter and bought a real door with a locking handle.  By a real door, I mean the pre-hung one that we went to the building-supply outfit to buy, instead of making one out of the leftover 2x8, tongue & groove pine used on the second story floor. That was just what we did back in the day, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
We now had heat; water was next. The interesting thing is that there was water up at the top of our parcel in the form of a spring, but because we weren't the first ones up here, we missed the boat on that one. That requires some explanation. Back in 1974, when Bell Springs Ranch was broken up into parcels, primarily of the twenty-acre variety, I had snagged one, my parents grabbed one and two of my brothers split a third twenty acre parcel. Mine was the only one that had water, and it happened to be located at practically the highest point on the three parcels. Consequently, the early pioneers tapped into the most readily available source of water. Was I now supposed to show up and demand that the water be remanded over to me? I don't think so.
Besides, I have always been a firm believer in karma; by not saying anything at all about water that was rightfully mine, I furthered my chances of someday striking it rich in the water department.  Meanwhile, I was now here and the reality was I had no water. What might have developed into an unhappy situation was avoided by the decision to look for water elsewhere, that being over on our neighbor's parcel, the one to the north of us.  We saw neighbor Phil three times over the first ten years that we lived here. He had bought his parcels at the same time as us, but he could not pry his wife away from her urban setting, so his pipe dream of moving up here and building a small cabin remains unrealized to this day.
That decision led to his not having any use for the spring that flowed out of his nearest parcel to us, maybe five hundred feet away. Flowed is too optimistic of a description, at least from July through the time that the fall rains came. So in winter, when the need for water was minimal, we had vast unlimited quantities. It was only in the summer, when the need was greatest, that the spring died down to about fifty gallons a day. If we were talking about fifty gallons of oil per day, I could live with that, or fifty gallons of Bushmill's, but water? Ultimately, we had to do better than that.
Remember though, this was the beginning of June in a good year for water, so the flow was still pretty decent. We went to the local building-supply shop and got enough black plastic pipe (the kind meant for household use, not the agricultural line which can't be used to transport drinking water) and the necessary fittings to run the line from the spring to the tank that was perched on the outcropping of rock just about level with the roof of our house.  We had enough water pressure to survive, but showers were iffy and the washing machine (when that materialized a long tome down the line) had to be filled by hose, because there was not enough pressure to activate the water-flow device automatically.
The only question remaining was simply a matter of elevation: Was the source of the water (the spring) higher than its intended destination (my tank)?  After running the line from the tank to the spring and wedging the end of it through the old, lichen-encrusted box, we sat back and waited to see if gravity was still happening. And waited. After a half-hour, I hiked back up to the spring to see if everything was still connected. Uh oh, it was. So we waited some more.
It took that water a full hour to fill up the line to the point where we had water “flow” into the tank. If it took an hour to fill the line, imagine how long it would take to fill our five hundred gallon water tank. The thing of it was, though, that it didn't matter how much water there was in order to be able to turn on the hose and get a drink of water. In the first couple weeks of having to scrimp and preserve, having a tank with any amount was a luxury. I remember driving the Nova (that was our other form of transportation besides the VW bus) down to the rest stop on Highway 101, with an empty fifty-five gallon water drum in its very spacious trunk, and returning home with a drumful of liquid goodness.
What good was fifty-five gallons? Just as it required little heat to warm up a small cabin, we required only a nominal amount of water to function. During that first summer the only thing we tried to grow was a six-pack of beefsteak tomatoes, that had prematurely been reduced to a four-pack. Water was only an issue for a short time, however, as the deer took care of those dudes within the first week.  We had a lot to learn about deer and how to avoid them, just as we had a lot to learn about water, and how to get it.
Having now facilitated the flow of water to the site, I needed to go the last step and route it into the cabin. I asked around and found out that one of my brothers had an old cast iron kitchen sink. The white ceramic finish was somewhat rust-tinged, and it had obviously seen better days, but it was better than a big plastic bowl, so we brought it back and mounted it on a somewhat primitive framework, fashioned out of scrap 2x4. I rigged up a makeshift drain which directed the gray water out onto the side of the south-facing slope, and connected a conventional outside faucet to the end of the line going into sink. After all, with no hot water, there was no need for a conventional kitchen sink, so we made do with what we had.  I know it sounds a little like reading The Swiss Family Robinson, with me “rigging” up this or that.  The name of the game was to hoke something together until a later time, when we could start the refining process;  much of the early going was only about getting off the ground, not necessarily soaring. I discovered early on that the best possible objective when dealing with things, about which I knew very little, was to strive for perfection, but be willing to settle for what we got.
In terms of water, what we got was very little, but it wasn't for lack of trying. The trouble was, I kept trying in June and early July, when there was still a lot of water close to the surface. The time to look for water is August, when any water you find, is there for the duration. The irony of the whole early dilemma of no water was that there was water all along on my property aside from the spring I mentioned that had been tapped into by my parents. There was a second spring about halfway down my property, several hundred feet below my home site. When we first moved up here, I had neither the money nor the knowledge to have set up a pump and moved the water up to my tank. That would not happen until at least five years had passed, but in those early days we settled for the fact that at least from November through May, we had plenty of water. Not until we had a pond put in twenty-five years after moving up here, did we finally and irrevocably solve the water problem.
One of those pesky things to do that didn't even make the list was night time lighting. I guess the reason it didn't make the list is because the longterm solution of solar-powered electricity was not yet economically viable, and the other possibilities were already in use. The most available source of light consisted of the hand-dipped wax candles that my mom made up in the barn. The barn was the original structure that my father built, with help from various offspring along the way, to live in while he built the Big House, so named because it is this thirty by forty block, two story edifice that would be home for him and Mama and Kevin. Now the barn served as a workshop for my father's carpentry and my mother's candle-making.
I expect that, when I talk about Pauline making candles, folks might think, “How enterprising-making your own candles.” And I'm sure that's how it began; since then, however, the candle-making business had burgeoned and taken on a life of its own, with candles in shops up and down the north coast and as far away as LA.  Naturally, she made them available to us, and in the beginning we relied heavily on them. We never burned them after we went to sleep, and we used to put them in pie pans or something else made of metal, so that if one fell, it couldn't light the place on fire.  Other options for night lighting included conventional flashlights, which ate up batteries, a bigger flashlight with a bigger battery (overkill), and the Coleman lantern, which was the main source of light downstairs for much of the early years.
  I saved my favorite for last, though, and that is the kerosene lanterns, which were so beautiful with their glass fixtures and ornate markings, and the soft glow of the burning flame. They created such an intimate setting and they made no noise; no noise that is until they hit they hit the floor. Then the sky was the limit, and all those cellophane-thin shards of glass would scatter to all corners of the room, and I'd be shaking my head at how unfailingly accurate I could be with my elbow. I must have broken at least a half-dozen before we finally gave up on them, and I think I only agreed to eliminate them because I secretly believed that some day the oil inside one of the lanterns would burst into flames upon being once again dropped to the floor. 

I worked whenever there was employment available. Mostly we kept busy framing, roofing and weather-sealing homes, barns or other out-buildings. There was the occasional redwood deck (crowd-pleasers in every way), cement water tanks (a lot of work), or even such varied work as removing and installing an automotive clutch for a neighbor. I did whatever was available, because it was one thing to write down lists of things to do, it was another thing to try and do them without the necessary pecuniary measures. We had moved up here with a nominal amount money in our bank account, and the knowledge that nothing was going to come quickly or easily.
Tossing the shoes...
My background held nothing that would have prepared me for the life of a pioneer. I had clerked in a grocery store, served in the military, and worked in an auto parts house, prior to our relocation, so it was on-the-job training in a big-time way. I rarely had the right tool, and made do with what I had to work with. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it flopped. I used to say that, as far as the building of the house was concerned, we were on the ten-year plan. That was fine until we went past that point and then it was the twenty-year plan and so on. We were weather-tight before the first winter, of course-we had to be. However, the interior finish work was another matter and remained mostly “another matter” for the simple reason that I never had a table saw or a belt sander or the money to buy the accessories even if I could have afforded the tools. 
Shortly after we arrived on the mountain, the summer solstice arrived and with it came invitations to the annual celebration that was held at Al and Marguerite's house, located on the back side of Cow Mountain. Everyone agreed that this was a must-attend event, so off we went on the designated day to attend our first hill party as legitimate community residents.
From our site five miles up Bell Springs Road, we had to double back down about two miles to get to the turn-off to the party. As we wound our way back on an impossibly challenging road, we saw no one, and openly wondered if we had gotten our facts straight. Then, as we made the final descent into the little valley where Al and Marguerite's homestead was located, we saw that we were in the right place at the right time, if the vast array of hill vehicles was any indication. That was the first thing we saw; the second thing was the pond and all of the splashing that was going on. There were plenty of kids and adults having fun, while others stood around eating and drinking party favors.
There were people spread out all around the complex, from the grassy area, sprinkled with shade trees, to the horse-shoe pit, to the volleyball game on the other side of the pond. The outfits were as varied and colorful as one would have expected them to be. Long, flowing, billowing sorts of dresses adorned many of the women, while the men were dressed in Levis or cut-offs. Grateful Dead t-shirts, tie-dyed t-shirts, and no t-shirts were the happening thing, and folks were definitely well into the swing of things by the time we got there. 
The fragrant, aromatic scent of burning cannabis perfumed the warm late-June air as we joined a group of people which included one of my brothers. Introductions having been conducted, we proceeded to mosey around the compound, chatting, eating (potluck, of course), imbibing, laughing and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We were made to feel welcome and concluded that hill parties were something not to be missed. I distinctly remember one subject being bandied about amongst those more athletically inclined, both male and female, and that was the topic of softball and where we could play it, without going to town to use one of the established fields.
I remember everyone talking about Rex's place and how there was plenty of flat space, but that it was also heavily weeded, scattered with the inevitable manzanita and scrub oak trees, and there was no backstop. These were minor impediments as it turned out because, before we left the solstice party, a work date had been scheduled, to be followed by the first softball game.  Sunday was the day of the week chosen and thus was begun one of the most popular traditions ever to materialize on the mountain.
   The baseball games presented the opportunity for mountain people to gather weekly and participate in a community event without fear of being judged. As long as a kid could handle a glove without getting hurt, he/she was invited to play, and the teams seemed to balance themselves naturally. If a game started off and one side quickly established dominance, we would tweak the lineups by swapping a heavyweight for a not-so-heavyweight, until things were more evenly matched. Though the games were spirited, the focus was, for the most part, not on winning so much as it was on having fun. The team at bat supplied the umpire, though there was never a shortage of opinions when it came to a specific play. The calls were never changed, no matter how enthusiastically they were protested. However, as we soon found out, two could play the same game.  If one team fell victim to selective vision on the part of the umpire, it simply retaliated in like fashion. One way or the other, things balanced themselves.
Every so often, Rex would trot out the barbecue and grill some chickens, and folks would bring potato salad, green salad, bread and desserts and we would end our Sunday by picnicking out in Rex's front yard, which doubled as right field during the games. We played all the way into November that year; I know because one Sunday in early November, we played under crystal clear skies, in a chilly breeze, and that night we got about eight inches of powdery snow. This was our first look at the winter wonderland which appears magically as the Gulf of Alaska storms parade through our neck of the woods.
We were enthralled at the sight of all that beauty. Little did we know that we were soon to adopt a more realistic view when it came to snow, the same view shared by any person responsible for maintaining the home fires in all weather conditions in a climate that routinely produces snow and the cold temperatures which accompany it. Snow is like the proverbial guest who overstays his welcome. Snow is the gift that keeps on giving.
As beautiful as it was, snow was simply inconvenient. Walking became torturous in a very short time, and driving was out of the question without having a vehicle that was four-wheel-drive. We lived up here for nine years before we acquired one of those luxuries; in the meanwhile, if we did not park a vehicle up on Bell Springs  Road, we were not getting off the mountain until the snow melted.  Now, eight inches of snow can melt in a day if the temperature gets upwards of fifty degrees and the sun shines. However, that same snow can also stay indefinitely if the temperature drops down into the twenties, and stays below freezing for a week or more, even if the sun does shine.
We now had heat and water, and some solid connections within our community. Prior to moving up here, and in the early days after our arrival, we found it natural to rely on our immediate family community. Because my siblings and I had been discussing this idea, of a community away from the city, since 1972, and because we had acquired sixty acres of land, plus another forty acres, located at the bottom of the original sixty, we were in a different position than any of the other early residents of Bell Springs Ranch. There were people already up here, encouraging and supportive, and that made a huge difference.
The broadening of our social boundaries was the logical next step, especially since all my family has the reputation of working hard. Therefore, it was as much about what we could do for the community, as it was about what the community could do for us. All I needed was to get a foot in the door, and the door would open up.
Next on the list was some basic organization. As we stood in the doorway and surveyed our little box of a home, what we saw was a mass of confusion. Sixteen by twenty feet would make a great-sized bedroom, but this was our house, at least in the beginning. As I walked through the door, situated at the south-east corner of the cabin, the newly-installed stove was directly to the right, and well cleared of everything. This meant that the very next thing that I saw would be our double bed which, though not overly large as beds go, still took up the lion's share of what was left in the way of space. What remained was stacked with most of the rest of our worldly possessions. Our cabin had conventional eight foot walls, and also had a loft which occupied about eighty percent of the available space.  Steps up to the loft were still in the planning stage, but we had managed to move some things up into this space. Of course, remembering what was up in the loft was a challenge, as was actually retrieving it, so the early days could reasonably be described as somewhat chaotic.
The Coleman stove was our original means of cooking, even though the one trip we made from San Jose to the land, towing a trailer, we managed to bring up not only a kitchen range that had belonged to Annie, but a 1920's vintage Superior wood-burning kitchen stove (complete with accessories for utilizing propane). This had been stored in my parents' barn, and served some purpose having to do with the candle-making business. I had paid two hundred dollars for this stove at a barn sale out in a rural section of San Jose because I thought it was the most beautiful stove on the planet, even though I had no idea what its capabilities were.  I played a hunch and it worked.  At the time I had just bought the property up in Mendocino County, and I was all fired up to start acquiring the things that help make a move up north feasible.
The reason I knew that the stove had been involved in some capacity in the candle-making business, is because it had a thick layer of wax over every inch of its surface.  Of course, it was cleanable, but the task would take so long, that I postponed it.  Also, I really wasn't sure how effective it would be when it came to heating the house.  Waiting on the clean-up project proved to be smart for a couple of reasons.  First, we were only a few weeks away from the summer heat, which we were assured by all was on the way, so we were good with the stove we had already installed.  Second, Annie's parents drove up from San Jose shortly after we had made the move, to check the whole scene out, and Beverly had taken an immediate interest in the Superior stove and proceeded to attack the clean-up process.
She made that old stove sparkle. Later, when fall came and we swapped this stove for the temporary one we had installed in the opening days, we found that it rocked. Not only did it heat our cabin up as efficiently as the temporary one had done, but during the periods of cold and rain/snow, when we burned the stove all day, we used it to cook, especially soups, stews, and anything that benefited from being slow-cooked for lengthy periods of time. 
The challenge was to keep track of cooking pans and utensils, not to mention planning meals with only an ice chest from which to draw. Imagine, also if you will, cleaning up after we ate our meal.  Water had to heated up on the Coleman stove, and mixed with cold water to be able to adequately clean the dishes. The whole process (identical to that which takes place on a camping excursion) was so extensive, I found it sometimes overwhelming to contemplate attacking it three times a day.  Lunch was inevitably comprised of something which did not require extensive clean-up.  Any tendency we might have had to let the dishes pile up, was squelched by the simple fact that there was no counter or kitchen table upon which to pile said dishes. 
We had to get some storage capacity happening. The only materials I had on hand to work with were some 2x4 fir, some redwood 2x6 and some redwood siding left over from weather-proofing the cabin the previous summer. The reason I had redwood left over is because I hadn't ordered the amount I needed; rather, I had bought a unit of each because I got a good deal on it. The 2x6 had a fair number of knots in it, but since I had gotten so much of it, I was able to cull out the undesirable parts, and use what remained in a variety of ways.
Right now, I was planning to spend a minimal amount of time to achieve a maximum result. I wanted to build a set of shelves in the southeast corner of the cabin, just to the left of the door as you entered. Because I was using the corner, I decided to take advantage of that fact to make triangular shaped shelves; all I had to do was run pieces of 2x4 fir diagonally between the two walls, fill in a nailer on each wall to form the triangle, and fill it in with the seven inch wide pieces of siding.  The angles on both sides of the slats would be identical 45 degree cuts, something I could easily do with my handsaw. Redwood is a very soft wood, so I could cut and put the shelving slats in place as fast as I could measure and cut them. Voila. We had six shelves ready to put about sixty shelves worth of stuff on.
However, we didn't dwell on that. We just figured that the things that were the most important (coffee pot/coffee) and things that were most frequently used would go on these shelves.  By extending the 2x4's on the sink frame, I was able to  fashion a counter of sorts.  It qualified simply because it was a flat surface to one side of the sink, but that was about all I could say for it. However, it was a start and, as we were to find out time and again, once we had a start on something, we could refine it as time and money allowed.
Next came the steps leading up to the front door. There was a thirty-six inch drop, which until now had been accomplished through the use of a somewhat rickety step stool. The fact that there were no indoor facilities, meant regular trips outside, day and night, and so safe and secure steps were a priority. Not having a clue how steps should be built, I took the simplest approach.  I took two lengths of redwood 2x6 and laid them out from doorway to ground in what seemed like a manageable angle, and scribed lines on the redwood which would allow me to make the cuts on either end of the boards, so that they would fit evenly when nailed to the wall beneath the door opening, and evenly on the ground.  The two pieces of redwood had to be identical, leading down on either side of the doorway.  I then sawed thirty-six inch steps which I nailed between the two redwood runners, and we had steps.  Five small steps represented one huge leap.
Each step we completed took us closer to civilization, and though progress at times seemed slow and laborious, the wait made us appreciate the improvements all the more. Only time and perseverance were needed and we had plenty of both. By the time I began my teaching career, full-time down in Laytonville, in September of 1990, the homestead was far enough along, that I could set aside my nail-belt for a briefcase.
And a word-processor. Now, 35 years after the fact, I'd like to say we live in a "Better Homes and Gardens" palace, but it is a farm house, nothing more and nothing less. One of these days Annie and I will complete the interior finish work and call it macaroni.
Until then, maybe "Home Improvement" will do. After all, Tim Allen played a goofy sort of dad with three sons, who was always trying to make this happen with varying degrees of disaster, a role custom-made for me. Luckily, Tim had Jill to keep him together.

Luckily, I have Annie.


  1. Thank you for that walk down memory lane Mark!

    1. It was a day like all days, only you were there...

  2. Well done. Well written. Well lived.

    I like your retrospect and perspective with no regrets. Trial and error went well if you knew there would be error.

  3. Living in the NOW is always the best way to handle the unknown. Kudos to your fam for taking it step-by-step as pioneers on the land, and in permitted farming!

  4. Grateful to have You as a predecessor Mark.....

    Gratitude 🙏