Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Living My Life: High Summer

copyright (c) 2011 Lif Strand

Part 2 of the series.  Go to Part 1
There’s summer, with day after day of clear blue skies, white hot sun beating down, so dry that you don’t even sweat because any moisture you produce evaporates before it can bead up. Every afternoon you bless the shadows that are finally cast, shade that feels cool in comparison to earlier in the day, even though it’s still in the high 80s in the shadow. All that wind from spring is gone and you wish it back, you welcome the slightest stirring of air to provide some relief from the searing heat.

That’s summer. And then there’s high summer, when we have rain. The brown grass turns a verdant green, a riot of flowers are heavy with pollen, lush fruit ripens and bends the stalk. That’s now.

I’m sitting in my car, engine off, waiting for my friend to meet me so we can car pool to town. Everyone car pools around here – or at least the women do – partly to save gas money and partly because most people prefer to have company when they drove a lot. I don’t – I do some of my best thinking while driving – but the gas savings is still important, and my friend generally prefers company when she drives.

It’s pouring rain. The sky is blue in two directions, black in the other two plus overhead. It could only be the Southwest in monsoon season - July, August or September - when sometimes it rains on a cow’s left horn but not on the right.

Living at the end of a long dirt two-track means extreme planning for at least two seasons:  High summer (now, the rainy season) and dead of winter (January through March, when there’s the most likelihood of snow and ice). Our soil here has a high clay content – slick snot when it’s wet. It’s amusing to see the tracks of vehicles that have gone before you, leaving the wandering tracks across the road like a drunk driver's, maybe even with the bonus of a gouged rut in a ditch where the car or truck slid off the crown. It’s entertaining – until it happens to you.

So you plan. You avoid driving when it’s actively raining and for a good half hour or more after. You watch weather reports so you can get out and back while the road is still a road and not an amusement park slide. You make sure you’ve got enough supplies to last at least a week, preferably two, in case of flooding when the road can be bad for days in a row. In the winter you get out while the road’s still frozen, come in after dark when it freezes up again.

The thunder is moving on; rain now just a light shower. I wouldn’t risk driving the two miles home from here right now if that’s where I was headed even though the road surface doesn’t look all that bad. I know that’s deceptive, and that within just a few feet the tire treads would be packed and the rubber coated half an inch or more with clay. I can see from here the first spot where I’d be sweating it, a very slight curve around a juniper tree – just enough for me and others to slide off the edge. It happened so often I finally took a chainsaw to the offending branches, but it’s still not a straight shot.

There are a few other spots after that – one place where there’s a slight bump, another couple areas where water pools a foot deep, creating an additional twelve inches of mush at the bottom. All fixable if I owned the road, untouchable as BLM property unless I jumped through some expensive hoops and put myself in a position of public liability. No thanks. I’ll risk the drive as is.

In spite of all the planning, the four wheel drive, the mud tires, I still get stuck every so often.  I never know until I turn off the engine if I'll make it home if I try at the wrong time.  Last week I had two close calls driving in with a load of hay. The road at those places looks like a tank battle took place – and it was a battle of sorts; my skill vs. the mud pit. That time I got out, but it was very close.

You’d think that going home would be easier since it’s downhill, but when I get truly and deeply stuck, it’s always in the downhill direction. That's why I always carry a tarp for the hay – not just to protect the load from rain but from cows, too, if the truck has to be abandoned.  And that’s why I always carry rubber boots and a rain coat.  Even though I'm usually not a happy camper when I first start the hike back, my boots picking up the same clay that the tires would have and making them dead weights as I slog through the muck, by the time I've gone a little ways I'm at peace again with the world.  I love high summer.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Living My Life: It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it

July 17, 2011

There’s really only one thing anyone wants to read about: Something about themselves or that could be about themselves, or something that’s going to help them live their lives – which really is still about themselves. We’re a selfish bunch, we humans – but all living beings are. It’s the only way to ensure survival of the species.

What I’m here to tell you about is how I live my life. Everyone’s life is fascinating in the hands of a good storyteller, but some of us live different enough lives that no matter who the storyteller is or how she tells it, the story carries itself.

So here I am, a mature woman (sorry, I may never grow up enough to be a senior), raised conventionally, who turned out… different. The reasons aren’t really important now. (That’s one of the great things about having sufficient years under the belt – you start looking at the big picture and realize the small stuff is just that. You finally get to focus on what’s important and best of all, because you’re old enough, there’s no one around to tell you to pay attention to all those pesky details).

But I digress – I tend to wax philosophical but I’ll try to cut that down to a minimum. What I’m trying to say here is that my life nowadays is different enough that it might actually be meaningful - or at least entertaining - for others.

How different could it be, you might well ask. Here’s a partial list. You decide.

  • I’ve lived in a straw bale cabin for about 13 years. That is, a house made of straw bales and not much else. None of that plaster stuff covering the straw, so wind tends to blow through. Birds nest in the walls and a resident four foot (and growing) bull snake keeps the chick population under control. My house does have a roof (it leaks), and doors and windows though, and someday I guess I’ll get around to the plastering. I love my little place (700 square feet and no interior walls) - snakes, bugs, birds, wind and all.
  • I have no heat other than a wood stove. Sometimes in the winter if it’s really, really cold and I’m too lazy to get up during the night, it freezes indoors. Potted plants don’t do well in my house and it can get annoying when I don't have anything liquid to brush my teeth with in the morning, but somehow these winter issues feel more like challenges than problems.
  • I don’t have real indoor plumbing, unless you include a hose poked through a wall with a garden spray nozzle delivery system as indoor plumbing. For years I heated water on my wood stove (or propane kitchen stove), but this year I made a solar hot water system and it works great when the sun’s shining. My shower involves a big pot holding suitable temperature water and a quart-sized ladle to get the water on my body. It works just fine, and I suppose someday I’ll fix it, but I'm in no hurry to fix what ain’t broke.
  • No indoor toilet. No outhouse, either. The old chamber pot system works just fine. I compost the results.
  • Off the grid – the nearest electrical lines are a mile away. Solar power has its drawbacks, but the great benefit is no monthly utility bill, and for a low-income person, that’s great.
  • No cell phone service. Maybe that’ s not such a big deal – after all, plenty of people live in little hollows where there’s no service. But I’m happy there’s no service.
  • Nearest neighbor is a mile and a half away. And that’s too close in my opinion.
  • Nearest store is 30 miles away. Almost far enough.
  • I live in the Southwest, so when it rains it pours. My little valley floods periodically and I can't leave for a few days. That's like vacation time for me.
  • I’ve been self employed almost all my adult life. From house painter to dude ranch wrangler to technical writer, I’ve somehow avoided 9-5 jobs almost the whole 4 1/2 decades since I left my childhood home. I don’t always have a lot of money, or even enough money, but that means I improvise. I do as much of the building and repair work by myself as I can. As for the rest – does it really matter if it gets done?
  • I care for six horses now – down from a lifetime high of around 50 at one point in my past. There’s no shoer nearby these days, so I deal with horse feet myself. There’s no vet nearby, so I treat the horses myself. And if needed, when the time comes I move a horse (or dog or cat) on to the next plane myself with my trusty .38. It’s a hard job, but it’s an ultimate act of love.
  • I have little to no social life. After my husband died suddenly over ten years ago, I’ve lived alone. I found I don’t need a man in my life. I’m not helpless. I’m free to become a hermit if I want or do anything in the world I want to do. I love it.

So there you go. I little strange, but perhaps stranger even is how much satisfaction I get from living my chosen lifestyle.

I dream of even greater independence – I’d like to fully raise my own food, for instance – and I’ve been working towards that it seems forever. I’m in no rush, though - it’s the journey towards self-sufficiency that holds the fascination for me. I’m not so very good at all of it, but in the end, who cares? I don’t want to wait for perfection to do what I want in life.

Next: High Summer