Wednesday, April 20, 2011

All's Well That Ends Well

We received confirmation yesterday. After 6 months of negotiations, one fall through, and a bit of some rocky territory with a lease, we have been approved to purchase a cabin. Neither Jules nor I really know how to feel about this. We have been keeping ourselves optimistically reserved due to all the negotiations and high/low moments of this whole ordeal. The possibilities make us excited though.

I use the term "cabin" lightly. We are basically moving into an old fishing shack. It doesn't have any rooms. It doesn't have any heat. It doesn't have any insulation. It doesn't have any septic system. It doesn't have an address which exists on any map.

That's basically all of it...other than the plywood bathroom through the door on the far right. The kitchen is a sink off to the near right where you see the bar-like box which are supposed to be cabinets only they don't close correctly.

At this point we seem a bit crazy. Why would we leave our current house 2 blocks from the park, one block from the fire station, in a great neighborhood, with still decent property values? Our current house has such luxuries as a bathtub, lighting, and a stove.

Because what it does have is an incredible deck, a private dock, and is bordered on all 4 sides by federally protected land. One mile to our South is a National Scenic area. Flanked on both sides are National Forests. Directly out front is now a lake, but soon to be a wild and scenic river. They are taking down the last dam (which makes our lake) in the Fall of 2011. Salmon will spawn out our backyard.

Think Walden Pond.
(Thoreau was 480 square feet; we are whopping 496.)

It has been increasingly important for Jules and I to live deliberately. Each of our decisions is not only influencing our son, but each decision that we don't make also sends a strong message. With the purchase of this house and our move we hope to show our son that sort-of doing things doesn't work. You need to be all in. It isn't about doing alpine training once a week; it is spending a week backpacking around a mountain. It isn't about eating locally or being part of a farm share; it is about catching dinner from the backyard and walking down the street to the farm to pick it and process it yourself. It isn't about lowering your credit card; it is about being completely debt free (we are 5 years out including our mortgage). It is important not to half-ass your life. Figure out your priorities and then go at them full throttle.

Our Priorities
Knowing Your Space
We wish to live somewhere we know intimately. In the last three years we have gotten to the point I know exactly how much water it takes to run our house and how long it has to rain to get there. I know how the floor is supported, the pipes run, and the electricity flows from spending hours under the house digging out a cellar with a 5 gallon bucket. I know the line where the sun turns to shade at each time of day and throughout the seasons. But I don't know the walls. I don't know roof. I don't know the relationship of power input and output. Most importantly, I don't know the stories of my space. It is all well and good to make memories in your spaces, but we wish to know their memories as well.

This summer we are going to be rebuilding the house from the floorboards up (because you can actually see through the floor to the dirt below in a couple of places). Wall by wall we will be learning from our space. From crawling in the dirt under it, to establishing a gray water filtration system outside, we can honestly say it is our house and not just a dwelling we purchased.

Nurturing the Land
It is all well and good for us to be going as carbon neutral as possible here in our current house, but most any city has limitations on what is legal. We have yet to find any place in a U.S. city which does not outlaw off the grid living. As much as I realize the reasons, I also know we cannot turn off our water in favor of gray water systems without the fear the city will take our son away, or have more than three solar panels, or any solar panels which aren't grid tied for that matter. We actually know people who have been evicted from their personal property due to off the grid living and our city is championed for its sustainable efforts. By the sheer nature of where we will be living, there is very little choice but to be off the grid. Secondly, there isn't anyone to either report us or to report to if someone had an issue.

Getting permits for a place that is surrounded by Endangered Species land and large numbers of federal protections is something which I don't even want to attempt. After about 3 hours of phone calls, I was informed it would take a minimum of 6 months for our composting toilet application to be fully approved. That isn't any infrastructure, just a large fancy plastic box. I can't imagine what it takes to get a building permit! We basically get to work with what we have and we have to do it personally. That means the ability to expand out the established deck to create bedrooms and maximize our house at just over 800 square feet.

It also means we need to be able to run most all of our house by ourselves with full knowledge of repairs. Solar panels to need to run 95% our electric since power can go out for over a month in the winter. A cistern has to be put in for our water because the city water pipes tend freeze solid by October and don't thaw till May. Propane appliances are necessary and as a backup heating source since there are no Natural Gas lines. Lastly, any pollution we create is going to go directly into an endangered species waterway or protected wilderness areas so we need to be darn sure we are as closed a system as possible. My job as homemaker just got kicked up a notch.

Simplicity seems to be all the rage these days. It is quite the buzzword around our city and creates quite the bumper sticker lifestyle. Somewhere along the line, people have forgotten the actual meaning of the word. Though we aren't going as far as the Amish, we truly want our son to realize what a luxury is. Light is a luxury. Heat is a luxury. Plowed roads and paved roads are luxuries. These are not things that people really need, but just make life a whole lot nicer. If you have to think about turning on the light because you might exhaust your battery bank, you think about it differently. If you have to build the fire by 5:30 am in order for the house to warm up enough during the day, you experience warmth differently. If your dad has to cross country ski to meet up with the carpool so he can go to work, you consider transportation differently.

We wish to actually live simply. House only big enough to eat and sleep in. Fun coming from exploring the nature around us. Food you have to personally handle from alive to your plate or you don't eat.


I had a friend from Hawaii who was baffled about how peopled talked about life here on the mainland. She explained that in Hawaii when someone asked, "What do you do?" the answer would be something like surfing, snorkeling, hiking, or the like. What do you do meant how to you choose to spend your time. People only worked to possess enough capital to continue their passions. On the mainland "What do you do?" directly refers to whatever job you hold regardless of whether you like it. Your personal identity was somehow wound up in your employer and life was spent working rather than really living anything. She couldn't understand why anyone would want to focus more on their occupation than on their passion. What is more, very few people in Hawaii turned their passion into work. The point wasn't to turn something you loved into something you had to work on. You were to love it for the sake of the love and to work on whatever you could easily put away after you had made the money. The concept that people would turn something they loved into something which became an obligation further confused her.

We wish to have our passions be the center of our lives, rather than our bills. When Jules and I look at the people we have begun gravitating to in the last few years we find a common thread: these people are all in about what they care about. They eat it, sleep it, and breathe it. Most all of them have had to take some fairly drastic measures to make their passions the center of their lives. When we honestly looked at it, the place we lived was our limiting factor. Rather than continue to be posers who merely talk about changing, we needed to do it. We also want our son to see people who live this way whether they be crag rats, river rats, artist bums, commune hippies, or what have you.

Looking Forward
A little over a year ago we revamped the look of our humble little blog to include the pages across the top and a bit more focus to my ramblings. With this move, the hope is to become even more refined as we discuss living in our natural world, pulling the "house" off the grid, and training for some extreme recreation.

10 thoughts:

Renee @ FIMBY said...

the news we've been waiting to hear..

Mr. H. said...

Congratulations! Your friends philosophy is the same as ours, we now work enough to support our chosen lifestyle and more and more of that work is coming straight from our little homestead...freedom.:) My wife and I both read this post and love your new home and outlook on life. You can't beat being surrounded on 4 sides by protected forest lands. Enjoy this new adventure, enjoy truly feeling alive in the world as it was meant to be.:)

"Few adults can see nature...the sun shines into the eye and the heart of the child. In the woods is perpetual youth, we can return to reason and faith...all mean egotism vanishes." - Navajo

suzanne cabrera said...

Good for you! Couldn't agree more with the deliberate decision making. But, with a deck like that, I'd likely jump in without thinking!

Michelle said...

How very exciting! And I couldn't agree more with your priorities!

Erin said...

Good luck! I have two kids (younger than yours), and we're quite happy in our 450 square foot yurt.

Mel said...

So excited for you! I can't wait to hear more about this new chapter in your life.

Moonwaves said...

I only bookmarked your blog recently (cannot remember why, but that's the way these things go) and came back today to have a look around. And yet, although a complete stranger, I am soooo excited for you. It looks fantastic and sounds great, especially in conjunction with your priorities.

Talking about getting permission for a composting toilet reminds me of a Welsh blog ( I found a few years ago and reading their story of trying to get planning permission. It really made me realise how much more there is to a house than just the house - as a typical townie, things like reed beds were just things that had never occurred to me to consider.

Granola Girl said...

Renee - I hope the purchasing process goes much smoother for you all and you can find property that fits your family's needs as well.

Mr. H - You and your wife have been such an inspiration to Jules and I. It is nice to know there are other completely insane individuals out there that haven't died without all the civilized people :)

Suzanne - Our son fell in just today. Luckily the dock is only about 4 feet deep, so he just scared himself pretty well. However, I don't think many of us will be jumping in anytime soon since the water temperature is about 42 degrees. Your right, though, it is a pretty great spot to sit out and just let the day melt away.

Erin - It is good to know that you all are pulling it off. I'm a bit worried Jules might just loose his mind, but we will tackle that when it comes. The other option was coming up to near you all. Jules was going to put in offer to teach in Kotzebue, on an island 33 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Here's to more adventures for both our families.

Mel - We are in the footprint of Mt. Adams just off the PCT if you all want to come by in your RV. The kicking and skiing are incredible, and I'm told the photography is pretty amazing (though your husband would know a ton better than I).The boys can just fish and catch frogs until they pass out.

Moonwaves - As the secretary of the family, I'm not all that excited about any permitting we may need to get. I'm just so thankful we don't have neighbors to rat us out if we use my father (an architect) and his many construction friends to help us with the process. Thank you for the good wishes. You are right, much of what you can do in the rural areas is very foreign to what is allowed in towns.

Anonymous said...

That looks like a beautiful place, it will be interesting to see that changes as lake becomes river. I suspect there will be an awkward transition period - muddy banks, bare soil etc.

Will you be able to grow, process and store food?

Good luck!

Granola Girl said...

Growing is a bit sketchy. We are not allowed to bring anything into the area which is not a native species because we are surrounded by protected/wilderness lands. That leaves out many commonly grown veggies, however it mainly means we just have to learn a bit more. There are many native species that I just don't know. I am looking forward to growing many native medicinal herbs.

We are allowed to bring our fruit trees/bushes. However, we have openly been warned that they may not make it very long with the deer, raccoons and other wildlife. Young saplings are tasty apparently.

The cabin comes with both fishing and foraging rights. These are very new skills to us, but incredible ones to learn. Jules has a past student currently learning to be a fishing guide who has promised to teach him.

We can however process and store significant amounts of food and live in the middle of a major growing valley. Less than 1 mile from us are orchards and fruit stands (they were there before the wilderness designation). So even though we do not grow the foods, very old family farms grow really close to us. Currently, I'm spending a bit more time dehydrating (posts to come) as we are learning different techniques to preserve nutritional content and store in smaller spaces.

So, yes and no about the food. Not as much growing, but a lot more learning which seems very exciting. I can't say how much is going to happen this summer with all the work we will be doing, but I'm rather excited!

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